The first mention of Saul – later to be known as Paul – is found in Acts 7:58, witnessing and approving the stoning of Stephen. Which was merely the start of a “great persecution” of the newly established church in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1) To avoid it’s savagery, many believers fled to the surrounding countryside and cities. (Acts 9:1) Luke reintroducing Saul into the narrative by noting the “murderous threats” he was making against those who belonged to the Way and his desire to go to Damascus, with the High Priests blessing, to capture and imprison anyone found faithful to Christ.
But as Saul neared his destination, he was suddenly confronted by a blinding light that drove him to the ground; from whence he heard a voice questioning, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Emphasizing the point of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 25:31-46 “Whatever you did – or did not do – for one of the least of these. You did – or did not do – for (or to) me.”) To which Paul replied, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice explaining, “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 were struck speechless, having seen the light and hearing a sound, but seeing no one. They were further perplexed by Paul, who upon getting up from the ground, was found to be blind. Confused as to what this all might mean, they led him on to his destination where they all waited to see what would happen next; Paul fasting and praying. Which is what most of us would expect. An experience like that would drive virtually all of us to our knees, even those who rarely pray for guidance about anything; the distraction of food and drink and most everything else becoming secondary to the over-riding desire to figure out what has happened and why – and how to fix it!
The life of a faithful, orthodox Jew was filled with prayer, from conception to the end of their lives. Some of their earliest memories being that of a mother crooning prayers of thanksgiving and praise in their ears, the daily routine of prayer – three designated times a day – being imprinted on their minds and character from the earliest possible moments. Besides which there were the feast day prayers commemorating great accomplishments of the past and representing their hopes for the future, synagogue prayers etc., etc. Taking it one step further, Paul – as a Pharisee – would have routinely worn his prayer shawl while going about his business and when called to prayer, would have done so publicly, as any “separated one” would. (See mat. 6:5)
And yet, we may pose the question: Had he ever really prayed – at least like this – before? Were his previous prayers similar to the one Jesus spoke of in Luke 18:9-14, pious but ineffectual, self-centered and self-promoting; not bearing fruit till it could be refocused to, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
When that happened, Ananias – a disciple of the Lord in Damascus – was told in a vision to go to Saul who was the guest of a man named Judas on Straight Street, there to place his hands on Saul in prayer, restoring his sight. It was at this point of complete vulnerability that Saul’s life was changed, that he was willing to allow it to be changed. Self-assurance gone, his notion of self-reliance forcefully altered, Paul was led to an emptying of self that allowed for the filling of something – or someone – else.
Ananias, fearful of Saul as a result of reports of what he had approved in Jerusalem and was now authorized to do in his hometown, was hesitant. After being reassured by Christ that Paul was chosen by God to minister to Jews and Gentiles alike and that this incident had taken place as a means of showing Saul all he would be assigned to do – and suffer (Acts 9:15,16 & Acts 22:1-16); Ananias did as he was instructed. Subsequently instructing Paul to be baptized for the remission of his sins and the filling of the Holy Spirit – allowing him to really see! Preparing him, in part, for a vigorous ministry proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah of all men; the very fact of which he had so vehemently denied before.
What an illustration of God’s purposes triumphing over men’s desire; of mercy and grace conquering self-centered sin. What an example of faith and faithfulness Saul would become as Paul. One worthy of emulation by us all.
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