"For some days [Saul] was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues saying, 'He is the Son of God.' And all who heard him were amazed and said, 'Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?' But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah." - Acts 9:19-22
How was it Saul changed so quickly? And how was it that he was able to say overnight something as revolutionary as "Jesus is the Son of God"? How was he able to prove Jesus was the Messiah so quickly?
The answer must be that Saul had been already wrestling in his own mind with the claims of the Christians. He had heard Stephen's speech in Acts 7 and saw how he died. He witnessed the loyalty of the Christians to Jesus, and no doubt heard some of their arguments, especially the claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. He thought he was doing right by imprisoning members of this evil new sect, but something in the back of his mind must have told him this new teaching was possibly true.
But what he really needed was an encounter with the risen Jesus himself. And that was the turning point. After Saul encountered Jesus and suffered blindness for three days, he was ready to believe when visited by Ananias. The scales fell from his eyes, and he was baptised.
Because he had already been thinking about the Old Testament and its possible connection to Jesus, he was immediately ready to proclaim Jesus in the Damascus synagogue. After encountering Jesus personally, he was ready to show that the whole Old Testament pointed to him. His arguments were persuasive (v. 22).
When someone becomes a Christian, four things are helpful: (1) testimony about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection; (2) seeing from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were foretold; (3) the example of Christians, like Stephen, who live out their faith in a compelling way; and (4) a personal encounter with the risen Jesus. These seem to be the four major factors that so quickly moved Saul from hater to disciple maker.
Father, it is a wonderful thing when a hater becomes a disciple maker overnight. We pray that this will happen in Dunedin. We pray that several of Jesus' biggest critics would suddenly become his most vocal advocates in the public square. Help us to be ready for you to do something special in our city. Fill the churches with new believers who are experiencing a real change of life through the gospel. Do miracles among us in the name of Jesus. Amen.
- Jeff Coleman