Acts 9:1-18

Sunday Morning Bible Study

December 7, 1997

Introduction

We saw that back in chapter six, God began to use the men in the church who had servantsí hearts, the deacons. One of the young men, Stephen, found much opposition in another man named Saul, and Stephen ended up dying for his faith, as Saul grinned and stood on the sidelines.

We saw that Saul was the focal point of a great persecution that broke out over the church.

Weíve seen how God used the persecution to spread the Christians around the land, but now we turn back to look at this reckless young man, Saul.

:1-18 Paulís Conversion

:1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord

The language is very intense here, the idea being that "threatenings" and "slaughter" were the very breath of Saul.

A.T. Robertson: "threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a warhorse who sniffed the smell of battle."

Keep in mind, Saul actually thinks heís serving God.

He wrote later (Phil. 3:6) that there was none so zealous for God as he was, and you could tell because he persecuted the church.

Warren Wiersbe gives us an idea of what kind of thoughts may have been going through Saulís mind Ė

"Jesus of Nazareth is dead. Do you expect me to believe that a crucified nobody is the promised Messiah? According to our Law, anybody who is hung on a tree is cursed [Deut. 21:23]. Would God take a cursed false prophet and make him the Messiah? No! His followers are preaching that Jesus is both alive and doing miracles through them. But their power comes from Satan, not God. This is a dangerous sect, and I intend to eliminate it before it destroys our historic Jewish faith!"

Lesson:

You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.

Some people have this notion that as long as theyíre sincere, thatís all that counts with God.

The danger is when youíre sincerely wrong.

Illustration

Suppose a man decides that the best way to love his wife is to "let her go". After all, isnít there that saying that "if you really love something, youíll let it go"? But what if his wife really doesnít want to be let go, what if she just wants to be held? He may be sincere, but heís sincerely wrong.

You may have grown up thinking that as long as youíre a good person and obey the Ten Commandments, that God will let you into heaven.

You are sincerely wrong.

The Bible says,

(Rom 3:20 NLT) For no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it.

If you want to be pleasing to God, you ought to really consider listening to what God says pleases Him.

(Heb 11:6 KJV) But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

(John 3:16 KJV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

:2 to Damascus to the synagogues

Damascus is about 140 miles north of Jerusalem. It is one of the most ancient cities in the world, dating back even to Abrahamís days (Gen. 15:2), and is the capital of modern Syria. Damascus had a large Jewish population at that time. It has been estimated that there may have been 30 to 40 synagogues in Damascus at this time.

:2 that if he found any of this way

The "way" referring to following after Jesus Christ.

:4 he fell to the earth

"Paul was a great man," said Charles Spurgeon, "and I have no doubt that on the way to Damascus he rode a very high horse. But a few seconds sufficed to alter the man. How soon God brought him down!"

Lesson:

Conversion requires humility.

He is God. Youíre just a piece of clay.

The best place to be is where you understand that you are a needy person, in need of help from God.

(1 Pet 5:5b-6 KJV) Ö Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. {6} Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

If you are thinking in your heart, "I can take or leave this God stuff. I donít really need it", then you are a fool. If you donít think you need Godís help, I pray youíll grow up quick enough to realize your need before you ruin your life too much.

:4 Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

Now wait a minute. Saul has been persecuting the church, not Jesus. Right?

(Mat 25:40 KJV) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Lesson:

What is done to you, is done to Jesus.

When people hurt you, theyíre doing it to Jesus.

(Zec 2:8 KJV) For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.

Those that try to hurt you are poking God in the eye.

:5 Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest:

I would imagine Paul must have swallowed hard when he got that answer. I wonder if he might have said, "Come again? I almost thought you said your name was Jesus."

:5 it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

pricks Ė kentron Ė an iron goad, for urging on oxen, horses and other beasts of burden. This phrase is also found in Acts 26:4.

This was an ancient proverb, and the idea is that an animal would only hurt itself more by trying to kick against the uncomfortable "pricks".

The idea is that Paul had been "pricked" in his conscience with the things heís heard about Jesus, yet heís "kicked" against these things by persecuting those who have spoken to him.

Lesson:

Donít resist Godís conviction.

Conviction isnít a pleasant thing to experience, but itís something we need.

Illustration

Your gas gauge is kind of like conviction. Itís not nice when it reminds you all the time that youíre getting low on fuel. But whatís really bad is when you ignore its warnings, and run out of gas.

When you realize how needy you are, itís time to go to the right filling station Ė Jesus Christ.

:6 And he trembling and astonished said,

The picture is that of Saul hearing Jesusí voice, understanding who it is, and being so frightened that he canít move his feet, and all he can do is stand there and shake.

:6 Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?

Saul, the great persecutor of the church has surrendered to Jesus.

:10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias

Ananias Ė the name means "whom Jehovah has graciously given"

This is the third man weíve seen with this name. There was one of the wicked high priests named Ananias, there was the man in the Jerusalem church that died from his hypocritical lies, and now thereís this man.

This is the first guy who actually seems worthy of his name.

He is a man with a good reputation among both the Jews and the Christians (Acts 22:12)

:10 said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

This kind of reminds me of God calling out to little Samuel.

God began to call to the little boy, but he didnít know Godís voice, nor what to do. So the old priest Eli instructed him.

(1 Sam 3:10 KJV) And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.

Lesson:

Listen for Godís instructions.

Perhaps you have a sense that God is calling out your name, but you donít know exactly what He wants you to do.

Just respond like Samuel. Ask God to speak. And start listening!

That probably means itís going to take some time to get an answer. When my wife has something special to tell me, I have to stop and take time to listen, or Iíll miss out on the treasure. Itís the same with God.

:11 go into the street which is called Straight

Most of the streets of ancient Damascus were crooked, but this one ran straight, from east to west.

:11 for, behold, he prayeth

Charles Spurgeon said, "Prayer is the autograph of the Holy Ghost upon the renewed heart."

Even though Saul used to be a "religious" guy, I kind of get the idea here that itís not just that Saulís praying, but that heís praying!

:12 And hath seen in a vision

It seems that the Lord has been giving visions to both Ananias and Saul.

The Lord often seems to work at both ends at the same time.

:12 a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him

The Lord was showing Saul exactly what Ananias would be doing. He even told him Ananiasí name. ("Gee thanks Lord, did you have to tell him my name?")

:14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

Ananias has some VERY GOOD reasons why not to obey the Lordís call. He might be thinking, "But Lord, Iím somebody that calls on Your name. He might have ME arrested!"

Lesson:

Excuses are just excuses

Illustration

To make it possible for everyone to attend church next Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday." Cots will be placed in the lobby for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in." Murine will be available for those with tired eyes... from watching television too late on Saturday night. We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church." Blankets will be provided for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who think the church is too hot. We will have hearing aids for those who say, "The Pastor speaks too softly," and cotton for those who say he preaches too loudly. Score cards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present. Some relatives will be in attendance for those who like to go visiting on Sunday. There will be 100 TV dinners for those who cannot go to church and cook dinner also. One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature. Finally, the gym will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them.

The problem with excuses, whether theyíre good ones like Ananiasí or bad ones, theyíre still excuses. And they keep us from the wonderful plans that God has for our lives. If God has been the one leading you to do something, what ever could you be fearful of?

:15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way

It seems that God doesnít pay much attention to our excuses.

He just tends to repeat Himself. Until we learn to obey.

:15 for he is a chosen vessel unto me

Heís not much, heís just a vessel. But heís a chosen vessel. And precious.

Lesson:

You too are of great value to the Lord.

Paul wrote Ė

(2 Cor 4:7 KJV) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

Peter wrote Ė

(1 Pet 2:9 KJV) But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

You are Godís great treasure!

(Eph 1:18 NASB) I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Do you see the value that God places in you? Do you see the value that God has put in those around you?

:15 to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

These are the three groups that Paul would eventually be sharing Jesus with: Jews, Gentiles, and even kings.

:16 I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

I will show him Ė hupodeiknumi Ė to show beforehand, as a kind of warning.

I would think this might not be a pleasant thing to hear.

We are of the mentality that God should probably reward us for receiving Jesus, maybe even send us to Disneyland.

Yet the truth is that often suffering is very much a part of the Christian life.

Lesson:

Call to suffering for His name.

Paul gives us a wonderful promise Ė

(Phil 1:29 KJV) For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;

Peter said we shouldnít be surprised with suffering Ė

(1 Pet 4:12-16 KJV) Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: {13} But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. {14} If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. {15} But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. {16} Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

God will even use the suffering we endure, the suffering we receive for being a Christian.

Illustration - Adoniram Judson, the renowned missionary to Burma, endured untold hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ. For 7 heartbreaking years he suffered hunger and privation. During this time he was thrown into Ava Prison, and for 17 months was subjected to almost incredible mistreatment. As a result, for the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him. Undaunted, upon his release he asked for permission to enter another province where he might resume preaching the Gospel. The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying "My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might SAY, but I fear they might be impressed by your SCARS and turn to your religion!"

:17 And Ananias went his way

Ananias obeyed the Lord. He didnít need too much convincing from the Lord.

:17 the Lord, even Jesus Ö hath sent me

This is the first time weíll see this man Ananias. This is also the last time weíll see Ananias.

We know so little about him, yet he was the one who got Paul off to a good solid start with the Lord.

Lesson:

God can use you.

You may not be a Billy Graham, but you can be an Ananias. All it takes is a willingness to say, "yes Lord".

Illustration

A Sunday School teacher, a Mr. Edward Kimball, in 1858, led a Boston shoe clerk to give his life to Christ. The clerk, Dwight L. Moody, became an evangelist. In England in 1879, he awakened evangelistic zeal in the heart of Fredrick B. Meyer, pastor of a small church. F. B. Meyer, preaching to an American college campus, brought to Christ a student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman, engaged in YMCA work, employed a former baseball player, Billy Sunday, to do evangelistic work. Billy Sunday held a revival in Charlotte, N.C. A group of local men were so enthusiastic afterward that they planned another evangelistic campaign, bringing Mordecai Hamm to town to preach. During Hamm's revival, a young man named Billy Graham heard the gospel and yielded his life to Christ.

Only eternity will reveal the tremendous impact of that one Sunday School teacher, Mr. Kimball, who invested his life in the lives of others.

:17 and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Apparently Saul didnít have to have an apostle lay hands on him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Even an unknown disciple named Ananias was able to be used for this.

:18 he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized

We saw Paul start this chapter "yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord", and ending up being a disciple himself and being baptized.

Paul himself would later write,

(1 Tim 1:15 KJV) This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Lesson:

God can save you too.

You may be thinking that thereís no way that God could care for, let alone save somebody as horrible as you. Yet youíre exactly the kind of person God wants to save.

He wants to save you from your self. He wants to save you from your sin. He wants to save you from hell itself. He wants to save you for heaven.