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Saul’s Conversion

There is no danger that we will ever learn too much; and there is so much to know about doing God’s will. So, let’s start with some fundamentals.

The Bible is the oldest book or collection of any kind found anywhere. 2) It is the single source for everything mankind knows about God, Satan, Christ, angels, demons, heaven or hell, and a good many other topics. 3) It starts “In the beginning” and ends with a vision of “New Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven. 4) It is the only book in existence that states it is the “Word of God” from start to finish. 5) It also flatly states that there are rewards and punishments for either following or dismissing what is taught within its pages. 6) The theme is the same from start to finish. 7) It was written by about forty different authors and was composed and compiled over a period between four to six thousand years. 8) Most of the writers never heard of nor met one another. 9) It has two major divisions: Old and New Testaments. The New Testament itself is now nearly two thousand years old. 10) It states that it teaches us all there is to know about God’s plan for mankind, of how things got started and how they will end. And 11) it tells us how to live at peace with both man and God. 12) Because of these facts, The Bible, the first book to be printed, also remains the most printed book (by several hundred million copies); and it is the most available book on the planet. 13) Finally, it has been copied and translated into well over 150 modern languages. Nothing else even comes close.

From this point I am going to concentrate on a single part of the NT that tells us some of the story of God’s plan for mankind: the Gospel Plan of Salvation. That there is a “gospel plan of salvation” is beyond any reasonable doubt. The transliterated Greek word gospel simply means “the good news.” That is what Jesus and his disciples most often called what he taught. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 18:15 – 20 and it is also quoted three times in the NT, that God had a plan from the very beginning. Paul, the Apostle to the nations, wrote that the plan or purpose of God had its fulfillment in Christ in Ephesians 1:3 – 14,and in numerous other places. In Acts two Peter and the rest of the twelve Apostles noted the part Jesus played: “…this Jesus whom you took and crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ.” Peter then spoke of their own part as “witnesses,” and also of the purpose of the Holy Spirit: “God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses to this. Therefore since He has been exalted to the right hand of God, and has received of the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear.” Acts 2: 32 – 33.

The Book of Acts is chiefly a book of examples of conversions. While it provides a needed history of the work of the apostles and a record of the start of the church, its principle value lies in a series of nine detailed conversions to Christ. These records include accounts of large multitudes of devout Jews and proselytes, of Roman soldiers their families and friends, of men who were worshipping dead religions, of single men and single women including Samaritans and Persians, and of some people that knew next to nothing about Christianity prior to coming in contact with the preacher.

I would suggest as have others, that without these records it would be difficult to figure out what must be done to come to Christ, or to “put on Christ,” and to be “forgiven” of our sins. However in Acts the Holy Spirit identified a serious need and set out to explain in detail what you or I or anybody else needs to do in order to become a Christian and be saved.

Of these nine major conversions, the fourth is the story of Saul of Tarsus. It is the longest and most detailed and is recounted in three places (C. 9, 22, and 26).

Saul would later write that he had been a “Hebrew of Hebrews” more zealous than many of his brethren, and a freeborn Roman citizen who had studied “at the feet of Gamaliel” the man credited with founding the sect of the Pharisees – the main group who had sought to kill Jesus.

So Saul was a well-known religious man. And he was serious about his religion (both before and after coming to Christ).

Saul watched the start of Christianity and from day one he was fully set against it. He viewed it as contrary to the Law of Moses and the religion of the Jews. And he believed it was his God given duty to make sure that this “sect” of Judaism never made it out of the starting blocks. If he had his way, no Christian would ever get out of Judea alive and then the religion might die in its infancy. He was completely convinced of his beliefs just like many folks are today. No man or woman was going to change his mind about the religion of his ancestors.

(Acts 9: 1-9)

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he 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 rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

The KJV states the first verse in the ninth chapter of Acts this way: “Saul was yet breathing threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” Saul was not just talking hatred for the Christians. He put his life into it. And if Christianity should come to an end by his efforts, that would be fine with him.

This was recorded in the last verse of Acts 7, when the disciple Stephen was murdered:

“…Saul approved of his execution.”

And the story continued:

(Acts 8:1 – 3)

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

So, Saul went to the high priest and obtained warrants to go to Damascus and bring all the Christians he could find back to Jerusalem to end their days in jail or by execution. Have you ever thought about that? If you were one of these runaways, and Saul and his gang caught you, you’d first be spending some time in the local accommodations for thieves and murderers. Jails then were not like our modern jails here – and by the way – they still aren’t. Once Saul had a full load of folks, then they walked them bound by ropes or chains for the 120-mile two week journey through the mountains and across the deserts, with little or no food and water. Remember he and his partners wanted you dead, and if you didn’t make it all the way to Jerusalem that would be fine; and they likely would just throw your body into a ditch by the roadside. Your death would only lighten their load; and renegade heretics weren’t worth wasting time to bury. So (sorry), your well-being wasn’t on Saul’s list of concerns. You were headed from one jail to another and then likely off to your execution. That was his chosen work, and he was good at it.

There were few paved roads, no modern jails, no way stations, Motel 8’s or Road Rangers – nothing like we have today. And the local authorities didn’t care what happened to you. There was no ombudsman, no defense attorney, no good cop and no concern for the concept of fair play. We live in a very different time and place. And there would be no tears shed if you were found on the wrong side of things. Saul was a one man wrecking crew trying to undo Christianity, similarly to what some folks are doing in The Middle East right now. He wanted to see it gone during his lifetime, and he was willing to work to see to it.

So Saul was like the crooked Sheriff with a hired posse; and you, as a Christian, were Public Enemy Number One. His intent was to get to Syria and catch them; and if they lived through the journey, they would get some more jail time, a short one sided trial, and perhaps he might arrange to do for them what had been done to Stephen.

But something else happened. By his own words —

(Acts 22: 6 – 10)

 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘what shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’

 

In Acts 9: 6 it was stated this way. That Saul was told by Jesus –

 “…rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

He and his companions were halted by a blinding light; and Saul’s murderous ways came to a cold hard stop.

Now I want you to know that some folks who haven’t read this record very closely (or at all), may say that Saul was saved on the road outside the city gates of Damascus. And perhaps you’ve heard of people claiming that they have seen Jesus in a vision and that it was wonderful and beautiful, and they were saved from their sins right on the spot.

But let’s look at Saul’s reaction to the miracle. First, he didn’t jump up and down with joy, or run into town boasting about how he had just seen Jesus and had been saved. Instead he was kneeling in the dirt and couldn’t see; and he had to be helped up and led away by others, confused and blind. Second, as a result of the miracle, he was stunned enough that he didn’t eat for three days. His life was flipped upside down right on the spot.

Saul was serious. I suspect he hit the mental repeat button and was replaying what had happened over and over in his mind. I sure would. And he was sober, penitent, and prayerful. And unless I’m missing something, he didn’t get that he had been “saved” when he had “seen” Jesus.

So, it is clear that saving Saul wasn’t the purpose of the miracle. Something else was at work.

Question: Then what was the purpose of Jesus (and it wasn’t the Holy Spirit that made this visit) — Of Jesus appearing to Saul as he approached Damascus?

Answer: The miracle was done to set Saul on the path of meeting up with God’s plan for him. Not just any plan – but a very singular one-off plan The Lord God had set up only for Saul — the man who would become the Apostle to the nations. God had chosen Saul – not the other way around. This is what Saul quoted Jesus as saying to him that day:

(Acts 26: 16 – 18)

 “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

 There was only one guy who fit the criteria to become the Apostle to the nations; and God was going to catch him with a snare that he could not get loose from. So Jesus got Saul’s undivided attention when he spoke. And you may suspect that without a miracle Saul never would have become a Christian. And you would be right.

But here’s the big news: the miracle didn’t make him a Christian either. It only stopped his movement in a bad direction and started him off in another. And it was done to drive home to him that without question, no matter what he thought, no matter what he had been taught, and no matter what else might happen — that nothing he had done or learned previously was of any value to God – it was altogether useless. God let him know that he not been serving Him and a change was coming at full speed, or else nothing was ever going to change with Saul on that day or on any other. So he was left with no choice but to pay close attention to what was said. And he had to do what he was told.

It wasn’t about what Saul wanted to happen. It was about the service Saul would give to Christ (and he would soon be known exclusively by the Greek form of his name as Paul). It was about how he would give of his talents and time and the work he would soon accomplish for the cause of Christ. Left to his own desires he would have continued on a different path with a completely different set of rewards and troubles, where the only pain was inflicted on others. So let me say it again — Jesus chose Saul, Saul hadn’t chosen Jesus before that very moment. And now there was only one name on the ballot that day for Saul to choose.

Now some people are crass enough to believe that they have had a conversion “just like Saul’s.” They state that they have had a personal appearance by Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and note Saul’s situation, and want their self-manufactured conversion to be extra-special – because they are in their own minds (at least), very extra-special. I have personally spoken to some delusional folks who have said things like this and perhaps you may have too. However, a lie will have the same effect on you as the truth if you are willing to accept it, or you don’t know it’s a lie. Just read of Jacob’s reaction to being told Joseph was dead.

Other misguided folks will tell you that Jesus came to them in the deep hours of the night (you should know that conveniently it is never in broad daylight, in public, and never in front of impartial witnesses), and with their own personal visitation they “saw the light” and were suddenly “saved.” But that is not what happened; and friends, you won’t find anything like that taught in any Bible, though you may look from cover to cover.

So again: there are two distinct peculiarities that set Saul’s situation into a class all by itself. First and foremost, Saul was not a believer when this miracle was worked on him. And second, when this happened he wasn’t leaning anywhere near that direction. In fact he was running as fast as he could the other way. He neither called upon nor asked for Jesus to come into his life, like the uninformed do now; and he had no intention to do so. He had no desire to join up with any Christians on that day or any other, unless it was down at the jailhouse. Nothing like that happened.

And Christ made the purpose of the visit perfectly clear. God and Christ had identified Saul as a special servant and hand chosen vessel; and they had plans for him to become His ambassador to the nations. No one in all of history can claim similar circumstances to Saul — not then and certainly not now.

Therefore friends, Jesus did not come here to personally save Saul. Jesus sent the preacher over to the house in Damascus to get that done. Get the preacher and get saved. Get the Word of God and get saved. It worked that way then and there is no reason to believe that it doesn’t work that way right now. No man or woman can change any of that, and no one with any sense ought to be interested in trying.

The question Saul asked was –

“Who are you Lord?”

This indicated he recognized in that blinding flash of light that he did not know what was going on or what was happening. He did not immediately know who had spoken or the conditions that were being applied, but he recognized quickly that he was in well over his head.

The voice replied:

“I am Jesus whom you persecute.”

Now that surely must have sent a chill right straight through him. His blood had to be thundering through his arteries and veins and his pulse pounding in his ears. But being a very smart fellow he made an instant decision based on the overwhelming facts.

So he replied:

“What should I do Lord?”

 That’s a statement of submission and surrender. And he made it known to Jesus that he had his undivided attention. He will now be the servant of new things, whatever those things might be. There was only one choice to be made; and he made it.

Saul figured it out right away. His instructions were to go into Damascus, where we have already noted repeatedly that the command was that there –

 “You will be told what you must do.”

So Jesus told Saul to get up and do as what he had been told. He was going to be learning new things, and his teacher was to be Jesus himself. No one else (ever – anywhere, at any time), was offered any deal like this one.

But there was more to it and the rest wasn’t going to be covered that day; and so Jesus told him to continue into the city. And there was no offer of sympathy, no “How do you feel about this,” or “are you okay with this Saul?” No “what do you think, Saul?”

The Lord simply stated to him that at some point:

“You will be told what you must do.”

He didn’t say when, didn’t say how. He offered absolutely nothing else – not one word or detail. No time frame was given, no agreement was sought to any conditions, because no conditions had been offered. It was non-negotiable.

“You will be told what you MUST DO.”

The message was not subtle and it was not meant to be. It was shock and awe and went straight through him. Saul was not the submitting kind; and God didn’t offer up a set of alternatives. Though overwhelmed he didn’t get angry, he didn’t ask for more time, or make an appeal. He didn’t put up a fight. He didn’t demand a recount. He knew the fight was over. There was only one option.

No one likes being told we’re doing wrong; I know I don’t. Do you suppose Saul was any different? We know all the answers – don’t we? Well so did Saul. That day he realized the prognosis. He wasn’t about to make it through the gates of Damascus without help, no matter what else took place. And he didn’t sit down on the road to cry and moan. He didn’t send someone off to find a doctor to come out and check his eyes before he continued into town. He clearly heard everything that was said. And although his ego was about the size of a modern aircraft carrier, he knew that he had to do exactly what he had just been told.

Saul got it.

Friends, it took one very serious knock to the head to get his attention. To be sightless for three days was plenty of time to ponder what might happen next. Now I’m not Saul and I took considerably more target practice before I got it. And you know that some people will never get it. How about now, gentle reader? Do you get it? Saul was altogether wrong, but when Jesus appeared to him he figured out fast that his religion was bankrupted and he had been going completely contrary to what God wanted, even though he thought that he knew it all, and that he had been doing it all just right. So here’s the punch line: this is the example of a serious minded religious man who believed with all his heart that the religion of his ancestors and what he learned as a child, and what he been doing all his life was acceptable to God… and yet he was completely wrong. Are we (any of us – you, me or anyone else we know), just like Saul? Are we spiritually blind? Are some of your friends or family wrong before God and Christ?

Saul hit the wall. It was clear Jesus had a purpose for his unique talents and the miracle was the call for change. The new way wasn’t down the old path where he had been walking since he was a pup; and it was not in the Law of Moses, or in the council of the Pharisees. It was not in attendance at the local synagogue, or at some church of his own choice. It is and was a matter of faith and of following the instructions that came from God.

And still none of this “saved” him.

“You will be told what you MUST DO.”

 That quote is recorded three times in Acts for a reason.

Jesus, the Son of God, wants every one of his brothers and sisters to do his will without question. In order to find out what that is – we must get over to the God approved source – the Word of God given through godly men and women – or straight out of the source book. That is the only way.

In Saul’s case he had to come in contact with a prophet of God, a preacher of righteousness. In our cases we would need to do nothing less. We have to seek out the word of the prophet as found within the Word of God, or find ourselves …a preacher of righteousness.

The Gospel had already been given over to men and women by this time. Given over to what Paul would later call “earthen vessels” (“clay pots” as some of the newer versions literally translate it – but, that doesn’t convey the meaning very well). The Gospel has been given to other Christians to teach. Christ had years previous already ascended back to the throne of heaven. If you recall, the angels told the twelve Apostles, yet gazing into the sky as Jesus ascended, that Christ would come again “in the same manner” as he had just left: “in the clouds.” And the Bible never states anywhere that Jesus will ever set foot on this globe again. When he comes it will be in judgment and destruction will be coming along with him. So, brothers and sisters, he remains in the heavenly places right now, just as he said he would. And he waits for us to do what we have been given to do – just like he did with Saul, just like he said to all of the disciples.

So, Jesus required Saul that he follow what had already been established by the Word of God. First and foremost he had to become a Christian. And to see to that, Jesus sent him a preacher.

Now, if you are waiting for Jesus to send you a preacher – that’s a good thing. But don’t miss the boat. There are sound preachers and pretty good teachers around today. And I believe that if you are sincere and prayerful, he will indeed send you a preacher. But you might want to keep your eyes peeled or you might miss them as they go by. Jesus stated that “God feeds the sparrows,” but he does not drop the food into the nest.

So, here’s the last note in the song: Jesus does not personally come here to save anybody – not ever. He didn’t do it for Saul, and you can be sure he won’t do it for you, for me or for anyone else. He appeared to Saul to shut down his opposition, and when he had his compliance, to teach him.

“You will be told what you must do.”

And the man Saul who became the Apostle Paul had to follow those instructions, the exact same ones that have been given to everybody else.

So then what did Saul do to be saved?

It states that he was led into Damascus and taken to a house where three days later he clearly showed evidence that he had in fact heard and understood what he had been told by Jesus. Second, at this point, whether he didn’t understand another detail, he knew that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. And he displayed hard evidence not of only a change of mind, but of a clear change of direction and purpose.

Then it states that Ananias (a prophet) came to him to instruct him and to baptize him — to immerse him into Christ; and the record says he did just exactly that (Acts 9:18).

But you should know I was “saved” just like Saul. No, it wasn’t on the road to Damascus, and no, it wasn’t through my own personal vision of Christ, or by being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. It was by simply following the instructions of Christ and his Word and by hearing, believing, repenting, confessing Jesus as Lord, and by being baptized in water for the remission of my sins.

Yet someone will inevitably think or say that Saul’s baptism was a baptism of the Holy Spirit. But that contradicts what the Word of God stated that the prophet Ananias said to Saul. He told Saul:

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

(Acts 22:16)

 Today we would put it this way:

 “What are you waiting for? Get up. Be immersed and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

Friends, the Holy Spirit does not run a 24 hour sinner’s wash and wear Laundromat. There is only one mediator between God and men – the man Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:6). His portion of this wonderful plan was to confirm the Gospel of Christ and God’s Plan of Salvation in word and by deeds through those who had the gift of God with signs and wonders. Does anyone reading this really think that the LORD God Almighty, the Holy Father, or Jesus the Christ, the Son of God and the Anointed One of God, or that the Holy Spirit of God, one or all three, failed to accomplish what each had been given and set out to do? That somehow the Father’s will failed to be done right down to the smallest detail? Or do you believe that one or more of them is still wandering around today trying to tie up the loose or frayed ends?

It has been said repeatedly within these pages that The Lord God, our Father, devised the Gospel Plan of Salvation; and that Jesus came here to execute it, through his death and resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit was sent here by Christ to deliver the completed particulars of the Word and to confirm it all in front of witnesses.

So then, I can flatly state that the baptism Saul underwent through Ananias did not give him an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It was not a baptism of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Saul’s immersion was exactly for what Ananias said it was for: “to wash away your sins.”  So immersion in water served the same function to put Saul in Christ just as it did for everyone else mentioned in the book of Acts, and for all those who submit to it today. That is what God has given us to know. And that is exactly what God has had to say on the subject and nothing more and nothing less.

Upon inspection then, it appears in spite of the details and the engrossing elements surrounding his conversion, that Saul was “saved” by doing exactly what Jesus had told him he MUST DO. He checked his guns in front of the gates of Damascus, and learned to be obedient to the preacher’s instructions; and do the very same things that had been done by all the rest of the converts everywhere. Hear it brothers and sisters: hear the Words of Christ, have faith in God’s Word, repent, confess and then be baptized into Christ, for the remission of your sins.

So I wonder: what is it that you, I, or any of our friends and family must do to be saved?

Should we wait for Jesus to visit with us in the night? Should we sit shivering alone in the cold or dark? Should we buy a ticket and fly off to old Damascus, wandering out of the city to wait to be struck blind by a bright light, brighter than the noonday sun? Should we wait for the Holy Spirit to descend upon us, or to pick us up by the back of the neck and push us down to the front after a song and an invitation? Perhaps we should simply announce in prayer that we accept Jesus as our personal savior and that we are now Christians?

Doesn’t it make godly sense to just do exactly what Jesus and his Apostles said to do? If we don’t think so, perhaps we need to read the rest of the book of Acts. It is clear in the nine detailed conversions that they said and did the same things every time. It is also implied in the ones that lack the complete details.

Once more: Hear the Word of God, the good news of salvation, believe, that is have faith in God, in his Word and his promises. Confess Jesus as both Lord and Christ (“who are you LORD?”). Repent of our past godless deeds, turning away from your sins, and then be immersed in water to wash away those sins – and as Saul would later write, “To rise and walk in newness of life?”

So, how would you answer the question: “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

“…Put on Christ.” “Be immersed in water…” “…And wash away your sins?”

Now how simple is that?

This sermon as listed here, beginning with the fifth paragraph, is patterned after a sermon on Saul’s Conversion, as delivered by William G. Bass, first in the 1930’s. Countless others have used it, or one similar with good result. Perhaps it is a little different than  many of the lessons you might hear today. We lecture.