(Acts 22:6-16; 26:12-18)
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
The Baptism of Saul: Ananias Baptizes Saul
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight."
Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."
And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
2 Part Series: The Stoning of Stephen…. the Persecution of the Church and the Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
In Chapter 8, Stephen who God empowered with the Holy Spirit and used in a mighty way to minister and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ was tried and convicted by a wicked Sanhedrin council who flat out refused to acknowledge that they were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and it was them, and their countrymen over the centuries that were guilty and not Stephen. By countering each accusation of blasphemy (against Moses and the Law, and against the Temple) brought against him, Stephen successfully pointed out time and time again throughout his reviewing the Jewish history, that the Jews as a race and the Sanhedrin Council had been guilty of both expressing both unbelief and rebellion against Jehovah God themselves, to the extent that it was really them, and not Stephen that “blasphemed” and rebelled against Moses, refusing to accept his “God given” leadership and (in the fulfillment of prophecy) then refusing to listen to the “promised” future Prophet (Jesus Christ) when He finally came to them.
Stephen in his rebuttal brought back to the remembrance of the council the many times how the ancestors had constantly disobeyed God, followed after “other” gods and refusing to believe and obey the Old Testament prophets. To make matters worse, Stephen brought up once again that the Council recently even killed the promised Messiah Jesus Christ, who was the future prophet Moses alluded to. At the conclusion of Stephen’s trial, they became so furious when Stephen successfully defended himself against all the accusations of Blasphemy railed against him that hearing for the third time they were guilty of crucifying the Messiah, then while they were screaming and hollering in a feeble attempt to block out what Stephen was saying , and seeing Stephen looking steadfast into heaven and declaring he sees the Messiah standing at the right hand of Jehovah God, they grab him dragging him out of Jerusalem and stoned him outside the city. At the stoning, there was a young man named Saul, a Pharisee who witnessing the execution was in complete agreement with the killing of Stephen.
According to Luke, the writer of Acts, there was a great wave of persecution of the believers began that (same) day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria. Some godly Jews came and with great sorrow buried Stephen. Saul, behaving like a wild man, began going everywhere to fiercely persecuting the members of “The Way” determine to devastate every believer, both men and women. But the believers who were fortunate to flee Jerusalem to escape the fierce onslaught went everywhere preaching the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Saul: Chief Persecutor……To Damascus….To Conversion (verses 1-9) And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, (vs. 1)
Points to remember about Saul of Tarsus::
Saul was greatly influenced by the events of Acts 7:58. The men who executed Stephen laid their “coats”, that is their "outer garments." at a young man’s feet named Saul. They asked him to take care of their garments. This is mentioned in verse 58 because Saul was immediately influenced by what he witnessed, both by the mob crowd and by the ”forgiveness” response of Stephen toward his attackers as he was dying afterward. Saul created so much havoc against the “Way”, he became much celebrated by the Sanhedrin and by all the Jews who saw Jesus as a false Messiah. His whole heart was in the persecution of Stephen; and he himself afterward would allude to this circumstance as an evidence of his sinfulness in persecuting the Lord Jesus by his persecution the Lord’s church.
Saul took persecuting of the church personally.
In chapter 8, Saul was enraged and bent on destroying this the first church. Paul would enter private homes, dragging out men and women alike and jailing them who confessed to be a part of the Way. Saul was so enraged that a new movement would dare try to come against the Law of Moses and the temple, he was determine to wipe them out wherever they were. He was driven to kill as many Christians he could, in fact, according to Acts 26:10-11, Saul rejoiced in their death, took part in condemning them.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. (vs.2)
Saul used the political system (The Sanhedrin, mainly the influence of the Chief priest) to get warrants to cross jurisdictions to arrest them wherever they might be and bring them bound back to Jerusalem to be executed. The letters were written and signed in the name and by the authority of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. The high priest did it as president of that council.
Note: The Sanhedrin made the claim that they were the authority over any synagogue in that region.
Saul’s Encounter With Jesus and Conversion (verses 3-9)
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.* It is hard for you to kick against the goads." So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
As Saul traveled to Damascus in search of Christians, suddenly the sky lights up and lightning strikes around him and the soldiers with him and according to Saul in Acts 26:12-19 they all fell to the ground. Jesus speaks to Saul…..
Jesus: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
Saul: Who are you Lord?
Jesus: I am Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks. (vs.5)
Saul: (Trembling and astounded) Lord, what would you have me to do?
Jesus: Get up, go into the city and you will be told what to do. (vs. 6)
Reality check: The voice (Jesus) informed Saul that in persecuting the “Way”, (Christians), he had been persecuting HIM. As a result, his reason for going into Damascus was about to changed by Jesus.
The Lord Jesus made a personal appearance designed to take the work of converting such a persecutor into his own hands. Saul went to Damascus to arrest and persecute…Jesus met him on the road near there to arrest and convert Saul. Saul was converted in a natural way.
Jesus arrested his attention: A light shinned from heaven. Saul fell to the ground, hearing a voice speaking to him: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Blinded and fully in attention to the voice of Jesus and then he presented the truth "I am Jesus of Nazareth,"
The effect this encounter had on Saul:
Saul was blind for 3 days, a very humbling experience. (vs. 8-9)This encounter filled him with alarm at his guilt, Saul asked trembling and astonished, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"
Saul’s answer is the example of a subdued soul and a humbled spirit. Why?
- Before he encountered Jesus, he had sought only to do his own will; now, being humbled he asked Jesus “what do you want me to do?
- Before this encounter, Saul’s actions were sanctioned by commission from the Sanhedrin; no, this encounter caused him to renounced their authority and disassociate himself and asked what the Lord Jesus would have him to do.
- Saul‘s life assignment was changed from a being a fierce persecutor of the church to becoming the church’s strongest advocate.
The conversion experience is the process that a believer undergoes where there is a change in both heart and in mindset the very moment they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The “great controversy” between the potential covert and God is, after his or her conversion through Jesus Christ, whose will shall be followed.
Remember: The sinner outside of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ follows his own, but the first act of the Christian convert is to surrender his own will to that of God, and to resolve to do all of what the Lord requires: "To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God"
A New Life....A New Mission:
Saul went without food or drink during this time.Saul now arises eyes wide open but saw no man due to his blindness. The soldiers who traveled with him lead him by the hand into Damascus and does not eat for 3 days.
New Mission: “A Chosen Vessel” (verses 10-16)
Saul still had to go into Damascus, knowing that his persecuting the church were “immediately” over and awaiting further instructions in Damascus.
4 Valuable Lessons for a New Convert:
It doesn’t matter how a person’s conversion experience comes about, outside of the immediate result of being saved. Sometimes, you won’t know your God given life assignment immediately. That is, knowing what course of life should be followed, what should be done, or what should be believed beyond what you know at current. Sometimes, you will have to “tarry” and wait until God reveals it to you through an assign minister of another messenger of God.
For the new convert, the aid of others, and especially ministers, and experienced Christians, is often very beneficial to help any convert, even those who experienced being converted in the most remarkable manner.Saul was converted by a miracle; the Savior appeared to him in his glory; of the truth of his being Messiah Saul had no doubt; He did see Jesus, but still had new business in Damascus because he was dependent on an humble disciple in Damascus (Ananias) to be instructed in what he should do.
A newly converted person, regardless of how your experience came about through Christ should be willing to seek the counsel of those who are in the church before them. As miraculous as you actual encounter with Jesus Christ was, it doesn’t prevent you from gleaning valuable wisdom and knowledge or important directions and benefits from the elders, the experienced, and the wise in the Christian church.
A new convert who experiences an extraordinary conversion experience that miraculous in its inception will cause that convert to become humble; Their conversion experience causes them to recognize the depth and a deep sense of the gravity of their sin and unworthiness and began to fully appreciate the mercy God showed them while they were still living in sin. Now that they are saved and converted, they have a willingness to be taught and directed by anyone who can point out the way of duty and of life them in the right direction toward their God given mission in life.
Thus, it could be said about Saul that he went from a “preying” man to being a “praying” man.
Mission of Ananias: Go to “Straight” Street and ask for Saul of Tarsus praying at the house of Judas. (vs. 11-12)
So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight."
The Apprehension of Annanias: (vs. 13-16)
Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name."
Reputations can cause fear and intimidation…or they can cause people to gladly open doors for you and assist you on your journey
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."
Go on to him: 2 reasons Ananias had to God see Saul:
- He’s My Chosen Vessel” To “bear’ (preach) to the Gentiles…to Kings…and to the Children of Israel…..
- I (Lord Jesus) will show him how he must suffer great things for my name sake.
Important point to know: Persecution and suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ itself is proof of the reality of Christianity. WE are both suffering servants and victorious servants in Jesus Christ.
The Results of Obedience: Restoration...Baptism...Commission..
Saul’s Sight Restored, Baptized and Commissioned (vs. `17-19) And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus,* who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit
In obedience, Ananias goes into Simon’s house and lays hands on Saul so he would recover from his blindness, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Ananias confirmed that it was Jesus that Saul encountered on the Damascus Road..
" Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
The Lord immediately reversed the effects of the bright light ad restored Saul’s sight.
Note: Saul's conversion was a “miracle” because the brightness of the light from Heaven (the Glory of God) damaged Saul’s optic nerve causing him to lose his vision. The Lord simply reverse it and healed him immediately so Saul would understand further that it was miraculous and as even the Pharisees believed, only God could heal.
There are 2 very important points we need to take away from Saul’s experience……..
This experience further undergirded Saul’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah.
Saul immediately got up and was baptized. This was the standard method after conversion for all the early Christian converts based on Acts 2:38-41. (vs. 18)
Saul was fed, having gone without food for 3 days and he regained his strength. (physically)
It also undergirds the importance of Ananias’s obedience. Ananias was sent to heal Saul and prep him for the powerful ministry the Lord drafted him for. We are sent to minister and to prepare others for future ministry by training them and showing in words and in our living around them a “more excellent way in Jesus Christ.
Saul remained in Damascus with the disciples there for a certain period of time…..long enough to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ before he left Damascus, starting his evangelistic ministry in Arabia, coming back to Damascus, then after being gone from Jerusalem 3 years, returns there according to (Galatians 1:17) (vs. 19)
What impact does Saul’s Conversion Experience have on the Church then and now…
Saul’s conversion to Christianity did not come about with the purpose of producing any financial gain to Saul. There are 3 reasons this is true:
In the time of Saul, most Christians were poor and needed help from the common missionary offerings taken up to help meet their daily needs.
To be a Christian in Saul’s lifetime meant the convert would be exposed to contempt, to persecution, and even to death.
It’s clear that Saul had no reason to assume or believe that he would escape the common lot of becoming a Christian.
Saul’s conversion was genuine and sincere. He was as firmly opposed to Christianity before his conversion. His violent behavior against the church had already labeled him as an enemy of the faith and being hostile toward the new church (the WAY) and Christians in general.
It’s been said by Infidels that Christians are prejudiced in favor of their religion. But let’s closely examine Saul. Here was a man who at first was a bitter infidel, and a deadly enemy to Christianity. He was taught religious prejudice through his education, through all his prospects, through all his former views and feelings. Everything about Saul was opposed to the gospel of Christ and Christianity.
After his conversion, Saul became, however, one of its most firm advocates and friends, and it was for infidels he was once part of that turn on him just as viciously that proves the changes that came forth in him were genuine and real. There must have been some viable cause, some motive for the radical change in Saul; The only conclusion that you can logically come to is Saul was convinced in a most striking and wonderful manner of the truth of Christianity?
His subsequent life showed that the change was sincere and real. He encountered danger and persecution to evince his attachment to Christ everywhere he went. He went from land to land, and exposed himself to every peril and every form of persecution and scorn, yet always rejoicing that he was a Christian, and expressed gratefulness that he was permitted to suffer as a Christian, giving us the highest proofs of his sincerity. Think about it! If such sufferings and such a life were not evidences of sincerity, then it would be impossible to fix on any circumstances of a man's life that would furnish proof that he was not a deceiver.
Since Paul was sincere, his conversion was genuine, it meant that he confirmed by embracing it that the Christian religion is true. Nothing and no one but the Lord God of heaven could produce this change. Therefore, the independent testimony of a man who was once a persecutor who was converted in a wonderful manner and having his whole life, religious views, and feelings revolutionized, and all his subsequent career evincing the sincerity of his feelings and the reality of the change.
Saul is a man that once was an enemy; a man whose testimony cannot be impeached; a man who had no interested motives, and who was willing to stand forth anywhere, and avow his change of feeling and purpose. We adduce him as such a witness; and infidels are bound to dispose of his testimony, or to embrace the religion which he embraced.
Finally, the example of Saul does not stand alone. Hundreds and thousands of enemies; persecutors, and slanderers over the centuries have been changed. Every one of them (us included) have become a living witness of the power and truth of the Christian religion. The scoffer becomes reverent; the profane man learns to speak the praise of God; the sullen, the bitter foe of Christ becomes his friend, living and dying under the influence of his religion. Could better proof be asked that this religion is from God? Jesus calls us all for every walk of life. "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Jesus is still calling to a world of people who are still in their sins and trespasses against HIM. won't you let go of the reins of your life and give your life to Jesus today?
Dr. William Edward Boddie