From the beginning, the Church after Christ had trouble.
But since Jesus was the glorious, almighty Son of God,
who even overcame death and the grave,
He has the power to make things easy for His Church.
Instead, His disciples in our text faced a terrible threat,
centered in a brilliant young Pharisee named Saul.
Saul was like the Soviet KGB or the Nazi SS:
storming Christians houses and dragging them to prison.
We’re not told about many specific things he did,
but Saul did assist in the murder of one named Stephen.
Because of Saul, Christians fled far away for safety,
but he was not satisfied, and hounded them where they went.
Why was Jesus letting this happen to His Church?
Could He, would He ever help them against this terror?
It turns out that He did, in a very remarkable way.
The same glory Jesus showed to Peter, James, and John
before He suffered and died,
He now showed to murderous Saul of all people.
The glory of the Lord works for His Church
So that even her confirmed enemy was converted.
So that God’s will is fulfilled in the body of Christ.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.
Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
Saul was the Jewish version of this man’s name.
The version used among Greek and Latin speakers was Paul.
But even though he was a Roman citizen by birth,
Saul was a Hebrew above all.
When some others were later boasting of their Jewish credentials,
he showed that nobody could match his, though it didn’t matter:
…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews;
concerning the law, a Pharisee;
concerning zeal, persecuting the church;
concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
It was Saul’s zeal for the Law that drove him.
That is, his zeal for what we call the Old Testament,
but also for the traditions of the Pharisees.
He held Moses in very high regard,
as well as Elijah and the other prophets.
He later said in his own defense in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3),
“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.”
This was the same wise Gamaliel who had advised in Acts 5
that nobody can prevail against the will of God.
But Saul thought he himself was the hand of God,
authorized and empowered to stamp out the false teaching of Christ.
Apparently, things were cooling off in Jerusalem,
probably because Christians had gone underground or fled.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
This heresy Saul hated was what we call Christianity,
but at the time, it was known as “the Way.”
This name probably connects to Jesus’ saying in John 14:6,
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through Me.
So Saul served as boots on the ground for the high priests,
pursuing Christians outside of Judea to Syria.
All the Christians could do was run and hide.
But Jesus did much more,
for He who had been crucified now reigns with the Father.
He had appeared with Moses and Elijah to Peter, James, and John.
They had seen His heavenly glory before His crucifixion.
But Saul knew nothing of that.
He thought Jesus was against Moses and Elijah.
So Jesus appeared again in a bright light, interrupting Saul’s work.
He spoke from the light as the Father had done on the mountain.
And after that, Saul knew his error,
and became most zealous among the apostles.
He wrote of this appearance of Jesus again in 1 Corinthians 15:8,
Then last of all He was seen by me also,
as by one born out of due time.
It was the last recorded time that the risen Christ appeared,
and it accomplished the conversion of a devout enemy.
Sometimes you may wonder at the Church’s concern for God’s glory.
We do what we do not for our own praise, but for God.
We pray that not we, but His Word might be heard and honored.
The world beyond the Church is very self-seeking,
so that even deeds of mercy are done for oneself.
Shouldn’t the church also be a little more self-promoting?
Shouldn’t we ask God, “what’s in it for me?”
But no, Christians routinely give God the credit
even when the world would praise them for their great works.
And here we have a glimpse behind the curtain of God’s glory.
Jesus is not enjoying a vacation in heaven, detached from our needs.
He uses His divine authority and power for our benefit.
If we praise Him, even more faithfully does He care for His Church.
Most times, we must remember this and trust it by faith alone,
but we can see it plainly in the conversion of Saul.
When nothing else could help the Church,
and when Saul had accomplished God’s will
by driving Christians out into the wider world,
Jesus converted Him to bring the Gospel even further.
The glory of the Lord works for His Church,
so that God’s will is fulfilled in the body of Christ.
This can be a hard thing for us,
to accept the will of God over our own.
The sinful condition affects the human will,
What you want according to the sinful flesh
is not aligned with the will of God.
You can see that in the murderous Saul,
who was a very religious man, but not a believer in Christ.
It’s not enough to believe something,
or even to believe in God, or to use the Bible.
To belong to the Church, one must believe the Gospel,
to trust in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
Only such a person has a will in harmony with God’s will,
though we also still have the flesh with its passions.
The Conversion of Saul was not like a heavenly Powerpoint.
It was more than information: it was a change in Saul’s person.
When an enemy of God is converted,
the change is so basic and radical that Jesus calls it a “birth.”
Most assuredly, I say to you,
unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
A similar word is “regeneration,”
which Saul as an apostle ascribed to the washing of Baptism:
…not by works of righteousness which we have done,
but according to His mercy He saved us,
through the washing of regeneration
and renewing of the Holy Spirit…
So this conversion of Saul was complete at the end of our text,
after Ananias had come, and Saul had been baptized.
Finally, Saul had a regenerate will aligned with God’s will,
and he was ready to work with Him instead of against Him.
But Ananias was troubled by Saul’s reputation.
Jesus had to assure him that it would work for the best,
so that Saul himself would suffer for Christ and His Church.
We have have difficulty too with the radical things God does.
He uses surprising people and circumstances.
He works great victories that look like terrible defeats.
He makes His people suffer, and turns evil into blessings.
All of this is according to the cross of Jesus,
which seems like the greatest evil and shame,
but God has made into the highest good and glory.
Our sinful flesh murmurs, complains, and rebels against the cross,
especially when its splinters touch our own skin.
That’s why Jesus’ suffering is such a comfort,
because not even Saul bore his cross perfectly.
But Jesus did, and so in Him God provides our redemption.
I’m sure Christians wondered why Jesus allowed Saul’s persecution.
Imagine being driven from your home,
simply because you believe that Jesus is your Savior, God’s Son.
But worse than that: some of your friends and family are arrested,
perhaps even put to death for the same faith.
And the most active persecutor was Saul.
Many prayers were raised to heaven concerning Saul,
who did what he did because he thought it was God’s will.
And was he wrong? God did allow it, didn’t He?
He permits evil to take place, for the good He can bring from it.
Some would preach to you that you should have your best life now.
Jesus is not one of them,
because He has reserved your best life after the resurrection.
Now, we have pain and suffering. Now, we have the cross.
Now, people like Saul persecute us with words, decisions,
with attitudes and actions, and sometimes with violence.
But we are the body of Christ,
and as He suffered bodily, so now we follow the same path.
Saul was also called to this path,
as were Peter, James, and John.
Saul, Peter, and James even died as martyrs,
James being the first of the 12.
Maybe you or I will have the same privilege and honor.
Or maybe we will suffer like John into later years.
But either way your suffering for the faith shows your path,
the same path followed by Saul after his conversion,
the same followed by Christians everywhere,
and first by Jesus Himself, Who made atonement for you.
God’s will is fulfilled in the body of Christ.
You can remember with Peter (1 Peter 2:21),
…to this you were called,
because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,
that you should follow His steps.
By His steps, He has forgiven you,
and by yours He’s bringing you to eternal life.
Soli Deo Gloria