Days of Preparation
[This chapter is based on Acts 9:19-30.]
After his baptism, Paul broke his fast and remained "certain
days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he
preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God."
Boldly he declared Jesus of Nazareth to be the long-looked-for Messiah,
who "died for our sins according to the Scriptures; . . . was
buried, and . . . rose again the third day," after which He was
seen by the Twelve and by others. "And last of all," Paul
added, "He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due
time." I Corinthians 15:3, 4, 8. His arguments from prophecy were
so conclusive, and his efforts were so manifestly attended by the power
of God, that the Jews were confounded and unable to answer him.
The news of Paul's conversion had come to the Jews as a great
surprise. He who had journeyed to Damascus "with authority and
commission from the chief priests" (Acts 26:12) to apprehend and
persecute the believers was now preaching the gospel of a crucified and
risen Saviour, strengthening the hands of those who were already its
disciples, and continually bringing in new converts to the faith he had
once so bitterly opposed.
Paul had formerly been known as a zealous defender of the Jewish
religion and an untiring persecutor of the followers of Jesus.
Courageous, independent, persevering, his talents and training would
have enabled him to serve in almost any capacity. He could reason with
extraordinary clearness, and by his withering sarcasm could place an
opponent in no enviable light. And now the Jews saw this young man of
unusual promise united with those whom he formerly persecuted, and
fearlessly preaching in the name of Jesus.
A general slain in battle is lost to his army, but his death gives no
additional strength to the enemy. But when a man of prominence joins the
opposing force, not only are his services lost, but those to whom he
joins himself gain a decided advantage. Saul of Tarsus, on his way to
Damascus, might easily have been struck dead by the Lord, and much
strength would have been withdrawn from the persecuting power. But God
in His providence not only spared Saul's life, but converted him, thus
transferring a champion from the side of the enemy to the side of
Christ. An eloquent speaker and a severe critic, Paul, with his stern
purpose and undaunted courage, possessed the very qualifications needed
in the early church.
As Paul preached Christ in Damascus, all who heard him were amazed
and said, "Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this
name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring
them bound unto the chief priests?" Paul declared that his change
of faith had not been prompted by impulse or fanaticism, but had been
brought about by overwhelming evidence. In his presentation of the
gospel he sought to make plain the prophecies relating to the first
advent of Christ. He showed conclusively that these prophecies had been
literally fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The foundation of his faith
was the sure word of prophecy.
As Paul continued to appeal to his astonished hearers to "repent
and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20), he
"increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which
dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." But many
hardened their hearts, refusing to respond to his message, and soon
their astonishment at his conversion was changed into intense hatred
like that which they had shown toward Jesus.
The opposition grew so fierce that Paul was not allowed to continue
his labours at Damascus. A messenger from heaven bade him leave for a
time, and he "went into Arabia" (Galatians 1:17), where he
found a safe retreat.
Here, in the solitude of the desert, Paul had ample opportunity for
quiet study and meditation. He calmly reviewed his past experience and
made sure work of repentance. He sought God with all his heart, resting
not until he knew for a certainty that his repentance was accepted and
his sin pardoned. He longed for the assurance that Jesus would be with
him in his coming ministry. He emptied his soul of the prejudices and
traditions that had hitherto shaped his life, and received instruction
from the Source of truth. Jesus communed with him and established him in
the faith, bestowing upon him a rich measure of wisdom and grace.
When the mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God,
the finite with the Infinite, the effect on body and mind and soul is
beyond estimate. In such communion is found the highest education. It is
God's own method of development. "Acquaint now thyself with
Him" (Job 22:21), is His message to mankind.
The solemn charge that had been given Paul on the occasion of his
interview with Ananias, rested with increasing weight upon his heart.
When, in response to the word, "Brother Saul, receive thy
sight," Paul had for the first time looked upon the face of this
devout man, Ananias under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said to
him: "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest
know His will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of
His mouth. For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast
seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptised, and
wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Acts
These words were in harmony with the words of Jesus Himself, who,
when He arrested Saul on the journey to Damascus, declared: "I have
appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a
witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things
in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people,
and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes,
and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan
unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance
among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." Acts
As he pondered these things in his heart, Paul understood more and
more clearly the meaning of his call "to be an apostle of Jesus
Christ through the will of God." 1 Corinthians 1:1. His call had
come, "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the
Father." Galatians 1:1. The greatness of the work before him led
him to give much study to the Holy Scriptures, in order that he might
preach the gospel "not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of
Christ should be made of none effect," "but in demonstration
of the Spirit and of power," that the faith of all who heard
"should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of
God." 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:4, 5.
As Paul searched the Scriptures, he learned that throughout the ages
"not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many
noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world
to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world
to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world,
and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which
are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory
in His presence." 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. And so, viewing the wisdom
of the world in the light of the cross, Paul "determined not to
know anything, . . . save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1
Throughout his later ministry, Paul never lost sight of the Source of
his wisdom and strength. Hear him, years afterward, still declaring,
"For to me to live is Christ." Philippians 1:21. And again:
"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, .
. . that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own
righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith
of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know
Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His
sufferings." Philippians 3:8-10.
From Arabia Paul "returned again unto Damascus" (Galatians
1:17), and "preached boldly . . . in the name of Jesus."
Unable to withstand the wisdom of his arguments, "the Jews took
counsel to kill him." The gates of the city were diligently guarded
day and night to cut off his escape. This crisis led the disciples to
seek God earnestly, and finally they "took him by night, and let
him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket." Acts 9:25,
After his escape from Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem, about three
years having passed since his conversion. His chief object in making
this visit, as he himself declared afterward, was "to see
Peter." Galatians 1:18. Upon arriving in the city where he had once
been well known as "Saul the persecutor," "he assayed to
join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and
believed not that he was a disciple." It was difficult for them to
believe that so bigoted a Pharisee, and one who had done so much to
destroy the church, could become a sincere follower of Jesus. "But
Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto
them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that He had spoken to him,
and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus."
Upon hearing this, the disciples received him as one of their number.
Soon they had abundant evidence as to the genuineness of his Christian
experience. The future apostle to the Gentiles was now in the city where
many of his former associates lived, and to these Jewish leaders he
longed to make plain the prophecies concerning the Messiah, which had
been fulfilled by the advent of the Saviour. Paul felt sure that these
teachers in Israel, with whom he had once been so well acquainted, were
as sincere and honest as he had been. But he had miscalculated the
spirit of his Jewish brethren, and in the hope of their speedy
conversion he was doomed to bitter disappointment. Although "he
spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the
Grecians," those who stood at the head of the Jewish church refused
to believe, but "went about to slay him." Sorrow filled his
heart. He would willingly have yielded up his life if by that means he
might bring some to a knowledge of the truth. With shame he thought of
the active part he had taken in the martyrdom of Stephen, and now in his
anxiety to wipe out the stain resting upon one so falsely accused, he
sought to vindicate the truth for which Stephen had given his life.
Burdened in behalf of those who refused to believe, Paul was praying
in the temple, as he himself afterward testified, when he fell into a
trance; whereupon a heavenly messenger appeared before him and said,
"Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will
not receive thy testimony concerning Me." Acts 22:18.
Paul was inclined to remain at Jerusalem, where he could face the
opposition. To him it seemed an act of cowardice to flee, if by
remaining he might be able to convince some of the obstinate Jews of the
truth of the gospel message, even if to remain should cost him his life.
And so he answered, "Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in
every synagogue them that believed on Thee: and when the blood of Thy
martyr Stephen was shed, I was also standing by, and consenting unto his
death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him." But it was not
in harmony with the purpose of God that His servant should needlessly
expose his life; and the heavenly messenger replied, "Depart: for I
will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles." Acts 22:19-21.
Upon learning of this vision, the brethren hastened Paul's secret
escape from Jerusalem, for fear of his assassination. "They brought
him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus." The departure
of Paul suspended for a time the violent opposition of the Jews, and the
church had a period of rest, in which many were added to the number of