The first time we heard the name Saul was the last scripture in Acts 7 where his name is referred to as one of those present when Stephen is martyred. Then, the beginning of chapter 8 where it says Saul was not just present but consented of Stephen's death and then went forth and made havoc of the church, going from house to house dragging men and women to prison. He was the leader of the great persecution that caused the scattering of the church throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Here in chapter 9, the focus is primarily on the transformation of Saul the Terrorizer to Paul the Apostle.
Saul was born in Tarsus, modern-day Turkey, but he was raised in the strict order of Hebraic Judaism, similar to Hasidic Jews in New York City. He was taught by a well known Pharisee named Gamaliel in the strictness of the law and was zealous towards God. Paul was a fanatic Pharisee and believed one must become a jew and obey the law to be accepted by God. So with his understanding, those of the WAY was teaching heresy, therefore were enemies of God and it was his duty to silence them.
As Saul journeyed to Damascus suddenly a great light brighter than the noonday Sun shone on him and he fell from his horse and he heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me."
We see here that there is no brighter light than that of Jesus Christ and that He knows us by name and wants to speak to us personally. It doesn't matter how deep of darkness someone is in even those in religious deception the Lord is able to open blind eyes. Our righteousness is as filthy rags even what we do in the name of God is wicked if we don't do it in the power of the person of God.
Today, it is being reported that Saul like encounters are being experienced by the thousands, especially in the Middle East amongst Muslims, even former terrorists, who are coming out of the darkness and into the light. Turning from persecuting Christians to preaching Jesus Christ.
Saul responds to God speaking to him by asking, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" This is the key to receiving guidance from the Lord, not just telling God what we want Him to do, but asking Him what He wants us to do? Our American independence is something we celebrate but it can also be what hinders our faith. Prayer should be much more about listening than speaking. Faith is an action word so prayer should lead to work more than just dumping our problems on God.
Saul was told to go to the city and that is what he did, being still blind he was led by his companions by hand. Instead of Saul going to Damascus as a captain of soldiers to imprison Christians, he is led to Damascus as a prisoner of the Lord. Paul was blinded for three days just as Jesus was in the grave for three days, that is why Paul is able to write, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)
How was Saul going to be accepted by the church considering his history? Well, first of all, the Lord revealed to his disciple Ananias by a vision that he was to meet Saul at a street called Straight, and likewise, Saul had the vision that he would meet Ananias who would help him see. Ananias knew about Saul and questioned what he saw but the Lord told him to go.
The street called Straight was significant. The only way we can walk right (straight) with God is through step by step obedience to His voice. We see that Saul was not just healed physically but was filled with the Spirit. The spiritual is more important than the physical, healing is not enough, transformation takes a spiritual awakening. We should use opportunities to pray for healing to also open ones spiritual eyes as well. Our goal should always be to lead people from the wide path of destruction to the narrow road of walking in obedience.
"As soon as the scales came off of Saul...., he got up, was baptized ....., and began proclaiming Jesus Christ." (Acts 9:18-20)
How can someone preach without being taught? Don't you need to graduate from Bible school before you can minister? No, the moment we receive the Holy Spirit we have the helper, teacher, counselor, comforter, power-giver, residing on the inside of us, we are just the mouthpiece, the vehicle, that He speaks and moves through. Studying the Word will help us renew our minds, transforming our lives, but even in the process, the Holy Spirit is will able to use us. The words we speak under the anointing are not of ourselves they are divine truth from on high.
"Because of Saul's past, the people had a hard time believing him...., but Saul grew more capable and kept confounding the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah." (Acts 9:21-22)
The people who know our past will have difficulty believing we are suddenly a different person. What we have to say will be hard to swallow but we are to speak as Holy Spirit gives us utterance no matter the response. We are just the messengers and as long as the Word goes forth it will go to work for some their hearts are so hard it just takes time.
The key to growing in communication is practice. The more we open our mouth as we feel the Spirit lead the more sensitive we become to discern His voice from our own. Paul was winning debates with rabbis shortly after his conversion. He walked in tremendous grace. We have the same Holy Spirit as Saul, the same grace, we have no legit excuses, God saved us to use us, He has given us His own Spirit, we just need to be about it and He will prove to us how capable we are in Him.
Saul received the same response that Stephen did when speaking the truth boldly, they wanted to kill him. So the disciples snuck him out in a large basket over the city wall. We have learned in these past few chapters in Acts that there are times when persecution leads to death and there are times it leads to moving elsewhere. Either case, the Lord is glorified, and the Kingdom expands.
Now Saul came to Jerusalem but the disciples were afraid of him and did not believe he was a true believer. Barnabus took him to the Apostles and he shared with them his testimony and his experience amongst the Jews in Damascus. Then he went forth and preached boldly the name of Jesus, trying to convince the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him and the brothers sent Saul to Tarsus. (Acts 9:26-30)
Timing is everything! Saul was full of zeal, the same passion he had to persecute those who preached Jesus, was the same passion he now had to preach Jesus now that he knew He was the Son of God. Zeal can get us in trouble when it pushes us ahead of the Lord's timing. Saul the leading persecutor of the church one day could not be suddenly preaching the name of Jesus the next day. Believers were skeptical and non-believers were angry. It was time for Saul to get away to grow in intimacy, and learn how to walk in His perfect timing.
Time proves how authentic and genuine we really are. I sometimes hear from childhood friends on facebook who suddenly are open and asking me to pray for them though I hadn't heard from them in twenty plus years.
In verse 31 it says "the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers."
Saul meant well but his preaching brought more harm than good. I remember when the Lord told me to take a year off because I was newly married, that my only ministry would be to her. My involvement with the church was to just attend, but I got anxious or felt obligated in my zeal to work with the youth ministry. Well, it bore no fruit, and when I stepped aside the Lord brought a move of God amongst the youth without any real leadership.
This is a lesson that anything we do for the Lord will be fruitless without Him. We can only bear fruit by abiding in Christ, we can do nothing apart from Him. If He is not in it we need to back off. There are seasons to advance and seasons to Selah. We must be cautious that the zeal we have where we think God is leading us is not just our own passion to be used by God. Timing again is everything!
Examine your ministry, is the Lord truly leading you? Is there fruit? Make up your mind to only do as the Lord truly leads.
In Acts 9:32-43, the focus switches to Peter, Saul is not mentioned again until Acts 13. Peter spent the majority of his time serving as Apostle in Jerusalem but as the message of Jesus Christ spread he traveled for a time to help expand the work and develop the church in communities where there were believers.
Peter walked with the gift of healing and miracles. The difference between the two is that miracles are medically incurable infirmities. All believers can lay hands on the sick and expect recovery but some ministers have the anointing of miracles. 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 teach us that different supernatural manifestations are given to different members of the body of Christ. Peter here in Lydda performs a miracle on a man who was paralyzed, bedridden for eight years.
The next story in Peter's travels was with a lady named Tabitha who was always doing kind things and helping the poor who had become ill and died. Like Mary and Martha with Jesus and Lazarus, the people expected Peter to come and resurrect her before it was too late. Peter was led to the upper room where she laid and he told all the weeping widows to leave; he prayed, got a word from the Lord, and in His authority told Tabitha, to "get up!" This news spread throughout the town of Joppa and many believed in the Lord.
Life lessons from these miracle stories:
1.) Good people die before their time (Is. 57:1). 2.) Resurrection is possible but we need a Word from God. 3.) We should not make a miracle ministry a spectacle to show off our power. 4.) The goal of miracles should be the expansion of the Kingdom.