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Acts 9

February 28th, 2010 by Vic

Saul’s Conversion

February 28, 2010

Have you ever been very certain about something and later found out that you were wrong in being right?  Many years ago when I was doing a lot of studying in the Greek text of the New Testament I enjoyed counting words, comparing, and getting excited about the precise shades of meaning that were used to tell the gospel story.  Paul often used words with double meanings.  Rather than choose one meaning or the other I believe Paul wants us to sometimes consider both meanings.  Peter invented words that no one else used like ‘supergreat’ when he talked about the grace of God.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s when Bill Gothard and Peter Wagner were popular and everyone was trying to find their spiritual gift, I taught a graduate class in Spiritual Gifts.  I did a fairly complete word study of all the popular Biblical verses that mention spiritual gifts.  The gift of tongues has historically been controversial.  300 years before the time of Christ, Plato forbade his disciples to speak in ecstatic utterances.  Ecstatic utterances were common in the Greek mystery religions.  In my studies I found that Paul gives a very tight, logical argument against tongues in the church.  In the context of love, Paul points out that the grace that all Christians receive from God at conversion is for the edification of the church, never for self-edification.  He commands the Corinthians to stop acting like children.  Then the verse that eventually convicted me was 1 Cor 14:39.  Paul says it is not worth arguing about.  Don’t forbid the speaking in tongues.

I was trying to argue everyone into seeing the truth about spiritual gifts.  I had the numbers.  I had the definitions.  I had Paul’s argument.  I pointed out that the love chapter tells us that some gifts will cease when the church grows up and some will not cease until Jesus returns.  The argument was really important to me.  Then I began to realize my attitude was not Christlike.  I quit teaching the class.  I quit criticizing my brothers in Christ.  I realized the letter of the law is not the main thing.  My change was more gradual than Saul’s.  He had a radical conversion into the grace of Jesus Christ.

Saul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees.  He was trained by the best.  He had committed his life to serve God.  With intense energy he was trying to purify the people of God.  He was defending the proper understanding of Scripture.  He was considering bombing the abortion clinics and flying a plane into the IRS offices.  He was willing to give his life for what He felt was the truth.

His plan was to force these Christians to deny their heretical faith in Jesus.  He had the power to intimidate and imprison.  The Sanhedrin could put them on trial and condemn these false Jews.  Word got out.  The Christian Jews quit worshiping in the Jerusalem Temple and synagogues.  Philip went to Samaria.  Many went to Damascus, 140 miles north of Jerusalem, and Paul was going to bring them back to prison and give them a chance to see the error of their ways.

Acts 9:1-9  Saul meets Jesus.

Saul made sure he had the proper extradition papers from the Jerusalem priests to take to Damascus to bring back the Christian heretics who had left Jerusalem.  These heretics believed a dead man was the Messiah.  This man died by hanging on a cross, which was a double curse.  Would God take a cursed false prophet and make him the Messiah?  This is a dangerous sect.  They are using satan’s power to do miracles.  These followers of Jesus were subversive to the true religion.  They claimed to be Jews.  Christians were not yet called Christians.  They still considered themselves Jews and here they are called people of The Way.

Damascus was an ancient city.  Some feel it is the oldest city in the world.  At this time the population was probably 15-20,000.  It is estimated that there were 30-40 synagogues in the city.  There were enough Christians there already to be of concern to the Pharisees in Jerusalem.

A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort once he loses sight of his goal.  Saul had not lost sight of his goal, but I wonder if he had some doubts about his violence.  It is interesting that after he is converted he preaches the gospel in the very synagogue that Stephen attended.

The men who walked the 140 miles with Saul were police officers from the Sanhedrin.  As a Pharisee, Saul could not talk with these Sadducees.  He walked these miles in silence with his thoughts.  In one sense Saul’s conversion was gradual, but his surrender was sudden.

As Saul’s swat team neared Damascus his life was changed by a blinding light.  When he tells this story later in Acts (22&26), he says he saw a quick glimpse of Jesus around noon.  He immediately recognized that the words were spoken with divine authority.

The Lord did not ask, “Why are you persecuting My church?”  Because “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me.”  Here is one of the mysteries of our faith.  We abide in Him and His Spirit abides in us.  Jesus clearly identifies with His disciples.  Instantly Saul knows that Jesus of Nazareth was actually alive.

Up to this point Saul was in charge of his life.  He did what he liked.  He did what he thought best.  But all things changed when he saw Jesus.  Now he will be told what to do.  Saul was not disobedient to the vision.  He surrendered to the will of God.  It was no longer him, but Christ living in him.

The NIV has not included a couple phrases in verses 5-6.  The KJV reads, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.  And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?  And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city…”

Paul’s beliefs about Jesus had been wrong.  He had made some big mistakes.  His future was no longer a rigid plan.  His Day-Timer was just vaporized.  His future was a blank.  He did not know what to do next.  He was obedient to his heavenly vision.

Pricks were goads used on oxen.  Like hobbles on a cow, the more you kick the more it hurts and the more you hurt yourself.  It is hard for you to go against your conscience.  It is not good for you to go against what you already know to be true.  Listen to your conscience.  Do not harden your conscience.

Saul got up without sight.  He was led like a child.  The leader had to be led.  The one who had authority to arrest has been arrested by Jesus.  The legalistic persecutor is about to become a preacher of love and grace.

Acts 9:10-19  Saul meets Ananias.

We do not know how Christianity was established in Damascus.  They had heard of the persecution in Jerusalem and Saul’s plans for Damascus.  Saul and his swat team had been in town a couple days.  They were secluded someplace.  The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision.  Ananias recognized the voice of the Lord.  He has a conversation with the Lord like a friend talking with a friend.  The Lord tells him where Saul was staying but he had no desire to meet Saul.

Note what Ananias is told about Saul.  Saul is praying (11).  He knows you are coming (12).  Contrary to the reports in the Newspaper, the Lord said, “He is my chosen instrument.”

The Lord said Saul was really praying.  Can the Lord look at me and say, “He’s praying.”  Does Jesus think my praying is praying?  When is my prayer God’s kind of prayer?  When I am serious.  Saul was not eating or drinking.  His life was unsettled and experiencing a radical change of direction.  He wanted to hear from God.  He wanted to know who he was and why was he born.  It was time to fast and pray.  When we face a crisis, we are more serious about prayer.

The Lord told Ananias that Saul already knows him by name.  He was not on Saul’s hit list.  He was on his healer list.  God was making Himself known by speaking to both servants.

For 3 days Saul is in darkness, fasting and praying.  I can’t imagine the sorrow he had for his sin of unbelief.  I can’t imagine the grief he felt for hurting so many good people.  I imagine he was reviewing all the Scripture in his mind trying to see how Jesus could be the expected Messiah.  I imagine he was thinking about Isaiah’s suffering servant Scriptures and how little he has had to suffer, but how much suffering he had caused.  Our suffering connects us with the Messiah.

Ananias obeys his vision(17).  Placing his hands on Saul, he calls him brother.  Saul heard the voice and felt the hands.  Saul did not have any brothers.  He was independent.  He did not need anyone until now.  That one word ‘brother’ expresses a lot of love and forgiveness.  Bitter enemies were now brothers.  Ananias was identifying with Saul as a fellow member of the community of Christians.

Ananias lays his hands on Saul and gets right to the point (17).  “The Lord Jesus told me he was talking to you and told you I was coming.  The reason he sent me is so you can see with your eyes and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit confirms that Jesus is Lord.  God could have done it without me, but He didn’t.

Saul eyes were opened, his heart was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then he was baptized in water to testify that he was changing religions.  He was identifying with Jesus the Messiah and his followers.

9:19-25  Saul meets opposition.

Saul had been told that he was to carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles (15).  But as soon as he eats and gets his strength back he visits the Christian community then goes to Arabia for 3 years (Gal 1:15-17).  He returns to Damascus to preach to the Jews (20).  He was prepared to argue with the Jews.  All his training was in the Jewish way of thinking.  He loved the Jewish people.  He knew all the mistakes the Jews were making.  He could really set them straight.  He confronted the Jews but did not convert the Jews.  They were not ready to hear.  And Saul became a basket case.  The Damascus Jews wanted to assassinate Saul, but he was able to escape to Jerusalem.

9:26-31  Saul meets Barnabas and Peter.

His old associates and the few Christians who remained in the city suspected that his profession of faith was a ploy.  The only apostles in Jerusalem at that time were Peter and James.

Barnabas was an encourager.

Saul preached to the Grecian Jews (29).  These are the ones who stoned Stephen.  Saul must have wanted to pick up where Stephen left off.  Maybe he wanted to somehow salve his conscience for the vote he had cast against Stephen.  These Jews plot to assassinate him.

The Christians escorted Saul to Caesarea where Philip was living.  They got him on a boat back to his home in Tarsus.  We will see him again in 11:35.

About this same time in history the Roman emperor Caligula issued an order to place a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem.  This was a real threat to the Jewish leaders.  They ignored the Christians for a while.  The Romans could really mess things up.

By now the Christians were in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.  During this time of peace there was encouragement and growth both numerically and spiritually.

Acts 9:32-43 Peter visits churches in the area.

The apostles apparently went on mission tours as the Holy Spirit directed them.  Sharon is a fertile plain along the Mediterranean 40 miles long including Joppa and Caesarea.

Peter found a group of Christians in Lydda, about 25 miles from Jerusalem.  Philip had evangelized this area.  Peter was a respected leader but took time to just hang out with people.  He served the people and was ready to respond to their call.  He received power to heal.

Aeneas had been crippled 8 years.  He was already a Christian.  So Peter just reminded him that Jesus heals him.

When 2 men asked Peter to come to Joppa, he went at once.  Joppa was 10-11 miles north of Lydda.  Peter had seen Jesus give life to dead people.  But Jesus never kneeled down and prayed.  Both these miracles convinced the people that Jesus was alive and they could trust Him.

Dorcas was an important lady to many people.  She was a seamstress.  She made quilts.  She did practical, good stuff for people.

Peter stays with a tanner, an unclean profession because it dealt with blood and dead animals.  Peter is starting to put aside some Jewish prejudice.  Peter did not keep regular office hours in his Jerusalem office.  Most church executives do not stay in the Motel 6, but Peter is right where the Lord wanted him.  (see the next chapter)  Are you right where God wants you for your next assignment?

Being very right can be very wrong.

Counterfeit Christianity is always safe.  Genuine Christianity is risky.

The people that Saul met shaped his ministry.

Every person you meet can be a divine appointment.

Your hands may be healing hands to one person.

Has God told someone in a vision that you are coming to visit them?

Does God see you praying?

You’ve heard truth.  What are you going to do about it?

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