The Road to Damascus

“You’ll be going that far to hunt for Christians?’ the High Priest asked.

“Why not?” Saul replied. ‘It gets better every time. I’ll go to the ends of the earth to capture these Christians. I’ll be greatly rewarded for it.  You forget that?”

Saul of Tarsus was standing before the Jewish High Priest asking for a letter to take with him to Damascus to arrest “disciples,” or any follower of “The Way,” and return them to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Sanhedrin. The Roman authorities had given permission to the Jewish Sanhedrin to control their own affairs. The synagogue in Damascus, which was about 140 miles north of Jerusalem, had to give support to Saul because of this letter of authorization.

The journey would be a tough one, but Saul, a zealot in the Jewish faith, considered it no great sacrifice to make for what he believed in. In fact, he had been so successful in hunting Christians, that he considered it a pleasure.

“You’ve done well, Saul. No one can deny it,” the High Priest said, scratching his long white beard. “My dear sir, we need our synagogues to worship in peace rather than being disturbed by these disciples of one purporting to be the Messiah.”

      “I’m glad to help Rabbi. There isn’t yet any greater pleasure than to put a stop to these converts.”

‘I see you’ve travelled throughout the land of Judea arresting and bringing these disciples before us. You’ll be greatly rewarded by the Holy One of Israel. I’ve no doubt in my mind that you need such a letter.”

“Thank you Rabbi,” Saul replied, elated that he was about to get what he needed.

The High Priest pulled out a sheet of parchment, scribbled something on it, and handed it to Saul. “May the God of our fathers be with you on this journey. Peace be unto you.”

“Peace be unto you, too, Rabbi. I’ll see you when I return.”

Saul wasted no time in getting ready for this rigorous trip. He was eager to go; he was ready to make more arrests. Saul recalled the last Christian he hunted down two days ago. A young man, as dedicated as Saul, refused steadfastly to renounce the so-called Christ, who claimed to be Messiah.

“I’ll do no such thing,” the man who called himself Obed, had declared to Saul. “He’s the Christ, the promised Messiah…”

Saul would hear no such bold talk. He had tried to shut him up with the back of his hand, but Obed wouldn’t stop talking. Saul’s reaction must have strengthened his resolve.

“The prophets said he would come. He came, died right there at Calvary, and rose after three days and three nights as he said He would do. Glory to God in the Highest,” Obed had said with a broad smile on his face. Saul could not forget that glow of joy on his face. For a man who was about to be arrested, that was a paradox of some sorts. Paul was puzzled for a while because it was not only Obed who had shown such contentment in what was supposed to be a time of duress, practically all of those whom he had personally arrested, had expressed similar outbursts of elation.

“He died for us, we’ll get arrested for him,” Obed had said, while he was being led away to the Sanhedrin. Obed began to repeat a psalm of David. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

Saul tried not to dwell too much on his last experience. He was ready to go to Damascus and it was all that mattered to him now.

Saul took a few soldiers with him. After all, he would need help to bring the prisoners back, and they would provide good company on the way.

“This is a bold move,” Talmak, one of the men accompanying Saul said, as they packed their provisions. “Damascus is a huge place, do you think we’ll find any?”

If I didn’t think they weren’t there, I wouldn’t be going,” Saul answered sarcastically. He was in no mood for uncertainties; he was feeling way too excited to listen to doubtful statements.

“It will be a rough trip,” Talmak said. “Somehow we’ll manage though.”

“Good! That’s how you should speak. Let’s all tell ourselves that we’ll be marching into Jerusalem with a long line of disciples,” Saul said addressing the other men.

They looked at him with doubt painted all over their faces. They weren’t zealots like Saul although they wished they could be described as that.

“We leave at the break of day,” Saul told them. “Get some rest early tonight,” he advised.

By the time the cock made its second crow, the next morning, Saul and his men were on their way to Damascus. The journey would take several days, and they were ready for it.

The first day of the journey went well. The men traveled until dusk and then took an early night’s rest. They camped on the bank of a small river that ran along the road leading away from Jerusalem.

The next morning they were up before the sun, had something to eat, and were off again. The more journey they could cover before the sun got miserably hot, the better. Perhaps they would have to take a break when they could no longer take the heat. On the other hand, it was not a wise idea to push the horses too much. They, too, needed to take a break at times.

The trip to Damascus had not turned out that bad after all. Saul guessed Damascus should not be that far away with seven days already behind them.

Lying on his back under the shade of a palm tree after he had a light meal at midday, Saul was already forming images in his head on how the arrests would go. Maybe they would not turn out that way. However, one thing Saul was certain would happen was the prospect some of these followers of the Way, would sing praises even when they were being arrested. How could they? The images were haunting him. Some nights he had dreams about them. He tried not to allow that to bother him. He got personal satisfaction from the successful arrests, and that was what mattered to him.

Saul estimated that he should be in Damascus early tomorrow. He could barely wait.

Saul was right. As the sun was hovering about midway in the sky, Saul started to see signs that the great city of Damascus was near. The mere fact that he had passed many people on the road was a clear signal that they were into the final leg of the journey.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, and unexpected, a beam of light, much brighter than the shining sun, too bright to be taken for granted, parted the sky and shone directly on Saul.

The men, who were with him, were so frightened they backed off, turned their horses in the direction as if they were taking the long road back to Jerusalem. Their horses neighed frantically and refused to move from where they were standing. The men covered their eyes and tried not to look because they were sore afraid. They fell to the ground one by one.

A frightened Saul joined them as well. Saul was aware the light was shining around him in particular. He was speechless. The man who had been persecuting the followers of Jesus, the Christ, felt like he was not that important anymore. Somehow, he had a funny feeling his deeds with regard to the disciples, had something to do with this stunningly bright light shining out of the heavens.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” asked a thunderous voice as it roared over his head. Saul felt his head vibrating against the resonating voice while every lock of hair expanded.

“Who are you, Lord?” a trembling Saul asked, looking all around him.

“I’m Jesus whom you’re persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

Saul was shaking like a leaf blowing in the wind. He recognized instantly what hovered above him. This was Jesus, the same one whom they crucified. He himself never believed the story that he was resurrected. Saul believed Jesus was dead; one of his followers stole his body, and spread the word that he rose again. Now, Saul was hearing him with his own ears. The light that surrounded him was no ordinary light. It was from heaven, and he had no doubts anymore this was the voice of the risen Christ, the glorified Christ.

      “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Saul asked with teary eyes.

“Arise and go unto the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

In a flash, the voice and the light were no more. They disappeared mysteriously as they had come. All was quiet again. The silence was deafening.

Saul’s companions were speechless. Saul could see nothing after he rose from the ground. He was blind. His men brought him to Damascus at his command, where he stayed for three days without sight.

In Damascus, a certain disciple named Ananias, had a vision from God that he should visit Saul who was staying at a street called Straight, and lay hand on him so he could receive his sight again.

Ananias told God that he had heard of Saul and his terrible deeds against Christians, as his reputation had spread near and far.

“Go, for he’s a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel,” God told Ananias. “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My sake.”

Ananias went to the house where Saul was staying and did as he was told by God.

“Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Scales fell from Saul’s eyes immediately, and he received his sight right away. Saul was baptized shortly after.

Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus, following his baptism. Soon after, he began to preach the Christ, and that he’s the Son of God, the promised Messiah.

Those who heard his message were amazed because they couldn’t believe it was the same Saul who had been persecuting the disciples. But God was with Saul and he increased in knowledge and power, and he confounded the Jews in Damascus, that indeed this Jesus is the Christ.

Horane SmithComment