Tom: This is our Understanding the Scriptures segment, and we’re in the Book of Acts:9:1: “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest.” Dave, sometimes we forget how dangerous and destructive Saul was to the church. And in Acts, the first time we hear of Saul, he’s holding the cloaks of those who are stoning Stephen.
Dave: Well, he was consenting unto their death, and it says he was a young man, but he is gathering zeal and determination to persecute them. And he goes to the high priest here and he receives authority - but why don’t you go ahead and read it.
Tom: “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 persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Dave: Well, his conscience was being bothered; there was a little voice inside of Saul that said, “They’re right, you’re wrong.” And obviously Saul had been struggling with this for some time. The conviction of God the Holy Spirit had been upon him.
Tom: Just the reaction of Stephen as he watched must have made a deep impression.
Dave: I think he would have to say, “Jesus must be living in this man. They claim - these disciples claim Jesus rose from the dead.”
Well, He said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And Stephen said, “Lord, don’t lay this to their charge.” So Stephen is asking forgiveness for the ones who are stoning him, and he says he sees Jesus at the right hand of God on high. It must have been a powerful, powerful testimony to Saul. It would be the same to all of those who were involved, but we don’t read that it troubled the conscience of anyone else. Well, Saul says that he received mercy from the Lord, because what he did he did it ignorantly and in unbelief. But he was zealous for God and in the Book of Romans 10, he says, concerning Israel, “I bear them record that they have a zeal after God, but not according to knowledge. Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, they are going about to establish their own righteousness, and have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
Tom: The very thing that he was guilty of.
Dave: Yes, I would say that Paul understood that quite well, because this is what he did. But he’s sincere, and he wants to stomp out this sect that has arisen out of these people who would dare to say that Jesus is alive, and so forth. Well, what do you know? Jesus appears to him! He’s got these letters now, he’s on his way to Damascus, and suddenly there is a light round about him. He is knocked from his horse, and he says there’s a voice: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Wow! This One that he is persecuting is revealing Himself to Saul, and he, trembling and astonished, verse 6, said, “Lord, what will 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.”
Tom: Dave, it seems here that this is where he’s really committing himself. All of these things that have gone through, the convictions that he had on his heart and mind, this looks like a total submission right here.
Dave: He recognizes the authority of this One, and I think he recognizes this is Jesus. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Wow! That must have been some revelation, but it was true to his conscience. He already, I think, had come to that conclusion, and now he says, “Lord, what do you want me to do? Okay, I give up.” In that moment, Tom, he was giving up his reputation. He had a bright future ahead of him.
Tom: Studied under Gamaliel, and…
Dave: He could have been one of the great men in Israel, looked up to - of course, certainly admired for his zeal and his persecution of the Christians. He’s throwing all that up, he’s starting from scratch - he’s really dying. He says, “I am crucified with Christ,” in Galatians:2:20. Paul says, “Okay, Lord, I’ve given up everything.”
Tom: Dave, this is a statement of belief. You know, we are saved by faith, putting our trust in Christ, all right? That’s what he’s doing here; it just seems so obvious.
Dave: It’s a powerful, powerful experience: “The men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth,” he’s been knocked to the ground, “and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man; but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.” Wow! This is the mercy and the grace of God. I don’t know that Saul would have been convinced by anything less.
On the other hand, he was willing to be convinced if you gave him the proof, the evidence - he has it. Now, he’s going to learn a lot, because we go on in Acts - well, later on in this chapter, verse 20 says: “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” And you go on to verse 22, “But Saul increased,” this is in Damascus, “the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.” So now, this is a powerful experience. Saul cannot deny it, and he is willing to surrender, he’s willing to die, he’s willing to give up everything, okay? But then he’s got to go back - you know, he understood the Bible; he had been taught it.
Tom: He had head knowledge.
Dave: Right, but now he’s going to go back and he’s going to understand - whoa! Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; but Yahweh laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
“He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” He’s going to go back over Micah:5:2: “But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the princes of Judah, out of thee shall he come forth who will be ruler of my people Israel: whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Wow! Wait a minute! The Messiah has never had a beginning? He’s been around forever? And then he’ll go back over other Scriptures that he didn’t see. Isaiah:9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father…” Wow!
Then he realizes, “Look at that, it’s all in the Bible! It’s been there all the time!”
David: “They pierced my hands and my feet, they gambled for my clothes…” Isn’t that what they did to Jesus? Didn’t Jesus fulfill all of this?
Then when we come to Acts 17, it tells us his modus operandus: he goes into the synagogue and he reasons with them three Sabbath days out of the Scriptures, “opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered these things to enter into His glory.” So he’s going to open the Scriptures and say, “Look what it said about the Messiah! You can’t deny it was all fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” He’s going to prove it! But at that point, Tom, and I don’t want to speculate, maybe he had been going over some of these scriptures in his mind already.
Tom: Dave, the Holy Spirit rarely - He could - but He rarely works out of a vacuum. So He brought these…I know in His bringing conviction to Saul, He had to bring these things to mind; they were there.
Dave: Now we have a contrast, because Saul is going to give the evidence to the Jews at Damascus. And what does it say: “They took counsel to kill him.” So I believe, Tom, that this is the way we’re supposed to preach the gospel. We preach the gospel from the Bible. I love Acts:18:28 where it says of Apollos, “…he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” Now, that’s the way we must preach the gospel. We can prove it from the Bible, and Paul said, “This is the gospel that He promised by His prophets.”
On the other hand, just because you prove it does not mean that people will submit to the Lord. Saul was willing to submit, but there are many people that refuse, no matter how strong the evidence is that you present to them.