God’s Acts of Providence (37)

Becoming the Apostle Paul (4)

In Damascus

Acts 9:10-22

9 10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani’as. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Anani’as.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen a man named Anani’as come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

Ananias is an unknown character in the Christian story except for his role in bringing Christ’s instructions to the then confused and blinded man who would become the Apostle Paul.  Paul will recall him by name in Acts 22:12-16, which is the only other occurrence of his name in the New Testament.  And yet, to him Christ gave the candle that would set ablaze countless hearts, creating bonfires of love and hope that would overcome emperors, pagan gods and the hate that lives in each of us.  Was this not an errand of the greatest honor?

13But Anani’as answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.”

Who can blame Ananias for his skepticism?  To all outward appearances Saul was the least likely man in the world to which any Christian should want to go.

15But 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 sons of Israel; 16for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

These words must have shaken Ananias to the core.  How could this be?  And, why would the Lord chose such a man, a murderer, for this great role?  And, more, what’s this about the Gentiles and their kings?

It’s of the most signal importance that the last words spoken by our Lord about Paul’s ministry are that “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  I wonder if Ananias interpreted it as right justice for the evil that Saul had done to the Way?

In reality, it was an announcement of the new weapon of mass destruction of evil – suffering and weakness turned by Christ’s power into instruments of inexorable love.

It started at the Cross.  Peter and the other Disciples had understood it vaguely.  The Apostle Paul would work it out in flaming letters through his life and writings.  It’s still being worked out today in countries around the world where Christianity is persecuted – power and cruelty against weakness and suffering resulting in explosive growth of Christ’s Church.

We in the West have lost touch with this dynamic, so comfortable have we become in our privileged position.  And yet, to lose touch with this is to become disconnected from the beating heart of Christianity.  Perhaps we should ask ourselves what we have suffered, or are willing to, for the sake of Christ.  I fear this question as much as anyone else, but ask it I must.

17So Anani’as 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 that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, 19and took food and was strengthened.

Whatever were Ananias’ misgivings, they were overcome.  He was obedient to his Lord and Savior, trusting in His will.  What if Ananias had substituted his own judgment for that of his Lord’s?  Praise be to God that this is a moot question!

For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21And all who heard him were amazed, and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.” 22But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

This brief passage provides only a hint of the chaos that Saul’s conversion must have caused in the counsels of the Way’s enemies.  It takes only the slightest exercise of the imagination to see the Sanhedrin thrown into confusion and discord as they attempted in vain to understand this inexplicable turn of events while simultaneously dealing with the angry Roman authorities with whom they had coordinated.

Saul had been the linchpin of their plan to finally deal the deathblow to this insane but impossible to stop sect.  And now, he was reported to be one of its members!  Was this a new plan?  But Saul hadn’t cleared it with them!  Could it possibly be true?  Impossible!  And yet this sect had made a habit of delivering the impossible!  They were immobilized in a state of incomprehension, their credibility with their Roman masters in tattered shreds.

And the Way, it moved relentlessly forward.

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