Saul, converted and healed, goes into the synagogues of Damascus no longer to arrest (Ac 9:2) but now to preach Jesus as the ‘Son of God’. That important phrase, which hasn’t been used before in Acts, contains many rich Bible ideas. In a single sermon we can only scratch the surface of them.
Firstly, the phrase is used in regard to humanity. Though it is common in our time to see humans as simply complicated animals, the Bible speaks of us as made in the likeness of God (Ge 5:1,2). It sees our remarkable desires – such as for love, justice, beauty and development – as not only the motions of biological mechanisms for gene survival, but as us physically embodying a subset of a higher life: the eternal experience of God. Our lives were started by him and are based upon his. As Adam was the father of Seth, so God was the father of Adam (Ge 5:3; Lu 3:38). We humans are God’s offspring (Ac 17:29), which is a precious privilege to be highly valued.
However, Adam’s rebellion against his father (Ge 3:6) harmed us all. Now prone to abusing our parents (hence the 5th commandment in Ex 20:12), we have gone far from our original father. But God was unwilling to let us go, having promised from the beginning to send a true son to overturn the evil that had been done (Ge 3:15). But where would that son arise from? God chose a family for this honour. It was not a family which knew him, but he took hold of a man called Abraham and changed him (Jos 24:2,3). From this new, mini-Adam (as it were), came the family of Israel, whom God also called his son (Ex 4:22,23). Yet this son, too, kicked against his father and God had to take firm action to deal with his delinquent child. However, to those who responded with faith, the Lord granted blessing and hope. But was it fair for God only to choose one nation at this time? Yes, for he is wise and knows best when to leave people and when to step in.
Adam was called the son of God; Israel was called the son of God; both were dysfunctional in their sonship. But as time went by, God kept working towards the arrival of a faithful son and in Israel he gave a picture of what this son would look like, by raising up a king whom he also called his son (Ps 2:6,7; 1Chr 17:13). Sadly, the kings of Israel turned away from their heavenly father too (eg 1Ki 11:4). But when they were at their best, you could glimpse what it would be like for God to have a true son on the earth. For example, the Psalms show us the king filled with love for God (Ps 18:1), offering adoration and devotion (Ps 9:1,2) with complete trust in him (Ps 9:10).
That picture of a godly king prepared the way for Jesus, a son of God like none before him (Lk 1:30-32). He was truly a son of Adam (Lk 3:23-38), and of Abraham and David (Mt 1:1-17), yet without the rebellious streak. But though others called him the son of God (eg Lu 4:3), Jesus often preferred the humble title ‘son of man’. He knew that his task was to bear the shame of the rebel sons of Adam in order to rescue them from the ruin and death their sin had brought. Yet even in the painful darkness that his self-sacrifice brought him into, he – as only a true son of God could – would not let his father go, screaming to him in agony ‘My God!’ (Mt 27:46). God honoured this perfect love and trust by raising him from the dead to a life which can never die. All who entrust their lives to Jesus, receive the same through what he did (Ro 8:29; He 2:10,11).
But what made Jesus so different from all those who had gone before? How could he live such a faithful life, free of sin? Because he was the Son of God in a greater way: the eternal Son who has always lived with the Father and Spirit in the joy of the Trinity. Jesus is both man and God. Saul saw something of this when divine glory blazed before him on the road and he asked ‘who are you Lord?’ (Ac 9:3-5). Which was why he could no longer uphold the Jerusalem court’s charge of blasphemy against Jesus (Mt 26:63-65) but had to agree with the centurion at the cross (Mt 27:54) that Jesus is the Son of God. And this is the Christian hope. Jesus meets all the longings of our hearts and all the strivings of our history. He is clearly the Son of God, and we worship him.