Pastor David B. Curtis

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Blinded By The Light

Acts 9:1-9

Delivered 1/25/2009

My title "Blinded By The Light" is not taken from the song "Blinded by the Light" done in 1976 by Manfred Mann's Earth Band. Many say that this song is about LSD.

In the 60's and 70's there was an urban legend going around about kids who took acid and stared at the sun until it burned their retinas out. They were blinded by the light.

In our text for today we see Saul blinded by the light of God's glory as he meets Jesus Christ face to face.

As we have seen so far in our study of Acts, the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not without persecution and threats by the Jewish supreme court:

And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:18 NASB)

In spite of the threats from the Sanhedrin, the apostles and disciples of Jesus continued preaching that Jesus was the Messiah.

One of these disciples was Stephen, a man of grace and great power, who was performing signs and wonders among the Jews. This caused the wrath of the Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem, of which Saul was most likely a member. It is very probable that Saul had many arguments or debates with Stephen, which Saul lost because nobody could withstand Stephen:

And yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (Acts 6:10 NASB)

Now, Stephen was dynamic, bold, and powerful, and Saul couldn't handle him. The only thing he could do was get rid of him. So they brought a charge of blasphemy against Stephen, charging that he spoke against the law of Moses and against the temple. As a result, Stephen was brought before the supreme court. There he gave a powerful testimony to the Lord. He told the court that they were resisting the Holy Spirit and that they were the murderers of the Righteous One, Jesus. As a result of his testimony, Stephen was taken out of the city and stoned to death. Standing among the crowd watching his death was a man named Saul. This is the first time we meet Saul in the Bible.

From the time of Stephen's death, Saul became the leader of a persecution movement against Christians. We last saw Saul in Acts 8:3 where it says:

But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8:3 NASB)

Saul was a hateful, evil man who was out to wipe Christians off the face of the planet. Yet, the result of the persecution in Jerusalem was the scattering of believers from Jerusalem, which resulted in the Gospel being preached wherever they went. God was using Saul's hatred to carry the Gospel beyond Jerusalem.

In our text for today we are brought back to Jerusalem where we see that Saul is still persecuting and killing believers:

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2 NASB)

"Saul": We looked at the life of Saul in our study of Acts 8:1-4. We saw that he was a talmidim, a disciple of Gamaliel, who was the most respected Pharisee of his day. Saul studied under him for 7 years and received what was the equivalent of two Ph.D.'s. By the time he was 21, he was the most educated Jew in Palestine. He had mastered the Tanakh and all the Rabbinic interpretations of the Tanakh. He was a devout Hellenistic Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, born in Tarsus of Cilicia. Saul was a member of the Pharisees.

If you were among the earliest of Christians at the time just after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the name "Saul of Tarsus" would very likely bring out strong emotions in you. Dislike and fear would be quite normal and justified, as we see in out text:

"Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord"­ The partitive genitive of apeiles translated: "threats," and phonou translated: "murder" means that threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed. Luke, who was master of the Greek tongue, chose such terms as best expressed a heart desperately and incessantly bent on accomplishing the destruction of the objects of its resentment. The literal Greek says he was "breathing in threats and murder"; this was the very atmosphere which he breathed. He lived in this climate. He was dedicated in terrible, bloody zeal to eliminating what he regarded as the cult of the Nazarene.

Later on in this same book, in his appearance before King Agrippa, he himself tells the king how he felt at this time:

"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 "And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 "And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9-11 NASB)

That is Paul's own description of how he felt at the time. In Galatians Paul adds more regarding his background:

For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; (Galatians 1:13 NASB)

Only God knows how many people Saul was responsible for killing. He did not want to merely contain Christianity or to drive it from Jerusalem, he wanted to rid the earth of Christianity and its followers. Thus, his opposition to Christ and His Church took on a "missionary" spirit. Saul went to other cities where he sought to arrest Christians and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment:

and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:2 NASB)

Damascus is one of the most ancient cities in the world, it existed in the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:15); and how long before is not known. It was on the main trade routes, about 150 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem.

There would be constant contact between synagogues, especially Hellenistic synagogues, and Damascus contained many synagogues. Their message to their fellow Hellenists in Jerusalem of the activities of certain people who had arrived from Jerusalem declaring Jesus to be the Messiah would arouse strong feelings. Damascus was in the province of Syria, but had municipal freedom and was one of the ten cities of Decapolis, and contained many thousands of Jews. The arrival of the Hellenistic Christian believers from Jerusalem was clearly causing a stir. So Saul sets out to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem any believers he can find. Saul probably had a large entourage of people traveling with him in order to bring these prisoners back. He later tells us:

"And I said, 'Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in Thee. (Acts 22:19 NASB)

What was the cause of Saul's murderous attitude toward Christians? We must remember that he believed the First Testament prophecies that God would one day send His Messiah to Israel. Saul's problem with Christians, therefore, did not hinge on belief in a coming Messiah, but on their belief that Jesus was that Messiah. "How could He be the Messiah?" Paul demanded, considering the teaching of Deuteronomy 21:

"And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23 NASB)

Saul knew that Jesus had died by crucifixion, on a tree; therefore, according to Deuteronomy, he died under the curse of God. Thus he could not possibly be the Messiah upon whom the blessings of God rested in unique measure. To claim that Jesus was the Messiah was blasphemous, Saul reasoned, and those who followed Him deserved to suffer as blasphemers.

Saul's theology, therefore, was the motivating factor in his zeal to stamp out the heresy that followers of the Way were spreading. Perhaps he justified his zeal from the Scriptures by pointing to Moses who had ordered the slaying of idolaters at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:27-28), and at Baal-peor (Numbers 25:1-5). Phinehas was commended for promptly slaying the Simeonite chieftain, thus turning away God's wrath from Israel (Numbers 25:6-15). It may well have been clear to Saul, therefore, that such prompt action was now required again, and that he was the righteous man to do it.

When he tells his own story in Galatians 1:13­14, he says that he was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers, and that he was advancing in Judaism beyond all his contemporaries. And when he tells his testimony in Acts 23, he says that he had lived in good conscience up to that day. He had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).

The early Christians had not yet broken away from the synagogues, and so the high priest in Jerusalem had jurisdiction, even in Damascus. Evidently the Syrian Jews were permitted by the government of Damascus to arrest any Jews from Jerusalem who were accused of breaking the law and return them to their native land for trial and punishment.

Notice the title given to believers:

and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:2 NASB)

"The Way"­we refer to ourselves as Christians, but that term doesn't even show up until Acts 11, and it's actually only used three times in the New Testament. This idea of "the Way" was the more common reference. This seems to be the earliest "name" for the Christian movement, it is used five times in Acts.

Where did this name come from? Well it may have a connection with Jesus' claim to be "The Way":

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. (John 14:6 NASB)

Where did the idea of Jesus calling Himself "The Way" come from? "The Way" is a Messianic term. Let's look at Isaiah 35, which has been recognized as Messianic by Rabbinic as well as Christian scholars:

The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus 2 It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the LORD, The majesty of our God. 3 Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. (Isaiah 35:1-3 NASB)

Verse 3 is quoted in Hebrews 12:12 to encourage the readers to hold on to faithfulness, because they are about to enter the promise land.

Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you." 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. (Isaiah 35:4-5 NASB)

In verse 4 we see a prediction of God coming in judgment to bring salvation. Verse 5 is quoted by Jesus in response to John's question, "Are you the coming one?" Jesus is saying that the time that Isaiah 35 spoke of had come. They were in the Messianic age.

Now notice verse 8:

And a highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. (Isaiah 35:8 NASB)

Here we see "a highway," a "roadway," a way of Holiness. We also see this "way" in:

A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. . (Isaiah 40:3 NASB)

Who said this? John the Baptizer. John was the great road builder. John prepared a spiritual way to the kingdom of God. So when Jesus said, "I am the Way," He was saying that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 35 and 40. This was being preached in the synagogues by those Jews who had come to faith in Christ. The disciples calling themselves "The Way" were saying that Israel was being restored, the promises about "The Way" were made to Israel.

Those who followed Jesus, and only those who believed in Jesus, were "The Way."

"The Way"­ it is not "a" way, it is "The" Way. Implying what? All other ways are false. We are "The Way." Notice what Jesus said:

"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. (Matthew 7:13 NASB)

In the light of the rest of the New Testament, this can refer to man's narrow and restricted way to God, which is by faith alone in Christ alone. This is clearly a truth taught throughout the Bible. Jesus said:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. (John 14:6 NASB)

That is narrow! Jesus says that He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.

Have you ever heard someone say, "It doesn't matter what you call Him, we are all worshiping the same God, but by different names"? There is no such thing as a Christianity that stands side by side with Islam or Judaism or Buddhism, and says, "We worship one God under many names."

Christians believe, fundamentally, of necessity, that there is one true God. This true God is not Allah. This true God is not Krishna. This true God is not the god of Joseph Smith or Buddha or the Jews. This true God is the Lord Jesus Christ!

looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; (Titus 2:13 NASB)

Jesus Christ is God. And as God, He seeks true worship, worship based upon a knowledge of who He is in reality, based upon His revelation to man. He does not grant to man the freedom to worship Him in a manner that pleases the creature rather than the Creator. God is particular about His worship. His worship is intimately, vitally connected to truth. Without truth, there is no worship of the Christian God:

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24 NASB)

Christianity is all about Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. He is the only true God. The heart of the issue is who is Jesus Christ? People need to understand who Jesus Christ really is. Who He is, and what He has done can change not only our lives­but our eternity. This is why Christianity is called "The Way."

Suppose you were a Christian who had been run out of Jerusalem and had moved to Damascus; you would quickly find the others of "The Way" and begin to worship and fellowship with them. One night you would go to gather with the saints for prayer and you would learn that Saul was on his way to Damascus with letters to arrest those of "The Way." What do you suppose the saints would have prayed at this prayer meeting?

Do you think that they prayed for Saul's salvation? I'll bet some of them did. Maybe others prayed for his death. From what we have seen of these believers so far in Acts, I'll bet they prayed again for boldness:

"And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, (Acts 4:29 NASB)

Unlike us, it seems that their prayers weren't self-serving, they prayed that they would have boldness to continue to preach the Word.

So Saul, filled with hatred and a burning desire to stamp out "The Way," heads for Damascus:

And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:3-4 NASB)

The road to Damascus would become one of the best remembered roads in the whole world precisely because of this incident.

On his way to arrest followers of "The Way," Saul is struck down by the glory of God. The idea of a light from Heaven revealing the glory of God occurs regularly in the First Testament:

Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. (Psalms 104:2 NASB)

God as light is also central in the New Testament:

who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (1 Timothy 6:16 NASB)

Lazarus puts it this way:

And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 NASB)

Judaism thought of God as revealed in the Shekinah glory, brilliant and yet veiled. Saul could hardly see the light as other than the Shekinah glory through which God revealed Himself to His people, especially when it was accompanied by a voice

To a Pharisee a voice from heaven was the voice of God, the "bath qol," especially when accompanied by blinding glory. Who, then, was this Who spoke from heaven? It could only be the Lord. But how could He be thought of as persecuting the Lord? Saul was without doubt thoroughly confused. He was not persecuting God! Rather, he was defending God and His laws!

"Fell to the ground"­Saul's reaction was simply to fall to the ground. This wasn't because of honor or reverence for God, it was simply a reaction of survival­he was terrified at the heavenly light. Many people have the idea that Saul was on horseback. Where does that idea come from? Artists represent him this way; but this idea is without any Biblical foundation. Artists are, for the most part, bad commentators.

In Acts 9, we are only given a brief account of what happened here. We know more from what Paul says about this experience in Acts 26:12-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1, and 15:8. We also know more from what Barnabas says about Saul's experience in Acts 9:27, and from what Ananias says about Saul's experience in Acts 9:17. From these accounts, we learn that Jesus appeared to Saul personally in this blinding vision and says:

"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"­I love this question because it tells us that Jesus identifies with His people. To persecute or harm a believer is to do it to Jesus. This verse should guide our treatment of other believers. How we treat other Christians is how we treat Christ.

And he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, (Acts 9:5 NASB)

His reference to "Lord" was an expression of humility before divine authority. He wanted "the Lord" to identify Himself. How could he be persecuting God when his whole life was given to His service?

The reply came, "I am Jesus." Can you even imagine how Saul felt at this moment? It was not likely that Saul had seen Jesus during His ministry. He probably moved to Jerusalem later. Then Saul had dedicated the most recent part of his life to this belief that Jesus was not the Son of God, Jesus was not the Messiah, Jesus had not risen from the dead, and all those who believed that must be exterminated. Can you imagine the sobering reality of suddenly standing face-to-face with the resurrected Jesus, knowing He is indeed both God and alive--and you had been very wrong? These three words turned Saul's world and his theology upside down.

As I read, "Jesus said, 'I am Jesus,'" I am reminded of a similar situation. Joseph's brothers hated him and had talked about killing him, but instead they sold him into slavery. They hated Joseph because of a dream that he had about them bowing down to him. Then thirteen years later, because of a famine, they find themselves in Egypt standing before the number two man in all the kingdom, and he says to them, "I am Joseph." I wonder if this story flashed through Saul's mind as he heard the words, "I am Jesus."

The conclusion smote him with irresistible force. Jesus really had risen! Stephen had been right after all when he had spoken of seeing the Lord Jesus in His glory. The disciples of Jesus had been right all along. Jesus, the Man who was crucified on a tree, had indeed risen from the dead and had to be acknowledged as Messiah and Lord. It need hardly be pointed out that the last person he would have expected to hear from was Jesus. To him Jesus was just a dead body in a grave.

Saul thought that he was serving God in viciously attacking Christians, but now he discovers that he has been fighting against God. This has been sadly true through history. Men who were convinced they were doing God a favor have done much of the worst persecution and torture ever practiced.

If you have the KJV or the NKJV, you notice the words: " 5b It is hard for you to kick against the goads. 6a So he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?'" This phrase is not found in any of the early Greek manuscripts, which is the reason it is not included in the NASB or NIV translation, it is found in Paul's third description of his testimony in Acts 26:14.

but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do." (Acts 9:6 NASB)

We are only given here a brief description of what the voice said. He was to arise, and enter the city, where he would be told what to do. But in 26:15-18 we are given more information on what was said.

And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. (Acts 9:7 NASB)

The men who traveled with him apparently heard the sound, but did not understand what it was saying, and they saw no one but Saul. But the fact that they were "speechless" suggests that they experienced more than the sound. It is clear that something happened that filled them with awe, which suggests even here that they were also aware of the light. But here Luke wants us to concentrate on the light and Saul meeting together face to face:

And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. (Acts 9:8 NASB)

Saul's entry into Damascus wasn't quite what he had anticipated. Instead of going in as the great conquering hero, he went in as a blind lamb, being led by the hand.

Blinded By The Light­When Saul picked himself up and opened his eyes, he realized that he was blind. He had to be led by the hand into Damascus. Notice that it doesn't say that he got back on his horse, but "leading him by the hand." This would be hard to do on a horse.

Saul's physical sight is gone­he is blind. He has been blinded by the light. Here is Saul, the most educated Jew in Palestine, and he has been blinded by Jesus. Saul, as a Hebrew, would have had the Torah memorized. He would have known Deuteronomy by heart. Do you know what Deuteronomy 28 talks about? Saul did:

"But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. (Deuteronomy 28:15 NASB)

God told the Israelites that disobedience would bring a curse. Now notice what verse 28 says:

"The LORD will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart; (Deuteronomy 28:28 NASB)

When does Paul say it was when he saw this vision on the road to Damascus? We know from other accounts (22:6; 26:13) that it was "noontime" or "midday" when Saul was stopped in his tracks by a bright light from heaven. Notice the next verse in Deuteronomy 28:

and you shall grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways; but you shall only be oppressed and robbed continually, with none to save you. (Deuteronomy 28:29 NASB)

As Saul stood there blind and in shock, I'm sure that this verse came to his mind. He must have thought: I'm under the curse as a covenant breaker.

The blindness to which Saul was subject for three days provided him with much time for reflection, meditation, and prayer. But his blindness was symbolic of his condition. Israel was also blind, and Paul's blindness was but a specific example of this blindness:

Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears. (Isaiah 43:8 NASB)
We grope along the wall like blind men, We grope like those who have no eyes; We stumble at midday as in the twilight, Among those who are vigorous we are like dead men. (Isaiah 59:10 NASB)
They wandered, blind, in the streets; They were defiled with blood So that no one could touch their garments. (Lamentations 4:14 NASB)

The spiritual significance of a Jewish rabbi being physically blinded by the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ should not be missed. Major themes in Luke and Acts show God's final salvation as a recovery of sight to the blind and as a light to the nations (Isaiah 40:5/Luke 3:6; Isaiah 61:1-2/Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 42:6/Luke 2:30-32; Isaiah 49:6/Acts 13:47).

Most commentators see this experience on the Damascus road as Saul's conversion. I don't! He is blind­that is not a picture of salvation, it is a picture of his lost spiritual condition. Jesus came to give sight to the blind:

"THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE DOWNTRODDEN, (Luke 4:18 NASB)

I don't see Saul in our text as becoming a Christian. I see him as coming to realize for the first time that he is spiritually blind. Now he knows he has a need, and he knows Who can meet it:

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; (Psalms 146:8 NASB)

Saul is now in a position to receive the light.

And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:9 NASB)

The condition of blindness lasted "three days." During that time he did not eat or drink. We can understand that he was traumatized, and that his mind had to take its time to adjust itself to this remarkable experience which had turned all his thinking upside down, for it was no longer possible for him to see Jesus as anything but LORD.

Just as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, so Saul was three days and nights in the dark. In those three days I think he passed through a spiritual process of death and resurrection.

Luke may well have intended us here to compare how Jesus was in the grave for three days, after which He partook of food (Luke 24:41-43). Here Saul is seen, as it were, as being "crucified" with Him and rising again with Him (Galatians 2.20).

This text is a reminder that God doesn't give extra credit for sincerity. I hear this all the time from people who say, "You can't tell me that all these religions in the world could all possibly be wrong when those people are so sincerely serving God, and only Christianity is true." Yes, I can, Christianity is the only "Way."

What we see in our text today is not the norm. God rarely lets people see some kind of heavenly vision, slams them to the ground, and blinds them like He did Saul. But God always initiates the contact in salvation. God initiates the contact, because the natural man does not understand God, does not know God, does not sense God, and does not see God. God must invade the privacy of his sin. God is sovereign in salvation.

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