Saul: “by faith, not by sight”


Image result for paul damascus

Saul was closely associated with the Council and other leaders of the Jews.  He would have well known the events which led to Jesus’ execution and the “wild story” of His resurrection.   It is precisely that, that seems to be one of the driving forces of his persecution of the fledgling Christian movement. It does not make sense for the dead to return.

But this is exactly what had happened. It is interesting to note that in Luke, Jesus had ended the parable of the rich man and Lazarus with an assertion that if one would not believe the words of Moses and the Prophets, they would not believe even if one returned from death!

Paul on the surface, a man who professed that his “righteousness based on the law, [was] faultless;” nevertheless he persecuted the church for the claim of resurrection (Philippians 3:6).  Maybe it was his dedication to a narrow interpretation of law that “blinded” him. He was so caught up in the tangible and in the “concrete” written word, that he failed to see what the spirit underlying the word was teaching him.

He did not grasp what the Hebrews writer concluded: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).”  Jesus, Himself had picked up on this when Thomas called for a physical sign of the resurrection, “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29).”

So there was Saul, fixated on what he thought he knew. The witnesses of Jesus’ actions during His ministry were ignored, and those who proclaimed the risen Christ were persecuted.

Then, Bang! Saul encounters Jesus on the Damascus road. All of his assumptions and prejudices were challenged.

“Saul, why do you persecute me?,” Jesus asked.

“But, who are you?”

“I am Jesus!”

[One can imagine the embellishment to the scripture:] “But, you’re dead!”

“Apparently not!”

Saul, was blinded by the brilliant light of Jesus’ presence. In a sense, he had to be physically blinded, in order to truly spiritually see. This was a conversion, and changing of the path he was on.

Yet, this life changing realisation, goes in the face of Jesus’ suggestion in Luke that even if one witnessed one returning from the dead, and didn’t believe the scriptures, they would not believe.  Maybe it is still the case with Saul. He did believe what Moses and the Prophets had taught, he just failed to fully understand.  It was his dedication to the principle (with a little enlightening from Jesus) that prepared him for what was to come.

Saul (now Paul) was transformed and could now profess, “for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).”

Are we bound by our assumptions (religious or secular)? Do we take the “seeing is believing” approach?  Or do we “close our eyes” to possibilities that don’t fit into our conceptions or plans? If so, let us seek our own Damascus moments.




Ethiopian Eunuch

The eunuch raises some key questions:  Which Candice was his mistress?  What was his nationality?   Was he a Jew?  Was he a convert to Judaism?  Was he a Proselyte at the Door? Was he a Greek Speaker?  Why does it matter?

Many people have argued that in Acts 10, Cornelius became the first Gentile Christian. There is compelling evidence, however, that the eunuch holds that distinction.

Acts 8:26-40 (ESV) reads:

“26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

With that read, let’s look at our questions. Who did he serve? Based on our timeline, it seems that Kandace Amanitore (1 BC-AD 50) seems the best fit.  If the Eunuch was serving her, then his route via the Gaza Road is the ideal meeting place for a man returning from Jerusalem en route  to her palace at Gebel Barkal in what is now Sudan.

His nationality seems to me to be Kushite.  My reasoning is thus: If he were a Jew, then he would have not questioned the intent of Isaiah’s passage.  It would at least been clear, that the author was not speaking of himself.  As to being a convert to Judaism – here his physical state as a eunuch would preclude him from worship in the Temple and most likely in the synagogue as well –  “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1 NIV)”. This leaves the “Proselyte at the Door” as the most likely scenario.  He may have gone to worship in Jerusalem, but would have found his ability to do so publicly, very limited.  This would have led (we can speculate) for him to seek God on his own.  Thus the reading of Isaiah.

It is this copy of Isaiah that answers our next question for us.  He like Philip (see Acts 6:1-5) was a Greek speaker.  The wording of the passage (Isaiah 53:7-8) is in the form found in the Septuagint. This does not in itself “prove” he was not a Hebrew speaker, but it does show he was a Greek speaker.

So we have a Greek speaking, servant of the Ethiopian queen making his way home from Jerusalem where he worshiped (or attempted to worship) the God of Israel.  He is trying to make sense of the prophet, and God leads Philip (a Greek speaking, Jewish Christian) to him with the answers.

What new doors does this open for us?

First, a man excluded from Jewish assembly is led to baptism.  Here, if Gentile (which seems likely) he overcomes a previous exclusion. But more definitely, as a eunuch, he is now included among God’s people.  The spiritual children of Abraham.

Here more of Isaiah is fulfilled!  “Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever (Isaiah 56.3-5).”

What was the outcome?  I will leave you with the reflections of Eusebius (263-339 AD) on the this point: “But as the preaching of the Saviour’s Gospel was daily advancing, a certain providence led from the land of the Ethiopians an officer of the queen of that country, for Ethiopia even to the present day is ruled, according to ancestral custom, by a woman. He, first among the Gentiles, received of the mysteries of the divine word from Philip in consequence of a revelation, and having become the first-fruits of believers throughout the world, he is said to have been the first on returning to his country to proclaim the knowledge of the God of the universe and the life-giving sojourn of our Saviour among men; so that through him in truth the prophecy obtained its fulfillment, which declares that ‘Ethiopia stretcheth out her hand unto God'(Psalm 68:31) [Church History, II. i, 13].”