“And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’” (Acts 22:11-16 ESV)
Do you still get excited about Christmas? I do. I’m still very much a kid at heart. I still find it hard to go to sleep on Christmas Eve and I can’t wait to enjoy the thrill of Christmas morning. Now that I’m a grandpa, I enjoy watching the kids and building memories with them. This Christmas, we are celebrating the birth of our fifth grandchild and third grandson. As I write this, I am sitting in the waiting room of our local hospital having just spent the morning holding my new grandson. He is adorable, but I will admit that I’m a bit biased. It makes my heart feel blessed to look over and watch my youngest son holding his youngest son who is less than 24 hours old while his older four year-old son sits on his lap talking to and gently touching his baby brother. No doubt, this Christmas will be special as my children and grandchildren gather at our house and celebrate the birth of an even greater child – the Christ, the very Son of God.
As we continue our study in Acts, it is really easy to see the Christmas story in our text. At least, it is if you pay attention. Paul continues to relate his story of encountering Jesus on the road trip to Damascus. Following his encounter with the risen Lord, he is led by the hand into the city of Damascus and to the home of Ananias. He’s being led because he’s lost his physical sight due to the overwhelming light of the Lord’s glory. Before I get into the direct connection between this text and the Christmas story, I do want you to note how Paul introduces the crowd to Ananias. He calls him, “a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” In other words, Ananias was an instrument of God to instruct Paul regarding his encounter with the Christ while simultaneously being devoted to the Jewish law and being well respected by the Jews of Damascus. His devotion to Jesus as the Messiah didn’t lessen his devotion to the law or his relationship with his fellow Jews.
This is a lesson we could bear to hear and learn, today. While there are times when our Christian beliefs will be in opposition to our culture, we don’t have to be overly oppositional in our attitudes or confrontational in our actions. This is especially true when it comes to issues that are not essential to our faith. For example, I’ve seen a lot of vitriolic posts between Christians over the past few days regarding the impeachment proceedings towards President Trump. Regardless of your political views or leanings and your love for or hatred of our current President, you don’t have to be demeaning and hateful towards those with opposing views. Some even go so far as to make the claim that you can’t really be a Christian if you voted for or if you voted against Trump. It doesn’t matter which side of the political aisle you stand on, there are Christian critics on both sides of that issue. That’s just outrageous, but pretty typical. In fact, the reaction of the crowd in this story closely resembles the reactions of both Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump Christians.
Consider: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 ESV)
And: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13 ESV)
I’m NOT saying we all have to agree and act like lemmings who just blindly follow some human leader, far from it. But, I am suggesting we ought to offer grace and act kindly towards our brothers with whom we disagree, and not just politically. I’m also not saying we should compromise our deeply held religious beliefs to be culturally friendly or attractive. However, I am saying that we can hold those beliefs, even strongly, while still offering Christian grace and kindness.
One thing we often forget in the midst of our argument, and one that is clearly seen in our focal passage, is that we are not God and we do not possess His infinite knowledge and wisdom. We are human and we often hold views that we believe to be absolutely correct, that is until we are confronted by God’s undeniable truth – just like Paul. In fact, that really is Paul’s primary argument in his defense to the Jewish mob in this story. In essence, Paul is saying: “I believed and acted just like you until that fateful day near Damascus when my eyes were blinded so I could really see – really see the truth about Jesus. Don’t make the same mistake I made.”
Don’t you make the same mistake that Paul once made and the Temple mob was making. Don’t be blinded by your religious bias or even your anti-religious bias. Let me suggest something simple, really simple… simply pray: “God, if you’re real, show me in a way that I can’t mistake that it’s true, that it’s you.” You might say, WHY would I do that? Well, if God isn’t real then it is nothing more than a silly prayer that goes nowhere and does nothing. However, if God IS real then wouldn’t you want to know that? Wouldn’t you want to know the TRUTH about God? Isn’t it worth asking, worth knowing?
Next, I want you to notice how Ananias responds to Paul’s conversion. In Luke’s original telling of this story in Acts 9, Ananias is quoted as being afraid to meet Paul in person because of his reputation and destructive actions towards Christian Jews. Notice in our focal passage what Ananias says, Paul was appointed by God “to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth.” God took the most unlikely candidate, Paul, and revealed Himself to him. He revealed His will to Paul through the appearance of the Righteous One, Jesus. While Paul believed vehemently in the existence of God, he flatly denied the deity of Jesus Christ. What did it take to change Saul the skeptic to Paul the Apostle?
First, it took the revelation of God’s will to Paul. Paul was directly confronted by the undeniable will of God, but how? Paul didn’t doubt the existence and authority of God. He believed in God and God’s absolute power and authority but, that’s also why he doubted the claims of Christ. How could this man, Jesus of Nazareth, be who or what he claimed to be? Paul was very familiar with the claims of Christ and Christ’s followers, how he claimed to not just speak for God but to speak AS God. Paul thought he knew and understood God, but God revealed Himself to Paul and, in doing so, revealed His ultimate will for Paul. But notice, God’s will for Paul ran counter to Paul’s will for Paul. If Paul wanted to know God then Paul would need to submit his personal will to God’s. If you want to know God, then you will need to do the same. Why? Simply put, because He’s God and you’re not. If you’re unwilling to submit your will to God’s then you are declaring yourself to be god, in this relationship. To know God, you must submit your will to His.
Second, Ananias says that Paul was appointed to “see the Righteous One.” When we need proof, we way “show me.” God showed Paul the proof. Paul was so convinced that what he saw that day was the truth regarding the deity of Jesus Christ that he made a complete 180 degree change in his beliefs and actions towards Jesus. What he had vehemently denied, he now defended with his life. What he had persecuted as lies, he now proclaimed as absolute, undeniable truth. He SAW the Righteous One and, in doing so, recognized his own unrighteousness. The paradox in this story is that Paul was blind to the outrageous truth regarding Jesus and his own sin until he was blind and then he was able to see God and the truth regarding Jesus and was suddenly aware of his own, outrageous sin. Will you ask God to show you the truth this Christmas regarding Jesus and your sin?
Finally, Ananias says that Paul was appointed to hear a voice from the mouth of Jesus. While Paul certainly heard the voice of Jesus on that road, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”, he continued to hear the voice and words of Jesus. By the way, the other Apostles appear to echo this idea as they acknowledge the authority of Paul’s teaching. Peter references Paul’s writings and letters as scripture (see 2 Peter 3:14-16) and James does essentially the same as he acknowledges the authority of Paul’s teaching and affirms it in his authoritative letter to the Gentile churches (see Acts 15). But even more importantly, Paul heard the voice of Jesus and he obeyed it. Jesus told Paul to go into Damascus and he would be told “all that he would have to suffer for Christ’s sake.” Are you willing to follow Christ even when it means you must surrender your dreams and endure suffering for His name?
We have ALL heard the voice of God as He calls to us. Scripture says that the heavens declare His praise (Ps. 19:1) and that God’s character, His divine nature and His eternal power, are clearly seen through His creation (Rom. 1:18-20). It also says, that because of those things, we are without excuse. We cannot claim ignorance of God or lack of understanding. But, not only has God shown us who He is in and through His creation, He has come and revealed Himself to us through the Advent (Latin for “coming”) or Incarnation (to embody something or to become human).
Why would God become man? Why would the Divine take on humanity? Why would absolute righteousness come and live in the midst of unrighteousness? Because He loved us SO much. He came to show us Himself but, even more, He came to redeem us to Himself. Today, like Paul, you can know, you can see, and you can hear Him. How? Join Mary and Joseph in knowing deep in their hearts what God promised. Join the Magi in seeing the fulfillment of those promises as the star appeared and join them in pursuing Him, regardless of cost or inconvenience. Join the shepherds as they heard the proclamation from God and then told everyone they encountered about what they had seen.