Probably before we start this study we just need to recap what was happening in the young church. Following the stoning of Stephen we read:
1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
‘Saul’ is the Hebrew version of the Latin / Greek ‘Paul’. Who was he? Why did he decide it was up to him to persecute Christians?
What was his nationality and tribe? Jew, tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:4-
Where did he come from? Born in Tarsus (Now in southern Turkey), but now living in Jerusalem (Acts 26:4)
How educated? Studied under Rabbi Gamaliel, a Pharisee (Acts 22:3) and a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:33-
The Chief Priests were only too pleased to support this zealous man.
Saul was probably around ten years younger than Jesus (Acts 7:58), but living in Jerusalem would have been well aware of the claims surrounding the life and work of Jesus. However he wholeheartedly adopted the official position that Jesus was an imposter. In Galatians 1:15 he says ‘I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.’.
Saul (Paul) said (Acts 26:9-
9 I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities’ (Verse 10 suggests that even at this relatively young age, he may well have been a member of the Sanhedrin.)
The Church was in disarray, and many of the new Christians fled Jerusalem in fear for their lives. So Saul turned his attention elsewhere:
Read Acts 9:1-
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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 not travelling alone – as he acted with the authority of the Priests, and was prepared to take prisoners, he must have been accompanied by men who were physically able to do this, perhaps a detachment of the ‘Temple Guard’.
Damascus was a major trading city, with many international connections. If Christianity became established there it might prove to be unstoppable. Saul was determined to stamp out this new ‘Way’ before it spread too far, but Jesus had a different plan.
Now read Acts 9:1-
The worldly response to a powerful man who was trying to stop your work in any way he can, including killing your followers; would probably be to do away with him. Jesus saw the potential in Saul and simply offered him the chance to turn around and start again – as he does for us all!
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
In Acts 26:13-
And in Acts 22:9 Paul explains: ‘My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.’
5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
The word ‘Lord’ is simply a word you would use to a superior, like ‘sir’, but Saul would soon find out how right he was to use it!
Saul had dedicated his life to destroying all that Jesus had begun. Would anyone like to describe the thoughts that were now going on in his heart and mind now he had been stopped in his tracks by the one he was persecuting?
(Maybe not, but it will get people thinking!)
Not only had he been stopped, but Jesus now began to tell Saul what he must do, and he was in no position to refuse.
7 The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
This experience was personal to Saul, the men with him had no idea what had happened until Saul opened his eyes and realised he was blind. What an object lesson – the one who could make blind eyes see now showing Saul that he had been blind.
Those who were accompanying Saul were now in trouble too, with their leader not only incapacitated, but also no longer interested in the purpose of their mission. They took him into Damascus; found somewhere for him to stay, but beyond that they too were helpless.
Saul’s mind was in turmoil –
What did he do during the next three days? (v9, v11)
Saul was a deeply religious man, and his response was to fast and pray as he tried to come to terms with what had happened. Possibly also going over in his mind scriptures he had learnt relating to the messiah.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
As far as we know, Ananias was no one ‘special’ in the church although Paul says later that ‘He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there’. (Acts 22:12).
It is worth remembering that all the Christians were still ‘new converts’. They had no New Testament and their contact with the Apostles had been disrupted. Their walk with the Lord had to be close and personal! I’m sure that Ananias was initially thrilled to hear the Lord calling to him.
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.’
13 ‘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.’
From this brief question and answer section, what can you tell us about Ananias’ walk with the Lord?
Ananias was not afraid to tell the Lord why he was reluctant to go to Saul.
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.’
What specifically had the Lord in store for Saul?
He was a chosen instrument
He was to proclaim the name of Jesus particularly to the Gentiles;
And to their kings;
And also to the people of Israel.
But it would not be an easy task and he would also have to suffer a great deal.
Ananias had no second thoughts and he had no hesitation in obeying.
17 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.’
The Lord had told him that Saul was now in his service, so he happily placed his hands on him and called him ‘brother’. I wonder what that touch of friendship meant to Saul?
18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
‘Something like scales’ – I picture opaque contact lenses! And notice too that Saul was immediately baptised – he publicly declared his new faith in the Lord.
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 caused 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.
Saul was a well-
Remember too that Saul had undergone an amazing conversion which in itself spoke powerfully to all around.
It is difficult to piece together the events that followed. It appears from Galatians 1:17-
Now read Acts 9:23-
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
This wasn’t an idle threat from some Jewish vigilantes – Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:32-
The problem with changing sides is that those who were for you will now be against you. And here it wasn’t just a case of ‘Saul, go home!’ – the Jews actually wanted him dead. The Christians helped him to escape from Damascus, but the same problem – actually worse – would face him when he returned to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem who had organised and financed his expedition.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.
Would you blame them? Fortunately Barnabus recognised a fellow convert and persuaded the other Apostles to accept him.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
Sensibly he seems to have perhaps not concentrated on the traditional Jews but:
29a He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,
After the conquests by Alexander the great, major areas adopted the Greek lifestyle; in particular Alexandria in Egypt, and Antioch in northern Syria—now Turkey. Jews and Greeks happily co-
29b but they tried to kill him. These Jews too decided they’d had enough of Saul. The Christians were concerned for Saul, but also for their own safety as they tried to keep the church together under continuing opposition.
30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
That seems a bit rough, but it was for everyone’s good and Saul probably couldn’t argue!
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
What happened to Saul in the next few years?
In Galatians 1:17-
It seems that Saul was not readily accepted by the Apostles and the Christian church in Jerusalem, and that he independently evangelised amongst the people of Tarsus. Only later would he be invited by Barnabus to join him in Antioch (11:25-
Later (Chapter 13) he will be known as Paul (It seems he himself preferred the Greek / Roman version of his name – possibly to be more approachable to the Gentiles – 1 Corinthians 9:19–23).
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