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Acts 9:1-16

Following Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus had been growing into the thousands in Jerusalem. Great power
was manifest through the apostles, as they gave their testimony to the Lord Jesus, which was authenticated
by the miracles that the Lord did through them. And great grace abode upon the whole community of
believers - that is, they had favor with the people.

The rulers of Israel were quick to oppose the believers, because they were followers of Jesus - whom they
hated, and had put to death. But the people were drawn by both the power and the love that they witnessed
within this community of believers.

The favor of the people began to dissipate with their realization that following Jesus meant the
abandonment of their whole religious system of works - Judaism. This realization was reached through the
effective preaching of Stephen - so effective that the Jews had to silence his voice, through death.

No one was Amore consenting@ to the death of Stephen than Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1). Saul was a young
Pharisee (likely in his 20's) who was being groomed for leadership in Jerusalem under the tutorage of the
renowned rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). As Saul would later describe himself, he advanced in Judaism
beyond many Jews of his own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers (Gal 1:14).

The Atraditions of his fathers@ refers to the rabbinic oral code, an interpretation of the Law which was
authoritative to a Pharisee. Jesus had denounced this oral code, saying that the Pharisees had made the
commandment of God of no effect by their traditions (Mt 15:6); that they had, in fact, rejected the
commandment of God, that they might keep their own traditions (Mk 7:9). Such statements aroused the
enmity of the Pharisees against Jesus, as well as the enmity of all Jews that subscribed to the Pharisees=
teachings.

When the rulers of Israel succeeded in having Jesus put to death, the community of Pharisees would have
seen it as a righteous act - for Jesus had threatened, not only their traditions, but even their whole system of
religion. The young Saul would have bought into this thinking at the time, even seeing the death of Jesus
as particularly fitting; for the Law says that he who is hanged on a tree (crucified) is accursed of God (Deut
21:23). The crucifixion of Jesus was proof to Saul that Jesus was an imposter, for clearly, God had cursed
Him in His death.

Saul and his fellow Pharisees would certainly have thought that the disciples of Jesus would disband after
His death, and abandon their beliefs - for how could they continue to follow One who was dead? But the
disciples of Jesus were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus, to the ascended Jesus - they knew He was
alive forevermore in heaven. Furthermore, Jesus had poured out His Spirit upon His disciples on the earth,
empowering them to continue His ministry - to reconcile men to God.

So, contrary to the expectation of the rulers in Jerusalem, and to Saul, their protégé, the disciples of Jesus
did not dissipate; instead, they multiplied, until all of Jerusalem was filled with their doctrine (Acts 5:28).

Consider for a moment the effect of all this on Saul. He viewed the teachings of Jesus as utterly apostate.
Now those teachings were being spread throughout Jerusalem by His followers, and many Jews were being
deceived into thinking what they were hearing was the truth. Even a great company of the priests had been
lost to this perverse belief (Acts 6:7).
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The Sanhedrin had tried the apostles on two occasions, and the most that they had done was to give the
apostles a severe beating - and after the beating, the apostles had actually rejoiced; as they saw it, they were
being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus= sake (Acts 5:41). And meanwhile, the false teaching continued to
be proclaimed, right in the temple grounds. This had to stop! What was needed was punishment - swift
and severe. Someone needed to act.

And finally, someone did - if fact, many did - both rulers and people. When Stephen began to preach his
polarizing words concerning Jesus in the Hellenist synagogues, a mob brought him for justice to their
judicial court - the Sanhedrin. Before the court, Stephen laid out God=s indictment against His nation for
their unbelief, which culminated in their rejection of the One whom God sent to save them - Jesus.

The ruling which Stephen received was precisely what one would expect from the rebellious nation, who
would not have their true King rule over them. There was no official ruling; only the decision of a mob,
rulers and people alike, to put Stephen to death - to put out that Light, that was showing the darkness of
their collective sin.

While the mob carried out their brand of justice, Saul stood by, supporting them, affirming them. In their
action, Saul recognized the only way to silence those who proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah - the silence
of the grave.

After Stephen=s death, great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and many believers fled
the city, establishing themselves in the surrounding countryside of Judea, and in Samaria. Saul was in the
thick of the oppression in the city, ravaging the church as a wild animal that attacks and tears the body of its
victims - for such was his religious zeal.

Saul went from house to house, dragging off any disciples of Jesus which he found, and committing them
to prison (Acts 8:3). Later, he would write that he gave his voice against them - that is, he testified against
them - and even compelled them to blaspheme, all to accomplish his end - to silence them in death (Acts
26:10-11).

But Saul was not satisfied. Many of the disciples of Jesus were escaping from Jerusalem, into the
surrounding communities, and even further away. Saul knew that, wherever they went, they would infect
the people with their poisonous doctrine - the teachings of Jesus - even as they had in Jerusalem. Such a
thought was unbearable for Saul.

Where many others were content to simply cleanse Jerusalem, this young zealot would not rest until he had
silenced every last voice - wherever it was. Such was the zeal of Saul of Tarsus - a false zeal, a fiery hatred,
that had been carefully fanned in him by the very enemy of God - whose instrument he was.

We pick up Luke=s account of Saul now in Acts chapter 9.

v. 1-2 In verse 1, the first word we read, AAnd@, is a word of contrast, often translated Abut@. Luke was
contrasting this account of Saul with that which he previously recorded - the account of Philip. Philip had
been traveling to other lands, intent upon spreading the message of God=s love for mankind as found in the
good news of Jesus. Saul was also purposing to travel to other lands - but his motivation was that of the
enemy of God - seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). Philip=s was a mission of Life - everlasting Life.
Saul=s was a mission of death.
Saul was still pouring all of his intense energy into persecuting the disciples of Jesus, seeking them out to
destroy them. You can see that this was not a sudden, fleeting fit of passion on Saul=s part. This was a
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persistent hatred, a violent, yet constant rage, which Saul lived and breathed. His passionate hatred
impelled him beyond the borders of Jerusalem, and even of Israel; it moved him past imprisonment, to
death for these heretics. His goal was to exterminate every last believer.

Toward that end, Saul would have targeted cities that were within the range of the judicial influence in
Jerusalem, to which relatively large numbers of believers had fled, following the persecution in Jerusalem.
Apparently, such a city was Damascus.

Damascus is the capital of modern-day Syria. It lies 160 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and about 60 miles
inland from the Mediterranean Sea (see map). Shortly after the death of Jesus, the Romans had lost their
hold on this city to the Nabataeans of Arabia, whose lands lay to the east of Damascus (see other map). At
that time then, Damascus was controlled by an Arabian ruler, probably Aretas IV.

In that day, there was a large Jewish community in Damascus - tens of thousands lived there - and it is
likely that many of the disciples fled there from Jerusalem when the persecution broke out after Stephen=s
death. Apparently, this was known to Saul, and so he chose to continue his hateful inquisition there.

Saul knew that he would need official authorization to carry out his mission, and so he sought out the high
priest, the head of the Sanhedrin. Saul asked the high priest for letters authorizing him to arrest any of the
followers of Jesus that he found in Damascus.

Now, Damascus would certainly have been outside the legal jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, which would not
have extended beyond Judea, possibly Samaria and Galilee; but the religious influence of the Sanhedrin
and the high priest over Jews that lived outside Israel would have been more widespread. This would
imply that those whom Saul was seeking would not have been Jews who were native to Damascus, but only
those who had fled there from Jerusalem; for only these refugees would have been subject to the influence
of the high priest.

The synagogues, the centers of Jewish worship outside of Jerusalem, would have supported the high priest=s
policies, and cooperated with him; and the regional government would have been unlikely to interfere in
the matter, as those sought were not natives of Damascus, but Jerusalem.

Therefore, authorizing letters from the high priest would have been effective in obtaining the extradition of
Jews who were seen as violators of the Jewish Law. And as a cult that adhered to a convicted and executed
blasphemer of the God of Israel, the followers of Jesus would definitely be seen as violators of the Law.
The authorizing letters would have commissioned Saul to hunt down the violators, and bring them bound in
chains to Jerusalem, for trial and punishment.

Notice that Luke uses the term Athe Way@ (Athis way@, in the KJV) when referring to the disciples of the
Lord. He will do so five more times in the book of Acts (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Although the source of
this term is unknown, we understand it to refer in an absolute sense to their belief - it is the Way, the one
way, the only way. The term brings to mind the words of Jesus: AI am the way, the truth and the life; no
man comes to the Father, but by Me@ (Jn 14:6).

There was a way that seemed right to Saul; but what was its end? Death. But with matchless grace, the
Lord would save Saul from himself, and bring him into the Way of Life Everlasting.
Meanwhile, Saul was pursuing his own way. He was successful in obtaining the letters of authorization,
and set out on his mission of blood. It would seem that the high priest had also granted to Saul some men,
possibly Levites of the temple warden, to help him in his quest.
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It is most likely that Saul and his attendants would have traveled by foot - a journey of five or six days.
This is supported by the fact that news of Saul=s mission preceded him to Damascus, as we=ll see later (Acts
9:13-14). The length of the journey would have given Saul much time to map out his plan, once he arrived
in Damascus. Little did Saul know that he would enter the city with all his plans forever changed.

v. 3-8 What dispels the darkness? Light. Into the darkness that enveloped Saul - the darkness of religion;
the darkness of hatred; the darkness of a mind at enmity with God - came penetrating light; the Light of
Life, Himself.

Saul had come within range of his target city, his plans no doubt fixed in his mind. We learn from Saul=s
later account of the events that it was around midday - when the sun is at its brightest. All of a sudden, a
bright light flashed around Saul and his companions, not unlike lightening. The light was dazzling - Saul
would later describe it as brighter even than the sun (Acts 26:13); a supernatural light. This light was so
overwhelming, so penetrating, that it caused the men to fall to the ground.

All the men saw the light; but to Saul=s eyes alone was given to see more; for Saul saw the source of the
light. The light came from heaven; the source of the light was Jesus; that light was the outshining of His
glory (Acts 22:11).

Although Luke=s brief account here does not immediately give this detail, that it was Jesus Himself who
appeared to Saul, we find it later in Luke=s account (Acts 9:17, 27), as well as in Saul=s own recollection,
where he states he was an eyewitness of the risen Christ (1 Cor 15:8-9). This vision of Jesus as the
resurrected Savior, in all His resplendent glory, was for Saul=s eyes alone; for at this time, the Lord was
intent upon saving this one single soul.

For the moment, that single soul lay prostrate in the dust, overwhelmed by fear; a fitting position and
attitude for a sinner, in the presence of the Lord of glory. And how far a fall that was for Saul - from his
high position in this world! But the Lord brought him down to the earth. All of Saul=s self-righteousness
was leveled to the ground.

And then, the Lord spoke. His voice was heard by both Saul and the men with him, but only Saul heard
what the voice was saying, for the words of the Lord were addressed to Saul alone.

ASaul, Saul@ - an emphatic repeating of his name - Awhy are you persecuting Me?@ There was no
accusation, not even a rebuke; just a gentle question; a question that searched and humbled Saul.

AWhy are you persecuting Me?@ Why are you persecuting your Lord, Saul? In what way was Saul
persecuting His Lord? Saul was persecuting the members of His Body. The Lord was claiming these
persecuted ones as His own - even as Himself.

These disciples, whom Saul had viewed as odious heretics, were in some mysterious way connected with
this glorious One, who had revealed Himself to Saul. The Lord identified Himself with these disciples; He
felt their pain.

The Light was beginning to reveal Saul - to himself. Where he had viewed himself as the defender of God,
the realization was beginning to dawn on him that he had made himself the enemy of God. In recognizing
just whose disciples these were, whom he was persecuting .... Saul then had a question that he must ask, in
return - a question that he would have asked with the greatest of dread in his heart.
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AWho are you, Lord?@ The miraculous vision, the supernatural light, the glory of the figure that appeared to
Saul, all told him that this was the Lord from heaven - but who was He? And his voice, that spoke words to
him in the Aramaic tongue, as Saul will mention later (Acts 26:14) - the native tongue of the Jews. Who
was He? Did not Saul already know? But he had to hear it - from the source.

AI am Jesus, whom you are persecuting@. Yes - it was Jesus. Jesus, the humble, lowly preacher from
Nazareth; the friend of publicans and sinners, the One who had claimed to be the Messiah of Israel, but
who was crucified as a common criminal - this same Jesus, God had made both Lord and Christ (Acts
2:36).

The evidence was before Saul=s eyes, in brilliant glory; it was in his ears, His words echoing of
longsuffering - and love. That Love was shaking the very foundations of this young zealot=s life.

The next part of the passage is thought to be an addition, which is found in one of the later texts, and was
brought through into the KJV; it does not appear in any of the surviving Greek manuscripts. The addition
begins in verse 5, with AIt is hard for you to kick against the pricks@, and ends in verse 6, with AAnd he
trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? And the Lord said to him ....@

Without the addition, it would read, AI am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Arise, and go into the city, and
it shall be told what you must do@. Although it is likely this was an addition made to the original in this
passage, we do find these added details when Luke later records Paul=s testimony of his conversion, in
chapters 22 and 26 of Acts (22:10, 26:14). Since it is likely, then, that these words were exchanged
between Saul and the Lord, we will consider them here.

Jesus told Saul it was hard for him to kick against the pricks. Pricks are sharp spikes that were placed
behind oxen in the yoke to keep them in the way in which the plowman desired them to go. To kick against
the pricks was a proverbial expression, alluding to a rebellious ox that would kick back at the pricks that
were meant to be his guide, to show him the way of the master. In so doing, the ox would only hurt
himself.

Jesus was showing Saul that he had been that rebellious ox. God had given Israel the Law, by which men
were shown the way of salvation - as Saul himself would later write, the Law was a schoolmaster - unto
Christ (Gal 3:24).

But like so many of his Jewish brethren, Saul had turned the Law, which pictured Christ, into a set of rules
to be performed, to please and to placate God. That was the way of religion, not the way of God; it never
justified a man, but only served to injure him - just like the ox injured himself, in kicking against the pricks.
That was hard, as Jesus told Saul; that was a grievous thing to do - the ox got nowhere, it accomplished
nothing, it did not serve the purpose for which it was created, and it only hurt itself. What would be the
end, for an ox that would not submit? Death. In persecuting Jesus, Saul was only hurting himself; storing
up wrath for the day of judgment (Rm 2:5). That would be very hard for Saul.

You can just hear how tender the words of Jesus were to Saul; and yet they shook him to the core of his
being. The Crucified One, whom all of Israel had mercilessly agreed to put to death, whom Saul was now
mercilessly persecuting through His followers, had come to extend mercy to the one who would later
describe himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
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The Lord from heaven, the risen Christ, had come alongside of Saul in the way that he was going - the way
of death - and extended His grace to Saul, to help in time of need (Heb 4:16); to bring him into the way of
Life Everlasting.

Later, Saul would write, Awhile we were yet sinners, Christ died for us@ (Rm 5:8). Saul had experienced
that, personally. He had a Savior who had come to save him when he was yet in his sin. In his personal
testimony, Saul would later say that he was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19).

So we see that Saul, who had been seeking to arrest the disciples, was himself arrested by Jesus! Saul had
been met and conquered by Divine Love; he became a prisoner of the Lord; his bondservant. Love was the
cords which bound him to Jesus; the love of Christ constrained him. By the grace of God, Saul was
changed in a moment, from the chief persecutor of Christ to His most devoted follower. Ever afterwards,
he would be the apostle of the grace that had transformed him.

But some transformations take time. We can see that, in that moment, Saul completely submitted himself
to Jesus, as his Lord; but what is his first thought? ALord, what will you have me to do?@ Saul was so
accustomed to much doing - doing for God, so he thought. So first, Saul must learn how to be - to be in
Christ.

The Lord simply commanded Saul to go into the city - and to wait. That would be the first lesson this
bondservant of the Lord must learn - to wait on the Lord. And while he is waiting, Saul would make an
important discovery about serving. We have a God who serves us.

The other men who were with Saul had apparently risen from the ground by this time, after having first
been stricken down by the Light. They saw the Light, but not the Person; they heard the voice, but not the
words. It was for Saul alone.

After Jesus had finished speaking to him, Saul arose from the ground, opened his eyes - only to discover
that he could not see; he was blind. In his own testimony, Saul would say that he could not see - for the
glory of that light (Acts 22:11). The last thing Saul saw was that heavenly vision of Jesus. That vision
would be before the eyes of Saul forevermore.

Comprehending that Saul had been blinded by the light, the men who accompanied him took him by the
hand and led him into Damascus, likely bringing him to the place where they had intended to stay. What a
unique experience for Saul - the one who had always taken charge, and been in control, being led as a child,
trusting others to guide his every step. Even in this, we see the beginning of Saul=s preparation for ministry,
when he will trust all to Jesus, who will lead him in the way he should go.

v. 9 For three days, Saul was blind. I=m sure Saul didn=t know it would be three days, when that period
began; he probably didn=t know if he would ever see again. But really, Saul needed this blindness, to have
a period of reflection - a time for review of the now terrible past, and a time for the realization of the new
beginning.

Certainly, losing his eyesight would have had a profound effect on Saul; but compared to what he had just
experienced, his loss of sight would have seemed almost insignificant. Saul=s entire life had revolved
around his religion. He had thought he was righteous; he had thought he was right. But once Saul had
seen that heavenly Light, he recognized that all of what he had attained in his life - all of his knowledge; all
of his prestige - meant nothing. It was useless to him. He would later write to the assembly at Phillipi of
this.
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Turn to Philippians chapter 3. By now, Saul went by his Roman name, Paul. He was warning the assembly
to have no confidence in the flesh. Then, in a reflection, he said that if anyone might have confidence in the
flesh, it would be - him.

[Philippians 3:4-14]

v. 4-7 Once Paul had seen the glorified Jesus on the road to Damascus, he relinquished his hold on all he
considered gain before, and counted it as loss, that he might gain Christ.

v. 8 Paul went further. That which he had before Christ was dung. Now, dung is a waste product; it is that
which the body eliminates, because it has no use; it is of no value to the body. Likewise, the things of this
world which Paul possessed were of no value to him, so he eliminated them, in order to gain Christ.

v. 9-14 Paul could forget those things that were behind, for they were all dung; instead, he would press on
in the way marked out for him by the Lord - like a submissive ox, obedient to his Master.

[Return to Acts] AThat I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His
sufferings, being made conformable to His death@. Even in the brief time Saul spent in that house in
Damascus, he would begin to know Jesus, and the power of His resurrection.

For three days, Saul was deprived of his sight; and he deprived himself of food and drink, likely because he
chose to fast - a sign of mourning, of repentance for his sin. Later, we will read that Saul spent the time
praying. I=m sure he had much to talk to the Lord about.

Notice again the period of time involved - three days. In Scripture, three is the number of resurrection. For
three days, Saul was enveloped in darkness and did not eat, nor drink. He might as well have been - a dead
man.

And, having been stricken by that Light on the road to Damascus, Saul in fact had died - he had been
crucified, with Christ; he had been baptized into His death. Saul was then buried with Christ by that
baptism into death; and like as Christ was raised up from the dead after three days, by the glory of the
Father, so the Lord, in His perfect timing, would raise Saul up after three days - raised out of blindness,
raised in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that he could walk in newness of life (Rm 6:3-4) - a new creation
in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

As Saul waited on the Lord, another man was being prepared to minister to him.

v. 10-12 When Saul later gives his testimony, he will mention that Ananias was a devout man according to
the Law, having a good report of all the Jews that dwelt in Damascus (Acts 22:12). We see, then, that
Ananias was a native of Damascus. This devout man had become a disciple of the Lord Jesus, who at this
time, came to him in a vision.

The Lord commanded Ananias to seek out Saul, and lay his hands on him, through which the Lord would
restore Saul=s sight. And the Lord assured Ananias that Saul would be prepared for him to come, as the
Lord had given Saul a vision of Ananias doing exactly that. The Lord even specified the location of Saul.
He was in the street called Straight - by the way, that street is still a major thoroughfare in Damascus. And
he was in the house of Judas.
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If Ananias happened to think about the names involved in what the Lord proposed, he might have drawn
some reassurance from it. Saul, a rebellious ox who had been plowing crooked furrows, was now on
Straight Street - he was in the straight and narrow way - The Way. And he abode in the house of Judas -
that name means Aa confessor of Jehovah@ or AJehovah shall be praised@. And Ananias= name means Athe
grace of Jehovah@. By the grace of God, Saul had been brought into the Way, confessing and praising Jesus
as His Lord.

But the thoughts of Ananias= mind moved in a different direction when he heard the name ASaul of Tarsus@.

v. 13-14 The reputation of Saul preceded him. It is well known that news travels with wonderful
quickness in the East.

The word had spread throughout the community of believers about how Saul had persecuted the Lord=s
people in Jerusalem - Luke uses the word Asaints@, which simply means those who have been purified and
sanctified by the Holy Spirit - saints is just another term for believers. And it was already known in
Damascus, even before Saul arrived, that he had been given authority by the high priest in Jerusalem to
arrest believers in Damascus, and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.

Now, you might think that Ananias was fearing for his own safety here, but he was not. It would also have
been known that the authority of the high priest only extended to those believers who had fled Jerusalem to
take refuge in Damascus; not to those who were natives of the city - for as mentioned earlier, this city was
under a different jurisdiction than the land of Israel, which would not take kindly to its own citizens being
led off captive by a foreign agent.

No, Ananias had no concern for himself. His concern was for his brethren - the Lord=s people from
Jerusalem; his concern was for all who call on the name of Jesus, and so even for Jesus Himself.

That is why we see no rebuke of Ananias from the Lord, in His reply - He simply enlightened Ananias as to
His sovereign purposes with Saul.

v. 15-16 Ananias was free to obey the Lord, for the Lord, as always, was in complete control. The term,
Achosen vessel@ literally means Avessel of election@. In His foreknowledge, God elected Saul for His
purposes, knowing that Saul would choose to believe, once Christ was revealed to him.

The term Achosen vessel@ actually means here an instrument of usefulness. Saul would be used - like an
earthen vessel - to carry the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles, to kings and to the Jews. Notice the order that
the Lord used here; for Saul would be principally the apostle of the Gentiles (Rm 11:13); and he would bear
witness before more than one king.

Later Saul would say, AGod was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the
Gentiles@ (Gal 1:15-16). Nonetheless, wherever Saul would later go, he would routinely preach to the
Jews first - God=s chosen people, from whom the Christ came - and then to the Gentiles.
Saul would write, AFor God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to
give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in
earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (2 Cor 4:6-7).

Consider how the words of the Lord must have impacted Ananias. The chief persecutor of Jesus - would be
a chief proclaimer of Jesus? And his mission field - would chiefly be the Gentiles? What a wonder was
that! But Ananias knew better than to doubt his Lord.

Did Ananias recognize the honor of the last statement that Jesus made, concerning Saul? Had he yet
learned what Saul would learn, through many experiences? AUnto us, on behalf of Christ, it is given not
only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake@ (Phil 1:29).

In the kingdom of Christ, suffering for Christ=s sake is a token of His favor - and an earnest of His reward.
The suffering is an honor, that fits us for heaven. Saul would truly learn to know Him, and the power of His
resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings - and in so doing, Saul would be made conformable to His
death - a death that had a body of glory as its end.

So we see how Divine Love can woo even the chiefest of sinners - and in the process, create a vessel in
which the glory can most brightly shine.

Next week: Read Acts 9; 22:1-21; 26:1-23; Gal 1:11-24.