By Timothy Roettger
I still remember the day a great man died, while I stood by and watched. The fact that I did nothing to help was not my worst action that day; it was the fact that I honored it. I stood by as those men stoned a good man. A godly man named Stephan. I thought I knew what godly was at that point. I was so proud of myself, of my origins and my affiliations I staked my life on it. I remember praising God that this heretic was being stoned. He was not a great man; he was not a teacher, or one of the elite religious leaders. Yet when questioned he sought to bring us understanding. Imagine that a commoner teaching the elite. Imagine that. Just like that Jesus, a carpenter’s son setting himself to be the Son of God. We knew his father, we knew his family and he dared to exalt himself over our leaders. He dared teach them, what a fool I thought him then. But only then.
I was traveling on the road to Damascus that day. I had obtained permission to bind any of these “Believers” of which I sought to destroy. It was my passion then. It angered me that thought themselves privileged to obtain by a gift what I sought my entire life with works. After all I was a Jew of Jews. If any would be saved it would have been me. As I walked on that road I came into contact to truth itself. One moment I was prideful, relishing my accomplishments, the next minute I mourning them. I don’t think it was the light that blinded me; I believe that it was the state of my sinful soul. I knew whose presence I was in before he spoke. I knew my sin. In one moment I had gone from revering myself to revolting myself. My own sin turned my stomach and when he spoke, it was like a sword splitting me in two with a truth so sharp it hurt to hear. “Saul, why do you persecute me?” The words rang in my ears like clanging cymbal that would not die out. The words were power and through them they brought into existence something from nothing, conviction was brought from pride. My own memories stood accusing me. And I did not understand them at the time. How could I be wrong? I studied the scriptures from a young age. I knew them, the priests loved me and I had made a name for myself. I worshiped the God of Israel, so I thought. But here stood God before me. I need not question that it was He, yet I didn’t know him. I couldn’t recognize him. There was one thing that brought me to my knees, even before this voice spoke. One thing stood out to me above even all that I have committed in God’s name. The fact that I didn’t know God, and here God stood before me asking why I persecuted Him. I spoke the only words I could, “Lord, who are you?” I knew he was God but everything rang out in me so clearly. My very flesh longed for the knowledge of knowing this God who stood before me. My very being recognized this as my creator, the Great I Am.
“I am Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. Its hard for you to kick against the Goads.” Again my very existence was split. What have I done? I had sought to destroy that which was God’s and I knew it. I thought I had encountered God before that day but I can tell you, when you meet God your whole outlook changes. My soul thirsted for Him, and my flesh longed for Him, for He was God. All those moments I had reservations on my quest to imprison and persecute, they were Him calling me. He should have destroyed me that day. He should have laid waste to my existence making an example of me before his foes and to those who would seek to persecute His people. But He didn’t. I could only cry out to him for a revelation of what I needed. “Lord what do you want me to do?” I was terrified and astonished. Astonished that I still was breathing and terrified at what was next. Would God strike me down now that I knew His name? If he had mercy on me, would his people? I was a sinner, and there is a worthy saying that is applicable to me “Christ came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am greatest of all.” The volumes of sin that I had committed are to great to be numbered. But still I breath and live, here in the presence of God. And I see all for what it is. My works are of nothing. It is faith that we are saved, and not of ourselves it is a work of God. It is a gift to us.
God didn’t bring me to someone who could answer my questions right away; instead I wandered three days blind. Not only in my eyes but in my spirit as well. My eyes only reflected the state of my soul. I was the blind leading the blind. As each of those days passed by, I became more and more steadfast in my decision to follow Jesus. I knew more then any perhaps what would be suffered at the embracing of His name, after all, I was one who carried out such persecution. God showed me many things those three days. He told me some of the hardships and trials I would face and still I could only say “Lord what do you want me to do?” All I was and all I am cries out for Him who is above all and all. And now I truly know the way. It was never my works that would save me, which indeed was a surprise to me. It was through faith in him alone that I would be saved. Works were only a sign of something I didn’t have, love. I didn’t love God, I didn’t even know God. But that was then, and now I had changed. I was new. When three days passed Ananias came and prayed for me. When the scales dropped from my eyes, I clearly saw not only that what was around me, I saw what I needed to do next. Immediately I was baptized. I repented from that which I was to embrace God. To embrace all that He showed me that I might walk in His love and walk in His ways.
When I came out from the water my perspective changed. The guilt was gone and all I saw was God before me. The weight of my past no longer rests upon my shoulders, but on His. I truly see all that Jesus did on the cross. He died for me. He set me free from a prison of pride and arrogance. He broke in and shattered my chains. It was all I could do to contain the joy and love that God had bestowed upon me and I could only see that if God’s grace touched and saved me, surely it could others. How could anyone not embrace this love? I went and preached Christ in Damascus. Others were there were expecting me to imprison and persecute this group of heretics, instead I preached what there message for now it was mine. Grace had come and chased away sin and death. I don’t walk now by my works but by His. His grace is free to all who call upon his name and repent. I thank God daily that I have been counted worthy to receive such grace and that I have the pleasure of preaching it, and suffering for it. Truly this is a worthy cause.