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Changed on the Damascus Road


Many churches have a sign out front with a catch phrase. For example, one church sign declares, “If God is your co-pilot, change seats.” Another says, “This church is prayer conditioned.” Many describe themselves as “the friendly church.”

Friendly is probably not the word Paul the apostle (called by his Jewish name Saul in today’s passage) would have used to characterize his initial reception by the church at Jerusalem. When he tried to join the church, they were too afraid to associate with him. It was only after Barnabas intervened on Paul’s behalf and introduced him to the other Apostles that the church finally welcomed him (Acts 9:26–27).

Although Paul may have been disappointed by their reaction, it is likely that he was not surprised by it. Few people would have expected Paul to become a follower of Christ. The church at Jerusalem had good reason to be nervous about Paul. Prior to his conversion his main mission was to destroy the church. Armed with authority of the high priest and the Sanhedrin, he had many believers dragged from their homes and arrested (Acts 8:3). Paul’s vehemence as a persecutor of the church may explain the extraordinary nature of his conversion experience. Paul saw a bright light and heard the voice of Christ. Those who were with him heard a sound but did not see anyone or hear a voice (Acts 9:7; 22:9; 26:14).

Paul was not reasoned into faith by an argument. The only force strong enough to stop Paul’s persecution was a direct encounter with the living Christ. Paul’s violent opposition to Christians, however, suggests that he already knew something about the content of their faith. The Lord commanded a disciple in Damascus named Ananias to follow up with Paul. Like the believers in Jerusalem, he was initially unwilling but the Lord persuaded him of the genuineness of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:15).

Apply the Word

Only Christ has the power to save. Yet He has chosen to work through the church. That person you consider least likely to trust in Christ may be someone God intends to use in a remarkable way. Ask God to help you to overcome your fear so that you can tell them about Jesus today.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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