As I wiped my mouth I saw what I had not before: the water lay in a sheer hole, and was clear as crystal, such that I could see the bottom as clearly as seeing the bottom of a drinking glass; and within the water was something metallic and magnificently fashioned. I dove into the pool. Indeed, it was a sword, plunged into a stone — nearby a threshold cut into the side of the earth. I tried my hand at the sword and found that it would glide easily into my possession. But having no sword belt, and no way to know if the weapon was meant for anyone, I left it in its place.
Mr. Spock saves the Enterprise in Star Trek III and IV.
Emmet leaps off Octan tower to save Bricksburg in The Lego Movie.
Harry Potter defeats Lord Voldemort on more than one occasion.
Gandalf returns to Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn in Fangorn Forest after battling the Balrog.
Aslan died and rose to save Edmund and all of Narnia from the White Witch’s curse.
Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Snow White. Sleeping Beauty. Bagheera’s eulogy for Baloo in the Jungle Book.
There’s a common pattern here; the key to the story or scene is a death and resurrection.
And in these death and resurrection stories we see a glimpse of the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus Crucified for you and your salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection is greater because it is both meaningful and true. It is history: Jesus was crucified, died, buried, and rose again for you. After Paul’ conversion, which is also a death and resurrection story, this was his constant refrain:
I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified.
The Conversion of Paul is also a death and resurrection story. After all, every time the Holy Spirit creates faith there’s a death and resurrection. Your Baptism is a death and resurrection in Jesus, just as Saul’s was. Christ crucified is our constant refrain as well.
Paul’s death and resurrection story began as he was heading down the road to Damascus breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He had a license to persecute. But suddenly a blinding light knocked him off his horse. Heaven flashed before his eyes. Saul fell to the ground as a dead man. And the voice of Jesus rang out in his ears.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Saul probably thought he was going to die. But there’s the irony. Saul was already dead — dead in trespasses and sin as he would later write in Ephesians 2. His mouth was an open grave that spewed forth curses, bitterness, and deceit (Romans 3) against Christ and Christians.
He was blind — spiritually — and for three days physically as well, a real-life object lesson to teach Paul and all of us that faith is a gift, not of works so that no man may boast. On the Damascus road Jesus took all of Saul’s boasting in the Law, confidence in the flesh, and zealotry, and revealed it for the rubbish it truly was.
Saul, who had so violently warred against Jesus and the Way, became utterly and completely dependent, like a newborn infant. Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do, Jesus said. Saul couldn’t even do that on his own. The men traveling with Saul led him, blind and helpless into Jerusalem, to Ananias.
Saul’s conversion is a marvelous picture of how our Lord converts all of us. Like Saul, we were enemies of God. The wages of our sin is death. We breathe threats and murder against our neighbors. No, probably not with physical violence. But Jesus makes it clear that whenever we hate or despise our brother, we have already murdered them in our hearts.
And though probably haven’t participated in any stoning anyone lately, like Saul at the death of Stephen, no doubt, we’ve tossed more than our fair share of rocks in judgment at our family, friends, even our fellow Christian pilgrims. There’s a little Saul in each of us who delights in doing whatever we think is right, and doing it with great zeal.
Yes, we’re right there on the road with Saul. Enemies of God. Blind. Helpless. Utterly dependent. Dead…and in need of resurrection.
And that’s precisely where our story begins.
You were dead in trespasses and sin (notice the past tense) …But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
We were blind, but now through Baptism the scales of doubt and unbelief have fallen from our eyes we see Christ your Savior. We were lost in sin, but found forgiven in Jesus’ cross. We were dead but alive in Christ.
In Saul’s conversion, we see our own. We too are utterly dependent upon God’s mercy. Perhaps we haven’t all had a dramatic experience like Saul, but Christ gives us faith in Him the same way: death and resurrection. As Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “There is drama in the dogma.” And there’s nothing more dramatic than Holy Baptism, where Jesus does for us what He did for Saul. Baptism is your Damascus road. Baptism is your death and resurrection. Heaven opens. The Light of the world dispels our darkness, sin, and death. And Jesus raises us to new life as the scales of unbelief fall from our hearts.
After he was taken to Ananias, Saul was given new birth in baptism, and a new name too: Paul.
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
What happened on the road to Damascus was nothing short of a miracle. Jesus turned Saul into Paul — an enemy of the Gospel into a bold preacher of the Gospel. Jesus performs the same miracle upon you in Baptism. Our sinful “Saul” self, our Old Adam, as Paul calls him is drowned. And we are raised to new life in Jesus. The font is your Damascus road. You were dead and now you’re resurrected. Like Saul, you receive a new name: Saint. Chosen. Holy. God’s own child.
Rejoice! For the salvation and eternal life won for you by Christ, are delivered to you the same way they were delivered to Paul. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). In Baptism, God saves us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Jesus feeds us His own body and blood. And as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Our death and resurrection, like Paul’s, is founded upon the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This story is both meaningful and true. It is history. Jesus was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. It is a verifiable, falsifiable, and defensible fact. And yet, Jesus’ death and resurrection do not cease to be a good story, one that possesses beauty, meaning, and true hope.
As C.S. Lewis reminds us:
What became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less…We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic…shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us, no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher. (C.S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact in God in the Dock. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 67.)
Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach CA. Grail Quest Books will be publishing his book, Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner, later this year, of which the above is a preview. The book will be exploring how images in story reflect the One True Story of Christ. He also writes posts on the Christian faith and story for the website, 1517: The Legacy Project.
The illustrations are by Kasandra Radke, and are also previews of the black & white illustrations that will be included in the book.