We left off last week (Acts 8) with Saul persecuting the church after killing the first martyr in the new church – Stephen – in Acts 7. In this act, Paul became a murderer (or at least an accessory to murder), and not many sins against our fellow man are worse than murder (one can debate this). Paul even calls himself the worst sinner of all:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. ~1 Timothy 1:15
But read what Jesus says about His love for sinners!
But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. ~Matthew 9:13
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ ~Mark 2:17
If you believe yourself to be a sinner, even the worst of the worst, know this:
Jesus came to save you!
Now let’s look at Acts 9
Vs 1-2 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and 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.
Saul is on a passionate mission to kill and destroy this movement. He goes to the very leadership of the Jewish faithful (the High Priest) and asks for an endorsement (or approval letter) that he can carry with him.
This is the first time in the Bible that we see the church called “the Way”. In Greek this word (hodos) means “road, highway, or way of life”. It’s a very fitting name for the new church. Following Jesus is not simply something we do for an hour or two on a Sunday. To follow Jesus is to allow Him to change us from the inside out. As we become more like Him, we reflect Him to others. We are changed, and it shows in our “way of life”.
Vs 3-6 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
Saul here is caught completely by surprise on the road to Damascus. This was an act of true “shock and awe” by The Lord. And Jesus presents Saul with a valid question:
“Why are you persecuting Me?” Saul is completely humbled and has no good answer! Upon the realization that he was powerless against the light and the voice that he was persecuting, he was speechless except to ask: “Who are You, Lord?”
What are goads and what do they have to do with Saul?
“A goad was a long, extremely sharp stick that was used to get an ox going the way you wanted him to when you were plowing. You would jab the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated. Essentially, Saul is the ox; Jesus is the farmer; Saul is dumb and stubborn – yet valuable, and potentially extremely useful to the Master’s service. Jesus is goading Saul into the right direction, and the goading causes Saul pain, but instead of submitting to Jesus, Saul is kicking against the goad – and only increasing his pain.” ~Guzik
vs 6-9 So 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.”
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.
Then 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. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
In obvious humility and shame, Saul asks a question of complete submission – “Lord, what do You want me to do?” God wants this kind of submission and humility from all of us as believers. To add to this humility and reinforce the lesson here, Saul is now completely helplessly blind and needs to be led by the hand like a small child.
There’s another lesson The Lord wants us all to learn. He wants us completely helpless and dependent on Him! As a matter of fact, Paul presses this point later in his second letter to Corinth:
“For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:6-10
When we are weak and dependent on Jesus Christ for everything, then we are strong! I love this! Completely dependent on Jesus, that’s where I want to be.
Vs 10-16 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Now Ananias, a believer, is being called upon by God to also be completely and utterly dependent on Him for his own safety! So here we see: God teaching Saul to rely on him through his blindness and in the wait for direction from The Lord, and at the same time God is teaching Ananias to trust Him and go to the murderer to heal his blindness!
Look at this prayer to Jesus from a dad who was worried about his child. The father had approached Jesus to ask for healing for his son in the Gospel of Mark:
“But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
The coordination and planning of circumstances by The Lord is just incredible to me. I love the way that God is teaching both Saul and Ananias by the same set of circumstances. Similarly, here God uses the dad’s situation to teach him about faith, he’s teaching the son about His mighty power over demons, and He’s teaching the crowd around Him that He is truly the Savior. What an awesome God we serve!
Vs 17-22 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
Saul has been healed and now immediately begins a ministry of teaching others. Later in Acts chapter 26, Paul is preaching a sermon and tells us more about his Damascus Road experience and specifically about his new calling:
“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
Saul was specifically instructed by Jesus that he would become a minister, he would teach these things to others, he would be persecuted and delivered, and God would use him to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles to receive the forgiving grace of Jesus. Look at how all of that comes true in the following verses!
Vs 23-31 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.
And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.
And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus. Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.
God is using Saul in awesome and amazing ways, and He wants to use us in incredible ways too! He wants us to be humble and submissive in following Him so that He can be glorified. It’s a beautiful thing when God uses His servants for His will and to further His kingdom.
Now God is going to use Peter for His glory and in so doing He reveals His mighty power to a multitude of people, and even to us today! I love the many, many countless ways that God works.
Vs 32-43 Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them.
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
God wants to use each and every one of us for His kingdom and His glory. But trusting Him can be hard. Rest in this promise from God: “…My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness…” ~2 Cor 12:9
Other great resources: