Part 3. Saul becomes a new man.

Thinking he held the righteous position, Saul breathed out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, pursuing them, attempting to squash, kill, and eradicate the fledgling church. He considered them to be heretics, liars, and charlatans.

In A.D. 33/34, Saul’s mission was to kill and destroy the church.

But then, Saul came face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and everything changed. Struck blind by his encounter with the risen Lord, the unseeing Saul was led into Damascus by the men traveling with him. For three days he saw nothing, ate nothing, and drank nothing. But he prayed.

In A.D. 33/34, Saul's mission was to kill and destroy the church. But then, Saul came face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and everything changed. Have you had a life-changing encounter with Jesus? #Faith Click To Tweet

Then the Lord sent Ananias. Though terrified, Ananias went after reassurance from the Lord that this man who had plotted to harm the church in Damascus would instead be God’s “chosen instrument” to carry the Lord’s name before the Gentiles, the children of Israel, and kings. Ananias placed his hands upon Paul’s blind eyes.

“Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17b NIV).

Immediately “something like scales fell from his eyes” (Acts 9:18 ESV), and Saul could see. He rose, was baptized, ate some food, and was strengthened. Then he stayed with the disciples in Damascus for a while.

Here Saul discovered that he had been wrong about everything.

Of course, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut about this, and so in Damascus he boldly preached in the synagogues about Jesus, the Son of God, exactly the opposite message of what he had originally intended. (Acts 9:19b-22)

Saul joined with the church he had previously persecuted, confounding his fellow Jews by proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. The Jews of Damascus tried to kill him because of this message. Saul remained in Damascus a short time, but then left for Arabia and the wider Nabataean Kingdom — modern-day Jordan. (Acts 9:23-24; 2 Cor. 11:32-33)

Paul later described why he made this decision.

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:11-14 ESV). 

Paul is extremely transparent here, even referring to himself as a “zealot” in his pursuit and destruction of the first Christians in Jerusalem. He writes with the candor and humility of one who comprehends that he is forgiven in Christ Jesus.

Given his extremely personal revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus, Saul discerned that this calling from God was due to the kindness and grace of a loving God, not as a result of his misguided zeal.

God was pleased to reveal his Son to Saul, intending to produce a glorious outcome from the turning of Saul’s passionate heart toward Jesus Messiah. Recognizing the very personal nature of his calling, Saul didn’t consult anyone else. He wanted his mission made clear by God alone.

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus” (Galatians 1:15-17 ESV).

"But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me…" Paul wrote. Has Jesus revealed himself to YOU? Have YOU personally met him? #Faith Click To Tweet

To wrap his brilliant, theologically-trained mind around what he now realized and believed, Saul sought solitude and time for reflection.

During this time (33/34–36/37 or longer), the Holy Spirit led him. Much of what Saul pondered ties Old Testament and New Testament together. The reality of the Triune God dawned on him and the personal nature of Christian faith in Messiah Jesus. Eventually, all poured out in his epistles.

Some time between 37 and 40 A.D., he returned to Damascus (2 Corinthians 11:32-33), but then, with the help of the disciples, he had to flee when a plot to kill him became known. The Nabatean governor guarding the city tried to ensnare him, but Saul was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped. (Acts 9:23-24)

While these changes occurred in Saul’s life, the church in Jerusalem scattered, taking the church wide, establishing faith communities outside Israel. Most of the believing Hellenistic Jews returned to their homelands. The rest of the church spread as far away as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, taking the Gospel to fellow Jews in these locations.

“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19 ESV).

“And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple “ (Acts 9:26 ESV).

Perhaps in 36/37 AD, but before 40 AD, even though years had passed, the believers still didn’t trust this man who had previously persecuted their members (Acts 9:26-27).

Enter Joseph, nicknamed Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement.”

A Levite and native of Cyprus, Barnabas had become a follower of Christ in the earliest years of the fledgling church. He was the first to sell his property, giving all of the proceeds for the support of the church. This Levite in good standing vouched for Saul.

“But Barnabas took him [Saul] and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27 ESV).

Clearly a changed man, Saul got to work proclaiming the Gospel.

“So Saul went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea [to the seaport] and sent him off to Tarsus [by ship]” (Acts 9:28-30 ESV; Galatians 1:18-20).

Eventually, Saul ended up in Antioch in Syria, where believers were first called Christians.

“Then I went into the regions of Syria [location of Antioch] and Cilicia [location of Paul’s family home in Tarsus]. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:21-24 ESV).

Photograph from my own ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Meanwhile, in Judea: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it multiplied (Acts 9:31 ESV). During this time period: Peter was enabled by God to heal numerous people and to preach with power.

Then Agabus the prophet and others came down to Antioch from Jerusalem and foretold a great famine (44-47 A.D. — noted by Luke as during the days of Claudius, Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 2:1-10). And so, acting upon Agabus’ prediction, the elders in Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul back to Jerusalem with a financial gift for the church.

At about that time, Herod violently pursued the church, killing James, the brother of John, with the sword. When this pleased the Jews in Jerusalem, Herod arrested Peter and had him guarded by four squads of soldiers.

The church prayed earnestly, and an angel opened Peter’s prison cell door, walked Peter out right past the guards, through the iron gate of the city, and to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Soon afterward, Herod died.

“But the word of God increased and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem [to Antioch] when they had completed their service [to those facing famine], bringing with them John whose other name was Mark [Barnabas’ relation, perhaps cousin or nephew]” (Acts 12:24-25 ESV).

PAUL

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers — Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger [meaning “black” or “dark,” and so probably Simeon was a Black, possibly African, prophet/teacher/leader], Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3 ESV).

Antioch sent two of their five leaders, and in 46 – 48 A.D., Saul and Barnabas began a season of ministry together. Antioch in Syria was their homebase for launching their missionary efforts, beginning in Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12).

Here we see the importance of the Holy Spirit as they go out into the wider world, resulting in miracles and words of boldness, meant to encouragement even us, who read much later.

In the Biblical account in Acts, we see the importance of the Holy Spirit as the church goes out into the wider world, resulting in miracles and words of boldness, meant to encourage even us today. #Faith Click To Tweet

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:4-12 ESV).

The Holy Spirit leads and guides and shapes the church, and has done so since its earliest days. How does the Holy Spirit impact your life, leading, guiding, and shaping you personally? #Faith #HolySpirit Click To Tweet

Their work changed the world.

What encourages you the most about how the church began to spread throughout the world?

What have you noticed that the Lord seems to use consistently to move people out with the Gospel?

What role did the Holy Spirit play in all of this and what do we learn here?