The Book of Acts (Chapter 9:1-19) (Part 16)
Rabbi Saul of Tarsus was a fierce antagonist against the people of the way. He was a doctor in theology and could argue and dispute with the best of them. He was very skilled in the Old Testament and especially in Torah law and regulations. He was fluent in Hebrew Greek and a past master in Greek philosophy. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law a Pharisee; as to zeal persecuting the Church; as to righteousness under the Law, faultless. He was a very proud and stubborn man. He was very zealous for Mosaic Judaism and saw the believers in the Lord Jesus as those who were to be crushed.
A ruthless hunter
He was no stranger to hunting down these people of the Way. He had crashed the doors down in the homes of many believers in Jerusalem and had them arrested and dragged off to prison and undoubtedly had some of them killed such as Stephen. He was one who thought he was doing a service to God by doing away with these believers who proclaimed Jesus as Israel’s true Messiah. Even today in Israel there are many religious Jews who cannot stand the Messianic believers and persecute them when they can.
We also know that Saul’s spiritual blindness was not a wilful blindness. What he did to believers in Jesus was out of spiritual ignorance. (1Timothy 1:13) He had a veil over his heart and could not see the truth even when he was confronted with it. However, he was under conviction having seen the way Stephen died full of faith and the Holy Spirit. However, God had an appointment for Saul that he could not avoid. And so we read…
(Vs.1-2) “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
When a man is under the conviction of the Holy Spirit he will sometimes go to great lengths to eradicate or suppress the gnawing voice of a guilty conscience that deeply troubles him. Saul was such a case. He has seen many followers of the Way incarcerated and even killed and this would have left an impression on him. Before a man comes to faith in the Lord Jesus the Holy Spirit in some cases takes a long time to bring that man to the point of repentance and submission to the LORD in his life. Usually the conviction becomes like a weight in the soul of that man and gets heavier and heavier until there is desperation to lose the burden he is carrying.
Now some people are less stubborn than others and God deals with them according to His infinite wisdom and power. Saul was very proud, arrogant, stubborn and violent and God had to deal with him very severely. God was about to avenge His elect who had been crying out to Him day and night. Saul was about to be confronted with the Lord Jesus Christ!
(Vs.3-4) “As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
In His convicting and converting work the blessed Holy Spirit convicts men and women of their unbelief in Jesus and then gives them the capacity to repent but He will not do the repenting for them. While God has perfect foreknowledge the choice to respond is still given. He gives the sinner just enough light for them to respond. This is why God commands that men everywhere should repent. Paul came to understand this when he wrote; “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This is God’s specific command to the unsaved.
Now there are exceptions it seems where God in His infinite wisdom and foreknowledge takes the initiative to convert a man because He has ordained a special task for that man to accomplish. They are called from the womb. This was the case with Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 1:5) Isaiah the Prophet was called from the womb. (Isaiah 49:1-2) Likewise Rabbi Saul who later became the Apostle Paul came to understand that he was called by God for a specific task before he was even born. (Galatians 1:15)
Some years later after he had been saved Paul wrote to the Galatian believers; “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:13-16).
God had no other way to deal with this stubborn religious spirit which drove Saul to persecute Jesus’ followers. God had to literally knock him off of his horse. God’s stubbornness is far greater than the stubbornness of man and in certain cases God just deals decisively with this stubbornness in a man. In an instant Saul was confronted with the Lord Jesus but did not know who He was at first. He knew intuitively it was the LORD his God and that it was something supernatural but did not know it was Jesus until he heard His voice for the first time in his life as far as we know. The Lord Jesus then spoke to Saul saying; “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
(Vs.5-9) “And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who travelled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
Sometimes when God speaks to a man he hears in a way that others around him do not hear. For example you have two men sitting side by side listening to an evangelistic sermon. One suddenly jumps out of his seat and says “I see it! I see it!” the man next to him turns to him and says; “What do you see?” How do you explain to a person blind from birth what it is like to see? In spiritual matters it is this way. In this case Paul heard Jesus speak to him but the others heard a voice but did not hear what was said. They saw the light but did not comprehend it. There was no spiritual revelation. God’s call is always personal. No one else can answer to God for us as all of us must stand before the LORD to give an account of what we have said and done in this life and especially in regards to God’s will for our life. Now Saul was physically blind even though his eyes were open.
For the first time in his life all of his religious knowledge could not help him. He was totally helpless and had to be led by the hand. In one flash of lightening God had stripped Paul of all pride and arrogance. For three days he was without sight and did not eat or drink. God had started to deal with this man and in those three days Saul came to realize the true spiritual condition of his soul before God which was to shape his theology in the years to come regarding the sinfulness of man’s heart before God and the absolute uselessness of religion as a means of pleasing and appeasing a Holy God. Years later he wrote; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
(Vs.10-12) “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for 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.”
Now Paul was praying to the point where he could not even eat or drink anything. During this time of reflection on what had happened to him he had a vision of a man called Ananias who would come to lay hands on Saul. Like Saul, Ananias also had a vision from the LORD to go to Saul and to pray for Saul that he might receive his sight. Visions and dreams were also a work of God within the Body of Messiah as it will be again in the last Days before the Lord Jesus comes back. Most of the so called ‘dreams and ‘visions’ seen today in the western churches is nothing more than fortune telling dressed in Christian wrapping. The instructions were not vague but very specific. God’s guidance is always like that. There is nothing vague or indefinite about His guidance. His guidance will never contradict His word.
(Vs.13-14) “But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
Ananias was realistic. He knew about all the harm Saul had done to his fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus. Humanly speaking no one in their right mind would venture to approach a man like Saul especially with his reputation for aggressive violence. Ananias recognized that Saul was no small fish but a head Honcho among the Elite of the religious Jewish hierarchy and had been backed by the theological heavyweights. Specifically they had given Saul absolute authority to deal with these followers of the Way. However, the LORD assured Ananias that everything would be okay. Sometimes the LORD will lead us into a situation that seems to be beyond our capacity to handle but at such times will also give us wisdom as to how to handle the situation. God will never ask us to do something without His help and enablement. He reassured his reluctant servant Ananias.
(Vs.15-16) “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Now God is not spiteful in His dealings with men. He is just in all He does. In the case of Saul it was God’s foreordained plan to use Saul in a very specific way. The LORD had already marked the boundaries of Saul’s sphere of ministry. He would have to suffer more than he had afflicted on others because of the ministry he was being called to. In his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders he said to them; “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:20-24). At that time He had embraced the will of God for his life and the blessed Holy Spirit had settled the matter in Paul’s heart and life. So then we find Saul praying and waiting on the LORD. Ananias was not someone great, but through him the Holy Spirit would empower Saul for his life’s work.
(Vs. 17-19) “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.”
Saul had encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. He had received the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God and the one whom he had been persecuting. It was a shock to Saul as he was spiritually blind to the truth about the Lord Jesus. His physical blindness was an indication of his spiritual blindness. He had to become blind in order to really see. Now he was filled with the Holy Spirit of God and the scales were removed from his eyes but more so from the eyes of his heart. He was then baptized. This is the clearest reference to Saul’s conversion through a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit through the laying on of Ananias’ hands.
This was a common practice in the early Church. Through the laying on of hands men were filled with the Holy Spirit. This laying on of hands was not just restricted to apostles or Elders but could operate through a believer such as Ananias who was not an apostles or pastor or elder. Obedience to the Holy Spirit is the key to being led by the Spirit and proof that the person being led is a child of God. As Paul later wrote; “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
No matter who you are as a believer you do not have to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or a teacher to be used by God but just be available to the Holy Spirit and He will do the rest. Saul would need to be filled with the Spirit to successfully fulfil his calling and ministry. Later in his ministry it would be said of Paul and Silas; “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also!” (Acts 17:6).