Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 1 * PART 2 * BOOK 19
Acts Chapter 9 is one of the most important chapters in the whole Bible. This is the big turning point in the Book of Acts. Up until now it’s been all Peter and the eleven. It’s been all Jewish. They are worshiping at the synagogue and Temple. These Jews that have become believers are assembled (the word in the Greek is “Ecclesia”), but all ecclesia really means is a “called-out assembly.” The word is used in various ways of terminology. Stephen referred to that church which was in the wilderness. It was not a church as we understand the word `church,’ but it was a “called-out assembly.” It was Israel called out of Egypt and so was an ecclesia. But up in Ephesus when the mob got out of control because of Paul’s preaching the Gospel and it was affecting so many of the pagans that they were beginning to throw away their idols, the silversmiths precipitated a riot and they ended up in the amphitheater and it, too, was called an ecclesia. It certainly wasn’t a church or anything godly. But it was still called an ecclesia – a called-out assembly.
The same way with these believing Jews at Jerusalem. Sure they were an ecclesia. They are a called out assembly. They are called out of Judaism and they are meeting apart, but they are still under the total umbrella of Judaism. They haven’t separated themselves from the Law and Temple worship, but they are assembling as believing Jews. Now it’s against these believing Jews that Saul of Tarsus began his rampage when Stephen was martyred in Chapter 7. And now we find Saul not satisfied with what he had accomplished in Jerusalem and Judea. He wants to go after the believing Jews at Damascus. Now remember, Saul is doing all of this in the name of religion. He thinks he is doing his God a service by stamping out any believing in Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the background.
“And Saul, yet (in other words he hadn’t even stopped since Chapter 7) breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest.”
The word `disciples’ is simply used of believers of whatever format. These are not such as the Twelve apostles that we normally call the disciples. These were simply Jews that had embraced the Gospel of the Kingdom: that indeed Jesus was The Christ. Now let’s look at verse 2:
“And he desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues (he wants official orders to go to Damascus to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem Jews who’ve embraced this Gospel that Jesus was The Christ), that if he found any of this way (if he’s going to go to the synagogue, what kind of people is he after? Jews!) whether they were men or women, that he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”
Damascus isn’t all that far from Jerusalem. You go through the land of Palestine and along the Jordan River Valley and around the shores of the sea of Galilee. Then just a little way north and about 25 or 30 miles to the east of this imaginary border, there is the city of Damascus. So Saul has left Jerusalem and is impatiently making his way down to Damascus, probably on horseback.
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth and he heard a voice saying unto him, `Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?'”
Now I can’t impress enough on people that this man is totally religious. He is an absolute believer in the Old Testament. He believes in Judaism, in the Mosaic Law; he’s a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and of the tribe of Benjamin. He is a Jew through and through. But he hated with a passion Jesus of Nazareth, because he felt He was an impostor Who was trying to destroy that which, to him, was his whole life. People are no different today. If they love their particular religion, they love their hierarchy and maybe they have a personal interest in someone at the top. Is someone going to come in and make snide remarks without raising their ire. No way! That’s just human nature. And so Saul of Tarsus felt that Jesus was destroying the very bulwarks of Judaism and the only way he could do God a favor was to stamp it out with persecution. He’s doing it in the name of religion. And he is fervent, sincere and devout.
Now, the Lord from Heaven has to look at this man who is like a raging bull. That’s the best way I can explain the energy that he exerts to stamp out these believing Jews who have trusted Christ as their Messiah. I know that maybe I shouldn’t even make the analogy, and forgive me, but if we would have been in God’s place, as the Sovereign Almighty God, what would you and I have done with a man like Saul? We’d have rubbed him out and put him away. Now keep that in mind as we look at this whole situation: that the Sovereign God could have removed Saul of Tarsus and he would have been nothing but a grease spot or a memory. But God’s Grace rises to the occasion. Here is the epitome, the very high point of the pouring out of God’s Grace on a sinful man. Who was fostering his rebellion and energizing this man? The devil was. Because he was not working in the will of God in thwarting everything Jesus had tried to do. It was under the Satanic power of opposition, and yet God in Grace does not wait for this man to have second thoughts, or to stop and say, “Wait a minute. Am I being overzealous?” No, Saul never thought like that. He was still intent on getting those believing Jews from Damascus. It didn’t make any difference whether they were men or women or children. He would take them back to Jerusalem and commit them to prison or death.
But now, God in His Grace, stops the man in his tracks with this penetrating light from Heaven. I think it knocked him from his horse. Probably from his prostrate position on the ground he looks up, knowing that the shining light is coming from Heaven. Where does any religious person normally think of as the abode of his god? Heaven! So as Saul saw this penetrating light coming from above, I think second nature told him that his God was dealing with him (The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph).
“And he said, `Who art thou Lord?'”
When we were teaching back in the Old Testament, what was the synonymous name for Lord? Jehovah! But a good Jew wouldn’t even breath that word out loud. They had too much reverence for it, and so he uses the term `Lord.’ But Jehovah is on his mind. That’s Who his God is. Jehovah was the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And so at least mentally, Saul of Tarsus is saying, `Who are you Jehovah? Who are you Lord?” Now look how the man must have felt when he heard the answer. Read on:
“And the Lord said, `I am Jesus who thou persecutest (I’m the One that you are fighting against): it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks (or against the goads).'”
It’s just like kicking your feet into a bunch of spikes. Every time he tried to exercise some persecution, he was the one who wound up hurting. God is showing him now, that he was fighting a losing battle. Can you put yourself in Saul’s shoes? When the very One he thought he was hating; the very One he thought he had to stamp out any memory of His name; of His miracles; of His ministry; was the same Person as his Jehovah from the Old Testament! This is why I always like to teach people from Genesis on. Beginning back in Genesis Chapter 2 verse 4, all of a sudden after reading, “God did this, and God did that, and God said this,” in Chapter 2 we have the Lord God. And that was the beginning of the reference to Jehovah. God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. And so all the way up through the Old Testament we understand that God the Son and Jehovah are One and the same Person. He became flesh by way of the virgin birth and now Jehovah’s name is Jesus. They are both the same. And now this man suddenly realizes that the One he was trying to stamp out was the same One that he worshipped. What a revelation! No wonder the man was able to go through everything he went through for the rest of his life, just flashing back to this tremendous experience. God’s Grace saved him there on the spot. But he’s going to suffer for it because he’s caused so many of God’s choice servants to suffer during the persecution. So the first thing God does is what? Strike him blind.
“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.'”
See where God has Saul now? All the way up through Biblical times, through human history, what kind of men did God choose to use? The lowly. And if they began in a high position, where would He take them? To the low spot. Look at Moses. The second man in Egypt was totally educated, learned the wisdom of the Egyptians, the second man in power. God couldn’t use him that way, and so providentially again, the Sovereign God had Moses end up on the back side of the desert herding sheep, of all things, where he actually became an abomination in the eyes of an Egyptian. And then after 40 years of herding those smelly sheep and no contact with big population centers, God can approach the man and say, “I’m going to send you back to Pharaoh.” What was Moses’ response? He said, “Lord, I can’t because I’m a nobody. I can’t talk.” But that’s where God wanted him.
King Saul was a proud individual. He was the best looking young man around. He had military talent and so forth but didn’t amount to a hill of beans. But who did God finally use? A little shepherd boy, David. Now, the same way with Saul of Tarsus. He was the big man in Judaism. You read in Galatians that he profited in the Jews’ religion, he was in the upper echelons. God couldn’t use him there. So where does He put him? On the dust on the road of Damascus, where he is now a nobody. And he has nothing to claim that he is worthy. So trembling, shaking in his boots he said, “Lord, what would You have me to do?” And the Lord told him to get up and go into the city. There he would be told what to do. Could the Lord have told him directly? Yes! But what does God intend to do? Use another person, Ananias, as the go-between.
“And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 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. And he was three days (that crucial time again. See how that keeps popping up in Scripture?) without sight and neither did eat nor drink.”
What’s happening? Saul is going through a death, burial and Resurrection even in his own life. He’s going from the big man in Judaism to that lowly servant, which he says in Ephesians Chapter 3 “is a prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.” How long was Jonah in the whale’s belly? Three days and nights, then he was a changed man and could go to Nineveh. Saul is now going to become Paul and he, too, is going primarily to the Gentiles. Now as Saul makes his way up to Damascus, just a little north of the Sea of Galilee, the amazing thing is that all Twelve of the original disciples were chosen within the borders of the then-known Palestine. Not one was chosen from Gentile territory. They were all commissioned while was Jesus was in His earthly ministry within the borders of Israel.
Saul is unique in more than one way. Saul, by birth was a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. But as we find out later in the Book of Acts, Paul was also a Roman, by birth, by citizenship, because his father was. I’d like to point out here that Saul, or Paul as we will now know him as the Apostle, had absolutely no connection with the Twelve. Many theologians over the years have thought that Peter was remiss and got in a hurry and shouldn’t have let Matthias take the place that Judas left, but should have waited for Paul. That would never have worked. Paul would never have fit in. I have read good men, highly educated theologians, who have thought that Peter was totally out in left field by not waiting for Paul to fill Judas’ place. Let’s go back to Acts Chapter 1. Paul had nothing to do with the Twelve. He separates himself from them. He has no connection with the Twelve, they were apostles of Israel. They were chosen within the borders of Israel. This man is going to be the apostle of the Gentiles. And so God chooses and commissions him on Gentile ground. He takes a man who is not just a Jew, but is also a Gentile by citizenship (he’s a Roman). Acts 1 is where Peter lays out the qualifications for the man that is going to take Judas’ place. And all I ask is would Saul of Tarsus ever fill the requirement? No way! Here it is.
“Wherefore of these men (the 120 gathered in the upper room) which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us (40 days after the Crucifixion), must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”
So, who had to be the one to take Judas’ place? Well, it had to be someone who had been converted from John’s baptism; been a follower of Jesus throughout His whole three years of ministry; had witnessed His Resurrection; had heard Him speak in those forty days before His ascension; or otherwise he wasn’t qualified. Saul of Tarsus doesn’t come close to any of this. He hasn’t become a believer until just now. He’s been an enemy of it. So he is totally separated from the Twelve. We’ll probably come to this at a later time, but turn to Galatians for a moment. I’ve had one or two letters over the last few months that are wondering why I am not going by what Peter says. When Peter says be baptized in this particular way, or in another particular way, and Peter this and Peter that. Well, because Peter was the apostle of the Jew and Paul is the apostle of the Gentile. Paul separates himself by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Galatians Chapter 1 beginning in verse 11.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.” What’s he intimating? He didn’t go back to Jerusalem and check with the Twelve. That would have been the logical thing to do. They had spent three years with the Lord and so that’s the place to go and get instruction. “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
`Revelation’ in Scripture means just what it says. God revealed directly to this man these doctrines of Grace. He wasn’t taught it from the Twelve, nor from the chief priests or Rabbis. He got it from supernatural revelation from the ascended Lord in glory.
“For ye have heard of my conversation (or manner of living) in times past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church (the ecclesia) of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion (he was in the hierarchy and probably on a big salary) above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
You know the Scripture hates that word `tradition.’ It’s going to doom more people than any one thing you can think of except maybe the word `pride.’ And this is what God had to break Saul away from. The traditions of the fathers. Now verse 17:
“Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia,….”
I want you to see how Paul, as he writes his letters, disassociates himself from the Twelve, so far as their doctrines and their Gospel were concerned. Because God has revealed something to this man that no one else has heard before. I’ve been stressing the fact that God keeps things secret until He is ready to reveal them. That’s the way to look at the things given to Paul. God saw fit to keep them secret. The Twelve couldn’t comprehend it. But Paul does, and consequently, God is going to designate him as being the apostle of the Gentiles. Whereas the Twelve were apostles of Israel. Now come back to Acts Chapter 9. Let’s look at verse 6 again.
…”Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And so the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 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. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias (keep that name up in mind); and to him said the Lord in a vision, `Ananias,’ And he said, `Behold, I am here, Lord.’ 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.'”
“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.'”