Everyone has heard of Paul’s conversion – the term ‘Damascus Road’ has become part of our language and is used to describe any sudden change of direction in a person’s life. There is no doubt that Saul’s conversion is one the momentous events in the history of the Christian church. We also know that Paul’s influence did not cease with his conversion. He subsequently became a prominent leader in the Christian church, one of its apostles. Yet he did not become a leader overnight. He had to develop as a Christian believer before he became a Christian leader.
In this passage from Acts, we see the first steps that Paul took in his Christian life. Somebody once said that what happens to many Christians after conversion is that they become like mothballs who hide in cupboards, others become like footballs whom people kick around, and some become like fireballs who shine brightly wherever they are and who spread the faith wherever they go. Luke makes it very clear that one of Paul’s first steps as a new believer was to witness for his new Master.
As we think of Paul’s method of witnessing in Damascus, we should bear in mind that he would do it according to his spiritual gift and according to his natural characteristics. Jesus had called him to be an apostle and this role would involve preaching publicly to groups of people. So we are not surprised that Paul witnessed to Jesus in this particular way when he preached in the synagogues.
We can see that he witnessed in a frank, candid manner, almost fearless, not too concerned about the possibility of hostile reactions. He was willing to stand in the middle of a large group of potentially hostile people and speak to them about who Jesus was and what he had done. Paul at that time possessed a natural fearlessness and he therefore witnessed in such a manner as he declared the gospel to the Jews in Damascus.
His fearless witness and changed convictions brought about a sense of amazement in his Jewish listeners. They knew all about his previous manner of life and of his opposition to the kingdom of Christ. But here he was now testifying to the deity of the Saviour. And the more Paul did this, the stronger he became in his confidence in what he believed and in his energy with which he declared it.
We may look at Paul and say that we are so different from him. We don’t have his special gift, nor do we have his natural temperament. The first aspect is certainly the case because we don’t have apostles like him today. Yet we might be prone to replace his apostleship with his ability to learn very quickly and say that we are not like him. We may say that we find it hard to witness because we do not know what to say. And we might be shy and nervous and conclude that we could never witness like Paul, forgetting that he himself was also aware that without Christ he was weak.
The good news is that none of us have to do so. Instead we witness to Jesus according to our knowledge and temperament. What is witnessing? One of the best definitions I have heard is that witnessing is like one satisfied beggar telling a hungry beggar where to find bread. It is telling another sinner that Jesus saves and satisfies. Such can pray to God to give them opportunities for speaking about Jesus to others.
Paul went and witnessed to the Jews in Damascus. Why did he go there first? He may have had divine guidance about where to go. But I suspect he went and witnessed to the ones among whom he had intended sinning. He had come to Damascus in order to help the Jews arrest Christian believers. Now he stayed in Damascus in order to convince the same people that Jesus was who he claimed to be. I suppose the challenge is to witness among those who know we once were sinful and tell them that we have been delivered. And we do so in a manner that is spontaneous and natural. When such do so, they find that their spiritual strength increases.