And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14, NKJV).
Paul rehearsed the events of Christ’s appearance to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:14-18). He was persecuting Christians when the Lord appeared (Acts 26:9-12). Christ described Paul’s futility with an example from everyday life. Saul was only hurting himself. A goad is a pointed stick used to prod oxen along the way. When an animal kicks against the nudging of the prod, it causes more pain to the animal. So it was with Saul of Tarsus. His misdirected zeal against the name of Jesus of Nazareth was pointless (Acts 29:9; 5:39). The afflicter was afflicting himself, adding sin upon sin in his rage against the saints (1 Tim. 1:12-13). Our lesson becomes obvious. We will not succeed in fighting against the word and will of God. Arrogantly denying God by pursuing personal freedom enslaves us to sin (2 Pet. 2:19). Arguing against and rejecting the word of Christ exposes a selfish, unrepentant, and corrupt heart (Acts 7:51-53). Professing oneself to be wise and refusing to honor God leads to the pain and foolishness of unbelief (Rom. 1:27, 20-26). When we proudly resist the Lord, He resists us (James 4:6-10). We must humble our hearts before the Lord. Do we think we can fight against God now and survive the day of His wrath (Rev. 6:17)? Those who kick against His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering will not (Rom. 2:4-6). Are you kicking against God’s will? If so, stop hurting yourself. Like Saul, repent and obey Jesus. Christ forgives our self-defeating sins when we turn to Him and follow His will (Matt. 11:28-30; Acts 22:16).
26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. (Acts 9:26–28, NKJV)
Joseph was named “Barnabas” (son of encouragement) by the apostles for a reason (Acts 4:36). With entreaties and exhortations, he gave solace, comfort, and consolation to fellow Christians. We see this son of encouragement in action in today’s passage. The persecutor Saul was now a Christian, but the Jerusalem disciples only knew of the havoc he had made of the church three years earlier (Acts 8:3; 9:13-16). So, they were fearful when Saul “tried to join the disciples” (v. 26). With complete information in hand, Barnabas vouched for Saul, telling of his encounter with the Lord on the road that led to his conversion and bold gospel preaching in Damascus (Acts 9:17-22; 22:17-21). There are several worthy lessons in our text, but today let us focus on Barnabas. His fearless defense of Saul assured the apostles, comforted the frightened church, and (no doubt) consoled Saul as it led to the brethren receiving him in the Lord (vv. 27-28). Barnabas seized opportunities to stand for the truth, encourage his brethren, and strengthen souls (Acts 4:36-37; 11:22-24). Can you imagine what could have happened if Barnabas had not spoken up for the truth on Saul’s behalf? Be a Barnabas. Seize your opportunities to console, comfort, and encourage the truth, trust, and triumph over fear and doubt.
15 So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.’” (Acts 26:15–16, NKJV)
Saul was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus with authority to seize Christians in the synagogues when Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:1-6, 13-14). Saul will go from being faithless to being faithful, from a persecutor to a preacher, from an antagonist to an apostle. His conversion is a touchstone of God’s mercy, grace, and longsuffering. It serves as “a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him (Christ, JRP) for everlasting life” (1 Tim. 1:12-16). Therefore, it is essential to expose and reject the assumption that Jesus saved Saul on the road to Damascus. That was not the purpose for which Christ appeared to Saul. Jesus plainly stated why He appeared to Saul: to make him “a minister and a witness” of Christ (Acts 26:16; 22:14-15; 9:15). Jesus appeared to Saul to appoint him as an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-11). Saul was a believer after this miraculous event. And he was repentant toward God, as demonstrated by his praying and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). But in Damascus, three days later, his sins still needed to be washed away. Ananias said to Saul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). If Jesus saved Saul on the road, what sins needed washing away? Since Saul still needed cleansing from his sins, it is apparent he was not saved on the road. To follow the pattern of Saul’s conversion includes being baptized to wash away sins (by Christ’s blood, Rom. 6:3). Why are you waiting?
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. (Acts 9:9–11, NKJV)
An important question arises from the aftermath of Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). Saul asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” and was told to “go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” to which he complied (Acts 9:6-8). Here is the question: If Saul was saved when Jesus appeared to him on the road, why did Ananias ask him, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord?” (Acts 22:16) The answer is obvious. After three days of blindness, fasting, and praying, Saul was still in need of his sins being cleansed. Although fasting, Saul’s repentance was not all he needed to be forgiven. Although praying, Saul’s prayers did not constitute “calling on the name of the Lord” to be saved. However, when his faith compelled Saul to arise and be baptized, his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus (Rom. 6:3). This is how sinners are saved today. Not by miracles. Not by faith alone, repentance alone, prayer alone, or baptism alone. Do you have the faith to do all Jesus commands so your sins will be washed away?
4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:4–6, NKJV)
The appearance of Jesus to Saul supplies us with ample information to understand what did and did not happen on the road to Damascus. Saul the persecutor became Saul, the believer. Jesus told him to go into Damascus where he would be told what he must do. What did not happen on the road was Saul’s salvation from his sins. How can that be so? Because when Saul went to Damascus, the preacher told him he must “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Saul’s sins were not washed away on the road to Damascus, they were washed away in Damascus when he was baptized. The word of God is clear. Salvation from sin does not come at the moment of faith, but when faith acts by being baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38; Gal. 3:27; 1 Pet. 3:21). Be saved the way Saul was saved. Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.