While amazing things are happening in Samaria in Acts 8, in Acts 9 Saul is still causing havoc among those he dubbed “the Way” (Acts 9:2). To Saul any Jew deserting the teachings of Moses for this other “way” of Jesus, was “speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God” and “against the holy place and the law” (Acts 6:11 and 13).
So in Acts 9:1-2 Saul “went to the high priest (in Jerusalem)” to “ask him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that….he might take them (the Jesus followers) as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul was in a rage, that all this stuff about Jesus was a dangerous cult that needed to be stamped out by jailing and killing off its followers, even as far away as Damascus, because to him there was nothing Godly about this “way” at all.
But Saul’s in for a bit of a surprise, because as “he neared Damascus,” clutching his signed letters from the high priest to drag all Jesus followers to Jerusalem, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him,” Acts 9:3.
It was like a near hit by a lightning bolt, because his knees crumpled and down he went. And that’s when “he heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (verse 4). And amazingly, Saul immediately accepts the voice as real and he has no problem replying to it.
But what made Saul ask in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?” His first three words are understandable, because the voice had accused him of picking on “me,” and Saul was simply checking out who the “me” was – but why did he follow that up with the word “Lord”?
Why ask who “me” was if he already knew it was “the Lord”? And what made Saul think it really was the Lord speaking – because what previous experience of the Lord being so personal had Saul had up to this point?
But go back to the story of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7, and it’s not surprising that Saul immediately suspects this is the Lord in person speaking to him. Saul’s experience with Stephen had been surreal, first in Stephen’s amazing wisdom (Acts 6:10), then Stephen crying out in Acts 7:56, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” and again in Stephen’s dying words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” in Acts 7:60.
What must’ve really rattled Saul, though, was Stephen putting the “Son of Man” and “Lord” together, because that clearly identified Jesus (the Son of Man) as the “Lord.” Stephen had also actually seen Jesus in his lofty position at God’s right hand, so from Stephen Saul learnt for the first time in his life that Jesus was alive still, and he was both powerful and personal.
It’s not surprising, then, that Saul had no trouble accepting the “me” in verse 4 as the Lord Jesus, because a switch had already been clicked in his head by his experience with Stephen that this new movement of Jesus followers wasn’t just an impersonal “Way,” it was based on Jesus being alive in power and person.
But look what it took to bring Saul to that point. It wasn’t an impersonal “Way” – or a system of beliefs, doctrines, creeds and rituals – that got to Saul; it was the amazing difference that being “full of the Spirit” had made in Stephen: he was full of “God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). And that made Stephen into a wonderful and visible witness to Jesus being alive, which is exactly what Jesus said would happen when his disciples were filled with the Spirit in Acts 1:8. And now in Acts 9 we actually see that witness happening in the impact that Jesus being alive, powerful and personal in Stephen’s life had made on Saul.
So it’s real; it happens, and amazingly so in the likes of a man like Saul. Does that mean, then, that because of the Spirit in us the same switch is being clicked on in other people’s heads too?