TEXT: Acts 9:1-6
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.
3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5 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.
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.
The Power of the Resurrection and Those Who Rage Against Jesus and Believers (Powerful Life Lessons from the Aftermath of the Resurrection #7)
So far in this Easter Week series, we have talked about the power of the resurrection as it pertains to those who are already following Jesus Christ. But the power of the resurrection extends even to unbelievers — and not just to passive unbelievers but to those who hate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Acts chapter 9 introduces us to one of these haters of the Gospel — a man named Saul, more commonly known as Paul. He was a Jew dedicated to the persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ. As you might recall, after Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty, the Jewish authorities paid the Roman guards to say that the disciples had come and stolen Jesus’ body. They did not want the word to get out that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. They knew that if that got out among the people, the ‘Jesus movement’ of the first century would be back in full swing.
Of course, as we saw from Acts chapter 2, the disciples of Christ were boldly preaching in Jerusalem that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and so the Jewish leaders set about to stamp out all of those who followed Christ. This is where Saul comes in. Saul was a well-educated man who was evidently very favored by the religious authorities. He had been born in Tarsus, his father was a Pharisee, and he had been trained in tentmaking. We don’t know what Saul looked like, but an ancient source states that he was “a man of moderate stature, with crisp hair, crooked legs, blue eyes, large knit brows, and a long nose.”
The Jewish authorities were relying on Saul to help them eradicate the followers of the Way. We read that he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” The phrase “breathing out” puts us in mind of a dragon breathing out fire. That is how fierce Saul’s hatred for the church was. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christians he found and bring them back to Jerusalem to be put on trial. And that is when he has his encounter with the resurrected Christ.
The first thing we notice from this story is that Jesus is concerned about those who rage against God and believers. The Bible reads, “As [Saul] 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?” Saul thought that Christianity was wrong and deceptive. He thought the disciples were liars. He thought Jesus was a fraud. Yet, we see here that Jesus came looking for Saul.
The brilliance of Christ’s glory suddenly shined forth on the road to Damascus causing Saul to fall to the ground. One commentator writes, “This wasn’t because of honor or reverence for God, it was simply a reaction of survival — he was terrified at the heavenly light.” Then, Jesus called Saul by name indicating that He had come specifically for him. He said, “Saul, Saul.” In Scripture, when God repeats a name twice, it is not necessarily because He is angry, but He is displaying His deep feelings for that person. (For example, in Luke 10, when Martha comes complaining to Jesus about Mary not helping her prepare the meal, Jesus responds by saying, “Martha, Martha…”)
Even though Saul hated Jesus and wanted to see His name blotted out from history, Jesus did not hate Saul. Jesus did not come down with wrath and anger on Saul. It is almost as if Jesus pitied him. We see this when He asks the question, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” In other words, ‘Why are you doing such a futile thing? You’re persecuting God. You can’t possibly win.’
We see a similar spirit of the ‘persecution of God’ rising up today. Atheists, agnostics, secularists, scientists, academics — many of them have denounced God and tried to portray Christians and those who believe in God as either silly or dangerous. Peter Hitchens, brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, wrote in his book The Rage Against God, “The current intellectual assault on God in Europe and North America is in fact a specific attack on Christianity — the faith that stubbornly persists in the morality, laws, and government of the major Western countries… The God they fight is the Christian God.”
We see that in Jesus’ appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus, He gently tries to get Saul to realize that he is wasting his time fighting against God. He says, “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” A “prick” was a long, extremely sharp stick used to get an ox going the way you wanted him to go when plowing. A farmer jabbed the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated.
Showing immense compassion, Jesus came looking for Saul when Saul was trying his best to wipe out the name of Jesus. Isn’t this the story of our lives for many of us? When we were running away from God, trying to get out from under His authority, God came looking for us. Some people have said that they searched for God, but I think it is more accurate for most of us that God came searching for us.
The second thing we notice about Saul’s story is that Jesus has and will intervene in the lives of those who rage against God and believers. After he falls to the ground, Saul says, “Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Unlike the three thousand souls who were saved on Pentecost, unlike the hundreds of other believers who had never seen the resurrected Lord and yet believed on Him, the living, risen Savior came down to get Saul’s attention.
Dr. James Boice said, “Unless Saul was hallucinating, the appearance of Jesus proved that Jesus was alive and that Jesus was God.” Jesus personally intervened and showed Himself alive to Saul in order to get his attention. At that moment, Saul was confronted with the reality of the person He was trying to destroy.
A Gallup survey once asked people which questions they would most like to ask God. The top five questions people had were: Will there ever be lasting world peace? How can I be a better person? What does the future hold for my family and me? Will there ever be a cure for all diseases? Why is there suffering in the world?
Now, the thing about it is that all of these questions are answered in some way in the Bible. Saul, hater of Christ that he was, asked the really important question: “Lord, who are you?” Jesus is God’s answer to that question. You can see, learn about, and experience who God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Then Saul asked another question: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
That question signifies that Saul had accepted his defeat. He was wrong about Jesus. He was wrong about Jesus’ disciples. He was wrong about God. When Jesus intervened in his life and undeniably showed Himself to be the risen, living Savior, Saul realized that Jesus was the One he really needed to be serving, and so he asked, “What do you want me to do?”
Jesus intervened in the world 2,000 years ago. In the midst of a tumultuous time in history, He came down to save us. Yes, He came down as the answer to the cries of all those who longed for salvation from sin and death. But He also came down to answer those who rage against God. And, when we encounter the living, risen Savior, we can only ask, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Finally, in this story, we see that Jesus has a plan for those who rage against God and believers. Verse 6 of our passage tells us that “the Lord said unto [Saul], Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Jesus had some things he wanted Saul to do.
In just a few seconds, Saul’s life had undergone a radical shift. At that point, he had been blinded by the brightness of Christ’s glory. Where he had once been boldly breathing out threats and slaughter against Christ, now he was on his knees humbled and broken before the risen Savior. A few minutes before, he was storming up the road to Damascus to arrest Christians, now he would have to be led by hand like a little child into the city.
Most of us are familiar with Saul’s accomplishments from that point on. Mostly referred to by his Roman name, Paul, he was the greatest first century missionary and church planter. He wrote 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament. He is also the only man, who was not one of the original followers of Christ, to be referred to as an “apostle.” This seems to have been deliberately planned by God, because, as indicated in First Corinthians 9, only those who had physically seen the risen Savior were referred to as “apostles.”
Dr. Boice writes, “It is significant in so short a book — attempting to cover the expansion of Christianity from its small beginnings in Jerusalem to a religion that filled the whole empire — that the tale of one man’s conversion should be so greatly emphasized.” God’s plan for Paul lets us know that even the atheist, the agnostic, the intellectual — any and every Christ-rejector, no matter how far gone they are — can come to Christ through an encounter with the living Savior. It may not be as dramatic as Saul’s was, but as Luis Palau said, “One encounter with Jesus Christ is enough to change you, instantly, forever.”
This is the amazing power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: a man who hated Christ and Christians was turned into one of the most vocal proponents of His message of salvation.
The world today still staggers either in awe or disbelief at the resurrection. Lisa Miller, the former senior editor of Newsweek magazine, called the resurrection a “conundrum.” This year alone, numerous TV channels are producing a variety of shows and mini-series focused on Jesus and His resurrection: NBC, CNN, National Geographic, and others. In fact, there was so much filming about Jesus going on in Morocco last year that one actor said “on all of our days off, there’s 36 disciples sitting around the pool and three Jesuses at the bar.”
People just can’t get around the person of Christ and his resurrection. Those who rage against God cannot dismiss it because without the resurrection, there is no way to explain why 2.2 billion people on planet Earth today are followers of Christ. Saul came face to face with the risen Jesus first-hand, and in those few moments, he was transformed from one who raged against God and the believers in Christ into one whom God would use to turn the world upside-down for Christ.
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If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, allow me to share with you briefly how you can be saved from your sins and be guaranteed a home in Heaven with God today.
First, please understand that you are a sinner, just as I am, and that you have broken God’s laws. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Please understand that because of your sins, you deserve eternal punishment in hell. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death…This is both physical death and spiritual death in hell. That is the bad news.
But here is the good news. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. I am sorry for my sins, and today I choose to turn from my sins. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. I trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and I choose to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.
If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God! Congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light Society.com and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door.” Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
God loves you. We love you. And may God bless you.