The conversion of Paul. 9:1-19a
Luke now moves to the central character of his story, namely Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul the apostle. The life and ministry of the other apostles is left behind as Luke records the Gentile mission of Paul. In our passage for study we read of Saul's vision on the Damascus road, along with his healing and commissioning, a commissioning independent of the Jerusalem church.
v1-2. Saul, having already persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem (cf. 8:3), now seeks to round up those believers (most probably of a Greek background, ie. Stephen's associates) who had escaped justice by fleeing to Damascus. The High Priest possessed delegated authority from the Roman government on Jewish internal affairs and therefore his "letters to the synagogues in Damascus" carried civil, as well as religious authority. The description of Christianity as "the Way" is a title given the movement by the members themselves. It is often understood as "the way of life" although most probably it meant "the way of salvation."
v3-6. Nearing Damascus, Saul sees and hears Jesus in a flash of light, a radiance that blinds him. The rabbis described this type of experience as the bath qol, the daughter of the voice, the heavenly echo. For Paul, it is the voice of the exalted Christ. Hard-headed seekers after the truth often need a megaphone to hear God's Word. For example, Sundar Sing, a Hindu mystic, reported both hearing and seeing Christ. "I have come to save you: you were praying to know the right way. Why do you not take it?"
v7. Paul's companions saw the light, possibly heard a voice, but didn't see Christ, cf. 22:9. It's unclear what type of noise Paul's fellow travellers heard, but they certainly did recognized a supernatural event, although only Paul understood its meaning.
v8-9. Blinded, Paul is led to Damascus where he stays three days, unable to eat or drink.
v10-12. Ananias, most probably a native of Damascus and a converted Jew, is directed by the Lord to go and lay hands on Saul for healing.
v13-14. Ananias had heard of Saul's persecution of the believers ("saints" = Jewish believers) in Jerusalem, as well as his visit to Damascus to arrest those of the Way, and is therefore somewhat puzzled by the Lord's command. The description of believers as "all who call on your (Jesus') name", is used to define believers as the ones who rest on Jesus as Lord and saviour; simply "those who believe in Jesus."
v15-16. For this new believer, the Lord has a special task, namely, to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. This ministry will not be fee of pain.
v17. Ananias comes to the house of Judas in Straight Street and lays hands on Paul for healing; possibly also for the filling of the Holy Spirit, although it is more likely that Paul's authorizing and empowering for apostolic ministry automatically followed his healing. In Galatians, Paul reminds his readers that he was commissioned by no man other than Christ, 1:11f.
v18-19a. Paul's eyes are opened after something peels away from his eyes. He is baptized, presumably by Ananias. Having repented (turned to Christ), it is appropriate that Paul should express his repentance outwardly in water baptism.
A great gifting
The problem with the conversion of Paul is that we often compare it with our own conversion. Only on rare occasions do people confront Christ in a powerful way. Recently on an Australian TV programme called "True Stories", an old bikie spoke of his conversion. He claimed that Jesus actually spoke to him. He was such a tough bloke, a petty criminal and drug dealer, that his search for God could only ever come to an end in a face-to-face meeting with Jesus. Most of us just drift into faith. We search for God, find our search realized in the Bible stories about Jesus, and so rest secure in him. "Blessed are those who believe without seeing." Such a conversion is no less real than Paul's, it's just not as realistic.
The focus of our passage for study is not so much Paul's conversion, but rather his apostolic appointment. Paul always marvelled at the kindness (grace) of God in appointing him as apostle to the Gentiles. "This man is my chosen instrument", says Jesus to Ananias; he is to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. This appointment is also not without power. Paul was "filled with the Holy Spirit", that is, he was empowered for service. He was given a job to do and the wherewithal to do it.
Again, we may feel a little less than adequate when we compare our own "filling" with that of Paul's. Yet, in the end all service to the Lord is equal in his eyes; from the greatest to the least we all stand equal before our God. He equips us as he sees fit, and we but apply his "filling". In any case, the bigger the responsibility the greater the trouble; Paul "must suffer" for Christ. Most of us happily accept the little "filling" with the little pain!
All who turn to Christ are to serve as a "chosen instrument", and so our task is to discern our gifts and seek to apply them under our Lord's authority and power.
1. How is Paul's conversion different from our own?
2. How is his gifting different from our own?
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