Saul, one of the great leaders of the fledgling church, was miraculously converted on the road to Damascus (he was planning to imprison some of the new believers and was “imprisoned” by Christ Jesus!). Saul/Paul was blinded for three days, reminding us of the three days Jonah was in the whale for his disobedience and the three days Jesus was in the tomb for our disobedience.
What an amazing official calling! Ananias wasn’t thrilled about what God had to say (at first), but notice how he questioned – and then obeyed.
“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. Acts 9:10-19 (ESV)
It’s okay to question God. It’s really okay to make sure that we hear His voice. Ananias probably wanted to make sure he heard correctly (I’ve had those “are you talking to ME, God?” moments – have you?). He needed to know that what he heard was from God. Once Ananias was certain that it was God’s direction, he obeyed.
We learn a lot through Paul’s conversion. First, for those of us who feel like we are just an obscure or unimportant part of the body – look at Ananias. We hear of him only here, yet his actions played a big part in the ongoing work of the early church. Ananias also shows us that we shouldn’t be afraid to obey God. We see God’s balance in this story. Paul was saved through a bright light and a voice from heaven, but the regaining of Paul’s sight was accomplished by an ordinary man. And finally, it’s important that we never underestimate the value of one person who comes to Christ. Peter and Phillip ministered to thousands, but Ananias was sent to only one man. You never know who you are speaking to. Is the next great preacher or evangelist sitting in the cubicle across the way, not knowing the realities of the Gospel?
Paul is a great picture of repentance. He IMMEDIATELY changed his ways and instead of persecuting the members of The Way, he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues. Of course, this didn’t sit well with the church elders and Paul had to escape Damascus.
Paul returns to Jerusalem and tries to join the disciples. They were understandably cautious. It wasn’t too long ago that this guy was trying to kill them! It took Barnabas’ testimony to reassure the disciples that Paul was really converted.
We hear a lot about church growth – seems like everyone wants bigger numbers in their churches. We make programs, plans, projects. We study and budget and have committee meetings and do all sorts of stuff. However, the early church gave us the best model for church growth. Perhaps all we need is to follow this plan – God’s plan – and we would see our churches overflow!
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31 (ESV)
God’s angels were certainly busy in the early days of the church! Peter was arrested, but then rescued by an angel. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, and naturally assumes that he is having a vision. Once he got to the gates that opened by themselves, he begins to understand what’s happened.
He heads to Mary’s house, and here we see a little humor. The disciples and others had been praying for Peter’s release. When Peter pounds on the door, the servant girl is so surprised to see him that she leaves him outside and goes to tell the others. God could release Peter from a jail cell, but Peter couldn’t get himself into the prayer meeting to testify! Of course, it wasn’t so funny then. Every moment Peter was outside was a moment he could have been discovered.
Paul and Barnabas begin their missionary journeys. As Paul preached, we see that he tailored the message to the hearers. To the Jews, he spoke of the Scriptures pointing to Jesus. To the Gentile, Paul discussed the God of creation and His goodness to all nations. No matter the starting point, the ending point was faith in the Lord Jesus. When you talk to people, it’s unnecessary to use a “formula”. Talk to the person from the point of their own knowledge. God will help you!
It’s interesting to see how people’s perceptions changed very quickly during some of Paul’s ministry.
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. Acts 14:8-19 (ESV)
The people’s reaction came from local folklore which told that Zeus and Hermes visited Lystra incognito and asked for food and lodging. Everyone turned them away except Philemon and Baucis. The gods took revenge by drowning everyone but those two in a flood, and they turned the cottage into a temple. The Lystrans didn’t want to repeat the “mistake”.
Look at Paul’s message to these people. They were pagan and had no knowledge of Old Testament prophecies, so Paul appealed to their knowledge of the universe as proof of God’s existence.
Paul and Barnabas could have lived the remainder of their lives as Zeus and Hermes, but they proclaimed the Gospel … and the adulation turned into anger. Paul was stoned and left for dead, but despite his injuries, he pressed on. God never promised Paul, or us, an easy Christian walk.
Tomorrow we will read the book of James which is believed to be written at about this time in Paul’s ministry. I look forward to continuing through these last six weeks of study and reading. See you tomorrow.