Acts 9: When Lost- Pull Over and Ask for Directions!
Now the Lord moves to accomplish the third part of His Great Commission- to carry the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world. In doing so, the Lord chooses an unlikely candidate- Saul of Tarsus. Saul at this time was the most recognized enemy of the early church as we read in verse 1 of Acts 9: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lords disciples.
Saul of Tarsus had an impressive resume and background. His hometown was Tarsus. Tarsus was home to a well known university. His father was a Roman citizen, making Saul a Roman citizen, a highly prized privilege. His father was a Jew, a Pharisee and a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul was born with these credentials and he would add to them. Saul could match credentials with any Jew and then some.
In keeping with Jewish tradition, every Jewish boy learned a trade. Saul was a tentmaker. At age 13 he was sent to Jerusalem for Jewish training. Saul was an intelligent young man with great ambition. He studied under Gamaliel, a famous teacher at that time. In his course of study, Saul would have memorized great portions of the Old Testament. He also was schooled in the art of debate and very familiar with Jewish history and traditions.
Following Stephens death, it appears that Saul was placed as the leader of persecution of the early church. Acts 9 tells us Saul went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus so that he might take any who believe in The Way prisoners to Jerusalem. It is on his way to Damascus he has a life changing encounter with the Lord Jesus. And Saul of Tarsus is converted- becomes a believer and would change his name to Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles.
Luke describes Sauls life and obsession at this time as an atmosphere of murderous threats. This was the sole pursuit of Sauls life at this time- the elimination of what he considered a blasphemous cult of this Nazarene, called Jesus. Listen to Pauls own description of his obsession as he testifies before King Agrippa in Acts 26: I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the high priest I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. In my obsession I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. Did you notice under whose authority Saul carried out his mission? The High Priest.
Notice also in verse 2, the name given to the Christian church and its followers by their enemies: The Way. The Christians were distinctly different and what must have been one of the characteristics that marked them was the love they showed for one another with their sharing of resources. In addition they were willing to suffer and even die for their beliefs. Jesus was their role model and it was Jesus who said: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man comes to the Father except by me.( John 14)
Let us now observe the steps of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the number one persecutor of church.
Step 1. The Contact. It is never our idea to get saved- it is Gods idea. Some of us God has to hit over the head with a 2X 4 to knock some sense into our heads and others come at the still, small voice of God. Either way it is always God who initiates the contact. Here is what we know about the unsaved, lost person referred to in the New Testament as the natural man. The natural man does not understand God or spiritual truths, does not sense God, does not see God and does not seek God. None of us did. So God has to initiate the contact and invade our lives using the best method to get the best results for the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.. (2Corinthians 2:14) Guess who wrote that? Paul, alias Saul of Tarsus.The natural man pursues the offerings of the broad way- happiness, fun, success, health, wealth- possession and positions in the hope they will satisfy their desires. But until one realizes the purpose for which we were created and exist the pursuit of happiness will be futile until we get saved. So it is we read of the Lords contact with Saul. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice ( Acts 9:3,4) Saul, the sinner, the killer of Christians, the hater of Christ is stopped dead in his tracks. We know from other verses and accounts as Paul would tell this story over and over that he saw the Lord Jesus. ( I Cor. 15:8; I Cor. 9:1; Acts 22:14) So it is that salvation begins with God. He contacts us.
Step 2. The Conviction. There is no salvation without the conviction of sin. Sin separates man from God. So sin must be exposed- so one can recognize and confess their sin. Let us hear from the KJV the exchange that takes place between Saul and the Lord Jesus. Saul, Saul why persecutest me? And he(Saul) said, Who art thou Lord? And the Lord Jesus said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutes; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. ( Acts 9:4&5 KJV) Let us spend some time thinking about this question and this statement. It was Sauls teacher, Gamaliel who said to the Sanhedrin when dealing with the apostles and Christianity- Leave these men(the apostles) alone! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will only find yourselves fighting against God.(Acts 5:38,39) It would later be the Apostle Paul who would write that God has built into every man a sense of right and wrong. I believe from Lukes writing that Saul had been troubled ever since Stephens death and Stephens dying prayer. Try as he might- there was something pricking his conscience. He was like an ox who kicked against the prods. The ox did no harm to the prods and succeeded in only inflicting more pain on himself. Saul was fighting against God, just as his old teacher had said that would be the case if this Christian movement was of God. I believe Saul is miserable.
Notice the Lord calls him by name twice. It is in Lukes writing that we see when the Lord Jesus wanted to emphasize the importance of what he was about to say he repeated the name twice. Examples: Martha, Martha (Luke 10); Simon, Simon 9(Luke 22) and Jerusalem, Jerusalem in Luke 13. Then the Lord Jesus asked Saul this question: Why are you persecuting me? Saul wants to know who he is. But the question is to get Saul to think about what he is doing and why is he doing it. Like the question the Lord asked Adam when he sinned- Adam where are you? He wanted Adam to look at his circumstances and the result of sin in his life. Now Jesus confronts Saul with this penetrating question. Why are you doing this? What is driving you to do this- to live like this? Are you happy? Have you found the satisfaction and peace you desired? Like the question asked of Hagar back in Genesiswhere have you come from? And where are you going?
Ever have a time in your life- when you found these or similar questions coming to your mind? Where are you? What have your choices brought to your life? Where have you come from and where are you going? What is the direction of your life? Why do you keep doing this? This is, I believe, the voice of God invading the privacy of your sin. It is the contact that is intended to lead one to conviction. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Any person who lives in this world apart from Jesus Christ is as guilty as Saul was because they have rejected Jesus Christ. As Jesus said: Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. ( John 3: 18,19) Let us learn from Saul- when you are lost pull over to the side of the road and ask for directions!
You see conviction is when the Lord puts His finger on the real issue in Sauls life- faith in Jesus Christ and acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior.
Step 3. The Conversion. And he(Saul) trembling and astonished said, Lord what would you have me do?( Acts 9:6 KJV) A complete reversal of Sauls whole approach to life. There is a change- a radical change in his life. Saul who was carrying the orders of the High Priest had met the True High Priest and now the Lord Jesus would be his High Priest and from Him would he receive his orders. What would you have me do, Lord? Saul has surrendered because he realizes who he is fighting against- the Lord. Everything he had accomplished and all of his resume and heritage, he would count as nothing. His life had been previously driven by accomplishing what he thought was a worthwhile purpose that would give his life significance. Thus his obsession with stamping out this Christian Church. But the Lord with one penetrating question- why are you doing this? brought his purpose to naught. From that day on Saul who would become Paul would have a purpose that would satisfy him as no other purpose could . Paul would understand long before Rick Warren ever wrote his book, The Purpose Driven Life what the truly purpose driven life was all about . It was not about Saul of Tarsus and his pursuit of significance and building a resume of success- it was all about the Lord Jesus . Listen to what Paul would later write: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I might gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings becoming like Him in death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead. ( Phil. 3)
Step 4. The Consecration. The word consecrate is defined : to devote to a purpose; to declare sacred. ( Websters Dictionary) Saul asked Lord, what will you have me do? Thus with fear and trembling, Saul begins to work out his salvation. The Lord will reveal his will to Saul and Saul will obey him. Saul acknowledges the Lord Jesus as Lord of His life. He will yield his will to His will. Thus is the journey and struggle of every Christian. Sauls actions will reveal his obedience as he does exactly what the Lord tells him to do. It does not mean that Saul/Paul would live in sinless perfection any more than you or I or any believer will. Paul would even confess that he was chief among sinners. But our priorities changed. We had a change of masters in our lives. Sin no longer reigned and we were no longer slaves to sin. The Lord Jesus had become our Master.
Step 5. The Communion. To commune means to communicate intimately. A commune is a community that shares all ownership and duties. Saul is blind- when he got up from this encounter, he could not see. So they led him by the hand. ( Like a child) For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. ( Acts 9:9)
The Lord directs a man named Ananias to go to Saul to help him, feed him and welcome him into the family of God. He calls him Brother Saul. Saul receives his sight, is baptized, fed and strengthened. Eating together was a part of the fellowship. Saul is now part of the family of God. He was blind to the truth but now he sees. We are saved in an instant and then spend a lifetime plumbing the depths of our salvation and this new relationship which includes the most precious of all fellowships- the fellowship with the True and Living God. The God of Creation, the God who walked and talked with Adam and Eve is now available to us. And He walks with me and He talks with me and tells me I am His own.
Now lets notice some other important elements of this conversion experience of Saul. In verse 11, the Lord Jesus is giving instructions to Ananias : Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is PRAYING. One of the first marks of a Christian is he/she begins to pray to God. God also has a specific ministry for each of us, just as He did for Saul of Tarsus. The Lord explains this is Ananias and us: This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
Saul s ministry is to be to three groups: Gentile people, all the non-Jewish nations of the world would be the Apostle Pauls main field of mission work. But the Lord would use Paul to witness to kings and governors and people in places of power. And Paul would also be a witness to his people, the Jews, the sons of Israel.
This would not happen all at once. Notice Jesus said- I will show him.. Saul/Paul would leave Damascus and spend three years in the Arabian deserts STUDYING THE WORD of GOD. Listen to what Paul writes in Galatians 1: 11,12- I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. This was during a three year period following his Damascus Road experience. Paul would return as we read in verse 23 of Act 9 after many days. The suffering begins then when the Jews conspired to kill him. Paul escapes by being lowered in a basked through an opening in the wall. So Saul/Paul reveals two identifying marks of a Christian- PRAYER AND STUDY OF GODS WORD. These are necessary preparations for the ministry the Lord has and they will require time- a growth cycle.
Paul would then go to Jerusalem where he tried to join the disciples but many still feared him. It is Barnabas who befriends him and takes Saul/Paul to the apostles. Saul continues to preach to the Jews and they continue to try and kill him. Once again Saul escapes the death threats and returns home to Tarsus.
God had a ministry for Saul. But even as learned as Saul was- it took time to develop and become clearly defined. Lets look at the timeline: Saved on the road to Damascus. Spends up to three years ( many days) in Arabian desert receiving the Gospel; returns to Damascus and Jerusalem for a brief time then back home to Tarsus. So from his conversion to his return to Damascus and subsequent visit in Jerusalem was a period of three years. This probably occurred between 35 AD and 38 AD. The next time we will hear of Saul, his friend Barnabas goes to Tarsus to enlist Saul to help him in Antioch. They would spend a year there teaching and making disciples. We can date this period at around 42 AD because there was a severe famine and Barnabas and Saul carry a gift to the elders. Following the death of Herod which was in 44AD. So probably around 45 AD we will read in Acts 13- Barnabas and Saul are set apart for the work for which the Lord called them. So from this we can see that it was at least a 10 year period of development for Saul s ministry.
But we must also note the Lord called Saul to suffer for the name of Jesus. We dont like suffering. But suffering is a part of life and of the Christian life. Suffering is a part of love. Did you realize that? Love hurts. For God so LOVED the world, He GAVE His only begotten son And for what reason did God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit enter into such a painful procedure as death on a cross, the taking on of the sins of the world? That by His stripes we might be healed of our iniquities. For you see- when you and I sin- God hurts. He Grieves. For Love is a hurting thing. Suffering is a part of love and God is love and suffered for us that we might have eternal life