PAUL’S CONVERSION Acts 9
“This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).Salvation first: service second.
Saul set off to stamp out Christianity in Damascus (9:1–2) but was converted on the way (vv. 3–19). His bold preaching of Christ aroused deadly hostility in Damascus (vv. 20–25). Back in Jerusalem, his fearless witness again endangered him, and Saul was sent home to Tarsus (vv. 26–31). Meanwhile Peter, in Joppa, raised a beloved widow from the dead (vv. 32–43).
Understanding the Text“
Breathing out murderous threats” Acts 9:1–2.
The Sanhedrin had the right to discipline any Jew living in the Empire. Letters from that body gave Saul legal authority to arrest Christian Jews in Damascus. But why was Paul so adamantly opposed to the Christians? He undoubtedly saw faith in Jesus as a corruption and perversion of the Scriptures, and very possibly saw himself as a worthy successor of such ancient heroes as Moses or Phinehas, who killed immoral Israelites at Baal of Peor (Num. 25:1–15). There is no question that zealous first-century Jews viewed hatred of the wicked as a mark of righteousness. Saul’s absolute certainty serves to alert us to a common danger. It is always possible to apply Scripture wrongly. The Word is reliable, but we human beings have a tendency to proof text our actions. And the verse or principle we refer to may not apply to our situation! God has given us His Holy Spirit to guide our application of Scripture. We must remain sensitive to His leading, or risk running enthusiastically in the wrong direction, as Saul surely did! “And heard a voice say” Acts 9:3–9. This is the first of three accounts of Saul’s conversion that are found in the Book of Acts (cf. Acts 22; 26). Why three accounts? In part because the later two are reports of how Paul told his conversion story when speaking to different audiences. But mostly because Saul’s conversion was the most significant event in his life. You and I hardly have conversion stories to match Saul’s for drama. But ours do match his for significance! The most important event in any human being’s life is coming to know Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “I have heard many reports about this man” Acts 9:10–19. We know little about Ananias of Damascus. What we do know is admirable. He was “a disciple” (a term which in Acts almost always is used with the sense of “a Christian”). Ananias responded immediately to God’s instructions and went to see Saul, despite Saul’s reputation. And he accepted Saul as “Brother Saul.” Sometimes despite Christ’s call to us to be witnesses, we hesitate to approach people about whom we’ve “heard reports.” Often the reports aren’t true. More often than not when I’ve gotten to know people that others criticized or gossiped about, I’ve found the reports totally wrong. But at times the reports we hear are true, as in the case of Saul. Even then, there’s an unknown factor. God may have been working in their lives, as He worked in Saul’s. We should never let what people say about another person keep us from reaching out to him or her with God’s Good News. “He got up and was baptized” Acts 9:18. Even before Paul ate—and he had fasted the three days he remained blind—he was baptized. The act was a public confession of his faith in Jesus, and of his solidarity with the Christians of Damascus. Too many Christians seem intent on keeping their allegiance to Christ a secret in the workplace. Not that believers should carry red-covered Bibles, pass out tracts, and buttonhole colleagues for a three-minute sermon every day. But in every relationship there are times when it is natural and necessary to affirm our relationship with Jesus. A Christian really has to work at being a secret believer. He or she must consciously choose not to speak of his faith many times. We need to let Paul be our example here. One of his first acts as a believer was to publicly identify himself with Christ and with other Christians. If we’re to serve God and other people effectively, we need to be publicly identified with Jesus too. “At once he began to preach” Acts 9:20–25. Paul had been a committed and zealous persecutor of the church. The same dynamic qualities were now dedicated to promoting the faith he had once tried to destroy. The text says that Saul “grew more and more powerful.” As he preached Jesus as the Son of God and the Old Testament’s promised Messiah, he grew in his understanding of Scripture and his ability to communicate. There’s an important principle here. No one can wait until he is “powerful” to begin witnessing or preaching. We grow in the doing, not in the waiting. If you want to develop in any area of your Christian life—be it in prayer, Bible study, witnessing, teaching, whatever—start. “They were all afraid of him” Acts 9:26–27. Barnabas is undoubtedly one of the most attractive figures in Scripture. In Acts 4 we saw him sensitive to the needy, and willing to sell his property to meet others’ needs. Here in Acts 9 we see him sensitive to Saul’s loneliness, and willing to risk possible betrayal to the authorities by contacting him. Some Christians care about others. And then, some Christians care about others. Members of the first group have honest emotions of concern or pity. Those in the second group are willing to do something to meet others’ needs. Barnabas belonged to this second group. What group do you and I belong to? Those who care, or those who care?“They tried to kill him” Acts 9:28–31. This is the second time in just a few verses that folks with whom Saul debated about Jesus were ready to kill him (cf. vv. 23–25). Somehow I get the impression that the fiery young Pharisee, so eager to attack error in the church, hadn’t changed a great deal! I may be wrong, but I suspect that Saul wasn’t at all worried about being diplomatic in his approach to evangelism. “Attack!” was Paul’s watchword. And holy zeal made that attack even more enthusiastic. Note that the brothers “took him” down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. At that point brother Saul was just stirring up trouble for the church, not winning converts! With Saul gone, “the church . . . enjoyed a time of peace” and “it grew in numbers” (v. 31). Much later Saul, by then Paul and a veteran of decades of ministry, wrote, “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24–25). That kind of wisdom comes to most of us later in life. “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha” Acts 9:32–43. The story of Dorcas is fascinating for two reasons. First, this is the only case in which a miracle worker was sent for after a person had died (vv. 37–38). Even Jesus was sent for while dying persons still breathed. Apparently the Christians at Joppa had such a firm faith that they expected God to bring Dorcas back from the dead. Second, note the reason for the church’s desire for Dorcas’ resuscitation. She “was always doing good and helping the poor” (v. 36). This is perhaps even more important. Let’s commit ourselves to being the kind of persons whose loss would be felt deeply, because we too are “always doing good.”
The Mark of Saul(Acts 9:1–19)
Every true Christian must bear the mark of Saul. I don’t mean that you or I have to have an exceptional conversion experience. Or even that we have to put a date and time to the moment we came to know Christ. I do mean that there are some things in the account of Saul’s conversion that really are normative for Christians. Even though the story is found in Acts. You know the story. Saul was stunned by the flash of light and the voice from heaven, which he recognized as a sign of divine revelation. But he was even more stunned to hear a voice say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” With those words everything Saul had believed with such fierce conviction, everything he had staked his life and being on, was shown to be utterly false. Most people drift through life, with few strong religious convictions. Conversion seems a welcome or delightful thing. Some, as Saul, experience conversion as a total redirection of belief and life. Yet there are certain things that are common to every Christian conversion. For each of us, becoming a Christian means (1) acknowledging the error of old beliefs and abandoning them, (2) revising our opinion of Jesus to acknowledge Him as Saviour and Lord, (3) gradually realizing that life must take on a new direction, with service given priority. In Saul, these changes were instant and dramatic. In others the changes may take place more gradually, and certainly less dramatically. But Christian conversion must bear these marks. Many assume that they “believe” in God or in Jesus. But if the three indelible marks of conversion are lacking, that “belief” is superficial and not true Christian faith.
How does your life display the mark of Saul?
“The mark of a saint is not perfection, but consecration. A saint is not a man without faults, but a man who has given himself without reserve to God.”—Brooke Foss Westcott