In my experiences, the Sundays after Easter can feel sort of like, “Now what?” There’s so much build up to Easter Sunday, and rightfully so. I’m glad that there’s a day set aside to purposefully focus on and celebrate Christ’s resurrection and victory. But like any big event that people look forward to, when it’s over, it’s easy to feel like we’re returning to the mundane.
This is not the case at Vine. Last year (when we were called Abstract Church), we embarked on a new tradition of covering the book of Acts in the weeks following Easter. We’re continuing that tradition this year by picking up where we left off, which means we’ll be starting with Acts 9. (If you’re interested in listening to sermons from the first part of our series on Acts, you can find them in the archives on our website. If you happen to be interested in reading any blog posts from the first part of the series, you can find them under the Acts category of the Abstract blog.
Acts 9 is probably one of the most pivotal chapters in the Bible in terms of the history of the Church. It is when Saul meets Jesus.
Acts 8 leaves us with the stoning of Stephen and the full on persecution of the Church. We see that in the beginning of Acts 9 as well. “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found anyone who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2, NRSV).
I cannot fathom what it must have been like to deal with organizing and building up the early Church, let alone doing so with Saul hot on your trail and bloodlust in his eyes. Because Saul’s threats weren’t idle. Saul was a smart, powerful man. He was legally killing believers and picking up steam every time he did so. It would’ve seemed that Saul couldn’t be stopped.
By anyone other than God, that is.
Ordinances approved, Saul is on his way to Damascus when he sees a bright light. “He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?'” (vs. 3-5).
This is a prime example of Saul being smart. Saul is blinded by this flash and immediately knows it’s got something to do with God, which is why he addresses the speaker as “Lord.” He just doesn’t know who this Lord is.
“The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up, and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do'” (vs. 5-6).
In two sentences, we see a lot. First, Jesus identifies with the persecuted. Jesus has already died, rose again, and ascended, so in a literal sense, He is not being persecuted. He identifies with those who are being oppressed, with His followers. He could’ve just asked Saul why he hurt those He loved who loved Him back, but He doesn’t. He is intimately connected with His believers through love, and because of that, Saul hurt Jesus when he hurt the believers.
Second, this scripture proves that no one is bolder than Jesus. He doesn’t ask Saul if he, current enemy of God’s kingdom, is willing to rethink things and join His team. No, he tells Saul what to do. Saul, righteous killer extraordinaire. The man bold enough to ask permission to go to a town solely to kill people. He was no match for the boldness of Jesus.
So Saul gets up and goes. Being blind still, he is led by the hand to Damascus, where for three days, he had no sight, food, or drink. Meanwhile, a man named Ananias is asked by Jesus to go to Saul, who’d seen in a vision while praying that Ananias would come and lay hands on him so he could see again (vs. 8-12).
“But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name'” (vs. 13-14).
That is the polite way of saying, “You sure about that, God?” And what a normal response, right? Who among us wouldn’t have the same sentiments? Ananias is afraid, but what I love is that he’s not being judgmental. There’s no, “Really? This guy? After all he’s done, You’re going to offer him salvation too?” Ananias isn’t upset that God is extending salvation to Saul. He just doesn’t want to die.
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name'” (vs. 15-16).
Ananias gets a gigantic glimpse at God’s plan here. Jesus tells him how much this whole thing will expand by telling him where Saul will go. It’ll include the Gentiles, which was unprecedented at the time. It’ll include kings, which seemed wild given the then state of oppression against them. It’ll dig deeper where it already exists. And I’m almost overwhelmed just imagining how our dear Ananias must’ve felt. So valued yet so small. So loved and so humbled. So in awe of God.
Ananias goes to Saul. “He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'” Scale-like substances fell off his eyes, and Saul could see. He was baptized and ate to restore his strength (vs. 17-19).
Such faith and love are exhibited in Ananias addressing Saul as “brother.” How nice that must’ve been for Saul. Many others wouldn’t have given him such a warm welcome, even knowing what Ananias knew. And he was so reassuring to Saul. It’s a lovely example of accepting new believers, whom we may or may not like, into the kingdom.
This whole story is a perfect example of God’s love. We are specifically told that Jesus is hurt by Saul’s actions, yet that doesn’t stop Him from offering the very same grace that was offered to someone like kind Ananias, to someone like you and me.
Thank God that Saul didn’t get what he deserved on the road to Damascus. Sure, he eventually endured a lot for God and the gospel, but because of where his eternal home was, Saul never got what he deserved. He received the same salvation that I know so well myself. It’s forgiveness, mercy, and hope that means although we’re all unworthy, we’ll never receive the full extent of what we deserve.
Saul’s salvation is a big plot twist and a game changer, both in his life and the Church’s life. And so we see that we’re to have his devotion and Ananias’ humbleness and obedience as we pursue a closer relationship with God, who loves us immeasurably. This was a new beginning for Saul, and it should serve as a message of empowerment to us.
By Carrie Prevette