FIRST THING SAUL SAW
Acts 9:1-18 (NLT)
“Meanwhile, Saul [Saul of Tarsus] was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the High Priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the ‘Way’ he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains.”
Here, is our formal introduction to the Pharisee Saul. We had a previous glimpse of this person as he held the cloaks of those stoning Stephen of Acts 7:58, and learned of his persecution of the church in chapter 8 of Acts. We see that he is determined to crush out all followers of the Way, as the early followers of Christ were called, probably due to the words spoken by Jesus as recorded in John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life . . .” Saul is heading to Damascus.
“As he was approaching Damascus on his mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down upon him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?’ Who are you Lord, Saul asked? I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!”
Now, several thoughts. Like most of us, Saul was busy doing his thing – his mission – completely blind to the true things of God. He was passionate in his religion – certain that what he believed was absolute truth, yet he was in abject darkness of spirit. He had a code of conduct; he was steeped in his religion’s writings; he occupied a high position of respect within the leadership of his religion, yet he knew nothing! In spite of all he had going for himself he was completely ignorant of the true reality of God. Everywhere he went a cloud of darkness surrounded him. The light that shinned around him emanating from the followers of the Way that he persecuted, could not penetrate the shroud that covered him. He was walking evidence of the truth of John 1:5, “And the light shinned in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
But now, on this dusty road to nowhere, that Light shone directly on him!
Can you identify with this? Have you walked a similar dusty road to nowhere? Have you been consumed with a dark frame of mind meandering down some dark road; entertaining thoughts of revenge over some slight or insult from another; so preoccupied with ‘a mission’ of unforgiveness that you fail to glimpse the light from others? Does the seemingly simple faith of some irk you? You are not alone, even as Saul was not alone as he ventured toward Damascus. Yet, in that moment, surrounded by colleagues, Saul was singled out by the Lord and by His Light. As with a spotlight Saul was brought to his knees and pinned to the ground. Within a circle of light – holy light – holy ground – Saul, like Moses before him – bowed in the presence of God’s burning. “Saul! Saul! why are you persecuting me?” And Saul’s answer spoke to his total ignorance of the things of God. “Who are you lord, Saul asked?” Saul did not know the Lord! He had zero personal relationship with the One who gives him breath. In the final analysis all of Saul’s vast head-knowledge of the will and ways of God was not sufficient for true knowledge of the One. I can’t imagine all that Saul needed to un-learn. However, he began in the right place – upon his face, on the ground – and he began with the right question – “Who are you Lord?” It’s the place from which we must all begin our journey, and it’s the question we must all ask? The place for each of us is usually the same. We reach the ‘end of the road’ and fall helpless. The question may be differently phrased yet it is the same question: “Lord if you are real then . . .” It is a cry for His light to pin us down and to change our mind and then our hearts.
“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” No theological discussion here. Just a straightforward fact spoken in truth and authority. And Saul knew!
“Now, get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” God never leaves us as He finds us, nor does He redeem us without giving us ‘marching orders.’ God brought the Jews out of Egypt in order to bring them into the Promised land. Saul was brought out of a life of a Pharisee to become an Apostle to the Gentiles. He always give us something to do! A potter prepares a vessel for USE.
“The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one!” When God births a mission in someone it is a secret word. A word meant for only God and the one called. Later, confirmation from other believers will be required but initially it is that “still small voice” that is kept from the ears of others, especially from unbeliever’s ears. In this infant stage the seed of the word is in danger of being snatched away by the enemy if we are too careless to guard what was spoken on Holy Ground. (See Matthew 13). As with Spy movies – “for your eyes (ears) only.”
“Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.”
The physical blindness of Saul was a reflection of his spiritual blindness. The mission that began as a journey of darkness toward Damascus for the purpose of violence against the believers now became a journey of darkness to receive mercy at the hands of said believers. The three days is significant. A three day fast – three days from death to resurrection for Saul.
“Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, ‘Ananias!’ Yes Lord! he replied. The Lord said, Go over to Straight Street to the house of Judas. [not Judas Iscariot] When you get there ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again. But Lord, exclaimed Ananias, I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
Can there be any doubt that the Lord is involved in the details of his children’s lives? A truly amazing account. Ananias, a believer, receives a vision in which the Lord actually speaks with him. His reaction is understandable – “But Lord!” Have you received specific directions from the Lord only to reply, ‘But Lord?’ Many if not most of us have. A believer is to go and lay healing hands upon one who is not a believer – perhaps even a violent nonbeliever – in order to apply grace. What was it Jesus said? “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you; and persecute you;” (Matthew 5:44 KJV)
What do you suppose Saul was praying about? Probably to receive his sight. And the answer the Lord was sending via Ananias would return Saul’s physical sight but also, more importantly, give him a new spiritual sight. God’s answers to our prayers always exceeds what is asked! The Lord gave Saul a vision, in the darkness of his blindness, of the man Ananias coming to lay hands on him in order for him to receive his sight. Amazing – two men, two visions – from opposite sides of faith – to one purpose under heaven. O how often we forget that God is a respecter of no person – He will use whomsoever He will, for whatsoever He desires. Let us not be too hasty with our judgments.
“But the Lord said, Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake. So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptised.”
The Lord instructs Ananias to go and to basically not worry about what he had heard concerning Saul, for he was to be God’s chosen vessel to take His gospel to the Gentiles. The word chosen in the Greek is ‘ekloge’ which means, “the act of God’s free will by which before the foundation of the world He decreed His blessings to certain persons.” Ananias is faithful and goes to meet Saul and lays hands upon him calling him, “brother Saul.” Ananias knows by the Spirit, that Saul is already a believer – that he has already ‘seen the light!’ His spiritual rebirth is the overriding miracle here, the receiving of his physical sight is secondary. And the falling of the scales from his physical eyes is but a symbol of the falling of the spiritual scales. And immediately Saul was baptised – an outward show of an inward change. Praise be to God! One who was steeped in the law became a recipient of grace. The one who was schooled in the law would now school others in the fuller reality of grace.
“Saul of Tarsus was a blasphemer, a violent man, a murderer, an enemy of God. He hunted down the followers of Messiah and delivered them to judgment. And then with a flash of light, on the road to Damascus, he was blinded. The Lord then spoke to a believer in the city named Ananias. He told him to go to Saul. So Ananias approached the blind persecutor, and with the touch of his hand, Saul regained his sight. Now a question: What was the first thing that Saul ever saw as a believer? It was Ananias, but what was it he saw? In God there are no accidents. He chose the man Ananias to be the first thing Saul’s eyes would see in his new life. What is Ananias? It’s a translation of his real name, his Hebrew name, Khananyah. And what does it mean? ‘Yah’ is the Name of God, and ‘Khanan’ means grace. So, Khananyah means the grace of God. So what was the first thing that Saul saw in his salvation? – khananyah – the grace of God! So the first thing he saw was the grace of God. And it was khananyah who touched him and caused his blindness to be removed and allowed him to see. So it was the grace of God, that touched Saul’s life and the grace of God that allowed him to see. And so it is for all of us. It is the grace of God that touches our lives, that removes our blindness, and allows us to see. Only by the grace of God can we see. And the first thing we see in salvation is khananyah, the grace of God. And it was khananyah that gave Saul the ability to rise up and walk and then to live as a disciple, and minister, and fulfill his calling. And so it is only the grace of God that gives you the ability to rise and walk in Messiah, and only His grace that enable you to become His disciple, to live in righteousness and holiness, to minister and to fulfill your calling. Khananyah was the first thing Saul, in his new life, was able to see, because it’s all the grace of God. It is that which saves those who have no reason or right to be saved. It all comes by seeing khananyah. So never move away from that grace. Never stop seeing it. For without khananyah, we become blind. And every good thing we do comes from it. It all begins and is all fulfilled in khananyah, the grace of God.”1
God chooses whom He will to be His vessels as I have mentioned. Here is just one story of many we could recall.
One hundred and seventy-one years ago on January 6, 1850 – a troubled teen-aged seeker trudged up-hill through a snowstorm in Colchester, England, headed to a church in town. However, the blowing snow was so severe he turned left at Artillery Street and slipped into a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. There were maybe a dozen people in attendance. Even the minister was absent due to the snow. So a layman went to the pulpit and stumbled his way through a simple sermon based on Isaiah 45:23, “Look unto me and be saved….” That morning in that place Charles Haddon Spurgeon found peace, looking by faith to Jesus. Not many years later, Spurgeon became the most influential Gospel preacher in the English-speaking world, pointing thousands to Jesus. His writings are still influencing readers in many languages.2
Here, are but two individuals within the body of Christ, who, having encountered the light of the Lord, humbled themselves to His will. And most of you, have or will soon have, a similar moment of Divine revelation, when we are either stopped dead in our tracks or pushed off course onto an unfamiliar street, to hear the voice of Him – Jesus, Lord of lords. And as Charles Haddon Spurgeon looked unto Him and was saved, as did Saul, in the midst of his blindness, so can anyone who will. The Gospel is really quite simple. As the Psalmist reminds us in verse seven of chapter twenty: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” Saul asked: “Who are you Lord?” And the reply came, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Jesus – that name above every name – that name before which every tongue will eventually confess and every knee will eventually bow before. (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11)
And Saul’s life was changed forever, reflected in his name change from Saul to Paul. And he would later become a teacher others. Listen to Romans 6:5-11.
“Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know that we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power of him. When he died he died once to break the power of sin. But now as he lives he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” (KJV)
On that dusty road Saul died. His old life passed away. He, in essence, became crucified with Christ. It is, I believe, for this reason that he remained blind for three days. This is a reflection of the three days of darkness that Christ endured in the grave. And, on the third day Christ arose, and on the third day Saul received his sight and a new vision! Later, as he would reflect upon this truth, he would tell us in 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 17: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Saul transitioned from Saul to Paul; he transitioned from the old man to the new man; from the old creature to a new creature. This all occurred with his encounter with Jesus. All old things were passed away and BEHOLD all things became new! And when his sight returned he was able to BEHOLD with new vision and purpose.
When your moment of encounter with Jesus upon the road of life comes, what is the first thing one sees? Is it not grace, khananyah? We stop the struggle of trying to please God. We finish with our strivings. We set aside all the legal trappings as did Saul. We accept that we cannot be rid of our sin-nature by wrestling with our guilt and conscience. No, only grace can bring us home. And once we look upon that truth, our vision focuses upon the face of Jesus and behold all things become new. G-R-A-C-E – God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense.
In closing let me quote Romans 3:24, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Rejoice, dear friends, for He loves you and cares for you and showers you with His unfailing and unending grace. Amen.
1 Jonathan Cahn The Book of Mysteries day 195
2 Alan Adams Posting on Facebook January 2021
Let us Pray
Heavenly Father we thank you for your unending grace as encapsulated in Jesus. We honour you as the One who has the right to intercede into our lives, for you have formed us, you have brought us into your world, you have given us our first breath even as you give us our next one. Your authority reigns in holiness and power throughout the heavens and we are but clay, the work of your hands. Your word holds all things together, as it holds us together. We thank you for Jesus – The Word made flesh – who has dwelt among us to bring us your light. O may your light so shine on each of us that all of our darkness will recede away. May your light be so bright upon each of us that we can never again cast any shadow of darkness onto others. May we each hear your word and direction clearly. No matter the road we currently find ourselves upon, stop us, pause us in our strivings, attune our ears and shed the scales from our eyes. Let us come face-to-face with your overwhelming grace. Let us be not just hearers of your word but doers, and let our doing begin with ourselves. Help us to continue to pray for each other in these dark times. Let us continue to “lay hands” upon each other even over the distances between us. We thank you so much for the fellowship of believers, that we need not travel our ‘roads’ in solitude and loneliness. We lift up those who need special prayer this day. To those suffering physical distress we reach out our hands toward them and ask for your healing even as Saul was healed. To those suffering financial stress we call down your bounty, dear Lord, that heaven will rains sufficiency upon them. May we grasp hold of your truth that “My grace is sufficient for you.” Give us this day our daily bread. And deliver us not into temptation. As with Saul who walked determinedly down a road of anger and violence only to be stopped short, so set our feet upon a right path. Be that light upon our path and that lamp upon our feet. Stop us, turn us around, shine your grace upon us and direct us in all your ways. And as we journey our road this day may Goodness and Mercy follow us all the days of our lives. To You who is worthy of all our praise; to You who is familiar with all our ways; to You, the Author and Finisher of our faith, be all honour, and glory, and power and strength, both now and for evermore. Lord of Grace, grant us your peace this day, in Jesus’ name. Amen.