Scripture: Job, chapter 5; Psalm 108; Acts, chapters 10-11
Acts 9:1-19 (ESV) – But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 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.
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.” 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.
Observations: This is another of those very familiar passages that we often skim through. We all know the story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, so what new thought or idea would we get from it? Well, as I was reading this passage today, I noticed some new details that I hadn’t really considered before. First, after Saul sees the blinding light and hears the Lord say “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Jesus goes on and says: “But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” I was struck by the parallel with God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12: “Go to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1, my paraphrase). The call to faith for Saul resembled the call to Abraham: Go, and I’ll tell you later what you should do. Although Saul (Paul) does not explicitly make that connection in his writings, I have to believe that he recognized the parallel. As a faithful Jew, a Pharisee who had studied the Scriptures, Paul would have recognized God’s pattern of calling people to faith.
The other thing that caught my attention today is the combination of chapters 9-10 of Acts, and the lengths to which God went to move forward with his purposes to extend the call to his kingdom to Gentiles as well as Jews. In his appearance to Ananias, Jesus says, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Then, chapter 10 is the account of how God revealed to Peter his purposes: “And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (10:28). “So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35). So in the course of these two chapters, Acts 9-10, God moves in dramatic fashion with the two most important figures of the early church – Peter and Paul – with the purpose of carrying the message of the Kingdom to the whole world. These two very Jewish men – one a disciple of Jesus from the beginning, the other a recent convert who had actively opposed “the Way” – were the instruments which God used to make clear to everyone that God’s Kingdom is for all who believe: “In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Application: I think sometimes we forget how transformational these events were in the life of the church. Up to that point, the proclamation of the Gospel was to Jews, converts to Judaism, and “God-fearers” who were familiar with Jewish law and Scripture. Now, however, the message of the Kingdom was going to go into “the ends of the earth,” just as Jesus had declared in Acts 1:8. But there were untold small acts of God behind the scenes both before and after these two transformational events which paved the way for them – and God works the same way today. There are occasionally those transformational events, but we should never lose sight of the thousands of small events that fill in the gaps – events like Jesus telling Ananias to go to Saul and lay hands on him, or believers being scattered throughout Judea and Samaria after Stephen’s death (Acts 7-8) – and our job is to make sure that we’re being obedient “in the gaps.”
Prayer: Father, I thank you that you still work in big, transformational ways when your purposes call for that – but you are always at work in the gaps, calling us to daily faithfulness as you work in and through us to proclaim the good news of your Kingdom. Help me today to recognize what you’re calling me to do, and how you want me to work “in the gaps,” that your Kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.