It was the earliest days of the faith, just a few months after the very public execution of Jesus. A handful of his followers had come to believe that though Jesus had been killed, yet he had been raised up from the dead and was now alive. They said they had seen him, that they had spoken with him, and because Jesus was alive again, they would never be the same again. Because he was alive again the whole world was going to change.
But there’s a problem with talking about changing the world, a lot of people like the world just the way it is. The followers of Jesus had enemies. The worst among them was a man named Saul. The followers of Jesus would talk about how Jesus was alive again and the whole world was going to change, and people like Saul would demand of them, then where is this Jesus? Show him to us! Where is this executed criminal you say has come back to life and now lives, where, inside you? The followers of Jesus were everywhere beset by violence. Sometimes it would be a mob attacking them, sometimes it would be the organized violence of the authorities breaking down bedroom doors at night. But whether by the chaos of a mob or the orders of the authorities, Saul was in the center of the violence. Saul hated the followers of Jesus and was known far and wide as a dangerous man. Saul had progressed quickly from being someone who merely approved of violence, to someone who took part in the violence, to someone who went out looking for the followers of Jesus to hurt them wherever they lived.
And so Saul decided to go Damascus. It was a large city, with many different kinds of people living there. There were apparently already cells of the Jesus people there, spreading their way of life, and so Saul set off on the road to Damascus to put an end to them, to hunt down the followers of Jesus. And there on the road to Damascus, something happened that changed the course of Saul’s life. On the road to Damascus, Saul, who hated the followers of Jesus had a vision of the living God. Jesus Christ appeared to Saul. Jesus was very much alive, much more than alive, Jesus was life. Jesus stood in a light from heaven, much more than in the light, Jesus was the light. And the light and the life spoke to Saul, the living God spoke to Saul:
Saul, what are you doing? How could you do this to my people? How could you do this to me?
In the naked light of holiness Saul could see clearly, for the first time in a long time, and what he could see was himself, what he was doing, what his life boiled down to, and where it was heading. Everything that he did which he hated even as his hands turned eagerly to the task, every lie which he detested even as his voice spun it into a ring of truth. These would wax and Saul would wane until the Death, and misery, and anger that was slowly consuming him from within would in the end make a meal of him.
Saul could see himself clearly. This was all that he could see, in fact because for three days he was blind to the world. Some people led him by the hand into Damascus, where he had gone to find the followers of Jesus. For three days Saul hovered in the blind darkness between an old life to which he could never return and a new life which he could not yet imagine. And there in Damascus, one of the followers of Jesus found Saul, laid his hands on him, and restored to him his seeing of the world, and baptized him. And when Saul looked out on the world again, it was as a changed man, a new man. Washed away were all the sins of his past life. Washed away was all the evil that he had planned to do and would have done had the Living God in Jesus Christ not changed him. One man’s heart was changed and it was the living Christ who had brought it to pass.
It was the earliest days of the faith, just a few months after the very public execution of Jesus. A handful of his followers had come to believe that though Jesus had been killed, yet he had been raised up from the dead and was now alive. They said they had seen him, that he had spoken with them, and because he was alive again, they would never be the same again. Because he was alive again the whole world was going to change. And of the followers of Jesus, the most ardent among them was a man named Saul. And everywhere he went people were utterly baffled by him, and confused by him, and won over by him. Here before them was a man, whom they had known as an enemy to Jesus, now a most ardent apostle. Because Saul was a changed man. A new man.
If someone wanted to see the risen Christ, then they needed look no farther than Saul. People who did not yet believe in the power of Jesus to give them new life began to believe when they saw the vast upheaval of soul that had been worked in Saul. People who did not believe in the power of Jesus to reconcile them to God, began to believe when they saw that Paul welcomed those who wanted nothing more than a clean start. Saul traveled out into the world, to Greece and Africa and Turkey and Asia, to people who—like Saul—had never met Jesus in the flesh and never would. Saul traveled to countries where people had other customs, spoke other languages, pronounced Saul’s name strangely, where people pronounced his name not Saul but Paul. And that was the name by which he would become famous. He was no longer Saul who had persecuted Jesus, but Paul who started churches all around the known world, Paul who personally wrote much of the New Testament, Paul who showed people the living Christ.
You see Saul was like you, Saul was like me, he never met Jesus when Jesus was alive. And whether you missed meeting Jesus in the flesh by 20 days or 20 centuries makes no difference. Saul only ever encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ, who was alive but to whom it was not so easy to direct people. Paul had to prove to people that Jesus was alive, and he had to prove it by the way that he lived his life. If people in the world today are to ever catch a glimpse of the risen and living Lord, then they will see it in the way that his followers live their lives. If people today are to see the living Jesus Christ, it will be in the way you live your life.
This is one of the central responsibilities of being a faithful follower of Jesus, to live out the good news of what Jesus has done in your life, to live in the world with the light of Christ shining out of you. It is to live life like you know God loves you and like you know that there is nothing anybody can do about it. To be a follower of Jesus is to be called to live life so beautifully, so mercifully, so powerfully, that people cannot help but ask you: where does this come from? How have you come to live this way? This is one of the central responsibilities of being a faithful follower of Jesus, because the good that the living God has worked in you may be the only glimpse of God a person has seen in an age.