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The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus

Originally presented to the Men’s Bible Study at my Church, I present this study on the conversion of the Apostle Paul.  These are my notes and are arranged to help me present the material.

Stephen’s Death

Acts 7:54-8:4

54Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together[a] at him. 58Then 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. 59And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 8

1And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

4Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

  • Note the power of the Gospel preached by Stephen.
  • They were cut to the heart. The Word of God has an effect. May God grant us hearts that are converted and do not rebel against its power. Some of you will be challenged by me in ways you might have never been challenged by God’s Word. His Gospel cuts a man to pieces and some rebel.
  • Saul of Tarsus is given tribute in this passage. He is the ring leader and he approves of the killing of this godly man Stephen who is acting as God’s prophet.
  • There arises a great persecution of the Church, led by Saul himself. He literally drags people from their houses, and “ravages” the Church. He throws men and women into prison and subjects them to indignities.
  • Other passages indicate that Saul not only committed men and women to prison but he actually tortured them, separated mother from child, and even killed believers.
  • God used this persecution to spread the Word and cause the Gospel to go out from Judea into Samaria and into the world (just as He proclaimed it would at the beginning of Acts).

The Career of the Murderer Paul

In 1 Tim 1:15 Paul wrote to his son in the Lord:

15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

  • Some people see this as hyperbole or perhaps Paul is just being humble.  I believe Paul is being completely honest here.  He realizes what he was saved from.  He has real regrets for his career as a Pharisee and knows the sins he was forgiven.
  • Time and distance have a way for us to read the account in Acts and remove a sense of the terrible atrocities that Paul committed against the Christians.
  • It is really not an exaggeration to think of Saul the Pharisee in the same light as Nazi Soldier or a Terrorist.  You really need to try and think of the many men and women, brothers and sisters in the Lord, that Paul persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
  • Like many of the most brutal murderers, Paul was a well educated man.
  • Protégé of Gamaliel and extremely well studied.
  • Rabbis were known for their memorization of the Scriptures and the Talmud.
  • He was a Pharisee of Pharisees and one of the most educated man in Palestine.
  • He would not be content until he eradicated this heretical sect of Judaism.
  • His persecution matched his zeal.
  • Hatreds and distrusts can stay with a people for their entire lifetime.

Saul’s Conversion 

Acts 9

1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and 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. 3Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul 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. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And 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, 12and 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.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But 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. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So 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.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened.

Verse 1,2 – Paul is continuing in his murderous ways.  He’s not content for the leadership to come to him to continue this campaign.  He went to the high priest with letters to give him authority so he could go to Damascus and continue his campaign there.  Great was his zeal!

Verse 3 shows the power of God.  If ever there was a passage that shows the power of God’s grace upon a man it is Paul.  Paul is not on a journey to Damascus to seek the Truth.  He is not a seeker who is looking for God.  He is going to imprison and carry off Christians.  He is going on an errand of the devil to persecute Christ’s own.

BUT the God who revealed Himself to Isaiah suddenly reveals Himself to Paul.  The Power of the light of Christ’s refulgent glory KNOCKS SAUL OFF his feet and onto the ground!

Verse 4

– “Saul, Saul”.  The repetition of a person’s name is a Hebraism.  It only occurs about 15 times in Scripture and is always used in a way that denotes intimacy and love.  God calls His servants this way.  While Saul was busy hating God, God had already set His unmerited favor upon Saul.  While Saul was killing men and women that Christ loved and had died for, Christ had set Saul apart and had determined to save Him.  He doesn’t say:  Saul!.  He says:  Saul, Saul.  Beautiful!

“Why do you persecute Me?” – Christ so identifies with His Bride, the Church that He asks Paul:  Why are you persecuting Me?

Verse 5

– “Who are you Lord” – Saul is blown away.  He knows enough to call such holy terror by the name of Lord

–  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, it must be hard to kick against the goads” – Some translations leave out the second part.  Saul – you are incredibly STUPID.  Do you think you can raise your hand against Me?!

Verse 6

– Trembling and Astonished “What do you want me to do” – Words simply cannot capture the shock and utter terror that Paul was experiencing.  We discussed the effect that Christ’s revelation had on Isaiah in Chapter 6.  Saul has just had the Holy One of Israel reveal Himself in all his terrible splendor.  And Saul has just realized that he has been putting to death Jesus’ people!  Jesus, God, who will judge all men one day, had every right to destroy Saul.  Saul does the only thing a Creature can do before its Creator:  Trembling, he asks “What do you want me to do?”

Verses 7-9

Nobody around him sees what happens but they hear a voice.  Saul, this mighty man with vile threats and the power of the Sanhedrin behind him, is now reduced to a blind man being led into the city.  He’s undone, reduced to a man who sits alone for three days without food and water.

Verses 10-12

Ananias is praying and Jesus speaks to him.  He answers “…Lord…” – he knows who is addressing him.

Christ commands him to find Saul and restore his sight.  He tells him exactly how to get there and that Saul has seen a vision that he will be coming.

Verse 13-14

Remember, Ananias knows he’s talking to God.  You just have to understand how extraordinary this request is.  Saul of Tarsus?  Are you serious?  He kills Christians – Collaborator!  Nazi!  Terrorist!

Verse 15-16

“Go,…” – A very clear command from Christ.

“He is my chosen vessel…” – He is MY choice.  He will herald my Gospel.  He will suffer for my name.  The man that does not deserve forgiveness is forgiven.  His sins I HAVE PAID FOR.  Beautiful.

Verses 17-19

“Brother Saul…” – Did you catch that Ananias calls him Brother Saul?  That is the glory of the Gospel.  He’s not a murdering Pharisee anymore.  That was NAILED TO THE CROSS.  Christ to me that you are His and that’s good enough for me!  Brother Saul.  That we would believe the Gospel like Ananias did!

Conclusion

Do you ever wonder how it is that Paul could be stoned to near death and then walk right back into the city that almost killed him?

Did you ever wonder why he could endure shipwreck, imprisonment, persecution, hatred, maligning, and all sorts of maltreatment?

Did you ever wonder what drove a man like that?

The man encountered the Son of God and saw His Holinesss.  He saw the One who had the power of Saul’s eternal soul in the palm of His hand.  He saw and understood how Christ had paid the debt for his pursuing men and women.  For putting them to death, for torturing them, for separating mother from child.  Nobody like Saul deserves to live!  He knew that.

BUT Christ, the Holy One, knocked him off his feet and saved him.

That’s the man who’s Gospel we’re going to be reading about in Romans.  That’s a man who is not ashamed of the Gospel FOR IT IS THE POWER OF SALVATION FOR EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!

The Gospel that says:  You are unworthy.  You are a beggar.  You have NOTHING that God needs.  The only thing you can do is reach out with your hand and cry out:  I believe in Christ the Son of God.  Save me!

I want you to encounter Christ this year and get a passion in your bloodstream that understands and learns about the Gospel.  This will not be about easy steps to holiness.  This will be about putting you in contact with the God who has every right to destroy you and hasn’t.  It will show you the power of the Gospel and the Grace of God in Redemptive History.  We will encounter Christ and it is my hope that is the kind of encounter that causes you to understand Him so that you are impelled by a desire to serve Him out of gratitude and lead your households in Holiness.

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