[Art Work Attribution: Andrey Mironov, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
Saul’s conversion & the peace of the church
Last week we saw how the early church began Phase II of the great commission, largely instigated by the devil himself. Through the newly appointed deacon Stephen and subsequently Saul of Tarsus, great persecution began to come against the church in Jerusalem of Judea, so most Christians, except for the Apostles, moved from Jerusalem and some went to Samaria. The only Apostle who did appear to leave was Philip (who was also an evangelist). He went to Samaria and preached the word there and many believed.
He then was led to meet a man who was the treasurer of Queen Candace of Ethiopia who had traveled to Jerusalem to worship God. he owned a copy of the scriptures (at least the book Isaiah) and needed help understanding what he read. He was converted and baptized and returned to Ethiopia, whereas Philip was transported by the Spirit to Azotus, and preached the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
This week we begin with the telling of Saul’s conversion on the road to Demascus…
“(1) Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest (2) and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to ‘the Way’, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
“(3) As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
(4) He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“(5) So he said, “Who are you, Lord?”
He replied, “I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting! (6) But stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.”
“(7) (Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.) (8) So Saul got up from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he could see nothing.
Leading him by the hand, his companions brought him into Damascus. (9) For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.”
“(10) Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias,” and he replied, “Here I am, Lord.”
(11) Then the Lord told him, “Get up and go to the street called ‘Straight,’ and at Judas’ house look for a man from Tarsus named Saul. For he is praying, (12) and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he may see again.”
“(13) But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, (14) and here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call on Your name!”
“(15) But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. (16) For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.”
I don’t like breaking up the flow of the passage here, but I think it is important.
There is much taught about God’s “election” or “chosen” in regard to certain people, because the unavoidable conclusion is that others are NOT so called or chosen and that these words are used in reference not only to a call to ministry but also to salvation. That can be unsettling.
I believe the biggest hurdle this creates can be bridged with little effort if we understand that the election and choosing is that of grace.
The scriptures clearly state that NO MAN can come to Jesus unless the Father first draws them – John 6:44.
The word “draws” means to be induce to come.
Why would God place it in the heart of some to come to Jesus and not to others? Well, we’ve actually already seen the reason illustrated to use last week and will again this week as well.
The Ethiopian eunuch was a worshiper of God – meaning he had sought for God with an inward optimism that God could and would be found by him. God clearly influenced his heart to believe that the God of the Jews was the God of the whole earth and so he sought to worship him.
THIS is a heart of humility, which has embraced its own weakness and actively sought for help outside of itself.
The means by which all drawing to Jesus comes is grace – God’s influence upon the heart and its reflection in one’s life; including gratitude.
Grace cannot come to those who are filled with pride and resistant to external influence!
One HAS to be in a state of brokenness or contrition – an embracing of…
- “not knowing”
- “no strength”
- “need for something or someone outside of themselves for aid or assistance”.
The proud are ardently against such notions. It has even been suggested that God will only help those who seek to be their own help, when in fact nothing runs more diametrically opposed to grace than that.
We know that it is God’s desire that all men repent and come to the full knowledge of the truth and that His eyes are looking throughout the whole earth for such ones who in humility and trust are looking for Him.
Hebrews tells us that, “The one who comes to God must first believe that He exists and that He will reward them for seeking Him.”…and Jesus told us that all who seek will find.
God is NOT holding His call or drawing aloof from ANYONE – He is bound by His Own character and honor to NOT call anyone who in their pride and self-effort are opposed to humility.
Saul of Tarsus had pride there is no doubt, but he also sought to honor God with all his heart, actions & strength. He was not of the type of character who could blithely sit by and allow a distortion of God’s word to go unchallenged among God’s people. So he proactively sought for authority to do something legally about it. In an odd kind of way, this is one of the things that made him a true worshiper of God… but his zeal was NOT according to true knowledge.
How do I know these things about Saul who became Paul?
Because Paul himself said that what he did he did in ignorance and that what he now was, was not due to any self-virtue but he admitted that it was only by the grace of God that he now was who he was.
Also Paul admitted that ALL that he had taken pride in up to this point in his life, in his pursuit of God, he had abandoned and now considered useless filth in view of knowing Jesus by grace through faith.
So here is Saul at the beginning of his conversion about to have both his spiritual and natural eyes opened & healed!
“(17) So Ananias departed and entered the house, placed his hands on Saul and said,
“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on the road as you came here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
(18) Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, (19) and after taking some food, his strength returned.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, (20) and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God.”
(21) All who heard him were amazed and were saying,
“Is this not the man who in Jerusalem was ravaging those who call on this name, and who had come here to bring them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
(22) But Saul became more and more capable, and was causing consternation among the Jews who lived in Damascus BY PROVING that Jesus is the Christ.
(23) Now after some days had passed, the Jews plotted together to kill him, (24) but Saul learned of their plot against him. They were also watching the city gates day and night so that they could kill him.
(25) But his disciples took him at night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket.”
Notice that already Saul was teaching, proclaiming, proving and already had those who followed him with a view to becoming just like him – disciples!
The call of God equips us – not our experiences or our drummed up and polished talent – but God’s call alone!
Saul was no novice and had just been severely humbled so he was in no real danger of being overcome and lifted up by pride at this point!
“(26) When he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple.
(27) But Barnabas took Saul, brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
(28) So he was staying with them, associating openly with them in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. (29) He was speaking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they were trying to kill him.
(30) When the brothers found out about this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. (31) Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers.”
The fear of the Lord and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, they increased in numbers.
“(32) Now as Peter was traveling around from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. (33) He found there a man named Aeneas who had been confined to a mattress for eight years because he was paralyzed.
(34) Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Get up and make your own bed!” And immediately he got up.
(35) All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
(36) Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which in translation means Dorcas). She was continually doing good deeds and acts of charity.
(37) At that time she became sick and died. When they had washed her body, they placed it in an upstairs room. (38) Because Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Come to us without delay.”
(39) So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived they brought him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make while she was with them. (40) But Peter sent them all outside, knelt down, and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
(41) He gave her his hand and helped her get up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive. (42) This became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
(43) So Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a man named Simon, a tanner.”