Just prior to his conversion, Paul went to the high priest himself and requested letters of authority to go to Damascus and arrest any Christians he found there (Acts 9:1-2). Having his request granted, Paul began his journey to Damascus. Little did he know what this journey had in store for him.
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.” 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.
Paul had been apprehended by Jesus Himself. This is where Paul’s motivation for his persecution of saints comes to light. Paul is instantly humbled and says: Lord what will You have me to do? Instructions were given to go into the city and wait. For three days Paul was there without sight, food and drink. Imagine the contemplations going through his mind. Everything he had dedicated himself to was exposed as lie! Deep humbling was upon this once proud Pharisee of Pharisees. The light of Jesus Christ had driven him to his knees. This “great” leader now had to be lead by the hand. God’s sovereignty was at work.
A Chosen Vessel
In the city of Damascus there was a certain disciple named Ananias. While Paul was praying he had a vision of this man coming in and laying hands on him to receive his sight (v. 12). However, Ananias had heard of Paul’s persecution against the Church. Upon his certainty that God was indeed talking to him, Ananias received this message for Paul:
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. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Paul was a “chosen vessel.” Paul’s apostleship was appointed before the foundations of the world. Paul had been uniquely qualified for his apostleship to the Gentiles through his upbringing as a Roman citizen living in a Greek speaking city. Paul was essentially a man of two worlds – the Hebrew and the Greek. He had been trained in the law of God, and at the same time been educated in Greek and Roman culture. It is imperative for an apostle to know and understand the culture of those to whom he is sent.
Gentiles, who were once strangers and foreigners to the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12), needed to be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It would take an extraordinary man to bridge the gap between the Jew and the Gentile. Paul was that unique man. Paul was a man who was Jewish in every way, to the core of his being. However, he was also a man that knew and understood the Greeks and the Romans like few Jews did. And, vital to his apostleship, he was a Roman citizen. Access was his to the great Roman Empire, to preach the gospel with liberty. His greatest obstacle was to be from his own people, not Rome.
Paul was a chosen vessel. What exactly did Ananias mean when he told Paul that God had called him as a chosen vessel? Later, in Paul’s preachings, he looks back on that divine encounter:
Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.
From that moment forth Paul began to a) know God’s will; b) see that Just One; c) hear God’s voice; and d) witness unto all men. A divine calling is the prerequisite for any five-fold ministry. Paul’s life had been apprehended by God; he was no longer his own, but the property of Jesus – his newfound Lord!
Paul immediately began to preach and testify that Jesus was the Son of God:
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
A mighty anointing was upon Paul’s life, even in the baby-stages of his Christian walk. That anointing amazed those who heard him. They could not believe that this was the same Saul of Tarsus that persecuted the Church. In fact it was not! Paul had been transformed into a new man. What better candidate could the Holy Spirit find to pen the inspired words: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (II Corinthians 5:17).
At this point, Paul could have had a dynamic ministry just giving his testimony. Had Paul never deepened his revelation of Jesus he still would have had an outwardly successful ministry. But Paul had been called as an apostle before the foundations of the world (cf. Jer. 1:5). The apostolic call requires more than a good testimony, or even a good understanding of Scripture, which Paul certainly had. There are two fundamental requirements for apostleship: 1) a history with God – experiential knowledge; and 2) revelation knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had neither, but that was all about to change.