Today’s Reading: Acts 9:1-31
The first two verses of Acts 9 show us just how vile a man Saul was. We know Saul witnessed the death of Stephen, agreeing completely with the stoning. Now we see the level at which he is participating in the persecution of those who believe in Jesus.
Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2
This man was evil. His heart was full of hatred and an eagerness to protect Jewish law to the extent that he was willing to see the followers of Jesus die. He not only wanted it, he wanted to be the one to do it. Hopefully this paints a picture that explains just how much the believers in the early Church would have feared Saul. But God was not afraid of Saul. He loved him and had a plan for his life. Saul was in pursuit of the Christians but God was in pursuit of him!
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink. – Acts 9:3-9
Imagine Ananias’ fear when God spoke to him in a vision telling him to go and lay his hands on Saul. After hearing terrible things about this man and his plans, Ananias now was being commissioned by God to go to Saul, heal him, baptize him and help him receive the Spirit. Because he chose to obey God instead of reacting to his own emotions, Ananias played a key role in the conversion of Saul from a villain to an instrument to take God’s message to the Gentiles and to Kings, as well as to the people of Israel (Acts 9:15).
Things were not automatically easy for Saul. The believers were still afraid of him, not trusting his motives or conversion. The Jews who had been delighted in Saul’s plan to persecute Christians were now angry with him and plotting to kill him. Like Ananias, another man stood in the gap for Saul. Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them of Saul’s conversion and the way in which he had been preaching boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.
Ananias responded to God in obedience and God used him in the life of Saul. Barnabas stood beside this new believer, supporting the call he had received from God to preach the gospel. Because these two men were willing to be used by God and to mentor Saul in his first steps as a new Christian, the entire Church benefited and many more became believers.
The church had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers. – Acts 9:31
So what will God do with our obedience today? Who does God want us to come alongside and what will be the long-term results of our willingness to be used by God? Are we going to choose our ministry today or allow God to direct our paths? Are we going to hide from our villains or pursue them in love?
God, give us eyes to see those around us as YOU see them. Help us to see even the vilest offender as someone you love and whom you are pursuing for your purposes. Use us, Oh Lord!