On the Back Side of Conversion – Acts 9:1-20

 

Four or five weeks ago we considered the circumstances of Saul’s conversion to Christ – His salvation. The Lord sovereignly intervened in the life of a man who was determined to whatever he wanted to do with his three score and ten years on this earth. But he was instantly changed – converted. Here in this chapter Saul met the Christ who he had been so vehemently denying. He was saved from a future life of blasphemy, hatred and the wicked persecution of God’s saints. He was delivered from the guilt of his sins through the shed blood of the Saviour which he had been trying so hard to remove from the soil at Calvary and from the memories of God’s people.

This salvation story is one which I have preached several times, and Lord willing, will preach again and again until the Lord is finished with me. It is a classic evangelical message, similar to thousands being preached around the world this morning. But — in many of those churches where the conversion of Saul is preached, the gospel message seems to stop at verse 6 or 7 or 8. Many evangelists think that once they get someone to repeat “the sinner’s prayer” their work is done. Some may encourage their “new convert” to be baptized, to join the local Baptist church, and to tithe, but these things are secondary – almost unimportant compared to “asking Jesus into their hearts.”

But of course, no such words or ideas can be found in this scripture. And have you noticed the Holy Spirit doesn’t tell us the moment in which Saul became a child of God? We aren’t told that he prayed “Jesus save me,” or “Lord come in my heart,” or “Glory, I’m saved.” Was he born again when he said, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” Or was it before that moment or at some point during his three days of blindness and introspection?

I don’t have divine revelation with which to answer that question, but if I had to guess I would say it was in the moments before Saul asked his question. In other words, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” came on the back side his conversion. It was not “Lord, what must I do to be saved” which is a good question for a lost person to ask. Saul’s question was not a part the process of his salvation from sin, and yet it can’t be separated from it. And that leads us to the subject of the Christian life – the life of the new believer.

I am convinced that when the Lord saves someone, He saves them entirely. Of course, the Lord’s salvation lasts for eternity. But it also extends to every part of their lives – heart, mind, hope and actions. It involves the first moment of the believer’s new spiritual life to the moment of his last breath. Thus Saul’s question becomes intertwined with his conversion.

This morning, I would like us to consider Saul’s question and its implications for us.

Once again, who was asking? Who asked the question of Acts 9:6?

It came from lips and heart of a band new Christian – a recent convert to Christ. I believe that just as every human baby comes into the world very much like every other baby, Saul’s conversion is similar to the salvation of every other child of God. And when the human baby is born – almost every healthy baby – within seconds it will begin to cry. If that new born does not cry then the midwife knows there is a serious problem. Similarly, when a babe in Christ comes into the world, it will cry out, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” Oh, it doesn’t have to be with the same words, the same pitch or the same volume, but it will be there in some fashion relatively quickly in that infant’s life.

And that person’s former background and history has nothing to do with the question. This was not a Jewish question, a murderer’s question or an adult’s question. Saul, of course was a proud Jewish Pharisee – a very strict religious person. He was a leader of the synagogue of the Libertines, Cyrenians and Alexandrians. He believed that he was carrying out the will of God through the High Priest in Jerusalem. But if he had been a successful publican he would have asked a similar question. This is the cry of new born Christian. Early in Jesus’ ministry a couple of fishermen came to Him with much the same question, despite not knowing exactly how to express it – and John and Andrew then became disciples of Christ.

Throughout the centuries multitudes have asked that question of the Lord – sometimes openly and sometimes privately and prayerfully. Some were men – young men and old men. Some were women – mothers and maidens. But hey were all recipients of divine conviction and saving gracerepentant believers. On the surface, these words are easy to utter, but only the redeemed ask with purpose and resolve. Saul shows us the pattern – once a heart has been regenerated, desire for a life of obedience follows.

The presence of that question here in God’s word demands that we consider it. We need to ask ourselves, Have I ever sincerely asked this question of God? If you have not, then perhaps another question ought to be – “Am I alive?” Are you sure that you have been born again – that you have spiritual life?

Having established that it was Saul asking the question, to whom was he directing it?

Again, that is easy. He was asking Christ Jesus. In a few days, the disciple Ananias will tell Saul, “You saw the Lord, even Jesus, on your way into town.” And in the initial meeting, Saul asked who it was who stopped him. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” So Saul’s second question, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” was directed to the Christ Jesus. It was directed to “Jesus the persecuted” and now to “Jesus the persecutor.”

When the Lord saved me, I was in my mid-teens, the son of family of Protestants – semi-religious people. If I had asked this question of my parents, I doubt that I would have heard a spiritual answer. I would have heard about getting an education, finding a good job and a good life-partner. It would have been no more appropriate than how Saul’s parents might have answered him. Saul didn’t ask Ananias or any of his traveling companions. And he didn’t ask himself either, even though like most people he might have earlier considered himself smart enough to know the answer. As a guide for us to follow, Saul asked the only being worthy of our hearts and lives. “Lord what wilt THOU have me to do?”

Was Paul simply being respectful, when he addressed his question to the “Lord?” Some might think so. But there is no doubt but that the Bible uses “Lord” – “kurios” in the Greek language to speak of Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. Admittedly, Saul might have been thinking, “Sir, what wilt thou have me to do?” But I think there is a far greater likelihood – there is scriptural evidence – that he was thinking, “O God of my fathers, what wilt thou have me to do?”

Under the circumstances Jesus was the only appropriate being to ask. It was Christ who stopped him in the middle of the road. It was Christ who spoke to him from heaven. And it was Christ who converted Saul from a blasphemous enemy to a surrendered servant of God.

All right then, how did Saul ask his question? What was his condition and attitude?

We read that Saul was “trembling” – he was so afraid that his body was shaking and tremulous. At that point he might not have been able to stand even if he wanted to. As in the case of Belshazzar in the Book of Daniel – his “countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” And he was “astonished” – he was amazed and confounded – he had no explanation for what was taking place. The salvation of his soul, the conversion of his heart was so contrary to anything he’d ever experienced or expected, he was bewildered; he was beside himself. It must been of the Holy Spirit that he asked, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?”

And remember, he was blind, although he might not have realized it at that precise moment. I imagine that under the blast of that supernatural light, he squeezed his eyes shut and perhaps hadn’t opened them yet. Even in the midst of a bright sunny afternoon, he couldn’t have seen his own hand if he had tried. And although he probably didn’t give it much thought, he couldn’t see a day into his future either. He may have once had hopes to become a powerful member of the Jewish government. He may have expected to become a wealthy and influential man blessed by the High Priest himself. But in reality, he couldn’t see any farther into the future than you or I can see – we are all blind. How appropriate to ask the all-knowing, omniscient God “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?”

Not only was Saul blind, but, for the first time in his life, he was surrendered to God. This was an honest question, and he was willing to listen to whatever the Lord told him. Because he had been given a new heart – he was willing to do whatever the Lord said to him. This was new territory for Saul; he’d never been here before.

Has there ever been that same kind of moment in your life? You may think that the time for such a question is long past – I am too old to do anything for God. Or on the other hand you may be thinking you are still too young – it is not yet an appropriate question. But if you are a child God then the question is appropriate no matter what your age or condition. The answer of God may not come out of the blue with the light shining around you brighter than the sun. But if your question is asked sincerely, the Lord will be delighted to reveal His answer. And that answer will be the best direction you will ever hear. It is important not to become confused about the Lord’s answer.

How did the Lord answer, and how did Saul respond?

In Saul’s case, the Lord Jesus didn’t respond with “I want you to change your name to Paul and go to Corinth and then to Rome preaching the message of my sovereign grace.” Rather it was “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” “Let’s take things one step at a time.”

Generally speaking, most of the attributes of God would become disastrous if placed in our hands. Superheros are for comic books and childish minds. God wants you and me to be regular heros with the natural human gifts which He has given us. If you possessed twice the strength of the average person, you would eventually abuse that gift. And if you were fully omnipotent, Satan would corrupt you into rebellion against God. But of course it is not possible that the Lord and anyone else could both be omnipotent. If you were omniscient – knowing all things, including the future – it would not be healthy for you. You would either abuse that knowledge or it would eat you up and destroy you. The Lord will not answer Saul’s question in its entirety or immediately.

God wants you to ask “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” But He will most likely give you a very simple, short-term answer. “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Impatience is one of the characteristics of the human race. Only as we grow more Christ-like does the average person become more patient. And generally speaking the younger we are the less patient we are. How important it is to be obedient to the simple command or the direction immediately before us. Trust the Lord to give you more direction as needed, and as you continue to ask for it.

“Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” That sounds easy enough, but there will always be difficulties in our desire to obey the Lord. Each of the soul’s three enemies hate that question. Satan will do all he can to keep you from asking or to keep you from hearing God’s answer. He uses the world to distract you from that question. And of course obedience to God is contrary to our natural flesh.

“The Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas.” “Lord, you say, go into the city??? “How can I go into the city when I can’t see even to take my next step? Can’t you see that I am blind?” The flesh will always argue against the things of the Spirit. Galatians 5 – “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” But Saul, through the grace of God, overcame the weakness of his flesh, found his way into Damascus and even found the house which the Lord prepare to receive him.

So Saul obeyed the Lord’s command, and yet it was still three more days before another word was given. How painfully slow was the Lord’s special revelation. What did Saul do during those 72 hours? We are told that he didn’t eat, and we can assume he didn’t read, didn’t watch television or listen to the three game baseball series on the radio. If I had to guess I would say that he spent those three days in prayer. The Bible doesn’t say, but it might be correct to assume he spent that time in prayer and fasting. Those were probably important days in Saul’s education and preparation. He probably came to realize a great many things about himself. And likely the Holy Spirit put a many Old Testament scriptures into proper perspective in his heart.

Then in walked one of the leaders of the believers in Damascus. “Ananias … entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”

I believe that God wants His children to become a part of one of His churches. There are many reasons and arguments, but one is for the blessing of older, mature believers. God speaks through pastors, teachers, Christian parents and Christian grandparents and through Godly friends at church. Our question should be directed toward God,Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” But He will often reply with, “Listen to Brother So-and-so.” Sure that man is fallible and you will eventually find faults in him – the Lord revealed some of the faults of Ananias to us. But that still didn’t negate his counsel and instruction. Among other things, through Ananias the Lord restored Saul’s sight sufficiently to greatly use him.

And another part of God’s answer to Saul’s question was the filling of the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Spirit means that Saul was surrendered sufficiently to recognize God’s leadership. Saul became a Spirit-directed minister, preaching “Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” The Holy Spirit led Saul to be immersed in water as a testimony of his faith in Christ, and the Spirit led the church to baptize him. Then the Spirit blessed Saul in preaching Christ in the church and in the synagogue. And eventually, the Spirit led him away into other spheres of ministry.

Saul was led of God into the particular ministry which was ordained for him. I have no doubt that Mary Magdalene asked a similar question, but the answer given to her was quite different from Saul’s. Every sincere believer who asks that question will receive a different answer, because the Lord has ordained different ministries for each of us. But the fact remains, we each have responsibilities in the eternal plan of God’s glorification. We have been redeemed in order to carry out those appointed tasks. Therefore it is important to ask Saul’s question.

When the question, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” is asked sincerely, the answer quite often is “For the time being, do what you can with what I have thus far given you.” Saul used what he knew of the Old Testament to declare before the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. And he was able to speak of what God had recently done to convert him from his wicked life. He used his restored sight to see the needs of others. He accepted the kindness and blessing of the saints. He did what the Lord directed him to do.

It is the responsibility of all of us who claim to be children of God to ask, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” And then the responsibility changes to carrying out what He reveals to us. Are you sure of your spiritual life? Are you sure that you are being obedient to the Lord’s direction?