Summary: How is Paul like Moses?
Was Paul the Gentile Moses?
We will take a look at a remarkable event this morning. The technical term for a vision of God used by theologians is a theophany. This is where God appears in a certain and life-changing way. Moses had such a vision at the burning bush. Isaiah saw the LORD high and lifted up in the Temple. John saw the Lord at Patmos. Peter, James, and John saw the Lord at the Transfiguration. Today we see the life changing experience given to Paul on the way to Damascus.
Luke records this event three times in Acts, here, before the Jews in Jerusalem, and then before Herod Agrippa. What us interesting is that there is some difference in the detail of what happened. Here it says that those with Paul were left standing and speechless. They heard a voice but did not see the vision. When Paul recounts this later, he says that they say the light but did not hear what was spoken. The third time it says all were thrown to the ground and enveloped in light. How do we harmonize this?
First of all, Luke was a careful historian. He certainly would have noticed the difference in detail and could have harmonized the accounts at the time of writing. It is to Luke’s credit that he records these differences. What we have is three slightly different accounts. We have in a sense three witnesses to the event.
What has to be said is what happened was both overwhelming as well as utterly unexpected just like the resurrection of Jesus. Differences in detail were bound to emerge due to the extreme excitement and confusion. However, they are in perfect agreement on the important points. This is what makes valid courtroom testimony. If the accounts were identical, then there would only be one witness and Luke would be accused of copy and paste.
If taken together, it would seem that those with Paul saw the physical light but not the face of the Lord and heard sound but did not understand it. They were aware that something very unusual had happened. They also knew that the experience blinded Paul, and he had to be led by hand to Damascus.
There was one other vision that day. It was not as dramatic in appearance, but the Lord appeared to a disciple named Ananias and directed him to go to the main street to resort Paul’s sight and to baptize him. It was a remarkable act of faith for an otherwise unknown disciple. He reminded the Lord of who Saul was, that he had ravaged the church in Jerusalem and had come to Damascus with letters to arrest all the Christians he could find. How would Paul have found these Christians, many of whom were in hiding? One way would be to feign conversion and to be admitted to the flock. He could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But the Lord assured Ananias that this was for real. Ananias knew the Lord and he obeyed the summons. Ananias was also told that Paul was specially chosen to go to the Gentiles and would suffer many things on account of the name of Jesus. So he obeyed and the scales fell off Saul's eyes. He was baptized, an act of abject humiliation for the once proud Jew, to submit to a ritual extended to Gentile converts to Judaism. Then he was refreshed. Following this, he proved his conversion by public proclamation of Jesus as the Christ. The stunned Jews soon reacted and Paul had to be let down the city wall by the brethren to escape their clutches.
We should remember that Paul was called to the ministry to the Gentiles even before the door had been formally opened to them at Cornelius’ house. God would use Peter for that, and he would have to defend the action. But in God’s wisdom, the one who was primarily entrusted to the ministry of the circumcision would preach to Cornelius and demonstrate His approval by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul was off in hiding.
In the title of the sermon, you probably wondered how Moses could possibly be compared to Paul? But there are very many coincidences. The first is that both were well instructed in the ways of the worldly wisdom of their day. Moses learned in the court of the Egyptian Pharaoh and Paul at the university at Tarsus. Both of them also came to identify themselves with Israel and not their earthly trappings.
Before their respective theophanies, both Paul and Moses tried to realize the promise of God to Abraham in a worldly way. Moses killed an Egyptian, and Paul thaught that he was cleansing Israel by the heretical sect of the Christians. Both had to flee as a result, in the case of Moses before the theophany, and afterwards in the case of Paul. The theophany was a change of course for both servants of the Lord. The Lord also spent considerable time retraining both Moses and Paul. Paul and Moses both were taught on the back side of the Arabian desert. Finally, both of them had a speech defect. They were both stammerers. These are some remarkable parallels.