I would say beyond the person of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself that Paul has had the greatest influence on my life, and that influence has been going on for most of my life; pretty intense over the last 50 years or so for sure.
Paul, the author of 13 of the New Testament books; Paul, the looming figure in the book of Acts and the dominant figure for most of the book of Acts, is the main player on the stage after our Lord ascends back into heaven. He has been, for me, a model of ministry, a pattern to follow in every way.
He is the inspired author of books that shape all our theology, all our understanding of the gospel and it’s depth, and height, and length, and breadth. He is, in my mind, the one I follow as he follows Christ, and he commanded believers: “Follow me – ” he said “ – as I follow Christ.”
His conversion is one of the great stories of human history, and as we come into the 9th chapter of Acts – Acts, chapter 9 – we come to one of the great days in the history of the world, the conversion of a man named Saul, whose name was eventually changed to Paul. So great was the transformation that it apparently needed to be reflected in his name. And so we are told in chapter 13, verse 9, that his name was changed to Paul.
The importance of his conversion is indicated by the fact that it occupies so much of the book of Acts. Not only this portion of the 9th chapter, but his conversion, again, is repeated in the 22nd chapter of the book of Acts as he gives his own testimony, and then repeated again in the 26th chapter of Acts. So here in chapter 9, we see this amazing transformation; and then it is rehearsed for us again in chapter 22, and again in chapter 26.
The conversion of this man was the pivot on which the future of the church turned, and it was fitting that because of the massive importance of his conversion that it be a unique conversion because he was such a unique individual: by birth, a Jew; by conviction, a Pharisee; by citizenship, a Roman; by education, a Greek; and then by grace, a Christian. He became a missionary, a theologian, an evangelist, a pastor, a teacher, a preacher, an organizer, a leader, a thinker, a statesman, a fighter, and a lover, all at the same time. It would be hard to imagine that there has been another one like him. And I believe as we approach the account of his conversion in chapter 9, we have to remember that we’ve already met him in the book of Acts; and you remember where we met him.
We met him back in chapter 7 and verse 58, when the faithful evangelist to the Hellenistic synagogues, a man named Stephen had preached his wonderful sermon, going through the history of the Old Testament and culminating in the arrival of the Righteous One, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ whom the Jews had betrayed and murdered. They rushed on him to stone him to death; and before casting the stones down on Stephen, it says in verse 58, “They laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” And chapter 8, verse 1 begins: “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”
In fact, I told you at the time that he was no doubt the orchestrator of the execution of Stephen, that’s why the cloaks were laid at his feet. And on that day, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Saul was the great persecutor of the early church that caused the church to be scattered. First, they were scattered into Judea and Samaria and they carried the gospel there; and we saw how the gospel went into Samaria, in particular, in chapter 8. After looking at the ministry of Philip in chapter 8, we now come to chapter 9 and we read now, Saul.
I believe a bleeding Stephen’s words and demeanor eventually played a role in the end of a promising career for a young fire-breathing Pharisee named Saul, and was a critical point in him becoming history’s most effective evangelist. Let me tell you a little about Saul – and I have to pull from everywhere, so a little bit of historical narrative.
Saul’s home was in Tarsus, Tarsus. Tarsus was a city of Asia Minor right on the Syrian border. Today, it would be on the border of Syria and Turkey. In those days, Tarsus was a very distinguished city. It was distinguished for its university. It was one of the three great universities in the ancient world. The other great universities were in Athens and in Alexandria in Egypt. It was ranked, along with those two, like the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of our time. Its crowded wharfs were on the Sidonis River and made it a bustling cosmopolitan city with people coming and going, cargo as well.
Saul’s father was a Roman citizen, but a Jew. He passed on the priceless assets of Judaism and Roman citizenship to his son. No doubt, his father was also a Pharisee and Saul, therefore, inherited his Pharisaic tradition. Saul was so very Jewish that he could say in the testimony that he gives – remarkable testimony in Philippians, chapter 3 – these words: “I was circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin – ” an extremely noble tribe by the way “ – a Hebrew of Hebrews - ” that means completely devoted to the traditions “ – as to the law, a Pharisee.”
He covered all his bases in Judaism. “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. As to the righteousness, which is in the law, found blameless.” Very devout Jew.
In keeping with the Jewish tradition, every young boy had to learn a trade, and young Saul was taught to weave cloth out of black goat’s hair and fashion it into strips that could be assembled together, sewn together, to make tents. This was a common industry in Tarsus.
At about 13, when a Jewish boy would become officially a son of the law, it is very likely that at that time, Saul was packed off to Jerusalem. Why did he go there? Because his family wanted him to study Judaism at the highest level, and the highest level was to study under a teacher named Gamaliel. Gamaliel was so elevated and so revered as a teacher that he himself was actually called the beauty of the law. That was to say that the law was never more beautiful than when it was articulated by Gamaliel.
So Saul would sit under the teaching of Gamaliel. This would include years of memorizing the Old Testament, years of intense question and answer, arguing and debating back-and-forth on the law of the Old Testament. He would become expert in Judaism, expert in the Old Testament.
While he was in Jerusalem during that time studying under Gamaliel, it is not likely that he ever met Jesus. If he had met Jesus in his earthly ministry, he no doubt would have mentioned it. It doesn’t seem possible to me that he could have met Jesus, or seen him personally, or heard him personally and not made reference to that at some point.
It is also possible that before Jesus actually began His ministry, he had finished his education and returned to Tarsus. And if he returned after having studied under Gamaliel, there’s no question, he would be a critical leader in a synagogue. He would have grave responsibility there as a teacher. He was very rigid, very zealous, very legalistic, Pharisaical, traditional. This rigid young Saul would have then been a critical member of the Pharisaic form of religion in the city of Tarsus to advocate everything they believe among the Jews there; and there were many Jews in Tarsus.
However, by the time of Stephen, he’s back in Jerusalem. We don’t know what brought him back, but he is highly agitated. And why is he so angry? Because he is a Hellenistic Jew. He is a Jew from outside Israel. And this man, Stephen, has been circulating among the Hellenistic synagogues in Jerusalem and preaching Jesus Christ.
Stephen himself was a Hellenistic Jew, a Jew from outside Israel, and he is gathering together a large number of Hellenistic Jews to come to hear about Christ. And there are converts, there are converts; and these new converts, these new believers in Jesus are saying that He died to pay the penalty of sin, and He rose from the dead to provide salvation; and they’re preaching a risen Christ.
They’re getting more aggressive, the church is expanding and exploding by the thousands, and he is infuriated. He may have tried to argue with them in synagogues. He may have tried to refute them. He certainly tried to silence Stephen, not with an argument, but with an execution. He then rose by his sheer force of leadership and passion to become the leader of the movement to stamp out Christianity.
Years later, he said this – it’s recorded in Acts 26: “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 priest; but when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them 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.” This is Saul.
Luke says it simply, “Saul laid waste the church.” And that back in chapter 8 at the beginning, I told you that word describes a wild bore rampaging through a garden, or an army devastating a city.
After successfully clearing Jerusalem of those he believed to be heretics, threatening the true religion of Judaism, he himself decided that he would go after them. It wasn’t enough that they left Jerusalem; he wanted to stamp them out, hunt them down wherever they were. He heard that a group of them had gone to Damascus and he secured permission from the religious elites to go to Damascus, and that’s where we pick it up in chapter 9.
Now 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. He launches a fierce campaign, chasing down these believers, and he’s going to begin with a raid, if you will, on Damascus. He was like a warhorse who has the scent of battle and is breathing fury in anticipation of new conquering.
By the way, the word “breathing” here literally is “still breathing in, breathing in.” Not breathing out threats and murder; breathing in.
What does it mean? His very life breath was slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. He lived to arrest and kill Christians. His sin, not a lot different than Haman, the Agagite, who in the day of Esther wanted to exterminate all the Jews. Saul wouldn’t be satisfied until the Christians were exterminated.
All of the mathētēs, all of the learners, the disciples, all the followers of Jesus, He was after them all: “So he, wanting to find any belonging to the Way, any.” Not just in Jerusalem, but everywhere they went.
Eradication was his objective, and this led to a trip to Damascus, a journey which changed the world. He was so highly respected among the Jewish authorities that he had permission from them to carry his war to distant cities. That’s what it says in chapter 26, verse 12, that he’d been given permission to go everywhere and exterminate Christians. The high priest, as president of the Sanhedrin, was head of the Jewish state so far as its internal affairs were concerned, and his authority was upheld by Roman power, and he acted as the one who had absolute authority to give to Saul. With that authority, he takes off for Damascus.
Damascus in ancient times was called by one writer “a handful of pearls and a goblet of emeralds.” Why? Because it was a lovely white city in a green forested area of plains and trees. Orientals used to call Damascus “the paradise on earth.” The city of Damascus predated Abraham, yet still remained.
There was a large Jewish community there. It is estimated by historians that there were tens of thousands of Jews there in 66 A.D. – 66 A.D., year of our Lord – 20,000 of them were massacred, 20,000 were massacred. Damascus had a number of synagogues with so many Jews, many synagogues. Its geographical location was something like this: 2,200 feet above sea level; 60 miles inland from the seacoast, right in the corner there of the Mediterranean, where Syria meets Turkey today; about 160 miles north from Jerusalem. It was, in ancient times, the capital of Syria.
It is estimated there were 150,000 people there; it was a large city. And it is likely that the Christians there had not yet separated from the synagogues, that the scattered Christians went there and preached the gospel and won converts. It was how it all started. But it is very likely that they had not yet left the synagogues as the original group of Christians didn’t leave the temple.
And it is also likely that there was a Christian leader who had come to faith in Christ and was leading these newly converted Jews, and his name was Ananias. We’ll meet him a little later in verse 10. Paul says about him that he was a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there. So he was significant leader in the city; no doubt, came to Christ and had a great influence in that early beginning group of Christians.
Perhaps also, there were believing refugees from Jerusalem. But nonetheless, Paul got the word there were Christians in Damascus. They are identified – please look back at verse 2. They are identified as “belonging to the Way, both men and women, belonging to the Way.”
That was an early term to describe Christianity. Paul refers to it also in his testimony in chapter 22; talks about the Way. That is very likely a sarcastic designation because the Christian believed that they knew that through Jesus Christ was the only way to God. Maybe this is mockery like the word Christian that was first used of them in Antioch, and that was a term of disgust: “little Christs.”
In this term, they are mocked as those who advocate there’s only one way, arcing back to our Lord’s words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” Anybody who was associated with the narrowness and the exclusiveness of this Christian gospel was fair game for Paul, and he would find any belonging to the Way, male or female, make them prisoners and bring them back to Jerusalem.
Now that lets you know that he didn’t go alone. He went with some kind of police, some kind of force; likely, temple police. They were to be brought back to Jerusalem, why? To be tried as heretics, blasphemers; and then to be punished as ecclesiastical offenders, punishment by the Sanhedrin; and, perhaps, punished by death, as their leader had been.
From Jerusalem to Damascus, you just basically go straight north. I’ve taken that route a few times in my life and gone to Damascus. The ruins of Damascus are astounding to see, even to this day. You would go north through Judea, then through Samaria, all the way up into Syria and to the city of Damascus.
Maybe along the way through Samaria, you might have heard the rumblings of the revival that was happening under Philip, as recorded in chapter 8, and Samaritans were coming to faith, and Peter and John came, and the Spirit came, and there were signs and wonders being done by Philip, and people were being saved. Maybe he heard of that; maybe he didn’t. But he is loaded with papers for Damascus.
Historians tell us that caravans usually took about six days for that kind of trip. Armed with his commission from the high priest to do what he wanted to do, all of his entourage, they almost reached the walls of Damascus, almost. And then we come to verse 3: “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?’ 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 traveled 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.” Serious change of plans.
What have we here? He ran right into the Lord Jesus Christ, and then came his momentous conversion. I want to consider it under four simple features. First, a divine contact, then divine conviction, divine conversion, divine communion. Just a way to break it down.
The divine contact comes in verse 3: “As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” I don’t need to remind you again.
Here’s another illustration, another illustration as we saw in the illustration of the eunuch from Ethiopia who encountered Philip because the Holy Spirit was making everything happen according to the will of God. This, again, is how salvation happens. It is always the sovereign will of God. It is always His purpose. It comes about by His power and His determination. This is a direct sovereign act of God on Saul.
Now I will admit that all people who are saved are saved because of a sovereign work of God, but not all of them have this kind of experience. I certainly didn’t; neither did you. God calls, but He usually calls in a still, small voice. But in the case of Saul, He called with a blazing, smashing, crushing, devastating appearance.
Now we could add an awful lot to verse 3 because verse 3 is very cryptic, very short. But to do that, I’d have to take you through chapter 22 and chapter 26, and we’re not there yet. But let me borrow some things from those two chapters because in those two chapters, Paul gives his testimony when he’s called into court. And if we borrow from what we learn in 22 and 26, we can fill in details.
Those chapters tell us it was about noon, midday, sun at the apex. And if you’ve ever stood beneath of the glare of the sun in the Middle East at noon, you understand that it is a bright sun. But there was something far brighter because we read later in the book of Acts that a light shown above the brightness of the sun, shining around Paul and all those who journeyed with him, a light brighter than the sun.
The sun is bright, but distant. This is in their midst. The whole group then collapses to the ground in sheer terror. We are also told later in the book of Acts that it was a light out of heaven. “It was a light – ” in this verse it also says “ – from heaven, flashing around them,” miraculous, supernatural, transcending the brightness of the noonday sun.
Chapter 26 where the testimony of Paul, again, is given, it says, “The men got up, but Saul remained flat on the ground.” Chapter 22, verse 9 says, “They heard the sound, they heard noise, but they couldn’t understand.” It says they didn’t understand. They couldn’t articulate or distinguish words.
This is similar to what we read in John 12:29. You may remember John 12:29. “So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying an angel had spoken to Him.” Heaven had spoken there to Christ, and the people heard the sound, but couldn’t distinguish it.
Well, this was a similar situation. The others are stunned, crawling around, trying to make sense of it, stupefied, confused. And in their lack of clarity, they’re very different from Paul. The light breaks through to Saul and he sees Jesus. How do you know he sees Jesus? Well, go down to verse 7. “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one, seeing no one.”
But that’s not Paul’s testimony. Go down to verse 17: “Ananias later departs and enters the house, and after laying his hands on Saul says, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road,” that’s enough. The Lord appeared to him on the road.
Down in verse 27, Barnabas took hold of him, brought him to the apostles, described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road. And in his own testimony in chapter 22, and verse 14 – I’ll just read it to you: “He said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.’”
Paul saw the Lord. You say, “Well, what does that mean?” I can’t go beyond what Scripture says. He saw the Lord. First Corinthians 15:8, he talks about the appearances of Christ and he says, “And least of all, He appeared to me,” or, “He appeared to me in the least of all.” He saw the glorified Christ. He saw the transcendent Christ coming out of the middle of this blazing, shining light.
I think this is kind of a glorious sequel, isn’t it, to Stephen? Stephen saw heaven open and he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Remember, we saw that at the end of chapter 7. He saw the Lord Jesus next to God in heaven. Saul stood by and saw, stood by when Stephen saw the glorified Christ; and here, saw himself, sees the glorified Christ. The heavens are opened once more and this murderous man named Saul is to gaze into the blazing glory of the same person Stephen saw.
And Stephen’s prayer is answered. Do you remember Stephen’s prayer? “Lord, lay not this – ” what “ – sin to their charge.” Which is to say, “Forgive them for this.” The Lord is about to forgive the one who led the execution and answer Stephen’s prayer.
So that’s the contact. God sovereignly makes contact with the sinner who is the object of His electing grace and sovereign regenerating power. Not always this dramatically, but always this sovereignly. The salvation of anyone is totally initiated by God. Saul was going one way with no idea of turning to go the other way, and God sovereignly spun him around: divine contact.
And then we see in verse 4 the divine conviction. This is very interesting: divine conviction. In bringing a person to salvation, there is an initial contact initiated by God, and then there is the conviction of sin. And where there is genuine salvation, there is a potency to that conviction. And verse 4 says, “He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” He doesn’t know what hit him, obviously. He is laying at the feet of his conqueror. He is in the right position, you might say, for conversion.
In Luke’s writings, the repetition of a name like this seems to imply a rebuke or a warning: “Martha, Martha.” “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” “Simon, Simon.” Here, “Saul, Saul.” There’s an emphatic nature to that repetition: “Why are you persecuting Me? For what reason?”
Remember in John 15:25, Jesus said, “They hated Me without a cause.” “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this?” This is a thrilling statement. I need to just take it apart for a minute.
“Why are you persecuting Me?” Well, wait a minute. Jesus wasn’t even around, He was back in heaven. But our Lord identifies for us this very significant reality that to persecute any of His people is to persecute Him, that He is inseparable from His people. He is bound together with all the members of His body so that every stroke which is directed against us is a blow that falls on Him. He is truly identified with us. Persecuting us is persecuting Him.
Saul was delivering blows to Jesus. Later on in his life, he would gladly say, “I am accepting now the blows that were meant for Him. I bear in my body the marks of Christ.” Saul learned the great truth that he soon taught and lived, that every member of the body of Christ is a member of Christ, is one with Christ, the glorious head of the body. And if one believer is touched on earth, that touch is felt in heaven. That’s how identified we are with Him. Truly, He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. Saul was persecuting Jesus when he persecuted His people.
He is hit with the real issue; you’ve got to understand this. When God initiates salvation, immediately you need to go to the real issue, and the real issue is stated here: “You are persecuting Me. Why?” That is the issue of conviction that is essential. “Why are you treating Jesus the way you’re treating Him?” that’s the issue.
There are a lot of sins in the world, but the sin that is most important is the knowledge of the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ. The issue for conviction is not that a man is a liar, not that a woman is cruel, or unkind, or deceptive, or whatever else, or immoral; the crime for which people are damned to hell is rejection of Christ.
First Corinthians 16:22 again, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s anathema, he’s cursed, damned. This is always the issue.
The work of the Holy Spirit, John 16, our Lord said, “Is to convict the world of sin because they believe not on Me.” That is the crime of all crimes. That is the unpardonable sin, the unforgivable crime. And Saul is literally smashed with that indictment: “You are persecuting the Son of God.” That’s the conviction that has to reside in the heart.
Now that leads to the conversion, the divine conversion in verse 5. This is, again, a very abbreviated account. But verse 5 records, “And he said, ‘Who are You – ” what’s the next word “ – Lord. Something dramatic has happened: “Who are You, Lord?”
He’s not yet even sure who he’s looking at. He’d never seen Jesus before. But even if he had seen Jesus before, this was not going to be the same because Jesus was not the same in His glorified form. But he quickly finds out that he has been indicted for persecuting Jesus who is Lord. He is now acknowledging that He is Lord: “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus – ” and chapter 22, verse 8 adds, “ – of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting, the very One you’ve been persecuting.” I would say that Jesus has captured Paul’s attention, wouldn’t you, filled him with the fear of conviction, and presented the truth concerning Himself: “I am Jesus of Nazareth.”
You say, “Now wait a minute. That’s not enough to be saved to say, ‘I’m Jesus of Nazareth.’” It’s not enough even to say, “Lord, that’s not enough.” You’re right. But can I help you a little?
Paul (Saul) knew very well the Christian gospel. He was a highly educated theologian. It was because of the heresy that he was killing these people. He knew what they were saying. He knew they were proclaiming this man as the Messiah, this man as the Son of God. This man is God’s chosen sacrifice for sin. This man rose from the dead. This man has been anointed by God as the Righteous One.
And I’m very confident that he did not forget the culminating words of Stephen’s sermon, at the end of chapter 7, that this one they had killed is the Righteous One, a Messianic title, and that Stephen had said, “I see Him, the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven.”
No, all the parts were already in his mind. But up to this point, for him it’s heresy. It’s heresy, blasphemy. And they claimed that He had risen from the dead, and now he know He has. The horrible truth captures his soul. Jesus is alive. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. He is the One from glory who was standing at God’s right hand.
And I think all the bloodshed must have drowned Saul in the sorrow of sin. He was shattered, penitent, broken, now lying beneath the conquering Christ needing mercy. His heart is broken in repentance and sorrow, and at the same time, healed in faith. His conversion was shocking, sudden. All his doubts were erased and he knew the truth immediately.
Paul’s conversion has baffled people. Renan, the French atheist, said it was an uneasy conscious with unstrung nerves, fatigue from the journey, eyes inflamed by the hot sun, and a sudden stroke of fever that produced Paul’s hallucinations. Other writers say it was a thunderstorm that hit, and in fear, he imagined he saw Jesus because he felt so much guilt for what he was doing to the followers of Jesus. A very popular view is that he suffered from epilepsy.
Dr. Klausner writes, “Some epileptics have been great and powerful personalities: Mohammed, Augustine, St. Bernard, Savana Rolla, Beam, Swedenborg, as well as Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Peter the Great, Pascal, Rousseau, and Dostoevsky.” Was this an epileptic seizure? Ridiculous.
Saul cried out, “Who are You, Lord?” The answer came back, “I am Jesus.” He used His personal name, the name given to Him when He was born as a babe in this world because Jesus means “Jehovah saves.”
The battle was over. The battle was over. It had been a very difficult battle for Saul. He had been kicking against the goads. What does that mean? A goad was any sharp, pointed instrument which was used to pierce or perforate, and you would use them to stab an ox to keep him moving. In fact, Shamgar in Judges slew, I think it’s 600 men with an ox goad.
What does it mean to kick against the goads? It means to just inflict pain on yourself by continuing to do what you do. He was literally bashing his own conscience by resisting God. You can’t fight God, rebel against God, make war against God and not feel the pain. So all of this is just to tell us of this amazing, amazing encounter.
In first contact, God’s sovereign grace; conviction of his sin against the Lord Jesus Christ. He responds in humble penitence, and I believe conversion takes place. That becomes obvious as the story goes on.
A good way to understand the conversion part of the story would be to look for just a minute – and I’ll just take a minute to do this – at 1 Timothy, 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verse 12. Here Paul gives a testimony to Timothy:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” That’s his testimony. That’s the internal testimony. We see the external story in this 9th chapter.
Back to Philippians 3; more about the internal, what was going on in his heart. He says this, Philippians 3:7, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I counted loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be lost in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” First Timothy 1, Philippians 3, we have the internal testimony.
Proof of that conversion comes really fast. How do you know he was converted there? I’ll give you the proof; it’s in his testimony in chapter 22 – and I will read this to you. Chapter 22, he’s giving his testimony again and he says in verse 8: “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but didn’t understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord? What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’”
How do you know he was converted? What’s the first response of a true conversion? Submission, confessing Him as Lord. He had a new master: “Master, Lord, what do you want me to do?” He calls Him Lord. He calls Him Lord, as everyone must do is saved. He called Him Lord. He recognized the truth that Jesus is Lord. You don’t make Him Lord; He is Lord.
Chapter 10 of Acts, verse 36: “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ – He is Lord of all.” Conversion was immediate, absolutely immediate: “What shall I do, Lord? What do you want me to do?”
Verse 6: “Get up and enter the city and it’ll be told you what to do. The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. And leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.”
He is broken, devastated, shattered, melted down; submissive, compliant, obedient. This is how salvation works. Supernatural divine sovereign contact, conviction of the great sin of rejecting Jesus Christ, conversion into a submissive follower of a new heavenly master. And there’s one final component: the divine communion.
Verse 9: “He was three days without sight, neither ate nor drank.” What did he do? What did he do for three days? I’ll tell you what he did; he communed with his new Master. The last thing he had seen before he went blind was the blazing presence of the glory of Jesus. That sight dominated his now sightless eyes. It was a blindness that I would think was not the blindness of blackness, but the blindness of light. Not the blindness of looking into the darkness of a pitch black night, but the blindness of looking into the brilliance of a blazing sun.
It was said of an astronomer, who made the mistake of looking too long at the blazing sun, that his blindness was not the blindness of darkness, but the blindness of light. Great guilt weighed him down. He had a lot to think about for three days, didn’t he? He knew nothing about his future. He didn’t know who he was anymore. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. This was total devastation of everything he was, and it was in those days that all that he had considered precious became rubbish.
Salvation was sudden, but its depth are often plumbed slowly. He is now stunned; he is helpless; he is friendless. He has friends who are now enemies, and enemies who don’t know they’re to be friends. For three days, he communed with his Lord.
This is a magnificent picture of salvation in all its beauty and glory. It is sudden, it is explosive, it is a miracle in a moment, but it must embody that sovereign work, that conviction of rejecting Christ as the great sin, that conversion of submitting and saying, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” And then that contemplation and communion that thinks deeply about this miracle. Well, that’s the beginning. Much more to come about even this encounter as we look at it next time.
Father, we are so grateful, again, to You for giving us the truth. Again, as we were talking about it this morning, so many writers, and yet the all say the same thing about salvation, about sin, about judgment, about grace, about mercy, about righteousness. Here’s just another encounter, and yet such a unique one.
Lord, I pray that even tonight, there might be some sinners here that You would in Your grace stop dead in their tracks and shine the glorious light of Christ into their darkened eyes. Make Christ known to them, and may they realize the horrible sin of rejecting Him and fall before Him in loving submission and say, “Lord, Lord, what will You have me to do?” And then, Lord, from that moment on, may they begin that sweet communion with You that deepens their understanding of this divine miracle.
Again, we thank you for a wonderful day today, and You have blessed us in so many ways. Continue to bless us, even as we enjoy fellowship together. We’ll thank You in our Savior’s name. Amen.