Saul's Conversion

by Dr. Samuel Lee   09/10/2000     0 reads


Acts 9:1-43

Key Verses: 9:15,16

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’”


1.  Read 7:58-8:3; 9:1-2. What effect did the death of Stephen have on

  Saul? How might Stephen's prayer have contributed to his conversion?

  What was Saul's purpose in going to Damascus?

2.  Read 9:3-9. What happened to him as he neared Damascus? Describe

  his encounter with the Risen Jesus. How does Jesus' visit show God's

  one-sided grace? (1Ti 1:15b; 1Co 15:10)

3.  Read 9:10-19a. Who was Ananias and what did the Lord tell him to do?

  Why did he hesitate? What did the Lord tell him about Saul? How did

  Ananias help Saul? What does this show about his faith? About God's

  great purpose?

4.  Read 9:19b-31. What did Paul do after his conversion? What

  happened? How did Saul escape? Why was it hard for Christians in

  Jerusalem to accept him? Who helped him? Why? What are some ways in

  which his encounter with the Risen Jesus changed him?

5.  Read 9:32-43. In the meantime, what were the apostles doing?  Describe

  Peter's ministry in Lydda. Who was Tabitha? How did Peter minister

  to her? How was God building up his church through these events?



Acts 9:1-43

Key Verses: 9:15,16

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’”

In the last passage we studied Stephen's martyrdom. We learned from

St. Stephen the sense of God's history and martyrdom spirit. Among those

who carried out Stephen's martyrdom was a young man named Saul. Saul

gave approval to Stephen's death. Saul shed the blood of a righteous man,

Stephen. Godly men mourned deeply for Stephen. Then a great persecution

broke out against the church in Jerusalem. As the persecution against the

church mounted, the dispersion of Christians increased in proportion. When

the people of Jesus ran for their lives, they took the gospel of Jesus

with them wherever they went. When they did so, the gospel of Jesus

spread to Samaria and the coastal region from Gaza to Caesarea.

Meanwhile, Saul was breathing out murderous threats against

the Lord's disciples. He was not content with persecuting the church

in Jerusalem; he determined to wipe from the face of the earth all

Christians, those who were known as the Nazarene sect of Jesus. Saul

received from the high priest credential letters to the synagogues in

Damascus, so that he could arrest Christians there and bring them as

prisoners to Jerusalem. On the way, Saul met the Risen Jesus and was

converted. The story of Saul's conversion may be the most famous in all

Bible history. In this passage we mainly learn what kind of person Saul

was, and how he was converted. We learn several things about how his

conversion was possible.

First, Stephen's prayer (7:59,60). As we studied, Saul was in charge when

Stephen was stoned to death. At the moment he was executing Stephen, he

undoubtedly thought that he was right and that Stephen was wrong. Needless

to say, Saul thought he was righteous, upright, wise and holy--even

while he was committing murder, for this pride is innate in all sinful

human beings. To this arrogant man something unusual had happened. He

saw what Stephen did when his body was being mangled and bloodstained

by the stoning. He saw that Stephen was praying. It was incredible to

him to see Stephen praying. He heard Stephen's prayer in extreme anguish:

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (7:60). It was indeed incredible

to him to hear Stephen's prayer. Saul had condemned Stephen to death,

but in Stephen he could see God. After murdering Stephen, Saul must have

been just like Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Saul

must have hardened his heart not to think of Stephen's prayer. Then

he was befuddled all the more by Stephen's prayer. The more he tried

to efface Stephen's prayer from his memory, the more it resounded

in his soul. He found no respite from the anxiety of his conscience,

for he was made in the image of God. So he redoubled his efforts to

convince himself that he was right and that Stephen was wrong. But

he failed to extricate from his mind the constant sense of crime and

punishment. Saul was a high-ranking official of the Jewish people.

He must have tried to look strong and brave. But when he saw Stephen,

he didn't understand how Stephen could face such peril, suffering and

death absolutely unafraid. Moreover, he couldn't understand how Stephen

could pray for such bitter enemies. Probably he said to his fellow men, "I

defeated Stephen. I am the champion, and Stephen is a loser." The problem

was that he could not convince himself that he was the champion. His

inner man told him, "You are not really the champion." In a sense,

he had won a battle, but it was a physical battle. As history attests,

a physical battle does nothing but damage and kill others. Therefore,

there is no true victory in a physical battle.  There is true victory

in a spiritual battle, because it is a battle against Satan; it is a

holy battle to win people over to God.

Saul won a physical battle, but lost the spiritual battle to

Stephen. Stephen was a warrior of faith. He had a potent weapon; it was

his prayer. While Saul had mangled Stephen's body with stones, Stephen

pierced Saul's heart with his prayer; his prayer was at work within

Saul. We remember Monica, who prayed and prayed for her son Augustine for

many years until her son, who had been sick with intellectual hedonism,

was converted into a true man of God. We must pray for the conversion

of others.

Second, the Risen Jesus visits Saul (1-5). Saul was a promising young man

in the Jewish world. He studied the philosophies of East and West. He also

studied the Law of Moses under Gamaliel. He knew Judaism well. But he did

not know God personally. As Saul did not know God, so he really did not

know himself. He was ambitious, as others were. By persecuting Christians

in Jerusalem, he became very popular among Jewish rulers. Again, he seized

the opportunity to make a big success in Jewish society. It was through

stamping out those early Christians who had scattered to remote places.

Saul decided to take a 140-mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus.

Damascus was an ancient city, an important junction en route from

Palestine to Assyria and Babylon. 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?" "Who

are you, Lord?"  Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he

replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you

must do" (6). Up to this moment, Saul had lived before people's eyes. He

did everything to feed his pride and satisfy his selfish ambition. In

the course of living in this way, he became a man who should not exist

in the world. He became a man whom no one wanted to see again. King

David was a man after God's own heart. But because his son Absalom had

killed his brother Amnon, David not only refused to visit Absalom, but

refused even to see his face when he came back to Jerusalem from exile

(2 Sa 14:24). But the Risen Jesus visited Saul first and said to him,

"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" The Risen Jesus visited him so

that he might come to know God and know himself. Jesus is God. But he

humbled himself and visited this murderer Saul first. It is truly amazing

that he visited such a person. This one visit reveals more than enough

that Jesus is God (Jn.1:14).

When the Risen Jesus visited him, he did not condemn him; rather,

he gave him a command. Look at verse 6. "Now get up and go into the city,

and you will be told what you must do." Before meeting Jesus, Saul did

not know his chief purpose of life. So he lived to fulfill his selfish

ambition. Through this visit Jesus told him to live for God's great and

glorious purpose for him.  Peter also did not know his chief purpose in

life. So he lived to fulfill his selfish dreams. He had dreamt of becoming

the top man if Jesus had established an earthly messianic kingdom. The

Risen Jesus also visited Peter and said, "I tell you the truth, when

you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but

when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will

dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (Jn 21:18).

The Risen Jesus also forgave all of Saul's sins unconditionally. The

Risen Jesus embraced him with the grace of God. This is God's one-sided

grace. This is God's unconditional love. Saul could not resist

this grace. He surrendered himself to this grace. His conversion was

surrendering himself to God's grace. By meeting Jesus personally through

his visit, Saul realized that Jesus is God himself. He also realized that

he was a sinner who was destroying the work of God for world salvation

just as it was beginning.  Before meeting Jesus personally, he called

himself "Saul," meaning "the Greatest." But after meeting the Risen Jesus

personally, he came to realize that he was not the greatest one, but a

small one. So he changed his name from "Saul," "the Greatest," to "Paul,"

"a small one." So from now on, let's call him Paul. After meeting Jesus,

Paul could see himself with God's eyes and said, "Christ Jesus came into

the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst" (1 Ti 1:15b). In the

past he had tried hard to pretend to be a bold and happy man. But after

meeting Jesus personally, he was free indeed. He did not have to cover

himself with a bushy beard or a Pharisee's robe. He admitted freely

that he was a sinner and that Jesus is the Savior. He said in Romans

7:24-25, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of

death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" After meeting

Jesus personally, God's grace was the meaning of his existence. He said,

"By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor.15:10).

Paul's meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus was truly a great moment

in his life. By meeting Jesus personally, he was changed from a chief

sinner to St. Paul. Let's pray that many souls in our nation may meet

Jesus very personally and be converted into St. Pauls for this generation.

Third, Ananias' help (6-19a). After listening to the Risen Jesus,

Paul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see

nothing. So into Damascus he went as a blind and helpless man, instead

of being an avenging fury. He needed someone's help. The Risen Christ

called to Ananias in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. The

Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a

man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a

man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight"

(11,12). Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard many reports about

this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And

he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all

who call on your name" (13,14). Ananias was afraid to go to Saul because

he knew who Saul was. But the Risen Jesus commanded him to go and help

him. He said to Ananias in verses 15,16, "Go!  This man is my chosen

instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and

before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer

for my name." In this we learn two things.

Firstly, Jesus had a great hope for Paul. Paul was the last person

Jesus could put hope in, because of his proud mind and misconduct in

the past. But Jesus saw in him the greatness of God and was ready to

use him for the work of world evangelization.

Secondly, Jesus had a definite plan to fulfill world salvation work

through the apostles. The world was very dark and hopeless. The early

Christians were helpless to do anything because of fiery persecutions. But

Jesus believed that the world salvation plan of God would be accomplished

in the course of time. Jesus believed that God's will would be done

on earth as it is in heaven. When we look at the present situation,

we only despair. We must not despair, but have hope in God.

What did Ananias do when he was told to go and help Paul? He went

to Paul in obedience to God's command. When he placed his hands on Paul,

immediately something like scales fell from Paul's eyes and he could

see again. Paul got up and was baptized and after taking some food, he

regained his strength. Ananias had an obedient heart toward God. He was

very fearful to go to Paul but when he was willing to obey God's word,

God gave him strength to overcome fear. In this way, Ananias helped

Paul see again. We learn from Ananias that we must overcome our fear

and visit our sheep.

Fourth, Paul's internship training (19b-43). What did Paul do after his

conversion? At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the

Son of God. It was not easy for him to preach the gospel of Jesus after

his conversion. He had to overcome fellow Christians' distrust. Look at

verse 21.  "All those who heard him were astonished and asked, 'Isn't

he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this

name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief

priests?'" Also, it was not easy for him to preach the gospel because

of his old Jewish friends' persecution. The Jews conspired to kill him

(23). Paul was in a conflicting situation. He could not go back to Jewish

society since he had been converted to Christianity. Also, he could not

gain the trust of Christians since he had done so much harm to the people

of Jesus.

Paul was at the end of his rope, but he did not give in to the

situation.  He did not take a neutral stand. Those who always take a

neutral stand are selfish and suspicious people. Paul was great because

from the beginning he stood on Jesus' side clearly and preached the

gospel. Paul preached the gospel of Jesus, so God could work mightily

through this person, Paul. Look at verse 22. "Yet Saul grew more and

more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that

Jesus is the Christ." When Paul preached the gospel wholeheartedly,

he was in danger of being killed. But his followers rescued him. Look

at verse 25. "But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a

basket through an opening in the wall." He became like a basketball to

preach the gospel. In this way, he passed internship training.

When Paul went to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples,

but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a

disciple. When everyone else was steering clear of Paul, suspecting that

he was an agent of the Jewish rulers, Barnabas did his best to persuade

the disciples that Paul's conversion was genuine and real; he spoke of

his fearless preaching in Damascus. Paul was fearless because he feared

God. Paul also spoke boldly in the name of the Lord in Jerusalem. So the

unbelieving Jews tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this,

they took Paul down to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus. In the midst of

distrust and persecution, Paul proved himself to be the future leader

of world evangelism. In this way, the stage was set for the gospel to

spread all over the world.

Look at verses 32-43. What were the apostles doing during these

times?  The author speaks in understatement only of Peter. He traveled

about the country. When he came to Lydda, he found a man named Aeneas,

a paralytic.  Peter healed him of his paralysis. When Peter went to Joppa,

he found that Tabitha, a faithful woman of God was dead. In the name of

Jesus, Peter raised her from the dead. Outwardly, the Christian church

looked as if it were in for trouble. But in reality, God was working

mightily in and through Peter and Paul. Look at verse 31. "Then the

church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It

was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers,

living in the fear of the Lord."

In this passage we learn that we must meet Jesus personally so that

we may know God and his grace through his Son Jesus Christ. We must pray

that many Sauls of this nation may meet Jesus very personally so that

they may come to know God and his grace through his Son Jesus Christ.