[Speaking to the crowd in Jerusalem Paul says,] “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
How do you do with glitz? Do neon signs, razzle-dazzle lasers, and fancy LED lights get your attention? Whether at a rock concert, an entertainment mecca, or megapolis business district, lights and signs are designed to point us to an event, product, or opportunity for others to gain from our attention. The lights of Hollywood or Times Square can blind us to the financial and spiritual poverty from which they spring.
Not so the light of God. God’s light is for the purpose of bringing us to him, to bless and guide us, for our eternal great good. As Paul is describing his conversion (the second of three accounts of it in the book of Acts), he makes it clear that the light from heaven blinded him – and not just figuratively-speaking. God’s light from heaven will blind Paul so that he is unable to chart his own course, make his own decisions, or act independently from others. In fact, he is about to have to rely on the very people he was seeking to persecute. But this is only the starting point.
The Psalmist says of God, “in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). Paul’s blindness is actually an enlightening moment that he needed in order to see clearly that he wasn’t in control; that he needed actually to listen to God, and not his own self-righteous impulses. He needed also to learn that when he sought to harm Jesus’ followers, he was harming Jesus himself. That was a significant revelation to Paul. Jesus was alive. He is Lord. He loves and cares for his people – even suffering in their persecution.
This enlightening moment will prove to be a moment of major repentance, but it is only the first half of a complete turn-around in Paul’s life. For Paul will not only be laid low in this event, but as such he will be set up to hear incredible good news. He will learn of God’s mercy: he isn’t just wrong; God has a better path planned for him. He will serve the cause of Christ’s mission.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this sort of extreme comeuppance in your life. Maybe you’ve had to be led by the hand, and wait for God’s next step in your life. Maybe the glitz and glamor of the world has even blinded you to a deeper poverty from which God desires to deliver you. Be sure of this: God’s intent is not merely to blind, or bring you down. He had great plans for Paul. God has great plans for all people who seek him and come in an attitude of humility and faith into the light of his mercy, grace, love, and salvation.