For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3–5 ESV)
It is the most difficult and most ridiculous thing to believe: a person died and came back to life. Every teaching hangs on the proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead. Saul knew this. In Acts 8:1 we see that Saul approved of Stephen’s execution and ignites a persecution against Christians for what they were teaching. Saul is ravaging the church and dragging men and women out of their homes and putting them into prison (8:3). In Acts 9:1 we see that Saul is not done. He is breathing out threats of murder against the disciples of the Lord. He wants them dead because these followers are saying that Jesus rose from the dead and is the savior of the world. So he asks for permission from the synagogues in Damascus to find any Christians and bring them as prisoners back to Jerusalem. Saul is not content with eradicating Christians from Jerusalem. He leaves Jerusalem and is traveling to other countries and regions looking for Christians to take back to Jerusalem as prisoners.
The Blinding Call (9:3-9)
But as Saul is on his way to arrest more Christians and take them to Jerusalem, a life changing moment happens. Verse 3 tells us that a light suddenly flashed around him. Saul fall to the ground while hearing a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asks who is speaking to him. The answer is, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Now think about what Jesus told Saul. Jesus does not say, “Why are you persecuting THEM?” He says, “Why are you persecuting ME?” The Jesus that Saul believed died and did not rise from the dead is alive and is asking Saul why he is persecuting him. Jesus is taking this personally. The persecution of God’s people is the persecution of Jesus himself.
He is told to go into the city of Damascus and wait to be told what to do. This event has blinded Saul and he has to be led by the hand by those who had traveled with him. They heard the voice from heaven but did not see anyone. So Saul gets up and goes to Damascus. For three days Saul stays there without eating or drinking and without his sight. The strong, defiant Saul has been brought to his knees and now he is awaiting further instructions.
You Want Me To Do What? (9:10-16)
Now we are introduced to a disciple named Ananias. The Lord speaks to Ananias in a vision and tells him to go to Judas’ house and look for a man named Saul. Saul is in that house and he is praying and has been told that you will come and lay hands on him to heal him of his blindness. But listen to Ananias’ response in verses 13-14. Ananias says that he has heard about this Saul and about how much evil he has done to your people in Jerusalem. He has come here to Damascus with the authority to arrest anyone who calls on your name. Ananias says, “You want me to do what?” You want me to go to Saul and heal him of his blindness! He has come here to arrest Christians. You want me to go to him! You want me to reveal myself as a Christian to him! You want me to heal him of his blindness! God’s answer is yes! Look at what God says in verses 15-16. Go! He is a chosen instrument of the Lord to carry the Lord’s name to the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. Further, the Lord will show him how much he must suffer for the Lord’s name. Saul is called so that he can go and save others. Ananias is afraid of Saul. God’s answer is that he is going to use Saul. Please think about this: the one who is breathing threats of murder against the Christians, dragging them out of their homes and putting them in prison, and approving of the death of Stephen, God can use as his chosen instrument. God can use him. Ananias looks at this different. Ananias thinks that he cannot go to Saul. Saul is dangerous and wants to kill Christians. Jesus says, “I can and will use him.”
Saving Saul (9:17-31)
In verse 17 we see that Ananias goes to Saul. How nervous Ananias must have been to approach the primary persecutor of God’s people! I love the first words Saul says. “Brother Saul….” Ananias calls Saul his brother. God has told him that Saul is going to become a follower of Jesus. So Ananias begins, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fall from his eyes and he is healed of his blindness. Saul gets up and is baptized. We have noticed again and again in the book of Acts that people who believe in Jesus are immediately baptized as a response of faith in submission to the Lord Jesus. Saul stays with the disciples and then he goes proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” Now remember what we had seen earlier. Saul was the one who received permission from these synagogues in Damascus to go and arrest Christians there and take them back to Jerusalem. Now this Saul goes into those very synagogues in Damascus and proclaims Jesus as the Son of God. What changed? What has happened? In fact, notice in verse 21 that this is what everyone is asking. Isn’t this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem on those who called on the name of Jesus? Did he not come here for the same reason? What changed? What changed was that Saul had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Look at verse 22. Saul was confounding the Jews because he was proving that Jesus was the Christ. He was proving that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God! What has changed this man? Saul has seen Jesus risen from the dead.
This is the point that Barnabas makes to the church in Jerusalem. After some time, Saul goes to Jerusalem and attempts to join the disciples there (9:26). But the Christians there were all afraid of him and did not believe that he was a disciple. They think that Saul is faking it and has come to destroy them. Look at verse 27. Barnabas brought Saul before the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord and had spoken to him. Because of that event, Saul has been preaching boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. So Saul continues to preach Jesus in Jerusalem and everywhere he went. What changed Saul? He saw the risen Lord Jesus.
So what does God want us to see and learn? First, we are to see amazing, overflowing grace. God was willing to save Saul, a persecutor of his people. Not only was God willing to save Saul, but he was going to use Saul to be his chosen instrument to advance the gospel around the world. Once again we see that no one is too far gone for God. In fact, God delights in taking people who others would say are too far gone and using them as his chosen instruments. Saul’s sins did not disqualify him from being saved and serving the Lord. Friends, your sins and your screw ups have not disqualified you from being saved and from serving the Lord. Who would believe that a persecutor would become a preacher? Who would believe that a killer would become an apostle? God can change you too. This is what Paul wanted you to see in him.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12–16 ESV)
Did you catch what this man wanted you to learn? He says that he received mercy to show the perfect patience of Jesus as an example to us who believe in him. The point is that if Jesus would be patient with a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent, he will be patient with you too. The grace of our Lord can overflow toward you like it did with Saul.
Second, God jars lives to wake us up to the gospel. Saul had heard about Jesus and knew what the apostles and the disciples of Jesus were proclaiming. But he did not believe it and persecuted those people all the more. Saul believed as Jesus jarred his life. God had to get his attention so that he would end his defiance and submit to Jesus. God jars lives to wake us up to the gospel. What is God doing in your life to wake you up to the gospel? How is God trying to get your attention so that you will turn your life to him? Are things difficult in your life? Is God trying to get your attention to wake you up to the gospel of Jesus? Whether you are going through good times or bad times, God is trying to get your attention through those things so that you will turn back to him. God is trying to wake all of us up so that we can no longer be fake but truly come to the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Finally, the resurrection of Jesus is supposed to change your life like it changed Saul’s life. Please think about this: there was a person who proclaimed before he died that he will come back to life three days later. And it happened! You might say in your heart that you do not believe it happened. If you think this, I want you to come up with an answer for Saul. We have the writings of this man named Saul who was also called the apostle Paul. He wrote to the Corinthians and said this:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:3–10 ESV)
The strongest opponent of Jesus became a believer in Jesus because he saw Jesus alive after he died. Why would Saul die for the cause he fought to exterminate if he did not see the risen Lord? The resurrection changed Saul and the resurrection of Jesus is supposed to change you. Come back to Acts 9 and notice two pictures of the life change that is coming to you because of the resurrection of Jesus. The stories in the scriptures are not randomly placed but teaching up important truths. In Acts 9:32-35 we see a person paralyzed healed by the apostle Peter. Believe in the risen Lord Jesus and you can be healed also. In Acts 9:36-43 Peter raises Tabitha from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is not only about him but what is offered to you if you will believe in him. The miracles symbolize the realities. You can be healed and you can have eternal life. You will be raised from the dead and enjoy life with the Lord for eternity if you will give your life to him. Be changed by the resurrection of Jesus. Follow Saul’s response. Pray to the Lord and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.