|A Christian Guide to Acts||by R. David Pogge|
We saw in Section 1.2 how Peter cast lots to select the Twelfth Apostle. Acts Chapter 9 tells how God used Ananias and supernatural power to make Saul (better known as "Paul") an apostle. 1
Whatever Paul did, he did it wholeheartedly. Initially the greatest persecutor of Christians, he later became a powerful advocate for Christ (just like some ex-smokers who become the strongest anti-smoking crusaders).
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. [Acts 9:1-9]
Jesus supernaturally revealed Himself to Paul, showing Paul how blind he had been to the truth by making Paul completely blind. If you have a friend who is strongly anti-Christian, you can take courage from this example of how God can bring about a miraculous conversion.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. [Acts 9:10-19]
The Lord went to Ananias in vision and told him to seek out Saul, the famous persecutor of Christians. Someone with lesser faith might have passed the vision off as a bad dream or a terrifying nightmare. God knew Ananias well enough to know that Ananias would obey, and Ananias knew God well enough to trust that God knew what He was doing. So Ananias did find Saul and used God’s power to heal Saul’s blindness.
God may be asking you to do something that requires a tremendous amount of faith; but He would not ask you if He did not know you really do have the faith to do it.
The Lord showed Paul “how much he must suffer for my name.” Telling someone how much they will suffer if they take the job isn’t the usual method for recruiting employees. We don’t know what Jesus told Paul, but it was probably very much like what He told his disciples.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 10:16-37]
Despite that, Paul could not help giving his testimony, no matter what the cost.
That’s how it often is for new believers. When they learn the truth, and experience the peace and power it adds to their lives, they can’t help sharing what they have learned. Sadly, the “new believer zeal” often wears off, much to Jesus’ dismay. He warns,
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. [Revelation 2:4-5]
Fortunately, Jesus uses a carrot as well as a stick.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. [Revelation 2:10]
Transformations such as the one Paul had often baffles friends who knew the unbelievers before their conversions. That makes it hard to witness.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. [Acts 9:19-22]
It didn’t take long for his former friends to turn against him.
After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.[Acts 9:23-30]
It is no different today. Christians can expect to be persecuted because the secular world loves Satan—not Christ. The Gospel is not popular now, and never has been. Despite that, Christians cannot help giving their testimony.
The Gospel provokes anger in the secular world because it is a call to obedience, and warning of judgment. Those who obey will be rewarded for their faithfulness. Those who don’t obey will suffer punishment.
God does not give out “participation trophies.” You have to win the race to get the prize, as Paul told the Corinthians.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. [1 Corinthians 9:24-27]
The Jews didn’t think they had to run to win. They didn’t think they had to do anything. They were trusting in their relationship with God. After all, they were “The Chosen People.” God loved them. They had nothing to worry about. When Paul called this into question, they didn’t like hearing the truth.
He [Paul] talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. [Acts 9:30-31]
Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Jesus told the disciples,
“And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” [Mark 6:11]
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Footnotes:1 The story is repeated when Paul gives his testimony in Acts 22:1-21 and again in Acts 26:12-23.