Grace For The Journey
It is often said that if a skeptic wished to be honest in his serious consideration of the historicity of the Bible, he would have to explain two historical facts: the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Both events are difficult to dismiss out of hand if one takes seriously the historical record.
Today’s focus is on Saul’s conversion (recorded in Acts 9:1-22). Saul, usually remembered as Paul, is the one who gave us close to two-thirds of the New Testament. What happened to this man . . .
That changed him from
A persecutor of the faith
To a publisher of the faith?
Here’s how Luke recorded Paul’s encounter . . .
Saul was on his way to Damascus, hoping to find Christians he could arrest. He’s got warrants in his hand as he journeys along when suddenly he is blinded by a light from heaven and falls to the ground in an encounter that leaves him three days without sight.
We will read later that his sight is restored. God will do that. It is God who blinds him and God who restores his sight. The irony is rich . . .
Saul believed he could see spiritually
But he was really blind to the truth.
So God blinds him physically
In order to help him see!
As we study this passage today, we must not miss this important truth – It is God who conducts this “operation,” this spiritual eye surgery, on Saul of Tarsus – and He does it upon everyone who comes to Him by faith in Christ.
From Paul’s conversion record we learn of no fewer than three “essentials” of true Christianity . . .
1) The Necessity of Conversion.
Jesus said in John 3:3, “You must be born again.” We cannot be saved from sin without the new birth. God gives us new hearts and we believe by faith in Jesus Christ. This is conversion, we were once headed in one direction, but we have changed course. We are now following Jesus Christ. Paul described conversion as a new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
This was true of the Apostle Paul. He was on his way to Damascus, living a life in opposition to Christ and God got hold of his heart and he was converted, turned around, saved, and he began living a new life in Christ.
One of the powerful truths I like about this passage is that . . .
It illustrates God’s taking
The initiative in our conversion.
He makes the first move.
He seeks us before we seek Him.
Remember Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one comes to Me unless the Father draws him.” And that his happening here.
God Makes The First Move.
Don’t lost sight of what is happening here – Paul was not interested in Jesus. And Jesus “knocks Paul down, gets his attention” and speaks to him. One of the things Jesus points out is the statement to Paul in verse 5, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” That phrase is found later in Acts 22 and 26 where Paul tells this story of his conversion, so the translators included it here to bring a fuller accounting of the story. But this phrase, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” is a way of describing “how hard it is to resist something that’s prodding you along.”
A “goad” was a sharp stick used, for example, by a sheep herder. Sheep are not real bright animals. They may wander aimlessly towards a cliff or some other danger so the sheep herder would take a goad and prod the sheep and then the sheep would go in the right direction.
This is precisely what God had been doing to Paul and He does for us. We are naturally going in the wrong direction and, in His love, He comes along and goads us in the right direction. So, when we feel like God is “goading” us, prodding us, moving in our lives, we are wise to respond the correct way . . .
Not by resisting Him and
Kicking against Him,
But by surrendering to,
And following Him.
Apart From Christ We Are Spiritually Blind.
We cannot see the truth because we don’t yet have the ability to see the truth. We are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and therefore blind to spiritual things.
I raise this point as a matter of compassion . . . compassion for those who are spiritually blind. A person can be spiritually blind to the truth without realizing it.
It is like when you’ve been to a movie theater. You sit inside that dark theater for a couple hours and you see quite well. You can see the person next to you, see your drink, and see the popcorn that’s fallen onto your lap. When the movie’s over, you step outside and the bright light causes you to squint and you have to get adjusted to the light. What happened was that you had gotten used to the darkness without even realizing it. You were just used to sitting in the dark. You could see, but all you could see was affected by the dark.
The same is true in the spiritual realm.
People Can Be In Spiritual Darkness And Not Realize It.
It’s a call for compassion on our part. We should not make fun of them or look down upon them as though they lack intelligence. We should do as others did for Paul, take them by the hand as they are, and lead them into the light.
I love the way Jesus introduces Himself to Saul of Tarsus. He asks him in verse 4, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting Me?” And Saul is like, “What?! Who are You, Lord?” Great question, by the way. An honest skeptic will make an honest inquiry of the nature of Christ; Who He is.
But Jesus’ question is a reminder that an attack on Christians is an attack on Jesus Himself. He asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting Me?” To attack Christians – the church – is to attack Jesus. So united are Christians with Christ that to attack the one is to attack the other.
Now this takes us to the next point. The church. We have learned of the necessity of conversion. The second characteristic of true Christianity is:
2) The Necessity of Community.
I mean by this a community of faith, a community of believers. Through the gospel, God unites people together so they may grow in their faith, growing in a healthier relationship with God and with one another. Note what the Bible says in verse 10, “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.’” That’s a great response! God calls your name, you say, “Here I am. Use me.” But do we mean it when we say it? Ananias said the right thing. Let’s see if he means it.
Verses 11-14 tell us, “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.’ Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’”
We can appreciate Ananias’ dilemma! Ananias wants to do the Lord’s will, but he’s like, “Uh, God, are you sure about this?! I don’t know if you have thought this thing through. I mean, I know You know everything but, this Saul guy, he’s been persecuting Christians. He has authority here in Damascus to arrest people!”
We are no different. We say: “Lord, I trust You. I believe in You. I want to live Your plan.” Then God unfolds His will and we are like Ananias here trying to make sure God has all the information He needs.
May God give us grace to just do what He says!
He will always honor our doing the right thing.
Verses 15-17 say, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’ And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
I just picture Ananias gingerly approaching Saul, probably still thinking, “I don’t know about this!” He enters the house and cautiously draws near him. And then he gently places his hands on him, touching him. And note the endearing way Ananias addresses Saul. He says: “Brother Saul.” Did you catch that? Brother. He’s family.
The gospel brings people together.
We can get along because
We are brothers and sisters united in Christ!
Verses 18-19 tells what happens, “Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.” Saul can now see! Something fell from his eyes like scales, maybe like a film that had been over his eyes, and now he can see.
And then first thing he does is get baptized. Throughout the Book of Acts you’ll read that as soon as people receive Christ, they are baptized. Baptism is a word that means “to be immersed into water.” It pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism has nothing to do with our salvation but is a testimony of what happened to us when we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. We have died to the old person and the old way of life and have been raised now to walk in a new way of life.
This part of the passage really stresses the need for community in the Christian life. We are relational beings and we need one another. Saul needed Ananias. And Ananias blessed him by being the one to be there with him, to lay hands on him, to touch him, and to pray for him.
I can’t help but think that as Paul walks around in heaven today that Ananias is close by, reminding everyone: “Hey, I had something to do with this guy being here!”
We have read of the necessity of conversion and the necessity of community. The third characteristic of true Christianity is:
3) The Necessity of Confession.
By confession we mean to confess our faith in Christ; to tell others about Jesus. Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit so he is able now to say, “Jesus is Lord.” He would later write in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” Saul of Tarsus now has the Spirit of God within Him. He is now a new creation. He is especially remembered now by his second name, “The Apostle Paul.” And, as a new creation, he has a story to tell to all who will listen:
Verses 20-21 tell us, “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’”
Everybody knows he is different now.
Something has happened.
He is changed!
If you are a Christian, do people see a change in your life? Do people notice you are different – different in a good and God-honoring way? You have a joy in the Lord that others see?
Verse 22 says, “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” Paul is changed and he naturally now confesses Christ, tells others about Jesus. That’s what every believer does. Every Christian confesses Christ. It is just like ministry: every Christian is a minister. Not every Christian is a pastor, not every Christian will preach to a congregation, but every Christian is a minister and will confess Christ, speak of his or her faith in Christ as one of His witnesses.
You Just Naturally Want To Share The Joy Of Jesus.
I find it really easy to talk about things that I like. Things that give me joy. Like if I go to a new restaurant and the food is good, I’ll tell all kinds of people about it – even total strangers! I’ll say, “Man, you’ve got to go to this place!”
In many ways, that’s all witnessing is – It’s just telling others about the One who has forgiven you, given you purpose, power to live, and gives you joy. If you have that joy, you just want to share it with others. Confessing Christ. True Christians do that.
Tell someone today how you met Jesus. Just tell them. Tell them how He came to you, how you came to know Him, and the difference He has made in your life.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”