Three things happened to Saul when Jesus got personal with him, starting in Acts 9 when Jesus confronted Saul on his way to Damascus. First on the list was Saul’s mind totally accepting Jesus as LORD, as we see when Saul asked Jesus in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?”
And when Saul began teaching a few days later in verse 20 it was about Jesus being “the Son of God.” Jesus was no longer a shadowy figure to Saul, or a name to be erased. Jesus was the mighty Son of God, Lord of all. And that was the first great life changing realization Jesus created in Saul’s brain. And it’s the first great life changer for all us humans too, when “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).
But why is it so important knowing Jesus is Lord? Because in Saul’s life it prepared him for what Jesus had in mind next: Jesus had a job for Saul to do. And again it’s in Acts 9, because Jesus tells “a disciple named Ananias” in verse 10 that Saul, verse 15, “is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel.”
This is now the second thing that happens to Saul when Jesus gets personal with him. Jesus very quickly gets the point across to Saul that his life from this point on would no longer be his own. From now on Saul would become an “instrument” in the mighty Son of God’s hands, so that the name of Jesus would become very familiar to a wide range of people, including “kings.” But for Saul to have that kind of impact on people, he had to know for himself who Jesus was first of all. How could he become a visible witness to others that Jesus was alive, powerful and personal unless he’d experienced Jesus being all those things to him?
But armed with that understanding now Saul’s immediate reaction is to shoot off to “the Jews living in Damascus” to “prove Jesus is the Christ,” verse 22. He found himself desperately wanting to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus really was the Messiah sent by God to set up his kingdom on earth. To Saul this was all that mattered. He must prove, persuade, and out argue every objection, by using his acute intellect and fluency with words to help people realize who Jesus really was.
Which is when Jesus gets personal with him again, because everything blows up in Saul’s face. Instead of his fellow Jews responding to his message they “conspired to kill him” in verse 23 (and again in verse 29), causing a humiliating retreat for Saul in a basket at night (verse 25). Worse still, “the brothers” in the church also wanted Saul to stop preaching and go back home to Tarsus (verse 30). And how humiliating that was too, because as soon as Saul was gone “the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace” (verse 31).
It was a strange time of banishment for Saul, because instead of being a powerful witness to Jesus he was now stuck at home in Tarsus twiddling his thumbs and no one hears from him – or about him – for the next six to ten years. But during Saul’s long stay at home Jesus was getting one more vital point across to him, and when he got it that’s when the Spirit sends Barnabas to Tarsus to retrieve Saul and get him back on board again.
So what was it that Saul needed to learn? Well, in his own words he describes it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (or dependence on] the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20.
Jesus was now very personal to Saul. Jesus was not just a name to be preached in powerful and convincing words. Saul could do that on his own abilities, but to become the effective instrument in Jesus’ hands that Jesus had in mind for him, Saul now realized Jesus wanted to live his own life in him. That way people would have a visible witness of Jesus in Saul himself, that would wonderfully add a visual to his preaching.
And when Paul understood that he was then ready to become the apostle Paul, who in his own life now – in both power and suffering – would reflect the life and love of Jesus (Philippians 3:10).
So, is that what Jesus does when he gets personal with us? Does he get the point across to us too, first of all, that he is the mighty Son of God, Lord of all, so that we willingly accept our lives belong to him now as instruments in his hands, and that it doesn’t depend on us and our abilities to do that, but in Jesus living his life and love in us?