"His companions stood there dumbstruck - they could hear the sound, but couldn't see anyone - while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing." Acts 9:7-9 (The Message).
We tend to think of Paul's "Damascus" experience as the moment when he had a blinding revelation of Jesus, lying on the ground and hearing a voice so real that his companions heard it too. No doubt that was the beginning but what about the three days of blindness and fasting in Damascus that must have elongated and consolidated that life-changing encounter with the Master.
In his letter to the Galatians, in the heat of the defence of his apostleship, he refers, possibly, to this interlude in his life, suspended in time, when the on-going revelation of Jesus forever cemented his conviction and his loyalty to Him as the Son of God. He lived in the aura of this moment for the rest of his life.
"I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preach is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
"For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man..." Galatians 1:11-16 (NIV).
What transpired in his heart in those three days of blindness and solitude? No-one dared go near him - at least none of the community of believers - because his reputation had preceded him. He was probably too stunned to say anything to anyone. Even those who hosted him, most likely people of his old persuasion, seeing his companions were like-minded and would have contacts in Damascus, would have left him alone.
How would they have understood why he was suddenly blind and why the fire of hatred against the believers had gone out? They must have either tiptoed around him or left him alone to process what had happened.
Perhaps he reflected on the bewildering experience of watching Stephen die at the hands of vicious murders, and witnessing such grace that it fired his antagonism even more. Now the Jesus whom Stephen saw in his dying moments was the Jesus who had spoken to him outside the city. So He was alive after all! He could no longer dispute that, and fighting against it was futile.
Whatever took place in his inner being during those days, Saul was convinced that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead and that everything He had preached and claimed was the truth. From now on he, Saul, soon to be renamed Paul, would as fearlessly proclaim His resurrection as he had fought against it in his ignorance.
Nothing less than a personal encounter with the risen Jesus could have ever convinced him of that truth. For three days and nights he marinated in that moment until it energised and influenced every waking minute of the rest of his life.
Without the resurrection our faith is as empty and ridiculous as any other religious fantasies taught and believed as fact. Jesus Christ of Nazareth claimed to be the Son of God and, to prove it, He said He would be crucified and, after three days, He would rise again. He said it and He did it! Whatever else He said, did and promised hinges on this.
In those three days of physical blindness, Saul came alive, and was able to "see" more clearly than he had even seen before. His eyes were opened and he saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
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