Interim Part 2 Acts 9:1-19

Acts 9:1-19 Part 5

(Interim Part 2)


This is a passage of Scripture which ought to be very precious to all believers.  It is the rebirth of the “baddest”, meanest persecutor of our Lord and His Church there was during that time.  And he became the apostle to the Gentile nations.  This has to be one of the clearest Revelations of the love of God to the original Churches, and to us Gentiles.  And, at the same time, one of the clearest regarding the rebirth from death unto life.

Saul was the worst of them all.  We have full shelves in all the libraries telling us about the Roman emperors and their persecution of Jews and Christians alike!  And we all know about their need to feed their lions and delight their crowds.

And we have heard about the muslim carnage in Northern Africa later on… in the seventh and eighth centuries.  There’s plenty to read about it.  And we’ve been given plenty of material to research concerning the Spanish inquisition.  And there’s no question in our minds that there have been a host of petty tyrants through the centuries who’ve had it in for Christians.  There are many volumes of material recording all of that.

But try as you will, you won’t find too much written material about the forty-year persecution of Jesus Christ and His Church by the judaists 30AD – 70AD!

It has (shall we say) “escaped people’s notice”.  Or, it could be that the books that might have been written about it have been removed from the shelves.  Nothing much is said about it in history books….  It’s conveniently “overlooked”!  It certainly doesn’t appear to be a topic that interests modern-day evangelical preachers.

And even today, judaists deny their role in the crucifixion of Jesus and the forty year persecution of His Church.  They’re “offended” when the topic is brought up.  It’s “politically insensitive” to talk about it.

And (for whatever reason that came to be), the most horrific persecution of the Christian Church during that period has been assumed by most to be an incident meriting only an occasional mention, because there are only a few, “insignificant” verses in Scripture about it.  Anyway, the way it’s treated now is, at most it must have been only a minor inconvenience to the early Church!

But this forty-year persecution (far worse, and much lengthier, than most would ever admit; and more troubling than anything that Rome devised) was directed for a time by the pharisee Saul.  And the passage before us, chapter nine of Luke’s Acts of the apostles, is the Revelation of the grace of God Who, in His electing mercy, chose to use one of the worst persecutors of the Christian Church in history to serve the very ones he was persecuting, and to take the Gospel into the Gentile nations.

One of the reasons that his journeys and his letters have been preserved by God for the Churches is the fact that he had been “the great persecutor”.  By your choice, we’ll next be preaching through one of his earlier letters – the one to the Churches in Rome.

Remember, Paul was a Romanist… the only apostle born in a Gentile city, and a citizen of the Roman Empire.  Having been born of a Jewish family that, in all probability, had been a part of an earlier dispersion from Israel, he had impeccable credentials as far as his ancestry was concerned.

Having returned to Jerusalem at some point, he had sat at the feet of the most respected judaist teachers; and had earned his way to a seat on the Sanhedrin (called “the seventy”), which was the assembly of highest authority in Israel.

Paul later called himself the “pharisee of pharisees” during that time.  And he had taken it upon himself to eradicate these people – this “sect”.  Israel was deeply troubled; and he blamed it on the followers of this person from Nazareth.  One of the solutions to Israel’s looming ugly confrontation with Rome was to get rid of these people.

And as we consider these things for a moment, let’s understand that there is guilt here far beyond anything that most of us might imagine (guilt being a “condition” – not a feeling).  Paul brought it up again and again through the pages of his thirteen letters.  He is the least of the apostles because of his former frenzied hatred of Christ and His Church.  Yet the great mercy of God is set before us here, in detail, in his rebirth into Christ. 

This has to be a delightful feast of love and comfort for us, because we all were guilty sinners!  How could anyone read this account and still doubt the grace of God, and His perfect justice, when one of the most vile creatures who ever walked the face of the earth becomes reborn of Christ, and becomes the one through whom we all received the Gospel in thirteen letters to the Churches in the nations!

And as we quickly go through the passage here, let’s not forget what’s in those letters of Paul.  He never forgets his former guilt.  He refers again and again to his guilty state.  That’s called mourning and poverty of spirit.

But his great joy – exultant joy – is the forgiveness of sin and rebirth into Christ.

And we are never to forget our former guilt either.  Those who do wish to completely forget it really don’t yet understand their freedom in Christ!  It’s when we who are liberated in Christ remember from whence we came, that we are set free to praise and thanksgiving!

Can one imagine that Paul ever forgot the horrific agony that he rained down upon Christ and His people… with him as its source?  The countless numbers of rebirthed “little ones” who were pursued, imprisoned, tortured and murdered?  Could anyone ever say that he should reach the place in which he should be completely free of the remembrance of the things that he did?  Preposterous.

Jesus’ atonement sets His people free of the guilt of sin (that’s the “condition” of guilt).  He never promises us to wipe our sin from our memories!  In fact, He says, “blessed the poor in spirit”!!

And those who are dead in sin don’t “mourn”, you see … it’s the reborn who mourn their sin!  And Jesus said that the ones who mourn are the ones who are blessed.  Remembrance of our sin; the grief!  Those who are dead in sin are not grieving over their sin!  It’s Jesus Own people who grieve over sin!

Do you think Paul didn’t grieve every time he thought about the beatings and torturings and the rapes and the murders, and the families that were torn apart… a persecution for which there aren’t many rivals in the history of Israel?

You see, Paul was pronounced not guilty by God, by virtue of Jesus’ atonement!  He didn’t have a frontal lobotomy!  Being pronounced “not guilty” doesn’t erase one’s memory!

And, even more important than that, how can one be exultantly happy about being liberated from sin and guilt if one can’t remember where one was before he was freed!!  The grief and poverty of spirit and mourning are actually very critical here, aren’t they?  (How about that!  Jesus was right!)

How can one be grateful for being alive if he doesn’t know he was once dead?

If we’re free, from what have we been freed?  Do you remember?  Was the state of death and sin awful?  Is the shame of your sin still painful?  Then thanksgiving ought to come pouring forth from the deepest recesses of your hearts!  For Christ has led captivity captive; and God has chosen to forgive your sin; and you don’t have to suffer eternal judgment for your guilt!!!

That’s the evangel, do you see?

If one wishes to be free of the pain of his depraved life, he seeks to become sub-human rather than a new man in Christ.  Maybe there are psychologists, or hypnotists, out there who can accomplish that; I know some surgeons can.  Alzheimers disease can do it – at least partially.  Many try to do it with narcotics and hypnotics.  I think I’d rather be a new creation in Christ, though, rather than become sub-human!

But thanksgiving, from a deeply grateful heart, massages the soul as nothing else can.  And the Spirit of Christ will comfort and bless us and give us more knowledge of the Christ and His work of atonement for us.  The release from the captivity of that former depravity produces unspeakable joy; and that joy grows in its depth and breadth and height when we glance back at the blackness and horror and death from which we were freed.

The mourning should never go away.  It should always be painful.  But neither should the inexplicable joy of freedom from the guilt ever go away!

Now, here in the text… as Saul is moving toward Damascus to search for more sect members… at noon, in full daylight, a bright light flashed from the heaven.  Full, mid-day sunlight is still “created” light, and no match for the un-created Glory of the risen Christ.  And because this is the Glory of the Presence of Christ Saul was immediately on the ground.  Saul heard the words; the troops heard only sound.  Saul saw the Christ; the troops only saw the flash of light.

These are images of rebirth (as we’ve heard before).  The Glory of the risen and ascended Christ is poured forth, and Saul’s ears are opened to His Word.  And His eyes, although physically blinded, are opened to apprehend the Presence of the Lord Himself.  No one else had his ears and eyes opened, although sound and light were all around.

Rebirth into Christ provides new ears and new eyes.  And a new heart; and a new mind!  It’s “newness of life”.  It’s the first resurrection as John writes it in the twentieth chapter of The Revelation.  A deviant like Saul is born anew; and he saw the Lord and heard Him speak.

We’ll say some more about rebirth in a bit; but let’s mention some more of the details first.   In verse four I put a portion of the text in parentheses.  And that says, “It is obstinacy for you to kick against the goad”.

Paul later says this on one of the occasions where he’s telling about this experience.  Some translators are “of the mind” that a later scribe saw that quote from Jesus somewhere else and supplied it here in Luke’s text.

As we’ve been made aware before, it is not necessary for Luke (or any other Gospel writer) to supply entire dialogues in order to write a history.  If Paul later says that this is what Jesus said to him, that doesn’t make this Revelation from Luke any less true if he writes it or leaves it out.

On the other hand, since we have three Revelations of this incident in the Scripture, and all three have information that neither of the other two provide, the fact that one of them does provide this Word from Jesus doesn’t mean that all of them have to!

All this to say that if it looks as if somebody (a later scribe) has seen the comment from Paul and wished to make Luke’s account conform to it, it doesn’t make it wrong!  In either case, though, nothing is added that is incorrect.  Jesus did indeed say that.  Paul testified to that fact.  But if some translator says that it possibly should not be written here in this location, that’s fine.  The copy that you’re reading may not have it included.

Nevertheless a couple of comments might be made about it here (because Jesus did say it).  The first has to do with the word “obstinacy”.  That’s very appropriate.  The implication is that despite clear and indisputable evidence, one sets his mind on an exact opposite course!

Now, we see this often in confrontation with those who would openly violate the clear commandments of God.  Having shown them exactly what God said, and having explained it in a way that it is impossible to misunderstand, they choose to do the exact opposite!  That’s obstinacy.  And sometimes they will even freely admit that what is said is true!  But the heart is set on doing what they know to be on a collision course with the judgment of God!

And Jesus said that that’s what Saul was doing.  Every Revelation of God to Israel revealed the Christ; and everything that had happened since Jesus was manifested by The Father was foreordained, foreshadowed, revealed, and then brought to pass.  And Saul knew the Scripture; and he knew Jesus.

But he chose to do exactly the opposite of that which was required of him.  That’s obstinacy!

Evidence isn’t what is required, is it?  It’s what apologists call “evidentiary apologetics”.  It brings man face to face with evidence – facts.  The problem with it is that the evidence only makes a depraved, dead man obstinate!  And they “kick against the goad”.  The evidence is the goad!

Evidence is good.  We need to present, as messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the facts of Scripture in order to dispute the inaccuracies of unbelievers.  We’re required to give an answer… defend the Faith.  But, once again, presenting evidence of their errors and mistakes only serves to broaden the intensity of their antagonism!  It makes them more obstinate!

What is really needed is new eyes; new ears; a new heart.  What is needed is rebirth from death unto life.  What’s needed is for death to be put to death – to die to it, and to be raised – resurrected – to new life in Christ.

No matter how highly a mortal thinks of himself, he just can’t seem to put on immortality for himself!  How can a dead person cause himself to be alive?

As with the pharisee – Saul, so it is with any person who is dead in sin.  Saul had to be made a “newborn” in Christ.


Having been chosen of Christ as the last apostle, Saul was confronted by Jesus Christ.  Our Lord had appeared (post-resurrection) to each of the other apostles; and now (as Paul later says) “He appeared unto me also.”

And there’s every indication that there was further contact with Paul by the glorified Christ, as Paul was given three years of instruction in the Word.  We might also mention that, as far as we know, the apostle Paul was the only other apostle who received direct Revelation from the ascended and glorified Christ!  John, of course, was the other one – receiving the Revelation as the last prophet of God.


Back to the text now, Saul was given instruction to go into the city; and he would be told what was necessary for him to do (verse 6).  And, sightless, Saul was raised from the earth and brought by hand into Damascus where, for three days, in total darkness, he fasted and prayed.

Now, there was a Jewish disciple of Christ in Damascus (surely one of the elect of the tribes of Jacob); and Jesus chose him as the prophet (much like Nathan was the prophet of God to King David).  Saul and his soldiers were bivouacked at a location on Straight Street in Damascus… a place owned by a man named Judas.  A man named Hananias was given a vision in which he was instructed to go to Saul and lay his hands on him.

Hananias had to clarify the instructions, because Saul had so terrorized the Church.  Hananias was petrified!  There was great fear in being exposed to the man.

But Jesus expanded the instructions to Hananias by saying that Saul was a chosen vessel to bear the Name of Christ to the Gentiles, as well as the Jews.  And Jesus would show Saul how much it behooves him to suffer for the Name of Jesus.

So Hananias did as he was instructed.  Scared to death, but fully confident in the Word of the Christ, he entered the house of Judas on Straight Street, in the city of Damascus.  And he laid his hands on the man who was the most fearsome of all men to the followers of Jesus.

Saul had also received Word from the Christ while he was fasting and praying.  He had been caused to see a man named Hananias coming in and putting his hands on him so he could see again.  So the mourning, poverty-stricken Saul was expectant of the visit.

When Hananias got there, he put his hands on Saul and said, “brother Saul the Lord has sent me Jesus, the One appearing to you in the way in which you came, so that you might again see and be under full influence of Holy Spirit.”

And “stuff” fell away from Saul’s eyes; and he had vision again.  And he arose and was baptized.  And he took food and was strengthened.

Now, the “images” of rebirth we’ve already noted.  So we don’t need to review all of those.  But there is another image here that is really important.  And it has to do with the three days in total darkness.

This is the third in a line of instances in which we find this kind of event.  The first, of course, was Jonah… a prophet of God to a Gentile nation.  The man had been chosen of God – a vessel of choice.  He received direct Revelation from God.  But he was unwilling to take the Word of God to a Gentile nation, for he was fearful that the Gentiles would repent and believe and receive grace!  That was the most distasteful thing that a judaist could imagine!

But God incarcerated Jonah in total darkness (inside a fish) for three days, where Jonah fasted (by necessity).  And who can doubt the intensity of the prayers to God that came out of there?

And then Jonah was given light and freedom in order to go take the Word of God to the Gentiles.

The second event has to do with the Christ himself Who, having been crucified, was placed, sightless, in a tomb.  And on the third day was freed from darkness and death, having made atonement for the sin of the world!

And now Saul, having been deprived of sight, and now incarcerated in the belly of the pagan Gentile city of Damascus, fasts and prays for freedom from his darkness!

The very first thing was to show Saul his blackness – his captivity, his depravity, his obstinacy.  He persecuted Christ and His Church in spite of every evidence of the Truth!  And, like Jonah, he was given three days in captivity and total darkness to consider his obstinate, depraved nature; and to fast and to pray.

And, like Jonah, he was freed from that prison of sightlessness - in order to go to the Churches and to the Gentile nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Now, with regard to the laying on of Hananias’ hands, there is ample historical precedent here in connection with special official capacity and the bestowal of gifts from the Spirit of the Glorified Christ.

Before Moses died God instructed him to take Joshua and lay his hand upon him and put some of his honour upon him in order that the congregation of Israel might be obedient to him.  And after Moses died the Scripture says that Joshua was “full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hand upon him”.

Also, with regard to the sacrificial offerings, in the law of the sacrifices, Aaron was instructed to lay his hands upon the head of a live goat, symbolizing the transferral of the sin of the entire people to the head of the animal.  The transgressions of the people were transferred from them to the one sacrifice! 

And, along this same line, when the offerer of a blood sacrifice came to present it, he laid his hand on the animal before it was killed, symbolizing the transferral of sin from himself to the sacrifice.

All of these sacrifices, of course, were foreshadowings of the coming atonement of the Christ Who is the One Sacrifice for our sin.

But the laying on of the hands was indicative of the transfer from one to the other.

In the Newer Scripture the apostles, in their official capacity, continued the practice that was given to Jacob and Moses before them.  And as you remember, Jesus had laid hands on many in order to bestow blessings upon them.   When Hananias came to the praying and fasting Saul, it was to transfer to him, directly from the Glorified Christ, not only the righteousness of Christ, but also special gifts of His Spirit for the official duties of apostle.  As Hananias says to him (v 17) he was to be brought under full influence of Holy Spirit.

And, as he was given the wisdom of the Christ for his office, the stuff fell off his eyes “as scales”.  And he got up, was baptized, and ended his fast.

We won’t go into the significance of baptism again… we’ve done a lot on that already.  Simply to say that the covenant sign of the atonement of Jesus Christ was considered important enough here to the new apostle to receive it before taking food!  That attests to the fact that he received wisdom from the Spirit such as that that Joshua received upon the laying on of Moses’ hands.  Saul received some of the “honor” of the one Whose name he now bore on his forehead.


Let me just say something here, in conclusion, about the rebirth and Biblical faith.  As we read this account of the rebirth of Saul and his ordination to apostleship, who’s will (would you say) is determinative in salvation?

Did Jesus confront Saul?  Or did Saul make his own way to Jesus.

Did Jesus bring this arrogant, obstinate persecutor of Him and His people to complete darkness and impotence?  Or did Saul decide he wanted to change?

Did Jesus give Saul new eyes to see?  Or did Saul “reason” his way into the Lord’s good graces.

The obstinate one always gives himself the freedom to choose!

The freedom to choose to be saved has been around since the beginning of creation.  The man Pelagius, borrowing from paganism, claimed man had no sin nature; and therefore was free to obey God’s Law and to believe if he wished to do so.

And the man, Cassius, sought to strike some kind of “balance” between Pelagius and Biblical Truth.  He said that original sin corrupted man; but universal grace from God was available to all to choose to believe.

At the reformation, Jacob Arminius’ followers claimed that God’s redemption was for all men.  And his elect people were the ones who “responded” to that redemption.  So, God waits to see who will determine to seek Him and be redeemed.  And those he elects to save.

But, as we see in this text (and all others in Scripture) that belief system is another Gospel!  It is NOT the Gospel of God concerning His Son Jesus.

God saves sinners who are dead in sin… like Saul.  God decrees, proclaims, calls, justifies, sanctifies, preserves, and defends – yea “redeems” – His Own.  Dead men are passive to God, arrogant in defense of themselves, and obstinate to the Truth.  And they will respond to the Christ only when His Spirit rebirths them and causes them to be aware of the sightlessness and blackness and horror of their dead existence….

And then they respond; they respond in mourning and poverty of spirit and prayer and fasting and seeking after the righteousness of Christ and His atonement.  And it is freely given – and freely received by newborns in Christ.  And they receive His mark… and they take nourishment.

As we come to the table this morning we need to be grateful to our Lord for our deliverance from captivity.  If we are solely, or even partially, responsible for our own salvation, then we are in bondage.  But if He is the Author and Finisher of the faith… if He created salvation… if He saves to the utmost… if He has delivered us, then we are liberated – we are truly free.

We are freed from the pain of death; we are freed from the curse of God; we are freed from guilt; we are freed from blindness and set at liberty to be in the Presence of Almighty God and see His glorious countenance.

And we’re freed to take nourishment.

This table is for His people as we remember all that He has done – and is doing – and will do.  We have His mark on our foreheads.  We belong to Him; and we feed on Him.

He called Himself El Shaddai in the older Scripture.  The translation is “The Breasted One”.  A newborn at its mother’s breast is an image of El Shaddai and His people; for we who are newborn have our very existence and all our sustenance in Him.  We are nourished from the body of “The Breasted One”.

By His blood we are forgiven; in His body we live and breathe and have our being… and we are free!