Today’s selected reading continues. In the New Testament account of the spiritual body of Jesus the Christ—the Church—as it was written and recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically today’s passage is found in the first nineteen verses of the ninth chapter. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutes: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink” (Acts 9:1-9).
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house, and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest hath sent me, that thou mightiest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus” (Acts 9:10-19).
When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will come to one of the greatest turning points and transitions in the history of the Church. As you come to the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will encounter the beginning of a narrative concerning one who would grow and be transformed into the greatest advocate and missionary the church has seen in its history. It would be argued that the apostle Paul is not and has not been the single greatest missionary and apostle for the Church throughout its history and yet I am absolutely convinced that such an argument would indeed be incredibly shallow. Throughout the years there have in fact been great men and women of faith who have committed themselves to believing on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to a life of service and ministry before Him. There have been throughout the years countless men and women who have been those full of faith, those full of the Holy Ghost, those full of wisdom, full of power and of honest report as was written concerning the seven deacons who were chosen from among the brethren, however, I am absolutely convinced that the apostle Paul single handedly made one of—if not the biggest contribution to the Church in its entire history which has spanned over generations. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of the narrative of the apostle Paul for his story is one that does not begin the way you would expect it to. It would be very easy to read the epistles which were written by the apostle Paul and completely miss out on his history and how he indeed was brought up in the Jewish religion, however, the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts brings us face to face with where this man began his journey which was completely independent and different from where he ended it.
I am absolutely convinced that if we want to truly understand the history of the apostle Paul and the narrative surrounding his life and ministry we must needs consider the words he wrote in the third chapter of the epistle which was written unto the Romans. The words which he writes there are perhaps one of the most honest accounts he gave of his life as he looked back over his life and where his journey began. We cannot afford to miss the words found in this New Testament passage of Scripture for it draws and calls our attention to the truth that before Saul would become the apostle of relationship with Jesus the Christ he was first a man of religion among the Jews. The apostle Paul was not always one who preached relationship and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and he wasn’t even among those early followers of Jesus of Nazareth within the book of Acts. The apostle Paul was not among those initial three thousand souls who were added unto the Church on the day of Pentecost nor was he one of those whom the Lord added unto the number of the church leading up to the death and martyrdom of Stephen. In all reality I can’t help but wonder what the life of the apostle Paul was like during those three and a half years He walked upon the face of the earth and even after He had been crucified, raised from death to life and ascended up unto the right hand of the Father who was in heaven. There is a part of me that wonders how the apostle Paul spent his early years as a child, as a teenager and even as a young adult. Scripture doesn’t provide a whole lot of details concerning this man name’s Saul history and there is much we are forced to speculate on as we read the words found within its pages. With that being said, however, there is a powerful narrative found in the third chapter of the New Testament epistle written unto the saints at Philippi as the apostle Paul would indeed describe the life which he lived before Jesus of Nazareth whom he persecuted appeared to Him on the road to Damascus. With this in mind I invite you to consider the following words found in that particular chapter:
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection ,and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:1-160.
It is absolutely necessary we pay attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for they bring us face to face with the history of the apostle Paul before he had become such by the grace of God. If you could speak to the apostle Paul today he would emphatically declare unto you that it was entirely and altogether the grace of God that took a man such as himself who had persecuted the church and transformed him into the greatest apostle of the faith the church has ever seen. As you come to the ninth chapter of the book of Acts you will find the apostle Paul continuing to wreak havoc upon the church and continuing to breath out threats upon and against it. If it wasn’t enough that a great persecution broke out against the church in the city of Jerusalem thus scattering the brethren throughout Judaea and Samaria there was also this champion of persecution that seemed to have risen up out of nowhere. In all reality when you come to the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find Saul being mentioned and seemingly coming out of nowhere. There was no advance notice nor any thing that would indicate his arrival and emergence on to the scene and yet in the opening verses of the eighth chapter we find that after the death of Stephen they came and laid his garments at the feet of one whose name was Saul. What’s more is that it is in the opening verses of the eighth chapter we find Saul actually consented to the death of Stephen—and not only consented to it but perhaps most certainly approved of it. In these opening verses we find Saul consenting unto the death of Stephen at the same time a great persecution rose up and broke out against the church which was at Jerusalem. As a direct result of this great persecution all the brethren save the apostles were scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria preaching the word concerning the kingdom wherever they went.
In the opening verses of the eighth chapter we find Stephen having already been stoned to death after there were those who rose up against him in false accusation. Stephen was a man of honest report, full of faith, full of wisdom, full of power, and full of the Holy Ghost and yet he was brought before the council because of envy, because of malice and because of jealousy by those who could not withstand the spirit and wisdom by which he spake. It would be while Stephen stood before the council false witnesses would be raised up against him accusing him of blasphemy and treachery against Moses, against the Law, and against their traditions. Much like Jesus of Nazareth was Himself accused time and time again by the religious leaders and rulers of that day and was even falsely accused as He stood before the religious council, before Herod and even before Pilate so too would Stephen be falsely accused of words he never spoke. As a direct result of Stephen being wrongly and falsely accused as well as the words he spoke in his defense those who heard him speak were cut to the quick and pricked in their hearts. Unfortunately they all hardened their hearts, stopped their ears and all with one accord took up stones which they used to stone Stephen to death. It is when you come to the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find Stephen having already been stoned and how there was a certain man who contented and perhaps even presided over his death. Scripture is not clear whether or not Saul oversaw and presided over the death of Stephen but we can be absolutely certain he gave his consent and approval of his death.
As you come to the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find Saul appearing out of nowhere and emerging on to the scene without any warning or advance knowledge. Upon the death of Stephen we find Saul emerging on to the scene—a man who at that time we knew very little about. With this being said it is intriguing to think about and consider whether or not the great persecution which broke out against the Church was because of rage, envy, malice, jealousy, and animosity because of the words which Stephen spoke or because Saul himself initiated it. It’s rather curious to read the opening verses of the eighth chapter of this New Testament book and to consider how Saul consented to the death of Stephen and at the same time there would arise a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem. It would be this great persecution which broke out and rose up against the Church which was at Jerusalem that the brethren were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria—all save the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ which remained in Jerusalem. Immediately after we read of certain devout men who came and carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him we read how this same man named Saul began to make havoc in the church entering into every house and haling men and women whom he committed unto prison. What would initially and originally begin with the apostles would now transition and take a turn to touching the brethren and those who would follow the Lord Jesus Christ. After the death of Stephen there would be a great persecution which would rise up against the church of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem and there would seemingly be a champion of persecution that would rise up against the early Church which remained in the city of Jerusalem. Scripture is entirely and altogether unclear whether or not Saul went throughout Judaea and Samaria persecuting the church but we might very well deduce that he did if he obtained letters from the priests which were in Jerusalem to journey unto Damascus to commit any whom he found which were followers of the way and commit them into prison.
THERE IS ALWAYS A CHAMPION! A CHAMPION OF PERSECUTION! The more I read and consider the words found in this passage of Scripture the more I encounter the tremendous truth surrounding the great persecution which broke out against the church which was at Jerusalem and how as a direct result of that persecution the brethren save the apostles were scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria. It is in the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we a man by the name of Saul consenting to the death of Stephen before emerging and rising up to become the champion of the persecution against the church. Scripture is entirely unclear why Saul was compelled to engage in this great persecution against the early Church and those who were followers of the way. When writing unto the saints which were at Philippi the apostle Paul spoke of zeal and how his expression of zeal was persecuting the church. Oh I feel the tremendous need to pause right here and boldly declare that zeal in and of itself and being zealous is not enough within this life. There would be those who would like to consider themselves as being zealous and yet if there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand is what that zeal drives us to do. There would indeed be those who would refer to themselves as being zealous in this life and yet the underlying truth of the matter is that any zeal we profess to have within our hearts and lives will propel and compel us to do certain things as a demonstration and manifestation of that zeal. For Saul of Tarsus who would later become the apostle Paul his zeal would lead him to persecute the church which was at Jerusalem and perhaps even in Judaea and Samaria. For the apostle Paul his zeal early on in his life would cause him raise his hand up against the early Church and run amuck through the land during those days engaging in persecution against it.
I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are written in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts and I find myself wondering what the catalyst was that prompted Saul to begin raising his hand up against the early church. When we come to the eighth chapter of this New Testament book we find Saul appearing out of nowhere without any advance notice or warning concerning his arrival. When Saul emerges and arrives on to the scene we know absolutely nothing about him, where he came from, nor even what propelled and compelled him to engage in this persecution of the church. It would be in the epistle written unto the saints which were at Philippi the apostle Paul would speak of zeal within those earlier years of his life and how the expression and manifestation of that zeal was persecuting the church. What’s more is that I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples when He declared unto them that there would be those who would rise up in persecution against them thinking and believing they were doing a great service for the living God. If you begin reading with and from the first and opening verse of the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John you will find the following words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth: “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” (John 16:1-6).
YEA, THE TIME COMETH, THAT WHOSOEVER KILLETH YOU WILL THINK THAT HE DOETH GOD SERVICE! Please don’t miss and lose sight of the words found in this passage of Scripture for the words which we find here bring us face to face with what might have been the underlying motive behind Saul’s rising up against the early church in persecution, in rage, in wrath and in great distress. Scripture is entirely unclear what would prompt Saul to raise his hand up against the early Church and we are given absolutely no indication what happened during those days that would cause him to begin to unleash a torrent of havok and chaos against it. If there is one thing we can say it’s the Saul might very well have thought and believed that his actions against the church were actually of great value and service unto the living God. As you read the four gospel narratives which were written by their respective authors you will find that the chief priests, the scribes, the elders of the people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the like continually raised themselves up against Jesus of Nazareth thinking and believing they were honoring the Law of Moses. The religious leaders and rulers of that day continually raised their hand up against Jesus of Nazareth believing He had continually violated their traditions, their rules, their order and their way of doing things during those days. Oh there is not a doubt in my mind the chief priests, the elders of the people, and the religious community of that day believed they were in fact doing God a great service when they raised their hand up against Jesus of Nazareth. Moreover I would even suggest that when they delivered Jesus unto Pilate to be sentenced and condemned to death they believed themselves to be honoring and pleasing God as though they had done Him a great service.
When we come to the narrative and life of Saul we find him rising up during a time of great persecution which broke out against the early church and essentially becoming a champion of that persecution. That which makes this all the more interesting is when you consider how by the mouth of the apostle Paul himself he studied under Gamaliel in the city of Jerusalem. The apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi concerning religion during his earlier years and how he was a Pharisee. It is with this understanding that he was a Pharisee must also recognize and understand that Saul studied under Gamaliel who was one of the leading rulers within the religious community during those times. What makes this even more intriguing when you think about and consider it is when you read the fifth chapter when the religious council sought to destroy and put to death the apostles of Jesus of Nazareth. It would be in the midst of this chaos surrounding the religious council seeking to destroy and put to death the apostles that Gamaliel who was one from among them stood up and sought to exercise and speak wisdom in their midst. In the fifth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find this man named Gamaliel seeking to speak reason unto the hearts and minds of the religious council in the midst of their desire to put to death and destroy these apostles of the man whom they had previously delivered to be crucified by Pilate at Golgotha. It is in the fifth chapter we find the apostles being imprisoned but an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, delivering them up out of their prison and commanding them to go stand in the Temple and preach the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ. When word of the men whom they had previously imprisoned standing in the Temple preaching the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth reached the ears of the religious leaders they were greatly incensed and sought to put them to death. It would be the intervention of Gamaliel who was one among themselves who would stand up and although he might not have intentionally sought to do this would deliver the apostles out of the hands of the religious council. Consider if you will the following account of Gamaliel standing up before the religious council when they sought to put the apostles sto death:
“When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; and said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And when they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:33-42).
BUT IF IT BE OF GOD, YE CANNOT OVERTHROW IT! LEST HAPLY YE BE FOUND EVEN TO FIGHT AGAINST GOD! Oh please don’t miss and lose sight of the words which are presented here in this portion of Scripture for within it we learn how Gamaliel was not only a Pharisee and not only a doctor of the law but was also one who was held in high esteem and reputation among the brethren and men of Israel. When the religious council sought to slay and put to death the apostles because they sought to preach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth it was Gamaliel who stood up among them and sought to speak reason before and unto them. It is entirely unclear whether Gamaliel was seeking to deliver the apostles out of the hands of the religious council or simply to caution them to exercise wisdom in how they treated and handled these men. It’s actually quite interesting to read the words which Gamaliel spoke unto the religious council for the words he spoke seem to acknowledge that what they were witnessing during those days might indeed and might in fact be of God. Gamaliel provided two different instances where certain men rose up during those days and drew men away unto themselves professing themselves to be something they were not. Although Judas and Theudas each professed to be someone and drew men away unto them and to their cause they would both be brought to nought. Gamaliel sought to speak unto the religious council concerning Theudas who boasted himself to be someone great and drew a number of me totally about four hundred who joined themselves unto him. Despite Theudas’ believing himself to be something great both he and all those men who joined themselves unto him were slain, and as many as obeyed him were scattered and brought to nought. This same type of reality is found in the narrative of Judas who drew many people away after him and yet perished and all those who obeyed and followed him were scattered. Gamaliel used each of these examples as a powerful demonstration unto the religious council that if the words and works of the apostles was not of God it would be brought to nought. If, however, the words and works of the apostles was of God they ought to heed how they responded to them lest they be found fighting against God.
WOULD YOU DARE FIGHT AGAINST GOD? WOULD YOU DARE PERSECUTE JESUS OF NAZARETH? Oh as I sit here today and read the words surrounding the narrative of Saul I can’t help but think of and consider him as being one who was not only zealous in his persecution of the church but also how he was indeed one who both fought against God Himself as well as persecuted Jesus of Nazareth. FIGHTING AGAINST GOD, PERSECUTING JESUS! Stop for a moment and consider the true significance and weight of those two statements and how they are absolutely remarkable and astounding when you think about them. It would be Gamaliel whom Saul would study and learn under who would stand up before the religious council and urge caution and warning how they treated these men who preached the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth for if their words and works were of God and they sought to put them to death they might very well find themselves fighting against God. What makes this all the more interesting is when you consider this in light of the words which Jesus spoke unto his apostles concerning their being put out of the synagogues and how there would come days when men would kill them thinking and believing themselves to be doing God a service. Stop for a moment and consider the tremendous dichotomy that exists between those who think and believe they are doing God a service and yet are doing nothing more than fighting against Him. This reality was seen time and time again during the days in which Jesus of Nazareth walked among us in the flesh as the chief priests, the scribes, the elders of the people, the Pharisees and the like believed themselves to be doing God a service by persecuting and ultimately delivering Jesus up to His death and yet Scripture indicates they were fighting against God Himself.
I cannot help but be absolutely gripped and captivated by the words found in the New Testament book of Acts and Gamaliel standing up before the religious council. The whole religious council sought to put the apostles to death for their preaching in the name of Jesus of Nazareth and it was Gamaliel who rose up among them and urged them to proceed with caution concerning these men. It was Gamaliel who suggested and hinted at the fact that the words and works of the apostles might very well be of God and if those in the religious council put them to death they would be found as fighting against God. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if Saul of Tarsus was not present at the time the apostles stood before the religious council and heard the words of that one who had tutored and mentored him. We know from Scripture the apostle Paul studied under and was tutored by Gamaliel and what we find here is that one who had mentored and tutored him attempting to warn and caution the entire religious council to beware how they treated and handled these men who dared preach the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Is it possible that Saul of Tarsus was indeed present at this time and might very well have been incensed and outraged at the leniency which was granted unto these men who would preach the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it possible Saul of Tarsus disagreed with that one who had mentored and tutored him and as a direct result of this disagreement would rise up and engage in persecution of the early church? Scripture is entirely and altogether unclear why Saul of Tarsus sought to rise up against the church in persecution and we are left to speculate as to what was the fuel and the catalyst for his rising up against the early Church in persecution. We are left to conjecture and wonder what happened within the life of Saul of Tarsus that would cause him to raise his hand up against the early Church—particularly and especially considering the words which Gamaliel had spoken in the midst of the religious council.
FIGHTING AGAINST GOD! PERSECUTING JESUS! BELIEVING YOURSELF TO BE DOING GOD A SERVICE! The more I consider the actions of Saul of Tarsus the more I am brought face to face with the fact that he was a man who was no only zealous within himself but also believed himself to be doing God a service. When Saul of Tarsus raised his hand up against the early Church in persecution that which he was attempting to do was engage in service before the living God. Perhaps one of the greatest deceptions that was found within the hearts and minds of the Pharisees, the chief priests, the elders of the people, the scribes and the religious leaders during those days is how they believed themselves to somehow be doing a service unto God. Time and time again within the four gospels you will find the religious leaders and rulers of that day engaging themselves in persecution against Jesus of Nazareth and there is not a doubt in my mind that in their persecution—and ultimately in their delivering Jesus unto Pilate to be sentenced and condemned unto death—they believed themselves to be doing a service unto God. The religious leaders of those days did not believe Jesus came from God and it was because of this belief within their hearts they raised and lifted up their hand against Him that they might eradicate, destroy and put Him to death. Oh I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the religious leaders of that day after Jesus had been sentenced to death—and not only after He had been sentenced to death but had also been crucified outside the city at Golgotha. Did the religious leaders of that day believe themselves to have done God a service and somehow fulfilled the will of God by ridding the land of this Jesus of Nazareth? Did the religious leaders of that day believe they had defended Moses and the Law which he had given them by removing this one who continually and repeatedly defied the law through his words and actions?
What we find in the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is Saul of Tarsus consenting unto the death of Stephen—and not only consenting unto the death of Stephen but also himself rising up as a champion of persecution against the early Church. I have to admit there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder whether or not Saul completely disregarded the words of Gamaliel whom he studied under when he engaged in persecution against the early Church. Moreover I can’t help but wonder what Gamaliel himself thought when he learned and discovered that Saul was rising up against the early Church as he entered into the homes of many and hailed both men and women committing them unto prison. Although Saul would not put any of the brethren to death we do know from the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts that he wreaked havoc upon and against the early church. We know from the words found in the eighth chapter that his persecution of the church included his entering into the homes of the brethren and haling men and women from those homes as he committed them to prison. Oh I find myself wondering how many homes Saul did indeed enter and how many men and women he had in fact committed unto prison. We know there was a great persecution which broke out against the early church during those days and we know that Saul was indeed a champion of that persecution. What’s more is I would dare say that Saul might very well have gone throughout Judaea and Samaria entering into houses and homes alike hailing men and women out of those homes and committing them unto prison. Consumed with zeal within his heart and soul and believing himself to be doing God a service he would rip men and women away from their families and out of their homes as he cast them into prison for their belief in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth.
If there is one thing I find to be absolutely astounding when I come to the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts it is how the chapter begins. As you take the time to read the words found in the ninth chapter of this New Testament book you will find Saul continuing to breathe out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. Pause for a moment and consider the magnitude and weight of those words—particularly and especially when you read them in light of what was found in the previous chapter. It was in the previous chapter we read of Saul consenting unto the death of Stephen and raising himself up to wreak havoc in the early church. In the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find Saul wreaking havoc in the church as he entered into houses and homes alike dragging men and women alike out of them and casting them into prison. In the eighth chapter of this book we read of Saul casting men and women into prison and in the ninth chapter of this same book we find Saul continuing to breath out threats and slaughter against the early Church. What’s more is that it is the ninth chapter we discover Saul desiring letters to Damascus to the synagogues that if he found any of this way of Jesus of Nazareth—whether they be men or women—he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. It is in the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we find and encounter the awesome and incredible truth surrounding this Saul of Tarsus who continued to unleash havoc against and upon the church as he was still breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Still believing himself to be doing God a service he would ramp up his persecution of the early Church and would seek to take his threats and his actions against the church as far as Damascus.
FIGHTING AGAINST GOD, PERSECUTING JESUS! As I come to the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with the narrative surrounding Saul of Tarsus and his journeying unto Damascus. Having obtained letters with which he would bring any whom he found to be followers of this way bound unto Jerusalem Saul would journey unto Damascus for one purpose and one purpose only. The sole reason and purpose for Saul of Tarsus journeying unto the city of Damascus was to bring men and women bound unto Jerusalem whom he had found to be followers of the way. Saul wasn’t content with simply engaging in persecuting the church in Jerusalem and perhaps even in Judaea and Samaria for he was now seeking to take that persecution unto Damascus. What makes this passage of Scripture so incredibly powerful, however, is that while Saul was journeying unto Damascus and as he drew near unto the city there would be a light from heaven which would suddenly shine round about him. As a direct result of this light which shone round about him from heaven Saul would fall to the earth and would hear a voice speaking unto him. It is important we recognize and understand the words which this voice had spoken unto him for this voice which spoke from heaven not only called Saul by his. Name twice, but also asked Saul why he persecuted Him. Stop for a moment and consider the fact that in the opening verses of the eighth chapter and even in the opening verses of the ninth chapter we read of Saul persecuting the church and yet here in the fourth verse of the ninth chapter we find this voice speaking from heaven asking Saul why he persecuted Him. Imagine the shock and surprise within the heart and mind of Saul as he heard these words and heard the voice of one speaking from heaven asking him why he persecuted Him.
I am absolutely convinced we must needs recognize and understand these words which were spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ unto Saul on the road to Damascus as the words Jesus spoke unto him suggested that his persecution of the church wasn’t merely persecution of flesh and blood but against Jesus of Nazareth. This same man who wrote that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood would himself persecute those of flesh and blood and yet find himself persecuting Jesus Himself. Upon hearing this voice speaking unto him from heaven and asking him why he persecuted Him Saul would respond by asking Him, “Who art thou, Lord?” The voice from heaven would speak unto Saul and declare that He was Jesus whom he was persecuting. Moreover, Jesus would go on to declare unto Saul that it was hard to kick against the pricks. Oh if there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words found in the ninth chapter it’s that the actions taken against the Church which is the spiritual body of Christ are actions taken against the head of the Church which is Jesus Himself. Saul undoubtedly thought his persecution of the church was merely persecution of flesh and blood and yet the encounter he would have on the road to Damascus would reveal how his persecution was more than simply persecution of flesh and blood but was actually persecution of Jesus Himself. Essentially that which this passage reveals is that those who touch the body of Christ within and upon the earth are actually touching Jesus Himself. Remember in the twenty-fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel written by Matthew how Jesus declared that whatever we did or didn’t do unto the least of these was done unto Christ? This same line of thinking must be recognized and understood when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture for Saul would learn and discover that his actions weren’t merely against flesh and blood but against Jesus Himself.
When this voice spoke unto Saul from heaven it would not only ask him why he persecuted Him but it would also declare unto him that He was Jesus whom he persecuted. I feel a tremendous need to pause right here and call your attention once more to the words which Gamaliel had spoken in the midst of the religious council for it would be in that chamber Gamaliel would urge caution and warning against how they treated the apostles for if their words and works were of God they might be found fighting against God. In the fifth chapter we read of the possibility of fighting against God while in the ninth chapter of this book we read of persecuting Jesus Himself. Although Jesus had been received up unto heaven and had been set down at the right hand of the Father who was in heaven Saul’s actions against the church would be direct actions against Jesus Himself. If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand is not only that when one member of the body suffers other members of the body suffer but also that when actions are taken against the body of Christ those actions are taken against Jesus Himself. I have previously written how Jesus initially came to the earth taking upon Himself a physical body made up of flesh and blood which He would have until that moment He was received by the Father, returned unto heaven, and was set down at the right hand of all power, glory and authority. With this being said, however, we must needs understand that when the person of the Holy Ghost arrived and came unto the earth Jesus would once more come unto the earth yet He would not take upon Himself the physical form of one body made up of flesh and blood for and unto Himself. When the Holy Ghost would come unto the earth and be manifested among men it would be as if Jesus Himself were once more taking upon Himself a body. With this being said, however, we must needs recognize and understand that this body was not a single body made up of flesh and blood but rather was a spiritual body made up of many members of flesh and blood. Although Jesus would indeed be set down at the right hand of the Father who was in heaven He would have a spiritual body prepared for Himself upon the earth through the Church of Jesus Christ.
The more I read the words which are presented here in the ninth chapter the more I am brought face to face with Saul’s zeal and how that zeal served as the catalyst for his persecuting the early church during those days. What’s more is I am absolutely convinced that Saul truly believed himself to be doing a great service unto God by persecuting the Church as he not only wreaked havoc against it but also breathed out threats and slaughter against it. I firmly believe Saul truly believed himself to be doing a great service unto the living God through his persecution of the early church and it was that belief coupled together with his zeal that would enable him to enter into houses and homes dragging men and women out and casting them into prison. Not only this but it was this belief of doing God a service coupled together with this zeal within his heart and soul that would enable him to continue with his oppression and persecution of the church. Much like Pharaoh raised up task masters who violently and cruelly oppressed the children of Israel in the land of Egypt so also would Saul himself be a task master during those days who cruelly and violently persecuted the early Church. There is not a doubt in my mind that Saul was much like those task masters in the land of Egypt who not only enslaved and bound the children of Israel but who also oppressed them by the lash of their whip. Saul of Tarsus would drag men and women out of their homes and would commit them unto prison. Saul would breathe out threats and slaughters against the Church and would even seek to go as far as Damascus to bring that persecution with him. Oh one question I can’t help but wonder and ask myself is how far Saul would have taken this persecution of the Church had Jesus of Nazareth not encountered him on the road To Damascus. How far would Saul of Tarsus taken this persecution were it not for Jesus of Nazareth appearing unto him on the road to Damascus.
WHY DO YOU PERSECUTE ME? I AM JESUS WHO YOU ARE PERSECUTING! PERSECUTING CHRIST! FIGHTING AGAINST GOD! ZEAL AND DECEPTION! ZEAL AND FALSE BELIEF! As I sit here today thinking about the words found in the eighth and ninth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts I can’t help but be brought face to face with how Jesus of Nazareth—yea, all of heaven itself—took what was undoubtedly the champion of persecution against the early Church and transformed it into the greatest advocate and proponent for it. It is truly astonishing and amazing how Jesus of Nazareth took that one whom the adversary perhaps thought would have been his greatest instrument of rage and wrath against the Church and transformed it into the greatest help and support of it. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this particular truth for it is something that must needs be understood and examined when reading the New Testament book of Acts. The eighth chapter of this New Testament book begins and opens with Saul consenting to Stephen’s death and then lifting himself up against the church to persecute it. In the opening verses of the eighth chapter we are brought face to face with the fact that not only did Saul consent to the death of Stephen but he also wreaked havoc upon the church and entered into houses and homes dragging men and women out and casting them into prison. What’s more is that in the ninth chapter we find Saul continuing his persecution of the Church as Luke writes of him yet still breathing threats and slaughter against it. What I can’t help but wonder is whether or not this desire of Saul to journey unto Damascus was indeed orchestrated by heaven itself to effectively remove him from the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the main target and location of his havoc and chaos wrought against the church and it would appear heaven itself needed to remove Saul from Jerusalem and get him in a place entirely separate that he might experience and encounter unlike anything he had every experienced before.
There is not a doubt in my mind that it was absolutely necessary for Saul to be removed from the city of Jerusalem and essentially brought into a place apart from the city where the Lord Jesus Christ could appear unto him. Up until that moment in time Saul most likely directed his persecution, his chaos, his havoc and every part of his zeal against the Church in the city of Jerusalem and might have even entered into Judaea and Samaria itself unleashing a torrent of persecution, threats and slaughter. When we come to the ninth chapter of this New Testament book we find Saul headed to Damascus journeying along the road from Jerusalem to that ancient city that he might bring any whom he found in the way in chains and cast them into prison. How absolutely incredible it is to think about and consider the fact that Saul would indeed encounter something—yea, someone—he did not expect as he journeyed along that road. There is not a doubt in my mind when reading the words found in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts that it was entirely and altogether necessary for Saul to be separated from the Church in Jerusalem and to be in a place where he was exposed and vulnerable. Oh that we would recognize and pay attention to this truth for heaven still operates the same way in the earth within this generation. I am absolutely convinced that heaven itself brought Saul out of Jerusalem and set him on a road leading away from the city that he might be entirely and altogether exposed with none but two men around him. It almost reminds me of the encounter at the tomb when on the day Jesus would be raised from death to life the two soldiers who stood guard outside the tomb would be brought to their knees and upon their faces because of the great earthquake, the sight of the angel of the Lord and perhaps even the sight of Jesus emerging from the tomb very much alive.
I have to admit the more I write about this concept of Saul being removed from Jerusalem and brought into an open place on a road away from the city the more I encounter the truth that there are times when heaven itself will need to remove us from our comfort zone that it might bring about encounter and transformation within our hearts and souls. What’s more is that heaven itself might even allow us to think and believe we are going to be successful in carrying out that which is in our hearts to accomplish and yet it is nothing more than a rouse used by the Father to bring us into that wide open place where He can encounter us apart from those we were once around. It’s interesting that while Saul was journeying on the road to Damascus—not only was he separated from those whom he had previously persecuted but he was also removed from those whom he was preparing to persecute. It was in that place of in between that Jesus encountered this Saul of Tarsus in between Jerusalem and Damascus—in between what he had already done and what he was preparing to do. ENCOUNTERS IN THE IN BETWEEN! I have to admit there is truly something remarkable about what we find here in this portion of Scripture as it brings us face to face with how heaven itself can and will bring us into that place of in between in order that it might reroute and redirect us. As Saul traveled on this road he was journeying away from Jerusalem and journeying toward Damascus and it was in between both cities he would encounter and experience Jesus of Nazareth whom he was persecuting. It would be in between these two cities—undoubtedly traveling along the King’s highway—that He would encounter the one he was truly persecuting.
The words and language we find in this passage of Scripture must be carefully considered when we study the life of Saul of Tarsus for how heaven operated within his life is the same way heaven operates in our lives in this generation. There are times when heaven itself will need to remove us from one place and allow us to journey unto another place that while we are traveling along that road we might be vulnerable and exposed. As Saul was journeying along this road from Jerusalem to Damascus he was entirely and altogether unable to carry out any threats in either city and it was in that place between two extremes Jesus encountered him. I am convinced that more often than not there is a great need for heaven to bring is into this place of two extremes that we might be in a wide open space of exposure and vulnerability. It was while Saul was traveling along the road to Damascus removed from the havoc he created in Jerusalem and separated from the havoc he was going to create in Damascus the Lord encountered him. It is absolutely imperative we recognize and understand this for there is something truly powerful about this place in between two extremes where we are most vulnerable and exposed to the transformative work of heaven. Think about Jacob who had left his father’s house after learning his brother Esau sought to kill him and how it was in that place between Canaan and Haran he would lie his head down upon a rock and would have the dream of a ladder coming down from heaven and angels ascending and descending the ladder. Consider how Moses himself was brought into the place of in between as He was between Egypt and Midian in the wilderness where the LORD encountered him at and through the burning bush. Consider how Abraham himself was encountered in that place of in between as the LORD spoke to him in Haran between Canaan and Ur of the Chaldeans. Oh there is something truly powerful about this place of in between where we are most vulnerable and are most exposed to the work of heaven in our lives. There is something worth noting and mentioning about this place of in between for it is in that place where our devices and defenses are inactive and unable to be used.
IT IS IN THE PLACE OF IN BETWEEN OUR DEVICES AND DEFENSES ARE INACTIVE AND WE ARE MOST VULNERABLE AND EXPOSED TO THE WORK OF HEAVEN! It was while Saul was traveling along the road to Damascus that the devices he had already used against the church in Jerusalem were inactive and where the devices and defenses he was going to use against the church in Damascus were essentially on standby waiting to be used by him. With both his defenses and devices completely inactive within his life he was in the perfect place for Jesus of Nazareth whom he had persecuted to encounter him. Not only this but it would be as a direct result of this encounter Saul would be without sight for three days being forced to see only that which was present within his own heart and soul. There is not a doubt in my mind that during those three days Saul was blind the only place he could look was within himself as he was forced to confront who and what he had become. It would be in that place of blindness Saul was unable to see what was around him for when he finally regained his sight he would see the world through renewed and transformed eyes. Oh there is something truly powerful about the blindness which Saul experienced for it’s almost as if once his sight was restored the way he viewed the world was entirely and altogether transformed. During those three days he sat still in the house without eating and drinking as he prayed unto Jesus in heaven he was confronted with himself and prepared for that moment when he would receive his sight again and would see the world through new eyes. Once his sight was restored he would no longer see the world through the same eyes he once did but would see the world in an entirely different light and perspective.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close it is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand that which is present in this chapter. What we find here is Saul being removed from the city of Jerusalem unable to carry out threats in the city behind him and not yet in Damascus to carry out threats in the city before him. In that place between who he was and who he would become heaven itself brought him into a vulnerable and exposed placed. In that place between what he had done and what he was yet to do in the days ahead he would encounter Jesus of Nazareth in the place of in between. Oh how absolutely incredible it is to read the words found in this passage of Scripture and encounter the tremendous truth surrounding Saul of Tarsus being found in that place between who he was and who he would become and between what he had done and what he was yet to do. Jerusalem would represent that which Saul had done prior to experiencing Jesus of Nazareth and being converted, baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit while Damascus would represent the beginning of who Saul would become after his encounter with the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We have great need to recognize and understand this for it was in the place of in between where Saul was most vulnerable and exposed Jesus of Nazareth was able to encounter him and it was in Damascus while Saul was without sight for three days he would experience the beginning of the transformation that would ultimately result in his becoming the apostle Paul. It would be after his sight was restored he would not only be strengthened and would not only be baptized but would also be filled with the Holy Ghost. This man who once breathed out murderous threats toward and against the church of Jesus Christ would now be a champion for the gospel and heaven’s greatest apostle and missionary in the years to come.
Perhaps one of the greatest truths surrounding this passage of Scripture is the willingness of Ananias to go to the place where Saul of Tarsus was and lay hands on him as he prayed for him to receive his sight. We know that Ananias was initially hestitant, skeptical and reserved when the Lord appeared unto him and instructed him to go unto the house of Judas where he would find a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus who was praying. Ananias had heard of the reputation of Saul and that he had come unto Damascus with letters to bring men and women bound that he might cast into prison. Ananias was initially skeptical at the thought of placing himself in the presence of Saul of Tarsus and yet he would indeed obey the voice and command of the Lord. I have to admit that I thank God for Ananias for although Jesus encountered Saul on the road to Damascus it was Ananias who faithfully obeyed the voice of his Lord and laid his hands on and prayed for Saul. Despite what he had heard concerning Saul he decided to obey the voice of the Lord and go to the place where Saul was that he might lay hands on him and pray that he might receive his sight. I am absolutely and completely convinced there is a special place in heaven—yea, even in the world and in this generation—for the Ananias’ who are willing to set aside their reservations, their hesitations and their skepticism that they might lay their hands on and pray for others to receive their sight, be converted, be baptized and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Despite what such individuals might have done within their lives and might even be preparing to do there is something truly powerful about the Ananias’ who are wiling to overcome their fears and their anxiety over such individuals who have been encountered by the person of Jesus of Nazareth and have been called and chosen to be His vessels and instruments. The question we must needs ask ourselves is whether or not we are willing to be such a one who is willing to lay our hands on and pray for that one or perhaps even those ones who might have wreaked havoc in the church or in this generation that they might receive their sight, be converted, be baptized and be filled with the Holy Ghost.