Paul never utters the name Nazarene or Nazareth. He does call the church he sets out to destroy the ‘Church of God’ and the church of ‘The Way’. This implies the first church were made up of Good Shepherds showing Jews in foreign lands THE WAY back to God. This is to suggest the first church did not begin in a little town in Judea, but amongst Jews in the Diaspora, many of who were enslaved by Romans.
American Christians employ terms like “The way to freedom” “God’s liberty” “Get back to God” “God is the way” “Come home to God” “God’s church” “Let God show you the way” . Christians have a huge problem accepting the truth that the “ringleader” of the Church of God was a Jew – who came for God’s Children – ONLY! Why is that? It’s because they own the lie that Jesus chose Paul to bring his message to Gentiles after Jesus was dead. Why didn’t the all-powerful ‘Son of God’ bring His message to Gentiles himself – while He was alive?
To answer this question, Christian “ringleaders” claim Jesus is God, and as God, He wanted the Jews to betray His only begotten son, whom was destined to be God, and thus, God set His Chosen Children up to not recognize Him, betray Him, so He (God) can spread His complicated message to Gentiles all over the world. How would they recognize God more than Jews – who were steeped in the Torah – and thus they understood the riddles and parables that God (disguised as a human) spoke to them.
Why is the risen God of the Gentiles having dinner with a few folks after he rose from the dead? Surely He knows Paul is on his way, he destined to do the Work of God-Jesus all by himself -after he murders the Good Shepherds of ‘The Way’.
Very tricky stuff! I thought Satan was ‘The Trickster’.
Let us not forget that only a few men get to vote who will be the next Vicar of Christ.
Acts 9 – The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
A. Saul on the road to Damascus.
1. (1-2) Saul’s purpose in traveling to Damascus.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 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.
a. Then Saul: We last saw Saul in Acts 8:3, where it says that he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Here he continued and expanded this work to the city of Damascus (about 130 miles or 210 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem; a six-day journey altogether).
i. Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord: The picture is of an angry, violent man absolutely convinced of his own righteousness. Saul hated the disciples of the Lord. He wasn’t seeking Jesus when Jesus sought him. We might say that Saul was decided against Jesus when Jesus decided for Saul.
ii. Of course, we don’t know what Saul looked like. An old apocryphal book, dating to the end of the first century, described Paul like this: “A man of moderate stature, with crisp hair, crooked legs, blue eyes, large knit brows, and long nose, at times looking like a man, at times like an angel.” (Cited in Gaebelein)
b. Went to the high priest: Saul did his persecuting work under the direct approval of the highest religious authorities. He asked and received letters from the high priest authorizing his mission.
i. The high priest mentioned here was Caiaphas. In December 1990 an ossuary (something like a burial urn; essentially a bone box) was discovered in Jerusalem. The ossuary was inscribed with the name of this Caiaphas and positively dated to this period. Inside were discovered some of the remains of a 60 year-old man, whom many researchers believe was this same Caiaphas. If true, these are the first physical remains (such as bones or ashes) of a specific person mentioned in the New Testament.
c. Still breathing threats and murder: Even after Saul became a Christian, he remembered his days as a persecutor. In Philippians 3, he made mention of this background, saying he was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
i. In Galatians 1:13, Paul added more regarding his background: For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
ii. Saul of Tarsus – this highly educated man – thought that Christianity was both wrong and deceptive. Perhaps he took his example from Phineas, who in the Book of Exodus killed an immoral man and woman with a spear, and God honored his action by halting a plague. Maybe Saul thought he was trying to stop a plague of false religion.
d. If he found any who were of the Way: Here, Christianity is referred to as the Way. This seems to be the earliest name for the Christian movement, and a fitting one – used five times in Acts.
i. The name the Way means that Christianity is more than a belief or a set of opinions or doctrines. Following Jesus is a way of living as well as believing.
ii. It is significant to see that there was a Christian community large enough in Damascus for Saul to be concerned about. Christianity – the Way – was spreading everywhere.
2. (3-6) God meets Paul on the road to Damascus.
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.”
a. Suddenly a light shone around him from heaven . . . and heard a voice: Somewhere outside of Damascus, this suddenly happened. This spectacular event must be regarded as unusual. God does not normally confront sinners with a heavenly light and an audible voice from heaven.
i. In Acts 22:6 Paul revealed that this happened at mid-day, when the sun shines at its brightest. Yet Paul said that this light was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13).
b. Then he fell to the ground: Saul’s reaction was simply to fall to the ground. This wasn’t because of honor or reverence for God, it was simply a reaction of survival – he was terrified at the heavenly light.
i. In the minds of many or most people, Saul fell from a horse that he rode. Yet this account in Acts 8, nor the telling in Acts 22:3-11, nor the account of Acts 26:12-20 make any mention of a horse or of Saul riding any kind of animal. It may be that he rode, but the text does not specifically say so.
ii. “Many persons suppose he was on horseback, and painters thus represent him; but this is utterly without foundation. Painters are, in almost every case, wretched commentators.” (Clarke)
iii. “It is significant in so short a book attempting to cover the expansion of Christianity from its small beginnings in Jerusalem to a religion that filled whole empire that the tale of one man’s conversion should be so greatly emphasized.” (Boice)
c. And heard a voice saying to him: According to F.F. Bruce, the rabbis of Saul’s day mostly believed that God no longer spoke to man directly, as He did in the days of the prophets. However, they believed that one could hear the “echo” of God’s voice, what they called “the daughter of the voice of God.” Here, Saul learned that one can hear God directly.
d. Saul, Saul: When God repeats a name twice, it is to display deep emotion, but not necessarily anger (as in the Martha, Martha of Luke 10:41 and the Jerusalem, Jerusalem of Matthew 23:37).
e. Why are you persecuting Me? As the heavenly light overwhelmed him, Saul was confronted by the true nature of his crime: He persecuted God, not man.
i. Saul thought that he was serving God in viciously attacking Christians, but he discovered that he was fighting God.
ii. This has been sadly true through history. Often those who are convinced they are doing God a favor do much of the worst persecution and torture ever practiced.
iii. We shouldn’t only emphasize the “Me” in the phrase “why are you persecuting Me.” We should also notice the “why” and see that Jesus asked “why are you persecuting Me?” That is, “Saul, why are you doing such a futile thing?”
f. I am Jesus: Though Jesus was a fairly common name in that day, the ascended Jesus of Nazareth needed no further identification. When He said, “I am Jesus,” Saul knew exactly which Jesus spoke. In all probability, Saul heard Jesus teach in Jerusalem; and as a likely member of the Sanhedrin, Saul sat in judgment of Jesus in the trial before His crucifixion.
i. “Unless Saul was hallucinating, the appearance of Jesus proved that Jesus was alive and that Jesus was God.” (Boice)
g. Who are You, Lord?…Lord, what do You want me to do?: Saul responded with two of the most important questions anyone can (and must) ask.
i. Most everyone has questions they would like to ask God. A Gallup Survey from the 1990s asked people to choose three questions they would most like to ask God. The top five responses were:
· “Will there ever be lasting world peace?”
· “How can I be a better person?”
· “What does the future hold for my family and me?”
· “Will there ever be a cure for all diseases?”
· “Why is there suffering in the world?”
It is strange that people would want to ask God these questions when they are already answered in the Bible. But they really aren’t the most important questions for us to ask. Saul asked the right questions.
ii. Who are You, Lord? We must ask this question with a humble heart, and ask it to God. Jesus showed us exactly who God is, and He can answer this question. Paul spent the rest of his life wanting to know more completely the answer to this question (Philippians 3:10).
iii. What do You want me to do? Few dare to really ask God this question, but when we ask it, we must ask it with submission and determined obedience.
iv. Saul’s question was personal. He asked the question with a “me”: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” We often are quite interested in what God wants others to do. But the surrendered heart asks, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
h. It is hard for you to kick against the goads: This statement from Jesus was actually a small parable regarding Saul and his life.
i. The insertion of it is hard for you to kick against the goads and Lord, what do You want me to do? in Acts 9:5-6 is accurate, but not in Luke’s original text. They were added by scribes, based on Acts 22:10 and 26:14, who thought they were doing God a favor by putting it in here.
ii. A goad was a long, extremely sharp stick used to get an ox going the way you wanted when plowing. One jabbed the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated.
iii. Essentially, Saul was the ox; Jesus was the farmer. Saul was stupid and stubborn – yet valuable, and potentially extremely useful to the Master’s service. Jesus goaded Saul into the right direction, and the goading caused Saul pain. Yet instead of submitting to Jesus, Saul kicked against the goad – and only increased his pain.
iv. It is not too much to say that if we will not ask these two great questions and obediently listen to God’s answers to these questions, then we are acting like stupid oxen.
v. We may complain that God compares us to oxen, and indeed it is an unfair comparison. After all, what ox has ever rebelled against God as we have? God almost owes an apology to oxen!
vi. Something was goading his conscience. Despite all his outward confidence, there was something bothering him inside. He kicked against it to be sure, but it was still there. The unease may have started with Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7:57-60).
i. It is hard for you: This shows the great love of Jesus. He was the persecuted one, yet His concern was for the effect it had on Saul. What a tender heart Jesus has!
j. So he, trembling and astonished: The fact that Saul was trembling and astonished by all of this reminds us that it is not always pleasant to encounter heaven dramatically. Saul was terrified by this experience; not oozing with warm, gushy feelings.
i. In Acts 9, we are only given the briefest account of what happened here. We know more from what Paul says about this experience in Acts 22:3-11, Acts 26:12-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:8. We also know more from what Barnabas said about Saul’s experience in Acts 9:27 and from what Ananias said about Saul’s experience in Acts 9:17. From these accounts, we learn that Jesus appeared to Saul personally in this blinding vision.
ii. In response to this light, Saul undoubtedly shut his eyes as tight as he could; yet, Jesus still appeared before him. After the same pattern, Jesus has often had to appear to us even though we shut our eyes.
iii. In this encounter with Jesus, Saul learned the gospel that he would preach his whole life. He insisted in Galatians 1:11-12, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
k. Lord, what do You want me to do? When Saul asked this question, Jesus only told him what to do right at that moment.
i. This is often the character of God’s direction in our lives. He directs us one step at a time instead of laying out the details of the grand plan all at once.
3. (7-9) Saul immediately after the Damascus road.
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.
a. The men who journeyed with him stood speechless: The experience was incomprehensible to Saul’s companions, but as Saul opened his eyes (presumably shut tight in a terrified reaction to the heavenly light), he still could not see (when his eyes were opened he saw no one).
i. We can almost hear God saying to Saul, “You shut your eyes against My light and My Savior. Fine! Spend a few days as blind physically as you have been blind spiritually!”
b. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank: It seems that Saul was so shaken by the experience that he was unable to eat or drink for three days. All Saul could do was simply sit in a blind silence. This was a humbling experience, and a time when Saul must have challenged all his previous ideas about who God was and what pleased God.
i. In the three days of blindness and deprivation, Saul was dying to himself. It would only be after the three days of dying that he would receive resurrection life from Jesus.
B. God ministers to Saul through Ananias.
1. (10-12) God’s message to Ananias.
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.”
a. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias: We don’t know anything about Ananias from either before or after this meeting with Saul. We don’t know how he came to Damascus, or what happened to him afterward. From what we do know we can think of him as an average follower of Jesus – a certain disciple.
i. Ananias was an ordinary man – not an apostle, a prophet, a pastor, an evangelist, an elder, or a deacon. Yet God used him because he was an ordinary man. If an apostle or a prominent person had ministered to Saul, people might say Paul received his gospel from a man instead of Jesus. In the same way, God needs to use the certain disciple – there is a special work for them to do.
ii. In theory, it wasn’t absolutely necessary that God use a man like Ananias for this work in Saul’s life. Being simply a certain disciple, we can say that God simply used Ananias because because God loves to use people, and Ananias was a willing servant. Ananias asked Saul’s question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6) by the way he lived his life.
b. To him the Lord said in a vision: God spoke to Ananias in a completely different way than He spoke to Saul. Saul had a bold, almost violent confrontation from God, but Ananias heard the voice of God sweetly in a vision, where God called and Ananias obediently responded. To say, “Here I am, Lord” is a perfect response to God.