The last day of the trip to Damascus.
Saul had slowly dropped to the back of the group, and seemed distant.
At first the others just ignored him to let him sort out whatever it was that kept him preoccupied. After a time, they tried to find topics that would get Saul to open up, but he remained distant.
Saul’s brain wouldn’t stop churning…
Why am I wasting days, walking miles and miles, to pursue this nonsense?
They have to know that I am coming. I have chased them from one side of Jerusalem to the other.
Are these people foolish, crazy or dumb?
The point of running and hiding is to avoid being caught.
When these people from “The Way”, run away from me to different cities, the last thing they are doing is hiding. They don’t stay behind closed doors. They stir up the people where ever they land. Within days of arrival, they upset the priests in the synagogue, and almost start a riot.
Then the Pharisees come looking for me.
“Saul”, they say, “now they infect the ears of our people in Damascus. You must go. Talk to the high priest and hurry.”
The high priest was in agreement immediately. “Go and find these, these, people from “The Way” and bring them back to Jerusalem where they belong. We will see to them here. You must stop them, Saul.”
Yes, of course I must. But why are they so persistent? What am I missing?
I am going to go to Damascus, to chase people that want to be found.
They have already gone through Samaria, west to Caesarea and now north to Damascus. They aren’t ashamed or embarrassed…they purposely leave a trail of followers everywhere they go.
I could understand if Jesus was the catalyst to this movement, but he died. I saw him die with my own eyes.
Up on that hill between those thieves.
I witnessed it. And not my eyes only, but just about everyone in Jerusalem.
So many prophecies could have come to pass in Jesus. He fit perfectly into so many promises in the Scripture, from his birth to his following. Even I was interested to hear him speak. He seemed to speak with such deep meaning, always leaving the listener yearning for more. We all listened until he began to shun us publicly. That was when we knew that his message was tainted and he had to be proven to be a fake quickly.
I was watching with great interest, because this would be the test. If a man claimed to be the “Son of God”, then what power would a group of priests have over him?
He didn’t pass the test.
So why am I on this long dusty road to a Gentile city, to bring these people back home? What can’t they understand…?
“Can’t you see it now?” said Jonathan. He was holding his hand flat across his forehead to shade his eyes from the mid-morning sun.
“I think it is your imagination. How can you see anything with the sun light shining directly into your eyes”, replied Saul.
“Just squeeze your eyes together, like this”. Jonathan was squinting his eyes into little slits, creating creases in the skin on the side of his face like crows feet. “It helps you focus on things farther away, try it”. Since leaving Jerusalem, scanning the horizon had become Jonathan’s favorite method of passing time.
From the moment they had crested Mount Hermon yesterday, they had all been looking expectantly to the east for the city of Damascus. Finally it had come into sight.
“Not much to look at, though,” said Jonas.
“Wait until you have visited. Your opinion will change.”
“Saul, how many time have you visited Damascus?” asked Jonas.
“What is it like?”
“It’s an incredible city. Thousands of years ago, the city was founded by Uz, the grandson of Shem, the son of Noah. That makes it one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
Since then it has been prominent, and highly fought over. It lies at the perfect location to form a cross roads for three major lands; Asia, Syria, and Persia.
“You can find almost anything in Damascus. Traders come from all directions to sell in Damascus, and people come from everywhere to buy. It lies on the southern bank of the Barada River, which makes it easily accessible from anywhere.
It is one of the most modern city, with a lot of contributions by the Romans. They just finished a new the water system to make maximum use of the river. You will see.
“It also is a place where most anything can flourish. Any new idea or way of life can thrive in the diversity of a city like Damascus.
Which is what brings us here. Religions of many different types have found Damascus as a welcome place to establish themselves. Thankfully, the synagogue here is well established. That is where we will go first.
“Then we will go and find the followers of Jesus, and one way or another, persuade them to stop…”
The words ceased, leaving the statement hanging in midair. The sound of Saul’s shuffling feet also stopped.
Everyone in the group turned to look back at him, thinking that someone had slapped their hand over his mouth to stop him from speaking.
They saw Saul on his knees, staring at the ground.
Then Saul fell forward the rest of the way, his chest dropping onto the rocky path.
Jonas called him, “Saul, what’s wrong?”
He seemed confused, lifting his head and turning from side to side, looking up at them, gazing directly at each of them in turn but never actually acknowledging their presence.
Saul was shining.
Like the way a new Roman shield would shine when reflecting the sun at noon.
In the stir of a warm breeze they could hear a low hum, like the sound of a voice carried on the wind across an open field.
Saul had stopped his words, because suddenly they didn’t seem so important.
A heavy bright hot light had replaced the sun.
Saul fell to his knees under a surge of power that was pressing down on him.
Under the force of the light, he fell forward, totally out of control. It was a feeling similar to being trapped under a crashing wave of water, tossing and turning, completely immersed in the flow.
Saul tried to focus on his surroundings. He thought he heard voices, but they seemed distant. He lifted his head to find his companions, but all that remained was the light from the force that surrounded him.
Then, cutting through the confusion, a voice flowed out from the light. It didn’t come from any one direction. It seemed that the voice was just with him, in the light.
The sound of it was somehow familiar.
He knew it. He recognized its tone.
It wasn’t from any one of his traveling companions.
Then he saw Him.
Not really standing in front of him, but in the light all around him.
Jesus was there, looking at him. In a face that Saul knew all too well, with the very same expression of love and patience that had always been there.
“Saul”, He said, in firm voice to gain attention, like waking someone up from a dream.
At first His head had been slightly tilted to the side with concern. Now that He had Saul’s attention, it was held high with pride, demanding respect.
Then in a louder tone “SAUL!” like trying to wake someone from a deep sleep.
Lastly in more of a gentle pleading tone, the voice softly asked “Why are you persecuting me?”
This can not be. He died.
This would change everything, if he hadn’t died. But I know that voice., and that face. I am sure of it.
What is happening to me? Heat stroke…no, I am feeling fine.
This is a vision, a message from the Lord. He is speaking to me but has chosen the form of Jesus.
Why would he do that? Jesus was just a man. One that contradicted the Lord, himself.
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I AM JESUS, THE ONE THAT YOU HAVE BEEN PERSECUTING!”. Then more, in a smoother voice, “isn’t it hard for you to kick against the pricks?”
Saul’s mind began to race. Hundreds of thoughts began to collide in his mind at once…
Lord! I would never persecute the Lord.
But Jesus?! That voice. But this can not be! He is dead!
If He is here now, speaking to me, then He is not dead.
He is here, and continues on, but not on this earth.
If he continues on, then could he be a spiritual messiah, not a physical one. Not a political leader?
That would mean that everything he said was true, if spiritual and not physical.
We have been waiting for the wrong one. It means that He really is our “Messiah”.
He is here, now.
He is this light.
How can I be here? What does he want?
Saul felt frustration and anger at himself.
This changes everything.
What is he saying? The pricks. Like the ox on a farm. The ox refuses to obey, refuses to learn. He is stubborn and continues to fight back and feel pain until finally he becomes useful for use.
Yes, it is hard to fight.
Saul asked out loud, “What do you want me to do?”
“Get up, go into the city, and you will be told what to do”.
The travelers all stood staring at Saul. No one said a word. They all waited until the current of air that had carried that low rumble had ceased, and Saul was no longer glowing.
Jonathan swallowed, then looked at Jonas and gestured, as if appointing him the official spokesman for the group.
Jonas stepped forward to Saul and whispered close to his ear.
“Saul, what was that?”
He didn’t respond. He looked in the direction of the voice, but not exactly focusing on Jonas.
“Saul, are you okay? What was that sound? Who were you talking to?” Jonas asked again.
Saul rose to his feet, stumbling a little, with his arms stretched out at his side.
“Jonas, you will have to guide me the rest of the way. I can’t see.”
“What just happened”?
“Didn’t you see? Didn’t you hear?”
Jonathan replied, “You were glowing, Saul! You looked like you were actually part of the sun itself!”
“We heard the wind pick up, and there was a strange moaning sound, but that was all.” Then he looked around to make sure everyone had heard and felt the same. Looking around, everyone nodded in agreement.
Almost afraid of the answer, Jonas asked, “What did you hear?”
They don’t know what happened! They didn’t understand the voice.
“I heard the Lord. He told me to go on to Damascus.”
“Where should we take you, Saul, we don’t know the city?”
“Take me to the entrance of the city, God will send someone to lead us on from there.”