[This week we will look at the conversion of Saul. It is a familiar story but it brings up some interesting ideas. If Jesus had thousands of believers, disciples, and his apostles, why did he seek out an enemy like Saul?
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself,
So whatever the circumstances of Saul's conversion, we know that his redemption was according to the will of God, for his purpose, and his pleasure. ]
The Damascus Road: Saul Converted
1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 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, continuing his persecution of the church, decides to take it on the road. Since followers of Jesus had scattered from Jerusalem, Saul looks to seek out Jesus disciples in Damascus. Damascus lies north of Jerusalem towards Syria. So he obtains letters from the high priest authorizing him to arrest any of "the Way" found among the Jews at the synagogues. If they were brought back to Jerusalem they would have been subject to the same jail and beatings, in trying to get them to renounce Jesus, as had been done to believers arrested in Jerusalem, after the death of Stephen. ]
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
[Saul's trip is interrupted by a Supernatural light that knocks him to the ground. When Saul retold this story to King Agrippa he said the light was brighter than the sun. John 1:5 says "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend". Saul was walking in spiritual darkness persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, when Jesus appeared to Saul as a physical light. Then Saul's heard a voice saying "why are you persecuting me". Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus is "the head of the body, the church", it is clear that Jesus takes the persecution of his church personally.]
5 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 clearly humbled by fear says "Who are you Lord?" And the reply comes back I am Jesus. Then Jesus adds an interesting statement, "it is hard for you to kick against the goads or pricks". A goad is essentially a cattle prod, which a sharp point. You can heard an animal with one of these by pricking them on the leg, and the animal will move away from the sting, and sometimes they will kick out at the prod to try and get it away, but that usually just gets them prodded or pricked again. To me this says that Jesus had been trying to get Saul's attention for some time, to lead him into "the Way", but Saul had resisted the gentle prodding, so Jesus took a more dramatic approach.]
6 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."
[For Saul this was quite a revelation. Jesus truly is the resurrected Lord, and Saul is now in a state of full surrender to Him. Saul is changed from persecutor to obedient servant in a few brief moments. Again from Acts 26 Paul tells Agrippa that Jesus told him he would become a witness for the faith. So Jesus tells him to go into the city and wait for instructions. This is an important reminder for us, we are not just saved from Hell, we are saved for a specific purpose in God's plan. The names Saul and Paul are used interchangeably. Usually he is called Saul when he is just with the Jews, but Paul among the Romans and gentiles. ]
7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 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. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
[Can you imagine being one of the travelers with Saul? They also saw the light and were knocked to the ground. But they heard a voice and apparently did not understand what Jesus spoke to Saul. When the light fades, they were expecting to see a person who was speaking, but no one was there. Now they are left with an experience of a supernatural light, a disembodied voice, and their leader Saul has been suddenly struck blind. So they lead him by the hand into Damascus. There he waited for 3 days, blind, maintaining a complete fast until his blindness is taken away.]
[Some look at the conversion of Saul, and say why him. Why did any enemy of Jesus receive this dramatic visitation from the resurrected Lord?]
13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
[Some people get the idea that God is scouting the countryside looking for "good" people to save. But we understand that everyone is under the power of darkness before their conversion. It is only through the blood of Christ that we are changed.]
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
[Our savior is also our creator, nothing exists without him, and no one knows us better.]
18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
[We are nothing without Jesus, the church has no purpose other than him. We share in the mission to reconcile all people to God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus.]
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—
[Here is the point. We are all enemies of God apart from our salvation in Jesus. Before our conversion we are full participants in the evil purpose of Satan. God does not save good people, God saves his enemies. In this point Saul's conversion is not unusual, it is normal.
This story completely refutes the idea that any religion is sufficient for God as long as we are sincere, also known as "All paths lead to God". This is nonsense! Saul was a devout Pharisee, passionate about the Law of Moses, zealous in protecting the traditions of his Jewish faith. Saul was lost. But Jesus sought him out, saved him, and made him a powerful witness to the grace of God.]