Daily Devotion Text

September 4, 2019

Acts 9 – 2019-09-04

By carmenhsu In Acts, Devotion Text with Comments Off on Acts 9 – 2019-09-04
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    CONVERSION.  The English word “conversion” comes from the Latin convertere, meaning “to turn around.”  The equivalent Greek word, epistrophe, appears only once in the New Testament (Acts 15:3), though the NIV translates as “convert” words that literally mean “proselyte,” “neophyte,” and “firstfruits.”  Related verbs like “to turn” (epistrepho) and synonyms such as “repentance,” “regeneration,” and being “born again” appear often.

    Paul’s conversion is sometimes described as a typical biblical conversion.  But it has many atypical features.  It was triggered by a post-resurrection appearance of Christ.  It was a sudden turnaround in direction with no evidence that he had been moving toward Christianity (as is the case with most converts).  His was a conversion like that of C.S. Lewis, who said, “I gave in and admitted that God was God and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”  The last thing Saul ever intended to do was to become a Christian.  But he was, in his own words, “grasped by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:12).  In the features given below, however, his conversion is typical of biblical conversions.[1]

    Features typical of biblical conversions:

    • Conversion comes as a result of a divine initiative. […]
    • There is a personal encounter with Christ (vv. 4-6). We all meet Jesus in different ways; but if we are converted, we have met him and entered into a personal relationship with him.  Jesus said that eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3).  A. Carson comments on this verse, “Eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One.”
    • Paul surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. While the word kyrios in verse 5 can mean either “Lord” or “sir,” there is no doubt that what we have here is a deep surrender of Saul’s life to Christ.  This is evidenced by his total fast for three days, indicating that until he completed the process that began on the road, he was not going to cease from his intense quest for God.  Such surrender is indeed the norm for all followers of Jesus.  Paul’s later radical calls to discipleship imply nothing short of total surrender to the Lordship of Christ.  Roy Clements says he does not “use the phrases “decided for Christ’ or ‘committed to Christ,’ though decision and commitment are certainly involved…. Conversion is at root not a decision, nor a commitment, but a surrender to the supreme authority of Jesus.”
    • We see the important place of the body of Christ in the conversion process. While Paul was eager to show that the gospel he received had not been taught to him by any human but was given by the Lord himself (Gal. 1), others in the body of Christ played an important role in his conversion and early Christian life.  Through baptism he was incorporated to this body (Acts 9:18).  Then he “spent several days with the disciples in Damascus” (v. 19).  The thing that stands out in our passage is the role of the two encouragers, Ananias and Barnabas.  Probably the first words Saul heard from a Christian after his conversion were, “Brother Saul” (v. 17).  Stott says, “It must have been music to his ears.”  The archenemy of the church was welcomed as a brother; the dreaded fanatic was received as a member of the family.  Lloyd Ogilvie muses, “Imagine laying your hands on someone who you know had been on his way to arrest you!”  There you see the love of the encourager reaching out to a new believer in spite of his past. […]
    • Though Saul’s conversion is individual, it is not individualistic. […][2]

    vv.3-9: …To ascribe Saul’s conversion to God’s initiative can easily be misunderstood, however, and needs to be qualified in two ways, namely that the sovereign grace which captured Saul was neither sudden (in the sense that there had been no previous preparation) nor compulsive (in the sense that he needed to make no response).

    First, Saul’s conversion was not at all the ‘sudden conversion’ it is often said to have been.  To be sure, the final intervention of Christ was sudden: ‘Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him’ (3), and a voice addressed him.  But this was by no means the first time Jesus Christ had spoken to him.  According to Paul’s own later narrative, Jesus said to him: ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (26:14).  By this proverb (which seems to have been fairly common in both Greek and Latin literature) Jesus likened Saul to a lively and recalcitrant young bullock, and himself to a farmer using goads to break him in.  The implication is that Jesus was pursuing Saul, prodding and pricking him, which it was ‘hard’ (painful, even futile) for him to resist.  What were these goads, with which Jesus had been pricking him, and against which Saul had been kicking?  We are not specifically told what they were, but the New Testament gives us a number of hints.

    One goad was surely his doubts.  With his conscious mind he repudiated Jesus as an imposter, who had been rejected by his own people and had died on a cross under the curse of God. […] Even if they did not meet, Saul will have heard reports of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, character and claims, together with the persistent rumor from many witnesses that he had been raised from death and seen.

    Another goad will have been Stephen.  This was no hearsay, for Saul had been present at his trial and his execution.  He had seen with his own eyes both Stephen’s face shining like an angel’s (6:15), and his courageous non-resistance while being stoned to death (7:58-60).  He had also heard with his own ears Stephen’s eloquent speech before the Sanhedrin, as well perhaps as his wisdom in the synagogue (6:9-10), his prayer for the forgiveness of his executioners, and his extraordinary claim to see Jesus as the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand (7:56).  It is in these ways that ‘Stephen and not Gamaliel was the real master of St Paul’.  For Saul could not suppress the witness of Stephen. […]

    But the goads of Jesus were moral as well as intellectual.  Saul’s bad conscience probably caused him more inner turmoil even than his nagging doubts.  For although he could claim to have been ‘faultless’ in external righteousness, he knew that his thoughts, motives and desires were not clean in God’s sight. […]

    If God’s grace was not sudden, it was not compulsive either.  That is, the Christ who appeared to him and spoke to him did not crush him.  He humbled him, so that he fell to the ground, but he did not violate his personality.  He did not demean Saul into a robot or compel him to perform certain actions in a kind of hypnotic trance.  On the contrary, Jesus put to him a probing question, ‘why do you persecute me?’  He thus appealed to his reason and conscience, in order to bring into his consciousness the folly and evil of what he was doing.  Jesus then told him to get up and go into the city, where he would be told what to do next.  And Saul was not so overwhelmed by the vision and the voice as to be deprived of speech and unable to reply.  No, he answered Christ’s question with two counter-questions: first, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ (5) and secondly, “What shall I do, Lord?’ (22:10).  His response was rational, conscientious and free. […]

    To sum up, the cause of Saul’s conversion was grace, the sovereign grace of God.  But sovereign grace is gradual grace and gentle grace.  Gradually, and without violence, Jesus pricked Saul’s mind and conscience with his goads.  Then he revealed himself to him by the light and the voice, not in order to overwhelm him, but in such a way as to enable him to make a free response.  Divine grace does not trample on human personality.  Rather the reverse, for it enables human beings to be truly human.  It is sin which imprisons; it is grace which liberates.  The grace of God so frees us from the bondage of our pride, prejudice and self-centredness, as to enable us to repent and believe. […]

    vv.26-31: It is not an accident that the Greek word for witness (martys) came to be associated with martyrdom.  ‘Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship’, wrote Bonhoeffer.

    Yet the world’s opposition did not impede the spread of the gospel or the growth of the church.  On the contrary, Luke ends his narrative of Saul’s conversion, which culminated in his providential escape from danger, with another of his summary verses (31).  He described the church, which has now spread throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria, as having five characteristics – peace (free from external interference), strength (consolidating its position), encouragement (enjoying paraklesis, the special ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete), growth (multiplying numerically) and godliness (living in the fear of the Lord).[3] 

    [1] Acts, The NIV Application Commentary, p.302

    [2] Acts, The NIV Application Commentary, p.302-4.

    [3] John Stott, The Spirit, the Church, and the World, p. 178-9

  • Acts 9:1-19 (ESV)

    1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

    10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

    18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

    For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.

  • Study Questions: Acts 9:1-19 
    • Describe all that Saul must have been thinking and feeling as he encountered Jesus, heard these words, and was without sight for three days.
    • What can I learn about God through this passage? Consider what Saul was doing, Ananias’s initial response to God, and the way God chose to restore Saul’s sight. (Consider especially his view of you.)
    • Does this passage help me understand my own story, or challenge or commission me in some way?
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