In our last study we saw the brilliant Pharisee Saul on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be tortured, imprisoned, and even put to death. Saul's passion was to destroy Christianity:
For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; (Galatians 1:13 NASB)
While on his way to Damascus Saul is confronted by the risen Christ. Seeing a blinding light, Saul falls to the ground and asks, "Who are you, Lord?" To which the reply comes, "I am Jesus." This must have devastated this self-righteous Pharisee. He was wrong, Jesus was alive, He was glorified, He was the Christ. Saul had been fighting against God. As Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, he realized that he was blind. This arrogant Christ hater was now blind and had to be lead by the hand to Damascus. This blindness was symbolic of the condition of his own heart. As I said in our last study, I don't think Saul was saved on the Damascus Road. Blindness is a spiritual metaphor, it is used to represent the spiritual inability to see God's truth. Saul remained blind for three days.
We resume our study with verse 10:
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Behold, here am I, Lord." (Acts 9:10 NASB)
Here we meet another individual for the first timeAnanias. We don't know anything about him other than what we are told here and in:
"And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, (Acts 22:12 NASB)
So we know that he was a devout Jew who was a disciple of Jesus. Ananias may well have been a leader of the church in Damascus. Ananias appears very suddenly and disappears very suddenly.
Another thing that we know about this man is that "the word of the LORD had been revealed to him." He was familiar with the voice of God. The Lord speaks to Ananias in a vision, and Ananias responds, "Behold, here am I Lord." By his response this is obviously not the first time that he had heard the words of God and seen visions of the Almighty; without terror or confusion, he quickly answers, "Behold here I am, Lord."
Do you remember what happened when God first spoke to Samuel?
And the LORD called yet again, "Samuel!" So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he answered, "I did not call, my son, lie down again." 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. (1 Samuel 3:6-7 NASB)
Samuel was confused about who was calling him, but Ananias was not. He must have had previous visions. He knew the voice of the Lord.
The text says that "the Lord said to him in a vision..." What is a vision? The Greek word translated here as "vision" is horama, which means: "something gazed at, i.e. a spectacle (especially supernatural), a sight divinely granted."
Stephen uses this word horama in his speech to the Sanhedrin when referring to the burning bush which Moses saw:
"And when Moses saw it, he began to marvel at the sight [horama]; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: (Acts 7:31 NASB)
So Moses marveled at the vision and got closer to it to get a better look. This word horama is used 12 times by Luke in Acts and only once outside the book of Acts and that is in:
And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision [horama] to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." (Matthew 17:9 NASB)
Three of them had seen this vision, and they were all awake. Many commentators say that these visions are dreams. That doesn't seem to be the case here. Whatever these visions were, Ananias seems to be familiar with them. How many of you have had a vision? Why is it that Ananias is familiar with these visions, and we are not? How are we different from Ananias? Ananias lived in the Transition Period, we do not. Many miraculous things happened during the Transition Period that no longer happen today. The days of visions are over.
Many within churcheanity today still claim to see visions. This brand of mysticism is most commonly seen in the Charismatic movementwhere Scripture is a distant second in importance to visions and revelations. Some of the worst excesses in the modern-day Charismatic movement are derived from such visions. There is no need for extra-Biblical revelation through visions, because we have the Word of God.
When someone comes along with a notion, however spiritual it may sound, or a vision, however authentic it may seem, if it contradicts the plain teaching of the Word of God, we have to say they were tuned to the wrong channel that day. You have to always judge the experience by the Word of God.
These super-pious people, who see visions and receive special revelations while the rest of us are sitting around at the Bible studies just trying to understand what it says on the page, can be very intimidating. We must come back to the cry of the Reformation, "Sola Sriptura!" That means that the Bible alone is the standard and measurement for everything else.
In the vision, the Lord says to Ananias:
And the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." (Acts 9:11-12 NASB)
Notice the historical details in this story. The first readers could have gone back and verified whether or not these stories were true, and that's the value of these details. It's very specific; Saul is on Straight Street, which is the main artery east and west through Damascus--which is still the main artery east and west through Damascus today. And there's a specific house: It's the house of Judas, where it says they will find Saul of Tarsus. There is a lot of historical detail there.
In our text for today we meet two men for the first time, Ananias and Judas. What is significant about them? These two names are tainted names elsewhere in the New Testament. These names belong to two other people: Judas, the betrayer of our Lord; and Ananias, the first Christian to experience God's judgment for his hypocrisy and lying. Yet, here are two people, bearing the same names that are used elsewhere in God's Word. We know nothing about who this Judas was.
"Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying (Acts 9:11-12 NASB)
When Ananias heard these words , "Arise and go...," he must have been stunned and confused as well. What--go do a healing miracle for the Churches number one enemy? This probably took his breath away.
What is Saul praying for? Several commentators that I have read have said, "Seeking the Lord in prayer is a mark of true conversion." Really? Is it only Christians who pray? Wouldn't Saul have prayed as a Jew? Sure he would have. I think Saul is praying to have his eyes opened, both physically and spiritually.
and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." (Acts 9:12 NASB)
Ananias had a vision, and Saul had a vision. God gave two corresponding visions to two men who were at opposite ends of the spiritual world from each other:
But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name." (Acts 9:13-14 NASB)
Ananias had heard that this angry and violent persecutor named Saul of Tarsus was on his way from Jerusalem. The Christians of Damascus must have been anxiously preparing for the persecution to come. We learn here that Ananias was not one of the fugitives from Jerusalem, but was presumably a resident of Damascus, for he speaks only of what he has "heard."
Imagine if you were a Jewish person during World War II, and you're hiding out, and somebody comes in and says, "Adolph Hitler's a couple buildings down, and he's converted to Judaism, and he'd really like one of you to come down and pray with him." That's the level of what's being asked here. It had to have really concerned Ananias. The fact of the matter was, if Saul had not changed, Ananias was dead, and he knew that. So he mentions that to God. Ananias is not here trying to give God information, he is rather protesting about the task given him. In the tradition of Moses, Ananias wonders if God can send someone else. And God says, "Go."
Notice what Ananias says, Saul has done much harm "to Thy saints at Jerusalem." It is interesting how believers are referred to in this story. They are called "the Way" (a description of Christians found only in Acts), showing the fact that Christ is the only way to God. They are called disciples (9:1, 10), which means: "followers or learners of Jesus." And now here they are called "saints." This is the first use of the term "saints" in Acts.
If someone were to ask you if you were a saint, what would you tell them? You might be a little afraid to answer the question, because the term "saint" is loaded by so much that is not representative of its Biblical meaning. Most people don't think of the term in its New Testament sense. We might be reluctant to say, "I'm a saint," because we live under the assumption that someone who is a saint lives on a much higher spiritual level than we do. We don't want to sound proud. People might misunderstand what we mean if we say we're a saint, especially if they have any kind of Roman Catholic background.
In Roman Catholic theology, which has tended to dominate the definition of the term "saint," a saint is a super-person. Roman Catholic theology says, "A saint is one who has exhibited unsurpassable devotion to Christ." If you take that definition of a saint, you might be reluctant to call yourself a saint. It would be hard for you to say, "My devotion to Christ has no capability of being surpassed by anyone, anytime." At least I hope it would be hard for you to say that.
The Roman Catholic Church says that people who have lived lives of unsurpassable devotion to Jesus Christ are worthy to be called saints, to be canonized, which means: "to be made the spiritual standard" or "lifted up as spiritual models." They make statues and stain glass windows of the saints. They are to be venerated (worshiped), prayed to, appealed to, praised, exalted, and honored. That makes us uncomfortable with the term "saint." The Roman Catholic Church teaches that saints are exalted in their heavenly life to a position of special clout with God. The reason we appeal to them, honor them, and extol them is so they, in receiving our honor, veneration, and prayers, will intercede with God for our needs. They become intermediaries, intercessors for us, and we want to stay in their good graces.
These things make us very uncomfortable with being called "a saint." However, you might be interested to know that Paul's favorite word for Christians is the word "Saint." Paul, in all except two of his Epistles, addresses the congregations with the salutation, "called to be saints." Christians are called "saints" 62 times in Scripture. If you have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a saint. In the Biblical sense, the most obscure believer today is just as much a saint as the apostle Paul. You can call me, "Saint David."
Paul uses "saint" forty times in his Epistles. And when he speaks of saints, he is referring to ordinary Christians. He identifies all of the people in the Roman Church as saints:
to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7 NASB)
Paul wants all believers to know that they are saints:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 1:1 NASB)
The word that Paul uses for "saint' is the Greek word hageos. This Greek word means: "set apart ones, separated ones, or sanctified ones." Perhaps the best definition is: "holy ones." All these terms are synonyms for saints. The concept of "saint" is of being set apart, being holy.
This Greek word that is translated "saint" here is often translated "holy" in the Scripture. We know that God is holy. God is separated, He is separated from sinthat is the purest definition of God's nature. It is the only attribute of God repeated three times:
And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." (Isaiah 6:3 NASB)
It defines God as utterly unlike us, because we are sinful. He is separated from sin. What is a saint then? It is one who has been separated from sin, unto God, for holy purposes. That is what a saint is. We are separated from sin by our union with Jesus Christ.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. (Philippians 4:21 NASB)
Notice that the saints are "in Christ Jesus." This is very common to Paul, it defines the Christian's identity. We are "IN" Jesus Christ. We are one with Christ:
But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. (1 Corinthians 6:17 NASB)
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:4 NASB)
As believers, we partake of the divine nature, we share His life. Every believer is a saint. We are in Christ, separated from sin, unto God, for holy purposes. There should be no reluctance in your mind of calling yourself a "saint." Our only reluctance might come from the fact that we're not living as a saint should liveholy. We deserve the title "saint" by virtue of our being in Christ.
Paul uses this title for the most messed up believers in the New Testament:
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1 NASB)
The Corinthians are saints? They were being very divisive, living in immorality, suing one another, and getting drunk at the Lord's supper; just to name a few of their sins. Yet, Paul calls them "saints"! Was he crazy? No, they were saints! With all of their sin, some of which was worse than unbelievers, Paul still calls them "saints."
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:1-2 NASB)
"Saints by calling"the word "called" is kletos, which means: "appointed to." We could translate this: "called to belong to Jesus Christ."
Why is it so important that we understand that we are saints? Why am I spending so much time on this? It's important because you are a product of your thinking:
For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, "Eat and drink!" But his heart is not with you. (Proverbs 23:7 NASB)
A.W. Tozer said, "All conscience behavior is preceded by and arises out of our thoughts. What we think about when we are free to think about what we willthat is what we are or will soon become."
The mind is the command center which determines our conduct based upon how we have been influenced to think. We must learn to think Biblically about ourselves. We must understand our identity if we're going to make progress in practical holiness. We are: in Christ, we are righteous, we are saints! This should have an effect on how we live.
Back to Acts: Speaking of Saul, the Lord says to Ananias:
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; (Acts 9:15 NASB)
Saul is a chosen instrument of God's. All the harm, all the damage he has done to the Church, and he is God's chosen instrument? That's right. Even his torture and murder of Christians was used by God to further the kingdom.
But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased (Galatians 1:15 NASB)
God has chosen Saul as one who, in His Name, will go to the Gentiles and before kings as well as to the children of Israel. Lying behind this description are God's words to the Servant in Isaiah:
And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), (Isaiah 49:5 NASB)
Paul, in Galatians 1, quotes this text and applies it to himself. Is Paul the light to the Gentiles mentioned in the next verse?:
He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6 NASB)
Paul says to the Jews of himself and Barnabas, "We are turning to the Gentiles," and then he quotes Isaiah 49:6:
"For thus the Lord has commanded us, 'I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU SHOULD BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'" (Acts 13:47 NASB)
This is very interesting, Paul applies Isaiah 49:5 and 6 to himself, "the Lord has commanded us." Is Paul the light to the Gentiles? By his action in bringing light to these Gentiles, he was demonstrating his oneness with the Servant of God Who had come, and was aligning himself with Him in His task of bringing them salvation, a task which also became his, because by being united with Him, he too had become God's Servant. Paul was in Christ, what is true of Christ is true of himhe is God's servant.
Note that in our text in Acts the witness to the Gentiles comes before that to Israel. The burden of his life is being represented. He is primarily to be the apostle to the Gentiles, even though he will also go to the children of Israel.
God chose the Apostle Paul, and he has chosen each saint as a vessel to be used for his honor and glory so that many might hear the good news about Jesus Christ. That is what our lives as Christians are all about. We're not here to build better houses, buy bigger and faster cars, earn more money, and make more friends. We're not here to become happy or successful. We have been placed here to be instruments of the Lord Jesus Christ.
for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:16 NASB)
Did Saul suffer for Christ? Yes, he absolutely did. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 contains the long list of the things that he suffered. Paul missed the class on how to teach the health/wealth Gospel. He was neither healthy nor wealthy.
Suffering is not something that Paul alone was to experience. The Christian life invariably involves suffering. Saul will write to the Philippians and tell them that they were called not only to believe in Jesus, but also to suffer:
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, (Philippians 1:29 NASB)
Every convert then and now needs to know that suffering is part of the Christian life.
And Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NASB)
The laying on of Ananias's hands was a distinct act of identification with Saul. The result was the restoration of Saul's sight and, it would seem, Saul's reception of the Holy Spirit. Saul's baptism followed, accompanied by his profession of faith, his "calling on the name of the Lord":
'And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' (Acts 22:16 NASB)
Little emphasis is placed on Saul's reception of the Holy Spirit, and nothing is said about what happened as Saul received the Spirit. It seems that this is when Saul was actually born again. Here is where he receives the Holy Spirit and is healed from his blindness, which was spiritual blindness as much as physical blindness.
And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized; (Acts 9:18 NASB)
Scales fall off Saul's eyes. All through Scripture, blindness is a spiritual metaphor. And it is used to represent the spiritual inability to see God's truth. There is obviously some symbolism, some metaphor here; the scales had fallen off Saul's eyes and for the first time he had really seen the truth concerning Jesus Christ.
In 1772, John Newton, penned these words:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
When John Newton said, "Was blind, but now I see", he wasn't referring to physical blindness. John Newton had never been physically blind, he was referring to spiritual blindness: the inability to see and to understand spiritual truth--especially the truth that he was a sinner, and that Jesus Christ had died for his sins.
The Hebrew prophets repeated this same theme, emphasizing that rebelling against God and rejecting His ways was because of spiritual blindness. Isaiah wrote:
And He said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' 10 "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9-10 NASB)
Jesus explained that Isaiah's prophecy also foretold the spiritual blindness that affected the Jews of His day, who neither recognized Him as the Messiah nor understood His message:
And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" 11 And He answered and said to them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 "For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 "Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 "And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled... (Matthew 13:10-15 NASB)
Jesus then quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. Paul revealed that these same prophesies foretold the spiritual blindness of modern Israelite nations (Romans 10:13; 11:78):
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-16 NASB)
Everyone on the face of the earth has been born blind--spiritually blind, and only God, our creator, can open our eyes so we can see.
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind." (John 9:39 NASB)
Was Jesus talking about physical blindness here, or spiritual blindness? He was talking about spiritual blindness because, even though Jesus gave physical sight to many people during his earthly ministry, he didn't remove physical sight from anyone. Jesus came into the world to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, and to blind the eyes of those who thought they could see spiritually.
Later in his second letter to the Corinthians Paul characterizes the whole scheme of salvation by making a comparison to blindness:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, (2 Corinthians 4:3 NASB)
In other words, if as we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ it is hidden, the ones to whom it is hidden will be those that are lost. Why? Because they are those in whom the God of this world has blinded the minds. The reason men do not understand God or God's truth is because they are spiritually blinded.
In verse 6, Paul says it is we Christians who have seen the light:
For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 NASB)
Salvation opens the eyes of the soul or the spirit to understand light and to comprehend God's truth. This is clearly illustrated by Paul when he was talking to Agrippa in the twenty-sixth chapter of Acts. He says this:
to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' (Acts 26:18 NASB)
That was Paul's mission, to take the light to spiritually blind people.
"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1 NASB)
This is a prophecy of Jesus Christ. In verses 16-20 we have mention of those who are blind and an interplay between spiritual blindness and literal sight. In verse 16 we have the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ:
"And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone." (Isaiah 42:16 NASB)
This is the Lord doing what we are unable to do for ourselves. The blind are helpless in bringing about their own vision. We are as the blind, unable to do for ourselves and must rely totally upon the work of Christ.
After Saul's eyes were opened, he was baptizedproving, at once, his own sincerity and the deep and thorough conviction he had of the truth of Christianity. He identified himself with those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. God has now prepared his instrument to carry the Gospel out to all the nations of the world.
Notice here that Saul was saved independently of the apostles. The apostles had nothing to do with Saul's conversion, and they were reluctant to believe it had happened or to welcome him into their fellowship. Paul would make much more of this point in the first chapter of Galatians.
and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, (Acts 9:19 NASB)
After his baptism he gets some food and drink. Notice what the text says next, "Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus." He went to Damascus to arrest, torture, and kill the disciples, and now he's hanging out with them.
What can you say about Christianity when its most outspoken and zealous opponent suddenly claims to have seen the risen Christ and to have trusted in Him as the Messiah? The conversion of Saul of Tarsus and his subsequent conduct is an irrefragable proof of the truth of Christianity.
Saul's conversion reminds us that at its core, salvation is something God does in us. Everything about Saul's conversion came from God. Saul was not searching for the Lord or for salvation. He would have told you that he was already one of God's chosen people: "circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a
Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee" (Phil. 3:5). The Lord did not appear to Saul and plead: Oh, Saul, won't you please trust in Me as your Savior? I have done everything that I can do to make that possible. Now the rest is up to you. It's your decision, but I can't force your will.
It did not all hang on whether Saul would exercise his "free will"! God had it all planned from start to finish! As Paul puts it in:
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:16 NASB)
God didn't look down through time and say: I can see that someday Saul will choose Me by his free will, and then he will make a pretty good apostle, so I'll make him one of My elect. That would make God's election depend on something good in man, namely his wise choice or his faith or his potential. If God grants salvation because of anything in man, then it is not by His free grace; it is by human merit:
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (Romans 11:6 NASB)
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