The Call Of Saul Of Tarsus
Jesus Calling Saul Of Tarsus Into His Service
By, James L. Thornton
We want to look into the life of the Apostle Paul who I feel is one of the greatest men who ever lived. We will look at his upbringing; his personal life before Christ came into it, his conversion, and his life afterwards.
1. Crucified To Live
2. Saul The Persecutor
3. Paul Salutes A New Captain
4. Lord I Am Ready For Service
5. A Chosen Vessel
6. Saul In Prayer
7. Paul Fasting In Total Darkness
8. Paul’s Vision Restored
9. When The Scales Fall
10. Paul Received A New Assignment
11. Bear My Name Before Kings
12. Bear My Name Before The Children Of Israel
13. Sight To The Blind
14. Assassins At The Gate
15. The Desert Of Arabia
16. The Disciples Were Afraid Of Paul
17. Thirteen Years Of Obscurity In Tarsus
18. The Doors Of The Church Open To Gentiles
19. Paul Is Summoned Back Into Service
20. Paul Was A Christian
21. Separate Me, Separated By The Holy Ghost
1. CRUCIFIED TO LIVE:
Galatians 2:20. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
What would require libraries filled with volumes, and involve deep theories and endless explanations for us to set forth, this trophy of divine grace in early times presented in eight simple, well-chosen words: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live . . .” It was a terse and telling testimony, prayerful, premeditated and without precedence in the whole of Scripture. It is a personal testimony for it attests the work of Christ upon a fallen son of Adam.
It is an open confession, to be read and known of all men, that Saul of Tarsus died when he came face to face with Jesus of Nazareth; and, in his stead, there is now a man possessing the nature of God, indwelt by the Spirit and dominated by Christ his Lord. It is profound as a truth for it treats of the miraculous.
One look at the cross and this new creature in Christ sensed that he had been chief of sinners. - One look at the cross, and this preeminent representative of the Christian faith lost sight of self and placed his own rating at the bottom of the apostolic roster. - One look at the cross and this vilified but valiant servant knew he would wear a crown of glory.
The so-called paradoxes of the Bible are multiple.
- One loses one's life to find it.
- One gives away to have.
- One is exalted by being abased.
- One is first by being last.
- One dies to live.
The paradox of his revelation is amazingly marvelous. “I am crucified . . . I live.” Paul was literally averring that he died to live, and his statement is by no means a confusion of words.
What does Paul mean to be “crucified with Christ?”
1. CRUCIFIED TO LIVE:
Galatians 2:20. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
“I am crucified,” Paul contended, and it was in the sweetest and wisest advisement to others that his testimony was declared abroad; for, to be crucified with Christ, to forfeit the best this world can offer, is to live with Christ, and share, here and now, the richest that heaven can bestow upon one yet in the flesh. To really understand what Paul means we must realize what it cost him to become a disciple ofJesus.
Paul was highly educated and very learned in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul was of the strictest sect, a Pharisee, one of that company of Hebrew religionists who thanked God publicly that they were “not as other men.” They could not preserve their sacred standing and fraternize with Gentiles or “other men.”
Paul had risen in status among the Pharisees until he no doubt would have become a member of the Sanhedrin, a ruler among the Jews. This is the high life Paul gave up. This is what Paul means when he says, “I am crucified with Christ.”
To be ‘crucified’ is no ordinary death, it is a cruel death, an agonizing death, it takes time to die on a cross. Paul was leaving or giving up a form of life that all men crave.
Once it was given up there was no going back to it, he could never expect to be accepted back into the favor of the Sanhedrin. All the other Apostles could have gone back to their former life but not Paul. In fact it seems like that Simon Peter kept his boat even until after Jesus was crucified, and returned to a fishing excursion along with some more of the Apostles (John 21:2-3). Abraham could have gone back to Haran, Moses and David could have returned to keeping sheep but Paul could never return to his old life.
To be ‘crucified with Christ’ means a death, a total giving up of our old way of life. It is a complete turn-around from the plans we had laid out for our life. Some times it is agonizing, but the rewards are great. When we die for Christ or with Christ, we begin a new life, a life with Him living our life for us. Paul says, “and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
2. SAUL THE PERSECUTOR:
No Philistine or Amalekite was ever a more potent enemy of God’s people than Saul of Tarsus. His hatred and wrath grew until he searched out followers of Jesus in other cities and countries to bring them to justice before the Sanhedrin.
Acts 9:1. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2. 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.
Paul (Saul) was one of the first to take a stand against these new followers of Jesus. He is mentioned as being among the group who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58). “And Saul was consenting (approving) unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; (Acts 8:1).In the following days his hatred grew towards any who believed on Jesus, taking it upon himself to destroy the faith. “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).
The days immediately following Saul (his Hebrew name, Paul his Roman name) leaving the confines of Jerusalem, and somewhere on the road to Damascus, Paul having in his possession the documents necessary to rid Damascus of the hated followers of Christ, when suddenly a very bright light, like a bolt of lightening, shone down from heaven and Saul fell to the earth from the impact of it. A Voice from heaven called out to the prostrate figure of Saul. “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” (Acts 9:4-5).
At the time of this query, there was a pronounced inward reaction, more spiritual than psychological. His whole emotional life was thrown into a state of quickened action. He was trembling as he spoke. Those who knew him before and after observed him as one who was not easily frightened. On the contrary, he was recognized as an unusually fearless type of individual. “And he trembling and astonished said,” (Acts 9:6). This is the way all men will ultimately be when thy come face to face with God on the Day of Judgment (Philippians 2:10-11).
This query, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” was directed to the Supreme Issuer of commands. In a sense, it was the surrender signal of a treacherous enemy who thereby conceded defeat.
3. PAUL SALUTES A NEW CAPTAIN:
Acts 9:6. “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt 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.”
Paul, immediately before his conversion, had reached the pinnacle of sheer fanaticism in his expressed animosity toward Christ. Never had a Philistine so plagued the people of God. Though small of stature, he was a Goliath of opposition. However, one pebble from the greater David felled him. It was not a stone in the cup of a sling which wrought his undoing; it was the force in the crook of a question:—“Why persecutest thou me?”
The account reveals that he not only trembled but was profoundly astonished. It was not an ordinary bewilderment, but an enlightening disillusionment. He was amazed that anything, or any one, could stop the fulfillment of his determined effort. He was stunned by a challenge so convincing in its presentation. He was surprised at the spectacular suddenness of this transforming experience. He was overwhelmed above all that Christ, so utterly despised by him and his colleagues, should so completely arrest his determined venture.
His meeting with the Christ of God wrought miraculous changes. His planned undertaking was permanently disrupted. It was, in all probability, the only unfinished assignment of his life. The natural emphasis of his philosophy was to see a job to its completion. He bade farewell to his present endeavors and humbled himself at the feet of a new Master. Even as Peter, James and John left their nets, and Matthew the receipt of custom, so Saul resigned his post at once. The search warrant in his pocket became utterly useless. There is no record of its actual disposition, but we know the legal document of condemnation was exchanged for the message of divine salvation. His threats of slaughter vanished forever.
The ninth chapter of the Book of Acts is one of the most important chapters in the entire Bible. For in it we have the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and his commission by the Lord Himself. Without this story we would not know the weight behind his wonderful life and writings.
4. LORD I AM READY FOR SERVICE:
Acts 9:6. “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt 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.
7. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
8. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.”
The salutation “Lord” was indicative of putting the Savior first, of giving Him His rightful place, of owning Him as the proper one to exercise lordship. It was a salutation that never lost its appeal for Paul. There seemed to be no hesitance whatsoever in his acceptance when once the identity was made clear. His eyes were closed in blindness but his ears were open in willingness.
Paul had heard a voice saying, “I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest.” There was no argument, no self-justification, and no procrastination. There was a deep repentance which at once softened a hardened heart and sweetened a bitter soul, so that he could, with tender reverence, acclaim Jesus as Lord. This was the first reverential articulation that ever came from his lips for Jesus, Who, from henceforth and forever, would be everything to him.
Somehow, Paul must have understood that this One, to whom he was applying, knew all things and could penetrate into the secret chambers of a man’s soul. Peter, one morning after a meal with his Lord, commented, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest I love thee” (John 21:17). Paul did not use the same words, but they are inferred. If he received an assignment, then he could, through faithfulness, prove to others that he had met the Lord.
He wanted to get established. He meant to be useful. He was ready to sign on the dotted line, willing to suffer reproach, if need be, as a true and faithful follower of the Lord of glory. The question was pressing in challenge. “What wilt Thou have me TO DO?”
5. A CHOSEN VESSEL:
Acts 9:15. “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:”
If I had been choosing I would have chosen one of the deacons that had been chosen by the Church that had a good report and filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:3-6).
As we look at this phrase ‘a chosen vessel’ it seems that the Lord had a choice of the vessels he could have chosen. Humanly speaking if the choice had been left to almost every person in the early Church, Paul would have been the last to be chosen to be an Apostle. He was the most feared person in Jerusalem and one to stay hidden from. Hundreds had been rounded up by him and many had lost loved ones to his wrath. In the eyes of the followers of Christ, Saul would never change. We could wonder if anyone prayed that Saul would be saved.
At least two of the deacons Philip and Stephen, were outstanding men of great ability and the power of God rested upon them in great measure. Philip had preached and the entire city of Samaria had been converted, baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost, and many miracles of healing had taken place. Stephen was a mighty preacher that preached one of the greatest sermons listed in the entire book of Acts (Acts 6, 7). He brought things out of the Old Testament that are not recorded anywhere else in the Bible.
Why, we ask God, did Stephen have to die so early in his ministry, and then choose one of the main men responsible for his death to be the ‘chosen vessel?’ But God always knows what he id doing. Un-be-known to Saul and the rest of his world God had his eyes upon him from his youth, and he was being prepared through education, training, physical and mental toil, to stand the strain that it would take to be the ‘vessel’ that was need for the task that God was calling him to do.
This ‘vessel’ would carry the greatest contents that any vessel had ever carried before. This ‘vessel’ was chosen to bear the name of Jesus “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” No vessel ever carried a more precious thing in it than this ‘chosen vessel.’ Paul would later say “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
6. SAUL IN PRAYER:
Acts 9:9. “And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.”
11. “And the Lord said unto him (Ananias), Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,” (The brightness of the Glory of God that shone down upon Saul blinded his eyes.)
Now this is not the first time Saul had prayed. Saul (Paul) had prayed before. Every Pharisee knew how to pray. They practiced their prayers daily, in the temple, on the street corners, long prayers in public. They stood (not kneeling) and “prayed within himself” thanked God that they were, “not like other men, other men are extortioners, unjust, adulterers—I’m not like the publicans, I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on everything—Lord don’t You think I am a good person?” His prayer had never reached up into heaven.
But now, God said to Ananias, he’s really praying. This is the first time his prayers had ever been recorded in heaven. And ever after Paul was a praying man. His letters are filled with prayers, and encouragement for other men to pray. “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands,” (1 Timothy 2:8). “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also:” (1 Corinthians 14:15). “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,” (Ephesians 6:18). “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Yes Paul learned the value of prayer during those three days. Yes Saul (Paul) learned how to pray during the three days and nights without sight. And he taught other men the value of prayer. He taught them to “Pray every where,” “Lift up your hands in prayer,” “Pray in the spirit, pray so people can understand you,” “Pray always with all kinds of prayer,” “Don’t cease to Pray.” Pray before meals, Pray when you read your Bible, Pray before you go to Church, Pray while you are at Church, Pray on the way home from Church. “Pray Always.”
7. PAUL FASTING IN TOTAL DARKNESS:
Acts 9:9. “And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” (Paul opened his eyes and he saw nothing but total darkness.)
Paul was led by the hand into a strange house among strangers. We do not know anything about Judas, the man into whose home Saul was brought, other than being a Jew, by having a Jewish name. Judas, no doubt, tried to help Saul by trying to feed him and make him as comfortable as possible, but Saul refused food and water or could not bring himself to eat nor drink.
I can understand three days without food, you get very hungry, but it is bearable, many people have done it. But without water is a different story. Your mouth and throat begin to feel dry—you long for a drink. The second day it begins to get unbearable—you would give half you own for a drink of water. By the third day your tongue begins to protrude out of your mouth—you can’t talk any more—the noise coming from your mouth is just a sucking sound grasping for another breath.
By the end of the third day the soldiers who stood guard around Judas’ house were preparing for Saul’s death. No one could live much longer in the condition Saul was in. He refused all help and nourishment—death is at the door.
And it was true in since—Saul was dying—the old man was dying—the old man was being crucified, and crucifixion is a terrible death. It took three days for Saul to die. All during this time Saul was praying. His men could not understand his words, just groaning and utterances not understandable. For three days and three nights Saul was going through a transformation. Saul was dying but Paul was being born. Like a worm wrapped in a cocoon—there is a bursting forth a new creature—a butterfly.
I feel that it was during this time he was caught up into the paradise and God showed him the rewards of the sufferings and persecutions he would face in the coming years (2 Corinthians 12:3-4). Whatever happened during the three days and nights of blindness and fasting, there was such a mighty change wrought in him that it lasted a lifetime. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11).
Divine optometry is hardly a fitting term for the clearing of impaired spiritual vision, yet the Great Physician performs just such operations. Of the Emmaus sojourners, it was said, “Their eyes were opened and they knew Him.”
8. PAUL’S VISION RESTORED:
Acts 9:9. “And he was three days without sight,”
12. “And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”
17. “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
People who suddenly lose their sight become more aware through their other senses. They hear strange noises, strange voices, smell strange odors, everything they touch becomes a new feeling. They feel, rather than see, the presence of other people. Saul went through all these sensations for three days and three nights, trembling at each new sensation.
Early on the fourth day he felt two hands that were gripping his head, what can this be? One of the members of the Sanhedrin coming to examine me? One of the soldiers coming to take me back to Jerusalem? Uneasiness crept over him as he waited for the next thing to happen.
Then a kind voice saying, “Brother Saul.” Brother Saul, he had never been called brother before. The voice continued, “The Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”
9. WHEN THE SCALES FALL:
It is a glorious fact, prolifically substantiated by Scripture, that this is precisely what the Lord desires to do for each one, even in this our day. Patiently He waits for eager hearts to cry, “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law [word].” In the experience of Paul, when the scales fell, there was new light for a new life. His vision was at once majestic and grand in its sweep. There was a broad horizon with new values and countless opportunities.
Saul was used to giving and receiving orders. He would take orders form no one who was not in a higher authority than he. Now he was convinced that his new assignment was given from the highest source in the universe, God Himself.
10. PAUL HAD RECEIVED A NEW ASSIGNMENT:
Acts 9:15. “For he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:”
18. “and arose, and was baptized.
19. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
This new convert was called of God to bear the name of Christ “before the Gentiles, and kings and the children of Israel.” In each case, the assignment, humanly speaking, was most difficult of performance. “To the Gentiles.” The Gentiles comprised 99.44% of the population of the world. The Jews comprised such a small percent of the people of the world, and still do. God was ready to reach out to yet unreached nations of the earth. And Saul of Tarsus was chosen to set the stage.
The Gentiles, or the heathen (goyim), were looked upon with much disfavor by the Jews, and that natural aversion had to be overcome.
Jonah fled from such a task. Paul was of the strictest sect, a Pharisee, one of that company of Hebrew religionists who thanked God publicly that they were “not as other men.” They could not preserve their sacred standing and fraternize with Gentiles; and to make it doubly hard in the fulfillment of this new commission, he had been indoctrinated with a hatred for Christ and a bitterness toward His message.
However, immediately upon coming to grips with the Savior, he received his assignment. This was it—bearing before the Gentiles that Name which is above every name. How else were they to receive hope? Jesus was born to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel (Luke 2:32). Not only that, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
But what could a name mean to a people who were outside the sphere of covenant privilege? What could one name mean to such a countless number? What could a name mean to a people who had so long worshipped idols? They knew the names of countless gods.
What success would he have to bear that Name to a people who already knew some of the greatest names in human history, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Abraham, Moses, David, could any name appear above these?
With all that it meant, with all that it promised, that Name had to be borne by human agency, and Paul was a transformed vessel called for this very purpose, to minister its message and meaning to the Gentiles, The Kings and his own people.
11. BEAR MY NAME BEFORE KINGS:
Acts 9:15. “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:”
The coverage of his commission was extensive. It ranged from the most degraded to the most elevated. Kings as well as commoners are lost without Christ and there is no hope for anyone apart from the Name that came from heaven. True, not many noble are called (I Corinthians 1:26). It is equally true that not many noble are evangelized. Few of God’s servants have had the boldness, through the Spirit, to preach Christ to the nobility of the earth.
Gaining a hearing before Kings and nobility was more difficult than giving the message, but an entre through legal proceedings, instituted by others, on more than one occasion brought him before governmental officials where he capitalized on the slightest opportunity to bear a witness for Jesus the Christ. God also worked it into Paul’s schedule by having him put in bonds to gain a royal audience (Acts 26:1-32).
Paul witnessing to King Agrippa about his experience on the road to Damascus, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. (Acts 26:19-20).
With all of Paul’s culture and refinement, education and training, he never seemed to recognize nobility apart from the earthly dignity of the office which always elicited an appropriate salutation. The royal robes of regal elegance were as paupers’ apparel compared with the robe of righteousness. Paul thought more of a man’s destination than of his distinction. He was an ambassador of the King of Kings.
12. TO BEAR MY NAME UNTO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL:
This faithful servant made an earnest, honest effort to break through the defenses of the children of Israel, but to little avail.
Acts 9:15. “And the children of Israel:”
It is interesting to follow his procedure from the practical point of view. He did not build an edifice or rent a hall. He went straightway to the Jewish synagogues. Many, since Paul’s day, have had an inspiration or a divine unction, and started a new denomination or cult following, but Paul wanted his ministry to coincide with the Apostles at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-2). Since he had so completely renounced Judaism, does it not seem strange that he would venture into Jewish places of worship? It was not that he had received any official invitation.
While Paul was especially the apostle to the Gentiles, the divine commission included a ministry among his own people according to the flesh; and, hardly had he received his sight, until “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
But the Jews of Paul’s day were no more receptive to the message of God than were their forbears in the day of Ezekiel when they were said to be impudent, stiff-hearted and rebellious scorpions. The Apostle confessed, “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart” (2 Corinthians 3:15).
“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, ‘it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:45, 46).
Judaism never accepted him. Yet he went boldly into their synagogues. He knew that people needed, more than anything else in the world, the experience which had so revolutionized his own life. It was worth the attempt. His Lord would be pleased.
He might meet with some embarrassment, but, then, he was willing to become a fool for Jesus’ sake, and into the synagogues he went. His message was Christ. This was not a matter to be treated reverently there. Christ was from the little town of Nazareth and it was said in that day, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
13. SIGHT TO THE BLIND:
Acts 9:18. “And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”
Instead of Saul from that day of baptism, till the end of time be known as Paul. Paul, the greatest Christian example that ever lived, was not baptized by Jesus himself, or even by Peter, or one of the other Apostles, but by an almost unknown disciple in faraway Damascus.
The scales had fallen from his eyes and he could see, but a far more wondrous marvel filled him, so that he could scarce find breath to speak. The eyes of his body had been sightless only three days, but the eyes of his soul had been blind for his whole life.
Into the darkness of his spirit at the moment Ananias baptized him, and coming up out of the water the glorious light of the Holy Ghost came resting upon him illuminating his soul with almost unbearable purity.
One cannot help from wondering whether this student of Gamaliel had ever heard, up to this time, the story of Nicodemus, a former ruler of the Jews. Yet one may know about the power of the gospel without experiencing its force, and about transforming grace without being changed. “The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Paul had contacted a power and was transformed. Of this, he never, through all his subsequent years, had reason to doubt. Accounting himself the chief of sinners, he knew that if he could be saved, then salvation was possible for all. He knew it brought a newness of life. This conviction moved him to assert, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Those men who journeyed with him toward Damascus “stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no man” (Acts 9:7). If they heard the Lord’s voice, they must have heard Paul’s. They were not offended because he had pledged allegiance to another for “they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.”
It would not be difficult to believe they received his first sermon. It would be most interesting, indeed, to know about the details of their conversation during the remainder of the journey, to learn just what their several reactions were and to determine whether or not any of them accepted Christ as their Savior.
14. ASSASSINS AT THE GATE:
In recounting some of his experiences at a later date, Paul spoke about being in perils of his own countrymen.
Acts 9:23. “And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
24. But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
25. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
The first of many such experiences, which was a serious one, took place at Damascus soon after his conversion. He had outwitted the Jews there in a discussion about his Lord, “proving that this is very Christ.” To overcome their chagrin and to give vent to their inherent antichristian bitterness, they produced some legal technicality whereby they could demand his life.
Machinery was quickly thrown into operation, plans were drawn up, and all that remained to put an abrupt end to this new “perverter” was to apprehend the culprit. That was all, but that was much when God was on the side of the man sought (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).
Moved by the same prompting that caused Mary and Joseph to take Jesus as a babe from Bethlehem to Egypt, the few believers at Damascus effected an escape for Paul by placing him in an improvised elevator made of a basket and a rope and letting him down over the wall.
Doubtless their hearts still feared for his safety as he left the basket and disappeared into the darkness of the night unarmed and unescorted, but the Lord was with him.
Saul vanished into the darkness to spend the next three years in solicitude and prayer in the desert of Arabia (Galatians 1:16-17). There was a lot of emptying out of the old life and a lot of new incoming thoughts and feelings that took place in the desert of Arabia. Many of God’s Servants spent time there.
“Saul baptized!” Now there was a tale the Christians back in Jerusalem would find hard to believe. By the grapevine that news passed from Damascus to Joppa, from Nazareth and Capernaum even to Jericho, through Galilee into Samaria and where-ever Christians were hiding, the word would go out that Saul, the persecutor, had been stricken blind near Damascus, had seen the Lord Jesus, had heard his voice, had been healed and baptized by a man named Ananias, and now he himself was a Christian.
Who could be expected to believe a wild story like that? Yet by traveling traders, by soldiers who witnessed the fact the news came and spread like wildfire.
15. THE DESERT OF ARABIA:
Galatians 1:15. “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,
16. To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
17. Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”
From Damascus Paul is sent into the desert wilderness to be alone with God. Without Paul’s personal statement that he waited three years before presenting himself to Peter, it would easy to misread the facts Luke recites in Acts 9:25-26.
Luke’s narrative glides over those three years as if they had no significance. Yet they were among the most important in Paul’s life. Paul went into the desert wilderness to be alone with God. He retreated from the world to silence where he could nourish his spirit, explore his new views, weigh and test his understanding and his will.
As Jesus had often “gone apart from the crowds” to renew himself in solitary prayer, so now Paul went, driven by a commandment beyond his own mind. Jesus had spent three years instructing his disciple; Paul took three years to be alone with him also, and to satisfy his mind and bridle his will. He went from Damascus into Arabia seeking to hear the voice of God in his soul. But he could not have hoped to for the stunning gift of glory that he was to receive, visions and revelations that were to dazzle Paul’s memory the rest of his life.
Later Paul wrote, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Paul had a lifetime of Pharisaic ideas and religious experiences to go over in his mind and many of them had to be exchanged for this new revelation which was being shown him. It took time for God to reveal His Son to Him (Galatians 1:16).
And whatever the “thorn on the flesh” was it was a reminder from God, for Paul never forgot the lessons God taught him in the desert of Arabia, lessons he passed on to Christians living then, and ever since. He knew he had direct revelations, communion with God, and an appointment from heaven as an Apostle.
After three years in the desert of Arabia Paul returned to Damascus and then made his way back to Jerusalem.
16. THE DISCIPLES OF THE LORD WERE AFRAID OF SAUL:
Galatians 1:18. “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” (What a time they must have had talking far into the night about Peter’s experiences with Jesus)
Acts 9:26. “And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
27. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.”
By reading both Luke’s account in Acts, and Paul’s own account in Galatians we can see more plainly what happened when Paul came back to Jerusalem after his encounter with the Lord, and his time in Arabia. The disciples had not forgotten his past record of persecution and were afraid to meet with him. But one man refused to give way to fear and suspicion, Joses, whom the Apostles had nick-named Barnabas (Son Of Consolation).
What if, Barnabas thought, Paul were truly converted? Would it not be a sin to cast him out? Barnabas befriended Paul, heard and believed his story of his conversion, and brought him into fellowship with the Apostles. I like what Luke adds, “And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:28). This shows that the Apostles had confidence now in Paul.
17. THIRTEEN YEARS OF OBSCURITY IN TARSUS:
After meeting with Peter for fifteen days in Jerusalem, trouble began to brew when the Jews rose up against Paul so Peter conducted him to Caesarea and then back to his boyhood home of Tarsus, Paul’s home town, where he resumed his occupation of tent-making for thirteen long years. Here was an Apostle without a calling, a missionary with no field. And Paul was to wait humbly, in prayer, study, work—unwelcomed by those of the new Church, or the old—for thirteen years.
Yet Paul’s obscurity helped the Church, there was a truce between the Church and the Sanhedrin. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
18. THE DOORS OF THE CHURCH OPEN TO THE GENTILES:
While Paul was exiled to Tarsus for 13 years, the greatest thing to happen in the Church, other than the coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost, God allowed Peter to open its doors to the Gentile world.
Acts 10:1. “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
2. A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
3. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
4. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
5. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6. He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”
During this period of time Peter was a tireless visitor to all communities of Palestine. From one end of another he walked meetings the various groups. While he was in Joppa he had a vision of various kinds of animals, that were considered by Peter unclean to eat, which were let down from heaven in a sheet, and a voice from heaven telling him to kill and eat. In his reluctance God was showing him that he should not call what He had cleansed common or unclean. While Peter thought on the vision men were approaching from Cornelius’s house asking him to come and minster to this Gentile centurion.
Peter realized that ‘God was no respecter of persons.’ While Peter ministered to Cornelius, God poured out the Holy Ghost on his entire household. The brethren who came with Peter saw, and were astonished, that God had given the gift of the Holy Ghost to the Gentiles. Peter immediately seized the moment to baptize Cornelius and his household and friends into the Church. What a moment in time.
This was the beginning of a new era for the Church. It was from that moment that the Church began to be world-wide organization. The Church grew in leaps and bounds and spread to foreign cities, which was to have another effect that would have everlasting affect, Paul would be re-called and commissioned for his world-wide missionary missions, and culminate in writing doctrinal letters and sermons that have been the standard of doctrine and teachings of the Church ever since.
19. PAUL IS SUMMONED BACK INTO SERVICE:
As the gospel spreads to Phenice (Phoenicia), Cyprus, and Antioch, Barnabas is sent to confirm the converts
Acts 11:20. “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
22. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
23. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
24. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
25. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:”
How overwhelming the developments must have been at Antioch during those glorious days! It was a sweeping victory for the cause of Christ, for “much people was added unto the Lord.” In the midst of all this holy, happy experience, Barnabas acquired a desire to have Paul with him, for fellowship and for assistance in dealing with the many converts whose establishment in the faith was eminently essential lest Satan should take advantage of their immaturity.
Paul’s spiritual discernment, his abounding zeal, his steadfastness, to say nothing of his teaching aptitude, would prove invaluable at this particular time. The Antiochan believers required such leadership, and who else among the saints of God would more thoroughly enjoy, with exuberant satisfaction, this wonderful time of refreshing from out of the presence of the Lord?
So once again Barnabas sought Paul out in Tarsus to come help him in ministering to the saints at Antioch. What a moment in time, the beginning of a ministry that would last till the end of time. Paul would not be a young man now, but in his late-forties.
Through the presence of Paul and his faithful instruction, the Antioch Church apparently exceeded the Jerusalem assembly in importance. Its impact upon sacred history far excelled all other early churches. It was the Church at Antioch which sent Paul and Barnabas on the first of many missionary trips to preach the Gospel to a lost world. It was this church that started charity work by send relief during a famine to the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30).
How appropriate that Paul should have been among those who first were honored with this expressive identification. Our vocabulary would be impoverished indeed without the word “Christian.”
20. PAUL WAS A CHRISTIAN:
Acts 11:26. “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
Antioch on the banks of the Orontes river, third largest city of Roman Empire in Paul’s day, was soon recognized as the mother-church of Gentile Christianity, the nursery, we could call it, of missionary efforts that would penetrate the mainland of Europe.
Those first Christians in Syrian Antioch were a strange mixture, a multi-national crew. Jews, some of them fugitives from persecution in Palestine, some born in Syria, mingled with fair-skinned Greeks converts and people from the island of Cypress prayed and worshipped shoulder to shoulder with dark-skinned men of Africa.
True conversion and proper training always result in Christ-likeness. This is the desire of the Lord, the aim of Scripture and the need of the church. The students at Antioch soon became living epistles which were readily read and known of all men.
Their speech was seasoned with grace, their conduct was exemplary and their joy in the Lord was abounding. While it may not have been intended as a compliment, these followers of Christ were dubbed “Christian” (Christ-like), a name which has attached itself to believers to this very day.
While its usage has suffered from altogether too wide an application, it nevertheless retains the basic thought of an ‘imitator of Christ’. As a noun, it speaks of confession; as an adjective, it suggests conduct. In any event, it identifies one with the Savior. Paul could not have sought a greater honor. He wore the name well and ever strove to give it the dignity it deserved and to guard against any reproach that might tarnish its luster. It was his badge of identification as he trekked the land in preaching tours and travelled the seas on mission voyages. Paul was a Christian!
Though given by men, it has been approved of God as is indicated by its two subsequent usages in the sacred page; and we, today, accept it as indicative of our relation to Him Whom we follow in lowly paths of service. But its truest bearer, its worthiest beneficiary, and its most noteworthy exemplar was the one who taught the Antiochans the lessons which brightened the town with a reflection of Christ.
21. SEPARATE ME, SEPARATED BY THE HOLY GHOST:
Paul’s great call came soon after he and Barnabas returned from Jerusalem after taking the love offering to the Church there.
Acts 13:1. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
3. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
4. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed..”
Luke names several great men filled with God’s Spirit and used mightily by Him and with great spiritual insight, and endowed with the by the Holy Ghost with the power of revelations. And in these days a special message concerning Paul and Barnabas came to three of these gifted men. At least one or two of these men had been personally acquainted with John the Baptist, and possibly with Jesus himself, and fled the persecutions to Antioch.
Now, as many as seventeen years after Paul’s conversion, after fasting and ministering (worshipping) the Lord, “The Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” What profound meaning lay in that brief supernatural instruction. Paul and Barnabas were specially chosen for a unique mission designed by the Holy Ghost. Let them not ask why, or how—but set them apart to follow the directions they will be given. What a moment in time!
Remember in the Old Testament certain animals were ‘set apart’ for three days and fed special food for three days before offering them as a sacrifice, certain men, as Aaron was set apart for special service as the High Priest. So Paul and Barnabas were set apart for missionary work.
I can see Paul and Barnabas standing before these great men of God as they laid hands upon them and prayed ferverently, asking God’s special blessing on them as they traveled among strangers taking the Name of Jesus Christ in their ‘chosen vessels,’ and sent them away.
They took with them a young man by the name of John Mark who later wrote one of the four Gospels. From that moment on the Gospel would spread to the far corners of the world.
We hope you enjoyed this study of the calling and preoaration and sending of this great Apostle Paul.
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By. James L. Thornton