For the remainder of the season of Easter, we turn to Paul* as the focal character of our readings. We see Paul in the narrative passages in Acts and then focus on his writings in the Letter to the Philippians. Here in Acts 9, we see a major transformation in Saul, an introduction to the apostle whose works will fill much of the rest of this book.
This is the first time that Jesus speaks in the Book of Acts since his ascension. In both, the risen Lord sends out apostles to witness to the good news of Jesus. In Acts 9, Jesus sends out both Saul and Ananias, though their missions are different.
Jesus Speaks and Saul Responds
The writer of Acts makes clear prior to this passage what type of person Saul is. In Acts 7, he is introduced as a young man, a witness (and accomplice) to the stoning of Stephen. Continuing that story, Saul plays a noticeable role in the persecution of the church. After a brief interlude, we are back with Saul, now the main character in this story. The first two verses show that Saul hasn’t changed a bit. He is continuing his violent opposition to the disciples of Jesus.
It is as Saul nears his destination that the glory of God stops him in his tracks. It is a dramatic theophany, one that makes clear that Jesus is who he claims to be, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and the Lord. Along with the light and the voice, Saul is struck with blindness. These experiences clearly begin a transformation within Saul, from persecutor to preacher, though we don’t know how long this takes exactly. Saul first responds with obedience (“get up and enter the city”), though that is really the reasonable next action anyway. Saul truly responds to this encounter with a time of fasting. It’s possible that this is a fast of repentance, but it also could be a fast of discernment as he is figuring out what exactly happened on that road.
Jesus Speaks and Ananias Responds
In the next scene, we move to a disciple of Jesus who lives in Damascus, a potential victim of Saul’s persecution. Jesus speaks to Ananias and gives him instructions (commands). In keeping with the biblical tradition, Ananias responds by arguing. “Really?” he says, “Do you know who this is that you’re talking about?” Jesus doesn’t admonish him for his lack of obedience but reiterates the command and gives further explanation. Jesus even responds to Ananias’ concern about Saul’s violent past. “Don’t worry,” Jesus seems to say, “I won’t let Saul get off easy. He’ll suffer.” But, Saul’s suffering won’t be a matter of divine wrath, but a consequence of this dangerous mission of God’s grace. Ananias responds then with obedience.
Ananias Speaks, and Saul Responds
In his obedience to the command of his Lord, Ananias goes to Saul. He calls this persecutor “brother,” and gives him good news: his sight will be restored, and he will be filled with the Spirit of God like the prophets of old. Saul responded by becoming a disciple of Jesus (through baptism) and ending his fast. Prodded on by his newfound enthusiasm and the movement of the Spirit, he rushed into his new work, proclaiming Jesus.
We rarely, if ever, experience a flash from heaven or hear the voice of Jesus aloud giving us a command. However, through our reading of Scripture, the fellowship of others, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, we know what Jesus calls us to do: love God, love your neighbor. We encounter needs and opportunities every day to obey these commands. How do we respond?
Kinesthetic (i.e. movement) learning is an important learning style often missing in worship and class. Our free resource this week, “Walk It Out,” is an activity designed to bring movement into the telling of this story. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Youth product and can be used in a classroom or adapted to work in a worship service (probably with a group of young disciples).
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
* Some people state that the transformation on the road to Damascus results not only in a changed man but in a changed name. However, it was common at that time for Jews to have two names, a Hebrew name (Saul) and a Greek name (Paul). It isn’t until Acts 13:9 that the writer starts referring to Saul as Paul.
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For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!
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