Lesson Text—Acts 9:1-4 Acts 9:1-4 1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
Lesson Text—Acts 9:1-4 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Lesson Text—Acts 9:1-4 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Lesson Text—Acts 9:5-7 Acts 9:5-7 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Lesson Text—Acts 9:5-7 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
Lesson Text—Acts 9:8-10 Acts 9:8-10 8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
Lesson Text—Acts 9:8-10 10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
Lesson Text—Acts 9:11-13 Acts 9:11-13 11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
Lesson Text—Acts 9:11-13 12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. 13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
Lesson Text—Acts 9:14-15 Acts 9:14-15 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. 15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.
Focus Verse—Matthew 28:19-20 Matthew 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Focus Thought Spiritual maturity, the result of Christian growth and development, leads into a strong missions development, the ultimate purpose of the church in fulfilling the commission of the Lord.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Culture Connection Missionary to a Changing Culture Paul was the foremost cross- cultural missionary of the early church. By his own testimony, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was an extreme right-wing religious fanatic. He was steeped in the finer points of Judaism. Consequently, he opposed anything that deviated from his rigid understanding of the Mosaic law and traditions of the Jews.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion His conversion experience shattered his preconceived ideas. His subsequent call to be an apostle to the Gentiles gave him new direction. With the same zeal that he had persecuted Christians, he sought to win men and women to the gospel. The revelation that he fought against the Lord of Glory in abusing the Christians gave him an openness to new ideas and fresh understanding.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Paul did not try to convert men to be like him. He did not try to impose his Jewish traditions and preferences on the Gentile Christians. Instead, he set forth principles that transcended ethnic and geographic boundaries. He became well versed in the culture in which he lived. He quoted Gentile poets and cited commonplace Gentile activities in his preaching and letters. He said he became all things to all men that he might win some to Christ.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion North America’s culture is changing. Shifting societal mores and absorption of immigrant populations is resulting in new challenges. As Paul of old, we must present the unchanging gospel in terms that are relevant and easily understood. We need Pauls who know who they are and can communicate truth and righteousness to a modern world.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Contemplating the Topic The miracle of salvation does not end after fulfilling Acts 2:38. That is just the beginning! After our spiritual birth we begin to grow in the Lord and develop a spiritual hunger to share this “abundant life” with others. That hunger is not quenched until we respond to the Lord’s command to evangelize our world and also support those who carry the gospel to the far corners of the earth.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion In other words, spiritual conversion includes a calling to spread the gospel to the whole world. Obeying this call brings about the fulfillment of our Lord’s commission to His followers, and it speaks today in the hearts of true believers. The Lord has commissioned His church to reach the lost with the gospel. Believers are to take the “whole gospel to the whole world,” and it is the responsibility of “the whole church.”
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion The commitment of believers to fulfill the Lord’s commission has taken an army of missionaries into more than 175 nations of the world, approximately 90 percent of the world’s recognized nations. There still are others to reach with the gospel, and time is short. We must be about our Father’s business and preach the gospel “in all the world for a witness unto all nations” (Matthew 24:14).
A. A Jew of Tarsus Searching the Scriptures Saul’s Call at Conversion A.A Jew of Tarsus Our lesson begins in Acts 8 with the introduction of Saul, the Hebrew name of a man better known by his Roman name, Paul. We do not learn any details of his biography, however, until his testimony of defense in Acts 22.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion The occurrence mentioned in Acts 22 actually began in chapter 21 when some of the Jews spied Paul in Jerusalem with Trophimus. Trophimus, whose name means “foster child,” was an Ephesian Gentile whom Paul mentioned in II Timothy 4:20. Some of the Jews jumped to the conclusion that Paul had desecrated the Temple by taking this young Gentile there. The Jews stirred up the city and a bloodthirsty mob gathered to the scene, intending to kill Paul.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Thus Paul’s association with Trophimus brought about the apostle’s initial imprisonment, and it ultimately led to his death in Rome. When they heard the uproar, the Romans came running and arrested Paul, pulling him out of reach of the Jews’ fury. However, after the rescue the chief captain could not sort out exactly who had perpetrated such a disturbance and demanded an explanation.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Paul asked permission to defend himself and began by stating his Jewish heritage, that he was born in Tarsus, and that he was educated in Jerusalem by the revered Rabbi Gamaliel. The city of Tarsus was located at the mouth of the Cydnus River, which empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Today is it called Tarasso and is located in the Mersin Province of Turkey about nine miles from the city of Mersin.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Because the citizens of Tarsus during the time of Julius Caesar were friendly to the Romans, the emperor granted Roman citizenship to them. This is the Roman citizenship to which Paul attested.
B. A Zealous Student of the Law The fact that Paul at the time of his arrest was undergoing a rite of purification in the Temple confirms he was steeped in Jewish tradition. Paul described himself and his family as “blameless concerning the law.” 1. A Student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). We read about Gamaliel in Acts 5. He was a venerable doctor of the Law.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion According to tradition, his grandfather, Hillel, was associated with the development of the Jewish Talmud and Mishna, Judaism’s most revered books besides the Holy Writ. These books interpret and guide Jews in interpreting and applying the complex Jewish law. We can recognize some of the hermeneutical principles of Hillel in Paul’s writings in I Corinthians 9:9-12.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion In this passage the apostle applied the spirit of the Old Testament rule concerning the lowly ox to the highest order of ministry in New Testament life. Gamaliel apparently carried on the tradition of his grandfather. The schools of Hillel and Shammai are considered to be the conservative and liberal factions of the interpretation of Jewish law.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Gamaliel would have fallen under the conservative classification. His handling of the disciples of Jesus in Acts 5 attests to his wisdom in executing Jewish law. 2. A Defender of the Law (Acts 9:1- 5). Saul’s zeal for Jewish law goaded him to threaten, assault, imprison, and even execute the disciples of Jesus. Since the Romans did not arrest him for this violence, the persecution must have been instigated by the Sanhedrin.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion When Saul had finished jailing or destroying all the Jerusalem disciples he could find, he asked permission to travel 190 miles to Damascus to root out believers there. The high priest’s approval of the request to murder people in the name of the Jewish faith indicates Saul’s position of favor with the Jewish leadership at this time in his life. During his ministry he would reap a harvest of violence from the havoc he had sown, and ultimately he would die for his faith in the Lord.
C. The Conversion Clearly, Luke considered the conversion of Saul a miraculous event of import to all believers, since he recounted the occurrence three times in the Book of Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Saul asked two questions on the Damascus road. 1. “Who are you, Lord?” (See Acts 9:5.) In Acts 9, the Lord responded to Saul’s question: “I am Jesus.” Ananias later told Saul, “... the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way...” (Acts 9:17).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion The second recorded recounting of Saul’s conversion appears in Acts 22, where Scripture states that the voice responded, “I am Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8). This gives more insight into Saul’s understanding of the divine personage with whom he spoke on the road to Damascus. However, the last telling of Saul’s conversion is the most significant. Paul stated he heard the voice say in the Hebrew tongue, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 26:15).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion These accounts confirm to us that this fleshly manifestation of God was “the Lord, even Jesus,” for speaking in the Hebrew tongue, He said, “I am Jesus.” What a wonderful declaration of the identity of God! 2. “What would you have me to do?” (See Acts 9:6.) Upon learning the identity of this Jesus whom he had persecuted, Saul realized he was on the threshold of a radical change, but he did not know how to begin. So Jesus told him how to take the first steps toward change.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion People who talk with God in prayer develop a desire to do something for His kingdom. On the other hand, those whose prayer life has gone dormant are not driven to see the Lord’s work done. Prayer is vital to a believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ. There were two aspects of Paul’s calling. 1. The Apostle to Israel. Paul described himself as being “one born out of due time” (I Corinthians 15:8).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Some believe this designation constituted Paul’s lament that he should have been born sooner so he could have found and followed Jesus. However, a more probable interpretation would be that the phrase describes Paul’s “new birth,” not his natural birth. He wished his spiritual birth had occurred sooner. The Greek term for “born” used in I Corinthians 15:8 means the miscarriage or abortion of an infant. Paul’s “new birth” was a sudden birth that he had neither planned nor foreseen.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Saul’s repentance on the Damascus road became the turning point of his life. Ananias baptized him, and Saul certainly spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance, for he commanded in I Corinthians 14:39 to “forbid not to speak with tongues.” Further, he said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all” (I Corinthians 14:18).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion That Acts 22 is the account of his “new birth” is suggested by his confession of his slaughter of the early church and of his consent to the stoning of Stephen. This was why the believers in Jerusalem did not at first trust his claim of a newfound allegiance, and he could not effectively minister there until later. However, almost immediately after his conversion he “confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:22).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion This so enraged the Jews that the governor of Damascus swept the city for Paul, hoping to apprehend him (II Corinthians 11:32). The believers had to lower Paul in a basket over the city wall so he could escape. However, in spite of Paul’s former persecution of the church, later he was very effective in ministering to Israel because of his early training in the Law.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Perhaps that is why in Acts 9 the Lord assured Ananias that Paul was a chosen vessel to bear His name in this order: to Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel. (See Acts 9:15.) 2. The Apostle to the Gentiles. God surely must have sent Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter was the first to open the door to the Gentiles by preaching the Word of God to Cornelius and his household, but Paul quickly became the central figure in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and establishing many churches.
A. His Call to the Gentiles at His Conversion Saul’s Call to the Gentiles A.His Call to the Gentiles at His Conversion 1. Call to Greatness (Acts 9:16). The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision about Saul of Tarsus. He commanded Ananias to find the home of a man named Judas who lived on Straight Street and pray for the restoration of Saul’s sight.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Carrie Eastridge, the mother of Nona Freeman, was urged by the Holy Ghost to stop her car, get out, and preach the Acts 2:38 message. She stopped and looked around for her audience, but there was no one in sight. She preached anyway, as the Lord had commanded. She did not know that her message woke up a drunken man hiding in the drainage pipe underneath the road. He heard her message and heard her drive away.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion He made his way to the nearest city and sought out a Pentecostal church. He received his own Pentecostal experience that forever did away with his old drunken life! Throughout the course of his ministry, Saul was called before rulers and magistrates for bearing the name of Jesus. He would ultimately end his ministry in Rome, but not before telling the gospel to the prominent leaders of his time.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion 2. Call to Suffering (Acts 9:16). Saul had no idea of the dire things he would experience for the name of Jesus Christ. He later recorded a summary of some of his most memorable experiences in suffering. (See II Corinthians 11:22-33.) Yet he endured because of his pressing need to strive for the prize of the high calling. He kept his eyes on Jesus who also endured the Cross for the joy He could see beyond the suffering.
B. His Commissioning at Antioch In Antioch followers of Jesus were first called Christians. The church at Antioch was filled with people from different walks of life and ethnic backgrounds, so it is not strange that it would become known as a center for missionary work.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Acts 13 opens with a list of the notable prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch: “Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen... and Saul” (Acts 13:1). First listed is Barnabas, a Levite, whose aunt was the mother of John Mark. Barnabas had made a lifelong practice of giving. For instance, we read in Acts 4:36-37 that the Spirit prompted Barnabas to sell the land he owned in Cypress and give the proceeds to the church at Jerusalem.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion As this group of men “ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3). Saul and Barnabas traveled fifteen miles to Seleucia and then sailed to Cyprus, the birthplace of Barnabas, before continuing to Salamis. In describing their ministry in Paphos, the Scriptures began to refer to Saul as Paul.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion These travels were the beginning of what we now call Paul’s first missionary journey. As instructed by the Spirit, the church sent Paul and Barnabas out to do the work of the Lord. Today the calling of God still is confirmed by church leadership. Individuals do not work in Christian ministry alone, but in cooperation and solidarity with fellow believers. A person’s gift truly will make room for him.
C. His Confirmation to Timothy Throughout his ministry Paul remembered the laying on of the hands of that great group of believers in the church at Antioch. Probably with this in mind, he told Timothy to remember the same act of commissioning in his own life. Commissioning is part of a process by which individuals receive confirmation of the holy calling of the Lord.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Paul realized that he suffered greatly because of the wicked things he had done before his conversion. However, a scriptural passage with great hope for all believers is found in II Timothy 1:12: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” God forgives us and will keep our former offenses securely hidden beneath His precious blood.
III. Paul’s Defense of the Gentile Mission Paul’s Defense of the Gentile Mission Paul realized the Lord had called him to work among the Gentiles. This constituted a complete change from his first passion for God. Before his conversion, he despised the Gentiles, like every other devout Jew. However, when God redeems us we experience the work of Christ’s love within, and we in turn become a channel of His love for others.
A. The Counsel of Jerusalem 1. The Pressure of Jews to Circumcise the Gentiles. Once the racial barrier was breached, Gentiles began to flood into the church. Some of the Jews reacted to this influx by teaching that these new converts should be circumcised “after the manner of Moses” in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). For them, one of the requisites for salvation was to enter into covenant under Jewish law.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion To insist that new believers must be circumcised suggested that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not sufficient to bring salvation. In the Book of Galatians, Paul clearly refuted this thinking. 2. Paul’s Defense of the Gentile Believers. We must guard against adding a “greater burden than... necessary things” (Acts 15:28). Paul taught that circumcision was not a requirement in order for Gentiles to be saved.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Paul did agree to the circumcision of Timothy after he received the Holy Ghost, but only to assuage the Jewish Christians. Timothy’s mother was a Jew, but his father was a Gentile. Paul thought Timothy’s circumcision would smooth the way for him to more effectively minister to Jews as well as Gentiles. Although Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews and well versed in the Law, he could relate to Gentile cultures.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion He stated in Romans that he became all things to all men that he might win some. His ability to relate is evident in his message to the Greek philosophers on Mars’ Hill in Athens. (See Acts 17.) He pointed to a statue dedicated to an “unknown God” to preach the message of Jesus to the superstitious Greeks. Even in this strange setting he made converts to the Christian message.
B. The Journey to Jerusalem 1. The Extra Burden of the Churches on Him Daily. An avalanche of questions descended on Paul. The newly converted Gentiles did not know what to believe, how to worship, how to behave in their daily lives, and how to treat brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul provided answers by writing to the churches in which he had ministered.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion This inspired, first-century pastoral instruction gave the ages to come written guidelines concerning how to live after the miracle of salvation. Our teachings on “holiness” derive primarily from Paul’s responses to questions proffered by the Gentile churches. 2. The Willingness to Die for the Cause (Acts 21:11).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion When the Holy Ghost prompted Agabus to prophesy concerning Paul’s future, he predicted the Jews at Jerusalem would bind Paul’s hands and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles—the very kinsmen for whom he carried a great burden and the foreign strangers to whom he was called. (See Romans 9.) This broke Paul’s heart. Nevertheless, he responded, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Toward the end of his life and ministry Paul wrote from prison, “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
IV. The Commission to Missions The Commission to Missions When a person is born again, the Spirit of God within begins to lead him to become more like Jesus Christ. Things he once hated he begins to love and hold in great esteem. Things that once littered his sinful life he readily discards as being sinful or unnecessary. The Holy Spirit changes him!
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Among the many positive changes in the life of a new believer is his desire to tell of the wonderful things God has done for him. It is no wonder Jesus told His followers that after they received the Holy Ghost they would be witnesses for Him. They hurried into Jerusalem, where, after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost, they began to testify of Jesus Christ. So it is with believers of every generation. All desire to spread the good news of the gospel of Christ.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion This new desire to tell everybody of the salvation and work of Jesus Christ is the genesis of a believer’s call to missions. Not all will receive the call to travel to distant peoples in distant and strange lands, but all receive the call to tell others of the gospel. After a new believer spreads the gospel in his hometown and to his family, friends, and neighbors, the Spirit lifts his sights to view the whole world as a harvest field. He will desire to reach the whole world with the gospel—through giving his finances and possibly by going himself.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Internalizing the Message What a person was Saul of Tarsus! As a young man he obeyed the Law down to the smallest detail. He eventually left Tarsus and attended Gamaliel’s school in Jerusalem, where he excelled. However, his zeal for God was misguided, and he spearheaded a bloody persecution of the believers. He branched out from Jerusalem to other towns, and on the road to Damascus God aborted his journey with a dazzling light from Heaven.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Saul, his Jewish name, had kingly aspects. However, he later adopted a Roman name, Paul, which means “small.” When he stepped into the Roman arena, he realized the need for a Roman name. A small man with a big ego, he could have tagged himself “Julius” or “Antony,” But he realized how small he was in God’s sight. God could work with this humble attitude and used Paul mightily. In Antioch he teamed up with Barnabas and their ministry went worldwide.
I. Saul’s Call at Conversion Every person can be a part of the life-changing experience of Pentecost. After that, he will see the world in a different light; he sees a world full of individuals who need the same work of redemption that saved him from a life of sin. When a person receives the whole gospel, it gives him a whole new worldview and a worldwide vision. He may give to missions or he may go around the world, but one thing is certain: he will reach out to others in this world that they, too, might be saved.