Like Abraham’s adventure of faith twenty-two centuries earlier, God completely displaces the life that Paul would have lived in Jerusalem, with a life-script so unimaginable that part of the legitimacy of the transforming message of Paul to the polytheistic, idol-worshipping culture of the Greco-Roman world…was the reality of this abrupt, total turn-about in Paul’s life.
The great divide between worldly conventional thinking and the higher, living ways of God begins for Paul at this revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God on the road to Damascus. The journey for Paul to become a research scholar of “real” truth at the grassroots level begins through the lived-experiences of his God-composed journey of faith life-script to evangelize the first-century Greco-Roman world.
In Acts 9:10-16, the story is recounted of a Christian named Ananias living in the city of Damascus, who Jesus tells in a vision to go to Saul of Tarsus, currently in the house of Judas on a street called Straight in Damascus, and to “lay hands” of healing on Saul to restore his sight. In the vision, when Ananias objects that this Saul of Tarsus is notorious as a persecutor of the Christian church, Jesus answers: “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Certainly this part about Jesus saying that He will show Paul how great things he must suffer as a missionary evangelist to the first-century Greco-Roman world, was for the benefit of Paul to understand in advance the cost of the inevitable, balancing justice of payback that would come to Paul for the “much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). As Paul is being stoned, beaten, jailed, mobbed, forced to leave cities and towns, and generally opposed everywhere in this ministry (Acts 28:22), it would certainly help in the all-important human question to God in the midst of adversity: “why is this happening to me, God?” to be able to look at the dynamics of persecution towards Paul from the viewpoint of someone who had himself been the chief persecutor of the early church in the very recent past.
If God had chosen someone other than Paul as the first evangelist to bring the gospel message to the larger Greco-Roman world in the first-century, who was completely innocent of any such persecution of the early church, and was a recent new recruit filled with the naïve optimism of a reformer, they still would have been met with the same fierce opposition that Paul encountered. To be successful, this other person would have had to become quickly hardened to the potentially lethal reality of bringing God’s light into spiritual darkness (Jn. 1:5).