The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
THE CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS
- I enjoy reading about famous conversions -- D.L. Moody, C.H. Spurgeon, Billy Sunday, and many other great preachers had very interesting conversions.
- But the most interesting and the most famous of all was the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
- In fact, even Biblically-illiterate worldlings are familiar with the phrase, "the road to Damascus," used in reference to a dramatic conversion (cf. Acts 9:3).
- The book of Acts is a book filled with wonderful conversions -- the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and others, but the most wonderful of them of all was the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, better known as "the apostle Paul."
- Some rationalistic unbelievers have tried to explain what Paul experienced as nothing but an epileptic fit. When that was mentioned to the great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, he said, "O, blessed epilepsy! Would that every man in London could have epilepsy like that!"
SAUL OF TARSUS WAS RELIGIOUS BUT LOST
- We first meet Saul in Acts 7:58. He was there when the angry mob of religious Jews killed Stephen. The Bible says, "And cast him (Stephen) out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul."
- Then in Acts 8:1 we read, "And Saul was consenting unto his (Stephen's) death."
- And in Acts 8:3 we read, "As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison."
- Then in Acts 9:1 we once again read of Saul's fierce hatred for Christians.
- After his conversion, Paul often referred to his days as a bitter adversary of the Gospel (cf. Acts 22:1-11; 26:9-15; Gal. 1:13, 14).
- It is very sad but also very true that many of the most violent opponents of the Gospel are also very religious (e.g., the RCC during the Inquisition; Muslim fanatics today).
- Many years I was invited to a "focus group." This is a group organized by a research or marketing company. A group of people are asked about their opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards something. In this case it was the police, and all of us were "clergy."
- Most of the so-called "clergy people" that were there -- R.C. priests, Jewish rabbis, liberal ministers -- were not saved. There may have been one or two who were saved and who agreed with what I said.
- After the meeting ended, one of the rabbis rebuked me loudly in front of everyone. I tried to talk to him privately but he refused to listen to me. He was very hostile because I said believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to get to heaven.
- Remember what Jesus said to Saul of Tarsus -- "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" and, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Acts 9:4, 5; cf. John 15:18-25).
- The other day, the Pentagon released a statement confirming that soldiers could be prosecuted for promoting their faith. Not for promoting Islam. That is allowed. But they could be court-martialed if they talk about Jesus!
- The Obama administration appointed civilians to the Pentagon, who are working together with an anti-Christian extremist named Mikey Weinstein to develop court-martial procedures to punish Christians in the military who express or share their faith.
- Weinstein is the head of the "Military Religious Freedom Foundation," and says Christians -- including military chaplains --sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the military are guilty of “treason,” and of committing an act of “spiritual rape” as serious a crime as “sexual assault.” He also asserted that Christians sharing their faith in the military are “enemies of the Constitution.”
- Being convicted in a court martial means that a soldier has committed a crime under federal military law. Punishment for a court martial can include imprisonment and being dishonorably discharged from the military.
- Our country is in serious trouble with God!
- Saul of Tarsus was as zealous as Mikey Weinstein. He said in Philippians 3:5 and 6, "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."
- Jesus told His disciples, "Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2).
- Saul of Tarsus understood there could be no peaceful coexistence between militant Judaism and genuine Christianity. Both could not be right.
- Either Judaism was right and the Christians were heretics (Saul's view before he was saved), or the Christians were right and Judaism was obsolete. There could be no middle ground.
- I saw a fascinating photograph the other day. It was a picture of the car hijacked by the Boston bombing Muslim terrorists. It had "COEXIST" on its bumper sticker.
- The bumper sticker spells out “COEXIST” using the Islamic moon, a peace symbol, a gender symbol, the Star of David, a Satanic symbol, a ying-yang, and a cross.
- In true politically-correct fashion, the Muslim symbol is first, and the cross is last. Some liberal websites say the picture is a hoax; it's not the same car, etc.
- Saul of Tarsus was not content to just drive the Christians out of Jerusalem. Many of them fled to Damascus so Saul was on his way to Damascus to bring them back to Jerusalem in chains (Acts 9:1, 2; cf. 26:11, 12).
- Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world. Abraham's steward was from Damascus, and that was about 2,000 years before Saul.
- Today Damascus is the capital city of Syria. Thursday night, Israeli warplanes carried out an air-strike that targeted Iranian missiles that were being stored in a warehouse at the Damascus International Airport.
- Damascus was about 150 miles north of Jerusalem, and it took almost one week to get there.
- "This way" (9:2) refers to Christians. It was the earliest name for Christians (cf. John 14:6). Acts 11:26 says, "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."
SAUL OF TARSUS WAS SOUNDLY CONVERTED
- Saul's conversion is recorded three times in the book of Acts (cf. 22:1-16; 26:1-28). It is a model testimony.
- Four aspects of Saul's testimony:
- He was under conviction, at least from the time of Stephen's death, and maybe longer than that (8:1). That is why our Lord said to him, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (9:5). When an ox was yoked for plowing, if he did not move on as he should, the farmer pricked him with a long rod that had a sharp iron point. As soon as the ox felt the goad he kicked against it. The Lord was pricking Saul of Tarsus with a sharp rod.
- He was genuinely converted. Saul asked, "Who art thou, Lord?" and the Lord answered, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest" (9:5). A very unusual conversion!
- There was genuine consecration (9:6). Every true believer should ask this question -- "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
- There was genuine communion with the Lord. Paul fasted (9:9) and prayed (9:11). So there was genuine conviction, genuine conversion, genuine consecration, and genuine communion with the Lord.
SAUL WAS FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT (9:17).
- The filling of the Holy Spirit is emphasized throughout the book of Acts (cf. 1:8; 2:4, 17, 18; 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 10:45; 11:15, 16, 24; 13:9, 52).
- Ephesians 5:18 says, "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit."
- Saul of Tarsus, the feared enemy of Christians, became the great Spirit-filled apostle Paul. He was now "Brother Saul" (Acts 9:17).
- W. Graham Scroggie said "the ravenous wolf became a great sheep-dog...the fierce persecutor became the foremost preacher" (The Acts of the Apostles).
- John Newton's tombstone says, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”
- Saul of Tarsus was saved on the road to Damascus, and then he was "appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy" (cf. 9:20, 21).
- Since we are having a baptism service tonight, I should point out that after he was saved, Saul of Tarsus was baptized (9:18-20). This is the first major step of obedience.
- Christians who have not been Scripturally baptized are disobedient.
- Our Lord said in Mark 16:15 and 16 -- "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
- Baptism follows conversion. Believe first, and then be baptized.
- On the day of Pentecost, they "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).
- "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ" (2:38).
- This is the pattern all throughout the book of Acts (cf. 8:36-38; 16:14, 15, 30-34).