The partnership between the Holy Spirit and the followers of Christ was being threatened and hurt by a fanatic young Pharisee call Saul. He was from Tarsus, but educated by Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He was highly favored by the high priest and the Jewish council, that authorized him to apprehend the followers of Christ and bring them in for sentencing. Saul described himself:
I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished (Acts 22:3-5).
Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any one thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless (Philippians 3:4-6).
THE HOLY SPIRIT INTERCEPTED SAUL ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
I do no pretend that I understand why some hear God speak and that some do not. However, I do know when I was engulfed in fire, in an accident, my conscience clearly heard the voice of the Lord saying, that I had waited too long to put my trust in Christ, and I cried out loudly, “I am lost!” I was surrounded by thirty men and no one understood me. I believe, Paul had a similar experience on that day. He had his companions with him, they too heard a sound and saw no one, but Saul clearly heard the voice of Jesus, who felt persecuted. It was the Spirit of the Lord asking Saul, why he was harming and hurting Jesus’ followers? When we hurt another human being, we also hurt God, who made all of us (Acts 9:10). Saul became Paul. And therefore, Paul shared how he met Jesus the Christ in his own words:
As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a rear light from heaven shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise and go to Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said ‘Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles’ (Acts 22:6-21)
SAUL DID NOT INSTANTLY BECOME PAUL AND APOSTLE
Things changed for Saul on the spot. He was on his way to persecute the disciples of Jesus. Now he needed them to save his life. But how could these disciples, whose lives he sought to destroy, trust him and take him in. The Holy Spirit instructed a brave and obedient disciple, against his own will, by the name of Ananias to visit Saul, inform him why he was chosen. Ananias was instructed to lay his hands on Saul, to restore his eyesight, and to shelter him, with other disciples, in Damascus. It took only days for Saul to search the Scriptures and for the Holy Spirit to equip him to witness that Jesus was the Christ, but it would take twenty years before he would become accepted as a true of follower of Jesus by all the disciples.
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.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and where he has authority from the chief priests t bind all who call upon thy name.” 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 sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 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 that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened.
For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed, and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:10-22).
SAUL’S LIFE WAS SAVED BY THE DISCIPLES IN DAMASCUS AND BY HIS COUSIN BARNABAS IN JERUSALEM
Saul was getting a taste of what he had handed out to those he had persecuted. Now, he too lived in fear of being killed because he believed in Jesus, the Christ. Thanks to these kind Damascus disciples who broke their law to keep him alive. In the eyes of the Jewish law, Saul had become a fugitive from their justice.
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night, to kill him; but his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket.
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. 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. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him of to Tarsus.
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria has peace and was built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied (Acts 9:23-31).
SAUL BELIEVED THAT HE RECEIVED HIS COMMISSION DIRECTLY FROM THE LORD AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
It is true, Saul became a disciple of Jesus without a human intermediary. But there was also a reason, why Saul was chosen for who he was and for his ability to witness for Christ without any assistance from the simple Galileans who were with Jesus, but
who had put down nothing in writing. Saul already was an astute teacher of the Hebrew law, traditions, and the Scriptures. Then, Paul had nearly twenty years to research his scrolls before he was called to Antioch to be one of the pastors of this dynamic congregation. In addition, a man by the name of Luke already had made available to Saul a written account of Jesus from his birth and past Pentecost. Luke, a Greek physician, was another person whom the Lord enlisted for his talent and so was Saul’s cousin Barnabas and a man called Silas. Saul was a clever organizer and he had surrounded himself with very capable people; and thus, he had no need of Peter and his companions. Another person Saul knew and may have studied with him was John Mark; they were about the same age. Barnabas also belonged to the group and the three were the first missionaries who were commissioned in Antioch (Acts 13:13). And to be more acceptable to the Gentiles, Saul took on the name Paulus (Paul) (Acts 13:9). To his people, Paul became an outsider and to the Gentiles, Paul became an answer to their prayers.
Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor as I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Jerusalem, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond may of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I from the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage — to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do (Galatians 1:10-2:10).
PAUL FULFILLED JESUS’ PRAYER; HE ENDURED HARSH ENCOUNTERS AND SUFFERING
I (Jesus) do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. And thou didst send me into the world so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth (John 17:15-19).
But whatever any one dares to boast of — I am speaking as a fool — I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am better one—I am talking like a madman — with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings and often near death. Five time I have received at te hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I do not lie. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands (II Corinthians 11:21b-33).