Acts 9:21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?”
Acts 9 shows a glimpse of the early church even before it has a name. Its members live in constant fear of arrest and persecution—if not from the Romans, then from the Jewish authorities. Already a leader named Stephen has been publicly stoned. And no one inspires more fear in the hearts of the early Christians than a man named Saul, who participated in Stephen’s execution.
Then comes a miraculous turnabout on the road to Damascus. (Said to be the oldest continually occupied city in the world, Damascus is the capital of present-day Syria.) Saul opposes the new sect so fiercely that he undertakes the 150-mile journey from Jerusalem in order to persecute Christians there. His “Damascus road encounter” abruptly alters his mission. In a supernatural intervention, God converts, rather than destroys, the chief enemy of his young church.
Acts retells the events of this chapter in several places, for Saul’s conversion shakes the world of his day. Such is his murderous reputation, however, that other Christians mistrust him and welcome him only gradually.
Against all odds, God taps Saul, the former persecutor, to lead the young church. Soon he has a new name, Paul, and is on the other side of the persecutors’ whips; his former colleagues are now trying to kill him because of his effectiveness in bringing others to Christ. In the end, Paul has to flee the Jewish zealots he originally came to aid.
Although Luke does not mention it, sometime during this period Paul withdraws to Arabia, where he has an extended time to think through his new faith and mission (see Galatians 1:17). In the course of four great missionary journeys, Paul will take the Good News of the gospel around the shores of the Mediterranean, and he also finds time to write many letters to his new converts.
Have you ever experienced an abrupt turnaround in your life?