Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 11 (weeks 41–44; October 14—November 4, 2018) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Image: Ananias cures Saul’s blindness; a 1660 painting by Ciro Ferri, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Lesson Aim: Even when people are doing their very worst, God can mercifully intervene.
By Mark Scott
Acts 9 is a bridge chapter. The gospel had spread to the Samaritans, and, through the Eunuch, to Ethiopia as well (Acts 8). But for the gospel to spread to the Gentile world (Acts 10) leadership would be key. Acts 9 is about the two leaders of the early church, Peter and Paul. Peter was the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:8), but he opened the door of the church to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, but when he entered a city he consistently went to the Jewish synagogue (Acts 13:5). Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (vv. 1-20) and some of the early miracles of Peter (vv. 32-43). These two men were the pillars that held up the bridge so that all nations could cross over to God.
In a manner of speaking, both leaders needed a conversion. Saul would have to be converted to move from persecutor to preacher. And Peter would need to be reconverted to move from announcing that God would pour out his Spirit on all people (Acts 2:16-21) to really embracing the idea (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-17). There was another person who would need a conversion of sorts, and that was Ananias. Each of these men needed a paradigm shift.
Paradigm Shift 1: From Seeing to Blind | Acts 9:1-9
These verses cannot be overstated. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus was so significant that Luke repeated the story (giving additional details each time) three times (9:1-20; 22:3-21; 26:2-23). Paul also told his story in some of his letters (Galatians 1:13-16; 1 Timothy 1:12-17).
Saul had already been introduced into the narrative (Acts 7:58; 8:1, 3). He disappeared from the narrative while the gospel spread to Samaria, but now he returned and became a major player in the drama of redemptive history. Saul was sincere but sincerely wrong. He believed he was right and the Christians were wrong. In reality he was blind and the early disciples had 20/20 vision. Saul continued his persecution of Christians by asking for letters (warrants of arrest) to the synagogues in Damascus (one of the oldest cities in the world and mentioned in our text five times). Saul helped expand the geographic persecution of those who belonged to the Way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Saul no doubt headed out of Jerusalem through the Damascus Gate. While nearing Damascus a light from heaven flashed around him. It was about noon (Acts 26:13), but this light was not the light from the sun—it was from Heaven. In God’s tender mercy Saul was confronted for his persecution of Christians. To hurt a believer is to hurt Christ. Jesus has great solidarity with his people and does not take lightly to their persecution. Jesus repeated Saul’s name twice (emphasis?). This would get even the most stoic person’s attention. God told Saul to go (a word that appears three times in our text) into the city. Saul’s companions heard something, but they were not privy to the visionary part of the Christophany. Paul opened his eyes but was blind and remained that way for three days. He even imposed a fast, no doubt to contemplate what all of this meant. He would experience a new paradigm.
Paradigm Shift 2: From Objection to Compliance | Acts 9:10-20
Saul was not the only one who experienced a paradigm shift. A Christian living in Damascus by the name of Ananias (not the same as Acts 5:3 or 23:2) also had one. The Lord commissioned Ananias to go to Saul and further bring about his conversion and heal his eyes. God was even working ahead of Ananias by giving Saul a vision about Ananias. The Lord gave Ananias the name of the home owner as well as the street (Straight Street is in Damascus to this day).
Ananias had good reason to object to the Lord’s commission. He had heard reports of Saul’s “bad deeds” toward believers. He was also aware of the current mission Saul was on with letters from the high priest. But the Lord repeated his command for Ananias to go and mentioned three things about Saul: (1) His chosenness (even though he could elect to say no to it—Acts 26:19). (2) His mission (preaching to the Gentiles, Roman officials, and Israel). (3) His suffering (Saul would have his own passion experience).
Ananias complied, went, laid his hands on Saul, and healed him. He probably baptized him into Christ. Saul ended his fast, spent time with the Damascus believers, and started his mission of preaching. One can be sincere and be sincerely wrong, but God’s tender mercy can turn even terrorists into believers.
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