WHO IS THIS MAN?
Saul of Tarsus was an incredibly religious man. He lays out his credentials in Philippians 3:5
“If anyone else thinks he has a reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless…”
Saul received the best education available in the first century. From the beginning, he was part of the elite. Let’s break down these credentials he identifies:
1) Circumcised on the 8th day
- This comes from God’s command in Genesis 17, where God says that “he who is eight days old shall be circumcised”—this is “so shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant…"
- Anyone not circumcised has broken my covenant
- According to God’s Abrahamic covenant, Saul is righteous
2) Of the people of Israel
- The Israelites were God’s chosen people, through whom Jesus Christ would be born
- God promised to protect them, deliver them, and save the world through them
- This was known from the beginning that God was set on protecting these people and would fulfill his promises through them
3) Of the tribe of Benjamin
- There were 12 tribes of Israel after the 12 sons of Jacob
- Jacob’s youngest son was Benjamin, and the tribe of Benjamin was the smallest tribe
- Warlike nature
4) A Hebrew of Hebrews
- Pure-blooded Hebrew who had retained the language and customs of his fathers, in contrast to other Jews who had adopted Greek language and custom
- “If it would have been possible to gain salvation by obeying the Jewish ceremonial laws, Saul of Tarsus would have been one of the best qualified Christians in history.
- Not only was Saul of the nation of Israel, he was named after a Jewish King
5) As to the law, a Pharisee
- Pharisees were the great teachers of Israel
- They were zealous for the Torah of Israel, and zealous to fight against any attacks against the temple
- Pharisees often led young men into terrorist activities to defend the purity of Israel and the Mosaic law
6) As to zeal, a persecutor of the church
- Willing to enforce the Torah by using violence
- He persecuted the church because he thought they were blasphemers, or speaking lies about God
7) As to righteousness of the law, blameless
- Doesn’t mean without sin
- Means he followed the law completely according to the laws own standards
- Offered proper sacrifices at the proper times
- Studied the Torah
- Lived by all purity laws
Saul was wealthy and had access to power, money, and prestige
In the days of the Book of Acts, Saul’s power reached further. When Stephen was taken outside the city and stoned, Saul was the man overseeing that event. The Bible says that the people killing Stephen took off their garments, their coats, and laid them at the feet of Saul. Some translations even say that Saul held their coats for them. This act indicated power and authority, and verse 1 of chapter 8 echoes that: “And Saul approved of his execution.”
This was a guy on a mission. Chapter 9 says that Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Breathing threats. With every inhale and exhale, his driving purpose was to take down the church. Saul even went so far as to intercept letters that were being sent to the followers of Jesus who were in prison. He’d find the people who wrote the letters, go and get them, drag them out of their homes, and have them tossed in prison. Saul was out to end the growth of the church. He was methodical and intentional and without remorse. But Jesus had greater plans.
Jesus has his ways of getting our attention when we’re stubborn or on our own agenda. And that’s what he did with Saul. Saul is on his way to arrest more Christians, to throw more believers in prison, and Jesus stops him in his tracks.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
I hear this like a father talking to his son. With stern tenderness, only wanting what is best, but not going to let Saul’s actions continue any longer. And Jesus has taken Saul’s offensives personally.
“Why are you persecuting me?”
Saul was persecuting the church, but Jesus sees no difference. And I love Saul’s response.
“Who are you, Lord?”
Saul knows exactly whom he is talking to. Because when you’re living a reckless life of disobedience, you will be confronted. It may not be a bright light from heaven, but you will be confronted and you will know exactly who you’re talking to.
So Saul is confronted, and Jesus says “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
“Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were open, he saw nothing.”
Arguably one of the most powerful men of the times, Saul is blinded. He no longer was in control. He is physically blinded, but his heart and mind were blinded long before his eyes. Saul was stopped in his tracks, confronted of his ways, and stripped of any control he had over his life. And that’s what Jesus does to us. If we don’t give up control, it’ll be stripped from us.
Now enters Ananias.
Ananias was a disciple at Damascus, the same place Saul was headed to arrest Christians, possibly even Ananias himself. So Jesus speaks to Ananias in a vision, and tells him a specific house on a specific street to go to. "Oh, and by the way, there’s going to be a man there that you may have heard of? His name is Saul of Tarsus, and he should be expecting you…” Ananias is told to go seek out the man that is known for persecuting Christians. The man that was most likely on his way to Ananias before Jesus intervened. Equivalent to the leader of ISIS.
Reaction: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Ananias obeys. He enters the house, finds Saul blinded, lays hands on him and says “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened, no longer by his own power.
We don’t decide who is worth saving. We don’t decide the credentials for salvation.
Jesus shows us that no one is good enough where they don’t need grace and nobody is bad enough that they can’t receive grace.
Saul was confident because of his religious checklist. And none of those things sound compelling to us. But don’t be fooled to think we haven’t created our own checklist. But that is not what your confidence is found in. In religion, Saul was glorifying Saul for Saul. In Christ, Saul’s life will glorify Christ for Christ. Saul’s story shows us that no one is bad enough that they can’t receive grace.