April 21 – Acts 9:1-19


Main Focus: Jesus transforms enemies into his friends, which reminds us of our desperate need apart from him and gives us confidence in his ability to save anyone.

Last week we saw Jesus’s encounter with two disciples on the day of his resurrection—this week we’re jumping ahead by a few months to an encounter after his ascension to heaven (Acts 1:9). In Acts 9:1-19 we find Saul hellbent on stopping the Jesus movement, but in God’s masterful irony Saul is the one stopped and Jesus’s enemy becomes his “chosen instrument” (9:15). In his story we see Jesus’s ability to save anyone, no matter how off, and, though we maybe haven’t been blinded by a heavenly light while on horseback, we can find some commonality.

We first meet Saul in Acts 7:58 when Stephen, a disciple of Jesus, was lynched, which Saul observed with approval. After this, Saul’s main focus was stamping out Christianity, which he viewed as a heretical Jewish sect, and he was doing everything in his power to see to it, even traveling to other cities where the gospel had taken root to make sure he dug up every last bit.

But of course God had other plans for him. As he described later to the Galatians, “he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”(Gal. 1:15-16a) On the way to Damascus to continue his persecution campaign, he saw a blinding light and heard a voice asking him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s response shows his initial grasp of what’s being shown to him; he asks, “Who are you, Lord?” On seeing the risen Christ (cf. Acts 9:27; Gal 1:16) he knows immediately that there’s something he’s missing, some information or insight about who God is and what God wants of him that he doesn’t have figured out yet, and this revelation is about to change everything for him.

Speaking of change, as an aside, Saul will later go by Paul starting in Acts 13:9. It’s often assumed that Paul was a new name given to him by God, much like Abram was renamed Abraham (Gen 17:5). But note that in Acts 13:9, even after his conversion, he’s still called Saul. That’s because Saul was his Jewish name while Paul (Paulos) was his Greco-Roman name; double names of this sort were quite common (and still are) in the multilingual Mediterranean basin. Once Saul started ministering primarily to Greek-speaking Gentiles he started just going by Paul, a clear sign of his identification with his mission field.

Back to the passage—we’ll start discussion by looking at both Saul’s experience and Ananias’s. Comically, Ananias is hesitant when he receives his mission from God. He asks something like, “Are you sure you want me to go to him?” But God’s response gives us some insight into the situation; he calls Saul his “chosen instrument,” underscoring God’s ability to transform his enemies into his servants. In discussion we’ll ask what that can tell us about Jesus—it speaks to his sovereign power to conquer his enemies as well as his forgiveness and love which can turn them into friends.

And again, though we maybe haven’t been knocked off a horse on the way to Damascus, we can find plenty of commonality in Saul when we consider our own state apart from Christ: “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). When we think about ourselves or the people in our lives who don’t follow Jesus, we should regularly remember that God can call anyone. What an amazingly gracious and powerful God we serve, a God who is both willing and able to transform vindictive, resistant people like Saul and like us and make us a part of his family (Eph 2:19).

We’ll finish by discussing how this gives us remarkable hope for talking about Jesus with other people. Just like Ananias could approach his former enemy and call him “Brother Saul,” we can take heart knowing that God is able to make even the last person we could ever imagine into our brother or sister. Let Paul, the murderer become Apostle, reassure us, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16a).

Discussion questions

– Would someone read Acts 9:1-19 for us?

– What stood out to you from the passage?

– What do you think this experience was like for Saul and Ananias?

– Jesus saved Saul even when he was his enemy—what can that tell us about Jesus?

– In what ways, if any, can you relate to Saul’s salvation story?

– How can this passage give us confidence in telling others about Jesus?