The Road to the North: Jesus Saves the Angry Religious Person
This series focuses on how Jesus saves and rescues people. In each blog episode, a Bible figure is traveling away from Jerusalem. In Bible times, Jerusalem was home to the Temple and the Holy of Holies. Therefore, Jerusalem was associated with the presence of God. In the first blog, Jesus compassionately ministered to the disappointed disciples on the road to the West, the Road to Emmaus.
This blog considers another person traveling away from Jerusalem whom Jesus rescued. This Bible story is the famous encounter of Saul of Tarsus with Jesus on the Road to Damascus, as chronicled in Acts 9. Saul represents the angry, religious person. Filled with self-righteousness, Saul had become a real terror to the Early Church. He was present at the stoning of Stephen, and now he was about to bring death and destruction to Jesus’ disciples in Damascus.
The road north from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 135 miles long. An Arabic instructor once told our class that, if no borders or roadblocks were present, it would be possible to eat breakfast at one’s home in Damascus, drive to Jerusalem for lunch, then drive to Beirut for dinner, and then drive back to Damascus to go to bed. This topography is compact. Of course, if one was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus by horse, travel would stretch out into a couple of days.
On this road north from Jerusalem to Damascus, angry young Saul set out to destroy the church. He had authorization letters from the chief priests, as well as an entourage of helpers. Yet, something happened on the way! Or, should we say, Someone happened on the way!
You may be familiar with the story. The bright light flashed. Saul lay blinded on the ground, and Jesus spoke directly to him. We understand that this is not an everyday occurrence of how Jesus deals with those who persecute the church. However, it is nevertheless a testimony of the mercy of God. The church’s greatest persecutor was about to become her greatest missionary—all by the grace of God.
What is Going on Inside the Heart of the Angry, Religious Muslim?
When we look around the world today, we indeed observe some Muslims who could be considered angry and religious. Of course, people from other religions can be angry and religious—including Christians. (Please do not post any names in the comments section!)
Saul, who later became known as Paul, shares an interesting tidbit when he recounts his testimony before King Agrippa:
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are You, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 26:14-15, emphasis added)
The expression “kick against the goads” was an agrarian idiom used to describe a stubborn animal that refused to be prodded in the right direction. Based on this testimonial, it seems that Jesus, by His Spirit, had been trying to convict Saul of his sins. Saul, the angry, religious person, refused the wooing and prodding of the Spirit. On the Road to Damascus, Jesus took an extreme measure to get Saul’s attention.
Likewise today, we may observe angry, religious people—including some Muslims. Some are cold toward non-Muslims due to an Islamic superiority complex. Others may even seek to humiliate or terrorize non-Muslims. Nevertheless, God may be appealing to them in their heart of hearts.
Would You be an Ananias to a “Muslim-Background Saul?”
You may recall the challenge God presented to Ananias of Damascus in Acts 9:10-19. Saul was still blind and had been led by the hand into Damascus. God had showed Saul that a man named Ananias would come and minister to him (v. 12). Ananias could not dodge God’s call. Saul was waiting for Ananias.
Overcoming his fears, Ananias went to meet Saul, prayed for his eyes to be opened, and then baptized him. What a joyous occasion! Luke recounts: “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). Whatever doubts or fears he had, Ananias began with five words that must have been music to Saul’s ears: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus…” Saul was now a brother in Christ. He was a child of the Heavenly Father, rescued by the Son of God!
Men, women, and children are coming to Christ in our day. They include people of every ethnicity and age group, as well as the rich and the poor. Some were “Sauls” before they met Saul. They will need a modern Ananias or an Anna to help bring them into the Kingdom of God. If God called, would you be that helper today?