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).