Summary: The conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus

The Lion Meets the Lamb – Acts 9:1-31

(From Saul to Paul)

In chp. 8:1-3, we see the beginning of Saul’s attempt to destroy the Greek-speaking Christian congregation in Jerusalem. The result is that these persecuted disciples move out of the city, and plant new congregations in Samaria and its surrounding villages, and up into Galilee. The story of the amazing spread of the gospel through the mighty power of God continues with this shocking description of one of the sworn enemies of Jesus and His followers:

Read Acts 9:1-2

1. Paul’s Background

Who was Saul? Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul, was the second most significant figure in the history of Christianity next to Jesus Himself. He wrote one-fourth of the New Testament. Two-thirds of the book of Acts tells Paul’s story. His conversion is related three times in Acts. Paul was not the first missionary to the Gentiles, but he was certainly the most prominent and he has been the model for all cross-cultural missionaries ever since. Few would call it an exaggeration to label Paul "the greatest missionary of all time.”

Before he met Jesus, Paul was a terror. He was a Lion who was about to meet the Lamb of God face to face.

Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in what today is Turkey. Tarsus was a Greek speaking city, but Saul was a not typical Hellenistic Jew. The evidence suggests that Paul’s principal self-identity was that of a Hebrew as opposed to a Hellenist. “He undoubtedly knew Greek, but as a second language, spoken with what we might call today a Yiddish accent” (Peter Wagner). He calls himself a Hebrew born of Hebrews (see Phil. 3:5). Aramaic was his mother tongue, as suggested by the language Jesus speak to him on the Damascus road.

While the majority of the Jews in Tarsus would likely have been Hellenists (using the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, as their Bible and holding their synagogue services in Greek), not so Saul. His parents made sure of an orthodox upbringing for him by arranging for him to spend his formative years in Jerusalem. A modern parallel might be Hasidic Jews in New York City. Although they are citizens of New York City and of the United States of America, they; nevertheless, find their primary social and cultural self-identity as Orthodox Jews. At the same time, the majority of other Jews in New York City are much more Americanized, just as the majority in the first-century Tarsus would likely have been Hellenized.

This fits in with the way Luke reports Paul’s public self-description in Acts 22:3:

Ac 22:3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.

Saul was proud of his past religion. He was a Jewish Pharisee; very religious and proud of it. Some people are so proud of their religion or religious heritage that they can’t see the truth of God’s Word.

ILL.- A man stopped a cab at Kennedy Airport in New York and asked to be taken to a certain Church of Christ. The driver dropped him in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The man said, "This isn’t the Church of Christ." The Irish cabbie replied, "IF HE’S IN TOWN, HE’S IN THERE." That cabbie, of course, was die-hard Catholic.

2. Saul the Persecutor

Saul was now a full-time persecutor of the Messianic Jews. He had done his best to wipe them but in Judea and Samaria, and perhaps some of the believers from there had escaped to Damascus when that persecution came. His purpose was to arrest them and to bring them bound to Jerusalem (9:2), where the Sanhedrin had jurisdiction and where they could then be punished.

Believers were still Jews in those days and that they naturally continued keeping the Jewish law and attending their synagogues. No one was yet called a "Christian" (=Messiah people), and no one would be until the first Gentile churches were firmly established in Antioch (11:26). Jesus had said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), and so Luke called Jesus’ disciples followers of the Way.

The issue was not whether they were Jews or not. The issue was whether these Messianic Jews were seen to be blaspheming God as Stephen had been accused of doing. "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law" (6:13). Stephen’s subsequent explanation in Acts 7 fanned the flames of their unbelief rather than quenching them and they reacted by murdering Stephen. Luke makes a point of mentioning that Paul was there in person: And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (7:58).

8:1,3. Now Saul was consenting to his death. . . . he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

It is not difficult to feel the emotion here. Here is a man obviously under the power of the enemy who has come to steal, to kill and to destroy. His misdirected zeal has overshadowed any sense of human compassion. This sets the stage for the irony that such a wild beast could later become, of all things, a missionary to the Gentiles, explicitly inviting them to follow Christ without submitting to the Jewish law.

In Acts 26, Paul says:

Ac 26:9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Ac 26:10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.

Ac 26:11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

Ac 26:12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.

3. The Lion Meets the Lamb: from Saul to Paul

He was sure he was right, and in that pride he was riding for disaster.

ILL.- A cowboy wandered into a crowded blacksmith shop and picked up a horseshoe off the floor, not realizing that it was extremely hot, having just come from the fire. He dropped it immediately, but didn’t grab his hand or rub it, because he was too proud to admit that it had burned him.

Somebody said, "What’s wrong, Zeke? Too hot for you to handle?"


Pride often keeps us from submitting to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. Pride keeps us from surrendering to Christ. Pride keeps us from Christian service and witnessing. And pride often leads to trouble with a capital "T."

Prov. 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." A sure way to trouble is the way of pride.

James 4:6 "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Paul was a proud man, but God took care of that for him.

Read Acts 9:3-7

Saul fell to the ground when "a great light from heaven" (22:6-7) which was "brighter than the sun" shone around him and his companions (26:13). This is how Paul relates it in chp. 26:

Ac 26:13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions.

Ac 26:14 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.’

Ac 26:15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.

Ac 26:16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.

Ac 26:17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them

Ac 26:18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

All three accounts of Paul’s conversion say that he heard Jesus’ voice. Three days later in Damascus, Ananias, speaking prophetically, says, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came. . ." (Acts 9:17). And when Paul goes to Jerusalem three years later, he declares to the apostles how he had seen the Lord on the road (v. 27). And in his letter to the Corinthians, he defends his apostolic authority with the rhetorical question, "Have 1 not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1). When speaking of Jesus’ resurrection he says, "Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time" (15:8).

When Jesus appeared to Saul, his question was, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Saul was arresting Jesus’ followers. If someone touches Christians, that person is touching Christ himself. Christ by His Spirit lives in each of His people. You hurt his people, you hurt Christ. Look at your neighbor… Christ lives in that one. If you lie to, gossip about, get angry at, or otherwise hurt that person, you are hurting Christ himself. That is why in Ephesians 4:30, Paul writes:

Eph 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Eph 4:31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Eph 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We can grieve the Holy Spirit, by mistreating other Christians. We must not do that.

Light dispels darkness. Paul will later write to the Corinthians about "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4), and affirm that "it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (4:6). From the time Paul saw the light on the Damascus road, his burning desire was to share that light with those who are still in darkness, as he had been for so many years.

Many years later Paul remembered that the voice he then heard was in the Hebrew language, saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads" (26:14).

Just as you take a stick with a sharp point and drive cattle into the pen or the barn, The Holy Spirit and the Word of God act as a sharp goad to constantly push us toward the Cross of Christ. We can kick against it, fight against it, try to forget about it, but the goading continues. It isn’t God’s will that anyone should perish and He is constantly trying to reach us and turn us back.

Saul had been goaded before, too:

1) At the stoning of Stephen – Saul stood by and held the coats of those who threw the stones – who knows if his mind didn’t flash back to Stephen’s death and the martyr’s gracious words, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (7:60)?

2) At the feet of Gamaliel – as the teacher of the Pharisees warned him to leave the followers of Jesus alone when he warned the entire council to not fight against God.

3) By the boldness of Peter and the other disciples as they preached the gospel message with power and authority after the Day of Pentecost; and as the ordinary believers Saul arrested gave witness – there had to be more than this than met the eye.

Saul was instantly and eternally changed in the flash of light.

Simon Kistemaker says it as well as any: "What a reversal of events! Paul, who desired to dash the believers to the ground, is lying face down on the ground. He, who wished to bring prisoners bound from Damascus to Jerusalem, now is led as a prisoner of blindness into Damascus. . . . He, who came to triumph over the Christian faith, now submits to the Captain of this faith."

I want to hear the Lord’s voice – don’t you?

When that voice came from Heaven, Saul knew this was no ordinary voice, but he didn’t know the Lord and didn’t recognize him. But Jesus had come to make a change in Saul’s life, so He revealed his identity to Saul:

I AM JESUS – the one you are really fighting against, the one you are really condemning, the one you are really persecuting – I AM JESUS CHRIST, THE KING OF KING AND LORD OF LORDS, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE – I AM THAT I AM!

Now those around him didn’t hear what Paul heard. They weren’t ready to hear. God come to each man in his own time and in the way that He knows will reach him. People who haven’t heard the voice cannot understand and cannot know what we are all about. They only know that we are different – that something has interrupted our lives and changed us in a flash.

Read Acts 9:8-21

Ananias lived in Damascus. It appears that, until this vision, Ananias was unaware that Saul the Terrible (as he must have been regarded by the disciples who followed the Way) had actually arrived in Damascus.

However, Ananias did know Saul’s reputation and that he was bringing subpoenas from the high priests in Jerusalem. Here is the second time in three days that Jesus actually appeared to a person and spoke words so clearly that they could later be quoted.

The detail in this prophetic vision is remarkable. God told Ananias specifically who the person was he should minister to (Saul of Tarsus), exactly where he was (Judas’s house on Straight Street), what he was doing at the moment (praying), his new condition (God’s chosen vessel), and what Ananias was supposed to do (lay on hands and heal the blindness). He also told Ananias that Saul would be expecting him because Saul had experienced a similar specific vision-of a man named Ananias coming in and putting. his hand on him (9:12).

Ananias naturally objected that Saul was a dangerous enemy who had come to arrest and take any Christian disciples that he found to be punished in Jerusalem (9:1-2).

You could imagine Ananias’ feelings: “Uh. Lord… are you really sure about all this? This is Saul the terrible – You haven’t forgotten or overlooked anything, have You, Lord?”

“No, I haven’t, Ananias. Now go and do what I have told you to do.” The Lord doesn’t get mad. The Lord understands us. But He also wants us to do what He tells us to do, even if it seems risky.

We have to be impressed with Ananias, the otherwise unknown disciple, who accepted this assurance, went to the house, laid his hands on Saul, and called him "Brother Saul." He told him he would now receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit, as had happened to leaders and prophets in the Old Testament, and the apostles on the Day of Pentecost.

God speaks to people today like he did then. I want to hear his voice – don’t you?

Then we need to listen for it. We need to first believe He can and will speak to us. This is the first barrier for some people. Then we need to read Scripture and pray so that we can discern his true voice from all the other voices around us including our own and the enemy’s. God true voice will always align with Scripture and never be contrary to it.

Then finally, we need to be quiet enough to hear it. We need to stop our continually asking long enough to just be in His presence and hear his answer. And God will answer and direct us!

4. From the Power of Satan to God

Church growth leaders insist that the most complete understanding of what evangelism really is involves a twofold commitment: (1) commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and (2) commitment to the Body of Christ. Definitions of evangelism that see it as preaching only, or as simply registering decisions for Christ, are inadequate. Both preaching and decisions for Christ are essential, of course, but the process is not concluded until unbelievers become disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of His Church.

Jesus not only commissioned Paul to evangelize the nations, but He also outlined his job description. He told Paul that when he entered a given people group he would find them under an awesome power, the power of Satan. His job would be ’to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God’ (Acts 26:18).

This was no small task. Satan is none other than "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4), and "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). The nations to which Paul was to take the message were all under the power of Satan, and they had been under his control for millennia. Satan fully intended to keep these nations under his dominion, and he was not willing to let any of them go without a fight. The fight would consist of what we call today "spiritual warfare." By the time Paul wrote Ephesians nearly 30 years after he began his ministry, he had learned a great deal about spiritual warfare, saying, "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

Paul would also write, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:4). And the primary way of gaining access to the power of God for waging successful spiritual warfare is through prayer. Effective prayer is extremely important for breaking into unreached people groups.

Paul paid the price with the afflictions and tribulations he later describes, but he is very clear on who ultimately wins this war. As he says to the Colossians, Jesus on the cross "disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them" (Col. 2:15).

As a result, many people, indeed, were taken from the power of Satan to God under the ministry of Paul, and multitudes have come from darkness to light through the spread of the gospel in subsequent centuries.


Who is sufficient for all this? Certainly, Paul didn’t feel that way. But in all of it, God reminds Paul that His grace is sufficient. If God’s grace is sufficient for Paul, God’s grace is sufficient for you.

God says, no matter what you’re going through, no matter how ill you are, no matter how weak you are, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weaknesses. God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, therefore, God’s grace is sufficient for you, God’s grace is sufficient for me, God’s grace is sufficient!

When you are faced with trials and tribulations, call on the name of Jesus. When you are suffering from a thorn in your flesh, call on the name of Jesus. When you are suffering from illness, call on the name of Jesus. When everything in your life is going wrong, and nothing around you seems to be going right, call on the name of Jesus. When you call on the name of Jesus, demons tremble at the sound of his name, yokes are broken at the sound of his name, and bodies are healed at the sound of his name. Call his name.

Paul turned from his wicked ways and found God on the road to Damascus. Paul experienced new life on the road to Damascus. God has a way. We have no way to save ourselves.

But Paul discovered God’s way in Jesus – the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let God show you the way by accepting Jesus into your life. The way to God is now opened. The Lord still speaks and directs. The Lord has mercy on even the worst, even persecutors of Christians.

Thank you, Lord.

Reference: C. Peter Wagner, Acts of the Holy Spirit