In a recent study, we saw that a man named Stephen was the first Christian to be murdered for his faith. The killers were the members of the Jewish Council, who drove him outside the walls of Jerusalem and stoned him. On that occasion, we saw that the witnesses robes were being laid at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:58), who was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death (Acts 8:1). This man began vehemently persecuting the church,
Acts 8:3 ...entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
The first name by which people called Christianity was "the Way." Jesus had said that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and those who had believed the truth walked in a new way of life.
Saul continued to "inhaling threats" against these followers of "the Way," as well as plotting their murders. He had been successful at clearing nearly every Christian out of Jerusalem.
Where I grew up, cockroaches and termites are major pests. Lots of businesses - for a substantial amount of money - will erect a giant circus tent around your house and fill it with poisonous gas. But I noticed that when a house was tented, it was only a couple of months before the house next door was tented. And then the house next to that, and so on. I realized the pests weren't all being eliminated, they were just being relocated. Many of them would escape and just move next door.
That's the way Saul viewed Christians - as pests to be exterminated. But he wasn't content with tenting Jerusalem. And so he pursued the next major infestation, which was in Damascus, about 130 miles north of Jerusalem.
Saul got the high priest to write letters to the synagogues at Damascus, giving him authorization to capture Christians and extradite them to Jerusalem.
This was a religious man working inside of a religious system. Saul had devoted his entire life to his religion, and was going to extremes to serve his religion. Later in his life, he would speak of this religious fervor, saying that he was...
Phil. 3:5-6 ...a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
Saul was very religious, but he wasn't saved. He was well on his way to being the most religious man in hell. Religion does not save people. You can be friends with the high priest and have authority in the synagogue or church and still be doomed to eternity apart from God.
And so as this religious man, the Pharisee named Saul, was traveling to Damascus, that God interrupted him.
Sometimes I hear people read "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” with the tone of a child on the playground saying, "Why are you guys pickin' on me?" But Jesus wasn't whining. He was saying, "Saul, consider this: WHY? Why are you persecuting me? WHY don't you believe in me? WHY are you against me? Stop and consider in your heart why you're doing this."
Also notice... Saul had been persecuting Christians, but he was told that he was persecuting Christ Himself. When you mess with one of God's kids, you're messing with God Himself.
And after Saul had fallen to the ground with light from heaven, he was left in the dark on earth. He could not see anything.
Saul's traveling companions led him into the city of Damascus. They brought him to Straight Street where a man named Judas took him in for lodging. He was there three days in total blindness, not eating or drinking anything.
Meanwhile in the same city, the Lord was giving an assignment to a Christian in named Ananias. He was telling him to go find Saul of Tarsus and lay hands on him for healing.
But Ananias didn't want to obey the Lord. "Lord, maybe You haven't heard of this guy. He's a bad dude!" He wasn't going to do what God wanted him to do because of what he'd heard.
Saints, I can't tell you how often this happens still in the kingdom of God. Once I moved to a new town and asked some people what churches I should try. "This or that one, but stay away from this other!" For a long time, I never got involved with that church, because of what I heard. But as it turned out, that was the church where God wanted me!
Fortunately, Ananias was more tuned into God than I was back then. The Lord told him, "I know what's going on - you just go and do what I told you to do."
When Ananias prayed for Saul, he was suddenly able to see again. We're told that he was baptized and began to eat again. We're not told he spoke in tongues or did anything out of the ordinary when he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Many insist that speaking in tongues is proof of being filled with the Spirit. But it wasn't proof in Saul's case.
One radical thing did happen: a radical change in Saul's life. When you truly meet the Creator of the Universe, it makes an impression on you. You change. You're different than you were before.
2Cor. 5:17 ...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Saul was completely new. And instead of taking the high priest's letters to the synagogues, he brought the gospel to the synagogues.
One great thing about God is that He really enjoys turning former enemies into allies. Saul would later write of God's faithfulness in...
1Tim. 1:12-13 ...putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor...
The man who had been wreaking havoc on the church for the Jews was now evangelizing the Jews.
But remember Jesus had told Ananias that Saul would have to suffer many things for His sake. Saul himself would later promise us,
2Tim. 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
It was only a matter of time before a plot was hatched by the Jews to kill Saul, and he narrowly escaped.
When Saul returned to Jerusalem, no Christians wanted to be anywhere near this guy. He was trying to convince them that he was saved, but they thought it was a trick.
It was only when Barnabas (the guy who had sold land and given it to the church back in chapter four) vouched for Saul to the apostles that they accepted him.
Saul wasn't intimidated because of his bad experience at Damascus. He wasn't embittered because the church hadn't accepted him in Jerusalem. He just continued preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen. And when more opposition arose, he moved on - first to Caesarea and then to his hometown of Tarsus.