CHANGING OUR LIVES
THEME: Paul’s conversion is one of the two most important conversions to Christianity, the other being Cornelius in chapter 10. Paul’s is the most famous conversion in history, and it’s important to Luke, because he includes 3 different accounts of it. There are many important facets to Paul’s conversion, and it is important for us today to study it. Only the “miraculous events” are not applicable to us today. The other features of Paul’s conversion are.
Scripture: Acts 9: 1-31.
I. Saul as a persecutor of the church (vv. 1-2).
A. If we ask what caused Saul’s conversion, only one answer is possible. What stands out from Scripture is the sovereign grace of God through Christ Jesus. Saul did NOT “decide for Jesus,” as we might say. He was persecuting Christ and the church. Jesus decided for him and intervened in his life: the evidence is clear.
1. Consider Saul’s state of mind. Luke has mentioned him 3 times, each as a bitter opponent of the church. (Acts 7: 58; 8: 1; 8: 3).
2. Now he’s still persecuting the church. He has not changed since the death of Stephen. He was in the same mental condition of hatred and hostility.
B. Even worse, Saul evidently hoped to contain the Jesus followers in Jerusalem, in order to more easily destroy them.
1. But some had escaped his net and fled to Damascus.
2. So Saul heads for Damascus, with the high priest’s extradition order in his hand.
3. The language used to describe the persecuting Saul is very graphic:
a. Luke uses words that portray him as a “wild and ferocious beast.”
b. “The ravaging of a body by a wild beast.”
c. “Mauled” the church.”
d. “Breathing out murderous threats” refers to the “snorting of wild beasts.”
4. Shortly this “wolf in search of sheep to destroy” will be turned into not only one of the sheep, but in the character of a shepherd.
C. Saul was in no mood to consider the claims of Christ. He would later admit to being obsessed by a “raging fury” (Acts 26: 11). If you had told him that he would be a believer before he reached Damascus, he would have ridiculed the idea.
1. Yet this was the case, for Saul did not calculate for the grace of God.
II. Saul and Jesus in their encounter on the Damascus road (vv. 3-9).
A. The next piece of evidence that Saul’s conversion was due to God’s grace alone is Luke’s story about what happened. We’ll draw from all 3 of the Acts accounts. Saul and his escort have almost completed their 135 mile trip to Damascus, which would have taken about a week or so.
1. As they approach Damascus at noon, something like a huge bolt of “continuous lightning” overwhelms the group, even blinding Saul (because it was aimed directly at him).
2. Then a voice speaks to Saul, personally and directly: “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
B. At once, Saul must have understood, from the extraordinary way that Jesus identifies with His followers, to persecute them was to persecute Him, that Jesus was really alive and so His claims were true.
1. So Saul promptly obeys the commands given him.
2. The other people in the party saw the bolt of light, and heard a noise, but did not understand that the noise was a voice and what it was saying.
3. (Luke must love irony, because he uses is often: it is one of his favorite writer’s devices). Now he who had expected to enter Damascus in the fullness of pride as a self-confident opponent of Christ, was actually led into it, humbled and blinded, as a captive of the very Christ he had opposed.
4. The risen Lord had appeared to Saul: it was not a subjective vision or dream. The light he saw was the glory of Christ, and the voice he heard was the voice of Christ. Jesus had turned him around and headed him in the totally opposite direction.
C. However, we must remember that the sovereign grace which captured Saul was neither sudden (in the sense there had been no previous preparation) nor compulsive (in the sense that he needed to make no response).
1. Saul’s conversion was not at all the sudden, instantaneous conversion that it is often said to be. Yes, the final intervention was as sudden as a bolt of lightning.
2. But it was not the 1st time Christ Jesus spoke to him. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26: 14) Jesus likens Saul to a young ox and Himself to a farmer using goads (sharply pointed prodding sticks) to break him to the plow’s yoke.
3. The implication is that Jesus pursues Saul, prodding him at every turn, and the painful futility for him to resist.
4. One of these “goads” was surely Saul’s doubts. Even though he repudiated Jesus as an impostor who had died on a cross under the curse of God. But subconsciously, he could not get Him out of his mind?
5. It is likely that Saul and Jesus were close contemporaries in age, and Saul might have even seen Jesus in Jerusalem during the week before the cross.
6. Even if they didn’t meet, Saul would have heard the many reports of Jesus’ teaching and miracles.
7. Another goad would have been Stephen. No hearsay here, because Saul was at his trial. He had seen Stephen’s shining face and the courageous non-resistance while being stoned to death.
a. He had heard Stephen’s eloquent speech (probably also in the Freedman’s Synagogue).
b. He had heard Stephen’s prayer for the forgiveness of his executioners, and his seeing of Jesus as the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.
c. For Saul could not suppress the witness of Stephen.
d. The very fanaticism of Saul’s persecution betrayed his growing inner uneasiness because “fanaticism is only found in individuals who are compensating secret doubts.”
8. Saul’s bad conscience probably caused him more inner turmoil than his doubts.
a. He knew his thoughts, motives and desires were not clean in God’s sight.
b. In particular, the 10th commandment (do not covet) convicted him. (It was a condition of the heart which he could not control, like his open actions of the other commandments).
9. He had neither power nor peace, but would not admit it.
10. The sudden climax of a long process in which the “Hound of Heaven” had been pursuing him: the stiff neck of the self-righteous neck bowed; the ox had been broken to the yoke.
D. But Christ did not crush Saul on the Damascus road. He humbled him, certainly, but He did not demean Saul into a robot or compel him to perform certain actions in a kind of hypnotic trance.
1. Jesus puts a question to him: “Why do you persecute me?” (v. 4)
2. By this, Jesus appeals to his reason and conscience.
3. Saul answers with a question: “Who are you, Lord?” (v. 5) and then “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22: 10)
4. Since Saul realizes he is talking to Jesus: Then Jesus is alive; He has risen from the dead; and Saul’s Pharisaic Judaism was therefore without foundation anymore.
E. If God will have mercy on such a bigoted, murdering persecutor as Saul, surely He will have mercy on such proud, rebellious, wayward creatures like each of us.
III. Ananias welcomes Saul into the fellowship of the church (vv. 10-25).
A. Now we begin to see the great transformation of Saul’s attitudes and character which immediately begin to be apparent, especially of his relationships to God, to the church, and to the unbelieving world.
1. First, Saul had a new reverence for God.
2. Saul totally fasts for 3 days, not eating or drinking anything.
3. We can guess during these 3 days, he was almost constantly in prayer for forgiveness; for wisdom to know what God wanted him to do; for power to conduct whatever ministry he was to be given; in praise and worship that God had had mercy on him.
2. Saul has a new relationship with the church, into which Ananias now introduced him.
3. Ananias had his doubts and hesitations, but he goes in obedience and wonder that God would have chosen a Saul to be His vessel.
4. Ananias lays his hands on Saul, as much in friendship and love as his address to him: “Brother Saul.”
5. These words must have been music to Saul’s ears. After he regains his sight and strength, he immediately begins to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God: the long awaited Messiah.
6. As he preaches, he gains power and confidence: by the Scriptures, he “proves” Jesus was the Christ (Messiah).
B. But Saul does not stay in Damascus for long. We know from (Galatians 1: 11-24) that Saul went to Arabia for 3 years, probably to reflect and meditate and receive the Gospel from Jesus Himself, and also to preach, which stirs up unrest and causes the King to search for him as he returns to Damascus.
1. After he returns to Damascus, Saul doesn’t stay for long, but leaves for Jerusalem.
2. His preaching has been effective, for (9: 25) shows that Paul had disciples who followed his leadership.
IV. Barnabas welcomes Saul into fellowship with the Apostles (vv. 26-31).
A. Saul’s experience in Jerusalem was similar to Damascus: people were afraid of his reputation. The 12 Apostles didn’t know or didn’t believe that Saul had really changed.
So, they kept very distant.
1. All too often, we are way too ready to believe the worst about people.
2. Barnabas demonstrated true Christian behavior in this case. We should really copy him.
3. He goes to Saul, sits down with him, looks him in the eye, and says to him: “Tell me all about it.”
4. He doesn’t stop with just listening to Saul – he acts. He helps him. He demonstrates his name (Encourager) and helps Saul by introducing him to Peter and James.
5. Barnabas vouches for him. He thoroughly welcomes Saul into the Jerusalem Christian community.
B. (Normal welcome into today’s church) “We’re glad you’ve come.” Then we leave them isolated and return to our little cliques – where we gossip about the newcomers. It takes a very long time for most new people to be accepted into a church – if they ever are!
1. No wonder we have people who say the church is full of hypocrites: It is! We say a word or two to their face, but our actions clearly say we want nothing to do with them.
2. How long would you get the cold shoulder from a congregation before you moved on – or moved out?
3. Note that Barnabas doesn’t forget about Saul, even after the 12 ships him off to Tarsus to keep him alive.
4. When Barnabas winds up in Antioch needing help, he remembers Saul and goes and gets him and brings him back. Together, they encourage and teach and lead the Antioch church into the position of being the leader among all the churches of the eastern Mediterranean after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD.
5. Barnabas found a place of service for Saul. But he didn’t leave him alone in that place; he worked with him.
6. Barnabas and Saul in the early years were the poster-boys for Christian behavior in their relationship with each other.
7. And it all started because Barnabas was willing to step out in faith and believe what he was hearing about Saul: that he had become a Christian.
C. The next thing we learn from Saul’s conversion process: True conversion always issues in church membership. It is not only that converts must join the Christian community, but that the Christian community must welcome converts, especially those from a different religious, ethnic or social background.
1. It’s not so much the convert joining the church as it is the church joining the convert.
2. The new one needs nurturing and teaching and supporting: and it’s us, the church, who is to do these tasks. It’s why God the Father designed the church: that we would nurture, teach, and support each other.
D. Saul recognized that he had a new responsibility to the world, especially as a witness.
Saul understood that becoming a Christian was far more than just joining with other believers in a congregation and meeting with them on a weekly basis.
1. When he came to Jerusalem, he spoke and taught in the synagogues there.
2. He grew more and more powerful (v. 22) in his witness and in the Spirit.
3. Christians must witness with their lives and with their words.
And so we see the change worked in Saul by Christ. Did your conversion change you?
Christ changed Paul from a murderous persecutor of the Church into the Church’s greatest advocate.
Can anyone tell a difference in you from before you were converted and now?
Or is the only difference that you come to church when its convenient?
Has there been a real change in your life??