As the sun rises on this Easter morning, believers around the world are gathering to worship the One who completely defeated death (and every other enemy of the human soul). Sermons are being preached describing the biblical accounts of a risen Jesus. Each story is an eyewitness testimony of an encounter with a no-longer-dead man… the women outside His tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, and the hundreds of disciples who saw Him before His ascension… people who experienced Easter!
But there’s another individual story – rarely mentioned at Easter – about an obsessed, bloodthirsty religionist who met a risen Jesus. His name was Saul (later known as Paul). In one of his later writings he lists the other Easter appearances, and then points out that “last of all… He also appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Here is his story found in Acts 9…
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (1-5)
. . . So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (6)
. . . And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (9)
. . . Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. (20-21)
Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you are Saul. Blind. No longer able to see. Unable to do anything except reflect on what just happened. What conclusions would you be making over those three days?
Although Saul could not see with his eyes, he was still “seeing” – arriving at multiple conclusions that changed his life forever. What did he see?
Jesus knows me. As Saul was sitting there in the dark, not eating or drinking, he recalls how that day began. Closing in on Damascus, his purpose was to round up anyone associated with “the Way,” tracking and hunting them down. He hated them. He wanted to end their lives and their obnoxious teachings. He was breathing an atmosphere of “threats and murder.”
And then the light came… and that voice calling his name, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Sitting there in the dark, Saul realized that the voice – the One who said He was Jesus – knew who he was! Knew what Saul was doing out there on that road. Knew what he had done in the past. Knew everything that was in his heart.
Have you “seen” that Jesus knows you too? Is He calling your name too?
Jesus comes after me. Saul wasn’t looking for a sign from God – he already knew the truth. Jesus was a heretic and a fraud. There were no second thoughts rolling around in Saul’s mind. He was thoroughly convinced that he was right. Saul was not looking for Jesus. But Jesus had come after him!
Did Saul know that Jesus had once taught that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)? We can’t know for sure. But sitting there in the dark, Saul understood that Jesus had seized the initiative. Jesus made the first move. Jesus pursued Saul at a moment when Saul could not have cared less.
Jesus pursues a relationship with you. Have you “seen” this?
Jesus is Lord. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And then the Voice replied, “I am Jesus.” Whoever was speaking to Saul from that blinding light had to be Lord! Sitting in the dark, Saul was forced to revise his entire understanding of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was not only alive after being dead, but He spoke with absolute authority. Everything Jesus taught to His disciples suddenly mattered. Everything Jesus did needed to be examined again. Nothing about Him could be dismissed.
Writing to a young pastor years later as Paul the apostle, Saul described Jesus as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light [and Saul knew about that blinding light, didn’t he?], whom none of mankind has seen or can see, to whom be honor and eternal might” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Among those phrases Paul calls Jesus “the Lord of lords” – that name first uttered on the road to Damascus.
Saul concluded that if Jesus is Lord, there is nothing and no one greater who can be lord! Not sin or death or any problem or disease… Jesus is Lord over everything that would be “lord” over us! Jesus is the deliverer out of Satan’s kingdom, away from God’s wrath, and into God’s kingdom. His death on the cross was not the cruel end of an imposter Messiah – He was the real thing!
On regaining his physical sight, Saul had to share what he has seen! Luke writes that “immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” Saul had a new mission and a powerful message.
Have you “seen” this truth? Everything changes when you know that Jesus is the Lord of lords.
Jesus is intimately connected with His followers. Sitting in the dark, Saul kept turning over in his mind the words of Jesus. The insights surfacing in his heart were stunning. Perhaps none more so than when Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul had never seen Jesus, but he had seen many of His followers. He tied them up. He dragged them back to Jerusalem. He was doing everything within his power to destroy the people of the Way.
But Jesus said that Saul had been doing all these horrific things to HIM. Arresting HIM. Beating HIM. Terrorizing HIM. Killing HIM. How was that possible?
It was in that moment that Saul realized that the relationship Jesus has with each of His followers is different from any other in creation. “Why are you persecuting Me?” is much more than compassionate rhetoric about identifying with an oppressed people. Jesus was exposing His deep connection with His people. He was always there with them. He was living in them! Consequently, Saul clearly that whatever he did to a follower of Jesus, he did to Jesus Himself.
More than any other first-generation Christ-follower, Saul came to understand that Jesus rescues His people by uniting Himself with each individual. Years after meeting Jesus He taught that “anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17), later adding “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because of the believer’s intimate union with Jesus, he could face down any critic or calamity with this challenge: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35).
Sitting in the dark, Saul saw that whatever happens to the follower of Jesus, happens to Jesus. Have you seen this about Jesus and His people? Do you know whether Jesus lives inside of you?
Jesus has a detailed, stepped out plan for every life. Lying there on the ground immersed in light, Saul didn’t know what to do. Jesus said, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” So he obeyed and took that first step of many that would follow. Now sitting in the dark and waiting for the next step, Saul understood that Jesus had something for him to do. There was a larger plan being implemented and Saul was being included! He would later describe God’s plan for each individual believer in this way: “For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Sitting in the dark, Saul also saw that Jesus didn’t give him the plan all at once. Just the next step. It is the way He leads. He doesn’t hand someone the master plan and then sit back to see how well we follow it. He takes each by the hand and says simply, “Follow Me.” Every step surfaces in the context of an ongoing and intimate relationship with Jesus.
Sitting in the dark, Saul saw that God has a plan for his life. Do you see this too?
Saul’s encounter was the last of the Easter stories in the Bible. But he was not the last to experience Easter. Every genuine follower of Jesus has a story to tell about meeting a risen Jesus.
I wish we could sit together for awhile… I’d love to hear the story of your journey this Easter. Where would you place yourself in Saul’s story? Are you still on the road? Are you sitting in the dark beginning to piece things together? Are you walking with Him now, step-by-step, enjoying Him daily? If you would like to read how my story began, go here… and if you are still wanting to know more after that I’d be glad to help. Feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a very blessed and happy Easter… He is risen!
Thank you veteran…
for leaving home and enduring hardships;
for serving a cause greater than yourself;
for seeking the welfare of the weak;
for risking your life for the sake of others;
for standing up for the freedom of all citizens
(no matter whether they value the sacrifice you made for them).
Because you have been a warrior,
I want you to know my Jesus…
who left His home (bankrupting heaven);
who charged into the battle for your soul;
who never hesitated, reconsidered, or flinched;
who came to rescue you from every terror;
who threw himself on top of your sins
(no matter whether you considered him a friend or a foe);
who fought for you;
who endured it all and sacrificed his life…
because he loves you…
who welcomes all soldiers
who give their full allegiance to him
(the best battlefield decision you will ever make)
as the invincible warrior,
as the only savior, and
as the absolute commander of their lives.
Originally written on Veterans Day 2016.
- that God spoke creation into existence,
- that there was a first couple who sinned for the first time (Adam & Eve),
- that all human beings share a common ancestor and an inherited predisposition to sin,
- that there was a massive human attempt to resist God’s will at the tower of Babel,
- that evil grew so rapidly that God did indeed judge that generation sending a universal flood and rescuing one man and his family,
- that God began His great rescue with a man who trusted Him throughout his life (Abraham),
- that God spoke to that man’s descendants over many generations guiding their lives and fueling their hope for a “home” that transcended this existence,
- that God entered time to do battle with the demon gods of ancient Egypt to rescue His people and set them free to be… with Him,
- that God clarified who He is through the Law and every human being’s created purpose to love Him with all of the heart, mind, soul, and strength,
- that when God chose to elaborate on His true identity, He said that He was “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty” (Ex. 34:6-7),
- that God gave a hint that life under His rule was desirable through the “shalom” (peace/wholeness) experienced in Israel through the two kings David & Solomon,
- that the prophets were allowed to see the coming kingdom that defied description, when all suffering, sin, and injustice will cease, and when death will die, and when God’s people will slip into His Presence with an eternal, childlike joy and a new never-ending mission to explore all that He is,
- that when God wanted us to know what He is really like, He came in person… He is Jesus,
- that Jesus chose to live as an ordinary human being, walking by faith and depending on His Father to guide & empower everything He did & said,
- that Jesus breathed the same air, drank the same water, felt the same pains & joys, encountered the same kinds of people & problems that I do… but never, ever offended or disobeyed His Father,
- that Jesus announced that God’s Presence & rule are available right now — the very same, marvelous kingdom of insurmountable & indescribable life that is coming at the end of time — for every soul that surrenders its poverty and broken throne to Him,
- that Jesus not only announced the rule of God, but He demonstrated it — putting things back to the way He intended, showing what life looks like when He comes — restoring health, expelling demons, and calming killer storms,
- that Jesus called people to repent before the face of this present Ruling One, learning to agree with His evaluation of what is true and right, learning to accept His estimation of our worth, learning to pursue what He made us to be and do, and succumbing to His grace… falling down before Him in worship and deep desire for Him,
- that Jesus took my place, carrying every sin — every offense in my past, my present, and my future — to the cross where He died my death and endured my shame, rescuing me from an eternal separation from God, from hell,
- that God was speaking love to me at that moment… forever,
- that I still… don’t… fully… “get”… why… but I have millennia ahead of me to let that fact sink in,
- that God raised Jesus from the dead, proving the reality that my endless punishment was ended, and that all my ugliness and actual wrongness was erased, and that there were no more reasons to die anymore,
- that He saved me, forgave all my sins, and began changing me when I abandoned my life into His hands in 1978,
- that He is not finished with me… or with you,
- that He continues to walk the earth announcing good news through His people… they are the “called out ones” — the “ekklesia” — the actual church,
- that He has preserved everything He wants me to know about Him on this side of heaven in the Bible,
- that He wants me to experience Him every day, me following… Him leading,
- that this life is the “fullest” kind of life — the most clear, the most correct, the most intense, and the most fun,
- that time is expiring and every moment counts, and
- that He is coming.
Oh yes, I really do believe.