About the Journey 9 - from Kerry

About the Journey - Acts 9:1-31 - from Kerry Flemington

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.
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.
Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I've heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name's sake.”
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
All who heard him were amazed. “Isn't this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus" followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn't he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”
Saul's preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn't refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.
When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.
So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown.
The church then 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 9:1-31

As I've been reading and studying through Acts, I am beginning to recognize a pattern emerging of sidebar characters.  I characterize them as such because theirs aren't the names that I readily think of as I go through the New Testament.  Yet their faith and obedience has a profound effect on the trajectory of the more well-known stories and characters.
Ananias is one such person.  He is very aware of who Saul is and has heard, along with his fellow believers, that Saul is on his way to Damascus, their hometown, to continue his brutal persecution of Jews that have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  Saul oversaw the vicious stoning of Stephen at the hands of the religious elite.  Imagine a modern day equivalent - a gathering of highly regarded church leaders who become so blind with rage with what they deem as blasphemy that they brutalize another human so badly that he dies from his injuries - “And Saul agreed that the killing was good”.  It boggles my mind as to what that would look like today.
And here Ananias is - tasked with going to pray over this person to restore his eyesight.  God doesn't fill him in about why he's blind or what happened on that road.  But he does say this: “[Saul] is at a house on Straight Street and he's praying. He'll be expecting you”.
He's praying.  
To whom?  Who could my enemy possibly be praying to?  Theologically speaking, he is praying to the God of Abraham, the same God that Ananias is praying to, and at this particular moment, is conversing with.  He's not praying to a pagan god or an idol.  Saul isn't a foreigner within Israel oppressing the Jews like the Romans are. They are both praying to the Living God - Yahweh.
I think about this in our highly divided, divisive times, not only in the world around us but within the church.  Here are two people, both praying to a God who they are trying to honour and obey.  For one of them, however, life has been illuminated by the saving grace of Christ's death on the cross.  And so God calls this man, in the shadow of the cross, to go across town and pray for his enemy who is from within the church.
I'm not sure many of us would respond.  I think we'd more likely want to stone each other with Bible verses than pray over each other.  There is so little grace in our interactions with people we disagree with, especially fellow believers.  At the core, I think it's because we don't want to do anything that dishonours God.  We don't want to misrepresent his truth.  But in doing so, we don't trust in his Grace or what he is perhaps doing in the life of the other person.
God does give Ananias a glimpse into what he's doing in Saul's life, after Ananias protests.  But we're not all guaranteed that.  We often won't ever know the full picture of what God is doing in another person's life and how God might be using us within their story.  But if our focus is on ourselves and the preservation of what we can see and therefore believe, we will only stand in the way of God being able to use us.  We might believe in grace for ourselves but our faith will not be big enough to believe that God's grace is sufficient for the other person.  We may even have enough insight to recognize our own faith struggles, but when other people's faith struggles are different, those, for some reason, don't count and don't deserve grace.  What Ananias knew, and what allowed him to go across town and pray for his brother, was that essentially both he and Saul were the same - both in desperate need of God's grace made available through Jesus" sacrifice on the cross.  Ananias already understood what Saul was still coming to.  And that made all the difference - if God's grace was sufficient, then it was sufficient both for him and for someone as awful as Saul.  Therefore, it was Grace that set him free from his own hesitation and fears, and allowed him to step out in obedience even when he didn't see the full picture.  He trusted that God knew and that was enough.

you can connect directly with Kerry at kerry@arnuthill.com

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