Saul to Paul: Psychotic Break, Psychological Delusion or Divine Plan of Grace? Part 3
We live in interesting times; especially the last two weeks since the attack on the American embassy in Cairo and in Benghazi, Libya. Watching the response of people both in the U.S. and around the world, culminating in the speech at the UN by Achmabinijah. He was denying the Holocaust and denying that Israel had a history of more than sixty years in the Mideast. Then today our president addressed the UN and if you haven't paid attention to it, he reaffirmed the fact that the US will not stand for a nuclear Iran. Yet, under his watch, 80 to 85% of the uranium that Iran has enriched has been under this president. It seems to me that we hear a lot of words and see little action. You'll hear a lot of talk in some of the political ads, talking about how this nation is a friend of Israel. Yet, in his speech, our president said that Israel is one of our closest allies in the Middle East. He makes these slips of the tongue that indicate where his heart is. He also said there is no future for those who made that film. The only ones who are claiming this clip has caused the problem is the Democrat leadership and the State Department. They're the ones who made this popular and made it known.
It is insane what is being said by this administration and what is not being done and what isn't being said. We need to pay more attention to what isn't said, especially when we look to the Scriptures. There we see the emphasis that God puts on Israel. Whether Israel, in the Old Testament, is in obedience or disobedience, they are still 'the apple of God's eye'. That is the grace of God which we as Christians rely on because God loves us, whether we're obedient or disobedient; His love for us never changes. His love for Israel never changes. They are always His people, even in rebellion, even in discipline, even when they are out of the land. Whatever the circumstances may be, they're still God's people and God has made a promise that He will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who treat Israel disrespectfully. Two different words are used for Israel, as we've seen before.
This is such a crucial time in history. I believe we have not seen a time like this to this degree in history, with Europe standing in the balance, not only economically, but demographically. Many of you have seen some of the demographic videos that have gone around that show the rise in the Islamist populations inside many of these European countries where they are within five or ten years of reaching Islamist majorities.
The only thing that's going to give us survival and strength in the days to come is knowing that God has a plan as we're teetering on the edge, if God allows it to happen, and many times it could have happened in history but it didn't. We could see true chaos. Chaos which we haven't seen since the worst and darkest days of the Second World War. I've heard from hard evidence about the many Hezbollah who have made their way into the US across our porous border on the south to the operatives who are in sleeper cells in the U. S. Our only hope is in God.
It's quite inspiring to hear the Jewish cantors sing about 'God, our rock and our redeemer." We have a strong sense of that in Christ because we know He is our Rock and He is our Redeemer. He is the only one who controls history. We can rest in Him and trust in Him, no matter how chaotic or dark things are here. If you're not in touch with what's going on in the world today, things are very, very dark. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood controls most of North Africa and through Hamas, they control the Gaza Strip and through the chaos in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood could easily go into control there. You have Ahmadinejah in Iran. It's really serious. We need to be in prayer for this election. Pray for our nation and pray for wise leaders who see things as they are, and not as political correctness wants them to be.
We are continuing in Acts. Acts tells of the spread of the gospel. We started with Acts 1:8, and, if you remember, in Acts 1:8, Jesus Christ told the disciples, the eleven at that time, that they were to be his witnesses. That's a critical word, not just in application to them, but for us. We are the future generations that Jesus was talking to through the disciples, to be witnesses of God's grace, witnesses of God's grace through the Messiah. As the rest of Scripture teaches, we are witnesses before the angels because they learn of God's grace and God's judgment from us in ways that they never personally experienced within the history of the angelic revolt. They see things demonstrated in us and so we're witnesses to the angels and we're witnesses to one another.
This term 'witnesses' is one that carries all the way through Acts. In the early chapters, we've seen the witnesses of the apostles, and the seven that were chosen in Acts 6. We've seen the witness, especially of Steven. When he is witnessing, standing there and stoned by the Sanhedrin, it was this young, radical man, hostile to Christ, named Saul of Tarsus, who is looking on with approval and watching over the outer garments and the robes of the people of the Sanhedrin who are stoning Steven. He saw Steven's death as a martyr, because the Greek word, martureo[matruew] comes over into English as martyr. The ultimate witness is when one gives their life for Jesus Christ as Steven did.
That is a witness, one way in which the truth was witnessed to, to Saul of Tarsus. And there were many others who gave testimony to Saul, later known as Paul as he dragged dozens, if not hundreds of believers to the Sanhedrin, hauled them in chains, put them in places where they would be executed. So for the last two weeks and this week we're studying Paul's conversion. Scholars can get into all kinds of weird little debates over things. They ask if this is a conversion or not. It is a conversion we know as believers in Jesus Christ, because we know Paul turned, and conversion means to turn. He turns from a rejection of Jesus as Messiah to accepting Jesus as Christ.
In another sense, and I don't know the answer to, is to ask if Saul, as Saul, coming to Jerusalem to study rabbinic law under Gamaliel and becoming one of the greatest, if not the greatest, student of Hebrew student of his generation, came to Jerusalem before Jesus began his ministry. Was he an Old Testament believer? Now there's a question. Nothing would indicate that. There's this generation of Jews in Israel, some of who like Anna and Simon in the Temple who looked upon Jesus as an infant were already Old Testament believers. There were many on the Day of Pentecost, and subsequently at Peter's second sermon, when he's there at the occasion of the lame man; there were many who were Old Testament believers.
Others were not; yet many came to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Where Paul was personally in relation to the Old Testament, he may have been like many of the Pharisees, like Nicodemus was, who came to Jesus in John 3. Someone who knew the Law; Nicodemus is probably not his name but a title meaning a ruler of the people. There was a legend among the Jews that he was one of the most well-known experts in the Torah when Jesus came. But his personal name isn't given. Many of these rabbis were given special titles in honor of their position so he is known in the Bible as Nicodemus.
Joseph of Aramathia is Joseph's real name and he was known as a secret disciple. But before John 3 and Nicodemus' conversation with Jesus, with all of his knowledge of the Torah and the Old Testament, Nicodemus was someone who understood faith in the promise of the Messiah as the foundation for his righteousness. He was still seeking righteousness on his own. That was Paul's testimony in Philippians 3. Another passage we see that he believed it was the righteousness that came from the Law that would give him standing before God so we can answer the question that Saul was not an Old Testament believer though he wanted to know God. As I pointed out last time, he was positive to God. He wanted to know God but that was covered up by layers and layers and callouses of ongoing practice of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and it took a remarkable act of Jesus Christ to appear to him.
I think many people say that was necessary for him to become a believer but that's not the purpose that Jesus appears to Saul on the road to Damascus. The reason Jesus personally appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus is because it is at that point he is commissioned as an apostle. To fit the criteria laid down for an apostle, he has to be directly commissioned and he has to be a witness of the resurrected Jesus. So the reason Jesus appeared to Saul isn't that that's what it takes so Saul will respond to the gospel. If that were true, then we would ask why doesn't Jesus appear to all kinds of people in history? Jesus appeared to Saul because it's related to his commissioning as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
So we've seen in the past, as we've looked at the different accounts, that Paul has gotten a letter from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to go to Damascus and there in Damascus, he is to seek out those Jews in the synagogues who have converted to Christ and who have trusted in Him. On Saul's way to Damascus, Jesus will appear to him in a bright light. We haven't looked specifically at the Acts 9 passage. We've looked at corollary passages in Acts 22 and Acts 26 where Paul described what took place at that particular time. Now I'm stopping to look at the specifics in Acts 9. There are differences in those accounts and some people have tried to make something of those differences. The differences are simply related to the story Luke is telling. Luke is telling the story of how the Holy Spirit spread Christianity from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, the Roman Empire.
So Luke started in Jerusalem. That's the first six chapters and then there's a persecution which arose with the death of Steven at the end of chapter 7 and then we see a picture of the gospel going with Phillip to Samaria and then to the Ethiopian eunuch down in Judea and as Phillip then traveled back to his home in Caesarea-by-the-Sea, he traveled through Judea going from village to village, proclaiming the gospel and evangelizing people. Chapter 8 sees the spread of the gospel to Judea and Samaria.
In Acts, chapter 9, we see a break in that action as we focus on Saul and his conversion. Saul is called as an apostle to the gentiles. This is his commission. As I pointed out in dealing with the chronology here and the chronology I gave you in the beginning in the handout related to the chronology of Acts, Jesus was crucified at the Passover in A.D. 33. Paul, at the latest, was converted in A.D. 35. There are those who think less than a year took place and that's the shortest time it could have been but somewhere between a year and three years of the crucifixion of Christ, we see the conversion of the Apostle Paul.
It was probably the summer of A.D. 35 when this event takes place. Approximately two or three years take place between this time and the time when Paul will leave Jerusalem and go into obscurity back in Tarsus. So we see the events taking place in Damascus and I'm going to relate this to some of the narrative Paul gives of his own life in Galatians 1. He's saved and we're going to see he goes into the city of Damascus. He's got three days where he's blind before God sends Ananias to restore his sight and then he will begin to preach.
In Galatians 1:12 Paul is defending his gospel and what he's preaching. He says, "I neither received it from man..." Here's he's talking about his personal understanding that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who fulfilled the Old Testament promises and prophecies. He learned that, not from the witness of Steven or others he arrested and tortured and was responsible for their persecution, not from them, but what convinces him is when Jesus Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. That's what he's describing in Galatians 1:12. "I neither received it [the gospel] from man nor was I taught it but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Then in verses 13 and 14 he describes his previous life in Judaism, how he persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. In a passionate, self-righteous fire he is just lit on fire to defend Judaism against what he sees, at this time, as an assault. Then he talked about what transpired in his conversion, Galatians 1:15, "And when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, [what he's indicating here is that God had a plan for his life] "...and to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles." That's why he's called.
I want to do an overview here of the next three verses and then we'll come back here later. He says he didn't immediately confer with flesh and blood which indicates he got his information from Jesus Christ. He didn't go sit in a conference and sit in Bible study. Instead he says he went to Arabia. That really covers a lengthy time. We don't know how long he was in Arabia. Arabia is an area just a little bit out of Damascus. You go five or six miles and you are out in what is generally known as Arabia. It's not Saudi Arabia, down in the south, which is what we think of today. Any of that area, Syria, southern Syria, Jordan down towards Petra and further south; all of that was known as Arabia. So he goes out in the desert or wilderness for a period of time. Then he returned to Damascus. So he's in Damascus for three years. During that time he's outside for weeks or months. We don't know how long.
It's not until after three years that he goes to Jerusalem and there he meets Peter and then later, James. But he's only there for fifteen days before he leaves. That gives us a time frame for chapter 9.
((CHART)) Here's a map showing the different regions in the area of Damascus. In the upper right hand corner, this area, the whole region is known as Syria, which is part of the Roman Empire. All of this part along the edge is generally known as just Arabia. Out here would have satisfied the description. It doesn't mean he didn't go all the way down towards Mecca or Medina or anywhere in Saudi Arabia. He's just out here alone in the wilderness, rethinking his theology, his understanding of the Scriptures now that he has come to truly understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies. So we see Arabia located up in this general geographical area where it's identified as the Arabian Desert. Much of this area here is part of what is modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. At that time it's the Nabatean Kingdom with King Aretes IV who is mentioned in Acts later on. He is the ruler of this area and his headquarters is down just south of the Dead Sea and the city of Petra. His kingdom would extend right up to the edge of Damascus.
Luke begins this account reminding us of Saul in Acts 9:1-2 "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus..." Now there's some question about what is taking place at this time. It seems to be unusual. It is at a time when Rome is in authority over this whole area. Herod Agrippa is the king up in the north and Syria or Damascus comes under his authority to some degree so what gives the Sanhedrin the authority in this? There's some indication that this has a precedent in history some two or three centuries earlier. In 1 Macabees 15:21, there is a reference to some who are sent out by the authorities in Jerusalem to find and bring rebels back for prosecution by the state. This indicates some judicial precedent. It's mentioned by Josephus in a similar situation related to the first century that connected with a similar letter of authorization. This practice of the Sanhedrin sending out someone on a mission and giving them a letter of authorization seems to have a historical precedent for some time.
Paul is going to Damascus. Now Damascus at this time seems to be an extremely significant city. Damascus was about 130 – 135 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. It's the first time we have seen a reference to Christians outside of Israel. There's a suggestion here that there are believers in Christ among the Jewish community there. Now there was a large Jewish community in Damascus. Josephus, in his writings on the wars of the Jews, speaking about the rebellion of the Jews against Rome, which started in A.D. 66, [40 years later than the time frame of Acts but within that time framework] tells of 10,000 Jews being massacred in Damascus. Another place he speaks of 18,000. So somewhere between 10,000 to 18,0000 Jews were massacred in Damascus.
That wasn't the whole Jewish community there. We don't know how many that represented there but it clearly shows that there was an extremely large Jewish community in Damascus. There were a number of synagogues there, maybe as many as 15 or 25 synagogues in Damascus at this time. Recently I was reading a testimony of a Holocaust survivor. He was just a teenager at the time and he had gone back on a tour and gone to Kosovo where he had lived. At the beginning of World War 11 there were 20,000 to 25,000 Jews and 25 synagogues, one synagogue for every 1000 Jews. Now there's only one synagogue in Kosovo. He was there with a tour group. You have to have 10 males to have a minyan which is a minimum number to have a synagogue and it was only through the males in the tour group that allowed them to have a minyan. So the Jewish community has almost completely disappeared from that area since World War11. That just shows the difference.
Here in Damascus in the time of Paul, there were a number of synagogues and they were probably hearing the gospel that Jesus was the Messiah. So rather than letting this false message, as Paul would have viewed it, he wanted to go there and root it out. He wanted to bring back the men and women converts to Jerusalem. Starting in verse 3, we see the description of what happens when suddenly his plans are interrupted by God.
In verses 3 - 4 it says, "And as he journeyed he came near Damascus and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven." This light is the glory of God. It is beyond any light he has ever seen. It is a light that emanates from the glory of the risen, resurrected, glorified Lord Jesus Christ that is so brilliant and so powerful that he's knocked to the ground. It's more than just having a spotlight on him. The light that emanates from the being of God is a light that has a moral, righteous element to it. "Then he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Just as we've seen in other examples in the Old Testament, such as in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah is before the throne of God, he is immediately is struck by his own sinfulness. He cries out, "Woe is me, a man of unclean lips." There is that moral, ethical element to the light of God and this is part of what struck Paul at this particular time. Paul falls down and hears a voice. The repetition of his name indicates the seriousness of the situation. Many times we have in Scripture where God calls out and repeats someone's name twice.
Jesus says, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" The identification of Jesus with his believers means that those who persecute believers are persecuting Jesus. There isn't really a doctrine or emphasis here on the body of Christ but it is certainly something we understand from later revelation that we, as members of the body of Christ, are the physical bodily representation of Jesus upon the earth today as He is absent in heaven. We are the body of Christ. That's more than simply a metaphor or a descriptive term. There's this close identity we have with Jesus so to persecute Christians is to persecute Jesus.
Then Paul says, "Who are you lord?" He's asking this question because he's not sure who this is. He hasn't comprehended that this is Jesus of Nazareth or the one whose followers he's persecuting that is appearing to him. He's not using the term 'lord' here with a theological connotation. The word 'lord', kurios in the Greek, "adonai" in the Hebrew was a term that was used as a term of respect for a superior, a male superior, as we would use the word 'sir'. Adonai was also a term that was used as a synonym for yahweh. Yahweh was with a lower case 'lord'. And then you have 'lord' where it's just a standard capital 'l' and that indicates the original adonai. It has a connotation because if you say that someone is lord you're saying they are yahwe, that they are deity.
So that was also a meaning. It's just a standard term that anyone would use to someone in high office, as well. So there's no indication here in the text that Paul is recognizing the deity of this person at all; he's merely recognizing a superior person. The Lord then identifies himself to Paul, saying, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Again, that identification with the body. In a New King James or a King James version, we have the statement, "it is hard to kick against the goads." Jesus said that but we only learn of that in Paul's account of it later on in Acts 26. It wasn't in this chapter. It's only in a few manuscripts called the textus receptus which was a collection of between six and ten Greek manuscripts that Erasmus used and collated together to form the foundation for the first critical edition of the Greek text in the early part of the 16th century. Over a period of 15 or 20 years, Erasmus found additional manuscripts and added those in to his critical apparatus in the textus receptus. That's why I say between six and ten manuscripts because it changed over time. He was constantly improving his edition. These were not very old manuscripts. We know which manuscripts they were and they were not of the highest quality.
Now our Greek texts are based on thousands of fragments, thousands of large collections that we have found that are both older and better than the textus receptus. It isn't identical to the Byzantine text or the majority text but it is similar. It's part of that same family. Even the majority text edition leaves this out and does not include this as part of Acts, chapter 9. So what we see here, compared to Acts 22 and Acts 26 first person accounts of the apostle Paul, is a more truncated, abridged, abbreviated version. Luke's purpose is not to tell us everything that happened to Saul on the road to Damascus but to hit the high points because his trajectory is to show the expansion of Christianity beyond Judea and Samaria.
The key player for that is going to be Saul, who'll be known as Paul, apostle to the gentiles. Luke sort of hits the high points here because his focus is on where this is going and the role Saul, Paul, will play in the advance of the gospel. In verse 6 we read, "So he, trembling and astonished..." We can just imagine what must have been happening to Paul, beyond our conscious awareness just to be in the presence of the resurrected, risen Lord in this kind of event, hearing the voice of God, having this kind of thing happen that's totally beyond anything you expected and just the opposite of what you believed would generate in anyone a host of physiological reactions. Your adrenaline would spike, you would be shaking and trembling and things of that nature. So he is astonished by that and he is trembling and fearful and things of that nature. It's amazing he could even talk. He's losing his eyesight because of the brilliance of the light and he'll be blinded as a result of that. He says, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" Again, he is using the term kurios or adonai. It's not necessarily a recognition of Jesus as deity.
It doesn't mean that somewhere in these moments of time that Saul doesn't believe that Jesus is Messiah. Somewhere in here he makes that transition. He understands that Jesus, who is before him, is the Jesus of Nazareth who is the promised, prophesied Messiah and he trusted Him but Luke doesn't tell us that. It's obvious to us that this happened so Luke doesn't need to overstate the obvious so he doesn't. You can't go to a passage like this and say, "See, he's using the word lord, so that means he's recognizing the lordship of Jesus and this is key. If you haven't recognized the lordship of Jesus you're not saved." That is the basic interpretation that we hear from people who espouse what is known as the lordship gospel. By the lordship gospel, it's not just as simple as saying you have to believe Jesus is lord, but a recognition that you have to be submitting to the sovereign authority of Jesus, recognizing that He is the sovereign God and it's not just as simple as believing that He died for your sins but you are also willing to commit yourself to His authority.
Trouble is we don't have commit language here. 'Commit' is not a synonym for 'believe'. If you tell me it's raining outside, I can believe you but I am not committing anything. If you look 'commit' up in a thesaurus, 'believe' is not a synonym. These are two different words, two different ideas. In what is called lordship theology, you have the idea that you must commit yourself to the authority of God at the instant of salvation or you're not saved. It's just adding something else. All that we have in Scripture is the command to believe.
In the gospel of John, which many believe is the one gospel so clearly directed to understanding the message of the gospel, John uses the verb 'believe' over 95 times. He doesn't use words like 'commit', 'invite Jesus into your life', 'invite Jesus into your heart', 'turn yourself over to Jesus'. None of that verbiage is there. Again and again and again it says believe, believe, believe. Jesus said to Martha at the grave of Lazarus, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, yet shall he live." He doesn't say, 'Martha, do you commit yourself to this?", "Martha are you going to let me into your heart?" No, he doesn't say this. He says, "Martha, do you believe this?" That's the issue. That's the gospel. Yet we have people today who really muddy that up.
So at this point, somewhere along this line; we don't know how long all this took place because when we look at Paul's later descriptions, we know Jesus said other things, but somewhere along here Saul trusted in Jesus as Messiah. It's probably before he says, "What do you want me to do?" The Lord says, "Arise, go into the city and you will be told what you must do." Some of us might think [I know that applies to some in the room but others of you have the patience of Job] but some of us would expect that as soon as we walk through the gates of Damascus, someone is going to tell us what to do. God's timing is different from that. It's going to be three days before anybody has even a clue as to what is going on.
There will be a vision to Paul that tells him someone will come but we don't know exactly when that happened. So he's told to go into the city; he'll be told what to do and then in verse 8 we read, "Then Saul arose from the ground and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus."
((CHART)) Now the picture I have up here on the screen is from a collection of several black and whites on these slides of Damascus. These were taken at the turn of the last century, 1890's into the early part of the 1900s. They're part of a collection from the American Hotel or what was originally known as the American Colony in Jerusalem. The American Colony was founded by Horatio and Anna Spofford. Horatio Spofford was the father of the daughters that were killed on the ocean liner. His wife, Anna, survived and telegraphed back to him, "Saved alone." When he came over, it was at the site where he drowned, he wrote the words, "When peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll, It is well with my soul." He wrote those words and then later, another fifteen or twenty years after that event, they moved to Jerusalem and established a colony there. He had really changed his theology a good bit. He had gone through a very difficult time of grief but they had become much more oriented to the Second Coming of Christ and so that was part of the reason they moved to Jerusalem. He died not long after that; she survived for many, many years and the American Colony became a place where many from the west came. It was a well-known place to exchange ideas.
They had quite a collection of photographs. Quite a number of photographers came there who traveled throughout the Middle East and the originals of these, I've been told, are in the Smithsonian. I have a collection of these which I purchased some years ago which are quite interesting to look at. You can go to any of these locations today since World War II and you see quite a different place. Basically from the time of Jesus until 1920 they didn't change a whole lot. It's very interesting to see how things looked at that time. This is a photograph taken between 1910 and 1920. This is an entry to the gate that was on the other side of the street called Straight. The street called Straight, in the 1st century, was one of the main thoroughfares in Damascus. It was an area of great commerce and was one of the wealthier districts in Damascus. So Paul goes there.
Verse 9 tells us he was there for three days without sight and he was fasting. This is part of Judaism. There are probably a lot of things at play here emotionally as he is thinking about what has occurred. He has had an event take place that has changed every belief system that he had. In verse 10 we read, "Now there was a certain disciple..." In Acts, the term 'disciple' begins to take on certain connotations where it is almost equivalent to a believer. "Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." God only appears to people in visions in unique circumstances and unique situations.
There are several events in Acts related to visions. There's a reference to God appearing to Moses in a vision in Stephen's message in Acts 7: 31- 32. He appears to Peter in a vision in Acts 10. He appears to Cornelius in a vision in Acts 10. He will appear to Paul in a vision in Acts 16 again and in Acts 18. These are all related to moving forward the plan of the gospel going from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. In Acts chapter 10 we especially see both Peter and Cornelius being directed by God through a vision. We see the same kind of thing going on here.
So Ananias is directed by the Lord in verse 11 when he says, "Arise and go to the street called Straight...[ it still exists in Damascus today] ...and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus for behold, he is praying." As I'm preparing for the talk in San Antonio on terrorism, I'm been reading through the Koran. I'm again impressed with the comparison with the Bible. Sometime, read through the Bible once or twice so you become familiar with the Scripture. Then take some time to read the book of Mormon, the Koran, the Bhaganad Gita. You'll be impressed with how the Bible is written compared to these other books. They're like cheap counterfeits. They just don't have the same resonance or the same kind of description. In many cases, especially like the book of Mormon, it's written by someone in the early 1800's who is trying to imitate Elizabethan English from that period so it's really awkward to understand. The clarity of the New Testament as the writers describe what is going on is amazing. You don' t have to look for hidden meanings and all these other things. It's just simple directions: go to the house of Judas, which everyone would know where it was, and look for Saul of Tarsus. He's praying.
Now we learn that Saul has had a vision as well, same as we'll see in Acts 10 where God spoke to both sides, God told Saul that someone named Ananias is coming and He also told Ananias that he is to go to Saul. In verse 12 Ananias is told that "And in a vision he [Saul] has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight." Then Ananias answered. How honest Ananias is; he's fearful. He says, "Lord I'm not sure I want to do this. I've heard about this guy." This would be like you're a Jew or rabbi and that you're being told to go to Heinrich Himler and to heal him of his blindness. This would be taking your life in your hands. Ananias doesn't want to do it. He says, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." So he's honest about his fear.
Sometimes we need to be that way in our prayers. One of the things that happens a lot with Christians is that we think "I'm not supposed to be afraid so I'm not going to tell God I'm afraid." He knows you're afraid and worried. Read the Psalms. How many times does David say "I know what I'm supposed to do but I don't want to do it. I'm afraid." The prayers of David are very honest about where he is in his spiritual life. We need to be that way as well. "But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go because he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel.'" Notice how we always focus on the fact that Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles but what does the Lord say about him here? He's chosen to go to the Gentiles but he's going to go before kings and the children of Israel.
Paul was not excluded from giving the gospel to Jews just because he was appointed to be an apostle to the Gentiles. That's part of the commission God relates right here. He's not the apostle to the Jews like Peter but I've heard some dispensationalists criticize Paul because didn't he understand he was the apostle to the Gentiles. He always took the gospel to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles. Why was he hanging around in the synagogues all the time? Why did he go back to Jerusalem later on? Doesn't he understand he's the apostle to the Gentiles? Being the apostle to the Gentiles did not exclude being a messenger and a representative and a witness to the gospel to the children of Israel, as well.
And the Lord says, "I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake. God said, "Go open up his eyes so he can see how he's going to suffer for me." Isn't that a message to warm your heart? He's going to suffer many things and we think about some of the things Paul says later on in 2 Corinthians 1 and some of the other passages like 2 Corinthians 10 or 11. He talks about the whippings, the beatings, the times he's in jail. We only know about one shipwreck but he says it happened three times. None of this caused him to stop; he didn't get weary and say "Lord, I just don't want to do this today. I'm just going to stay in bed." He understood the mission from the very beginning.
Acts 9:17 says, "Ananais went his way and entered the house and laying his hand on him he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Now the word that he uses here for 'filling' is not the word we find in Ephesians 5:18. That's pleroo. This is a different word, pletho which often refers to an event, a type of filling that precedes some sort of speaking. It is often related to some sort of divinely inspired statement. We're not told about that immediately. We're told that all Ananais says here is "that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." We don't hear about the speaking until verse 20.
"Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales and he received his sight..." It's not just gradual healing like you see in these healing services today. The healing in Scripture is instantaneously. It's not, "well you'll see a little fuzzy light, and each day you'll see a little more and after a time your sight will return completely." It's instant. "...he received his sight at once and he arose and was baptized." Notice he doesn't wait to be baptized, indicating he understood the significance of this. He had witnessed it, he had seen it; this was a significant event because this was an identification with Jesus as Messiah. He doesn't waste any time.
In verse 19, he receives food because he hasn't eaten in three days and then he spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. I think this is at the front end. I think he spent time in Damascus, then he went out to Arabia for a while, then he comes back to Damascus. The period of time is approximately three years or a little less before he goes to Jerusalem. Luke doesn't talk about him going into Arabia. That's not part of his purpose. He telescopes the instances and between verses 19 and 20 is when Paul is out in Arabia.
In verse 20 we read, "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God." Notice the emphasis. Paul is proclaiming this that this is the Son of God. This is the only time we have this full phrase: that Jesus is the Son of God. In verse 21 we read, "Then all who heard were amazed and said, 'Is this not the one who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests'? But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ."
Notice, he's arguing, he's discussing, all the time he's showing from the Scriptures who Jesus is. When we witness to people, we need to do the best we can do. You're not going to be the apostle Paul and neither am I. We're not going to be as well schooled today as we will be five years from now. There are things we can always do that help us master our witnessing. Number one: Just know five or six good verses like John 3:16, John 3:18, John 3:36, Acts 16:31...verses like this that are good gospel verses. Ephesians 2:8-9. Memorize those Scriptures.
Number two: Paul is referring to his own testimony in Acts 22 and 26 and in Galatians 1. He always goes back to his personal testimony. That is something we all can do. Maybe you're saying, "Yeah, but I'm like you, Robby, I got saved when I was six years old. I really don't know what it was like before that. I barely remember that I trusted Jesus when I was that young." Sure, but there was some point in your life when you decided it was 'fish-or-cut-bait time' in terms of our walk with the Lord. And it was time to decide whether or not you really believed what you thought you believed. Growing up, it was what our folks did but at some point between fifteen and twnety-five you reach a point where you realize it's not just their faith, it's yours. What is going to be real in your life? At that point we go through a re-evaluation and decide what is ours. That is part of your testimony. Something you can describe to other people.
That is very much a part of Paul's witness, again and again and again to tell others what Jesus did for him. His own story. God the Holy Spirit uses that. The other part of that is learning how to talk to others. Do you know how you learn to talk to unbelievers about the gospel? By talking to unbelievers about the gospel. You don't learn how to do it by sitting at home, listening to a tape or watching someone on a video or listening to someone on evangelism. The only way we learn how to talk to people is by talking to people. That means that many times we're going to feel inadequate, that we didn't have the right answer.
Later on, we're going to play Monday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning quarterback. Oh, you know. The wrong set of referees was in. We had the backup team. That's what's happened the last couple of days in pro-football. Somebody else should have been there. The Holy Spirit wasn't there. God must have sent in the backup team. God, the Holy Spirit is in control. He doesn't do it apart from us. We may think we blunder but the Holy Spirit uses it. One of the most important things I've found is just when we are who we are; when we're just part of our life, people watch us. You'd be amazed at how many people are watching you because they know you're a Christian.
I remember years ago when I used to live about three blocks from where I live now and I was first out of college. I was less than a block from Spring Branch Community Church and I'd go to the college and career Bible study and sometimes on Sunday morning. Years later, I was talking to someone who also lived in those apartments and they said, "I was really impressed. I used to watch you go to church every Sunday." You never know who is watching you, what they're observing. So it's our life and people want to listen and pay attention to our story. They may or may not believe it but God the Holy Spirit can use it for an impact.
Next time we'll come back and finish up with Paul and what happens to him here in Damascus and then we will see the shift to Peter.