Paul continues his defense before King Agrippa in Caesarea, detailing his lustful pursuit of Jesus-believers all the way to Damascus:
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Ac 26:12-14).
This is amazing, and it is something we should all keep in mind as we live our lives in a chaotic world. Saul was being told that, although he thought his authority to persecute Christians in Damascus came from the chief priests, he was actually a sheep in the pasture of God being guided by a sharp stick that hurts a great deal when resisted! A poke from God is far better than running off a cliff with the rest of the herd!
“’And I said, ”Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes. So that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me”’” (Ac 26:15-18).
Here is a wake-up call for every believer who aspires to perfect unity with Jesus! In his ministry on earth, Jesus often refers to himself as the shepherd and to us as the sheep. And perhaps we have taken this metaphor too far, or not far enough. We are not just dumb sheep in a pen. Jesus is saying to Paul that the Lord’s appearance in our lives is for a purpose – to appoint us as servants and witnesses to turn people from darkness to light! And we are to follow him faithfully in perfect unity without rebellion, with peace!
Paul's defense continues:
“’Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles’” (Ac 26:19-23).
Neither should we be disobedient to the same heavenly vision reported by Paul and shared with us as a gift from God, especially in this moment of pandemic. As even our worship services are being taken away from us, we would do well to view this as Paul did.
Is our current situation of isolation a goad by the Shepherd, perhaps even a warning, that all people should repent, seek the never-ending love of God passionately, and perform deeds of compassion for our brothers and sisters that lead to forgiveness, restoration, and perfect unity with Jesus?
In this period of forced isolation and eerie quiet, let us pray in repentance, not fear.
Let us move as Paul did, from repentance to perfect unity with God.