Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
This is the most famous conversion story in the history of the church. It’s how the Rabbi Saul became the Apostle Paul. The story is so important that Luke repeated it three times in the book of Acts (Acts 9, Acts 22, Acts 26). Paul saw Christianity as a radical threat to Judaism, and thought the best way for him to serve God was by destroying the church. His murderous threats were more than talk since he was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58).
Acts 9:3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus to persecute believers when he encountered a light from heaven. It was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13) and caused Paul to go temporarily blind. The light was none other than Jesus Christ himself. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me (Acts 26:16), he said.
The sovereignty of Christ is very clear in Paul’s conversion. No one else persuaded him, preached to him, or prayed with him. Jesus simply appeared to Paul and converted him, as though Paul had little say in the matter. This should keep us from thinking that Jesus lacks the power to convert whomever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants, however he wants.
The normal way for Christ to convert someone is through hearing the gospel. Faith comes from hearing the message (Romans 10:17), wrote Paul. Most people are listening to a sermon as they often have before. But during that particular sermon, Jesus gives them faith to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9). Saul is an exception who demonstrates that Jesus can convert anyone, anywhere, anyway he pleases. We should cooperate with Christ by sharing the gospel, but he is the one who converts.
Acts 9:4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
Jesus did not say, why do you persecute my people, but why do you persecute me? From this we learn that any assault on a believer is an assault on Jesus Christ. The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), so whatever happens to the church, happens to Christ. He not only knows what we are going through, but feels what we are going through. Whenever we are treated badly, or treat other believers badly, Jesus takes it personally.
Acts 9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
Jesus revealed himself to Paul, but not to those around him. Paul was having a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, but those around him were oblivious to what was happening. But if Jesus revealed himself to Paul, why not to the others?
Later Paul explained that God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden (Romans 9:18). We may not like, or completely understand this explanation, but it is the one Paul provided, and it agrees his conversion.
Likewise, whenever a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, there may be others around who do not understand. The conversion might be explained as getting religion, joining a cult, or any number of things. [T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18), wrote Paul.
Years later, Paul testified before a government official named Festus. You are out of your mind, Paul! he shouted. Your great learning is driving you insane. I am not insane, most excellent Festus, Paul replied. What I am saying is true and reasonable (Acts 26:24-25). This kind of exchange has been repeated countless times as Christians try to explain their faith to an unbelieving world.
Acts 9:9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Paul was so shaken by his encounter with Christ that he could not eat or drink, or he chose not to. For three full days he sat bewildered, trying to understand what just happened to him. He was blinded by a light, but his spiritual eyes were beginning to open. If you asked him which was more important—physical sight or spiritual sight—he would have said spiritual sight, by far.
Acts 9:10-12 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, Ananias! . . . Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.
About the same time Ananias was having a vision of going to pray for Paul, Paul was having a vision of Ananias coming to pray for him. Double visions are rare in the Bible, but this would have assured Paul that he was not losing his mind. People who are insane may have visions, but they seldom have the same vision as someone else. This would verify Paul’s experience.
Acts 9:15 This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name.
Jesus told Ananias that Paul was his chosen instrument. Paul was uniquely chosen by Christ to spread the gospel far and wide. Even today, we can hardly imagine Christianity apart from Paul, and the letters he wrote. Because of his service to Christ, Paul is one of the most influential people who ever lived.
Furthermore, Paul not only spread the gospel, but also proves the gospel, since you cannot explain Paul apart from the gospel. Paul was a rising rabbi, with a promising career, until he was drafted by Jesus Christ. Then he suffered as a missionary for the rest of his life, until he was put to death. Why would he do that if the gospel was not true? There is no explanation for Paul apart from Jesus Christ. He was a chosen instrument to spread the gospel, and does so to this day.
Acts 9:16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
The man who inflicted so much suffering on the church would now begin to suffer for the church he once afflicted. Years later he wrote, [I have] been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. . . . I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
It was a difficult life for Paul, but he rarely complained, because he saw his misery in light of eternal glory. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17), he wrote.
If this life is all there is, every hardship is a disaster, and death is the ultimate tragedy. But if we’ll live forever in the best of all possible worlds, then every step brings us closer to eternal glory. This was the secret of Paul’s endurance, and should be ours as well.
Acts 9:17 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.
Paul was happy to receive his sight, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was so important to Paul that he is mentioned over one hundred times in his thirteen letters. As Paul proclaimed the gospel, he discovered that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ receives the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). This is not true for any other religion.
Paul described the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5). If you are selling your car, and someone gives you a deposit, that guarantees they will return with the rest of the money. The indwelling Spirit is Christ’s deposit, guaranteeing that he will return with the rest of our salvation. We don’t even have to take his word for it. The Spirit is a guarantee of what is to come.
Reflection and Review
Why didn’t Jesus save Paul’s companions?
How does Paul prove the gospel?
How does the Spirit guarantee what is to come?