Radical Transformation Always Requires Dying

Our church as been following the television show, A.D.: The Bible Continues on NBC as part of a campaign to get churches to both support the show and provide some framework for teaching on the book of Acts.

While I will admit to some skepticism at first on whether or not the content would be accurate (or Hollywood sensationalized), and whether the acting would be cheesy, I have been pleasantly surprised.

As our pastor says, it's not a 100% telling of the Bible. There is some supposition involved and subtle changes. However, it hits the mark more often than not and as a Christian it is a blessing to have a major network tell a story dear to my heart and with great acting and special effects.

The depiction of this angel of the Lord is so cool!

The only minor issue with it is that it sometimes stops short of the full radical impact of the scripture. In the last full episode we watched (our family is a bit behind and catching up on the DVR), it showed the preaching and stoning of Stephen. It was greatly diminished and watered down from the scriptures -- so much so that I read from Acts the entire story so the kids could hear what they missed on the screen. (Acts 6 and 7)

Again -- as long as the viewer is watching it with a good foundation of scriptural knowledge, he or she can easily tell when story lines have been embellished or truncated. And for this reason, it is helpful for my kids to hear the scripture along with the series so they know the difference.

However, last Sunday at church, the clip we watched was a powerful one that showed the story of Saul of Tarsus' interaction with Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9 and 22).

Things get real for Saul on the Damascus road

It was very well done and actually seeing it on a big screen reenacted brought a freshness to a story I've read and heard many times.

"As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 
Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink."

I never noticed before the parallel of the period of time where Saul of Tarsus was dying and Peter the Rock was emerging.

I never noticed that it was precisely three days that his blindness persisted.

I cannot believe that this time frame mirroring Jesus' death and rising again is a coincidence. I think that the parallel of these three days was part of Saul's conversion into Paul. Much like Simon Peter's "do you love me" conversation with Jesus (John 21:15), Paul needed a time of transformation from unbeliever to zealot.

Most sources agree that the human body can only go without water for three days. So I am guessing that by day three Paul was closer to death than he had ever been.

I wonder what was happening to his physical body and his spirit as this was happening? After all, he had that staggering experience on the road and then had to be led by hand to a different city from his original travel plan. He was a stranger in a strange place. Blind. Not eating or drinking. He might have been hallucinating a bit. What was going through his mind?

I wonder if Stephen being stoned before him was playing in his head. If he saw the faces of all the followers of The Way whom he had persecuted with great zeal.

He must have been so appalled and confused and scared. He must have wanted to die.

But on that third day. God sent someone to help. (Acts 9:17-19)

"So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength."

And then Paul the Apostle was born from the ashes of Saul, the Persecutor.

Every time I read stories of how God takes a flawed, frail, sinful human being and makes him or her into a pillar of the faith, I get excited. Because I know that He can do that with me -- a person who is also all of those things.

It may take a death of sorts to get there. Maybe even days/weeks/months of hardship as He makes us over into His image.

But I am confident that He will never leave us in that vulnerable and blind state without the invitation to change and new life.

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