If you were a Christian in Jerusalem around 35 A.D., whom would you pick as the greatest enemy of the church? Acts 9 describes the transformation of Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle.
The Lord chooses his instruments, and when he does so, he chooses the unlikely. Saul was a violent persecutor of the church (Acts 8:3; 9:1. 22:4; and 26:9–11). Perhaps he saw himself, like Phineas, turning away the wrath of God by his zealous obedience, Numbers 25 and Psalm 106:30. He may have looked at the method of the death of Jesus, and, on the basis of Deuteronomy 21:23 decided that this was proof that Jesus was under God’s curse. As he is on his way to Damascus to seize more Christians for punishment and prison, the Lord graciously intervenes. Glory light from heaven, reminding you of the pillar of cloud and fire and of the vision of Isaiah, surrounds him. He is struck to the ground, and the Lord speaks to him. The blindness of helpless Saul reflects his spiritual condition until the light of the gospel shines in his heart. The Lord sends a disciple named Ananias to lay hands on him and restore his sight. You can appreciate the hesitation of Ananias! Saul’s conversion is marked by his baptism.
The Lord chooses you to carry his name. Why is the account of Saul’s conversion recounted two additional times in Acts? It marks a crucial turn for the church, a subordinate Great Commission. Paul will be the apostle to the Gentiles. The strong right arm of the Lord is lifted in defense of the suffering church—but instead of striking Saul dead, it summons him to become the bearer of his name! The commission Paul began to carry out continues to be the orders of the church today. God equips those he calls. Paul, who had received intense rabbinic training, would undergo graduate work in Arabia and an internship in Tarsus (Galatians 1:13-24). Although late, he was an eyewitness of the risen Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:8. Your calling to serve Christ may not be as dramatic as Paul’s but he has called you to himself to serve, to make known his name, and to live as his people. He equips you with what you need. He equips you by filling you with his Spirit. Notice the words of Ananias to Saul, “Jesus… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The church of Jesus Christ, into which all of his people have been baptized, was baptized with the Holy Spirit once-for-all at Pentecost. But now you are to be filled with the Spirit to serve your Lord.
“Paul does not equate being filled with the Spirit and being baptized with the Spirit — contrary to the misunderstanding that sees them as the same. Being baptized with the Spirit is the indicative, being filled with the Spirit is the imperative…. [I]n Luke’s account, the converted Paul (‘Brother Saul’) was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ in an initial way (9:17). Subsequently, in the context of his activity during the first missionary journey, as he began to speak, he was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (13:9)…. All told, both in Acts and in Paul, ‘filling’ captures an ongoing and repeated aspect of the Spirit’s working in believers. In light of this usage, we may generalize the New Testament commands believers to be filled with the Spirit, but it nowhere commands believers to be baptized with the Spirit.”Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time: An Introduction to the Biblical Theological of Acts and Paul, pages 145–146
The Lord is with his people. The heavenly Lord identifies himself with his suffering people.Christ’s question to Saul is not, “Why do you persecute my church?” but, “Why do you persecute me?” The connection between the head and the body is so close that the blows delivered on earth are felt in heaven. That concept of union with Christ would have a profound impact on Paul. It colored the way he viewed his own suffering, Colossians 1:24. It structures the crucial concept that comes out in his letters, that central idea of union with the crucified, risen, ascended Lord.
“[Jesus’] dying is realized as and in the suffering of believers for him (‘for Jesus’s sake’), in some instances, no doubt, ending in physical death. It is his dying because he is united with them, without that union obliterating the personal distinction and present bodily distance between him and them.” [In a footnote: “This is the sense of the words of Jesus to Paul underway to Damascus (Acts 9:4–5; cf. 22:7–8; 26:14–15): ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’… ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ In persecuting the church, Paul was persecuting the ascended Jesus with whom the church is united as one.”]Gaffin, In the Fullness of Time, page 403
This Lord calls you, as he did Paul, to suffer for his sake. As Paul states in Romans 8:17, union with Christ means union with him in suffering as well as in glory. The Savior, the second Adam, underwent unimaginable suffering for you, his people. Paul would face great suffering in his work as an apostle, as Luke will describe. You too, are called to suffer, Philippians 1:29. The Christian life, lived as one who really belongs in glory, but is living in a fallen, sin-cursed world, is a life of suffering. But it is a life united with Christ.
There is suffering, but that is not the final word. Luke concludes the section in verse 31 with a reference to the peace and blessing the church enjoyed. That time anticipates the glory that lies beyond the suffering. You, the church, no less than Paul, are Christ’s chosen instrument.