9:1-19pp — Ac 22:3-16; 26:9-18
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
In the last study, we saw the Ethiopian eunuch conversion with Philip (led to join the chariot – and give explanation to the Scripture – Isaiah – that the eunuch had been reading). The eunuch asked for baptism after declaring his faith and went to Ethiopia rejoicing.
Progress of the gospel
- To the Jews in Judea
- To Samaria
- To the “ends of the earth” (Ethiopia and so on)
Jesus prophecy in Acts 1:8 is coming to pass gradually. The enemy is not pleased with this – persecution arose with the martyrdom of Stephen. The Pharisee Saul – zealous for Judaism – witnessed and consented to this death – possibly he heard Stephen’s speech (about how unfaithful Jerusalem had been before God). The chief priests couldn’t stand the speech so they dragged him out and stoned him.
Now in Acts 9, Luke’s writing switches to Paul – the “central character” of Acts (really, the Holy Spirit is the central character). Saul doesn’t know what will happen – he’s gotten permission from the high priests to hunt Christians and imprison or kill them. How did he get permission? The authority was “loose” – the Romans didn’t really want to get involved in the Jewish affairs at times. Stephen’s martyrdom is part of this laid back governance – as were the murders of Christians that Saul led.
“Christians” is a term only used a few times up to now – usually “Followers of the Way.”
Saul has an idea that these Christians are heretics. His purpose is the stamp out these apostates (people who have strayed from sound doctrine).
There are many examples through history in which violence was used against heretics in history. (Elijah and the prophets of Baal – the leader of the Maccabees as well).
(Later Paul would confess as well to Agrippa that he had hunted Christians to other cities – even Damascus – 150 miles away. But there was a law the Romans had enacted earlier that said that Jews who’d committed crimes could be extradited from as far away as Egypt.)
Saul was interested in getting the Christians who’d fled from Jerusalem and bringing them back for “trial.”
3 accounts of Saul’s conversion:
- Acts 22 before an angry crowd
- Before Festus and Agrippa
Some things are left out, some things are added. They don’t contradict each other, rather they complement each other and help us get a fuller understanding of the truth.
Damascus was a prosperous city – many Arabs and Jews lived there. Josephus records 12,500 Jews were killed there in a War.
Saul is nearing Damascus – suddenly a light flashes. The shock drops him to the ground. The men with him (temple police) are speechless – they hear the sound but no voice (don’t understand) and see no person. This light shone at midday – brighter than the sun. The voice addresses Saul in Aramaic – the language Jesus had likely spoken.
“Saul, Saul” = double use of his name = for emphasis. (Think of the call/interruption to Abraham before killing Isaac. Jacob also is called twice in the night. Moses is called twice by the burning bush.) This was all part of their calling. Called twice.
Is God calling us? Maybe we need to answer “Here I am.”
Saul is confused – he doesn’t think he a persecutor. He thinks he’s doing God a service. He doesn’t know that this is Jesus – that simple “I am Jesus” statement shocks him. He says that he’s not only persecuting human beings, but also the Almighty. “Whoever accepts you, accepts me, whoever rejects you, rejects me, and rejects the one who sent me.” (Jesus had spoken this in the gospels earlier). Acts 4:12 “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Yes, God can speak through nature to us (today, it is springing forth in resurrection spring – likewise Jesus sprung forth in resurrection for our life). God also speaks clearly through the gospel.
The Messiah, Jesus, has now appeared to Saul himself. Paul will later emphasize this importance – it was as important to him as the resurrection appearances of Jesus were to the other apostles. (1 Corinthians 15 – “last he appeared to me as one abnormally born…but by God’s grace, I am what I am…” – can we also say that? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9)
The Lord said, “Continue on into Damascus and you will be told what to do there.”
He made it to a house of Judas – on a street called “Straight” – which is still there today. Paul is there, blinded, fasting, and waiting.
Meanwhile, God has talked to Ananias about Saul – told him to go lay hands on him. Ananias doesn’t want to do it – he knows why Saul is there… (This is the first use of “the saints” in Acts – the Christians are holy and being made holy – everyone who is a believer is a “saint.”)
Jesus says, “GO. Just go.” He tells Ananias about Paul’s commission to go into the synagogues and PROVE (by placing Scriptures side-by-side and apply them to Jesus’ life) that Jesus is the Messiah. Usually after a while, he gets rejected, so then he concentrates on preaching to the Gentiles – his MAIN ministry.
So, Ananias goes and lays hands on him and “scales” fell from his eyes. He was then delivered from blindness and from murderous spirits who influenced him. Later he will declare “all things must be done in love – though I speak in more tongues than all of you – if I do so without love, it’s meaningless.”
Now he realizes that his sins are forgiven and he IMMEDIATELY goes out and starts preaching about the “Son of God.” (Paul may be the only one who uses this term throughout Acts. In his letters, he refers to Christ as “Son of God” about 15 times. Also “the Righteous One.”)
He’s preaching and getting more powerful in his preaching and baffling onlookers. “Golly, what a flip-flopper.” He’s preaching the exact opposite of what he’d earlier persecuted for. The Jews then conspire to kill him – he learns of it and his followers helped him escape through an opening in the city wall.
In Galatians, he gives the exact time – about 3 years after his conversion. In Acts, it seems like just a few days later. But it seems that Paul went into Arabia for a while, then returned to Damascus. Galatians 1:15-18 “But when God, who set me apart from birth…was pleased to reveal his Son in me…nor did I go up to Jerusalm…but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus…after 3 years…”
2 Corinthians show some of the extra details of the conspiracy against him (the governor had the city guarded in order to arrest him).
Traditionally, scholars thought that Paul went off for 3 years to study, contemplate his change of life and then come back. Others say, “probably not” – he probably went off to preach the good news to the Arabian Gentiles. This probably caused conflict and strife with the king Eratus and that carried over to his representative in Damascus – the governor. So it’s not just the Jews who are after Paul – also the pagan Arabs allied themselves with the Jews to get rid of him. But his followers (sounds like he’s had some time to build a following) let him down in a basket. Then, he’ll be off to Jerusalem.
Wow! What a life change! The greatest persecutor of the church is now its greatest advocate. How does that work?
Francis … “Paul was on the way to ‘de-mask us’” – take off the mask, stop pretending. God takes off the masks, reveals who we are in him and who he is to us.
Sanctification like this takes time. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
Let’s thank God for his mercy. This murderer of Christians is shown mercy. David, and Moses, and King Manasse – who sacrificed his own children to fire – humbled himself greatly before God and God restored him as king.
Let’s get ready for communion by remembering his mercy and grace to us – also murderers (of his Son) and sinners.