And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. (Acts 9:7)
Saul was a religious fanatic. Following his approving support of the stoning of the first recorded Christian martyr, Stephan (Acts 7:58), he “yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Saul was ready to bring in the followers of “The Way” either dead or alive, and he would have given his life for the extermination of these infidels – those who had turned away from the religion of their fathers. Such zeal is nothing strange to us these days, unless you are a Christian; Christians do not normally behave in this manner.
But God had something else in mind for Saul, and He would turn Saul’s zeal for his religion into zeal for the Person of Jesus Christ. Saul was a hard-case, and getting his attention would require more than witnessing the death of a faithful martyr. So Jesus met him in person on his mission to exterminate the believers that were in Damascus. “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:3-4). Saul was soon to learn that his mission against The Way was really a mission against God Himself as Jesus directly identified Himself with His church: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (v. 5). The very God whom he thought he was serving and whom he wanted to please struck Saul blind (v. 8), and put him in “time-out” for three days (v. 9) to give him time to reflect on his experience. Saul’s life was dramatically changed following this, so much so that “after … many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him” (v. 23). He was even given a new name, Paul, by which he is most commonly known (Acts 13:9). Everything about Paul changed following this encounter with the risen Christ.
The conversion and transformation of Paul was miraculous indeed, but what about the others who had accompanied Paul on the same mission? They also heard a voice but saw no man. The encounter apparently had some impact on them because they “stood speechless,” but for them, nothing changed. In fact, they may have been the very ones that turned on him, and “took counsel to kill him.” When we think about it, it really should not come as a surprise. Jesus said, concerning the Jewish religious leaders, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:13-14).
Today, the Gospel is preached though every possible medium available – even this simple blog – and though it is heard by countless millions, it has no effect on most. Jesus said that “strait [small] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). Seeing, they see not, and hearing, they hear not.