Acts Chapter 9
“The conversion of Saul”
Scripture for this lesson are taken from Acts 9, Acts 22, Acts 26, Galatians 1.
At the close of Acts chapter 8, Jesus’ disciples had scattered in all directions from Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. After the stoning of Stephen, Saul was going all over Jerusalem seeking Christians so that he could have them beaten, arrested and killed.
The twelve apostles remained in Jerusalem teaching and preaching the gospel, trusting God to protect them. Also, they were held in high esteem by the people, especially Peter. They believed that their ministry was in Jerusalem where the temple was.
[Acts 9:1-2] 9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Saul had gone to the High Priest to get a letter of authority that would allow him to arrest Christians in Damascus. He also had letters from other members of the Sanhedrin to their associates in Damascus to would help him find and arrest Christians living there. Christians were called “belonging to the Way.” The “Way” came from the Roman roads that that were built in all directions and used to move the Roman armies where they were needed. So “Way” means “Road.” A way of worship, a way of life.
[Acts 22:3-5] 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
Saul was explaining that he was a devout Jew, trained by Gamaliel who was the most respected Rabbi at that time. Saul believed that Jesus was a false prophet and a traitor and that he was doing what was right when he went about arresting and persecuting believers in Jesus. Saul believed that Jesus was a threat to Judaism and all His followers should be wiped out.
Saul, being a devout Pharisee, would certainly bypass Samaria. The Samaritans were mixed Jews with other peoples and considered to be unclean by the devout Pharisees. When the Assyrians took Israel, or the Northern Kingdom, in 721 BC they took thousands of the Jews and relocated them in other territories that they controlled. They moved people from those other areas and relocated them in Samaria. By doing this they removed any people who would likely try to rebel against Assyria and take back their own country. This was a clever and effective way they had for keeping control of their captured territories.
[Acts 9:3-9] 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
As Saul’s group neared the city of Damascus a bright light came down upon Saul. Jesus spoke to him asking why he was persecuting Him. At this point Saul did not believe in Jesus but he knew it was a heavenly being because Saul called him, “Lord.” The Greek word for “Lord” used throughout the book of Acts I “Kurios.” It means supreme authority, or controller, a respectful title. It is not “Yaweh”, the name for God. The men traveling with Saul heard something but did not understand.
[Acts 26:12-18] 12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
In this passage Saul had testified before King Agrippa and he described his experience on the Damascus Road. Here Saul related how Jesus had told him that “it was hard to kick against the goads.” A goad was a sharp stick that farmers used to prod their oxen to get them to move. This illustration was meant to show Saul that Jesus was in control and he, Saul was fighting a losing battle. He was resisting a superior power. Jesus had work for Saul to do and it was time for Saul to listen. When Saul looked up from the bright light, Jesus told him who He was and that he was to go into Damascus and wait until he was given further instructions. Saul was blind then and had to be led into the city.
[Acts 9:10-16] 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Ananias knew about Saul, that he had arrested believers in Jerusalem, even had some killed. Ananias also was aware that Saul had come to Damascus through the authority of the Sanhedrin to arrest Christians and take them back to Jerusalem for trial. Ananias was afraid of Saul but he did as Jesus asked anyway. Jesus went on to tell Ananias how important it was that he go to Saul. This man, Saul, had been chosen by Christ to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, to kings and to Israel.
The question is, why would the Lord pick a man like Saul to preach His gospel?
1. Saul was a Roman citizen which gave him protection and lea way to move about in the Roman world.
2. Saul knew Hebrew scripture from his years of study with Gamaliel, the Hebrew Rabbi.
3. Saul was a man committed to what he believed.
4. Being a Jew, Saul was at home with other Jews.
5. Being a Roman from a free Roman city he was at home with gentiles.
Saul had everything he needed to go the places that Jesus wanted him to go, all that was lacking was believing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.
[Acts 9:17-21] 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
The man, Saul, who formerly believed that all who professed that Jesus was the Messiah were a detriment to the Jewish people, had now accepted that Jesus was truly the Son of God. Saul was as committed to spreading the gospel as he had been before to arrest all Christians. The believers in Damascus were not all that convinced that Saul had truly changed and was actually using his proposed belief in Jesus to find other believers and arrest them. They were very suspicious of Saul.
[Galatians 1:15-18] 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.
Saul aka Paul claimed his right to be an apostle, stating that Jesus personally taught him for three years.
[Acts 9:22-25] 23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
Damascus was a large city, at least 200,000 people in Saul’s day. It is on a plateau watered by two rivers, the Abana and Pharpar, being watered by the channels of two rivers, the land was very fertile. The city was surrounded by large orchards and gardens. A great contrast to the desert all around Damascus was called the “Pearl of the Desert.” It was a very old city; some believed it to be the oldest existing city in the world. Being an ancient city, it was surrounded by a great wall. These great walls were 12 to 30 feet thick. One chariot driver to 6 abreast could ride on these walls. There were homes built inside the walls with windows in them. It was through one of these holes that the Christians let Saul down outside Damascus so that he could escape the Jews who were trying to find Saul and arrest him.
This is the Bab Tuma gate standing today in the City of Damascus. It is believed that this gate dates back to the time of the Romans. This gate should be a good example of the size of the walls and gates of Damascus at the time Saul.
[Acts 9:26-31] 26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
When Saul left the Damascus area he went down to Jerusalem and sought out the Apostles and disciples. But they were afraid of Saul. They did not believe that he was a true believer. Barnabas accepted Saul and took him to see the Apostles explaining to them how Saul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus and had preached the gospel in Damascus. After that, he was able to move about in Jerusalem among the believers. They accepted him as a true believer. However, when Saul began to preach in Jerusalem, then the Jews came after him trying to kill him. The Christians got Saul out of Jerusalem and sent him off to Tarsus which was his home. During that time the church grew in numbers throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria.
These verses in Acts chapter 9 focuses on the conversion of the zealous Jew named Saul. How he began by persecuting the believers in Jesus Christ, how he met Jesus on the road to Damascas, and how Jesus called him to preach the gospel to the gentiles. But this big change in a prominent Jew was not easily accepted by those early Christians whom Saul had previously persecuted. However, Saul had some helpers, people who did believe him and helped him get started with the mission that the Lord had given him.
1. One of these helpers was Ananias in Damascus who went to Saul and laid hands on him so that he would have his sight restored and then baptized him.
2. There were the disciples in Damascus who hid Saul and then helped him escape outside the walls of Damascus in a basket.
3. Barnabas stood for Saul in Jerusalem so that the Apostles would accept him.
It is important for us today to encourage and stand up for new Christians. To help them understand what it means to live your life for Christ, striving to follow him in your daily life. New Christians need to be nurtured, to be taught and encouraged. So many people who join our churches today will come to church and Sunday school for a while, and then they fall away. We fail as Christians and church members to mentor these young Christians until they are able to stand firm in their Christian lives.
In our next lesson in Acts, the gospel came to the gentiles.
* * * * *
ACTS – CHAPTER 8
Scriptures for this lesson are taken from Acts 8, Acts 26, Galations 1, Acts 1, Acts 2, Matthew 16, Acts 10.
At the close of Acts chapter 7, the members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, had dragged Stephen outside Jerusalem and executed him by stoning. With this group we find the young man Saul standing by watching the member’s expensive cloaks.
[Acts 8:1-3] And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Paul said of himself: [Galatians 1:13-14] 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
When Saul/Paul stood before King Agrippa he said the following: [Acts 26:9-11] 9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
Following the death of Stephen, the persecution of Jesus’ followers was so open and severe that the disciples left Jerusalem for Samaria and other regions of Judea. The 12 apostles, however, stayed in Jerusalem awhile longer. Young Saul, a devout Pharisee and student of Gamaliel, made it his ministry to seek out believers all over Jerusalem and persecute them. They were beaten in the synagogues, both men and women, imprisoned and even killed.
[Acts 8:4-8] 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Jesus’ followers went north into Samaria away from the severe persecution in Jerusalem. Wherever they went, they took the good news about Jesus Christ and salvation. As is often the case, God took the terrible stoning of His true follower, Stephen, to spread the gospel everywhere the new believers went out and away from Jerusalem.
[Acts 8:9-13] 9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
Simon was a man who used sorcery or the powers of Satan to perform trickery. He lived in the city of Samaria which was at one time the capitol of the Northern Kingdom before it fell to Assyria. The people followed after him believing that he had the powers of a god. When Philip came there and preached about Jesus, the Son of God who had come and died for man’s sins, they believed and were baptized. It says in verse 13 that Simon himself believed and was baptized. But is sounds like to me that Simon was more interested in the miracles that Philip was performing than in worshiping God.
[Acts 8:14-17] 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Philip preached the gospel, the people believed and were baptized but did not receive the Holy Spirit. The question is why? When the word got to Jerusalem that the people of Samaria had accepted Christ Peter and John were sent to check it out. When they and found out the people had not yet received the Holy Spirit, Peter and John laid their hands and they then received the Holy Spirit. I believe the answer to this question lies in other scripture.
[Matthew 16:13-19A] 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
Jesus and His disciples were in Galilee at the town of Caesarea Philippi near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He asked the disciples who the people that were following them everywhere were saying that Jesus was. Some thought Jesus was John the Baptist come to life again, some thought Elijah or Jeremiah or another of the Old Covenant prophets. Then Jesus asked who they thought He was. Peter, whose name was Simon, said without hesitation that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Upon this declaration, Jesus called him, Peter, which means “rock” in Greek. Peter was not the “Rock” upon which Christ would build His church, but Peter’s knowledge, understanding, belief that Jesus was the Son of God was the “Rock”. This belief was given to Peter by God the Father.
Now let’s look at verse 19A. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
Jesus said that he would give to Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. What is a key used for? Obviously a key is used to open a door.
[Acts 1:8] 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This passage is called “The Great Commission” given to Jesus’ apostles and disciples and to us who are today’s disciples. This is the work that Jesus left for us to do. But He gave the commission in a particular order. Remember that Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Israelite Nation. He came to them first, but they rejected Him. However Jesus told them to be His witness in Jerusalem, the Holy City, then in Judea the primary home for the Jews. Next came Samaria which was called Galilee at that time. This was the area that was the Northern Kingdom called, Israel, after the death of Solomon. When Israel was taken by the Assyrians in 721Bc there were people from other nations controlled by Assyria that were moved into the territory of Israel and these peoples intermarried with the Jews living there and they became a mixed race. After Samaria, the gospel was to be taken to all people living on the earth which at that time would be called the gentiles. So there was this order for spreading the gospel:
1. To the Jews
2. To the racially mixed Jews
3. To the Gentiles
This does not mean that Peter actually made it possible for these people to be saved. God used Peter who was the leader of the apostles to show the Jews who believed that God and their Messiah was only for them, that Jesus came for all men, Jew and gentile alike. And it showed the gentiles that the God of Israel was their God too.
[Acts 2:38-41] 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Fifty days after Jesus’ death on the cross at Passover at the Feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon all of Jesus’ believers. They were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and went out among the people who were in Jerusalem for the Feast and began to tell them in their own languages about Jesus. Peter then addressed the crowd, asking them to repent of their sins in the name of Jesus Christ and they would receive the Holy Spirit. Verse 41 tells us that about 3,000 Jews were saved at this time.
Above in Acts 8:14-17 we saw where the mixed Jews received Jesus and the Holy Spirit at Samaria when Peter and John came and lay hands on them.
[Acts 10:44-48] 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongue and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Peter has come to the home of Cornelius who was a centurion or commander of a regiment of Roman soldiers. He was a God fearing man who prayed to God and gave generously to the poor. He was given a vision from God of an angel who told him to send for Peter who was at Joppa at the time. In the meantime Peter had received a vision about things that were clean and unclean. God then spoke to Peter through the Holy Spirit that three gentiles were coming to get him and Peter was to go with them. Jews were not to go into the home of a gentile because they were considered unclean, but God told Peter to go and he obeyed. When Peter got to Cornelius’ home he gave them the message of salvation. They believed and received the Holy Spirit. At this point the Jews had received the Holy Spirit, the mixed Jews and the gentiles. The doors to the Kingdom of Heaven had been opened.
Now let’s go back to Acts 8:18-25 were Simon the sorcerer tried to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit.
[Acts 8:18-25] 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” 24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” 25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
It is obvious from this passage that Simon was not a true believer in Jesus Christ. All he was after was power and he tried to buy the gift of God which was the ability to bring down the Holy Spirit. Salvation and the Holy Spirit are a gift of God and cannot be purchased with money nor works, but only through repentance and trusting in Jesus Christ.
[Acts 8:26-31] 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Philip is still in Samaria when the angel of the Lord spoke to him. This is possibly the angel, Gabriel. He tells Philip that he needs to go on the desert road to Gaza. This Ethiopian is the finance man for the queen of Ethiopia. He is not a Jew but a believer in Jehovah God and had been in Jerusalem for a feast. He was on his way home to Ethiopia and was reading from a scroll of the prophet, Isaiah. The Holy Spirit told Philip to go near this chariot and stay close. Philip could see that the man was reading God’s word and asked if he understood it. So Philip got into the chariot with him to explain about the Messiah.
[Acts 8:32-35] 32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
Philip then explained that Isiah was foretelling the crucifixion of Jesus, the Messiah, for the sins of men. Philip went on to tell him how to accept Jesus as his savior.
[Acts 8:36-40]36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 37 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
The Ethiopian was anxious to be baptized as soon as he accepted Christ, so Philip baptized him. As soon as they were finished, Philip’s work there was finished and the Spirit of the Lord took him to another place where he continued to preach the gospel and lead people to Christ along the way until he had returned to Caesarea by the Sea of Galilee.
Lessons for us from Acts chapter 8:
1. It is the ministry for all Christians to reach others for Jesus Christ.
2. The Lord has a work for each of us. He used Peter to open the doors of the gospel to all peoples. He used Philip to preach the word, to reach the Ethiopian who would take the word to his people. Jesus’ disciples spread the gospel wherever they went. They were our example for today.
3. All the money and power is this world cannot buy salvation. It is a gift from God through Jesus Christ.
4. As with Philip, the Lord puts us in situations where we can share the gospel. It is up to us to do it.
* * * * *