The account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus – later the Apostle Paul – is dear to many believers.
It is a reminder that there is nobody living who is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Paul later described his unworthiness because “I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9), and described himself as “the worst” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Yet not even he was too great a sinner for the Lord to save.
Yet there is another comfort in this account, one that has particular resonance to our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
Right now, Christians are being starved to death in Nagorno-Karabakh. They are being threatened in Pakistan – and the shooting of a pastor in Faisalabad on Sunday shows that these are not idle threats. In their tens of thousands, Christians are being slaughtered in sub-Saharan Africa.
These are just three examples of the anti-Christian persecution that covers so much of the world.
Saul had set out to destroy the Church – already he had dragged Christians into prison (Acts 8:3). He continued “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1) and rode off to Damascus to arrest more of the followers of Christ.
But the words of Christ, when He confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, are intriguing. He might rightly have asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute my children?”, or, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute my Church?” Instead he asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)
Christ identifies so closely with His Church in her suffering that those who persecute her persecute Him. The Lord and the Church are in such communion with each other that in some way it is He who is being shot, starved, threatened, imprisoned, tortured, displaced, marginalised and slandered.
Our God is not a passive observer, leaving His people to face tribulation on their own.
This knowledge can be a comfort to us in our suffering. We should also pray that it will be a comfort to our persecuted brothers and sisters, wherever they are and whatever they face.