Study 11: Saul meets his Maker! – Acts 9
In Acts 8, we read how Saul began to destroy the church. Saul was a religious zealot, who was the son of a Pharisee; in his own words in Philippians 3:4-6 saying, 2″If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a hebrew of the hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
Pharisees believed in the resurrection (“far I see“) as opposed to the Sadducees who did not (“sad you see“!) So, in line with his beliefs, Saul continued to try to stop the church in its tracks. The Sanhedrin (the ruling religious body of the Jews) felt threatened by the growth of the church and by the fact that they were losing control of the people. They had threatened the disciples; had told them to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus; had physically beaten them, yet all to no avail. (Acts 5:27-28)
This new development, called “the Way“, had now grown well beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem as we saw when we studied Acts 8. Persecution had the effect of forcing the people out of Jerusalem, but wherever they went they could not and would not stop talking about the person that had changed their lives so dramatically – the fact that they had asked Jesus to be Lord of their lives. It was even more of a threat to the Jews than it ever had been as it was being preached to those who were in different provinces and even different countries. So, Saul asked for letters of introduction and authority to continue his persecution of those belonging to the Way in Damascus. (Acts 9:1-2)
But God had entirely different ideas. God had been present at Saul’s conception, at his birth and even before that. God knew Saul and all about him from before the creation of the world. So, on this particular day, Saul came face to face with the One who had created him.
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” Acts 9:3-4. We need to understand that when we stand against any believer, we stand against Jesus Himself. Jesus said that it wasn’t the people that Saul thought he was maltreating who were the real objects of his persecution; it was Jesus Himself, the very One who created him! People who persecute us are Satan’s tools. When he wants to cause trouble for us, he uses other people, often in the Church or our family, to do it. Persecution is not the manifestation of someone’s hatred for us but it is a manifestation of Satan’s fear of us. When we get into God’s word and start using the “sword of the Spirit” as it is meant to be used, he gets scared. Next time someone hurts us, we must recognise who is behind this and who we are fighting. Bind the spirit behind the problem and wage war with the weapons of the Holy Spirit. Come against Satan with God’s word and our authority in Jesus’ Name and destroy the works of the enemy.
Saul was blinded. His blindness happened because of the brilliance of the light of Jesus. “My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” (Acts 22:11)
When the light of Jesus comes into your life, there is no darkness that can remain. You know instantly that you will never be the same again. How could you ever be? Every question that ever rose up against the idea that Jesus exists, or that He wants a personal relationship with you, evaporates like mist on a hot, sunny day. Joy comes into your life as your spirit responds and you are born again by the Spirit of God. For the first time in your life, your spirit is alive. You have passed from death to life and your eternal destination has changed for ever: from hell to heaven, from eternal separation from God to eternal life in His presence.
Saul knew immediately who was speaking to him. He recognised Jesus’ voice. (Acts 9:5) We need to understand that, if we are not for Jesus, we are against Him, Matthew 12:30. If we touch one of His people, we touch the apple of His eye and are accountable. (Zechariah 2:7-9; Deuteronomy 32:8-11) God takes this very seriously. Just look at the way that David treated King Saul: “He said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.‘” (1 Samuel 24:6) So we need to guard against speaking badly of God’s children.
Saul now was happy to receive his instructions from his new heavenly authority: Jesus. (Acts 9:6) All the letters in the world from the high priest were now irrelevant to Saul. He had found his real calling: “the Way, the Truth and the Life“. If he had been told to remain in the city for ever, he would not have cared. Jesus was now his Lord and Master. Life made sense at last. It was no longer doing that counted; it was being – being in the Presence of the One Who had made Him; being in the very centre of God’s plan for him. Such revelation is intensely personal and private. Those with him saw nothing. They heard the sound of the encounter, but it made no sense to them at all. (Acts 9:7) It is like the revelation that comes to those who are open to hear the Lord speak to them: you and me! It may sound loud and sometimes is, but it means nothing to those around. Jesus’ relationship with you and me will never be public; only private and intimate as a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24) No-one else was created to fulfil the role that you were designed for. Such a profound purpose for your life requires you to know the voice of Jesus and to recognise it in demanding and challenging, as well as quiet and reflective situations.
Saul’s blindness lasted for three days. He needed to focus on all that God was saying to him and the change of direction in his life and it was helpful that his senses were deprived. He could not see and fasted the entire time. When you meet Jesus for the first time, all else pales into insignificance for this meeting will shape your entire future if you will only allow it. Jesus will meet you exactly where you are if you will just ask Him and He will transform your life from a poor, two-dimensional drudge into a multi-dimensional expression of Himself as He works through you to bring healing, peace and hope to those you meet.
A Believer named Ananias lived in Damascus, and Jesus spoke to him in a vision. (Acts 9:10-12) Ananias had heard all about Saul and his zeal for the Jewish faith. Saul’s reputation for breaking up families and imprisoning both men and women had gone before him, so when Jesus spoke to him, he naturally wondered whether Jesus knew what he was doing! (Acts 9:13-14)
Firstly: we must understand that Jesus always knows what He is doing, and provided we know that the instruction comes from Him, we can trust what He instructs us to do absolutely.
Secondly: we should also recognise that Jesus knows where we live, and when the time comes for you and me to do something for Him, Jesus will not be looking around for us in frustration thinking ‘Well, he was here last week!’ The instruction when it comes will be both direct and clear.
Despite his fear, Ananias obeyed what Jesus instructed him to do, and as a result Saul regained his physical sight. (Acts 9:15-16) Jesus recognised Ananias’ hesitation, just as he recognises ours and He gently encouraged him to be obedient. Never was obedience in a disciple so important. Saul was the man whose calling took him far and wide across the then-known world advancing the boundaries of the gospel and cutting down Satan’s territory. God showed Saul what would happen to him as he obeyed His calling.
What Jesus spoke to him in those three days and subsequently (Galatians 1:17), before his missionary journeys, sustained him for the rest of his life. When it came time for him to know that his life’s work was complete, he was able to say:
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Don’t forget: only thirty years before he had been a murderer of any Christians he could find! What wonderful hope for us as we walk with Jesus daily. Men and Satan tried all they could to kill Saul, but they found it impossible. He had a race to run and he knew what God had called him to do, so when the Jews in Lystra stoned him, dragged him out of the city and left him for dead, he got up, and went back into the city. (Acts 14:19-20) The following day, he and Barnabas walked on to Derbe, the next city on their itinerary.
What about you and me? Can we say the same that we are ready to die, and we have accomplished everything that the Lord Jesus set us apart to do? Perhaps not, but can we together declare that we are sorry for our lack of commitment? Can we repent of our selfishness and ask God to change us no matter how young or old we are. Will we be determined to re-dedicate our lives to the job He has called us to do so that nobody for whom we are responsible will miss out on eternity on our account? (2 Chronicles 7:14)
We have one life on earth, and we should make the most of it in telling others of the amazing things that God has done for us. Each of us has a testimony of what we once were and how God has given us a hope and a future. Men and women will respond to your testimony because they can identify with what God has done in your life: all you have to do is honestly and gently share it. (1 Peter 3:15)
Ananias went as Jesus directed him, and laid his hands on Saul’s head. As a result Saul could see again, but he was also filled with the Holy Spirit. He was baptised and regained his strength. It appears that the filling of the Holy Spirit preceded his water baptism, but neither of them happened before his salvation. Salvation is always the first in line, but the other two – baptism and being filled with the Holy Spirit can happen as God reveals them to each person.
Saul needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to empower him for his life’s work. In the same way, we need that infilling before we can be effective for the Lord in whatever He calls us to do. What about you? Have you been filled with the Holy Spirit? If not, talk to someone who has, or if you can’t find anyone who has been, then ask the Lord to send someone across your path who can help you.
Saul’s salvation was immediately evident and he immediately began to preach in the Synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. That is what salvation does. Once you were walking in the opposite direction to God trying to avoid the issue, but once you become a Believer your life changes radically and entirely. Not only that, but if you are properly encouraged by other Believers, the effect is sustained. We are called to make disciples, not just to get people born again, John 3:7. An evangelist cannot operate in isolation otherwise all that happens is that people take the first step, then many are persuaded that it was a one-off event, and go back to the world. Is that what happened to you? If so, determine that you will associate with Christians who are working out their purpose for God and rededicate yourself to your Saviour.
The difference was so remarkable for Saul that; ‘All those who heard him were astonished ……’ Acts 9:21
When you become a disciple as opposed to just being saved, it involves a process of empowering. This is what happened to Saul. It will not be many days before you will understand enough of the ‘Normal Christian Life’ to enable you to prove to others that Jesus really is the Anointed One.
The result of this empowerment in today’s world may mean we suffer persecution – religious people speaking against us, being shunned by former friends or relatives and more. The devil does not like us becoming strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. After all, we may do just as Jesus wants, and begin to do as He did, Isaiah 61:1-9. If we choose to accept the challenge laid down by God to be little Jesuses, then many up and down our nation will be responsible for a mighty flood of God’s people as they are delivered out of the very jaws of hell itself. S many will be released that God will send people from far and wide (Isaiah 61:5) to assist in the growth and development of those that have been set free. All this will result in a mighty release of resources as we do the work we have been called to do. We will never be short of finance and resources to fulfil these end times harvest as we continue in the work of revival in these last days.
God hates robbery and iniquity (Isaiah 61:8) and He will redress the injustice and theft inflicted on His people by Satan and his revolting army of fallen angels, so much so that all those who see them will proclaim that they are a people the Lord has blessed (Isaiah 61:9).
After escaping from Damascus in the basket let down from the City wall by his friends, Saul made his way to Jerusalem. He took his time; as he told the Galatians (Galatians 1:17-19), he went off to Arabia for three years to seek God before he sought men. In Jerusalem the disciples thought that it was just a trick to infiltrate their ranks and that Saul has not really become a Believer, but Barnabas, (the ‘Son of Encouragement’ as his name means) introduced him to the apostles explaining what had happened on the road to Damascus and subsequently in the City there.
As he moved about the City preaching and debating with the Grecian Jews, the same opposition and persecution occurred as had caused Saul to flee Damascus. The devil has no new tricks; he just rolls them out in different locations in different guises through different people. He still wants to destroy those who are prepared to set the captives free. So now when the Believers learned that the Jews wanted to kill Saul, they took him to Caesarea (where Philip the Evangelist went to live, Acts 8:40) and then on to Tarsus (his home town). This change in Saul caused a time of peace in the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria, and a time of growth and consolidation, Acts 9:31. The church was strengthened, but as it was encouraged by the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers as it lived in fear of the Lord. The churches you and I attend will only grow in numbers as they are encouraged by the Holy Spirit and as those who are saved learn to be disciples. The Holy Spirit will use us to grow disciples if we let Him.
After the storm there is always a period of calm, but if we are diligent in our work for the Lord, it will not be long before contention and persecution break out again. The story of Saul’s life will also be the story of our life if we are as honest and straightforward as he was. Are we willing for that to happen as we walk daily by His Holy Spirit power?
As the Word of God is preached, signs and wonders follow. The Lord himself said that this would happen as He instructed His disciples to take up the challenge of going into all the world, Mark 16:16-17
Here we find Peter doing what he has done before with great effect. While visiting the Believers in Lydda – the Bible calls them saints. All Christians are saints, not just special ones! – Peter finds a man named Aeneas. Aeneas had been paralysed for eight years. Just as Peter did in Jerusalem with the man at the Beautiful Gate, he spoke to him in the Name of Jesus. The result was the same. He was healed, Acts 9:32-35
Luke is keen to show us in the following verses that even those who had died could be raised. In this case, those who had sent for Peter clearly believed that Dorcas (Tabitha) could be restored to life on earth, but they needed someone who believed and dared to do something about it. Peter was their man. When he arrived, he gently sent them all out of the room. No doubt he remembered the occasion on which Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, Mark 5:35-42. Peter prayed for Dorcas and she was restored to life. He then called the Believers and widows and presented Dorcas to them alive, Acts 9:39-42.
Signs and wonders will always follow the preaching of the Word. Are we ready to step out on the ‘water’ and believe God for the results even when we cannot see any sign of them? Aeneas had been paralysed for eight years. He still lay on his mat. He was not expecting to be healed on that or any other day, but Peter spoke to him and gave him such as he had – healing. Dorcas was dead. She didn’t expect anything! But the widows wanted to do what they could to have her returned to them. There was absolutely no sign of life in Dorcas, and yet Peter was prepared to do just what he had seen Jesus do with Jairus’ daughter. He spoke to her: ‘Tabitha, get up!’ and she did.
The word says that ‘These signs shall follow those who believe ………’ (Mark 16:17). They will not follow those who doubt! Are you a believer or a doubter?
Study 11: Saul meets his Maker! – Challenge Questions
1. Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that ‘speak’ to you.
2. Read Daniel 11:32. What does the Bible say that people who know their God shall do? Are you prepared to do what is necessary and if so, how?
3. The Lord sent Ananias to Saul to lay hands on him. What reason did the Lord give Ananias for undertaking this dangerous assignment? Acts 9:10-18.
4. Saul, after He had spent three years with the Lord learning about what God had done through Jesus and being educated in the real meaning of the Jewish faith, was commissioned by the Holy Spirit to undertake a special work. What was the commission given to Saul? How did he undertake it in your opinion?
Read Acts 10:1-8.
5. Who was Cornelius and what job did he do? Why do you think God spoke to him? Write down here what God said to him through the angel.
6. Why do you think God asked him to send for Simon Peter? Do you think Peter would have had what Cornelius needed? What was it?
7. Write down here an example of a prayer that you might ask someone to pray in order to ask Jesus into their lives, becoming a Christian as they do so.
Read Acts 10:9-23.
8. While God is encouraging you to ask someone to help you, he is often challenging them to put things right in their own lives. What did Peter have to learn before he could help Cornelius?
9. Do you think that the vision God gave Peter was easy for him to understand? What would you not have understood about it?
10. When did the meaning of the vision become clear to Peter? Did it enlarge Peter’s understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven? If so, how?
Read Acts 10:24-44.
11. When Peter and the others arrived at Cornelius’ house, who welcomed them? Were any others at the house when they arrived? Who were they and what were they expecting to happen?
12. How did Cornelius greet Peter? Did Peter deserve to be greeted in this way? How did Peter explain to Cornelius who he really was? How does that help you and me to understand our position as we speak to people about Jesus?
13. Why do you think that Peter made Cornelius tell him why he had sent for him? Had Peter come immediately Cornelius sent for him?
14. Write down three examples of Jesus doing good and healing those possessed by demons. Acts 10:38
15. When Peter spoke about Jesus to Cornelius what was the effect? (Acts 10:44) How did Peter know that these people had been baptised in the Holy Spirit? Can we expect the same things to happen today? Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit?
16. What will live on in your life as a result of reading the story of Cornelius?
Read Acts 10:45-48.
17. Why were the Jews accompanying Peter amazed that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit? What was the next step for them?