In the wake of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC, one of the prime suspects was Chuck Colson, senior presidential aide to President Richard Nixon. Colson was known to be ruthless, without conscience, and politically corrupt. He was soon vilified as the architect of the entire break-in. Colson’s name became synonymous with “criminal.” So the public was cynical when they heard the story that Colson had become a Christ-follower. Were they to believe that a man so obviously morally corrupt was now a man of prayer, a man of God? It was a shocking revelation.
About two thousand years ago, the earliest followers of Jesus had to reconcile a similar situation. These followers had heard rumors about a man named Saul. This man ruthlessly persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3), made it his job to seek out and arrest Christ-followers (Acts 9:1–2), and even approved of their deaths (Acts 8:1). He was a zealous Jew who vigorously sought to put an end to this religion that was spreading across the Roman world (Galatians 1:14). And, naturally, these Jesus followers were terrified of him.
So imagine their incredulity when Saul showed up at their gathering in Jerusalem, claiming to now be a disciple of Jesus and to want to join their church! The believers were not buying his story; they rejected him in their fear that it was all a lie. It took the boldness of Barnabas to go meet Saul, to listen to his story, and to serve as Saul’s ambassador to the rest of the apostles. After Barnabas vouched for him, the church accepted Saul as one of their own and allowed him to share his miraculous conversion story (Acts 9:26–27).
And this was Saul’s story as told in Acts 9: he had been traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest Christians and teach against this heresy also known as “the Way” (v. 2). As he was walking on the road, Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light and a booming voice, bringing him to his knees. Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (vv. 5–6). As a result of this miraculous encounter with the risen Jesus, Saul was stricken blind for three days. After being escorted into the city of Damascus, he waited and prayed. The Lord sent Ananias to Saul to restore his sight, baptize him, and lay hands on him so that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1–19).
And Ananias had another message for Saul: he would be “a chosen instrument of [God’s] to carry [His] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). It would take many years for Saul to understand his unique calling. Even so, his ministry began right away. Armed with his newfound knowledge that Jesus is the living and risen Son of God, Saul began to reason in the synagogues with his fellow Jews, preaching boldly and powerfully (Acts 9:20–22).
His life’s purpose had made a 180-degree turn; instead of persecuting Jesus, he began to proclaim Jesus. Saul was now a witness to the truth of the resurrection, and he would spend the rest of his life preaching this reality. As Saul’s focus in life shifted to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, he became better known by his Roman name, Paul.
His story was simple: he met the living Jesus and his life was changed. This story would fuel his ministry and turn him into one of the greatest Christian storytellers ever to live.