What is your educational degree – associates (C.C. is great value!) / bachelors / masters / doctorate / trade school certified (YES: master carpenter/electrician/plumber/etc.)? Some SAHM have describe themselves as Chief Domestic Engineer (so much more!)
All of us appreciate professionals and specialists, and likely view ourselves as having some sort of expertise.
Today, I want to discuss a man who was highly accomplished academically, socially, and even religiously. Yet, he came to a decisive moment in his life where he self-identified not based upon earthly accomplishments or worldly success, but as the lowest.
Paul was a master in many ways, but what he boasted most was himself “chief of sinners” and Christ as sole and supreme Savior. He humbly wrote, “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:14-16)
In other words, Paul’s faith testimony (shared 3x in Acts: 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:9-18) inspires hope for all today that God can save anyone. There is no one whose sin is too significant or scandalous that Jesus cannot save.
There is no one whose sin is too significant or scandalous that Jesus cannot save.Tweet
EXAMINE Acts 9 Spirit Filled Conversion
Acts 9:1 But Saul…” Who was he?
- Saul was a privileged Jew. He was Jewish from birth (circumcised on 8th day), and a Roman citizen. His genealogical tribe was Benjamin, where Israel’s first king lived, and overall were known as left-handed warriors. Saul was zealous in the Jewish faith, studying under a leading rabbi scholar named Gamaliel (Ac 22:3), and becoming an expert in religious law as a Pharisee. Yet, despite all this accomplishment and privilege, he later says, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss… as rubbish… because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, that I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (cf Php 3:7-9).
- Saul was a persecutor of Christians (Ac 8:1-3; 9:1-2). Saul approved of Stephen’s execution. Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. He asked the high priest for special permission to arrest “followers of The Way” outside of Jerusalem – to Damascus (135mi away; over a week’s journey).
- Note Christians were known as those belonging to “The Way.” The name “Christian” was meant pejoratively and mocking Jesus. Early Christians adopted these identities because they were not just culturally following a religious tradition but were counter cultural. Their identity, attitudes, and actions centered around Jesus. What is your identifying passion?
- While Christians followed THE WAY, Saul followed his own way – in the wrong direction from God. Saul made converts of type Jesus warns about saying, “Woe to you, teacher of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Mt 23:15)
- Saul/Paul was prolific in ministry. His transformation from persecutor to follower of Jesus was radical. He would end up becoming the greatest Christian missionary, traveling over 10K miles, started 1-2 dozen churches that exponentially multiplied, influencing countless converts and disciples of Jesus, and writing 13 of 27 NT books.
- Saul/Paul was perseverant in life and faith. He was most likely a widower, a survivor of imprisonments, countless beatings, often beaten/stoned and left for death, dangers at sea, dangers in the wilderness, dangers in the city, dangers from church hurt (false brothers), through many sleepless nights in hunger and thirst. Overall, Paul was a faithful laborer and persevering servant of the Lord. If Jesus continued living in bodily form, undoubtedly it would have resembled the life of Paul. From Saul of Tarsus to Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, we learn that it does not matter from where you came but where God is taking you.
Acts 9:1-31 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
We don’t have it in the text, but in the original Greek manuscripts, what Saul says is, “UH OH!” Saul has been professing to follow God but rejecting Jesus, then being confronted with the reality that Jesus is Lord.
There is coming a day when people thinking all religions are on the same road to God will be confronted with the reality all exits are closed on the highway to hell except the toll booth of trusting in the payment of sin by Jesus Christ. Have you trusted in Christ?
Further, did you catch how Jesus viewed persecution against Christians or undervaluing the church? In Jesus’ mind, you cannot marginalize the church. There is no separation between Jesus and the church – His bride. If we affirm Jesus but show apathy toward the church, then we have tragically misunderstood Jesus and the Scriptures.
In Jesus’ mind, you cannot marginalize the church. There is no separation between Jesus and the church – His bride. If we affirm Jesus but show apathy toward the church, then we have tragically misunderstood Jesus and the Scriptures.Tweet
- You say: “Well, the church hurt or embarrasses me.” Jesus identified with this statement. Yet, His love still sacrificed everything for the church, so should we.
- Also, I’m grateful the disciples did not quit on the church because of Judas. Let’s follow their example by deepening our commitment to help others understand Jesus better and hold each other accountable.
- Further, if we are honest, has there not been moments when we have embarrassed Jesus or hurt others in the church? If so, why are we so quick to expect mercy for ourselves but not extend grace to others? Evidence of Christian maturity is humility that does not view ourselves as above others but alongside them. What holds you back from coming alongside the church?
6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Saul is used to giving orders but now he’s receiving orders from the Lord Jesus. This is what Christianity is about – a Savior AND a Lord. We do not get to tell Jesus what our life plan should be – He tells us.
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
When we become a Christian, our eyes are opened, and mind understands. But there are others who can hear the same sermons, read the same books, experience the same circumstances, yet it all sounds like noise – like the teacher on Charlie Brown, “wah wahh wah wahh.” The human heart has a natural bias and bent to be closed and not open to our Creator.
8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Saul’s spiritual status is blind, but his physical condition was smart and strong. Interestingly, the Bible describes unbelief with a host of synonyms: blindness, callous-hearted, lost, unsaved, condemned, dead, etc. So, God transfers or mirrors Saul’s physical condition to his spiritual status. Saul becomes blinded – the one who arrested others becomes apprehended by the holiness of God. Before he stood above others, now he is humbly bowed facing the ground and needing picked up and led by others. Luke, author of Acts, notes Saul did not eat or drink for three days. Remember, Luke was a medical doctor, so this is ancient terminology indicating that Saul was experiencing a level of shock and PTSD.
God will use all sorts of circumstances to get our attention: a conversation or confrontation, a health diagnosis, a problem, a roadblock, a defining decision, a pandemic, or even a tragedy or death. What will it take for you to be open to God and truly consider Jesus Christ? And, even if you are already a believer, do not think that God will still find ways to regain your attention. My friends, pay attention to your relationship with God.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
This is not the same Ananias from Acts 5; bc that one is dead. This one is a disciple. Jesus speaks to him, and Ananias’ response is what any faithful servant of the Lord should be, (like Samuel/Isaiah/Jesus) “Here I am Lord.”
11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
Ananias thought he misheard the Lord: “Uh, Jesus, you know… that’s funny. I thought I heard you say ‘Saul of Tarsus,’ and of course you couldn’t have meant that guy bc he’s that terrorist killing Christians. So, could you say that name again?… Oh… you did mean that Saul.
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Ananias lived up to his name, which means, “Yahweh is gracious.” Ananias accepts Saul into God’s family, calling him “brother.” Isn’t that bizarrely beautiful? Ananias lays hands of prayer over Saul to receive Jesus’ forgiveness and the filling of the Holy Spirit, not to mention healing of his eyesight. Can you/we imagine what would have happened if Ananias refused to visit Saul?
- The gospel and missionary movement could have been stalled. If the Christians and early church is unfriendly and unwelcoming to Saul, then dozens of churches are not started, thousands of people never hear the gospel, and the Christian movement is likely set back for a few hundred years.
I wonder how often the work of God is delayed or hindered because of our unwillingness to forgive or befriend someone.
à This is why I ask every SPBC member to be a greeting compass N-S-E-W each week. You may never realize the impact you have on the next missionary Paul, preacher Charles Spurgeon (Mark King), Billy Graham (Mordecai Ham), or George Leile, or Lottie Moon…?
- If Ananias ignored the Spirit, he would have missed the blessing and joy of serving God. Ultimately, if we repeatedly ignore God’s call in our life then He will identify another willing servant.
I wonder how often the work of God is delayed or hindered because of our unwillingness to forgive or befriend someone.Tweet
18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;
Notice Saul’s salvation creating a new way of seeing life. Additionally, don’t miss the connection between saving faith and believer’s baptism.
19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Saul’s spiritual growth begins immediately. His first actions are to spend time with other believers, and then share Jesus with others. The public was amazed at his transformation.
- How can this guy claim to be forgiven by Jesus? We know what he’s done!
- Why are those Christians hanging out with Saul? Don’t they know what kind of person he is?
You see, only in Christianity does one’s past transform regrets into redemption. Undoubtedly, Saul regrets the blood on his hands and shame in his heart for the death of Stephen and countless other Christians. Yet, God redeems all the detrimental attitudes and destructive actions to become displays of grace, so that Saul says,
- “I am the least and unworthy to be called an apostle. But by the grace of God, I am what I am” – not what I should be but not what I used to be. (1Cor 15:9-10)
- “We will be less sinful in the next life than we are now, but we will not be any more secure in the next life than we are now. If you are united to Christ, you are as good as in heaven already.”
- The painful and prideful parts of our life still have a purpose – the things we have done and that have been done to us. God wants to use our biggest hurts and greatest humiliations to become instruments in the hands of the Redeemer.
- “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free…” (Rom 8:1-2)
- “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… not counting trespasses against us, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor 5:18-20)
Only in Christianity does one’s past transform regrets into redemption… The painful and prideful parts of our life still have purpose. God wants to use our biggest hurts and greatest humiliations to become instruments in the hands of the Redeemer.Tweet
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. 26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
The same person who was a terrorist against Christians became terrorized by religious leaders. Frequently, once we begin faith in Christ we become unwelcome by our old friends. Overall, God has a way of replaying our past with meaning in our present. Thankfully, when we become Christians, we are not left alone. As Saul had Ananias and Barnabas, and the Holy Spirit, so we are never forsaken by the Lord and His church family. Together, the church walks in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit to multiply His promises and purpose.
In one telling of Paul’s testimony, he remembers Jesus saying, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Ac 26:12-14). A goad was a long stick with a sharp point on the end to prod an animal forward. While the animal may be tempted to push/kick back, it would only become more painful. The same idea is true spiritually: We can attempt to run from God or stifle the voice of the Holy Spirit, but we are only hurting ourselves.
- What are you kicking against spiritually? What will it take for you to stop combatting and start cooperating with the grace of God?
While this chapter has emphasized Paul, we cannot help but notice the encouraging influence of Ananias and Barnabas.
- Who is someone you are tempted to look down on or withdraw, but instead realize God may be calling you to walk alongside for a moment or season?
- God uses the church to further instill the development and depth of your calling.
- African proverb: If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Church body functions best when all parts work together.
Last, we must not forget Acts 9 follows Acts 7. In Acts 7:60, Stephen prayed “Father, forgive them.” And after a variety of circumstances, Saul – who approvingly observed Stephen’s execution – becomes forgiven and a follower of Jesus.
- Who do you think is too far gone, too hard-hearted, too hostile? Can they really be any different than Saul? No! God can change anyone: church brats, addicts/alcoholics, stubborn husbands, promiscuous daughters, failing parents, and even religious terrorists. Pray for their salvation and partner with others to share the gospel with the lost people in your life. The gospel of Jesus is powerful enough to stand on its own and perform a miraculous work to change a heart and convince a mind. As Christians, we must be “unashamed the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
 Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, p. 195.