From Messiah to Christ
Paul passes from love for the Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures to the love of the beloved Jesus of Nazareth. He speaks of this event several times in his life and in almost every one of his letters. Let us listen to Paul’s defence and explanation of his crossing over from the Law to grace abounding in his life. I would like here to report the event, although long, which explains this wonderful Passover in the life of Saint Paul and that he tells himself, while he was in chains in prison, probably in the citadel of Jerusalem: -But Paul said, ‘I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.’ And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying, ‘Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.’ (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) ‘I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia,’ (in 8 or 9 B.C.) ‘yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And I answered, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And he said unto me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.’ And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said unto me, ‘Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.’ And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, ‘Brother Saul, receive thy sight.’ And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth, for thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; and saw him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: and when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.’ And he said unto me, ‘Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.’ (Acts 21:39-40, 22:1-21)
Saint Paul refers again, with great love and gratitude, to the event at Damascus, while defending himself before King Agrippa in chapter twenty-six of the Acts of the Apostles: -
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, ‘Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.’ Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: ‘I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” And I said, “Who art thou, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 26: 1-23)