May 30 – Acts 9:1-19


This week we’ll meet someone we were introduced to three weeks ago: Saul. We last saw him when Stephen was being executed by a mob, which Saul observed with approval.(Acts 8:1) If you’re pretty familiar with the rest of Acts and Saul’s eventual conversion then it can be difficult to remember when Saul was actively promoting violence against Christians. But it was hard for Paul himself to forget this; he brings it up both in his letter to the Galatians and his first letter to the Corinthians, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”(1 Cor. 15:9) At this point in Acts 9, Saul’s main focus was stamping out what he saw as a heretical Jewish sect, and he was doing everything in his power to see to it, even traveling to other cities where the gospel had taken root to make sure he dug up every last bit.

But of course God had other plans. As Paul describes later to the Galatians, “he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”(Gal. 1:15-16a) Later Paul grasped that God had a plan to use him from before he was born, and was working Paul towards this purpose even while he was dragging Christians off to jail. And on the way to Damascus, on his way to continue his persecution campaign, God grabbed ahold of him. Paul’s story should be a regular reminder to us that no one is too far off for the sovereign power of the Lord. When we think about ourselves or the people in our lives who don’t follow Jesus, we should regularly remember that God can call anyone. What an amazingly gracious and powerful God we serve, a God who is both willing and able to transform vindictive, resistant people like Saul and like us in order to spread the good news of the gospel.

As an aside, this man named Saul in this passage will later go by Paul (starting in Acts 13:9). We typically think Paul was his new name after conversion, kind of like Abram was renamed Abraham, but note that in Acts 13:7, even after his conversion, he’s still called Saul. That’s because Saul was his Jewish name but Paul was his Greco-Roman name, kind of like Jesus was Yeshua to his Jewish friends and Iasous to his Greek friends. Once Saul started ministering primarily to Gentiles he started just going by Paul, a clear sign of his identification with his mission field.

But back to Acts 9, where there’s another person worth looking at: Ananias. Interestingly, God chose to use both a dramatic event on the road to Damascus and this faithful brother to convert Saul. Comically, Ananias is hesitant when he receives his mission from God to go to Saul. He almost asks God, “Are you sure you want me to go to him?” But God’s response gives us some piercing insight into the situation; he calls Saul his “chosen instrument,” underscoring God’s ability to make his enemies his servants, but he also introduces the concept of suffering to Saul’s call. For clarity, this suffering isn’t payback, and God isn’t balancing Paul’s karma scales since Paul caused so much pain in the church. What this tells us is that suffering is a general component of what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus, but that suffering was also a unique hallmark of Paul’s ministry, which served to show the transcendent power of the God he served because God’s power was made perfect in his weakness.(2 Cor. 12:9)

Lastly, there’s a really important thing that Ananias said to Saul. He called him brother. In that simple address is a world of transformation. Here Ananias stood in front of a man who would’ve thrown him in prison last week. But because of God’s glorious ability to resurrect the hearts of those far off from him, Ananias can come to Saul and call him brother. This should be another point of reassurance as we think about how God has likewise called us to proclaim good news to the far off. Even the last person we could ever see being changed by the gospel, even this person we could one day call brother or sister. Let the Paul, the murderer become Apostle, reassure us, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”(Rom. 1:16a)

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Acts 9:1-19 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• Why do you think God wanted to make Saul a “chosen instrument”?

• What do you think those three days were like for Saul?

• Why do you think God wanted to use Ananias in this story?

• What fears or hesitations do you have about talking about Jesus with others?

• How can this passage help you process those fears or hesitations?

• What can this passage tell us about how Jesus saves people?