Devotional # 50. 9/2/13. The Conversion of Saul.
This week’s Reading: Acts 9:1-31.
Introduction. Last week we talked about Philip ministering to an Ethiopian eunuch. Now we come to the amazing story of Saul’s conversion to Christianity.
vv. 1-2. Saul (from Acts 7:58-8:3) was working for the high ranking synagogue officials who were trying to imprison and kill the small Christian church. He went to the top of the organization, to the chief priest, and asked for a letter. This letter permitted him to do whatever was necessary to bring Israeli Christians to stand trial. I love that the church is called “The Way” at this point. It reminds us of when Jesus called Himself “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) and that it was the correct path to follow.
vv. 3-5. So Saul is on the road to Damascus and out of nowhere a bright light shines on him and a voice says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul doesn’t know who it is (since he asks, “who are you?”) but he knows enough to call the Person behind the voice “Master” (or “Lord”). It is Jesus! In this instant Saul’s world is turned upside down, Jesus tells him that everything he has been doing for God is actually against God. A “goad” is defined as “a pointed rod used to urge on an animal” (Source 1). So a person would sharpen sticks and put them on the front of their cart then when their donkey or horse would kick against the cart it would poke them and they wouldn’t destroy the cart. So When Jesus says it is hard to “kick against the goads” He means it is hard to fight against Him.
I think many people look at their friends and say ‘all my friend needs is for Jesus to blind them and tell them to start following Him.’ But God rarely approaches a situation the same way twice. We must understand that Saul’s heart was seeking God’s will, he was just misled. The person who’s heart is truly seeking God will have Jesus proven to them over and over their whole life. It is not about proof but about a relationship.
vv. 6-9. Saul is shook up and asks what he should do. Jesus tells him to go to Damascus and after that he’ll be told what to do. Notice the exercise of faith that Saul undertakes. He isn’t told what his final destination is (like Philip from last week’s study, see Devotional 49). Interestingly the other men hear Jesus but saw no one. So Saul laid on the ground, blinded by the light, hearing the voice but with his eyes closed (since “when his eyes were opened” he saw no one), not even looking around.
I am reminded of the fear that the true majesty of God inspires in man. I just heard a sermon talking about how in heaven there was no room for the proud (Matthew 18:3-4). This is because when we truly see God with our spiritual eyes we become like dead people (Genesis 17:3, Ezekiel 3:23, Revelation 1:17, etc.). In Numbers 12:3 Moses was the most humble man on the earth…why was that? He did a lot of great things, shouldn’t he be proud? It was because when you see God (or as much as a human can handle anyway) you realize how insignificant you are. When Jesus spoke to Saul it was all he could do to not wet his tunic! So the other men guide blinded Saul into the city, where he doesn’t eat or drink for three days.
vv. 10-16. Now we pause our story with Saul and hear about a Christian named Ananias (a different man than the one we read about in Acts 5, from Devotional 46). Jesus* tells Ananias to go find Saul but Ananias is worried. He had heard about Saul since he was probably the number one enemy of the church. Naturally Ananias was worried that he would be captured and imprisoned by Saul but he is told what has happened and will happen to Saul. He will go preach to the very Gentiles that he hates and he will be persecuted for it.
*Jesus: We know it’s Jesus and not God the Father speaking since Ananias says they will be persecuted on “authority from the chief priests” for calling on “Your name.” If they had called on God the Father’s name there wouldn’t have been a problem. (Also Ananias says it in v. 17). Why is this important? Because after His resurrection, Jesus has the same authority as the Father. When we read and hear Jesus’ words, we obey.
vv. 17-19. So Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul (a loving gesture) and calls him “brother” (an affectionate term) giving him gifts (opening his eyes and giving him the Holy Spirit). When it says “something like scales” fell away we see that the healing was an instantaneous miracle. Notice as soon as his eyes were opened he was baptized! He didn’t wait to eat food and get stronger, he went immediately. This was a life changing experience and he devoted the rest of his life to the teaching and preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ!
It is important that Saul stayed with other Christians in Damascus. We are built to have a relationship with God and each other. Sometimes fellow Christians tell me they don’t go to church for very good reasons (petty fighting, hypocrisy, cliques, etc.) but if you notice these are all caused by men. Fellowship is about other sinners, just like us, who want to do God’s will. Since we’re commanded to fellowship (Psalm 55:14, Acts 2:42, Hebrews 10:25, etc.) those excuse are gone and now we take our eyes off ourselves. We realize that our relationship with God is meant to impact others through us.
vv. 20-25. Right away Saul goes and preaches Jesus in the very places he was trying to keep Jesus out of. Of course everyone is surprised at the 180 degree turn of events. Saul confused the Jews by “proving” Jesus was the Messiah. So the Jews decide he must be killed but Saul finds out about the plot to assassinate him. In a way reminiscent of Joshua 2 where the spies are let down by Rahab, Saul is lowered down the wall in a basket. In 2 Corinthians 11:30-33 Paul uses this story to explain how he was humbled to be used by God. Like Moses mentioned above we will be used greatly by God when we realize we bring nothing to the table and are faithful in the little things (Luke 16:10).
vv. 26-31. Saul continues preaching Christ and having to be sent out of cities in fear for his life. Through all of these difficulties we see that the church grew when everyone walked ‘in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” This kind of fear isn’t being scared that God is mean and going to hurt us but instead recognizes that He is much greater and amazing than us. When we have that kind of fear, producing humility, we have a Comforter (John 14:26) in the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion. We have two stories of Jesus sending men on a journey. It changed both of their lives forever but one had a much easier send off than the other. Every time we see a person in the Bible commissioned by God to go on a journey the person who is available to do God’s will has a less painful time. When we are humble it will be an easier transition. Thank goodness that if Jesus wants you in a certain place doing a certain thing you will go one way or another. One example is Saul becoming the apostle Paul, the greatest evangelist of the gospel.