We are coming into a new section in Acts.
Something is happening as we move into Acts 9: the rebuilding of qualifications. Today, Jesus’ interaction with Saul breaks all expectations.
This is the salvation moment of Saul. But this is so much more than a “testimony” of a guy that had been bad. This is the qualification of Saul. Not just for the eyes of Saul to see. Not just for the heart of Saul to feel.
This is for the community. This is for the culture. And, in turn, this is for us. The qualifying of Saul.
Remember Saul--he approved of Stephen’s stoning:
And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts 8:1)
He was systematically trying to destroy the church:
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:3)
Today we come to a plot twist--a moment where the enemy of who you have become is now on your team.
What did this mean? What did this change? How did this shift perspective and reality? How did this impact how they saw themselves? How did this impact how they saw others?
Yes, this was the salvation of Saul--but it was also so much bigger than that. The same questions are still pleading to be dealt with:
What does this mean? What does this change? How does this shift my perspective and reality? How does this impact how I see myself? How does this impact how I see others?
To help us get there, we are going to come to a shared starting point through some dialogue and then process the text together and walk towards those questions together.
Imagine that you are hiring a personal assistant, paying someone very well in order to help you with everything you do. What are some of the qualifications you’re looking for?
What are some traits of the person you are looking for?
What are your experience requirements?
What are your educational minimum requirements?
What skills are you looking for?
What X factor are you looking for?
Can you start to feel it? This person that you are going to be able to pay well is going to change your world, making life easier, fixing a lot of things, helping, doing so much.
But now something happens. I hired someone for you. And they don’t check any of your boxes. Look at your list and know that all of that is meaningless now. I hired the wrong person for you!
And here is the real problem: there is nothing you can do. They are now your personal assistant for a year. Have some fun with this conversation:
How would someone like you deal with having a terrible personal assistant for one year?
Today we come to the moment of Saul’s conversion. We are walking towards the questions we already listed: What does this mean? What does this change? How does this shift my perspective and reality? How does this impact how I see myself? How does this impact how I see others?
There is a complexity that I want us to struggle with before I go into the story. We have built some perspective of the hiring process, some conversation and thought about building standards, and then some conversation about the standards being tossed out.
How do you process an adjustment to qualifications that now qualifies you?
How do you process an adjustment to qualifications that broadly brings people to your level?
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:1-31)
Saul was a historical cultural insider, a new subculture outsider. He was someone who has hated you (and whom it could be easy to hate in return), someone that was feared, someone who has stood for everything contrary to what Jesus stood for.
And now Jesus Himself pulls him in.
This is not a moment to try to be more like Saul. It probably is not a recreatable situation. But this moment reveals some deep truths about what it is to be a follower of Jesus--not just by Saul’s salvation, but by Saul’s qualification.
This moment points to some radical things that are foundations as the followers of Jesus are living out the commissioning Jesus gave.
So we come to these questions. As Saul is moving from the persecutor to being an insider and eventually to being the voice to a forming culture:
What did this mean?
What did this change?
How did this shift perspective and reality?
How did this impact how they saw themselves?
How did this impact how they saw others?
The impact of this moment was not quick and complete. It was a process that was being worked out in Paul, in the apostles, and in those that had been personally impacted by Paul’s actions. It was being worked out by those that only heard the stories.
But the work was important. It was emotional, painful, difficult.
Saul became Paul and wrote most of the New Testament. Now, thinking not just about his salvation, but his qualification, I hear his words differently:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
I hear Paul’s emotional declarations of Jesus’ love:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)
He knew that if anyone had reason to be separated from the love of Jesus, it was him. But he had faith in something bigger than his one disqualification:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Many years from Paul’s conversion, many years from his qualification, with deepening perspective, he said it this way:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
The world that the early church was in was good at qualifications, whether for being part of community or for being seeing as godly or for being a participant in religious practices or for being in relationship with God.
Jesus broke this.
Paul is a deepening in this breaking,and we are in the continuation of that process. Qualification to have relationship with God through Jesus is open. People like Saul--the worst--are qualified to be loved, believed in, transformed by Jesus.
What would it take for you to invite your greatest enemy to join your family? What does it look like for you to take the first step towards connecting with those you see as outsiders or enemies?
This doesn’t have to all happen at once. One step at a time is good. Trusting God and learning to hear from Him in each step, just like Annanias heard from God about Paul, is crucial.
People like Saul in your world are qualified to be loved, entrusted, and transformed by Jesus.
What does this mean?
What does this change?
How does this shift my perspective and reality?
How does this impact how I see myself?
How does this impact how I see others?
What is your “next step” in connecting with others that are difficult for you?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Acts 9.
- What are some transformations that you have made through your life?
- How does Paul’s transformation give you hope?
- How do transformations like Paul’s make things complicated?
- What do transformations like Paul’s say about God? About you? About others?
- How are you challenged, focused, encouraged, and/or frustrated by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- Deuteronomy 16
- Deuteronomy 17
- Deuteronomy 18
- Acts 12
- Acts 23
- Acts 24