“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 9:10-22 ESV)
I mentioned last week that this story is one of the strongest evidences for the truth of the Gospel and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. To turn the church’s worst enemy into its greatest champion is no small feat and required overwhelming evidence. Saul is not only struck blind by the light on the road that day, he is forever changed from the relentless persecutor to the inspired proclaimer of the Gospel. What he saw on that road altered his foundational beliefs about God and forever changed the direction of his life. My hope is that it will change you and me, too…
When Saul left Jerusalem a few days earlier, he was convinced that he knew God; the God of his fathers and the God of Scripture. But, in reality, he was completely blind to the truth and unable to truly perceive or fully know God. It wasn’t until this blinding light took away his physical sight that he was able to see the truth, Jesus IS the Son of God and you cannot truly know God until you are in proper relationship with the Son. You might need to read that statement, again. You cannot truly KNOW God until you are in proper relationship with His Son, Jesus.
This is not a popular teaching, today. Don’t get me wrong, most people are willing to let you have your private religious beliefs in God or even Jesus. Tolerance IS the modern buzzword of religious belief and cultural acceptance. Where most religious and cultural tolerance falters is when you insist that it is impossible to truly know God without knowing and properly relating to His Son, Jesus. In this story, we see Saul’s “old school Jewish” beliefs being assaulted by a radical new idea – Jesus is God! He was completely intolerant of these people who are a part of “the way,” then he is suddenly confronted by facts that confirm their beliefs and invalidate his own.
Not only is Saul confronted by a change in his beliefs, Ananias is also confronted by a challenge to his own. Ananias is a follower of Christ and is, thus, a target of Saul’s persecution and outrage. In our modern language and culture, Saul is a terrorist and Ananias is the target of Saul’s terrorist attacks. When the Lord instructs Ananias to go and minister to Saul, he is initially very, very hesitant. In fact he says, “Lord, I’ve heard about this guy and all of the evil things he has done and is still doing to those who follow you (the saints at Jerusalem). And now he has come here looking for us.” It is almost as if he’s asking, “Lord, haven’t you heard about all of this? Don’t you know what’s going on? He’s been arresting and killing those who follow you in Jerusalem, and NOW he’s here. You want me to do what? I’m not going over there to heal his blindness, that’s just crazy!”
Ananias sounds a lot like us when it comes to ministering to refugees from Syria or Muslim immigrants. We know God has called us to take the gospel to all men, all nations, all languages and cultures. Yet, those of us in the American church are often hesitant or fearful much like Ananias. “Lord, don’t you know what these people have done? Don’t you know how much they hate and despise us? Haven’t you heard their threats and seen their terrorist attacks? How can we possibly trust them?” Isn’t that the question that Ananias is asking? God, how can I possibly trust him? God’s answer… I’m not asking you to trust him, I’m expecting you to trust ME! That’s God’s response to us, too. I’m not asking you to trust them, I’m expecting you to trust ME!
Next, notice that the Lord refers to Saul as a “chosen instrument of mine.” The word “instrument” is the same word as common vessel or clay jar. Saul would later put it this way: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV) Saul was a common everyday clay jar or pot into which the Lord of the Universe was willing to pour His power and glory. You and I, if we believe in Jesus and place our trust in Him, will be common vessels containing the very power and glory of God.
Saul was chosen by God… let that sink in a bit. This enemy of the church is a chosen vessel of God to carry the gospel to kings and to nations. Ananias was initially resistant to the Lord’s commands to go to Saul, yet God had chosen Saul. God was using a vessel that Ananias initially rejected, and one that we would have rejected. What’s fascinating is that the Hebrew name Saul means “one who is sought, asked for or prayed for.” While Saul thought he had been a man seeking God, God had really been seeking and pursuing Saul. It is also interesting to note that though the church sought relief from the persecution, it came in the most unexpected way. Relief from the persecution came from the conversion of the persecutor. The prayers of the persecuted church were answered through the life of the persecutor. God always has a way of redeeming our pain and turning it into praise.
So, how is all of this possible? How is God able to take evil and make it good? How can pain be redeemed into praise? How can the persecutor become the preacher or the source of fear become the source of peace?
“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)
How? Saul sums it up in the very first words he proclaims following his recovery: And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20 ESV)
This is HUGE and goes back to the place we started… tolerance. Jesus is NOT just another good, moral man or religious teacher with his version of the religious search for meaning or a greater being. Jesus is the one and only SON of GOD. Many of you have heard the King James Version of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This has often been called “the gospel in a nutshell” and that is very accurate.
But, many have often stumbled over the word “begotten” as used in the KJV. I suggest you take a look at any one of several newer English translations (ESV, NIV, HCSB/CSB) and you will notice that the focus is on Jesus’ uniqueness. The word “begotten” tends to put more focus on origins and not on His uniqueness. Jesus is unique and Christianity is unlike any other religious or philosophical view of life. Jesus is NOT a man who has “discovered” another path or road to God or some Supreme Being, He is the unique and ONLY Son of God. That changes everything!
You see, while you might have been looking for God through various means and methods, God has been pursuing you. God didn’t wait for you to find Him, He came looking for you. Every other religious worldview is of man seeking God, but Christianity is the worldview that God came after us in the form of a man, Jesus the Son of God.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10 ESV)