Imagine some of the most radical changes you can think of: an atheist becoming a Christian; a bankrupt man finding his bank account brimming; a mentally disabled child suddenly able to do calculus; a ruthless dictator becoming a gentle, benevolent philanthropist!
Such was the scale of change we find in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. When the chapter opens, Saul was “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (v. 1). He had secured permission from the high priests to travel to Damascus, arrest followers of Jesus, and drag them back to prison in Jerusalem. Everything about Saul was opposed to Christ and His church. He was nothing less than a devastating enemy of Christians.
Yet all that would change. He would not only become a believer in Christ as Messiah and receive baptism, he also quickly became the greatest advocate for Christ. He preached in synagogues, confounding the Jewish leadership. He escaped death threats for his faith. He even returned to Jerusalem where he debated with Hellenistic Jews about the identity of Jesus as Messiah. So great was this change that the church “enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened, [and] . . . increased in numbers” (v. 31). That peace also enabled Peter to travel about the country,where he preached the gospel in Lydda and Joppa, and healed many like Aeneas and Tabitha.
What can account for such a change? Only the grace of God, in a direct encounter with the living Jesus. In that sudden moment of light, Saul’s hard heart was softened by Jesus, who asked: “Why do you persecute me?” (v. 4). That encounter with Christ forever changed Saul from an enemy of the church to an “apostle to the Gentiles.” Only the power of God could produce such a change!