Blinded. The final eye witness of the resurrected Jesus was literally blinded by what he saw. He wasn’t thrilled to see him. No, he was as shocked as if he had run full speed into a brick wall.
Ever since Easter Sunday we have been talking about the resurrection appearances of Jesus, starting with Day 1, Easter Sunday itself. Last week we saw how energetically Jesus moved from place to place, with at least 3 recorded appearances on that very first day.
Luke tells us that Jesus continued to prove that he was alive for 40 days. Forty days of appearing and presenting himself, saying “See? It’s me. Touch. Put your finger in the wounds. Watch me eat some food.”
“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3
Then on Day 40 he said good-bye, raising his hands in blessing and rising into the sky until clouds hid him from their sight.
Blinded by His Way, Blind to The Way
Luke continues the story of what happened next in Acts, more fully entitled the Acts of the Apostles. After watching Jesus ascend, they waited as instructed until Jesus fulfilled his promise of sending the Holy Spirit. This event occurred 10 days after Jesus’ ascension, or 50 days after his resurrection.
Luke describes the 10 day wait as well as the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit on day 50. At that point, the infant church began to grow, not just in numbers, but in their life together. Little did they know that persecution would begin very soon.
It was jealousy that turned the Jewish leaders against them. Arrest was the first tactic. But as the church continued to grow, the efforts to shut down this new movement increased, until the day that Stephen was stoned to death before a large crowd.
That was the day Saul of Tarsus became the recognized leader of the opposition to the infant church (Acts 7:58).
His efforts to snuff out the life of this movement, at that time called “the Way,” grew more bold. Saul took to the road, traveling north to Damascus in search of Christians.
Luke uses an interesting turn of phrase at this point. Saul “went on his way” looking for “any belonging to the Way (Luke 9:2-3).”
He was about to have his way changed forever.
Blinded and Knocked Flat
With the speed of light, God knocked Saul off his horse. Literally. It was that sudden. And that fierce.
As he hit the dirt, Saul heard a voice address him personally,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Saul knew this had to be God himself addressing him, the God he had worshiped as Yahweh, the God whose reputation he thought he was defending against this new sect.
“Who are you, Lord?” Paul surely wasn’t prepared to have the speaker identify himself with these words, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:5).”
Notice that Jesus didn’t deny the title “Lord” when he answered Saul. In one sentence Jesus accepted the divine title and identified himself with “the Way,” the fledgling church that was worshiping him.
This paradigm shift knocked Saul flat. Not just off his horse, but out of everything he thought he understood about Yahweh, his God. The first commandment, “The Lord your God, the Lord is One. You shall have no other gods before me” had driven his opposition to the early Christians. Suddenly, the Trinity loomed before him, One God in three persons.
No wonder he had to be blinded first, before he could see.
No Longer Giving Orders, but Receiving Them
Up until now, Saul had been the one giving orders. Gifted as a leader, he had taken action and was quickly ramping up his campaign against the early church. But now Jesus tells him what to do.
“But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Acts 9:6
Like a small child, Saul has to be led by the hand into the city he had planned to rid of Christians. There he sat in darkness, neither eating nor drinking. His world had turned upside down. Imagine his active Scripture filled mind, sifting and searching to understand what had just happened to him. He fasted, surely in order to seek the God he thought he had known, but who had utterly floored him.
It took three days for him to rise from his dead faith and embrace this new understanding.
On the Third Day
Think of it. Three days of no sensory input. No seeing, no tasting or smelling food, no hearing except his own mind, filled with questions. No touch by another human.
But during his time of virtual death, the Lord was busy. He appeared in a vision to Ananias, who was a believer in Jesus, asking him to find Saul and lay hands on him so his blindness could be healed.
Ananias didn’t think this sounded like a good idea, because Saul’s reputation had preceded him. No doubt he had been bracing himself for the persecution that was coming his way. Possibly he was in hiding or had made escape plans of his own.
But the Lord answered his protests and assured him that this was part of the divine plan. Ananias responded like a true disciple. Jesus said “Go” so he went. Disciples know how to respond to Jesus’ voice. “Here I am Lord.”
That’s when Saul rose from the dead, becoming Paul.
The Final Eye Witness
The appearances of Christ didn’t end with his ascension. They ended with this final resurrection appearance, when he called to Saul on the Damascus road.
This appearance didn’t thrill the one who saw it, like his other appearances had given hope to so many others. It blinded him so that he could come to his senses and believe. Saul the killer became Paul the apostle, called to preach the gospel to the known world of his day.
Reflecting on the resurrection of his Lord, Paul doesn’t simply state the doctrine, but includes his own experience:
“That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
Perhaps this is where Paul paused and took a deep breath,
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
1 Corinthians 15:4-8.