16 May 2019

Saul’s Conversion
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. 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. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 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. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.” 18 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 in Damascus and Jerusalem
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.
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.
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. 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. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
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.
Aeneas and Dorcas
32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Acts 9

When the Apostle Paul writes, ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe‘ (Romans 1:16); it is not empty and impersonal rhetoric. He speaks from personal experience… as the first account of his testimony (Acts 9) reveals.

Paul, referred to by his Hebrew name, was dedicated to destroying the new community of Christ followers and eradicating these believers. Breathing out ‘murderous threats’ (v1) and seeking to imprison as many as he could (v2); he was intent on persecuting the early church. Jesus sees his hostility towards the body as the persecution of Jesus Himself (v4). And Jesus is going to put a stop to that… but not by treating Paul in the way he has treated others! He, unlike Paul, will act in grace and mercy.

So, Jesus encounters Paul on his journey… meeting him where he was. It is both a radical encounter and a personal one (notice that Paul sees and hears while those with him only hear). Jesus is interested in Paul – this encounter is for him. Terrified, Saul asks, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Ironically, Jesus reveals who really is Lord, who really is in control and powerful; and who really holds authority over life and death. From this moment on, Paul’s life belongs to Jesus and he will do as Jesus commands him (v6). What a picture of conversion!

Of course, the believers are understandably weary of the ‘new’ Paul – can a leopard really change its spots (v13 & v26)? In one sense, it can’t by itself… but God can change it. And God does change this one! Not only is Paul called to new life, but he is commissioned to a new purpose – ‘a chosen instrument to proclaim [God’s] name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel’ (v15). And that’s exactly what Paul did (v22). Paul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus leads to a radical conversion and a life lived in both suffering for (v16) and serving (v20) his new Lord and Saviour.

What a great reminder to the power of the gospel! If God can turn this persecutor of Christians into a preacher for Christ, there is no end to what he can do for you and for your unsaved family and friends. Don’t lose heart… keep holding out the Risen Jesus to them at every opportunity; praying that an encounter with Him will lead them to hear His call and follow the Way. Our God, our Saviour, really is the One who has the power to raise the dead and bring life; to raise those who are dead in their transgressions and make them alive to Christ. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus – it is the power of salvation!P

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the power and work of the gospel in our own lives, bringing us to salvation and faith in Jesus. Help us to be living testimonies of Your gospel today – in every circumstance, before all people. Use us, we pray, as signposts to point others to Jesus so that they too may encounter the Risen Lord. Especially, we pray for those who don’t know Him within our family and immediate sphere of influence. Make Yourself known to them through Jesus and use us to that end. For Your glory alone we ask this. AMEN.