Saul’s Conversion August 14th, 2022
Spirit of God, open our minds and hearts to receive God’s wisdom in the Scriptures. Show us how to live out that wisdom today and tomorrow, as we follow Jesus, who is for us God’s Living Word. Amen.
In this morning’s New Testament reading we heard of one of the most important events that took place in the book of Acts, and not just that, but also in church history. It’s known as the conversion of Saul. In fact, it’s so significant that Luke records it three times in this book. The first record is this morning’s version and then it occurs twice more, recounted by both times by Saul himself. And this Saul, after coming to faith in Jesus, would go on to be a missionary to the Gentile people in the Middle East and would be the author of thirteen of the books of the New Testament. We know him better by his Roman name, Paul.
But before his conversion, Paul, or Saul, was best known as one of the strongest persecutors of Christians. We were first introduced to him in chapter 7 of Acts at the stoning of Stephen, which was carried out by the leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem. Stephen was an evangelist and became the first martyr of the Church. Luke, the author of Acts, describes that event in these words, “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. … And Saul approved of his execution.” (Acts 7:58-59, 8:1)
Emboldened by this act, and with the support of those same leaders, we’re then told, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3) This attempt to crush Christianity actually had the opposite effect, many of the followers of Jesus left Jerusalem in fear of being imprisoned and put to death and fled into the surrounding region, bringing their religion with them. Luke tells us, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
But Saul wasn’t going to take that sitting down, which brings us to the opening line of this morning’s reading, where we’re told, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” The journey to Damascus was approximately 150 miles, which shows how serious Saul was in his opposition to Christianity.
Later on in the book of Acts Saul recounts how he felt at this time, “‘I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.’” (Acts 26:9-11)
But, through the grace of God, all that was about to change. This is what took place on that road to Damascus, “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Now what’s important to us in those lines are these words of Jesus, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” Of course, Saul wasn’t persecuting Jesus personally, he was in heaven with God, the Father. What Jesus meant was that Saul was persecuting the members of his family, being his Church here on earth. Saul was persecuting the Church and Jesus took it personally. Jesus is the head of the Church, and we are his disciples and part of him, so what we suffer, he suffers. And isn’t that the same with our families here on earth? No matter what kind of struggles they are going through we feel their pain along with them, they are part of us.
And from these words of Jesus, Saul came to understand just who Jesus was, that he truly was the Son of God and the Messiah for mankind. And he realized that Jesus was present in his followers, those whom he was persecuting. But through his mercy, Jesus did not condemn him, but graciously commanded him to enter Damascus and to wait for further directions from himself. Saul now learned that Jesus had a mission for him.
Luke tells us, “The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So, they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
And it was there that he met a follower of Jesus by the name of Ananias. Here’s how that happened, “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at 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 instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So, Ananias departed and entered the house.”
Ananias did as Jesus commanded, and this was the result, “So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.”
So, Jesus spoke to both Saul and Ananias, but what a difference in the two conversations. Unlike what happened to Saul, Jesus doesn’t strike Ananias blind, rather they have a discussion. And it’s a great discussion, Jesus speaks, and Ananias responds with some honest statements about Saul’s reputation as he was afraid of what Saul might do to him. But in the end Ananias obeys the demand of Jesus, even at great personal risk.
And that’s what we should ask ourselves, are we more like Saul or Ananias; and perhaps more importantly whom do you want to be more like when it comes to the question, “what does God have to do to get your attention”?
I think a lot of us like the Saul story – the huge display of God’s power, the bright light that everyone sees, the direct word of Jesus, the miraculous blinding of Saul and then the restoration of his sight. We love those stories of instant transformation, of rebels instantly turning to God and being changed forever. And they are good stories. But they’re not the norm. And I don’t think God loves them as much as we do. I don’t think Jesus enjoyed the Damascus Road confrontation. Yet Jesus knew it had to be done, Jesus knew that this is what it was going to take.
But our life stories are more like Ananias. Because he showed the love of Christ to someone. He did for Saul what Christ did for him. We may not be an apostle Paul, but we can be an Ananias. We too, can show and tell someone about the love of Jesus and make a change in their lives. So, let’s ask ourselves, who do we want to stay away from? Whose reputation frightens or intimidates us? Why don’t we want to have anything to do with them? Is it because we don’t know how to engage them or because it’s easier to write them off than try to help them with their problems?
This story of Saul’s conversion is an example for us all. It is an example for us to commit ourselves afresh to whatever purpose God has given us to do for his kingdom. Later in his ministry Saul wrote these words, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, who calls us into service, transform us as you transformed Saul. Shape us into people who rejoice in knowing and proclaiming you to the world. We thank you for this amazing story of the transformation in the life of Saul of Tarsus. Thank you for the impact his life has had upon the world, this man who has changed the course of human history and who would have been an unknown name, lost in the dust of the centuries, had he never had that encounter on that Damascus road. Lord, may we too touch the lives of those around us. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.