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Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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The Conversion of Saul

9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews1 plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,2 lowering him in a basket.

Saul in Jerusalem

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists.3 But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

The Healing of Aeneas

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

Dorcas Restored to Life

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.4 She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics5 and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

Footnotes

[1] 9:23 The Greek word Ioudaioi refers specifically here to Jewish religious leaders, and others under their influence, who opposed the Christian faith in that time
[2] 9:25 Greek through the wall
[3] 9:29 That is, Greek-speaking Jews
[4] 9:36 The Aramaic name Tabitha and the Greek name Dorcas both mean gazelle
[5] 9:39 Greek chiton, a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin

(ESV)

Overview

Jesus Christ is able to transform the life of any person, even a person who has been openly hostile to Him. This transformation is a work of God that begins at conversion, in which we discover our need for mercy and submit ourselves to Christ. When you are converted, God has work for you to do, and as you commit yourself to a local church, other believers will help you discover that work.

God can turn His most bitter enemies into His closest friends. Saul of Tarsus had made it his mission to destroy Christians and he believed he was serving God (Acts 9:1-2).

“As he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” (Acts 9:3-4).

Saul saw a blinding light, and he heard an audible voice. This was not a psychological experience. Those who were travelling with him heard the voice. And the blinding light was not a hallucination. It burned his retina and left him blind.

You may be thinking, Nothing like this could ever happen to me. And yet Paul says, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me… Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example…” (1 Timothy 1:16).

Clearly, Paul does not mean that in order to become a Christian, you have to hear an audible voice and be blinded by a heavenly light. But the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is a model of what must happen in our lives if we are to become true Christians.

A True Knowledge of Jesus Christ
Saul knew a great deal about Jesus. He was a brilliant scholar and his focus was on the followers of Jesus. He knew the claim of Christians that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that He had risen from the dead.

But reflecting on his conversion, he says, “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief…” (1 Timothy 1:13). Saul knew what Christians believed and he knew how Christians lived. But he says, “I acted ignorantly,” because the Christian faith is not a set of beliefs to be debated or a way of life to be considered. At its heart, it is a relationship with a glorious person, who even His enemies cannot ultimately avoid.

When Saul was surrounded by the blinding light, he fell to the ground and heard the Son of God calling him by name: “Saul, Saul…” (Acts 9:4).

You may say, “This all seems very remote from me. I have never had a Damascus Road experience.” But one day you will!

What happened to Saul of Tarsus will happen to you. One day you will find yourself in the glorious presence of the Son of God. You will see His face. You will hear His voice. He will call you by name.

A True Knowledge of Yourself
Then Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer was: “I am Jesus” (Acts 9:5). Saul thought he was fighting a system, a belief, a religious movement, but he found, to his horror, that he had set himself against the Son of God.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (9:5). Saul was persecuting Christians, but Jesus said to him, “Why are you persecuting me?” (26:14). Has it ever dawned on you that every sin you have ever committed is a personal offense against Jesus Christ? When you wound others, you wound Jesus. When you grieve others, you grieve Jesus. If you abuse others, you abuse Jesus. If you lie to others, you lie to Jesus.

Suddenly Saul had a completely different view of himself. He thought he was on the road to heaven, but he discovered that he was on the road to hell. He had sinned against the sovereign Lord of the universe and, far from being a righteous man who would be richly rewarded by God, he found he was a sinner who could only cast himself on the mercy of God.

This gets to the heart of what happens in conversion. When you come to know Jesus Christ, you will have a new understanding of yourself. The swagger will be gone, and there will be a new humility about you.

Submission to Jesus Christ
Submission to the Lord Jesus Christ will bring you enormous relief. Christ said to Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). Goads were sharpened sticks used by shepherds to prod stubborn animals.

Imagine a row of metal spikes, like javelins, lying horizontal about two feet off the ground. A man comes up beside you. He is angry, and with all the force he can muster, he kicks the spikes. A spike goes through the toe of his shoe, and the man recoils in pain.

But his pain makes him even more angry, so he lashes out again. This time the spike sinks deeper into his shoe and blood now flows freely from his foot. But the man cannot stop, and you wince as he steps up and kicks again and again until his foot is reduced to pulp.

“Saul, Saul, It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” You don’t hurt the spikes when you kick against them, all that happens is that you injure yourself. And the more you do it, the worse it gets.

Is this a picture of what you are doing? Repeating time after time what has hurt you before? Driven by some inner compulsion, you keep doing what hurts you and you don’t know how to stop.

There’s only one way to stop and that is to submit yourself entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 22:10). When you submit yourself to Jesus, you will experience enormous relief.

Saul said, “I received mercy…” (1 Timothy 1:13). Metal spikes were hammered into the hands and feet of Jesus, so that you could receive mercy, and kicking against the spikes would not be the end for Saul or for you.

God Uses People
Saul was blind and lying in the dust, but Jesus said to him, “Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6).

When Jesus shows you that you are a sinner and that your only hope is to cast yourself on His mercy, His purpose is not to leave you groveling in the dust. He will lift you up and send you out to fulfill His purpose in the world.

Let’s follow the story. Saul went into Damascus and for three days he gave himself to prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). “Lord, have mercy on me. Lord, show me what you want me to do.” The answer to Saul’s prayer came through a person – a man by the name of Ananias.

Here’s why this is important: Saul came to know Christ without the witness or even the presence of a single Christian believer. He came to faith through a direct encounter with the risen Lord. God broke through the pride and prejudice of this man’s heart by a direct intervention – no one else was involved.

Then Saul said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And the Lord said, “Rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.” It’s as if the Lord says to him: “You have been awakened to who I am by my direct intervention in your life, but that is not how it will normally be.” God uses means. His normal way is to work through his people.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias” (Acts 9:10). The Lord spoke to him in a vision and told him to go to the house where Saul was praying. Ananias did not want to go, and you can hardly blame him. God was calling him to pray for a man who three days earlier would gladly have killed him. “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go…” (Acts 9:15). And thank God that he did!

Surrounded With Love
Now Saul was blind, and for three days had been sitting in complete darkness. His entire campaign against Christians was based on the conviction that God is a God of vengeance, and now Saul had discovered that he was the one who deserves the vengeance of God.

Saul has been killing disciples of Jesus, and now a disciple of Jesus arrives and places his hands on the blind man’s head. It must have been a terrifying moment – What’s he gonna do to me? But the first words Saul heard were: “Brother Saul…” (Acts 9:17). Saul, my brother! Ananias surrounded Saul with love, forgiveness, and grace.

Grounded in the Gospel
Saul’s blindness had a particular purpose. It was a sign of the judgment of God. And when Ananias prayed for his sight to be restored, it was a sign to Saul that God’s judgment had been taken away. It was an assurance that Christ had shown him mercy, and that he had been brought into an entirely new relationship with God.

Ready to Serve
Ananias commissioned Saul, who we know better as the Apostle Paul, for ministry. You will “carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

When people are converted, we are to embrace them as brothers or sisters in Christ. We are to ground them in the gospel, and we are to help them discover the work that God has for them to do. Christ uses this ministry to turn outsiders into insiders and to turn enemies into friends.

When Saul was awakened to his need for Christ, the first Christian he met loved him, forgave him, prayed for him, baptized him, fed him, guided him, and prepared him.

God works through people: Paul prayed and the answer came through Ananias. It was through his ministry that Saul was welcomed, discipled, taught, and commissioned.

The principle of God working through people is foundational to the ministry and to the mission of the church. God can transform a human life without any other person being involved, but He chooses to work through His people. “We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9).

  1. In what sense is the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus, an example, a model, or a pattern for us? What happened to him that must also happen to us?
  2. Do you think it’s still possible today for people to think they know all about Christianity, and to miss Jesus Christ? How so?
  3. Respond to the statement: “When you come to know Jesus Christ, you will come to a whole new understanding of yourself.”
  4. Who could you reach out to? Who needs to be surrounded with your love? What outsider could you come alongside and help to become an insider in the church?
  5. How do you respond to God’s word that says, “We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9)?
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