Paul, granted permission to speak to the Jewish people by his Roman captors, stands on the steps, motions with his hands to the crowd, and takes a deep breath as the roars quiet to a hush. In Aramaic – Hebrew language; their language – he begins to speak.
He reminds them he is a Jew. Born in Tarsus. Brought up in the great city of Jerusalem. Taught by the beloved Gamaliel, one of the most prestigious and respected rabbis of the day. Zealous for God and the law. Persecutor of “The Way” – Christianity. Going so far as to request letters of permission to take all those belonging to it and bringing them back to Jerusalem for punishment.
But something happened on the way to Damascus. Something that changed the entire trajectory of his heart and his life. He met Jesus...and he did what Jesus said.
Paul is speaking to them Jew to Jew. He is basically saying, “I was just like you. I was once where you are right this very minute. I was attacking those against us. I know where you are coming from!” I imagine Paul silently continuing in his head, “…but I was wrong. We were wrong. Jesus is the Messiah we have been waiting on for so long. It you meet Him, like I met Him, you would see.”
Paul is telling a beautiful story of God’s pursuit of him, even while he was actively and viciously rejecting Him. That God continues to pursue the Jews that persecute His followers. That He continues to pursue us even when we reject Him.
In Paul’s account of his transformation we uncover another truth about how God often works: one step at a time. We like everything spelled out in detail and to completion. We want to know exactly what we will be doing and what the price will be. But God usually leads us one step at a time, not telling us what step two is until we take step one. A great light appeared to Paul and he heard Jesus’ speak. His only instructions: “Rise, and go into Damascus.” Blind, the strong-willed and independent Paul is led by others to Damascus. He could have thrown himself on the ground and wailed about his blindness, or continued in his rejection of Jesus, but instead he went. He was obedient in step one which opened the door to step two and hearing God speak to Paul through Ananias. Our life is not to be one of following a neatly tied up 80+ year project plan, it is a life of walking in obedience…one step at a time.
While we pray for God to show us His will, God says, “take step one.” I’m betting we all have some idea what our step one is. We’ve known it and heard it for some time now, but we are waiting for more. We want more details. We want to know how it will all work and what the result will look like. We want to know how we will possibly make it happen. But God continues to whisper, “step one is all you need for now”. Step one equips us for step two, which equips us for subsequent steps. If we saw the entire path without knowing the equipping along the way, we would reject it. We would fall to the ground and weep in our blindness instead of taking the hand of the one God put beside us in this moment and take step one. Praying for you step one today. For clarity about what it is and bravery to move that first foot.
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