Published by Stanley Pouw in 2023 · 22 January 2023
We have no other conversion in Scripture that has such detail and length. This is a powerful story of a man who dominates the historical record of the gospel into the world in the book of Acts. Paul including himself and all of us, said that, “In Romans 8:37, “we are not just conquerors, but we are more than conquerors.” That is the only phrase which does justice to this conversion.
Before the scene on the Damascus Road, this man named Saul from the city of Tarsus – was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was a pupil of Gamaliel, a student of Jewish traditions, a man who saw Christianity and the gospel as a threat to the pure religion of Judaism. He was horrified at the thought that Jesus would claim to be the Messiah and he wanted to do everything he could to stamp out the Way.
All his life was a battle. Before he encountered Christ on the Damascus Road, he was warring against Christ, against the gospel, against the church. And if need be, to execute all the people who were associated with it. And after that, he was warring against Satan, and against lies and deception and false religion, and fighting the battle to recover sinners from the power of darkness.
When he gave his testimony to the Roman leaders in Acts 26:9, he said, “I thought I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus,” and that is what he was doing. He fought to conquer Christianity, but Christ conquered him. One day that history changed because one man was transformed. The blasphemer Saul became the preacher Paul. The purveyor of hate became the prophet of love.
The hand that wrote in anger the execution papers for the disciples of Christ now wrote love letters with tears to the followers of Christ. That heart that beat in the passion of anger for the blood of those he opposed now desired that the blood of Christ be applied to every heart. He was totally transformed from a volatile enemy of the gospel, to the most saintly and heroic person who has followed Jesus Christ.
He became the greatest example of the power of the resurrection, the greatest example of gospel transformation, to be the very pattern of transformed life. We’ve looked at the elements of this transformation process for anyone who is encountering Christ and is brought to salvation. In the opening nine verses, that he had a new master. He was ruled before that by Satan and the kingdom of darkness.
This changed his soul. This changed his life. This changed his eternal destiny. He is talking to his Lord, his new master. The mark of true conversion is communion with God. We saw that he not only had a new master and a new life, but he had a new mission. And we learned that he met Ananias who came to him to tell him what the Lord had told him.
Verse 15, “This man is a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name before the nations and kings and the sons of Israel. He is going to be called into a new mission.” For his new mission to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles and to kings and to Israel, he must have a new power which is the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8 says, “You will receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon you.”
And what did the Holy Spirit do with this man? Well, first, God refined his usable characteristics. God takes what’s already there, and God develops that into something that can be used for the kingdom: things like leadership ability, strong willpower, self-discipline, high motivation, persistence, inflexible convictions, sufficient independence, boldness, practicality and strength.
And then, secondly, God has to replace the unusable characteristics like hatred, animosity, bitterness, anger and he replaced them in Paul’s life with love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. He was a model of humility. And that’s what the Lord does in every life. When you have a new master, you live in a new sphere with a new life.
You have a new mission to serve Him; that’s the rest of your life. And you have a new power for that service, a power that refines what is usable in you, and a power that replaces what is not usable in you. And we are to be filled with the Spirit. That’s how we are to live our lives, and it produces a submission to one another. It produces love in a marriage. It produces right relationships with God.
On the Damascus Road, Saul saw Christ and he was blinded by Christ. And Ananias declares that he saw the Lord. That is Ananias’ testimony. And later on, Barnabas shows up and Barnabas declares that Paul saw the Lord. So the fact that Paul saw the Lord is confirmed in the mouth of three witnesses. He saw the Lord. And he began to live his life in the control of the Holy Spirit.
And he received a new family, fellowship with the saints. All the people Saul hated became the people he loved. And all the people he formally associated with became his enemies. So everything changed. In Acts 14:19, “The Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.”
We find it again in Acts 21:27, “Seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing Paul, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, this is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the law and this place, the temple; and besides he has even brought Gentiles into the temple and defiled the holy place.”
The change in this man was so dramatic, he was their hero once, but now he became their archenemy. Let us look what happened. Verse 18-19, “Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.”
Verse 20-22, “And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
Notice, it didn’t take any time. It is an immediate transformation. This is a highly educated man. This is somebody who sat at the feet of Gamaliel who was the most outstanding Jewish teacher in the world at that time. He understands Christianity because he has argued against it and fought against it; and now that has totally reversed. He knows what he has said against it, and he now knows it’s true.
So in Damascus, he went “to the synagogues.” And it was those very synagogues that had sent word to Jerusalem to have the Jerusalem authorities send their arch-conqueror of Christianity, Paul: “Send him up here because the gospel is reached here. We need Paul to put a stop to it.” And he went right back there and lifted up his voice. This man’s courage is really incredible.
He’s not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, as it says in Romans 1. What did he say when he arrived? He proclaimed Jesus, saying He is the Son of God. That is the Christian truth; that is the Christian gospel. He is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is deity. The Jews condemned Jesus because he made himself equal with God by saying God was His Father.
Saul is preaching Jesus as God incarnate. The Holy Spirit is filling him. He’s proclaiming Jesus, and he’s backing it up. How do you prove that? You use the Old Testament to prove it. He was an Old Testament scholar because he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. And suddenly the Holy Spirit illuminated all that he knew about the Old Testament, and it all pointed to Christ.
He had his own Isaiah 53 experience. He looked back on Christ and it hit him: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” He is the Anointed One of God. He perhaps declared that Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, that Jesus was the fulfillment of Psalm 22, that Jesus was the fulfillment of Psalm 16, that Jesus was the final Lamb depicted in the other animal sacrifices.
You evangelize by proving that Jesus is the Son of God. It’s fine to talk about what the Lord has done in your life. But you’ve got to get to the facts of the gospel.as laid out in 1 Corinthians 15, “How will anybody believe unless they hear? And what do they have to hear? They have to hear about Jesus. How will they hear without a preacher?” Faith comes by hearing the truth concerning Christ.
So they’re trying to figure out what has happened to this man in the transformation that shocks everyone. Verse 23-25, “Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. 24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.”
In Galatians 1:15, Paul writes, “When God, who set me apart, called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles. When I was converted, I didn’t consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Nabatean Arabia and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem.”
What was he doing in Nabatean Arabia? He was receiving revelation from the Lord. That’s what he says in Galatians 1, God was downloading everything into the mind of the apostle Paul. After returning from Arabia to Damascus, the Jews plotted together to do away with him. But their plot became known to Saul. They didn’t want him to get out of the city, they wanted to kill him.
All that to say he had new enemies. But his disciples took him by night, let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. Ancient cities are all surrounded by high walls, and in those walls were houses, and their windows were on the outside of the wall, projecting through the wall. In the dead of night, Saul was taken into one house and lowered to smuggle himself out.
Verse 26, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.” Verse 27, “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.”
Barnabas is highly respected among the apostles and believers, and he becomes Paul’s companion. Barnabas explains Saul’s conversion. Saul wants to do something to make reparations, to make it right. So what can he do to sort of validate his desire? Verse 28, “And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.” He did that for two weeks.
Because Galatians 1:18 says, “I came to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter and stayed with him 15 days. And I didn’t see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” Verse 29, “And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.” He was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews.”
After his conversion he left Jerusalem for three years. He comes back, and the people who sent him originally now want to kill him. Verse 30, “When the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea on the coast and sent him away to Tarsus. “Paul, you’ve got to get out of here.” In Galatians 1:21, he says, “At that moment, I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia where Tarsus was.”
They’re thoughtful and careful. They know the power that this man possesses. They know how useful he is, they know that, so they send him home. Acts 15:22, “It seemed good to the apostles and the elders and the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul, Barnabas and Silas, leading men of the brethren, and they sent this letter by them.”
This is a letter from Paul, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.” How did you get brethren in Syria and Cilicia? They sent Paul out of Jerusalem to his own city, and he not only proclaimed the gospel to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Acts 15:40, “Paul chose Silas and they travelled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
This man is a force. Talk about church planter. They sent him away for a rest and he plants churches. The church multiplied; it grew. Incredible moment in the history of God’s redemptive plan. This transformed man, Saul: The world that he touched felt the power of this man and it was the power of God. Paul put on display that power by being an obedient, trusting and faithful sacrificial servant.
Verse 31, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” Why did they enjoy peace? Because the arch persecutor, Paul, was transformed. Peter takes over the story in the book of Acts now and Paul comes back in later. Let’s pray.