Before Paul was known as an apostle, he was known as Saul of Tarsus—a persecutor of Christians. Due to his zeal in the Jewish religion, he dedicated his life to trying to eradicate Christians. As a Jew, he saw Jesus as a liar and the Christian movement as a threat to his life as a Jew. With each Christian that died, or was tortured into turning against Christ, Saul believed he was doing the work of God and protecting God’s people.
In Acts 8, it mentions that the persecution against Christians became so great that many Christians fled from Jerusalem. Saul was at the front line of that persecution. He was not satisfied with Christians just leaving Jerusalem, he wanted them either dead or to turn against Jesus. Therefore, he got permission from the chief priests to pursue them into other cities. So he chased after them to Damascus.
On his way to Damascus, he was breathing out threats and slaughter to the disciples of Christ. When he was almost to Damascus, he was confronted by Jesus. The Bible tells us that a light shined from the heavens around Saul, and all he could do was fall to the ground. Then a voice spoke to him, and asked him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul likely knew who was speaking to him, but he asked the voice who He was.
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.Acts 9:5 NKJV
The picture portrayed by the Lord here is an ox who is rebelling against his master, so the master pokes him with a prick which was a sharpened stick used to rouse the ox to perform the act the master wanted. In this act of rebellion, the ox was only hurting itself. It was at this point in the conversation with the Lord, Saul came to the realization that like an ox kicking the prick, he was working against God and hurting himself. For the past several months, Saul had been sinning against God.
In his desperation, he asked Jesus was he needed to do. The Lord told him to go into Damascus and wait and he would be told what he needed to do. Saul got up ready to go into Damascus but he was blind. He had to be led into Damascus by those who were travelling with him and had witnessed these events. He was blind and did not eat nor drink for three days.
While waiting for the next set of orders, Saul sat prayed. Then the Lord shows himself to a disciple named Ananias. He told Ananias to go visit Saul and give him the next set of orders. When Ananias visited Saul, he told Saul that the same Lord who visited Saul on the road to Damascus, came and visited him also and wanted him to give him a message. The message Ananias gave to him was how to fix the sins he had committed against God.
Ananias told Saul,
And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’Acts 22:16 NKJV
This message was very direct. It showed the urgency of the situation and how to fix the sin problem. I want you to notice something about this situation. At this point, Paul still had his sins.
- Despite a personal visit from Jesus, he still had his sins.
- Despite confessing Jesus as his Lord in front of witnesses, he still had his sins.
- Despite and obvious period of sorrowful repentance, he still had his sins.
- Despite his sincere praying for 3 days, he still had his sins.
It was not until he was baptized that his sins were washed away. By doing this, he was calling upon the name of the Lord. This phrase means that Saul is calling on the authority of God to perform a work that only he can perform—washing away sins. Being baptized was Saul submitting to God’s chosen process for forgiveness of sins and therefore calling on the authority of God.
Saul arose and was baptized. He was changed from a zealous Jew who persecuted the Church of God to an ambassador of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.From there he lived a life dedicated to preaching the gospel. He proclaimed the glorious gospel which saved him and he knew could save others.
The conversion of Saul can teach us several things. It can teach us that just because you are religious and think you are doing right—you may be wrong. It is important to pair zeal and knowledge (Philippians 3:4-8; Romans 10:1-3). It can teach us the plan of salvation. Salvation comes from God through Jesus Christ. Saul took several steps which were necessary for his salvation. He changed his belief system and started to believe Jesus was the Son of God. He confessed Jesus as Lord before men. He repented of the sin he committed while a zealous Jew who persecuted the Church. He was baptized for the remission of sins calling upon the name of the Lord. Finally, I believe we can learn that God is capable of cleansing those who are persecutors, blasphemers, injurious, and full of sin and using them for His glory. We see a brilliant picture of this in the story of the transformation of Saul.
Based ona sermon given by Jeffrey Wells at Concord Church of Christ on 3/13/19.