Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Digging Deeper: The God Who Speaks to Saul and Ananias

A man named Saul began to destroy the church, and went from house to house dragging people to prison. 

But those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 

We first encounter Saul right as the great persecution starts to break out against the church in Jerusalem. He is standing there watching the religious leaders stone Stephen to death, and he is nodding his head in approval. He believed that this Jesus movement needed to be stopped. While he himself didn’t throw any rocks at Stephen, he approved of his death, and stood there and watched everybody’s coats for them while they did their dirty work.

Now Saul was making his way from Jerusalem for Syrian Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus, with the intention of returning them to Jerusalem as prisoners for questioning and possible execution.

But the journey is interrupted when Saul sees a blinding light, and communicates directly with a divine voice, which says to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul asks, “Who are you, Lord?”

And the voice says, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless

They heard the sound but did not see anyone.

Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.

So they led him by the hand into Damascus.

For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Just off of the Damascus Road, Saul would have walked past a temple dedicated to Caesar and to the belief that “Caesar is Lord.” So it is fitting, that it is in this location that Saul meets the true Lord, Jesus.

The account continues with a description of Ananias of Damascus receiving a divine revelation instructing him to visit Saul at the house of Judas on Straight Street and there lay hands on him to restore his sight.

Ananias is initially reluctant, having heard about Saul's persecution, but obeys the divine command. 

God tells Ananias that he has chosen this man to be is chosen instrument, to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles, and even to the kings of the Gentiles.

Placing his hands on Saul, Ananias said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.

He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 

He stays with the believers in Damascus for awhile, and right away he starts preaching Jesus in the synagogues. And he quickly makes new enemies for changing his loyalties to Jesus and the Church. In fact, he gets so unpopular, that the people of the city try to kill by setting up an ambush. But the church finds out about it and in the middle of the night, they make him climb into a basket and they lower him with ropes from the wall of the city in order to sneak past the ambush and escape to Jerusalem.

When he gets to Jerusalem, he visits the disciples and they are afraid of him and they think he’s pulling some trick to try and get them all arrested. But Barnabas embraces him, and eventually the others accept him as well.

And so Saul, the great persecutor of the Church, later changes his name to Paul, and becomes the most famous missionary of the Church, spreading the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, and even, according to tradition, to Caesar Nero himself in Rome… who beheaded him.

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