Summary: If there is hope for the greatest of sinners, then there is hope for every one of us.
THE CONVERSION OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
Saul of Tarsus was a Jew from the city of Tarsus in Syria. This was a Roman garrison city, and as a tent-maker Saul had a good market for his trade. Quite possibly Saul’s father had been a tent-maker too, and Saul is known to have been born into the privileges of Roman citizenship. Tarsus was a flourishing cultural centre, too, challenging both Alexandria and even Athens as a centre of Greek philosophy.
Paul himself tells us that he was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, initiated into the Jewish faith at the age of eight days, and that he was a member of the sect of the Pharisees (Philippians 3:5).
The Pharisees had their roots in the era between the writing of the Old Testament and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were known for their piety and their strict devotedness to the Law of God. Their zeal came into conflict with those Jews who allowed Greek thought to have a place alongside their own faith.
Saul was sent from his home in Tarsus to study the Jewish Scriptures at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3).
The teacher Gamaliel was a respected member of the Council who, despite being a Pharisee, showed mildness and restraint when the Apostles were on trial (Acts 5:34-39).
We first hear of Saul of Tarsus at the stoning of the deacon Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church. Saul was a young man who consented to this execution (Acts 7:57-8:1).
After this, Saul set out on a crusade to destroy the Church, obtaining letters from the high priest to arrest those in the synagogues of Damascus who professed Christianity.
A more unlikely candidate to become an Apostle of our Lord could not be imagined. But Saul of Tarsus went through a conversion experience in which he embraced Christ and Christianity, and was renamed as the Apostle to the Gentiles!
As Saul and his companions made their way to Damascus, a light from heaven surrounded him. He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Saul replied, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
You see, dear friends, to oppose Christ’s people, is to oppose Jesus Himself. By resisting the Church, Saul was refusing the goading and guidance of the true and living God whom he professed to worship.
The next words on Saul’s lips are the words which are uttered by many awakened souls. “What must I do?”
It is hard to accept that our salvation does not depend upon anything we can do, but rests in the completed work of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for the sins of His people. However, Saul’s request might have been related to the high calling which he says he received by revelation at this time: that he should preach Christ amongst the Gentiles (Galatians 1:11-17).
Saul was told to continue on his journey to the city, and there he would receive further instructions. When we think we have some task to fulfil for God all that is required of us is to continue on our present journey until He makes it clearer.
The magnitude of the flash of light, and of the vision which Saul saw, left him temporarily blinded. For three days he could not see. His companions led him into Damascus, and he refused food or drink, fasting and praying until God should reveal His purposes to him.
In Damascus there was a Christian man named Ananias. This man received a vision from the Lord, in which he was instructed to seek out Saul. “Behold he is praying,” he was told.
When we want to know what God's will is, it is important that we also are found praying. In prayer we dare to approach the throne of the living God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, making our petitions to Him. In answer to prayer God reveals Himself to us in many surprising ways.
At first Ananias was reluctant: after all, was not this Saul a persecutor of the Church, with letters even now in his hands to arrest all the Christians in Damascus?
The Lord assured Ananias that Saul was a chosen vessel to bear the Lord’s name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. Also Saul, as the Apostle Paul, was to suffer many things in the name of Jesus.
So Ananias obeyed the vision which the Lord had given him. He found Saul, and laid his hands upon him. Saul had his sight restored. Not only his physical sight, but the scales of spiritual blindness which had made him a persecutor also fell from his eyes. Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit.