For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 9:20-22 (ESV)
“He is the Son of God.” So Luke summarizes the proclamation of Paul at this time. He had come to persecute the Christians, followers of “the Way”, and instead had joined them. He proclaimed that Jesus is the Son of God and proving that Jesus is the Christ.
Here is an aside on the ESV translation of this passage. Estin, means is, third person present indicative. The Greek New Testament I have before me has Estin in both “He “Is” the Son of God,” and “Jesus “was/is” the Christ.” I really can’t say why they translated it “was” in the second half, perhaps they are using some obscure variant, or a slip of the mind. It’s easy to do that, to think of Christ in the past tense as if he were dead. But just as he is the Son of God who is eternal and present, so he is the Christ. He is still the Christ. He is still the Messiah. He is still that one for whom all of Israel waited, the one who would be anointed to be king of Israel, who would establish the eternal kingdom. And he has done this. The Church is his kingdom, and it is eternal. He has never given up the title Christ. And this is what Paul proved to the Jews in Damascus to their consternation.
Of course this word can be translated a few different ways too. But here I think they did well to translate it prove. Prove is a funny word. It’s most often and properly used in math and logic, geometry has proofs. Other scientific disciplines opt for probability. Some things have a higher probability than others, but it is hard to say that anything is proven to be true. Of course for the way this works is that once something has been shown to have a certain height of probability most people take it for granted that it is proved.
But it is a funny thing today when it comes to faith. Today people believe you can’t believe something that has been proved. Faith somehow requires it not to be demonstrated or proved. That if you can give a rational explanation or demonstration of it you know longer have faith. Apologetics is therefore marginalized as unchristian and counter productive. Well tell that to Paul and Peter for that matter. Neither of them thought that giving a rationalization for the faith detracted from a person’s ability to believe, or somehow compromised the work of the Holy Spirit. But it was precisely in and through a rational and reasonable presentation of the Gospel that Jesus is the Christ that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of man and calls them by the gospel as Luther hammers home in the third article of the creed. It isn’t something that we can do by our own reason or strength, but that doesn’t negate the Holy Spirit using our reason or appealing to our reason as he sets forth the faith as Paul does here in Damascus.
Paul though, has a particular advantage with his audience that we don’t always have today. He is arguing with people who take two things for granted that are not always taken for granted today. One that there is a God, and two that there would be a Christ. Today it is sometimes necessary to first prove that there is a God. And even when you do this you will find people who refuse to believe. Just the way it is. Proving doesn’t actually make anyone believe. Somehow one must inspire a person to first want to believe. People won’t believe what they don’t want to. And it is about that simple. We as humans are emotionally invested both in what we do believe and what we don’t believe, and this is true even if you have good reason for what you believe.
Paul though didn’t have to argue that. All he had to do is show that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies these people already believed would be fulfilled. This in itself is a pretty amazing demonstration for the rationalization of the faith and presentation of the gospel being true. And most of it will fall into place by just showing the historical reliability of the resurrection accounts, that given the evidence at hand it makes more sense to believe Jesus rose from the dead then it does to not believe that he rose from the dead. But if he rose from the dead the most rational explanation is that he is the Son of God, and he is the Christ.