I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting. – Acts 22:8 ESV
As Paul was sharing his testimony to the Jews who had dragged him out of the temple, he tells them all about his past. He tells them that he used to persecute the Way. He used to arrest and throw into prison the very people he now calls brothers and sisters. He was an agent for the high priest. In those days, Paul thought he was doing God's work. He was helping eradicate just another start-up sect that was threatening the monopoly Judaism held on the people of Israel. Paul was methodical and merciless in his efforts to destroy Christianity from the face of the earth.
But what Paul didn't know was that the very thing he was trying to destroy was Jesus Christ Himself. That's what Jesus tells him on that miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus. Look at what Jesus says to him:
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting." (Vs 7-8)
Once Paul (Saul) had woken up to the reality that he was talking with the resurrected Jesus, I can just imagine him thinking in his mind, "Whoa, wait a minute! I'm not persecuting YOU! What have I done to you? I never met you. I've just been doing my job, trying to rid the world of this start-up sect of ragtag followers of yet another Messiah wannabe."
"Why are you persecuting ME?"
What Paul learned that day on the road to Damascus was a fundamental truth of the New Testament: The relationship between Jesus and His church. We ARE His body. What Paul was doing to the followers of the Way was a direct attack on Jesus Christ Himself. Because we are His body. This is a lesson that Paul learned well. Just take a look at what he had to say to the Corinthian believers about the topic later on in his ministry:
Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27 NASB
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NASB
He also told the believers at Ephesus:
And He [God] put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23 NASB
He also reminded the Colossians of this fact:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do share on behalf of His body, which is the church... – Colossians 1:24 NASB
The body of Christ
What Jesus told Paul that day on the road struck a chord with him. That's why it became a focal point of his teaching. And that message still resonates for us today. We, the church, are the body of Christ. We are the fullness of Him on this earth. We are His hands and feet, with the responsibility to do His work in the world. That's why He left us here. That's why He gave us the Holy Spirit. That's why He gave us spiritual gifts. We are not to be isolated islands, but members of one body, intent on one purpose. As members of Christs body, we each have a part to play, a function to perform. No one member is any less or more important than the other. Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 12.
We are to work together, suffer together, rejoice together, and minister together as one body. We are to make a difference together. Just like those early members of the body of Christ were doing in the days of Paul. We are His body. So we need to appreciate one another more. We need to care for one another more. We each need to be using our giftedness more. We need to be working together more. So that the body of Christ on this earth might be healthy, strong, alive, and active in its ministry of carrying out the work of Jesus Christ. We are Christ! Paul never forgot that point. My prayer is that we won't either.
Father, help me remember that, as a believer, I am not just a member of an organization, but I am a member of Your Son's body. I am part of an organism that You have chosen to place on this earth to represent You. Together we are Christ on this earth. We are to show the world what Christ looks like. When they see us, they should see Him. Show me how to play my part well. Selflessly, sacrificially, joyfully, willingly, and completely. Amen