“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?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.””
When Jesus revealed Himself to Saul on the road to Damascus, the Saul who would become known as great apostle Paul, "the Lord appeared to him in His great light" and in so doing, the Lord came to “separate Paul from the light of this world” and the process left Paul literally blind. Thankfully, from that moment, Paul recognized Jesus as the true Christ, the Messiah that the Jewish people had been waiting for.
The Lord told Paul, that he would be instructed about the right path that he should follow.
Acts 9: 6-9
“So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
While Saul had been very religious and zealous for God, he had “not been on the right path” because he had refused to accept that Jesus was the Son of God and as a result he disobeyed God and persecuted the Christians. He needed to be awakened and delivered from his rebellious path. If he would have not received the correction of the Lord, he would have been keeping the door open for receiving even more suffering by continuing to persecute the Lord and His people. The more he would rebel, the “the more he would feel suffering pain for kicking against the goads.” The expression that Jesus used was very suggestive. In those days, oxen teams were yoked together to pull wagon loads or for farming. When the oxen refused to follow the directions given by their masters, they used something called goads to force the animals to cooperate. As long as the animal stayed on the path and did as directed, they would never know the pain of the goad. These goads were made from a type or cane or strong reed that farmers would cut and prepare them by sharpening them or inserting something sharp in the end of it. Saul knew immediately what the Lord meant.
“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Why did the Lord choose the process of using Ananias to heal Saul and not just heal him immediately? By sending one of His faithful children there in Damascus, God helped the local church change their opinion about Saul and to help show them that he truly was now their brother in Christ. It was God's way to help them no longer fear Paul as “Saul the persecutor and enemy of the the church” and to help launch Paul's ministry.
God always has a purpose and a plan in everything He does; whether we can understand it at the time or not. It is truly helpful for us all to realize that it is how God works. When God chooses to manifest Himself by signs and wonders, visions, dreams, words of knowledge, prophecies and so on, He has His purposes in doing so. We need to learn to pay close attention to the voice and direction of the Lord. God's directions are always in conjunction with the Bible. He would never lead us against what His written Word says. Saul knew very well the teachings of the “Law of Moses” (The ”Torah” or the “Pentateuch” that the Jewish people received from God through Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament) and he was also well-versed in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. He knew he could not ignore the vision that God had given him and to take it very seriously and the change in Paul can be seen in the evidence of Paul's life.
From the moment Saul saw Jesus, Saul knew that he was guilty of all the atrocities he had committed against God's children.
Paul was about to face the hard reality himself of what it would take to suffer for Jesus' Name. The Lord told Ananias:
“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”” (Acts 9:15-16)
Even though Paul chose to obey and serve God, it seems that there was a certain amount of suffering he would have to endure. Paul suffered multiple persecutions during his 32 years of ministry (from his conversion in 36 A.D to his death in 68 A.D. when he was martyred at the command of the Roman emperor Nero). But if he had not repented and obeyed God, the price he would have paid would have been even higher, on earth and eternally. Paul considered his sufferings (that he listed in 2 Corinthians 11), to be from “a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7) and not caused by God. The Lord equipped Paul with all he needed to endure the many, many hardships he faced and Paul even considered them as “but a light affliction, which is but for a moment” that “is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And God does the same for all of us. For more on this matter, please consider the article “Paul's Thorn in the Flesh.”
Had Saul persecuted Christians out of mere ignorance or even stubborn ignorance? There is no doubt that Saul had witnessed the strength and determination of the Christians he had persecuted. He witnessed them preferring to die than to deny their Lord. While there is much speculation on this subject, one thing is clear, Paul ceased from being “the persecutor” and lived the rest of his days being a “persecuted one” and chose himself to die for his faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul's deep relationship with Jesus and the abundance of revelation that he received through the Holy Spirit along with the knowledge of the Word of God truly gave Paul the strength to keep on ministering and even ministering with joy, in spite of all the pain, hardship and persecution and to never go back to his old life.
When faced with the truth of who Jesus is, Paul accepted it. I pray that all those who are reading this today, will keep a right relationship with Jesus Christ all the way to their last breath. Even if at times, it might seem hard to stay faithful and keep living for God, we must choose to do so, because as we do, the Holy Spirit will strengthen us just as He strengthened Paul and we too will know the power of these words: ''I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)