LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The conversion of Saul the Pharisee was one of the most dramatic in history. He despised Christians, believing their “gospel” to be an idolatrous perversion of the Jewish faith of his fathers. Saul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus with official papers authorizing the arrest of known Christians. In the middle of the day; however, a light brighter than the Middle Eastern sun suddenly burst upon him. Blinded and terrified, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer came in a voice from heaven, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Everything changed, including his name. Saul became Paul. He went from being a hostile outsider to intimately united to Jesus. The very location of his sense of identity moved. For years he had lived inside a sense of Jewish heritage, elite education and scrupulous keeping of the law as the markers of his life. Now he considered all that as nothing compared to being located in Christ. Over and over Paul uses that simple phrase to take us into the riches of grace Christ brings us. This signature expression “in Christ” reveals a reality that pervades the New Testament. Jesus has opened for us an intimate, insider union with himself. This joining fills us with a sense of Christ’s presence, love, forgiveness and hope.
This famous painting by Caravaggio expresses the dramatic transformation Paul underwent. It is an emblem of the deep change anyone experiences in moving from “outside” to “inside” Christ Jesus.
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da. Conversion on the Way to Damascus. 1601. Oil on canvas. Cerasi Chapel, Rome.
DAY 1 SUNDAY
PAUL RELOCATES INTO CHRIST
DISCOVERING WHAT'S "IN CHRIST"
Acts 22: 3-16
In Paul’s own words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus . . . educated at the feet of Gamaliel [a famous rabbi], according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God. . . . I persecuted this Way [Christianity] to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women. . . . I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
And one Ananias, a devout man . . . came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
Acts 26: 17-18
“‘I am sending you [to the Gentiles] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”
When have you had moments of realizing, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see?” (If the answer is “never,” what do you imagine you are missing?)
Describe the circumstances leading up to the realization.
Describe the change in focus that occurred in you after this realization.
After his Damascus Road experience, Saul changed his name to Paul, and considered himself from that time on to be “a man in Christ” (2 Cor. 12: 2).
How would you describe Saul before conversion? He was a man in ________?
Consider what it means to have your leading identity statement be “I am a (wo)man in Christ.” How would that distinguish you from other identities?
TREASURES FROM THE STOREHOUSE OF CHRISTIAN WISDOM
Paul writes again of his transformation in Philippians 3: 3-4, 7-11:
For we . . . worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. . . . But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
What does it means to be “found” in someone? Think of the ways we might finish this sentence, “If you’re looking for me, you can be sure you’ll find me. . . .” The answer would say lots about what we love and value. You can find me . . . watching the Tigers. Working on my computer. Down at the boats. Hunting at the camp. Taking care of Dad.
What would your life look like if people said about you, “Oh, you can find him/her in Christ”?
PRESSING INTO CHRIST
Graham Kendrick set to music Paul’s ardor for Jesus recounted in Philippians. This song epitomized a season of renaissance in my faith when the Holy Spirit reignited my first love for Jesus. It’s directly affectionate, a true love song to our Savior. It captures our yearning to have our soul’s true home to be “found in him.” I invite you to YouTube
this beautiful song and sing along in your prayers today. Here are the first two verses and the chorus:
All I once held dear, built my life upon,
All this world reveres, and wars to own,
All I once thought gain I have counted loss,
Spent and worthless now, compared to this:
Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing.
You’re my all, you’re the best!
You’re my joy, my righteousness,
And I love you, Lord.
Now my heart’s desire is to know you more,
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness:
Knowing you . . .
Graham Kendrick, “Knowing You,” 1993.