Isaiah 40:25-31, Acts 9:17-31
August 7, 2011
Today I’m having us look at the end of the story of Saul. Actually, we might say this is the beginning. And of course, it is the beginning of a lot of things! But this is the end of Saul’s “conversion” story – and his “old life.” Soon a new chapter would be opened in his life, and he would have a new name, Paul. When he wrote later about our “old nature” and our “new nature,” he knew that contrast was vivid in his life!
So here we have this man named Ananias. And he’s been told by God to go and find a man named Saul and minister to him. Well, right away, Ananias knew who God meant! And as I said last week, his first words are those of protest. “Wait a minute, God! You can’t be serious! We know this guy! Don’t you know what he’s been doing?” (as if God didn’t know!) And he proceeded to tell God exactly what was said before about Saul’s “mission” in Damascus, how he had come there with papers to arrest them all. So, he knew! They all knew! But, as we pick up our reading for today, Ananias goes anyway. And he finds Saul, just as God said he would. And Saul is blinded, fearful, confused, and probably a lot of other things.
So Ananias greets him. “Brother Saul!” he said. Now just think about that. Those are some of the bravest words in the New Testament! They’re probably the first words this man ever spoke to this mortal enemy of the church. And it was “Brother Saul.” That’s amazing! We could stop there and that would be enough! But think what that greeting meant to Saul! He was blind. He didn’t know what was going on! He didn’t know what was going to happen next! So to be greeted as a brother at that moment, by one of the people he was sent to arrest, was huge!! I’ve never thought about that before, but I think that alone was a big part of this life changing experience for Saul. And as you think about that, think about how our approach to other people affects the way they respond to us! Only when we reach out with love and respect can we touch hearts!
That’s what Ananias did. In a sense, he “took Saul in.” He was not there just to restore his vision, and then leave. He “took him in” and “ministered to him.” And then he would take him to the believers and introduce him. And again, we can’t imagine what that was like! I have to think that when he brought Saul into the gathering – this mortal enemy – a gasp had to have gone through the crowd! Someday I’d like to do a study of the gasps in the Bible. Think about that. Think about the time Jesus reached out and touched the man with leprosy, in order to heal him. That must have produced a huge gasp! No one would touch a leper!!
So there was Saul, standing with Ananias, in the company of the believers. And as I said before, that was just the sort of tactic an enemy might use to find them. That was his “mission” after all, wasn’t it? He was there to find the believers and arrest them. So what better strategy than to pose as one of them and get himself taken to their gathering?!
It’s amazing to think what that was like for the believers that day. But of course, all of this was life-changing for Saul. He was knocked to the ground, he was blinded, he was led by the hand into Damascus, and after three days, he felt the touch of this man and heard his friendly voice. And Saul knew God was doing something with him. He was changed completely! In his later writings, as he would express his regret for persecuting the church, and as he did, I’m sure he thought back constantly to this one moment, when Ananias greeted him “Brother Saul!
Then of course, Saul regained his sight. I think it’s very hard to imagine what that was like! Last week I suggested that the expression “seeing the light” probably came from the story of the blinding light on the Damascus road. Well, I also think another expression we use, the expression “eye opening experience,” probably comes from this story!
Look at this description as Luke describes it here. He says it was like “scales falling from his eyes.” Well, I’d like us to think about those “scales.” I’d like us to consider them as representing the things that blinded Saul – things that blinded him from seeing who Jesus really was. For Saul, that may have been something like his pride – pride that kept him from listening to this young rabbi. Or it may have been the traditions and teachings that gave little credence to the notion of a “Suffering Messiah.” Or it may have simply been the certainty in his own mind that Jesus couldn’t possibly be legitimate. I like to think of those things being represented by the scales before his eyes. And those things “fell away” in the light of God’s power! I like that analogy!
So then let me ask you this. Do we ever have “scales before our eyes?” I almost used that as the title for this message. (Maybe I should have!) Because I think it helps to illustrate this story, and to see how it relates to us. What would those things be for us? What would be the scales before our eyes. What are the things that keep us from seeing God, or from “seeing what God can do?”
I’m not sure I can be very specific about that, because this is a personal thing. But think about it. Maybe for you it’s a feeling of doubt about God. Maybe it’s a personal experience where you feel God has “let you down,” and you don’t know if you can trust him like you once could. Maybe it’s a reluctance to be challenged by something God might call you to do and to be. Maybe it’s a matter of your wanting to be in total control of your life, and you don’t want a God “interfering” with that. So you keep him at “arm’s length.” Maybe you’ve allowed only a certain image of God in your mind, and you don’t want to look any farther because a God that is “far beyond you” is scary. Maybe it’s other things like fear, or anger, or some other emotion. Maybe those are some of the “scales” before your eyes.
I want you to think about that today. Because we all have some sort of “scales before our eyes.” We all have things that make it hard for us to see God, or to see what God can do. Try to imagine that. Try to get that vision in your mind’s eye of those “scales.” God is there before you, but seeing him is a bit hazy. He’s obscured by those things that are “in the way,” things that impede your vision of him.
We all have those things. I know I do! And I struggle with them all the time. I hope you struggle with them, too. Because I think people who don’t struggle with them often don’t believe those scales are there! But they are! And I want us to have the courage to think about them. I think that’s part of what Paul was thinking later when he wrote “For now we see in a mirror dimly. But then we shall see face to face.” (I Corinthians 13) He knew what it was like to see God only in a small way through the “scales” of his own prejudice and pride.
So, Ananias laid his hands on Saul, and he said, “Saul, receive your sight!” And in that moment, he gave him the challenge to see what God can do!” I believe there was an intentionality there. And the same thing happens with us. We need to choose to see God better. That doesn’t happen all by itself. We need to be intentional about it.
Now, I know I say that kind of thing a lot. But I think we need to hear it a lot. Life is about those kinds of choices. A big example I like to use is the interplay between our emotions and our intellect. The world wants to tell us that it’s ok just to “go with our feelings.” But life is about keeping those feelings in check. It’s about choosing to “temper” our feelings with our intellect! But that’s not easy! Because feelings are very powerful! If we aren’t reminded of it constantly, if we don’t practice that control, our feelings will get the better of us every time!
So, we seek to control the feeling of fear with the choice to be courageous. We seek to control our feelings of anger and vengeance with the choices of restraint, forgiveness, and grace. We seek to control the feelings of attraction and infatuation with the choice of loyalty to the ones we love. We seek to control the feelings of desire in the material world with the choices of prudence and self control. (Though every advertiser in the world is trying to get us not to!)
Life – and faith – is about deciding and acting, rather than feeling and reacting. We have a word today that describes that. It’s the word “proactive.” Some people make that sound like it’s a new word. And perhaps it is a new word. But it’s an old concept. “Pro-active” is the opposite of “re-active.” It means deciding ahead of time what we’re going to do, as opposed to “reacting” to things when they hit us.
So, we need to be pro-active in our faith. We need to be intentional about what we do. We need to “decide” to be courageous to look at ourselves honestly, to recognize the things that keep us from seeing God, and to work to remove those “scales before our eyes.” We need to decide that we’re going to strive to see what God can do, rather than doubting his power and thinking only of what he can’t.
That takes a lot of thought. It means taking a good honest look at ourselves. It means thinking about what those scales before our eyes might be. It means letting go of those things that keep us from seeing what God can do. It means deciding to be “proactive” in our faith. I hope you’ll do that with me! It is a lifelong process – a journey – towards knowing God better. And it involves having the courage to know ourselves better!
Eternal God, help us to see your power in our world and in our lives. Help us to know what you can do, to trust your power, and to decide to follow you and be the people you want us to be. Remove those scales before our eyes, that we may see more clearly your glory. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.