The Damascus Road
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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?" (Ac. 9:3-4)
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This incident was a turning point in the life of Saul of Tarsus. Previously, he had been a sworn enemy of the Jesus movement, dedicated to wiping it out by ruthless force. After this encounter with the resurrected Messiah, he became the movement's most tireless champion. Clearly, something happened on the Damascus road that altered the trajectory of his life. Throughout the rest of his career, he often mentioned this incident as the trigger that turned his life around (Ac. 22:6-11; 26:12-18; 1 Cor. 15:8; 1 Tim. 1:12-14).
Contrary to popular belief, Paul was not saved on the Damascus road. Nowhere in the Biblical record is that claim ever made. In his own recollection of the incident in Acts 16, he specifically states that his sins were not washed away until he was baptized in Damascus several days later (v. 22). The time between the initial encounter with Jesus and his baptism was spent in remorse and reflection, not rejoicing (Ac. 9:9). We must be careful not to leave the impression that salvation is imparted by means of this kind of dramatic encounter with the divine.
Nevertheless, Paul's experience on that road was a major step in the right direction. Many of us have had a Damascus road experience, a traumatic event that forced us to confront our lost condition and start a search for God. Perhaps it was personal tragedy, or a frightening medical diagnosis, or a relationship blow-up, or the death of a loved one. God has any number of ways of getting our attention, without even having to resort to a miracle.
The question is, when we encounter such a traumatic event in our lives, how do we respond? Do we shrug it off as an accident of fate? Does it embitter us, driving us further away from God? Or does it jolt us into a state of self-reflection, an opportunity to examine the deepest foundations of our life? Maybe we haven't been persecuting Jesus as Saul had; but are there other self-deceptions that we've been too blind to recognize? Perhaps this is God's way of shaking us out of our stupor.
Whatever our Damascus road experience, it will expose the true condition of our heart, and we will live with the consequences of our response.