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Monday, April 15, 2013

Acts 9: Saved to Serve

Saved to Serve

Acts 9:8

What has gone before...

Saul, "breathing threats and murder", traveled to Damascus to rout Jewish Christians. His mind and heart were engorged with lust for violent, crushing punishment of people he regarded as traitors to Judaism, idolaters of a false god.

The writer of the Book of Acts described Christians as ones "belonging to the Way", reminding all of us to see our life as a road, with many changes in terrain and direction, but leading to a greatly desired destination.

Midway on his chosen road of retribution, Saul was brought to his knees with physical blindness and spiritual clarity. The Jesus he had sought to grind into forgotten history was suddenly very real, and very persuasive.

Moving on...

Blind, perhaps confused, probably frightened and emotionally spent, Saul seemed near death:

"Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank." Acts 9:8-9 (ESV)

There is no indication that Saul was aware of anything or anyone near him. He refused food and drink. To others he probably appeared nothing more than a silent, weak and blind enemy of Christ. But inside, great changes were happening.

Later in his life Saul (also called Paul) encountered a man violently opposed to Christ, just as he had been. The man, Elymas the magician, experienced a similar crisis of conversion:

Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, - You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time. - Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand." Acts 13:9-11 (ESV)

Mist and darkness...this likely was similar to what Paul experienced during those three days.

Paul's loss of sight seems to be directly connected with the work he would soon be doing. At the moment of the brilliant, blinding light, Jesus spoke directly to Paul:

"I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God." Acts 26:17-18 (ESV)

To effectively help others, Paul would temporarily experience physically what people were experiencing spiritually: blindness.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • What physical ailment or injury have you suffered that could compare with a spiritual condition?
  • To whom do you feel a special connection, or a special concern and empathy?
  • Is that connection due, in part, to a physical sickness or weakness that you've experienced?
  • In what way might God burn even a severe physical or mental disability into a reason for joy?

While Saul sat in his blindness, God spoke to a man named Ananias:

"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." Acts 9:10 (ESV)

ANANIAS: Ananias "an-an-EE-as" from Hebrew hananyahu (Jah has favored); from hanan (to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow or implore) and yah (contracted for Yehovah, the sacred name); from hana (to incline or decline, to pitch a tent or encamp) and yhwh (the self-Existent or Eternal; Jewish national name of God; from haya (to exist, be, become or come to pass)

Ananias carried a heavy name, a name weighted with service to God and allegiance to Judaism. Two other men in the New Testament are named Ananias. One, married to Sapphira, attempted to defraud the early Christian community (Acts 5:1). The other was the high priest who would later strike Paul on the mouth for claiming to have lived a life of good conscience (Acts 23:2).

The one man traded the value of his name in order to gain wealth above others. The other depended upon his name to secure power over others.

Who was the third Ananias, this man told by God to help Paul? Paul described him as "a devout man...well-spoken of by all the Jews." (Acts 22:12)

Ananias was a disciple of Christ, despite remaining on good terms with the Jews in Damascus. It seems likely that Ananias would have been at the top of Paul's list of "usual suspects" as he was headed to Damascus to arrest Christians. The Jews in Damascus certainly had heard of the conversion of Ananias...Jews would not have spoken well of someone they didn't know, describing him as "a devout man". And if Ananias was well known to the Jewish community, they would certainly have heard of his conversion to the Way.

Without offending the Jews in Damascus, Ananias had become a Christian.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • How did Ananias avoid offending the Jews?
  • What must happen in order for a Christian to get along with a community of non-Christians?

In a vision the Lord spoke directly to Ananias:

"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." Acts 9:11-12 (ESV)

This word from God frightened Ananias:

"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." Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

EVIL: kakos "kak-OS" (intrinsically worthless, depraved or injurious)

"Evil" describes the essential character of Saul's actions in Jerusalem. The writer of the Book of Acts might have chosen another word that is also translated as "evil": poneros, meaning hurtful in effect or influence. But the word used to describe Paul's actions implies that his violence was entirely without mercy, without good purpose.

Paul's angry pride resulted in evil consequences because his angry pride was evil in nature.

The response of Ananias to the Lord was natural, but it was faithless. His response implied that the Lord had not heard of Saul's savagery, or that the Lord did not know that Ananias had heard of it. His response implied that the Lord did not know of the warrants for arrest approved by the chief priests. His fear revealed his inward belief that the Lord was asking something foolish or ignorantly.

Yet the Lord did not rebuke Ananias. More, the Lord revealed more of His plan for Saul, assuring Anania that all was going according to plan.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • What similarities can you see between the weak, human response of Ananias to our own prayer at times?
  • Is it better to consider carefully what we're feeling before attempting to voice prayer aloud with others?
  • Should we attempt to reshape our concerns into conformity with faith, in a form that better represents God as Sovereign, with all things under His control?

The Lord ordered Ananias to trust and obey:

"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." Acts 9:15-16 (ESV)

The Lord did not assure Ananias that Saul was "safe", or that there remained no danger now from Saul. But He did assure Ananias that He was in control of Saul, that Saul was a "chosen instrument".

CHOSEN: ekloge "ek-log-AY" (divine selection); from eklego (to select); from ek (origin, from, out) and lego (to "lay" forth, to relate in words, in a systematic or set discourse)

INSTRUMENT: skeuos "SKYOO-os" (a vessel, implement, equipment or apparatus; specially a wife, as contributing to the usefulness of the husband)

Saul was selected by the Lord to act as a vessel or tool, especially suited to "carry" an important cargo: The Name.

CARRY: onoma "ON-om-ah" (a "name", literal or figurative; authority or character); from ginosko (to "know" absolutely)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  • At what point in life did Saul become an "instrument" of God? Before, or after his blindness on the road to Damascus?
  • What is the difference between "labeling" and "naming" a thing?
  • What is the Lord's "name"?

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