Acts 9:1-19 – The Conversion of Saul

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Acts 9:2

  1. Paul, who had previously persecuted Christians in Jerusalem, now goes to the city of Damascus to persecute Christians there as well. Paul is backed by the religious Jewish elite in Jerusalem.
    1. The extreme religious zeal that Paul experiences can be extremely dangerous. Anyone who believes he is doing God’s will can be prepared to do just about anything. There is nothing wrong with being religiously zealous, but one must consider what fruit one’s zeal will bear. In this case, Paul’s zeal leads to murder, persecution and violence. A more righteous religious zeal would lead to evangelism, helping the poor, building hospitals, leading people to salvation, etc.
  2. The first Christians did not call their faith “Christianity” but “the Way” (Acts 16:17, 18:25-26, 19:9, 19:23, 22:4, 24:14, 24:22, 2 Peter 2:2). Jesus also called himself “The Way” (John 14:6), which shows the clear affinity between Jesus and his disciples.
    1. The Greek word for “way” is “hodos” and has its counterpart in the Hebrew expression “halakha”. Both of these words can also mean “walk”, “conduct” or “way of life”.
    2. God does not want man to go “his own way” but “God’s way” by obeying God’s commands. In the Old Testament, going God’s way means that the people of Israel were to live in covenant with God and obey the law that God gave Israel through Moses. Going God’s way in the New Testament means that all people should obey God’s commands by believing in Jesus. Israel obeys God’s commands to Moses by listening to Jesus’ teaching because Jesus is the one who proclaims the law of Moses correctly.
    3. The one who goes “astray” is the one who perverts the “straight paths of the Lord” and risks being struck blind (Acts 13:10-11). The one who wants to walk in God’s straight path should instead “prepare the way for the Lord” and make “the paths straight before him” (Luke 3:4).

Acts 9:3-6

  1. The road between Jerusalem and Damascus is about 24 miles and takes about four to six days. In the middle of the day, when the sun is at its brightest, Paul experiences an even brighter light from heaven (Acts 26:13).
  2. Paul falls to the ground, a behavior that is perfectly reasonable when one comes near God. A person who encounters the holiness of God can react in different ways; one can be terrified, humbled, puffed up, etc.
    1. I myself have experienced something similar on one occasion. I was attending the Bible school in Bjärka-Säby and would eventually become a youth pastor in Filadelfia Bankeryd. I had just turned off the lamp and gone to bed, and suddenly, to my great surprise, I saw Jesus standing beside the bed! I couldn’t see any exact details, it was like a mix between a “real” sight and a spiritual sight. I didn’t see any details of Jesus’ appearance, but he radiated a white glow, and I could clearly understand that it was Jesus who was standing beside me, because he said to me: “It is my church”. These words made me immediately think of Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. With these words I understood that Jesus was in control of the situation. If Jesus wants me to be the youth pastor in Bankeryd, I will be because the church belongs to Jesus and not to the Bankeryd Elders. With these words I understood that I will be the youth pastor in Bankeryd because Jesus wanted it. I could safely relax and trust in God’s care. Now I see this experience as my personal calling to become a pastor.
    2. According to Acts 1:21-22, one of the criteria for being an “apostle” is that one has personally met the risen Jesus. This encounter with Jesus that Paul has on the road to Damascus is later used by Paul as an argument for being an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1-2).
  3. When God repeats a person’s name, it signals that the message is of the utmost importance! The other people in the Bible who have received such addresses are only Abraham (Gen 22:11), Jacob (Gen 46:2), Moses (Ex 3:4), Samuel (1 Sam 3:10), Martha (Luke 10:41) and Simon Peter (Luke 22:31).
  4. Jesus asks Paul, “Why do you persecute me?” shows the clear identification that Jesus makes with his persecuted church. Jesus takes it personally when someone persecutes Christians, because all believers are members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) and Jesus continues his work on earth through his church (Luke 1:1).
  5. One of the most important lessons of Jesus’ call by Paul is that Jesus can use and convert anyone he wants. No person is too far removed from the Lord that they cannot turn around and begin to serve him. Therefore, never give up on anyone and always testify about Jesus to everyone and everything.

Acts 9:7

  1. An encounter with God is always personal. Even if there are many people around, our experience of the Lord is always individual. Personally, in church services I have felt God’s presence strongly, while people around me have yawned and wanted to leave bored. I have also experienced the opposite, that people around me strongly felt God’s presence while I felt nothing. The experience of God is always personal and individual.

Acts 9:8-9

  1. Paul thought he had a light on the situation when he persecuted the Christians, but now Jesus shows him that he was actually blind to the truth.
  2. Paul was so taken, so puffed and so humbled by his encounter with Jesus that he can do nothing but sit still blindly for three days without eating or drinking. Paul’s whole world collapses and he is forced to totally re-evaluate his life, his faith and his actions.
  3. Just as Jesus was dead in the tomb for three days, so the old Paul dies for three days, only to be resurrected with Jesus to new life.

Acts 9:10-12

  1. Ananias is described in Acts 22:12 as a “pious and devout man, well spoken of by all the Jews of the city”. He seems to have been an ordinary simple Christian living in Damascus. This shows us that God does not only have tasks for apostles, prophets, pastors and evangelists, but that God wants to use everyone who is willing to serve him.
  2. For Paul to listen, Jesus needed to confront him forcefully, knock him to the ground and speak to him in no uncertain terms. But for Ananias to listen to the Lord, Jesus needed to speak in a simple way through a vision.
    1. Compare, for example, how God speaks to the Babylonian king Belshazzar through a hand writing on the wall (Dan 5), and how God speaks to the prophet Elijah through a still whisper (1 Kings 19). For those who live in sin far from the Lord, God needs to speak overtly, but for those who live close to God and are responsive, it is enough for God to whisper his words quietly.
  3. It is no coincidence that Paul is saved and becomes part of the “Way” precisely on the “Straight Street”. In the past, he has perverted the “Straight Paths of the Lord” and been blindsided (see parallel in Acts 13:10-11). Anyone who wants to walk in God’s straight way should “make straight the way of the Lord” and make “the paths straight for him” (Luke 3:4).

Acts 9:13-14

  1. Humanly speaking, it is perfectly understandable that Ananias should hesitate to go to Paul, having heard of him and probably begun to prepare himself for the persecution that was about to begin in Damascus.
  2. When you experience a call or a task from God, it is very important to test it. There is a possibility that you have misheard or misunderstood. So it is not wrong to ask God follow-up questions and open your heart to any concerns. If it is a big, important or even dangerous task, it is good to wait until you have confirmation that you have heard God’s voice correctly.

Acts 9:15-16

  1. God repeats the task he gives to Ananias. Sometimes it’s good to have your calling confirmed.
  2. God knew how he wanted to use Paul even before Paul was saved. God saw something in Paul that he could use while Paul was persecuting the Christians. This shows us that we should never give up hope on any human being. Even the worst kind of criminal can have a personal encounter with Jesus and begin a new life with the Lord.
  3. What Ananias saw when he met Paul was a broken and blind man, but what God saw in Paul was a mission to reach Gentiles, kings and Israel with the gospel.
  4. With a great calling comes great stress and challenge. Paul would become one of the most important Christians in the history of the world, but he would also suffer more than most. In this way, he follows in Jesus’ footsteps because Jesus also suffered a lot. But whoever suffers for Christ will also be blessed and glorified with Christ (Matt. 5:11 & Rom. 8:17).

Acts 9:17-19

  1. It took great courage for Ananias to actively seek out his persecutor and pray for him. Since Paul could not see, Ananias says “brother” and lays his hands on him to show that he comes as a friend and not as an enemy.
  2. Until this moment, Paul has been blind, broken, despairing and forced to re-evaluate his whole life. But from now on, Paul begins a new life.
    1. For some people, it takes getting to the bottom of their lives before they are ready to accept Jesus as their Savior. When a person is that far down in the tragic doldrums, it is important to meet a friend like Ananias, who is not frightened away but instead seeks him out.
  3. Paul’s new life began with a brother’s intercession, the filling of the Holy Spirit, a miracle and baptism. It testifies to what the rest of his life would be about.
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