“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?‘ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” (Acts 9:3-5)
Saul was a man who was quite vigorous and zealous for the Lord, though his initial efforts were quite misguided and futile. He had heard but ignored the warning of Gamaliel and began to violently persecute those who believed in Jesus, thinking that he was doing God’s work. He must have recalled the warning of Gamaliel as he lay on the road outside Damascus. He asked the question that the disciples had not asked in John 21 “Who are you Lord?” He received an awesome answer, one which filled him with intense numbing fear. Jesus, the one Saul had been fighting against had knocked him down from the pinnacle of religious zeal. He, like so many others who would come after him, had reached the bottom, the lowest point of his life. He realized that all that he had done in his life up to that point had been worthless because, though he thought he had been serving God while he was really serving Satan. He must have felt totally disheartened and terrified for now he was blind and helpless at the mercy of Almighty God whom he had offended.
Yet the Lord showed mercy and kindness to Saul. He used obedient Ananias to reach out to him. Ananias told him the answer to his question and Saul believed. The Lord then healed him, forgave his sins and empowered him to preach the gospel with great boldness.
The experience of Paul/Saul should teach us to reach out to all people of all backgrounds even those with sordid and questionable pasts. The fact is individuals often have to sink to their lowest state before they will cry out to the Lord. They have to come to a point where they detest and loathe their lives and fall into despair. Many will, sadly, opt for suicide at this point. Yet all those who cry out and ask with faith and fear “Who are you Lord?” will find a welcoming answer. Therefore we Christians have to be there to help such despairing folks by telling them of the grace and hope in Jesus. The vilest of sinners should be able to find forgiveness and grace from the Lord in the fellowship of the Church. We should be eager to accept them with His mercy.