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).
22 So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22–23, NKJV).
The Lord of hosts had commanded king Saul to execute His judgment against the Amalekites by utterly destroying them (1 Sam. 15:2-3). Instead, Saul and the people spared their king and the choice animals, being “unwilling to utterly destroy them” (1 Sam. 15:9). When confronted by Samuel about this clear violation of God’s word, Saul was confident he had “performed the commandment of the Lord,” making an excuse the people spared the animals for a sacrifice to the Lord (1 Sam. 15:13-15). But Saul was wrong. God’s prophet spoke of God’s displeasure and condemnation of this disobedience. Saul had led the people in stubborn rebellion. Because he had rejected the word of the Lord, God rejected him as king of Israel (1 Sam. 15:22-23). There is an obvious lesson for us; The end does not justify the means. Like Saul, we have no right to change the command of God and rationalize our alteration with a “good deed” we put in its place. Living by faith is about trusting God’s commands are correct and following them with devoted allegiance. “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19:8). To obey God is better than offering sacrifices He has not commanded.
3 Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), 4 In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4, NKJV)?
Are you afraid of someone or something today? Over the past year, the Covid-19 virus has injected anxiety, doubts, and fear into many hearts and lives worldwide. Daily crime reports lead many to be afraid of their neighbors. The list goes on. David’s life was under constant threat from enemies when he penned Psalm 56. King Saul saw David as a threat and was looking for opportunities to kill him. The Philistines were a constant menace (Ps. 56:1-2; 1 Sam. 21-24). But David trusted God, so he resolved not to be afraid (v. 3). You and I can follow his example. God had given David His word that he would be king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:12-13). So, David praised God’s word. Faith in God removes fear, while doubt stirs it up. Come what may, David was confident his enemies would not prevail against the will and word of God. May we follow David’s model of trust and confidence in the Lord when faced with the fears and doubt of trials and troubles (Heb. 13:5-6). Do not be afraid. Put your trust in the Lord God.
26 Help me, O Lord my God! Oh, save me according to Your mercy, 27 That they may know that this is Your hand— That You, Lord, have done it! (Psalm 109:26–27, NKJV)
David had enemies who terrorized him and wanted him dead. King Saul was chief among this number (1 Sam. 18:25, 28; 19:1; 20:30-33). Psalm 109 is David’s plea to the Lord to hold his enemies accountable for their sins against him. They had spoken deceit and lies against David (109:2). Hatred consumed them, driving them to fight against him unjustly (109:3). They had rewarded his love and prayers with hateful accusations and threats (109:4-5). David’s prayer calls for divine retribution against these evildoers (109:6-20). Without context, it sounds harsh. In truth, it is his earnest supplication for God to bring judgment upon them for their evil works. God’s judgments are according to truth. They are righteous and applied impartially according to our conduct (Rom. 2:1-11). David did not repay their evil with revenge. He left the matter in God’s hands, who saved him from trouble (2 Sam. 24:6-7, 9-12). David was confident God in mercy would save him (Psa. 138:7). David was sure his enemies would be able to see God’s power at work in the deliverance he would receive from God’s hand. God worked to deliver David in answer to his prayers. God still works in our lives to answer prayers when we depend on His presence, power, mercy, and deliverance (1 Jno. 3:21-22; 5:14-15).
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?