Paul: Total Commitment

Explore the Bible Series

June 29, 2008

 

Background Passage: Acts 9:1-31

Lesson Passage: Acts 9:15-22; 26-30

 

Introduction:

 

This passage outlines one of the great turning points of early Christian history, the conversion of the Apostle Paul.Other than Peter, no one played a more important role in establishing the early contours of Christian faith and the spread of the gospel in the Mediterranean world.Just as Peter became the apostle to the Jews, Paul became the spearhead for advancing the Kingdom among the Gentiles.Also, Paul served a critical purpose as one of the primary authors of the New Testament. From this point forward, the Book of Acts focuses on the missionary labors of Paul.Several points bear consideration as we consider Paulís conversion.

 

  1. Bible students should exercise some caution in using Paulís conversion story as a normative model for salvation experiences.The Damascus Road experience was, in many ways, quite unique.Not all conversions are this spectacular: flashes of light, direct communication from Jesus, blindness.I mention this because of the testimonies I often heard as a child and adolescent.These testimonies may have been genuine, but, as a child, I felt a crippling sense of inadequacy.Godís dealings with me have always been subtle and gentle, and I often felt I didnít have a very good testimony.Indeed, many Christians cannot point to a particular moment of their salvation; rather it seems they came to Christ in gentle and tender ways.Unique, powerful conversion testimonies like Paulís only constitute one way in which Godís calls his people to grace.
  2. Paulís conversion does evidence some aspects that are universal to all Christians.For instance, Paul saw Christ differently after his conversion.Prior to the Damascus Road, this man hated Jesus and his followers.His encounter with Jesus revealed the glory and grace of the Savior, and, having seen these things, Paul was never the same.Also, we see evidence of genuine repentance in Paul.The course of his life changed dramaticallyóagain, he was never the same after he met Jesus.Indeed, this experience reordered Paulís whole life, and he counted all costs a small thing that he might know Christ.
  3. Saulís conversion highlights Godís pleasure in using ďearthen vesselsĒ to achieve his divine purposes.For centuries the church has gloried in the remarkable missionary exploits of the Apostle Paul, but, on the human side, none of that would have occurred without the faithful witness of Ananias.This man flashes across the pages of Scripture like a streak of lightening; then, he quickly disappears into the misty haze of history.Nevertheless, God used this humble, obedient servant to bring Saul of Tarsus to a saving understanding of the Lord Jesus. God does not call all of us to be a Paul, but he does commission all of us to serve him as Ananias did.

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Saulís Experience on the Road to Damascus (vv. 1-9)

A.    Saulís commission from the Sanhedrin (vv. 1-2): The Jewish high priest acted as the leader of the ruling council, and his commission to Saul demonstrates the sweeping authority of the Sanhedrin, even outside the confines of Judea.A large number of Jews lived in Damascus, and some of the Christian refugees fled to this familiar city. Saul received license to bring these believers, in chains, back to Jerusalem. The text seems to indicate that Saulís goal was to kill these people. Notice that early Christians referred to their faith as ďthe wayĒ, perhaps a recollection of Christís words in John 14:6.

B.     The Lordís miraculous appearance to Saul (vv. 3-9): As Saulís entourage neared Damascus, a miraculous vision arrested the men in their tracks.A bright light shone around them (Acts 26:13 says, ďabout middayí), and, from the radiance, Jesus spoke to Saul.The Lord, as head of the church, identified himself with the suffering of his people; that is, he saw their persecution as his own.The vision astonished Saul, and, as he stood trembling before the glorious Savior, he asked the Lord for guidance.Jesus told him to wait in Damascus.Saulís companions saw the great light and heard the Lordís voice, but they did not understand the words Saul heard, nor did they see Jesus (See parallel accounts in Acts 22:6-11, Acts 26:12-18). The vision left Saul blind and helpless, and his companions led him into the city where he found refuge in a private home.He did not eat or drink for three days, and, as he waited, he prayed earnestly.

 

II.                The Ministry of Ananias (vv. 10-19)

A.    The Lordís appearance to Ananias (vv. 10-16): We know little about Ananias.Bruce surmises that this disciple was not one of the Jerusalem refugees; rather, he heard of Saulís diabolical mission from the first-hand accounts of the Christians from Judea.The Lord told Ananias that Saul had received a divine message concerning the identity and ministry of Ananias.Of course, Ananias had serious reservations about interacting with such a notorious opponent of the church, but the Lord reassured Ananias that Saul would serve a three-fold purpose in the Kingdom of God.

1.      ďHe is a chosen vesselĒ: God had special designs for this unlikely disciple, and Ananias would play a critical role in preparing his servant for the Lordís use.

2.      ďÖ to bear my name before the Gentiles, kings and the children of IsraelĒ: Saul would serve as a light to the Gentiles.Peter had the privilege of initiating the missionary work among the gentiles, but Saul would, according to the Lordís promise, serve as a primary light to the Mediterranean world.

3.      ĎFor I will show him how many things he must suffer for my nameís sakeĒ: Suffering would play an essential role in Saulís future ministry.He would follow in the steps of his Lord and follow a pathway of anguish.This aspect of gospel ministry still puzzles me, but I find a universal principle in this promise.If a man follows the Lord into Kingdom ministry, he will do so at great personal cost (See II Timothy 3:12).

B.     Ananiasí encounter with Saul (vv. 17-19): Ananias, despite his reservations, obeyed the Lord.When he found Saul, Ananias restored Saulís sight and laid hands on the new convert so that Saul might receive the Holy Spirit.Also, Ananias baptized Saul.Again, Acts 22 and 26 give us helpful information about the conversation between the two men, and wise Bible students will give careful attention to these passages to fill out their understanding of the present episode.Saul, encouraged by the message of Ananias, received food and regained his strength.

 

III.             Saulís Early Ministry in Damascus (vv. 20-31)

A.    Saulís preaching in the synagogues (vv. 20-22):The Pastoral Epistles discourage the preaching of novices, but Saul was a special case.His considerable theological training prepared him for the preaching ministry, and his conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit added the authoritative fire he needed.He quickly grew strong in the faith, and the Jewish leaders could not resist his powerful preaching. The crowds were amazed at the remarkable transformation in the former persecutor of the church.

B.     The Jewish opposition to Saulís preaching (vv. 23-25): In time, these frustrated Jewish leaders plotted to kill the new convert; however, Saul became aware of their scheme, and, with the help of other believers, he managed to escape from Damascus.

C.     Saulís flight to Jerusalem (vv. 26-31): After his escape from Damascus, Saul made his way to Jerusalem.Understandably, the Christian were suspicious of their former enemy, and it took the support of Barnabas to convince the disciples that Saulís conversion was genuine.The Helenistic Jews, stirred by the apostleís preaching, conspired to kill Saul.He fled from Jerusalem, and, after a brief stay in Caesarea, he returned to his hometown of Tarsus.

 

A personal word: Last week I received some correspondence from folks who wondered about an issue raised in the Acts Eight Sunday School lesson.In particular, my friend Al Ascol asked about the baptism of the Holy Spirit as it relates to the believers in Samaria.I believe that Scripture teaches that Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they come to know the Lord; yet, in last weekís passage, we observed that the Samaritan believers did not receive this baptism until John and Peter laid hands on them.Why didnít these people receive the baptism when they trusted the Lord?

 

I donít claim any profound insight here, but, as I see it, the key to this dilemma is in the Lordís Great Commission.As I pointed out last week, Jesus predicted that the gospel witness would spread in ever-expanding circles: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. As the church moved into each new sphere, the Holy Spirit filled new believers as an authentication of the spread of the gospel.

 

Please know that I appreciate your correspondence, and I hope this little excursus proves helpful to some of you.