To have an encounter with, to meet, the omnipotent God instead of merely aligning ourselves with impotent religious traditions and laws is our greatest need today as it was thousands of years ago. Nothing short of this will change us. We cannot save ourselves any more than we can give breath to life.
But first we need to be convinced God is real. And not only to be convinced, but to encounter Him personally while on this wonderful, arduous, and often confusing, journey of our lives none of us asked to be on. Even if we are on a determined course in complete opposition to the claims of Jesus Christ.
Like Saul on the road to Damascus.
The Apostle Paul (whose given name was Saul) wrote a major portion of the New Testament, writings which shaped Christian doctrine. His brilliant letters shed light on many aspects of faith in Jesus Christ and practical living. So it may be hard to believe that this man once violently opposed Christianity, entering homes and dragging believers off to prison, casting his vote in hearty agreement to send them to death.
Saul was raised a devout Jew in Palestine, becoming a Pharisee, a scholar and expert on Jewish law. He thought the claims of Christianity were blasphemous. How could Jesus claim to be the Son of God? His life mission was to put a stop to such an insult to the pure faith he cherished. He was greatly feared by Christians in the region. When he set off on the road to Damascus, he was determined to imprison anyone in Damascus who believed in Jesus.
Then Saul had an unexpected encounter. On the road, he met the risen Jesus. The encounter is described in the Bible: “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ ”
The change was dramatic and lasting. He was blind for a period of days, then began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God and God’s forgiveness boldly in the synagogues. This was a man on fire. And he had to have known the ramifications since he himself had persecuted followers of Jesus. He knew he could be killed. So after being whisked away to safety, he went on to preach the Gospel in city after city. His new name, Paul, means “asked of God” as he had been chosen to reach those outside of the Jewish faith.
In case we doubt his encounter, consider what he went through for the sake of his faith: He was beaten and imprisoned numerous times, often to the point of death. He was whipped and stoned. He was shipwrecked three times, spending a night and day in the middle of the sea. He was in danger from robbers, spies, wild animals, and enemies who wanted to kill him. He endured starvation, extreme cold, and exposure. And he suffered these great hardships with joy!
The term “Damascus Road conversion” is now commonly used to refer to an abrupt about-face on a serious issue of religion, philosophy or perhaps politics. But Paul was incapable of accomplishing this about-face, or repentance, without God revealing Himself to him. While not all encounters with Jesus Christ are so dramatic, His invitation to know Him is given to all. It may happen during the course of a conversation, reading the Bible, or a moment of desperate prayer.
Jesus is inviting you to encounter Him on the Damascus road today.
As Paul said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)