Conversion of Saul

Acts 9:1-9

Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers


In Acts, God has been preparing his fledgling church to reach out to the Gentiles. Part of the problem holding them up has been intense persecution, spear headed by a man named Saul. Certainly, much prayer had gone up for Saul to be removed from the picture. If they didn't have to worry about Saul busting in on a meeting and arresting them, the Christians could move about more freely, and speak with greater liberty.  God does remove Saul from the picture, but probably not as anybody ever imagined. God decided to save Saul. The scene is set for us in verse 1, where we meet again the Grand Inquisitor of the Jewish ruling council.

The Grand Inquisitor

1Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,

We know several key points about Saul. First, he was religious. He had been trained by Gamaliel, the top Jewish teacher of that day.

Second, he was also well respected. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling counsel, the Jewish Supreme Court.

Third, he was refined. Though he consented and approved of the stoning of Stephen, he did not lower himself to picking up a rock himself. Instead, he performed the service of watching the cloaks of those who did the stoning so that they could stone more effectively.

Fourth, he was relentless. We see here in chapter 9 that he went all over trying to stamp out Christianity. He even goes to Damascus, 140 miles away from Jerusalem to arrest believers that are there!  Saul thought he was serving God just as other spiritual leaders in the past had done (e.g., Moses in Num. 25:1-5; Phinehas in Num. 25:6-15; Mattathias in 1 Macc.2:23-28, 42-48). There are many who think they are serving God, and maybe genuinely do, but they are not Christians. They do things in the name of Christ (Matt. 7:21-23), maybe even preach Christ (Php. 1:15-18). Sometimes, one group of believers persecutes another group thinking that they are serving God (there was much bloodshed during the Reformation by one group of Christians to another).

Finally, Paul was reactionary. He heard the words of Stephen, and it must have caused him to go into a rage at what he had heard. Rather than stop and think about what Stephen had said, it cause Saul to react and try to stamp out all others like Stephen.  But little did Saul know that he would eventually teach the very same thing that Stephen taught, only to a much greater degree, and in much more detail. This should encourage all of us. Sometimes, when we share the Gospel with someone, and they think we're strange, or they look at us weird, the Word of God has been dropped into their life, and it will not return void. It may take root and one day, those people who harassed us for being Christians may become Christians themselves.

went to the high priest 2and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

The Jewish high priest's Roman overseers gave the high priest authority to extradite Jews who were strictly religious offenders and had fled outside the Sanhedrin's jurisdiction. Saul obtained letters from the high priest (evidently Caiaphas) giving him power to arrest Jesus' Jewish disciples from Palestine who had fled to Damascus because of persecution in Jerusalem. The reference to the Way is a reference to what Jesus said of himself in John 14:6: "I am the way, the truth and the life." It is later that they become known as Christians (Acts 11:26).

The Divine Judge

3As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

When Christians hurt, Christ hurts. When we suffer, He suffers. We should take great comfort in this. When we are facing trails and tribulation, and it seems like we are all alone, Christ is right there suffering with us. He said that He will never leave us, nor forsake us, and He won't.  But Christ's statement confuses Saul, and so Saul asks in verse 5,

5And he said, "Who are You, Lord?"

Saul probably thought he was addressing God. In Jewish traditional teaching, whenever someone heard a voice from heaven, it was God speaking to the person to give them some rebuke or word of instruction.  But when this voice from heaven says to Saul, "Why are you persecuting me?" Saul must have been confused. He thought he was serving God, not persecuting Him. So Saul says, "Who are you, Lord?" He was confused about who this was speaking to him. He doesn't use the word for God, but more of the respectful title a servant would use for his master.  And when Jesus answers, Saul is in for quite a shock.

Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

Imagine the jolt Saul must have received! He thought Jesus was a heretic, a blasphemer, a destroyer of Jewish traditions and customs. But now a voice speaks from heaven, and such voices are always God, and who should it be, but Jesus! Talk about having your world turned upside down.  Everything you thought was right, you now see was wrong. Everything you thought you should do, you now see is sinful. When you thought you were serving God, you now discover you were actually working against Him. I don't know how fast Saul was able to process all of this, but down in verse 9, when he neither ate nor drank, I am sure that he spent the whole time fearing for his life. He was wondering what God was going to do to him because he had probably agreed to the murder of the Messiah, and had now been persecuting, arresting and murdering followers of Christ.

Remember, Saul doesn't know much at this point. He is an Old Testament expert, but it takes him 17 years before God uses him to a great degree. At his point, his whole life has been turned upside-down by God, and he doesn't know what to think.  The words of Jesus indicate here that Saul has been thinking about and mulling over in his brain everything that Stephen had said, and probably other Christians also. But Saul didn't want to hear it, and didn't want to admit that they were right in their understanding of the Old Testament and so he "kicked against the goads," he tried to resist their logic and persuasiveness by persecuting them and trying to stamp them out. His life was probably miserable from wondering about this.

A goad was a sharpened piece of wood which farmers used to prod oxen while plowing. God had a plan for Saul, and had been trying to get Saul to listen up and pay attention, but Saul was trying to go his own way. Jesus tells Saul here that it was as useless for Saul to persist in the wrong way as for a stubborn ox to attempt to leave the furrow. He would surely be brought back with a prick from the goad.

6So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"

Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

When we first become believers, and ever after, this should be our constant question: "Lord, what do You want me to do?" When we come to a realization of how much He has saved us from, and how much He loves us, it is privilege and an honor to serve Him.  Sometimes, we get it reversed, and start telling God what we want Him to do. But the right attitude is to ask Him what He wants us to do.  And sometimes, the answer will be to wait. Jesus tells Saul to go to Damascus and wait.

7And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

The men who were with Saul heard a voice, but didn't see anyone. The parallel account in Acts 22 says that they didn't hear anything (22:9). Greek makes a distinction between hearing a sound that doesn't make sense, and hearing a sound with understanding. Saul's companions heard a sound, but they didn't hear with understanding.

8Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

The one who originally went to Damascus to arrest and put to death Christians, now has to be led there by the hand. This is pretty humbling. And worse, when he got there, it appears that his friends left him. They deserted him there. Maybe they thought he was crazy. Maybe he tried to witness to them, and they didn't want to be associated with him. But whatever the reason, they led him by the hand to Damascus, and then left him there.

9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Why did God leave him for three days, blind, without knowing what would happen to him? God was causing Saul to reflect on what he had seen and heard, and prepare his mind and heat to receive whatever it was God had for him.  Are you in darkness in your life right now? The thing to do is reflect on the last truth which God has revealed to you. There is something in there he wants you to get cemented in your mind before he sheds more light into your life.  Acts 9 contains Paul's conversion experience. We find that he never tires of telling it. He tells it twice in Acts 22 and Acts 26, then also an abbreviated form in Galatians 1, and another version in Philippians 1.

All of us should have a testimony that we can use to share with others. If you want to be a witness, the place to start is by telling what Jesus has done for you. When witnesses are brought into court, they are only asked to give what they saw and what happened to them. You don't need to be a Bible expert to be a witness. You just need to know what Jesus had done for you.

If you struggle with knowing what to say, let us allow Paul to suggest a pattern. Turn over to Acts 26. In Acts 26:1-11, Paul first describes what his life was like before Jesus. He explains his who he was and what he did. When you begin to share your testimony with someone, this is always a good place to start. What was your life like before you became a Christian? For those who became Christians very young, this will be a fairly short section. But you could maybe tell what kind of family you were brought up in, or how you became aware that you were a sinner. If this part of your life was quite long, try not to get too specific about all the sordid details. Don't glorify the sin by spending too much time talking about it.

The second section of Paul's testimony is how he became a Christians (Acts 26:12-18). How did you become aware of Jesus, and His sacrifice for you? How did you learn that salvation was free and you didn't have to work for it? This is a good place to make sure you show that eternal life is freely offered to all. Anyone who believes in Jesus for eternal life will receive it.

Finally, it is good to close with a description of what God has done in your life since you became a Christian (Acts 26:19-23). Make sure you are honest. Tell them that you still have problems, that life is not all perfect now. But you know that you have eternal life, that God is working in and through you, and that no matter what trials and problems in life you face, God is there with you, and helping you work through it. Explain how now your life has meaning and purpose.

These are the elements to a good testimony.