16 May 2017

Acts 9:1-20

“… for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the peoples of Israel.” (v. 15)

Psalm: Psalm 5:1-8


In the remaining passages this week from the Acts of the Apostles, we explore the theme of being 'sent to the nations', that is the process by which it comes to be understood that the gospel is not just for the faithful people of Israel, but includes the wider gentile world as well. We begin with the famous account of Saul's conversion on the Damascus road.

The story starts inauspiciously, as Saul was on his way there to continue that persecution of Christians (or 'followers of the Way' as they were known) which began following the stoning of Stephen at the beginning of chapter 8. But this all changed when a light from heaven flashes around him, he fell to the ground blinded, and heard a voice asking him, "Saul, Saul, why do persecute me?" (v. 4) and discovered that the one addressing him is none other than Jesus (verse 5).

The account of his conversion is told in vivid and dramatic terms. But it's worth noting that those accompanying Saul heard a voice but saw no-one else around; while as for Saul, he was blinded and could see nothing at all, and had to be led by the hand into Damascus (verse 8). However, while Saul remained sightless, there was another man, Ananias, one of the Christian community in Damascus, who had a vision in which he is asked to go to the place where Saul was staying and to lay hands on him so that he may recover his sight (verses 11-12).

Not surprisingly, in view of all that is known about Saul's persecution of the saints, Ananias' initial response is to demur from this task (verse 13). However, God persists in the request, telling Ananias that this man will be "an instrument to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and all the people of Israel". So Ananias did what God told him and visited the house. He laid hands on Saul and told him that he has been sent by the Lord Jesus so that he may "regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (v 17). This is just what happened, as scales fell from his eyes and his sight was restored. Saul was also baptized, and began to proclaim his new-found faith in Jesus in the synagogues, saying that "He is the Son of God" (v. 20).

Much is rightly made of the dramatic conversion of Saul from a persecutor of Christians to a proclaimer of Christ and it is a remarkable story. But equally remarkable is the faithful response and willingness to take a risk of Ananias. It would have been understandable and easier for him to refuse God's request and seek to protect his fellow disciples in Damascus. Yet in obedience to his vision, Ananias is willing to take that chance, to restore Saul to sight and so to enable that new start which will transform the story of the early Church.

To Ponder

  • How did you first come to faith? Was it a dramatic conversion like Saul or a more gradual process?
  • Have you ever felt called to take a 'risk' for the sake of the gospel?
  • What happened when you did - and how did other people respond?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.