If you have your bibles, turn to Acts chapter 9. Now, here we come to one of the great days in the history of the church, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The importance of this conversion is indicated by the fact that it is mentioned three times in some detail in the Book of Acts: chapter 9, chapter 22, and chapter 26. Anything repeated that frequently has a great significance. It also is alluded to many times by Paul himself in his writings in his epistles.
Now, the conversion of this particular man became the pivot not only on which his life turned, but on which the history of the church turned. And you and I, in tremendous measure, are indebted to this man for whatever we may know about God and about salvation because he wrote those books which detail for us this great information.
It was fitting that his conversion be very unique, because he is such a unique person. By birth, he was a Jew; by citizenship, a Roman; by education, a Greek; by conversion and grace, a Christian. And he became the best of all those things in combination. He was missionary, theologian, evangelist, pastor, organizer, leader, thinker, statesman, fighter for truth, and at the same time, lover of souls. He was everything that a Christian could and should be, short of being what Jesus Christ is. There never was a man like him, as far as I am concerned. There may have been, apart from my information, such a man, but it’s hard to imagine him being any better.
This is the story of the conversion of this man. And it is a great evidence of the fact that God can take the crummiest of the crummy, the worst of the worst, and make them the best. God is in the business of doing that. Nobody ever gets too low to be unredemptive. Sometimes I think we wonder whether the grace of God can ever be extended in certain cases, and that’s just exactly where the grace of God does its greatest and most glorious work.
There are many things that come into my mind in thinking about this, and we’re going to have to kind of get a running start before we really hit the outline this morning, but it is interesting, as I look at this man, Saul, to think that prior to this occasion of his conversion, the one great dramatic event that must have plagued him was the execution of Stephen. The first time we meet Saul significantly is as he stands at the place where Stephen is being stoned. And he apparently was leading in this thing, because they laid their cloaks at his feet when they picked up the stones to stone Stephen.
And it has been said that sometimes a rather inconsequential or apparently trivial event can plant within the mind of a man a kind of an idea time bomb that doesn’t detonate for a long time. And it just may have been that Stephen was kind of a time bomb in the brain of Saul, and it didn’t really detonate until he hit the Damascus Road, flat on his face, when Jesus revealed Himself to him.
Abraham Lincoln said that he remembered with very much clarity the horror which he felt when, having taken a flatboat trip down the Mississippi he arrived in New Orleans and saw his first slave auction. The year was 1831, and that was 32 years before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but he himself said the incident ignited his thinking
And so it is very likely that this thing which occurred in confrontation with Stephen, which also probably included some kind of an argument or disputation between Saul and Stephen – incidentally which Saul lost, because it says in 6 that nobody could withstand Stephen – that this all had planted within his mind this whole problem of Christianity. And he saw it at that point as heresy, and he began from Stephen on to persecute Christians.
But I believe the bleeding Stephen’s words and demeanor eventually had part in the end of the promising career of a young fire-breathing Pharisee. And I also believe it had a great part in the beginning of the ministry of one of history’s most capable and colorful men, the apostle Paul.
Now, let me give you a little background about this man, Saul, so that we understand something of what happened in his life. His home was in a town called Tarsus. Tarsus is located at the corner where Asia Minor meets Syria, north of Israel. It was a very distinguished city, distinguished for its cosmopolitan interests. It was a place where many people gathered. Its wharves on the Cydnus River were crowded with commerce. It was also a city that was famous for its university, and – along with Athens and Alexandria – Tarsus ranked with the three great universities. Those three were kind of the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of their day.
Saul’s father was a Roman citizen. And, of course, you remember that Saul inherited from him that right of Roman citizenry, which stood him in good stead in later years. His father was also a Jew and a Pharisee, and so Saul could match zealous credentials with any Jew.
In keeping with Jewish tradition, which I think is a great tradition, every boy had to know a trade, and in the city of Tarsus one of the very large industries was the industry of tent-making. And so the young Saul apparently learned this trade, and he was able to weave cloth from the black hair of goats. They would weave the cloth into strips, then tie the strips together to make tents. And it really isn’t any different today in the East; you can see the very same kind of tents if you go there right now.
At the age of approximately 13, no doubt, Saul was packed off to Jerusalem. The Jewish heritage was motivation enough for him to have good Jewish training. So he was off to Jerusalem, and he sat under a great teacher by the name of Gamaliel. Gamaliel was called “the beauty of the law” because of his marvelous ability to teach. Gamaliel was also so revered that when he died the people said that the reverence for the law died with Gamaliel. And so Saul studied under this brilliant man.
The course of his study would involve memorization of great portions of the entire Old Testament. So, he became quite scholarly in terms of his knowledge of the Old Testament. He also would sit in question-and-answer sessions with his tutor, and so he was a familiar man in terms of Jewish history and theology.
It is interesting, too, that since it is never mentioned that he met Jesus, it is likely that he, having studied in Jerusalem, then went back to Tarsus, and perhaps was the master teacher in the synagogue at Tarsus. Later on, however, he returns to Jerusalem, and on his return Jesus has already disappeared from the scene, and he confronts this man Stephen. And Stephen was dynamic. He was bold. He was dramatic. He was powerful. Saul couldn’t handle him in life. The only thing he could do was get rid of him, so they killed him. But as I said, I think the death of Stephen planted a time bomb in the brain of Saul that exploded finally on the Damascus Road in conjunction with God’s invasion of his life.
Saul became, from Stephen on, the leader of a persecution movement. He began to rip and tear the church. Years later, he himself acknowledged this, as recorded in Acts 26:9-11, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them,” which is an indication that he was in the Sanhedrin; the fact that he could vote.
“And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme. And in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Jerusalem wasn’t enough; he chased them all over the place. Luke tells us, as we read earlier in chapter 8, verse 3, that “he made havock of the church.” He laid waste to the church, and the Greek word describing a wild boar raging through a garden or an army devastating a city is used there.
Now, apparently, as we approach chapter 9 – meanwhile, in chapter 8, of course, Philip and the Hellenist Christians who have been scattered by the ravaging Paul, have gone everywhere preaching Christ. So it’s been great; his persecution led to preaching, and preaching led to salvation, and everything came out great. So they’ve all been preaching, having a great time, through chapter 8.
Meanwhile, back at Jerusalem, Paul is still breathing fury. And we go back to Jerusalem, we pick up the narrative with this man who is at this point called Saul==and I’ll find myself using either one all the way through because I can’t very well restrict myself to Saul, too familiar is he to me as Paul. But, nevertheless, he, back in Jerusalem, is still furiously pursuing the killing of Christians and their incarceration and jail.
However, he apparently has accomplished something of what he set out to do in the city of Jerusalem because he’s now bent on leaving town and finding little pockets of Christians anywhere he can find them and rooting them out. See, he is really zealous about this. This is not just a lark with him. It’s not just a game. In his mind, he’s convinced that Christianity is heresy; that it is the defamation of the character of God and the traditions of Judaism and, he seeks them out with a certain amount of honesty.
And he hears, apparently, that there is a group of Christians up there in a place called Damascus, and so he feels that he’s got to get up there and take care of that group, and that’s where we pick it up in verse 1 of chapter 9, “And Saul, still,” – or yet – “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest.”
You notice the term “breathing out.” In the literal Greek, it’s “breathing in.” It’s not so much the idea that he’s sort of expelling air, as it is the idea that he’s inhaling it. He lives in an aura of threat and slaughter. He breathes the very air of slaughter. This man is totally encompassed. His whole lifestyle, his very life breath, is threat and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. And what it means is that that’s all that occupied him. He was consumed in this thing. This is not just a Saturday afternoon hobby. This was the consuming passion of his very existence: to exterminate every Christian he could find.
His sin was like – you remember Haman the Agagite in the Book of Esther who wanted to exterminate every Jew, and he chased after Mordecai. His ending wasn’t quite so good as Saul’s. He wound up hanging in his own gallows. Saul fortunately comes to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. But he wanted to exterminate the Christians.
Notice the term “disciples.” Don’t think that means only the 12. It doesn’t. The word “disciple” is simply mathētēs. It means a learner. Anyone who comes to Jesus Christ is a disciple. Anyone who follows Christ to sit at His feet, to learn from Him, any saved individual, I believe, is a disciple. And so Saul was after every disciple, but not just in Jerusalem. He was going to get them wherever they went.
Now, we don’t know how he got the information about Damascus, but we know that he got it. There were probably 150,000, minimum, people in Damascus. At least 20,000 were Jews. We know that because it wasn’t too long after this that Damascus was sacked and about 20,000 Jews were massacred. So, there had to be at least that many there. So there’s a Jewish community in this place called Damascus.
Another note that you need to understand: Christianity, in its original context, stayed within the framework of the synagogue. You’ll remember that in Jerusalem, when the Jews were getting saved, they didn’t necessarily leave the synagogue. You’ll also remember that when Paul went to the Christians in various towns on his missionary journeys, where did he always go? To the synagogue, because, in many cases, the Christians had not yet separated themselves from the synagogue. Christianity began in the synagogue, and went from there, you see. So in every area, really, where it began, it began with a group of Jews who then saw the new covenant and moved away from that. But they didn’t necessarily move out of the synagogue.
That was a problem, incidentally, and that’s the problem on which the Book of Hebrews is based; the fact that you had Jews who had come to Christ but who maintained their involvement in all of the rigmarole of the Jewish synagogue. And so that was what the book of Hebrews was really written to do, was to detach the Christians from the traditions that were so much a part of their former life.
And so these Christians apparently were within the framework of the synagogue, and he wanted to get rights and privileges from the high priest to go up there and sort of just go through the synagogue there and root out all the Christians. And there must have been many synagogues, incidentally, for that many Jews.
All right, so verse 9 tells us that this is a fury that’s in him – verse 1, I should say, of chapter 9 tells us. Verse 2 then takes it a step further. “He desired from the high priest letters” – which means permits, to go and get the Christians. And he had to have them, because he couldn’t operate on his own. The whole place was under Roman rule, and the Romans recognized the right of the high priest within the Jewish state. And so if he had letters from the high priest to do this as a religious function, in the framework of Judaism, he then could do it. He couldn’t do it apart from that under the Roman jurisdiction.
So, he wanted some of the letters, or the approval, or the authority of the high priest to go to Damascus, to the synagogues, “that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women” – and Luke continually makes a point about the fact that Saul was after woman as much as men – “...he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” And so he designs to go to Damascus.
Now, just a quick geographical note about Damascus because it is somewhat immaterial in the narrative here. Damascus was a very beautiful city. It was situated about 2,200 feet above sea level, 60 miles inland from the coast, about 160 miles northeast of Jerusalem, I’d guess. It was such a beautiful area that one of the Oriental writers said that “Damascus was like a handful of pearls in a goblet of emerald,” which will give you a little idea – lush, green and a beautiful white city. In fact, the historians called it “the paradise of the earth.”
Now, Damascus was an ancient city. It was the capital city of Syria, and it was very old. In fact, if you go back into Genesis, you’ll find that Abraham had a servant who came from Damascus, which means that Damascus predated Abraham. So, it’s an old, old city, and yet it still remained, and now with a great Jewish population.
It is very likely that the man who really was the spiritual leader of this church was Ananias, and Paul runs into him – from our perspective – next Sunday. Now, it also is very likely that some refugees from Jerusalem had made it to Damascus, and Paul was after them, too – Christian refugees.
One other note in verse 2. It says that he was looking for any of “this way.” Now, that’s an interesting thing. That’s a good Bible study sometime. Just go through the Book of Acts, and even through the New Testament, and find all the uses of the term “way” as a description of Christianity. That became the popular name for Christianity, “the way.” “The way.” Even Saul was pursuing people of “this way.”
Jesus, you remember, had said, “I am” – what? “...the way, the truth and the life.” And over and over and over again He had isolated Christianity as the only way to God, you see. So Christianity became known as “the way.”
It’s interesting, because there probably couldn’t be a more apropos term than that. In Acts 18 the Bible says that it’s the way to God. In Hebrews, chapter 9 and chapter 10 it’s the way to the holiest. In Revelation 3:17 it is called the way of peace. In 2 Peter 2 it is called the way of truth and the way of righteousness. Christianity is the way. There’s only one way to God, and it’s through Jesus Christ. And Christianity became known as “the way,” and indeed it is.
“Now, there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Isaiah said this. “This is the way. Walk ye in it.” Jesus said, “It is a narrow way and” – what – “few there be that find it.” And Saul was after those few.
Now, he wanted to bring them back to Jerusalem. They were going through some kind of legal procedure, apparently, so that they could be established as ecclesiastical offenders before the Sanhedrin. So he wanted to go to Damascus, get them, and bring them back, which means he probably had really a large entourage of people going along with him to bring these prisoners back. So this whole gang is going north.
And what’s a fantastic note is this – just think about this – to go north to Damascus, 160 miles, he’s got to go right through Samaria. Now, if you were here last week, you know what’s going on in Samaria. And if he was irritated already, you can imagine how irritated he was by the time he got through Samaria because who had just finished going through Samaria? Philip, who was immediately followed by Peter and John. The gospel was preached all over Samaria. People were turning to Jesus Christ by the thousands. A revival was going on in Samaria. That must have really irritated him.
But he didn’t seem to stop at any point. He made his way through; infuriated, no doubt, at what he saw, but intent on getting to Damascus, and figuring he’d mop this area up later.
It normally took a caravan six days to get there, so it was a pretty good trip. Well, on that sixth day, as they got near town, something fantastic happened, and that, in verse 3, begins the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
And I’ve divided it into five steps, and they’re just simple. I use these key words only to help you to have some nails to hang your thoughts on.
The first one is the contact; then the conviction; then the conversion then the consecration then the communion. And these five steps will unfold to us what happens here.
First of all, the contact. Here he is, living in an atmosphere of slaughter and threat, marching with all this gang, thinking, “I’m going to go into that city, and I’m going to root out every Christian in there.” And as he moves toward this thing, God stops him in his tracks. And that leads us to a tremendous point. We want to study the contact for a minute.
Does God do this very often? Well, I can’t actually say that God lets people see some kind of heavenly vision; slams them to the ground, and brings this to pass very often. But God-- mark it – always initiates the contact in salvation. It may not always be like this; it isn’t always like this. But God always initiates the contact, because the natural man cannot understand God. He can’t know God. He can’t sense God. He can’t see God. God must invade the privacy of his sin.
You saw earlier in chapter 8, as we studied the Ethiopian, how that the guy was just riding along in his chariot; God made sure he was reading the right chapter; God picked up a prophet up in Samaria, dumped him in the middle of the desert, made sure he matched up; met the chariot; jumped up; taught the man; the man came to Christ. God had it all laid out, and if that’s true in the case of the Ethiopian, you haven’t seen anything yet, until you see what he did in the case of Saul.
Believe me, folks, God is sovereign in salvation. Believe it. “The natural man understands not the things of God.” He doesn’t even pursue God. He pursues happiness, health, wealth and peace, and finds none of them that are lasting. So, there’s a direct act of God’s sovereign will.
Now you know – it’s true. Some people God gently calls. And some people hear the still, small voice. But there are other people who are making so much noise that God’s got to make a lot of racket to get through, see. You know, I think about my own life, and the years and years that I was in a Christian home, and went to church so many years, and all this stuff. And I was in – I knew everything. I had seven zipper Bibles from the graduation from every department, and, you know, and I always had sticker stains on my head from turkeys and gold stars. I’d been in Sunday school since the year one. And I knew all of the things there were to know, and God continually spoke to my heart, and I continued to rebel in my own heart about really committing my life to Him.
And so, finally, going 75 miles an hour, a car flipped; He threw me out; I hit the pavement, slid 100 yards on my –, and after it was all over God could communicate. I said, “You know, I can only go so far, Lord. If you’re going to do it like this, I can’t fight it.” But it was one of those kind of things in my life where God had to get dramatic.
And you know about the foxhole conversion-type thing. You know that very often God has done something tremendously dramatic to lay His hands on somebody’s life. Other times, it’s not so dramatic. Don’t disparage that your salvation wasn’t dramatic. Just praise God that it happened. And I think very often that the greatest miracle may be to take the person who’s very good and allow him to recognize that he’s a sinner and needs Jesus Christ.
But nevertheless, Saul got zapped in the “zappedest” sense of the word. There’s no question about it. Verse 3, let’s start it. “And as he journeyed” – now, you can imagine; he’s absolutely oblivious to anything God’s doing. He doesn’t even believe this whole Christianity thing is anything at all. He’s charging up there to Damascus, going along, – and watch this – “And as he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly there shone round about him a light from heaven.” God says, “Stop. That’s all the further you’re going.” And He stopped him dead in his tracks.
And of course, if you read further, in chapter 22 and chapter 26, you’ll find that those two chapters also record this same event, and they fill in a lot of details. What happened was, the light shone and the whole crowd hit the ground. They just completely fell over. They were face-to-face with Jesus Christ.
They did the same thing, you remember the soldiers in the Garden? Jesus walked out, and the whole army went “pfft” – just like that, and they all hit the ground. Apparently, as you put the narratives together, some of the soldiers started picking themselves back up again, and they were dumb with amazement. They couldn’t figure out what was going on.
And it says in verse 7, “The men who journeyed with him stood” – so apparently they got back up again – “speechless.” They didn’t say anything. They heard a voice, but they couldn’t see anybody. The light was absolutely blinding. They heard a voice.
Now, later on in chapter 22, verse 9, it says, “They didn’t hear the words the voice said.” Some people have assumed a contradiction. What it means is they heard a noise; they just didn’t know what it was saying. And in chapter 22 it says – the statement there is that they could not determine what it was that he was saying. Remember in John 12:29, when the people – when God spoke, but all the people heard was thunder? It’s the same thing.
And so these people all hit the ground when this light struck. Everybody got up, apparently, except one guy – Saul. He was flat, and through it he saw Jesus Christ in glory.
And we’ve talked many times of Jesus Christ as the glory of God in a body. We saw him reveal his glory in the Mount of Transformation to James, John, and Peter. And here He reveals his glory to Saul – this sinner, this killer of Christians. He stops him dead in his tracks and He reveals himself. You say, “Well, it doesn’t say in that verse he saw Jesus.” I know it doesn’t. But he still saw Jesus. You say, “Well, where’s the evidence for that?” Well, it’s in several other places in the New Testament. First Corinthians 15 in verse 8, the apostle Paul, having listed all the people who saw Jesus after His resurrection, said this, “And last, I myself saw Him, as one born out of due time.”
And then you find out if you go chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians in verse 1, he says, “Am I an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ?” Sure he saw Him. He saw Him right there.
To take that a step further, go down to verse 17 in the same chapter. “And Ananias went his way and entered into the house, and, putting his hands on him, said, ‘Brother Saul’.” That’s kind of nice, isn’t it? Brother Saul? This one who’s been furiously killing Christians? “The Lord, even Jesus” – watch this – “...that appeared unto thee in the way.” Do you see? Ananias acknowledges that Jesus was there and appeared and he saw Him.
Verse 27, “Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles.” Barnabas is going to bring – of course the apostles would be saying, “Oh, sure Barnabas; Saul’s a Christian? Sure, right; we understand that, Barnabas.” So Barnabas brings him in. He says, “Look, I’m declaring unto you how he hath seen the Lord in the way.” This guy saw Jesus.
Over in chapter 22, verse 14, the indication comes again. It says this, “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldst know His will and see that Just One and shouldst hear His voice’.” So, we know that Saul actually saw Jesus Christ in glory. It is fantastic. He saw the glorified Christ. You see, he believed that Jesus was dead. He believed the whole thing was a big joke. He believed Jesus was dead. All of a sudden, he saw Him.
There’s another fantastic thing here, and that is this: The last guy before Saul to see the resurrected Christ was who? Stephen. He said, “Look at that, I see the Son of God standing at the right hand of the Father” – or Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. And everybody heard it. Of course, that infuriated them all the more. But if it isn’t grace to realize that the man standing there, in measure responsible for the stoning of Stephen, was in the grace of God the next one to see His glory. That’s how grace operates.
And, you know, remember Stephen’s prayer? “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” God answered IT, and God was gracious unto Saul. The heavens are opened one more time, and this killer Saul, gazes into the glory and the person of Him whom he persecuted. What grace, that Saul saw Jesus. Fantastic.
And so here you have, friends, the fact that salvation begins with a divine, sovereign contact. That, you see, is the doctrine of election. That’s the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in motion toward the sinner.
All right; after the contact, secondly, let’s look at the conviction. Whenever there’s going to be salvation, there’s got to be conviction of sin, right, Because that’s what separates men from God – sin. So sin has to be exposed, and is it ever.
At this point, the conviction is so potent that this poor guy Saul starts shaking like a leaf, as we’ll find out. “He fell on his face to the earth,” verse 4, “and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’” Now, he was in the right position for conversion – Flat.
And he heard the voice of the Lord Jesus. “Saul, Saul” is interesting. That’s emphatic, because it’s used twice. But in Luke’s writing, the repetition of a name refers to a rebuke or a warning, whether Luke says, “Martha, Martha,” “Simon, Simon,” or “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” and here, “Saul, Saul.” In Luke’s mind, that’s rebuke and warning. And it was.
“Why persecutest thou Me?” Well, you know, I can’t read into the psychology of the man Saul, but I’ll tell you one thing: that would absolutely tear him to shreds. I mean, imagine the guilt the guy was living with anyway.
There is built into every man a sense of right and wrong by God. That’s right, isn’t it? Romans 1. Now, Saul had been living with a horrible conflict, believing he was doing right in persecuting Christians, and, yet, because it was wrong, he knew there was tremendous guilt in his life. And later on down there, at the end of verse 5, it says, “It’s hard for you to kick against the goads.” “It hasn’t been easy doing this, has it? I mean, you’ve been fighting God, Saul, and it doesn’t come easy.”
And so he’s been living with unbelievable kind of guilt, and his conscience must have been as heavy as lead. It must have been unbelievable to try to exist in the kind of thing he was existing in, breathing the air of threat and slaughter. And when he heard Jesus talk to him and say, “Why are you persecuting Me?” you can imagine the anguish that ripped through his soul as he was confronted with the horrors. And all the things he feared might be true were made true. His guilt was full guilt.
Jesus says, “Why are you doing it? What did I do to you?” Remember back in John 15:25, when Jesus says, “They hated Me without a,” – what – “without a cause.” Who could ever hate Jesus Christ?
I like another thing here. He says, “Why persecutest thou Me?” You say, “Well, he’s not persecuting Jesus; he’s persecuting the Christians.” You persecute the Christian, guess what? You persecute Jesus. You see, we’re inseparably tied together. “He that is joined to the Lord is” – what – “one spirit.” You can’t persecute me without persecuting Him. Every time you touch me, you touch Him. No blow hit on earth goes unfelt in heaven.
That’s why He’s a sympathetic high priest. He is “touched with the feelings of” – what – our infirmities. He bears our griefs. He carries our sorrow.” “Why persecutest thou Me?” And you know what? That’s the first crack of light in the doctrine of the body and its head, which Paul later elucidates in the book of Ephesians.
This is Saul’s first exposure to the inseparability of the life of a Christian and Jesus Christ his Lord. We are one, aren’t we? It’s a glorious thing. What a thrilling thing to know that Jesus is bound together with all the members of His body so that whatever hits us hits Him. Saul was actually, then, dealing blows to Jesus Himself.
Now, notice this. Saul is hit with the real issue. Because the real issue in every man’s life is what he does with whom? Jesus Christ. God doesn’t say to him, “Saul, you’ve been a naughty fellow. Why, Saul, you have hate in your heart.” He did. “Saul, you’re going around murdering.” He didn’t say that. That’s all superficial stuff. He says, “Saul, you know what your problem is? You’re persecuting Jesus. That’s your problem.”
If you’re a sinner here, and you die and go to hell – and it won’t be because you lied; I’ve lied, and I’m not going to hell. It won’t be because you stole something; I stole something. I even got put in the Glendale City Jail, but I’m not going to hell. If you go to hell, it won’t be because you went out and got drunk, because you took drugs. I’ve never done that. I’ve done a lot of other things. If you go to hell, it’ll be because you didn’t acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the only reason.
Because all us Christians, who maybe to the world appear so holy, we do a lot of that other stuff, because the flesh in us makes it tough. But because we have set it right in terms of Christ, that settles the eternal issue. Do you see? And so when the Lord talks to him, he says, “Saul, your problem’s simple” – here comes the conviction; wham. “Why are you persecuting Me?” Any man who lives in this world apart from Jesus Christ is as guilty as Saul of rejection of Jesus Christ.
You say, “Well, I wouldn’t – I mean, a Christian can do what he wants. I mean, I don’t care. No skin off my nose. Let him, if he wants to go through all that religious magos. That’s his thing.” My friend, to reject Jesus Christ at any level, damns a man. The degree of it is consequential. Although we believe in degrees of punishment in hell, they’re all bad. And so we say that the real issue of conviction is what a man does with Christ. So when you’re sharing Christ, that’s where you want to get. That’s what you want to hit at. That’s the cardinal issue.
And, you know, bless his heart, Saul learned his lesson so well. You know, to read his life later on when he goes down the line of all these wonderful things that Christians do, you almost forget what he was before. Listen to what he says. First Corinthians 16:22, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema,” accursed. Boy, don’t you know that it was a joy for him to be able to say that? And, boy, I love Him. I didn’t used to, but I do now.
So the issue is what a man does with Jesus. If you don’t love Jesus, you’re anathema. It’s just that simple. That’s the issue of conviction, – unbelief and rebellion toward Jesus Christ.
So, you see, the Spirit of God, through the preparation of all of his life, has brought him to a crisis. Christ Himself confronts him and says, “Here’s your problem.” You remember the work of the Holy Spirit in John 16:9? He’s going to convict of sin “because they believe not on Me,” you see. That’s the issue.
So, we find the contact, and immediately after that, the conviction. And that’s the way it ought to be. Whenever you bring someone to Christ, you must talk about their rebellion against Christ. It’s not right that anybody exists who doesn’t give Him glory.
Third, the conversion, verse 5. And I think he’s converted somewhere in the white spaces in verse 5. Because it doesn’t really say, but verse 6 it is so obviously a different guy that it’s got to be in there. “And he said” – and he’s not too sure what’s going on – “‘...who art Thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest’.” Oh, oh, can you imagine the trauma? And He says, “It’s hard for thee to kick against the goads.” You see, He recognized Paul’s terrible conscience, guilt, and He says, “It hurts to know that, doesn’t it?”
You know what a goad is? A goad ends with a “d.” They took a long stick, and in the end of it they put great long nails that were used to pierce and perforate, and they would use those to drive the ox. And so when the ox would hesitate, they’d perforate, and the ox would then, you know, continue. Now, a dumb ox might resist and kick against the goad, which wouldn’t hurt the goad but would certainly hurt the ox. And you know there would be pain in the resistance.
Saul at this point had been rebelling against God, had he not? You know who was getting hurt? Not God. Ever since he started, the gospel got spread all over Samaria and Judea. The only person getting hurt was Saul, and his conscience was ripping him apart. And Jesus said, “It’s tough to be doing what you’ve been doing, isn’t it?” He was fighting.
Well, let’s back up in verse 5. “Who are you, Lord?” Notice, he’s got the right idea in terms of where he belongs in relation to whoever this is, flat on his face. He knows this is the Lord. “Who art Thou, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus.” Now, I think he knew that God was talking, but I’m not sure yet that he understood it was Jesus. When Jesus said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest,” I think the light dawned in the life of this man.
He believed that this person was dead, but here He is alive. And I believe that at this point – and incidentally, Saul knew well the Christian message I mean, he’d debated it with Stephen. He knew it. He’d chased enough Christians to hear what they had to say. You can believe he knew the gospel front to back. And I believe that when he heard Jesus, he said, “Okay, okay. I accept. I can’t fight at this level.” And I believe it is there that you see the conversion of this man. And he acknowledged Him as Messiah and Savior.
And the horrible truth flashed on his mind. Jesus, who went about doing good and healing all those oppressed of the devil; Jesus, who was crucified, who was rejected by the nation; the same Jesus that dying Stephen beheld and into whose hand he committed his spirit; that Jesus, whom he, Saul, so hated and whose followers he so mercilessly and cruelly persecuted, is alive, and He is the Messiah that He claimed to be.
And I believe at that point, bowed as he was in body, bowed he became in spirit, and acknowledged Jesus Christ. All the bloodshed drowned Paul in sorrow, the sorrow of his sin. He was shattered. He was penitent. He was lying beneath the mercy of God. His heart was broken by repentance. But I believe in that moment it was healed by faith.
Now, this is a glorious conversion. Oh, people want to explain it away. You can read, you know, a half a dozen opinions any way you want to go about what happened to him. Renan, the Frenchman, says – I was reading his view of this – says, “Well, it was an uneasy conscience with unstrung nerves, fatigue of the journey, eyes inflamed by the hot sun, and a sudden stroke of fever that produced the hallucination.”
Others say a thunderstorm just happened to hit at the very moment, and he was so overwrought by the guilt of his own conscience that he assumed it was God speaking to him and imagined the whole thing.
And perhaps the most popular view that has been espoused, and it’s been espoused by many, including Jewish scholars, is that he had epilepsy. A Dr. Klausner holds this view, and he wrote this whole long deal about how obvious it is that Paul was an epileptic. I understand, though, however, from some medical sources, that one thing about an epileptic that is to be noted is that an epileptic cannot remember anything that occurs during a fit, or a seizure. It’s amazing how Paul so well detailed what happened.
Dr. Klausner says this, sort of conceding to Saul. He says, “Some epileptics have been great and powerful personalities. Mohammed, Augustine, St. Bernard, Savonarola, Beam, Swedenborg, as well as Napoleon the First, Julius Caesar, and Peter the Great, Pascal, Rousseau, and Dostoevsky were all epileptics.” So he’s saying, “You know, it’s not too bad to be an epileptic. There are some wonderful ones that have accomplished a lot.” But that is really a strange view. I like what Ironside said. “If epilepsy did what it did, oh, blessed epilepsy.”
We know what happened – God invaded his life – don’t we? It takes more incredulity to believe the junk that people pump out to explain away the Bible than it does to just put your faith in God. I don’t see how they do these logistical and logical gymnastics to come up with wrong answers.
And so he bowed. And I love the fact that He said, “I am Jesus,” because that identified Him. And isn’t that the name at which every knee will bow? And who said that? Paul said it, later on.
So the battle is over. And I believe he got converted, as I said, in the white spaces in verse 5. Jesus said to him, “It’s been rough on you, kicking against Me, against that goad.” And don’t think of a goad as a little prickly thing. Shamgar in Judges 3 slew 600 men with one. It was painful doing what Paul did – painful. And he was the only one getting hurt. You kick against God and you get hurt. You know, you throw yourself against God and you’ll get broken. He won’t.
And now all of a sudden I think peace began to enter his soul. He rested from the battle. And, you know, when he rested, so did everybody else. Go to verse 31. It said, “Then had the churches rest.” I mean, as long as he was hassling, everybody was up in the air. If he’d have just gotten converted and died, it would’ve been a great day for the church.
So we see first the contact, and then we see the conviction. Now, Christ convicts him of the real issue, and I say that’s the issue in your life, my friend. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, I don’t care how good you are, that’s the issue. It’s faith in Him and acknowledging Him as Savior and Lord. And then came the conversion.
And you’ve got to think, you know, you’ve got to compare Saul with the Pharisees, because the Pharisees heard; they saw Jesus, saw His miracles, went through all of the things. And their response was not faith. Saul responded in faith. They responded in apostasy. Saul responded with an open heart.
He expresses the view of his conversion in 1 Timothy 1:12, “And I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord, who hath enabled me, in that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” In other words, he had faith. He believed. And God saw he was faithful, counted that faithfulness for righteousness, and placed him in the ministry.
He says, “...and who before was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious” – which means a wanton aggressor – “...but I obtained mercy,” he says. Why? “Because I did it” – what? – “ignorantly in unbelief.” “Don’t hold me to apostasy. I did it because I didn’t know the truth fully.” Those Jews spend eternity in hell because they knew it and rejected it.
“And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” He says, “God just let His grace drown me.” “This is a faithful saying,” he says, “and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of who I am” – what – “chief.” “Nevertheless, he did it,” he says, “that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth a pattern to them that would believe.” In other words, how that God is long-suffering and forgiving.
And so his entire soul had been wrapped up in the annihilation of the church. Had his plan succeeded, the church would have been smothered in its own birth, drowned in its own blood. God’s eternal decree would have been annulled and Satan would have triumphed. So great was his sin that if he had done it in ignorance – or if he had not done it in ignorance, it would have damned him forever. But because he did it not really knowing the truth, God’s mercy was available. And so we see his conversion.
Quickly, look at this; his consecration. Oh, this is so good. You know, very often people come to Jesus Christ, but they never really commit everything to Christ until later, if ever. This man was saved and consecrated his life to full-time service at the same moment, and that’s the only way God ever expected it to be.
Notice verse 6, “And he, trembling and astonished” – and that’s putting it mildly – “...said, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do’?’” “Just tell me. I’ll do anything.” Now, notice a footnote here. That little phrase I just read you does not really appear in this verse in the manuscripts. You say, “What’s it doing here?” Well, it is in chapter 22, verse 10, and some scribe just thought since it fit here, he’d slide it on back. So it is Biblical, but it just belongs in 22:10, but it’s – 22:10 is a recount of this narrative, so some scribe – wanting to help along – pushed it back into verse 6, and the oldest manuscripts don’t have this at all. But it’s true, and it came from 22:10, so we’ll just take it and add it to the narrative as the scribe did.
He said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Now, that is consecration. He was saying, “Lord, here’s my life. What do You want out of me? I’ll give You everything I have.” I mean, let’s face it. He had – he had a career that couldn’t continue, right? I mean, that whole career was shot. So, he had to start from nothing anyway. He gave everything to the Lord.
And I love the fact that he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Isn’t that good? He acknowledged the lordship of Christ. I hear people say this, and it bothers me all the time, and I hear people say, “Well, I know that He’s my Savior, but I haven’t received Him as Lord.” That is not accurate. You don’t receive Him as Lord or not receive Him as Lord. He is Lord. When you receive Him, He comes as who He is, not in the sections that you want. Don’t say, “Well, I received Him as Savior ten years ago but today I made Him Lord.” No, you didn’t make Him Lord. He is Lord. If you didn’t do anything, He’s still Lord. That’s immaterial.
You can go through the New Testament; you’ll find verse after verse. John 13:13, right there in the Upper Room they’re talking, and Jesus says, “You call Me Lord, and you do well, for so I am.” The only question is not: “Who am I?” It is: “How obedient are you?” The question in the Christian life is not: “Is He Lord of your life?” The question is: “Are you obeying Him?” That is the question.
Saul said from the beginning, “I know You’re Lord, and I’m going to obey You.” You know what the Christian life is? It’s a battle between the will of the Lord and the will of the Christian. You know what Christian maturity is? When both wills always agree. That’s worth a quarter. That’s a good definition.
You see, that’s the process of maturity. Here’s your will. Here’s His will. And you grow and you grow and you grow and you grow, and pretty soon you’re a mature Christian and the wills are the same. And then you find out that finding the will of God isn’t such a big problem when you’ve conformed to the image of Christ.
And you can find it in: Acts 10:36; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:5. You find that great statement of Philippians 2:11, which says, “He is Lord.” You can find all those verses telling you that He’s Lord. Saul recognized it and said, “I’m going to be whatever You want me to be.” I love that. Some people get saved, but they don’t want to give everything to Him. “Well, I’ll accept salvation, but no, no, no, don’t touch my little hmm over here, and” – see.
Paul knew there was only one thing that was needful in his life, and that was obedience. “What wilt Thou have me to do?” That’s the only question a Christian needs to ever ask the Lord every day of his life. “What do You want me to do?” This is the standard for every Christian, to cease to do what I want, what I desire, what my ambition dictates, and do what He wants me to do. And, as I say, maturity is when you both want to do the same thing. That’s the issue.
You say, “Well, you know, anybody can say, “Lord, what will Thou have me do?” I’ve heard people say it a lot. But do they always do it?” No, they don’t. You know, I mean, we’ve all been to camp and said, “From now on, I’m going to dedicate, consecrate, irrigate, I don’t know, whatever. I’m going to go ahead and do what the Lord –,” and you come down and nothing, right? The first time He gives you the test of obedience; right down the tubes. We all make these verbal consecrations, but Saul made a verbal consecration, but it was real.
And the Lord tested him that fast. Look at what He said in verse 6. He says, “Arise, and go into the city.” Now, he didn’t say, “Well, gee, could you – I don’t know about that. I’ve got other things to take care of now that this whole thing is falling apart.” He just bang, gone. Seven, “...the men who stood around speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth. When his eyes were opened, he saw no man.” He was blind. “But they led him by the hand and brought him” – where – “into Damascus.” He did exactly what He told him to do. His consecration wasn’t just verbal; it was actual.
Study the rest of his life. Was his consecration verbal only? Oh, no. His whole life is a testimony. He kept saying, “The love of Christ constrains me. I go there because Jesus drags me there. The Lord sent me here. The Lord’s pushing me over here. The Lord drew me here.” You see: His whole life was this. He sought nothing other than what God wanted him to do.
Oh, we promise so much; do so little. He promised a simple thing, “I’ll do what You want me to do,” and he did it. Don’t make all kinds of gigantic promises to God. Just make Him one, “Lord, I’ll do what You want,” and then do it. It’s that simple.
Well, his entry into town wasn’t quite what he had anticipated. Instead of going in like the great conquering hero, he went in like a blind lamb being led by the hand. God had crushed him into submission. And sometimes God has to do that. But, boy, it’s like crushing a rose. It releases the fragrance, you know. When it was all over, what came out of it was fantastic. And if that’s what it takes, “God, crush me,” right, if crushing me means I can be something like Paul. So, we see his consecration.
Now, lastly, his communion. You know, his conversion had happened so fast and without any prior warning that he needed to catch up with what was going on. I mean, there’s no way that he could have even figured out what hit him. I mean, I know he believed, but have you ever gone into an experience where you’ve just got to say, “Now, wait a minute. Wait. I’ve got to think this one through. This is a little too fast”?
I mean, you can’t; your wildest imagination couldn’t fathom the extremes to which that man had gone on one midday afternoon under the hot sun. He had been transformed in an unbelievable fashion, and he needed time for his brain to catch up with what had happened in his soul. And isn’t it wonderful? You look at verse 9, and what does it say? “And he was three days without sight, neither did eat or drink.” God just stuck him some place all alone and let him have three days to catch up with what had happened.
Salvation happens in an instant, beloved, but it takes a long time to plumb the depths of what it really is. Have you ever thought in your own life when you were saved? You look back and say, “Well, I was saved so-and-so, but things really never began to dawn on me until a certain time afterwards.” That’s what’s going on.
Here’s another footnote. Hang onto this; it’s rich. What was the last thing he ever saw? Jesus. Have you ever looked in the sun, and then everywhere else you look all you see is the sun? Or, you had somebody take your picture and all, and everywhere you look – um, um, um flash. They say if you look at the sun long enough you’ll be blind. An astronomer tried it, and he was. You know what I think? I don’t think Saul’s blindness was the blindness of darkness; I think it was the blindness of light. I think for three days all he ever saw was the Son, S-o-n; that he couldn’t get rid of the vision of Jesus. That’s all he ever saw.
So he spent three days getting acquainted, and I think that’s when all the old things died. And they died hard. And he didn’t yet understand forgiveness, either, and he would still have guilt. And I think it’s when faith and love and joy and peace began to be born – in those days. Communion.
Oh, what a conversion it is. I’m glad. Aren’t you? Praise God for this man. One of the greatest scenes in history has just passed our eyes. Learn from it what the Spirit would teach you. Let’s pray.
Father, thank You this morning for again opening our hearts and minds to see the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ. Thank You for this man whose life was transformed, and because of it my life and the lives of millions of others has been transformed. God, may we catch something of the significance of the influence of one life for Your glory.
God, teach us the lessons of sovereignty, of grace, forgiveness, of the miracle of transformation that salvation is. All the lessons that are here, of consecration, of the importance of communing with thee; that, Father, we might learn what it is You would have us learn to apply in our lives.
And Lord, for those who may never have come to a Damascus Road, who’ve never met Jesus Christ face-to-face and yielded to Him, may this be the day they do it. May the vision of the blessed Son flash upon their eyes. May He be irresistible to them. We pray in His blessed name. Amen.
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