I have read Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 many times. However, I’ve never encountered anything close to his spiritual transformation until I came across this video. It’s a full 15 minutes. Please, take the time to watch this in full. My commentary follows.
Sometimes, I walk through my Christian life in a daze, bumping into people and mindlessly saying “excuse me” before I’m finally knocked in the head by some calamity. Or perhaps a family chaotic frenzy pulls me out of it. It’s hard for the word of God to spring forth from our souls with joy and thanksgiving. We are weighed down by the cares of this world and tend to take our liberty in Christ for granted. Our lives, at times, resemble a robotic assembly line—rising, performing chores, eating on the go, watching television, then rushing off to bed as if it were one more thing to check off our to-do list. Meanwhile, our eyes are veiled from spiritual reality. God’s presence is felt only on Sunday mornings (providing the preacher yells loud enough to keep us awake), at bedsides of dying loved ones, and when near-death experiences remind us there really is someone UP there.
This man’s conversion in the video reminds me God is alive and active. While fumbling through my fog, God is moving about the earth ensuring his word will not return to him void.
“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
As God moves and touches the lives of others, I doubt. Don’t you? Why? Because we’ve lost our spiritual connection. To stay connected, we must be in constant prayer . . . about everything. (I Thessalonians 5:17)
Remember Colton Burpo—the four-year-old who saw heaven and described to his father all that he had seen and heard. Or perhaps you remember young Akiane Kramarik, the four-year-old girl who also saw heaven and returned from her dreamlike state and began to paint. I dare not speculate on Burpo or Kramarik and the circumstances by which they came to encounter heaven and Jesus. I’ll allow the skeptics to handle that debate.
However, this video touched me in ways Colton Burpo’s and Akiane Kramarik’s story could not. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to the word of God for so long that I readily connected it to Saul’s conversion. Or maybe it’s because out of this man’s conversion came a spiritual transformation more miraculous than a painting or a young boy confirming heaven is for real.
Muslim culture is hard for us to grasp. As we drench ourselves in news reports of suicide bombings, we can’t fathom God changing anyone who does such things. Our perceptions are fostered by the stiff-necked who portray themselves as representatives of the Muslim faith. As you and I know, not all Muslims are violent.
To watch this man openly share his encounter with Jesus Christ and profess his faith is no small matter. This is huge! Like Saul of Tarsus, he places himself at risk of being killed. If caught, haters might hang his body in an open marketplace as a warning that Christianity won’t be tolerated. Far worse, he will be prohibited from spreading the word of God to his people.
When you and I think of going on a missionary journey, Gaza, Iran, Libya, Iraq or Syria don’t come to mind. I think Africa—not because I’m African-American, but because that’s what is constantly flashing on my television screen. But through this man’s powerful testimony, I am deeply reminded the most outcast, most dangerous, most vicious, most violent of sinners can and will be brought to Jesus. There are no borders God can’t cross. No cultures he can’t reconcile. No storm he can’t calm. No language he can’t speak. There is no one he can’t forgive. No tool he can’t use. No hate he can’t melt. No confusion he can’t ease. No guilt he can’t erase. No heart he can’t mend. No soul he can’t protect against a fall.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:18-21)
Most of us don’t know a real-live Saul. We can preach Saul’s story, but can we relate to it? Most have never murdered. We’ve never persecuted anyone and placed them in jail. We haven’t sought, and probably would never seek authority to pursue and persecute the church. Saul was all this. He stood tall in the face of what he deemed righteous and boldly flogged the church and anyone else who got in the way.
Yet, God used him.
You can’t fabricate a story like this. It’s no fairy tale. It isn’t a paper doll of a story to be spread out on the floor or atop a table while we muse over how to clothe it. None of us possess that kind of spiritual depth. Throughout biblical history, God used the most unlikely characters to bring forth his word.
• Mary, an unwed teenager; an object of a possible scandal. The risk had it not been God’s will — stoned to death.
• Moses, a tongue-tied Jew removed from his people to live the good life as an Egyptian. An object to be rejected by the very people he was sent to save. The risk had it not been God’s will — killed by Pharaoh.
• Peter, a disciple who swore he’d never leave Jesus, but he did. The risk had it not been God’s will — if Jesus hadn’t appeared and included Peter in the great commission, Peter might have ended up a bitter, angry man.
• Various women throughout the New Testament, many unnamed, who ministered to the apostles. During the time of Jesus, women were considered second-class citizens with almost no status and authority. They couldn’t own property. The risk had it not been God’s will — continued oppression of women.
So, when God moves about the earth and decides to enter the prison cell of an unknown and reveal himself, what am I to make of it? Doubt? Think it’s a disguise for ill-gain? I don’t think so. But I can relate to the doubters. I remember how believers reacted to Saul’s conversion. They were afraid. Apprehensive. Read with me:
“. . . Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’” (Acts 9:19-21)
“When he came to Jerusalem, he (Saul) tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:26-27)
Should we be surprised many will doubt this man’s account? We’re afraid. Smiling, but not trusting. Or should we move our eyes from the messenger to the message? Just as Christ designated Saul to become a disciple to the Gentiles, is he not also proclaiming this man in the video to become a messenger to Muslims? Hamas? Hezbollah? What better tool to carry the word of God into a violent, lost world than one of their own?
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” (I Thessalonians 2:13)
God has chosen this man to preach the gospel, appearing to him in as much the same way as he appeared to Saul many years ago. Surprised? If God has reserved a remnant of his people for himself, wouldn’t it stand to reason someone will preach to the Middle East and the people obey? How can they obey unless they hear the message?
“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.’ It is just as Isaiah said previously: ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.’” (Romans 9:27-29)
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
If God has judged this man and deemed him fit to speak throughout the Middle East, who are we to sit in judgment? If God does not send him, who will go? Me? You? Your children? Who?
God’s power and love overwhelms me. I am weak in the midst of his goodness and moved by his compassion to reach those we deem unreachable. He continues to use the most unlikely candidates for his glory.
Whether you believe this man’s story or not, he is likely to be persecuted for the kingdom of God, or for being an imposter. Either way, he will likely die. He will cry out for help. His own people will hate him. Some Americans will hate him; distrust him; keep him under tight scrutiny. He will end up being on the run, perhaps. Maybe he, too, will become shipwrecked, hungry, working menial jobs so he can eat. But whatever form of hardship he endures, he will do so for the sake of Jesus Christ.
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” (Revelation 6:9)
In the end, I hope this man will say:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7-8)
“. . . hide his word in your heart so that you might not sin against him?” (Psalms 119:11 – I’ve paraphrased this verse)
“. . . hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)
“For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)
Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Poet, Novelist
August 6, 2014