Saul (Paul) Becomes a Christian


Scripture References: Acts 9:1-31 and recorded again later when Saul testifies in trials- Acts 22:1-21 and Acts 26:9-20

Story Overview: Saul (later known as Paul) was an extremely zealous Jew who believed that those who followed Jesus were blaspheming God.  He even hunted for Christians so he could arrest or kill them for what they believed. Saul had to face the fact that he had been wrong all of his life when Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus and blinded him with a bright light. Saul continued to the city of Damascus where he regained his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He was baptised by a Christian named Ananias.  Saul immediately began preaching the truth about Jesus and this made some people angry.  His friends snuck him out of Damascus in a basket.  After preaching in Jerusalem he had to escape danger there too.  Saul changed from hating Jesus to loving Jesus.

Suggested Emphasis: When we are wrong we should admit our mistakes and change to do things right now.

Background Study
Way to Introduce the Story
The Story
Review Questions
Craft and Activity Ideas
Online Resources

Background Study:

Saul will later be known by his Roman name, Paul, but he is first introduced in Acts by his Jewish name, Saul.

The New Testament contains many writings eventually produced by the man who was later known as the Apostle Paul.  Most of these writings are in the form of epistles, or letters, to churches and individuals.  Reading these letters reveals much about Saul but it is in Acts that we read how he was personally visited by Jesus and assigned the task of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Saul Persecuted Christians  Acts 9:1-2
Saul was a zealous Jew who had been born in the city of Tarsus but grew up in Jerusalem.  He studied under the best Jewish teachers including the well-respected teacher, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).  The first time Saul is mentioned in the New Testament is in Acts 7:58 and 8:1.  Saul stood in approval of the Stoning of Stephen and went so far as to watch after the clothes of those who threw the stones.   Following that time Saul became zealous in trying to stamp out this new group of people (called “The Way”) who were leaving the Jewish religion to follow Jesus.  But no matter how Saul and others persecuted those who followed Jesus the group kept getting bigger and bigger.

Blinded on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9)
In today’s story Saul was on his way to the city of Damascus to find men and women who followed “The Way”.  His purpose was to take them as prisoners back to Jerusalem where they would be punished.

Saul’s was zealous but the type of violent religious fanaticism he practiced drove him to act beyond reason.  Understanding this gives real meaning to the drastic change that was about to take place in his life.  What happened on the Road to Damascus was a miracle of God.

As he was travelling, a bright light blinded Saul and caused him to fall to the ground.  Although he could not see Saul heard a voice ask, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.”   Saul did not recognise the voice of Jesus but he knew this was a divine message and addressed the voice as “Lord”.  After hunting down and imprisoning people for following Jesus Saul must have been dumbfounded to hear the one speaking identify himself as Jesus.  Jesus directed the still-blind Saul to get up and go to Jerusalem to await instructions.

Among many others there are two significant things to note.  Firstly, Jesus considers persecution of his followers as persecution of himself.   Years later Saul, himself, will explain that Christians are the “body of Christ, and each is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27).  As Christians, if someone hurts you or me then Jesus feels our pain.

Secondly, Jesus was actually with Saul on that road.  This was not simply a vision of Jesus.  It is important to note this because Saul’s legitimacy as an apostle rests on the fact that he was an actual witness of Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1 and Galatians 1:11-16).

 Ananias Baptises Saul (Acts 9:10-19)
Since the Stoning of Stephen Christians had been under constant threat of persecution.  Even though most had fled Jerusalem people like Saul still sought them out.  The opening words of this chapter “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” paints a graphic picture of what Christians thought of Saul.  If Jesus had not come to Ananias in a vision in Damascus then Ananias would certainly not have risked his life to meet Saul.  No wonder Ananias asked for clarification before he set out.  Jesus directed him to find Saul to a home on Straight Street.   This street still exists today in Old Damascus.

There were plenty of visions going around that day.  At the same time Ananias was having a vision instructing him to go to Straight Street Saul was having a vision telling him to expect a visit from a Christian called Ananias.

Saul had been blinded by the bright light on the Damascus Road.  Ananias told him that Jesus had sent him so Saul could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  As in other great events in Acts the Holy Spirit once again confirms a drastic move in the Gospel story.

Now, the great persecutor of the church finally understood that Jesus was real. Saul understood that he should follow Jesus and tell others about him.  At this point of understanding Saul regained his sight and was baptised.   The man who had tried so hard to wipe out the Christian Faith humbled himself to the point of being baptised into Christ.  This event must have remained solid in his memory in years to come when he preached and wrote reflections such as:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:3-7, NIV

 

Saul Preaches about Jesus (Acts 9:20-25)
Saul immediately began going to the synagogues in Damascus preaching that Jesus was the son of God.  What a change from his original purpose of going to the synagogues to find and arrest followers of Christ!  Saul would have been a real enigma.  The synagogue leaders would have been confused by this educated Jewish leader now seeming to speak in favour of the very thing he had so recently been militant about.  And the newly converted Christians would surely have been fearful and sceptical of a man who had been terrorising their fellow believers.

Although this section reads as a continuous narrative it is most probable that during the three years following his conversion Saul left Damascus for Arabia and then came back to Damascus again before leaving for Jerusalem.  The three years in Arabia could fit between verses 22 and 23.  He later recounts the sequence of events in a letter to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:11-18).

Escape in a Basket (Acts 9:23-25)
Saul returned to a very angry situation after the his three years in Arabia.  We learn from one of his later letters that the governor in Damascus had the city guarded so they could arrest Saul (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).  A wall surrounded the city so Saul’s followers put him in a basket and lowered him out through a window in the wall.

Saul in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30)
If the people of Damascus had been confused by Saul’s conversion then the people of Jerusalem were even more so.  This was the city where, earlier, Saul had stood in approval when Stephen was Stoned.  Saul’s history in Jerusalem was well-known.  Christians had left Jerusalem because of him.  In Acts 8:3 history records Saul’s previous actions there after Stephen’s death: “Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” (NIV)  The last time Saul had been in Jerusalem he had been given letters by the Jewish leaders and commissioned to go to Damascus to seek out and arrest Christians.

Saul tried to join the disciples but they were fearful and did not trust him.  Only Barnabas took him in.  Barnabas took him to the apostles and spoke on Saul’s behalf.  Saul stayed under the protection of the apostles.  His background and education allowed him to move in the more educated circles and even participate in debates about Jesus.  There was soon so much angry opposition against Saul that the Christians again had to get him out of the city.  They sent him to Tarsus.

A Time of Peace (Acts 9:31)
Persecution had scattered Christians and they shared the message of Jesus wherever they went.  Now there was a period of peace.  The Way, or Christian movement, grew in numbers during this time.

 

Visual Aids: You might like to try telling the story using one of the following free visual aids.  The first and second work well if you are showing it on a computer, laptop or tablet. The third one works well for printing.

  1. Saul Becomes a Christian_Slide Show to download
    (.pptx 11 MB file size)
  2. Saul Becomes a Christian_Slide Show to download- older format
    (.ppt 10 MB file size)
  3. Saul Becomes a Christian_Visual Aid to download and print
    (.pdf 5 MB file size)

 

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Way to Introduce the Story:
“What would you do if you heard that there was someone in our town who was trying to hurt all Christians? We might have to meet in secret places. If you heard that that person was close by what would you do? You might have to use secret codes to tell other Christians where to meet. Has anyone ever seen a fish symbol like this? (Draw it on the board) Christians used to use that secret symbol to represent Jesus. That way mean people didn’t know what they were talking about. In the book of Acts we read about many people who became Christians. There were also some people who got very angry that anyone would follow Jesus. One man, Saul, got so angry that he even killed Christians.”

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The Story:

Saul was born in the city of Tarsus but he grew up in Jerusalem.  Saul was very intelligent and he had studied under a famous teacher named Gamaliel.

Saul’s other name was “Paul”.

Even though Saul believed in God he did not follow Jesus.  He was an enemy to people who followed Jesus.

Saul wanted to destroy the church.  He even dragged men and women out of their houses and put them in prison for believing in Jesus.  Christians were very afraid of Saul.

Once, Saul asked the High Priest in Jerusalem for letters so he could take them to the leaders in the city of Damascus.  The leaders would help him arrest Christians there.

But when Saul was walking along the road to Damascus something totally unexpected happened.  A bright shown down on Saul and made him blind.

Then Saul heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul heard the voice but could not see.  “Who are you?” he asked.

Then he heard the answer, “I am Jesus, and you have been persecuting me.  Now get up and go into the city.”

Saul was shocked.  This was Jesus!  He had been hurting (persecuting) people that believed in Jesus.  Now Saul knew the truth.  He had been very wrong all of this time.

The other men traveling with Saul saw the light but could not hear the voice.  Since Saul was blind they led him to the city of Damascus.

Ananias was a Christian man who lived in the city of Damascus.

Jesus came to Ananias in a vision and said that Ananias should go and meet Saul.  He would be waiting in a house on the street called “Straight Street”.

Ananias was very frightened.  “But Saul has been persecuting Christians.”  Ananias must have wondered what Saul might do to him.

But, in the vision, Jesus told Ananias that he had chosen Saul to do a very important job.  Jesus had chosen Saul to be the teacher to the Gentiles (all of the people who were not Jews).

So Ananias went to Straight Street and found Saul.  He touched Saul and said, “Brother Saul, Jesus, the one who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so you can see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

As soon as Ananias said this something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again.  Then he got up and was baptised.

Now that Saul knew the truth about Jesus he wanted to tell everyone.  He preached to the people in Damascus and even travelled to Arabia to tell the people there.

But not everyone was happy Saul was preaching about Jesus.  They began guarding the city gates so they could catch and kill Saul if he tried to leave the city.

But Saul’s friends had a great idea.  Late one night they put Saul in a basket and lowered him over the wall.  Saul escaped!

Even though Saul had changed there were still many Christians that remembered how he had once been their enemy.  In Jerusalem the Christians did not trust Saul and did not want him to be with them.

But a Christian named Barnabas believed Saul had changed.  He asked the Apostles and the other Christians to accept Saul.

So Saul continued to do what Jesus had told him to do.  When he used to live in Jerusalem he told people NOT to follow Jesus.  Now he told them that they SHOULD follow Jesus.

Soon Saul was in trouble again.  The other Christians took Saul to the port of Caesarea and put him on a ship heading to Tarsus.

After this time there was a time of peace for the churches.  Many more people began to follow Jesus.

When Saul met Jesus he stopped doing bad things and began to follow Jesus.  What do you think Jesus wants you to do?

 

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Review Questions:

  1. What is Saul’s other name? Paul
  2. Before becoming a Christian, what did Saul do? Searched out and killed Christians because they believed in Jesus.
  3. What happened to Saul on the road to Damascus? Jesus came to him in a bright light and blinded him.
  4. Who baptised Saul? Ananias
  5. How did Saul escape from Damascus? Christians lowered him over the city walls at night in a basket
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Craft and Activity ideas for the class (choose age appropriate ones):

  • Have children act out situations in which they have to admit that they are wrong.
  • Decorate any food container (ice cream, margarine tub, etc.) to look like a basket.
  • Do a weaving project to make a basket.
  • If you have access to Google Maps or Google Earth or an Atlas look up Damascus and find the probable location of the Straight Street where Ananias went to find Saul.  The modern name for the street in Old Damascus is “The Avenue of Bab Sharqi and Medhat Pasha Souq”.  Talk about how modern Damascus is different than Damascus at the time Saul was converted.
  • Draw a large outline of a man on a poster or large sheet of paper. Write “SAUL” in large letters on the figure. At the end of class have the children take turns writing words that describe Saul in today’s story (blind, killed Christians, baptised, basket, etc.)  If you plan to continue studying about Saul then you can add new words each week.
  • Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
  • Acts_Paul Find other ideas on the Pinterest Board “Book of Acts:Paul

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Other Online Resources:

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