April 15, Wednesday
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Saul continued his rampage against the Lord’s disciples. Knowing that the Message was spreading, he obtained letters from the High Priest authorizing him to investigate the synagogues in Damascus. His plan was to arrest any followers of the Way, men or women, and haul them back to Jerusalem as prisoners.
Somewhere along the way everything changed. They were not far from Damascus when a blinding light, like lightning, blazed around him and he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice speaking to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“Who are You, Lord?” he asked.
“I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting,” was the reply. “But now stand up and go into the city. There you will be told what you must do.”
The rest of the entourage stood there in stunned silence. They too had heard the voice but couldn’t see who was speaking. Saul got up from the ground; but when he opened his eyes, he couldn’t see anything. His companions took him by the hand and led him on into Damascus where he remained sightless for three days. During that time he fasted, having nothing to eat or drink.
One of Jesus’ followers by the name of Ananias lived in Damascus. The Lord appeared to him in a dream and called him by name. “I am here, Lord,” he replied.
Then the Lord said to him, “Get up and go down to Straight Street to the house of Judas. Ask there for a man named Saul from Tarsus. Saul is praying; and I have given him a vision of a man by the name of Ananias coming into the house, placing his hands upon him, and restoring his sight.”
But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard about him and all the trouble he has caused the believers in Jerusalem! We’ve heard that he has permission from the chief priests to arrest every one of us who call on Your Name.”
But the Lord said to him, “Go! I have chosen him to be the one who will take My Name to the Gentiles and their kings, as well as to the sons of Israel. And I will show him how much suffering he will endure for My Name’s sake.”
So Ananias made his way to the house. There he laid his hands upon Saul, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you, has sent me here so that your sight may be restored and that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got to his feet and was baptized. After eating a meal, he regained his strength. Saul stayed in Damascus for some time, fellowshipping with the believers and preaching in all the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. The Jewish congregation was dumbfounded, saying to one another, “Isn’t this the guy who fought so hard against the Name in Jerusalem? Didn’t he come here to arrest all who identify with Jesus and take them back the chief priests?” But Saul became increasingly effective in proving that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews living in Damascus could not refute his claim.
After several days of this the Jews plotted to kill Saul, but he got wind of it and made plans to leave. Guards watched the gates of the city day and night to prevent his escape; so he got some of his disciples to let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
Saul returned to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They couldn’t believe his claim to be a disciple. Barnabas, however, believed him and introduced him to the apostles. He spoke in Saul’s defense, explaining that Saul had seen the Lord on his journey, that the Lord had spoken to him, and that he had spoken in Damascus with great boldness in the Name of Jesus. From that point on, Saul worked alongside them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord. He used to debate with the Greek-speaking Jews until they made several attempts on his life. Finally the threats prompted the brothers to take Saul to Caesarea and send him off to Tarsus.
Thus began a season of relative peace for the church as it became established throughout the region. The number of believers increased, and they continued in great reverence for the Lord and enjoyed the companionship of the Holy Spirit.