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Date: Feb. 16, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 9:1-31

Key Verse: Acts 9:18

“Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized”

Have you ever seen one of those before and after pictures of someone that has lost a lot of weight, like maybe a contestant on the Biggest Loser? Sometimes you can’t even tell if they are the same people in the picture because they look so different, because they have really been transformed. Also think about the transformation that a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. They are completely different. Well, recorded in the ninth chapter of Acts is one of the most amazing transformations we will ever find in history. Right before our eyes we see a person go from breathing out murderous threats to defending the very thing he was out to destroy. How could that happen? It can only be described as a miracle performed by the grace of God.

Take a look at verses 1 & 2. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul was a star rookie Pharisee looking to make it to the big leagues. (He was going for the gold.) He was already a disciple of one of the most well known Pharisees, now all he has to do is add to his resume and he would make his ascension through the Pharisee ranks. Seeing how much the Christians bothered the Sanhedrin, he took it upon himself to start zealously exterminating the Christians. He had no intention of letting the persecution of the church end with the death of Stephen and the expulsion of believers from Jerusalem. No, he wanted to get rid of them all. So he went to the chief priest and got the necessary paperwork he needed in order to carry out his extermination plan which he started in Damascus. Saul was an intelligent man. He wasn’t going to do a random search and destroy mission, but rather a sophisticated, officially authorized, house to house, round up where he would drag them back to Jerusalem. And Saul didn’t care if they were men or women, young or old, he was determined to get anyone that belonged to “the way.” That’s what they called Christians before they were known as Christians. This kind of reminds me of what the Nazis did in world war II. It was a very scary time to be one that belonged to the way.

Damascus was an important city, about six days journey on foot and apparently a place where many Christians had fled after Stephen was killed. Damascus wasn’t Saul’s first city after Jerusalem, but it would be his last, because little did he know that his plans were about to change. Take a look at verses 3-6. “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.” It is interesting to note that when Jesus appears to Saul, he appears to him as a light. We learn from Paul later in Acts 22, that this event happened around noon. Which means that Jesus’ light would have to be brighter than the sun if he was to see it. And in fact that is exactly how Saul describes it in Acts 26. In the Bible, several times Jesus is described as the light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) (Jn 12:35 – you will have the light only a little longer, 12:36, believe in the light) Light is often connected with truth. Jesus also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6) Light, life, truth and Jesus are all related. Without the sun, there wouldn’t be life on the earth. However when we read the Bible, one of the first things we find out is that in Genesis 1, lights exists before the sun is created. And in Revelation 21 we find that when we get to heaven, we won’t need the sun, because the glory of God will be our light.

Also take a look for a moment at the different responses to Jesus’ call. Saul responds by asking, “Who are you, Lord.” He had respect for who was talking with him, by saying, “Lord,” it was kind of like saying. “Sir,” but he didn’t know who it was. And later in this passage Jesus talks with Ananias and he responds by saying, “Yes Lord.” He knows exactly who is talking to him. And it’s not weird at all when out of nowhere a voice calls out to him, because he knows that it’s Jesus. So what we learn from this is, those who are connected to God, through reading the Bible and prayer, and having regular fellowship with him, will know God’s voice when he calls. The others that were traveling with Saul, saw the light, heard the voice but they couldn’t understand it. (Acts 22 & 26) Sometime we wonder, I don’t understand what God wants from me, what does he want me to do, why doesn’t he speak to me directly? But maybe, God IS trying to talk to you but you’re either NOT really listening for him and as a result, you’re confused or don’t really care. We have to be open to God’s call and the way that happens is if we are either reading the Bible or regular in prayer because that is how God usually speaks to us today. There are others ways, like in dreams or such, but in our time God usually speaks through his word.

When Jesus responds to Saul he says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This is interesting because in the Bible we don’t find Saul ever persecuted Jesus directly. However, the way Jesus sees it, when Saul persecuted the church, he was persecuting Jesus himself. Christ is identified with his disciples and when they suffer, he suffers. ( Lk 10:16) Remember that the next time you suffer, Jesus is suffering there with you. Another thing to think about when Jesus says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Imagine how these words must have struck Paul. Here he was doing what he thought was right. He thought that he was serving God and doing what God wanted. He thought that he was righteous. If you would have asked Saul to describe himself, he would have said, “I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of Hebrews. In regard to the law, I hold to the highest standard for I am a Pharisee. I am so zealous for God that I purge blasphemers. And as for righteousness based on the law, I am faultless.” (Php 3) This was how Saul thought of himself. And here he is carrying out the mission that he thought God had given him, which was to destroy Christians for their “blasphemous lie” that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he was God who is reigning in glory. But then he heard with his own ears, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” And he has what we might call an “Awww crap” moment, when he realizes everything that he believed, everything he was doing was wrong. Have you ever experienced that? I did, one time at work, someone accused me of making a mistake and so I was zealously defending myself and in the middle of my defense, I realized, “Yep it was me,” I did it because the evidence was right there in front of me and I couldn’t deny it, and all I could says was, “awww crap” That’s where Paul is now as he begins to have the same belief about Jesus because he has undeniable proof that Jesus was BOTH alive AND reigning in glory. From this point on, Paul says nothing. He was completely broken. He doesn’t even know how to respond? He has been knocked to the ground and blinded by Almighty God for persecuting God’s children. I believe this is when the fear of God came into his heart, as he realized that he is the enemy of God and he is helpless and blind. Notice that Jesus’ final words to him were not a commission but a directive. He was to go into the city and await further instruction. He is at a loss, he has to be led by the hand and so he doesn’t eat or drink anything for three days. Those must have been three intense days.

Meanwhile in another part of the city, “there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 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. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (v10-12) To me these verses are both amazing and terrifying at the same time because they reveal the in depth knowledge of Almighty God. God not only knew Ananias, Judas and Saul by name, but he knew their address, what they were doing and even what they were thinking as well. If you wanted proof that God knows your heart, here it is. Also what is kind of freaky is that God called to Ananias in a dream and told him he was in someone else’s dream.

When Ananias heard this from God was he excited about it? No. He was too thrilled about this mission because he knew who Saul was and what he was doing. “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (A was like, you know who this guy is right Lord? This aint going to end well for me) 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” But check out Ananias’ obedience in verses 17-19. “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” Ananias’ obedience is amazing as he accepted Saul and called him brother even though he knows that Saul is a murderer. And what we find here is Ananias’ trust in God. He trusts in God more than his own understanding. Ananias repents and changes his actions. He is a good example of repentance.

What was the result of Ananias’ obedience? Take a look at verses 18-22. “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 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?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” Maybe at first no one believed that Saul was really changed. They were all waiting for him to say it was all a lie and just a trick for him to catch them. But that never happened. Saul was really changed. Many attempts have been made to “explain” Saul’s conversion, such as a thunderstorm outside Damascus, or an epileptic seizure, or psychogenic blindness as the result of repressed guilt. But one thing they cannot deny is that Saul was completely changed from persecutor to witness. And there is only one thing that can describe Saul’s experience, something that’s not uncommon in Acts. It was a miracle, the result of direct divine action. When all is said and done, Saul was a totally different man when he emerged from that vision of the risen Lord Jesus; He was transformed.

This should give us hope. For if Saul could be saved, that means anyone can. Remember last week’s passage, God had hope for one person, the Ethiopian and he was changed. But I want to point out the amazing transformation that occurred in Saul’s heart. Think about is change for a moment. He came into Damascus with the authority of the chief priest he left on the run from the authority of the chief priest. He entered the city leading a group of men, for a time he had to be led because he was blind. He came into Damascus through the main gate, he left in a basket being lowered down. He came as a persecutor of Jesus’ disciples, he left as a disciple of Jesus. (many more) The point of this is if we are to be a disciple of Jesus, there has to be some change in our lives. Two weeks ago, the message was on repentance. Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of action. Where we acknowledge that we are wrong and we need to change. But we can’t change ourselves, we need help from the Holy Spirit. Saul’s changed occurred when he realized that Jesus is God, then the fear of the Lord cam into his heart. Maybe we can’t expect such a dramatic change like Saul’s, but none the less there should be some transformation. For if there is no transformation in our life, then there is a strong possibility that we do not really believe that Jesus is God, for we do not have the fear of the Lord. However when we sincerely know who God is, transformation takes place naturally within our heart. I pray that God may bless you and transformation into the person he created you to be.

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