Everyone who has ever become a child of God, has been saved in the same way. There are aspects of salvation which are always the same – things like justification and propitiation. When a person is born again, his regeneration always displays itself in repentance and faith. But while some things are always the same, some of the details are different. I suppose one might make a comparison with the human body. Just about everyone has the same number of bones, and they are in same general arrangement. But upon those bones are an infinite number of personal differences. One man’s repentance may manifest itself differently from that in another person – tears, shame. One woman’s saving faith may be exceedingly small while another’s is much more substantial.
I would like you to consider what happened when Saul became a child of God. I have preached on the conversion of Saul before, but not from this particular direction. And why should we consider this person and his salvation again? Because if you would like to enjoy the eternal blessings this man came to enjoy, then you must be saved as he was. And if you claim to be a Christian, but you have not experienced the things Saul experienced, then perhaps you should reexamine your salvation. You may be deceiving yourself. BUT….. it’s not so much the details of this chapter which are particularly important. It is to what those details point and the picture they paint. So I hope to explain what happened that day on the way to Damascus. Then I’d like you to pay attention to their amplification and application.
Let me try to explain what I think took place that midday outside Damascus, Syria.
The conversion of Saul is described three times in the Book of Acts. Here in chapter 9 we have Luke’s historical account. The Holy Spirit took the things which Luke heard from his friend Paul – formerly known as Saul – and jotted them down in the eternal record of God. Then in Acts 22, Paul tried to tell an angry mob, what changed him from the persecuting Pharisee into the energetic ambassador for Christ. When they refused to listen, and Paul was pulled before the Roman governor and Agrippa the king, he explained himself once again in Acts 26. Each of the three accounts adds just a little more information about the event.
In my preparation, one of the commentaries which I perused suggested that some people have attacked the truthfulness of God’s Word because there are differences between those three accounts. I personally have never heard the Bible attacked from the point of Saul’s conversion. And besides, the idea is ludicrous, because although Acts 22 and 26 add just a word or two to Luke’s version, there isn’t the slightest contradiction. They use the same words almost exactly, but, as I say, the later accounts add a few more.
Saul was minding the Devil’s business, traveling up to Damascus from Jerusalem with authority from the Jewish authorities to arrest the Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who were living in that gentile city. All of a sudden there was a light from Heaven, followed by a voice – also apparently from Heaven. All three scriptures speak of this “light” using the same common Greek word – nothing special about it. But it becomes special with a couple of modifying adjectives.
All three chapters tell us that this light came from Heaven. In the grammar of these scriptures, there are no articles – definite or indefinite. The Bible doesn’t say for example, this light came from “THE heavens.” It didn’t come from the sun, because it was above the brightness of the sun – Acts 26:13. It didn’t come as lightning from a thunder storm, because the scriptures seem to say that the sun was brightly shining.
But that light was definitely brighter than the sun – it was “ABOVE the brightness of the sun.” Now, I ask you, in the natural world what is brighter than the sun? Men may create lasers and other lights which might have more lumens than the sun, and certainly the Creator of the universe isn’t bound to the relatively weak light of the sun. But naturally speaking there is only one thing brighter than the light of the sun – lightning.
Although there is a Greek word for “lightning” and it isn’t used in the Book of Acts, the light which Saul saw and felt was comparable to lightning. Twice these scriptures speak of the suddenness of this light – there was no time needed to prepare or ignite it. You may think that when you flip the switch to turn on a light in your home it is instantaneous, but it is not. The Bible suggests that this was instantaneous. Furthermore, all three of these scriptures casually tell us that this like “shined round about” Saul. As both Robertson and Vine, experts in the Greek language, tell us – this light “flashed” around Saul. It was NOT like an excessively bright spotlight. It was more like an flash of light from the explosion of a bomb over Saul’s head, but with a means of focusing that beam around him and those with him. Pow!
And instantly Saul was blinded. His eyes were unable to handle the excessive brilliance – the “brightness” of that flash. He and the others were driven to their knees if not onto their faces. “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I (alone) heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
That bright, sunny afternoon, Saul was lead into the city with the blindfold of blindness covering his face. What happened to his traveling companions after that? We are not told – probably because their story was not particularly exceptional or not pretty. They probably went on in their sins, refusing to address what took place in their midst. Later, Saul had his sight restored, and he went on to become a faithful servant of Christ.
To the best of my understanding, this is an explanation of the facts. I believe that I’ve touched on all four of the “Ws” – who, what, where and when. We shall come to the “why” as we move forward.
Now I’d like to amplify these facts – based upon my own opinions.
Saul was a highly religious man, who was going about doing what he thought was the work of God. He believed that Jesus of Nazareth had been a trouble-making heretic, and those who had been “deceived” into following him were enemies to Israel and to the truth of God. He had “letters (of authority to go) to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of (Christ’s) way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” And he didn’t care what might be their punishment once they were in Jerusalem.
But inexplicably, God chose to make an example of Saul – a very special example. His earlier opinion of Christ Jesus and the disciples of Christ Jesus was absolutely incorrect. The religion of the Jews – Saul’s religion – had been off the tracks which Moses had laid down according to the pattern which Jehovah had surveyed for them. The engine was still pulling the train cars, but they were getting further and further from their original destination, as well as getting more bogged down in the dust of the desert. But God sovereignly chose to rescue this undeserving persecutor of the saints and hater of Christ. And part of the process in Saul’s conversion was this special divine “lightning bolt.” To what might we liken this light?
I think that to begin with, it was Heaven’s connection with and confrontation of that sinful man. There are several scriptures like I Timothy 6:16 and Psalm 104:2. Christ is the “blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of Lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom not man hath seen, nor can see; to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” There is reason to believe that Heaven is filled with light – far above the brightness of the sun. And this brightness actually exudes from the Trinity itself – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Psalmist prayed, “O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain.” What does Psalm 104 suggest, and should we take it literally? I don’t see why not. The Lord is cloaked in brilliant light, but there is a curtain protecting creation from that light. Fallen creation cannot endure the glorious light of Heaven; it would be burned up in its brilliance. But on the day in which Saul was stopped, the Lord punched a hole in that curtain and a beam of heavenly light shot down upon him. That might be used to suggest that until Heaven in some fashion touches the sinner he will go on in his sin to his own eternal destruction. This was an intervention – salvation is a divine intervention.
Also, that light suggests that there must be a recognition of the infinite difference between God and sinners. Jehovah is so infinitely holy that we would be instantly consumed, if it were not for divine grace. Even a moment’s exposure to the majesty on high would burn our retinas and two moments would destroy our eternal soul. The fires of hell are not fueled by some sort of eternal coal or divinely created nuclear fission. It is the holiness of God which keeps the lake of fire burning, and, thus, it will never be extinguish. The sinner must somehow come to understand – at least in an elemental way – God’s holiness. For Saul, it was this light which taught him.
And then – usually – the brighter the light the more contrast there is between it and the shadow it creates. The shadow of Saul that day had never in his life been darker. I admit that this was a miraculous light and a miraculous day, so perhaps it might be a mistake to visualize even the briefest of shadows. The light surrounded the man, perhaps coming directly down upon him. So technically, there might not have been any shadow at all. But for the sake of an illustration let’s assume there was. And for Saul, it was the most horrible and horrifying shadow he had ever seen – his own.
We might look at this Heavenly light as a metaphor for the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Bible declares God’s holiness and gives us illustrations of His majesty and glory. Sadly, I think those scriptures about God’s perfections usually fall helplessly to the ground around us, and the average person goes on his way as blindly as he had been before. We are far more apt to understand the shadow – the Biblical words of condemnation against us. Scripture after scripture remind us that we are not worth the trouble for God to consume us. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” – the infinitely brilliant and destructive glory of God. And “the wages of sin is (eternal) death.” “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Saul should have died that day just outside Damascus, but the Lord was infinitely gracious. You and I – we would not have lived unto this day, if it was not for the unbelievable grace of Jehovah. The light on that sunny afternoon, reminds us of these facts.
And what about heat? I don’t know how scientists can know for sure, because no one has ever stuck a thermometer into the meat of the sun….. But Google says that the surface of the sun has a temperature of about 30,360 degrees. We are hot at merely 100 degrees; the sun is 300 times as hot. But the temperature of a bolt of lightning, those same experts tell us, is five times as hot as the sun – as much as 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightning has the potential to instantly fry chicken, broil steaks and hard boil eggs – or vaporize them. Was Saul injured in other ways, beyond the damage to his eyes? The Bible doesn’t say, so I can’t say that he was.
But I would like to suggest that the fire of God burned several things out of that man. For instance, the wrath which he possessed against Jesus of Nazareth was instantly gone. And his rebellion against God evaporated like the water from a pond in the midst of a nuclear explosion. “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” When sinners meet the Lord and are converted to Christ, they have their wilfulness, their strength, their self-righteousness, and their pride burned out of them. When they are truly born again, they find that their ideas of self-salvation have been vaporized. The man who thinks that he contributes to his deliverance from sin, has never fallen under the same light as Saul of Tarsus. The woman who believes that she is responsible to maintain or safeguard the salvation of her soul has not been sufficiently melted under the Lord’s intense heat.
I used to visualize this Heavenly light as some sort of spot light. But that is something I no longer do for a couple of reasons. First, it appears to me that the scriptures don’t reveal it that way. And secondly, it is not the sinner who is in the spot-light; but rather it is the Saviour.
On the other hand, we might look at this light as isolating this man from the rest of humanity. Ignoring for the moment that Acts 26 tells Paul’s traveling companions also came under this light … Let’s just say that it didn’t fall on the entire city of Damascus – the country of Syria or the world. Let me simply apply it to mean that God’s salvation of sinners is a personal matter – unique to each individual. The point is not whether the lightning of God’s word has fallen on Saul, his assistants and a dozen soldiers. The point is that it fell upon him whether anyone else saw the flash or heard God speak.
And this brings me to our application.
I could spend ten minutes filling this sermon and filling this building with scriptures condemning sin and condemning sinners. I could point out that each and every one of us deserve Hell. But if the heat of those scriptures doesn’t melt your soul, then it has little purpose. I have enjoyed trying to consider what happened at noon on that sunny day in Syria. But if you haven’t experienced a similar event in your life, then you will spend the rest of your life in either your Damascus or Jerusalem before beginning an eternity in the Lake of Fire.
You MUST experience the brilliance and heat of the holiness of God. You must understand the depth of the shadow of your own sinfulness in God’s sight. You must fall to your knees or face before God. You must recognize your spiritual blindness despite your years in Sunday School, church services, Bible school and seminary. You must call out, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?”
And what is it the Lord would have you do? Repent before Him, acknowledging your helpless, hopeless sinful condition. And believe what gospel tells you about trusting the work of Christ to save you from yourself. I’m not talking about saving you from your future self – but your current self. You, like Saul are dead in sin. You need spiritual life. And that life can only come through the life and light of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”