Saul meets his Maker!


Acts 9

In Acts chapter eight, we read how Saul began to destroy the church. Saul was a religious zealot, who was the son of a Pharisee. As he said, in his own words, in Philippians 3:4-6, "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 whereas the Sadducees did not. So, in line with his beliefs, Saul continued to try to stop the church in its tracks. The members of the Sanhedrin (the ruling religious body of the Jewish people) 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 and had physically beaten them; yet it was all to no avail. (Acts 5:27-28)

Damascus Road

The new religious movement (called "The Way") had now grown well beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem - as we saw when we studied Acts chapter eight. 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 who had changed their lives so dramatically when they had asked Him (Jesus) to be Lord of their lives. The Sanhedrin saw it as even more of a threat to the Jewish nation than before because 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)

However, God had entirely different ideas. God had been present at Saul’s conception, at his birth and even before that God had chosen him, Ephesians 1:4,5. God knew Saul and had known all about him from before the creation of the world. Now, 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 had created him! Those who persecute us are Satan’s tools. When he wants to cause trouble for us, he uses other people, often in our church or even our family, to do it. Persecution is not the manifestation of someone’s hatred for us, but 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 evil spirit behind the problem and wage war with the weapons of the Holy Spirit. As we come against Satan with God's word and our authority in Jesus' Name, we can destroy the works of the enemy.

darkness to light

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, no darkness can remain. You know instantly that you will never be the same again. How could that ever be? Every question that ever rose up against the belief 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 was now happy to receive instructions from his new, heavenly authority: Jesus. (Acts 9:6) All the letters in the world from the high priest were now irrelevant. He had found his true 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 what he did that counted; it was who he was in the presence of the One who had made Him, simply existing at 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 speaking: you and me! It may sound loud and sometimes is, but it means nothing to those around. Jesus’ relationship with us 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, so it was helpful that his senses were deprived. He could not see and fasted throughout the entire time. When you meet Jesus for the first time, all else pales into insignificance, because this meeting will shape your entire future if you will only allow it. Jesus will meet you exactly where you are if you ask Him and He will transform your life from a poor, two-dimensional  empty life into a multi-dimensional expression of Himself as He works through you to bring healing, peace and hope to those you meet.

Acts 9:10-19

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. Provided we know that an 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. When the time comes for us 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 told him to do. As a result, Saul regained his physical sight. (Acts 9:15-16) Jesus recognised Ananias’ hesitation, just as he recognises ours. He gently encouraged him to be obedient and 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 kingdom of God and cutting down Satan’s territory. God now began to show Saul what would happen to him as he obeyed His calling.

What Jesus told Saul 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 three 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 understood what God had called him to do. When the Jewish people 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 that 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 by telling others of the amazing things that God has done for us. Each of us has a testimony as to how God has changed us and given us hope and a future. People respond to what you tell them if they can identify with what God has done in your life. All you have to do is share that with them, honestly and gently. (1 Peter 3:15)

Ananias went as Jesus directed him and laid his hands on Saul’s head. As a result, Saul regained his sight, but he was also filled with the Holy Spirit. He was baptised and renewed 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 step, but the other two – baptism and being filled with the Holy Spirit - follow as God reveals them to each person.

Holy Spirit

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. If you canno find anyone who has experienced this, then ask the Lord to send someone across your path who can help you.

Acts 9:19-31

Saul’s salvation was evident immediately and, immediately he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. This is how salvation changes us. Once we were going our own way, in the opposite direction to God and trying to avoid Him. Once we believe, our life changes radically and entirely. Not only that but, if we are properly encouraged by other believers, the effect is sustained. We are called to make disciples, not count conversions. (John 3:7) An evangelist cannot operate in isolation, otherwise people may take the first step (conversion), then be persuaded that it was a one-off event and return to their former way of life. If that has happened to you, look for Christian believers who are committed to working out their purpose for God and, with their help, 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 empowerment. This is what happened to Saul and it can happen in the same way to us today. It need not take long for you to allow the Holy Spirit to help you share what has happened in your own life with others. Like Saul, you can help people understand that Jesus really is a "saviour": someone who changes us to become what God always intended us to be.

The result of this empowerment in today’s world may mean that we suffer: from people actively speaking against us or from our former friends or relatives shutting us out. The devil does not like us becoming strong in Jesus and His mighty power because we may begin to do as Jesus wants, even copying the sort of things that He did. (Isaiah 61:1-9) If we choose to accept God's challenge to be like Jesus Himself, there is no limit to the number of people up and down our nation who may turn to God themselves, becoming a mighty flood of new spiritual life. Such mass changes in attitude have happened at different points in our history and are known as "revivals". They invariably prompt a mighty release of resources as believers do the work they have been called to do, reaping a harvest of souls and demonstrating that the "time of the end" is near and heaven awaits. God hates robbery and iniquity. (Isaiah 61:8) 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 a basket, let down from the city wall by his friends, Saul made his way to Jerusalem. However, he did not embark straight away on a new career as an evangelist and planter of churches. As he later told the Galatians (Galatians 1:17-19), he first went off to Arabia for three years to seek God. In Jerusalem, the disciples initially thought that Saul's return, supposedly as a believer, was just a trick to infiltrate their ranks. Fortunately, Barnabas, ("son of encouragement" as his name means) was able to introduce him to the apostles, explaining what had happened on Saul's journey to Damascus and how his dramatic conversion had led to a totally new attitude and purpose in life.

As he moved about the city, preaching and debating with Jewish people from Greece, Saul met with the same opposition and persecution that had caused him to flee from Damascus. The devil has no new tricks; he just rolls out his standard opposition in different locations and in different guises through different people. He always wants to destroy those who are prepared to set the captives free. When the believers in Jerusalem realised that the religious authorities now wanted to kill Saul, they took him firstly to Caesarea (where Philip the Evangelist had gone to live - Acts 8:40) and then on to Tarsus (which was Saul's home town). There then followed a time of peace for the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria, with opportunity for growth and consolidation. (Acts 9:31) The church was strengthened and, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, grew in numbers as believers lived in fear of the Lord. Churches today will only grow in numbers as people are encouraged by the Holy Spirit and learn to make disciples above and beyond converts. The Holy Spirit will always help us to grow and train disciples if we only let Him.

After a storm there is usually a period of calm. However, 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 can also be the story of our lives, if we are as honest and straightforward as he was. Are we willing for that to happen, as we walk daily in the power of God's Holy Spirit?

Master of disguise

Acts 9:32-43

As  God's word and the good news about Jesus is preached, signs and wonders follow. The Lord himself said that this would happen, as He instructed His own disciples to take up the challenge of going out 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, Peter finds a man named Aeneas. (Incidentally, the word translated as "believers" here can also be translated as "saints". All Christian believers are "saints", not just those designated as such in certain church traditions!) Aeneas had been paralysed for eight years. Just as Peter had done 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 also keen to show us, in the following verses, that even those who had died could be raised to life again. 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 other widows and all the local believers and presented Dorcas to them alive. (Acts 9:39-42)

Signs and wonders will always follow the preaching of God's word. Are we ready to "step out on the water" (as it were) and believe God for similar results? Aeneas had been paralysed for eight years and could only lie on his mat. He was not expecting to be healed on that or any other day, but Peter spoke to him and gave him God's gift of healing. Dorcas was dead. She certainly wasn’t expecting 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, 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. God's 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?

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