Over our vacation I meant to read a book but I was caught up in watching the Olympics. You are probably familiar with the pool issues that were going on for the diving and swimming events. The water had turned into a big problem: discoloration, foul smell, swimmers couldn’t see, burning eyes from all the chlorine, etc. Then, the night before the synchronized swimming was to begin the pool was drained and refilled with clean, clear water.
I thought of Saul of Tarsus. On a road overlooking Damascus his old life was drained away and he was filled with new life in Christ…
Review last week: Saul of Tarsus the Church Hunter persecuting the Church, then, we saw the Hunter Become the Hunted.
Chapter 3: At Straight Street I Received My Sight (10-19)
The 3rd chapter in this story is titled, “At Straight Street I Received My Sight. Read verses 10-19.
The result of a confrontation with Jesus was Saul was left blind. Now, we don’t know why Jesus left him blind. Perhaps it was a testimony to his spiritual blindness up to that point. Jesus said to some Pharisees in John 9:39, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Maybe 3 days of blindness is symbolic. God seems to use 3 days in people’s lives at pivotal moments when He’s about to use them in a great way. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for 3 days and he came out ready to preach for God. Jesus was dead for three days until He came out of the grave to birth the Church. And here Saul’s eyes were kept in darkness for 3 days before his life’s purpose of preaching Jesus Christ began.
Perhaps this blindness was to teach Saul humility. He was forced to rely on others and follow them around. Of course it was the beginning of a new life following Someone else. He now lived for Christ which would be characterized by his humble submission to the One who had all authority in heaven and on earth. It started right away when Jesus said in verse 6, “Now get up and go…” Because with those words the new relationship is established: Jesus is the Lord-Master giving the commands and Saul is the obedient servant. Saul was no longer in charge of Saul. Jesus was.
Application: Is Jesus in charge of you? While we would all say Jesus is our Lord and He is the One we obey, do we really? Do we make choices in our lives based on His commands and teachings – or on what we want? Do we say our choices and actions are God’s will when really they’re just our own wants? Be careful that you don’t disguise your wants as God’s will – that is a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain: using His name to endorse something in your life that He really doesn’t endorse. We see with Saul and with Ananias that obedience to Christ characterized their life. As those who obey the Gospel we must obey the teachings of the Lord Jesus as well.
Of course, think of what his blindness did for those frightened Christians. It would have disarmed them a bit to know he was blind, sort of like the teeth from the lion had been removed. We can understand how Ananias was hesitant at first in verses 13-14 when the Lord told him what to do. [Read verses 13-14]. Ananias, like all the disciples, was very familiar with the name Saul of Tarsus. For him it was like walking into a lion’s den. Think about what God was telling Ananias to do: it is very unlikely that Saul was staying with a Christian. Judas on Straight Street was probably a devout Jew, he was probably hostile towards Christians, and he had probably arranged to host Saul and the guards ahead of time. What does this mean? It means that Ananias was told to go see his worst enemy, who was surrounded by a hostile police escort, and housed by a hostile Jewish man. Translation: Ananias was told to go into the lion’s den.
How do you think Ananias felt? Scared? Terrified is more like it. It’s a testimony to his faith that he only objects once. Moses put God’s patience to the test by objecting many more times than that.
Application #1: Overcome fear by faith. Fear leads to disobedience. Faith is the wway of obedience. Fear is not an excuse to disobey Jesus Christ. Living for Christ will put us in circumstances that make us feel frightened, anxious, worried and nervous. But fear does not come from faith. We must act from faith, not fear. Moses was scared to death to go speak to Pharaoh, but, he went in faith, trusting the promise the LORD gave him. The Israelites were scared to enter the promised land and did not take possession of it by trusting the word of the Lord.
Application #2: God can turn the worst circumstances into something glorious. For the Damascus Christians the situation was bad: Saul the Church Hunter was coming to arrest them. But God turned Saul’s mission completely upside down. Saul went to Damascus to arrest Christians but he left Damascus a Christian himself! He went to persecute the name of Christ but he left preaching that Name!
It’s a lot like the prophet-for-hire Balaam in Numbers 22-24 who was hired by Israel’s enemies to go and pronounce a curse on Israel. But every time he stood up on the hill and raised his voice God made him bless Israel – infuriating his employers. Or it’s like the Israelites with their back up against the Red Sea and Pharaoh with the Egyptian army bearing down on them – it looked like the end of the Jewish people. Then, at the last moment God splits the Red Sea and they escape safely while the Egyptians drown.
God can turn the worst circumstances into something glorious. God can turn the worst enemy of God into the greatest man of God. Look at the plans God had for Saul in verse 15, “…” God had a whole life planned for Saul. Proverbs 4:4 says “The LORD works out everything for His own ends…” Then verse 9 it says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” God can turn the worst of people and the worst of circumstances into something glorious.
What’s your Red Sea? Who is your Balaam? Or your Saul? Step back from that situation you are anxious about and change your mind: trust that God is able to do something glorious with it.
Chapter 4: The Rise of Paul the Apostle (20-31)
The last chapter we will cover in Saul’s conversion is titled: The Rise of Paul the Apostle. Saul’s name would change to Paul by chapter 13. With his new life, his new name, and his new mission, this specially chosen instrument would carry the name of Jesus Christ further and at greater personal cost than perhaps any man in Church history. Suffer Christ said and suffer Paul did to preach His Savior. There was no one Paul would not preach to and all he met he sought to become like himself – a believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love what he said in Acts 26 while on trial before King Agrippa. Agrippa said to him in v28, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?” Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
With all his heart he desired the salvation of all. And his life lives on. Of the 27 books in the NT and at least 13 of them are written by Paul. His writings are foundational to our understanding of Jesus Christ, the Church, Salvation and much more. But here is where it all began. Our focus today is the very first days after his conversion where we see him explode off the marks and immediately begin to preach the Gospel. Read verses 20-31.
Saul was like a seed planted that grew and spread over the whole earth. After Ananias lays hands on him, scales fall off his eyes, he gets baptized (notice the consistent pattern in the NT), he spends several days with the disciples (how would you have liked to be the Christians listening to Saul in those first few days?!), he then begins the life work Jesus called him to.
In looking at these first days of Paul we can learn some things about becoming a Christian.
First, you start to pass on the Gospel to others. Right away Saul began to preach. Verse 20 says, “At once he began to preach…” Instantly he started to tell others who Jesus Christ was. This is a pattern throughout the whole NT, starting in the Gospels. Jesus would heal someone and they would immediately go and tell others. It is especially the pattern with Christians because when you are saved you receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the pre-eminent work of the Spirit is to cause us to speak. How long have you been a Christian? Short time or long, are you telling other people about your Savior? Do you want Him to become their Savior?
Now, notice something: the people who were brand new Christians seem to go to those who are closest to them first. Saul, it says, “began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” The “synagogues”. That’s the Jews. That’s “his” peeps. Saul turned right around and started telling his own people – those who knew him best.
Who knows you best? Your family? Your spouse? Your parents? Your classmates? Your co-workers? Have they heard about Christ from you? Are you passing on the Gospel?
Second, when you become a Christian you perplex others. Like with US Swimmer Ryan Lochte, people are going to be perplexed, wondering what actually happened to you. They were perplexed with Saul, as we learn in verses 21-22, “….”
These people were all kinds of confused. Don’t expect everyone to understand or get excited along with us if they don’t know Christ themselves. You know what I mean: “I’m glad you got religion” or “I’m happy you found something that works for you” or “You’re weird.” Or they might start saying, “I used to go to church..” People are not going to “get” what has happened to you if it hasn’t happened to them.
Third, you get persecuted. Sometimes people who are perplexed take their reaction to another level: persecution. Verse 23 we are told, “After many days had gone by the Jews conspired to kill him.” Saul who used to be the Hunter now became the hunted. He used to persecute Christians, now, he was one, and joined the ranks of all those who endured persecution for the name of Christ. Jesus said in verse 15, “I will show Paul how much he must suffer for my name”. And Paul suffered. He told the Galatians “I bear the marks of Jesus on my back”. Years later in 2 Corinthians 11:18-29 he opened up about all the ways he suffered for Christ [Read].
What are we willing to endure for the name of Christ? Will we be backed down from our firm stance by someone mocking us? Or with the threat of losing our job or property? Or being fined? Or being ostracized? There is no cost now for staying with Christ that will not be paid back a hundred times or more when we stand before the Lord.
Saul started out hunting Christians. But he soon found God was hunting him down. His life was radically changed and we are all the better for it.
Is God hunting you? Some old time preachers used to call Him “the hound from heaven”. Driven by love He hunts down the souls of men to win them for Himself.