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?
13 For I hear the slander of many; Fear is on every side; While they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life. 14 But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in Your hand; Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. 16 Make Your face shine upon Your servant; Save me for Your mercies’ sake. (Psalm 31:13–16, NKJV)
David’s adversaries intended to kill him. Like his descendant Jesus Christ, David’s enemies used slander and malicious schemes to slay him without cause. For instance, King Saul schemed to kill David repeatedly (1 Sam. 18-19). But David did not respond in kind. Instead, he put his trust in the Lord. Even when he could have killed Saul, David refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed king (1 Sam. 24, 26). David relied on the Lord, and God saved him from his adversaries (2 Sam. 22:1-4). Like David, let us trust God’s overriding providence and protection. David said, “My times are in Your hand” (v. 15). May we take counsel from the Lord and walk by faith in Him each day. Our times are in God’s hand. He still delivers His faithful servants from evil for His mercies’ sake (Matt. 6:13; 2 Tim. 4:18).
22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ 23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus— (Acts 13:22–23, NKJV)
God gave Israel Saul when they wanted a king to be like the nations around them (Acts 13:21; 1 Sam. 8-9). Saul’s inadequacies as king became apparent as he did not keep God’s will and led Israel into rebellious disobedience (1 Sam. 13:8-14; 15:1-23). Therefore, God raised up David to be king of Israel, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). Unlike Saul (who disobeyed God’s commands), David would accomplish God’s purposes; He would “do all My will” (Acts 13:22). But David was but a type of his descendant – Jesus – whom God raised up to be Israel’s Savior-King. God made a covenant with David to his seed upon his throne (2 Sam. 7:13-14; Psa. 89:3-4, 35-37; 132:10-11). Paul declared God kept His promise to David by resurrecting and exalting Jesus (Lk. 1:32-33; Acts 2:29-31). From Christ’s throne goes forth salvation – the “sure mercies of David” – to Israel and the whole world (Acts 13:24-26, 32-38, 46). We do not look for a reign of Jesus on earth for a thousand years. That is the stuff of misplaced hope from misunderstanding the Scriptures. David’s seed is on His throne now, sending the sure mercies of David to all who come to Him for eternal life (Isa. 55:1-5; Matt. 11:28-30).
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:20–22, NKJV)
Saul’s conversion from persecutor to preacher was exemplary. His transformation of heart and life demonstrates the change of heart and life to which Christ calls every disciple (Eph. 4:20-24). 1) The immediacy of a disciple (v. 20). Saul immediately changed his life of sin against Jesus after being baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). He began preaching the gospel without delay. One does not become a Christian in phases. It is not a decision to be different, “one of these days.” Salvation in Christ brings an immediate change of faith and conduct (Rom. 6:4-6). 2) The identification of a disciple (v. 21). People recognized the change in Saul. Becoming a Christian means making drastic and dramatic changes in character and conduct. People will see the difference. 3) The increase of a disciple (v. 22). Saul grew in strength and vigorously preached and lived his faith that Jesus is the Christ. Christians must not shrink back into sin’s destruction, but “press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
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?
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. (Acts 8:2–4, NKJV)
This striking contrast between martyred Stephen and persecutor Saul paints a picture of the faithfulness of the early church and the forces of opposition faced by the disciples (Acts 7:54-8:1). Saul would eventually be converted and learn about suffering for the Lord (Acts 9:16; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12). When we start to focus on the advances of evil around us and the pressures of its influences and actions upon our lives and those we love, remember these faithful brethren (as well as those presently suffering for their faith). When they were pressed, they pressed onward and upward. When threatened in an effort to silence them, they remained vocal, going “everywhere preaching the word.” When pursued by enemies of the faith, they pursued peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Let us take to heart the apostle’s exhortation, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Philippians 3:17). May we follow their worthy examples and remain true to the Lord Jesus Christ.
23 Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. 24 Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (1 Samuel 12:23–25, NKJV)
Israel had demanded a king to be like the nations around her. With stern warnings against their hard hearts and disobedience to God’s law, Samuel anointed Saul to be king of Israel at God’s direction. The prophet would continue to do his work even though many were abandoning God and His law. In verse 23 Samuel reminds us we cannot allow the sins of others to lead us into sin and its carelessness toward our spiritual duty. Like Samuel, we must continue to pray and teach God’s will. As hearers of God’s word, we must fear Him and serve Him in truth with hearts given fully to Him (verse 24). The great things God has done for us compels our earnest, faithful service. Samuel’s warning in verse 25 remains relevant today. If we disobey God and persist in wickedness we will be punished. Israel was punished for her sins. When God’s people do wickedly and refuse to repent, punishment from God is just and sure (Romans 2:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37, NKJV)
The armies were arrayed on either side of the valley of Elah. The giant warrior Goliath had taunted and defied the armies of the living God for forty days. King Saul and Israel were greatly afraid, intimidated by the enemy. It would be a shepherd boy, unskilled in the art of war, who put his trust in the Lord and gained a great victory of faith (1 Samuel 17). What a stunning example that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). Let us resolve to have the courage that faith requires to face the giants that defy the living God in our day. Moral sins, doctrinal errors, false religions and secularism are but a few of the giants to be faced and fought by faith in the living God. Like David, God will deliver you “from every evil work and preserve” you for His heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18). Your faith, not force, gives victory over the world (1 John 5:4).
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 the persecutor of Christ brought this violent unbeliever to faith that Jesus was alive. Saul, who had been “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” now yields his will completely to the will of Jesus: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Saul would be told what to do in the city of Damascus. After three days of prayer and fasting, Jesus sent the preacher Ananias to him, who told him what to do: “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 vision did not wash away his sins. Three days of prayer and fasting did not wash away his sins (Acts 9:9, 11). Water baptism washed away his sins (because the sinner is baptized into Christ’s death, where His saving blood is applied to sins, Romans 6:3). Do not kick against the goads, and refuse water baptism to wash away your sins. It is what Jesus says you must do, too (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21).