Paul’s conversion was dramatic and sudden. It is also an encouragement for those of us who pray daily for God to give the gift of repentance to our loved ones. For such a change in a man like Paul could not occur without God’s grace.
Saul/Paul’s conversion destroys the Armenian and Roman view of salvation. Saul did nothing. God changed Saul. There was no goodness in Saul. I once made a statement to a friend that God does not show us all same amount of grace. For example he gave Paul more grace than he gives me. In response, my friend said, “You mean God has not thrown you to the ground and blinded you?”
God’s grace takes many forms. For Paul, God showed Paul grace by throwing him to the ground and blinding him. God was gracious to Saul. But I doubt Saul thought it was gracious at the time.
Let’s recap the situation. Stephen was stoned to death for proclaiming forgiveness of sin through Jesus. Saul was a participant in that death. Stephen’s death marked the beginning of the persecution of the church n Jerusalem. That resulted in the scattering of the church throughout the region. The result of the church’s scattering was the Gospel proclaimed throughout the region.
The attempt to suppress the Gospel resulted in its spreading. Saul was an architect and executioner of the persecution. Now He tried to suppress the Gospel outside Jerusalem.
Saul went to the high priest for legal authorization to arrest any Christian. At that time the term Christian did not exist. Belonging to the Way was the term used.
Saul got his authorization. Saul could arrest both men and women. He had the authority to arrest them, bind them, and bring them to Jerusalem.
Luke says Saul was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Stephens death was not enough. Saul continued to persecute the Christian heresy. And he was systematic in his persecution of the church.
Saul received authorization in written form to destroy all who professed Jesus’ name. Luke mentions women to show the intensity of Saul’s hatred. Even soldiers spared women in the heat of war.
This was not a short trip Damascus was a six day journey. Christianity had spread to Syria.
On the way to Damascus, Saul runs headlong into Christ. Christ changed Saul’s will. Saul was not a seeker. In fact in Romans, Paul tells us no one seeks after God. (Romans 3:11). That was certain in Saul’s case. He was not seeking after God. He thought he already had the truth. There was no need to seek after it. But Christ reached down and showed this murdering beast His grace. When God suddenly and vehemently attacks a sinner, it is the highest act of mercy.
A light, brighter than the sun, (Acts 26: 13) forced Saul to the ground. He then heard the voice of Christ. It was a voice he had despised for so long. Saul, Saul! The repetition signifies intimate personal address (cf. Gen. 22:11; 46:2; Ex. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:10; Luke 10:41; 22:31).
Christ did not ask, why are you persecuting my church? He did not ask, why are you persecuting my people? He did not even ask, why are you so mean?
Christ asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” The church is the body of Christ. To persecute Jesus’ disciples is to persecute Jesus.
Saul asks, who are you, Lord? Lord was a form of polite, formal address. He did not yet realized he was hearing God Himself.
Christ replies that He was Jesus who Saul was persecuting. This voice came from heaven. This answer penetrated Saul’s mind. He realizes all his zeal was against God and he could not escape. This drove him to repentance. Repentance, begging for God’s mercy was his only hope.
Saul was now a broken man. He was ready to obey God’s command. Christ told Saul to go to Damascus and he would receive instruction. Saul was now humbled. Saul was one of the most educated men in the first century. God was going to humble him by his receiving instruction from one of Christ’s disciples.
I have often wondered about those who were with Saul. They heard the voice but saw nothing. Acts 22: 9 suggests they saw the light, heard the voice but did not understand what was said. What was their reaction? Were they with Saul when Ananias came? Did they repent as well. Did they become followers of Christ? How much of what was going on did they understand? Scripture does not tell us. But it suggest they did not understand much of what was happening. They were amazed. But Saul alone was taught. This message was for Saul. It was not for Saul’s traveling companions.
The vision ended. Saul got up. But he could not see anything. His traveling companions had to lead him by the hand. He was now helpless. This man, who moments earlier was a murderous threat, was helpless.
He remained blind for three days. It allowed Saul time to reflect on what had happened without distraction. Again another grace from God which at the time did not seem to be gracious.
Luke tells us Saul neither eat nor drank for three days. If we take literally Saul was near death from dehydration. In survival situations you learn you can survive three weeks without food. But you can only survive three days without water. Saul was very weak. And he was suffering physically from the effects of dehydration.
During those three days Saul devoted himself to prayer.
Now comes one of the funniest passages in all scripture. Ananias feels the need to inform God why going to see Saul is a bad idea.
Ananias has a vision. In the vision God calls to him. I imagine Ananias gets excited. He realizes it is important. God says go see this guy Saul. He is waiting for you.
Ananias’ response is aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. I know your God and everything. But ah, you may have been busy and ah, this may have slipped passed you. But do You realize he kills Your followers. And the fact he is waiting for me does not sound like a good thing.
God said don’t worry about. And Ananias goes OOOOKay. I am sure he was still a little unsure.
Ananias reaction was like ours would have been. We always think we know better. We always think God needs our council.
Ananias was obedient. He went. I am sure he was not excited about the assignment. But he went.
Christ could have sent Paul to Ananias. He could have shown him his house. But it suited Christ purpose to continue to humble Saul by receiving the very one he came to arrest.
The Lord told Ananias the exact street and the house on the street. The Lord directed all the events for the expansion of the gospel. He worked on both sides of the meeting between Saul and Ananias. He prepared Saul. And He prepared Ananias.
God told Ananias He had chosen Saul. Saul did not choose Christ. Christ chose Saul. Saul was elect. It would be Saul’s job to bring the Gospel to the gentiles. Even John Wesley in his commentary on verse 15 admits some men are elect. “He is a chosen vessel to bear my name – That is, to testify of me. It is undeniable, that some men are unconditionally chosen or elected, to do some works for God” – John Wesley
The very one who led the fight to stamp out Christianity would be a chief proponent. He was a Jew’s Jew, a Pharisee’s Pharisee, a very kosher Jew. He would now go into the homes of gentiles. He would eat with them. Christ’s revelation to Ananias was dripping with irony.
Paul would consider himself an apostle to the gentiles. (Roman 1:13-14)
Ananias went to Saul. He laid hands on him. The apostles translated the laying on of hands from sacrifices in the old covenant. They used this when they gave the visible graces of the Spirit or appointed a man minister of the Church. That is why Ananias laid his hands now upon Saul. He was consecrating him to God. And so Saul may receive the gifts of the Spirit.
While it is not mentioned here, we learn later Ananias was also commanded to teach Saul.
After Ananias blessed Saul, scales fell from his eyes. God restored Saul’s sight. While I am sure that soon after Saul received nourishment. There is no mention of it in the scripture. Why? Because, that is not the focus of the story. Saul did not receive Christ because he fasted. He was not chosen by God because he denied himself. God chosen him because God chose him. God chose him for God’s own purpose.
As I said at the beginning, this passage gives us hope. We see here God can change any individual. He changed Saul. Saul was not seeking God. Saul was fighting against God. Yet God chose him. God changed him. Saul did not deserve it. Yet God gave him grace and mercy.