The word of the day is “vessel.” By the grace of God, some of the most hostile opponents of Christianity have become its most ardent followers. For instance, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was raised as an Orthodox Christian. But in his youth, he turned against Orthodoxy and embraced the atheism of Marxist-Leninism. Yet during his imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag, he returned to his faith and became a fervent believer.
However, today in our reading of Acts 8:40-9:19, we read about the most prominent of all enemies of Christ who embraced the faith he once persecuted. Luke, the writer of Acts, reports that God had selected a man named Saul to extend the outreach of the Gospel beyond its Jewish roots. The Lord said, “… he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (OSB vs. 15).
Excelling in Judaism
Saul would be named Paul and become the chief promoter of outreach to the Gentiles. His personality was ideally suited to this task since he was a “vessel” filled with indomitable zeal. Paul writes of his former life in Judaism that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews: concerning the law, a Pharisee, concerning zeal, persecuting the church, concerning the righteousness, which is the law, blameless” (OSB Philippians 3:5).
The same zeal that drove him to “breathe threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (OSB vs. 1) drove Him to make countless followers of Christ. Saul, the Pharisee who was faultless in keeping the Jewish Law (Philippians 3:6), became Paul who insisted that the Gentiles should not be bound to the Jewish law.
Transformed by an Encounter with the Risen Christ
What transformed this archenemy of Christianity into its greatest hero? This change took place by the will of God. Paul wrote in Galatians, “God who separated me from my mother’s womb called me by His grace” so that “I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (OSB Galatians 1:16).
But how was the Almighty’s plan accomplished? An encounter with the Risen Christ turned Paul around. The apostle puts it, “God was pleased to reveal His Son in me” (OSB Galatians 1:16). The Greek term “reveal” means “to uncover” or “to unveil” (Strong’s #601, 36). The Lord has promised, “Lo I will be with you always…” (OSB Matthew 28:20). In keeping with this pledge, the Risen Lord is invisibility present with His followers. But Paul was especially privileged to see the unveiling of Christ’s presence. It was a blinding sight, a sight like disciples beheld when the Lord unveiled his Glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
God Revealed His Son in Him
But let’s read closely. Paul says that the Risen Lord was unveiled in him (OSB vs. 16). What Paul saw was no apparition or phantom. Christ revealed Himself in Paul’s soul, and that uncovering was so real and powerful that the apostle never doubted it. With the firm faith that the Risen Christ had so appeared to Him, Paul consented to be led into Damascus, healed of his both spiritual and physical blindness, and baptized.
By this experience, Paul was to be the Lord’s “Chosen Vessel” (NRSV vs. 9:15). The Greek term signifies both a container and an instrument (Strong’s #4632, 228). These words use two metaphors to describe Paul’s calling. He would be like a container that would carry the saving content of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Or he would be like an instrument, the means that God would use to bring His Word to those who were not Jews.
Reading the Scriptures, studying the church fathers, attending worship, praying, and meditating are all good and godly things. But they are not ends in themselves. When we engage in these holy activities, our sincere and fervent goal should be to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ. We may be the most informed and even enthusiastic students of the Word. We may be devoted to the teachings of the church. We may excel in Christianity as Paul excelled in Judaism. But everything that we think and do as Christians is just dabbling in sacred things unless it leads to and sustains a heart relationship to Christ.
Seeking to Know Christ
Like Paul, we can be the Lord’s “Chosen Vessel.” We can be a container of the Gospel and an instrument of the Word but only if we have something to carry and something to use to bring others to faith in our Savior and Redeemer. So, as we study, pray, worship, and serve, let us seek, above all, to know Christ and to have eternal life in a heart-to-heart and faithful relationship with Him.
Acts 8:40-9:19, encounter with Christ, persecutor to promoter of the faith, Paul’s Road to Damascus Experience, Saul excelled in Judaism, on the way to Damascus, a chosen vessel, zeal to seek and know Christ