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A Chosen Instrument

When we left the story Luke tells in the book of Acts, the church was shattered and broken. Stephen had been publicly stoned as a blasphemer, and all who shared Stephen’s faith were fleeing from the wave of persecution spearheaded by a young Pharisee named Saul, who was breathing fire and damnation against the Christians.

Now, Saul had no authority or standing to hunt down Christians, but in his zeal, he went to the high priest and asked him for letters of approval that would enable him to extend the persecution to Damascus. Having received permission, he begins his journey, and was approaching the city when a heavenly floodlight knocked him to the ground, and a voice from heaven asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

The brilliant, glorious, blinding light that you need to hide your face from, glory that you cannot see and survive makes it clear that Saul is in the presence of God. But Saul is confused: why is he being accused of persecution by the glory of God? He is doing more than anyone to fight for the glory of God! And so he asks, “Who are you, Lord?”

And the answer completely unravels Saul’s entire life. Everything he believed about God, the world, and especially about the Way of Jesus has to change when the voice speaks out of the heavenly glory and says: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus is not rotting in Hades, as Saul expected; He is clothed in the light of heaven, speaking from the presence of God. “Get up.” Jesus says, “Go into Damascus, and you will be told what to do.”

When Ananias receives an assignment to minister to Saul, he warns the Lord that Saul is a persecutor. God, however, has a different name for him: “Go anyway, for he is a chosen instrument of mine.” And God has a very unusual message for man whom He has chosen: his welcome to the faith will contain the details of a future full of suffering. Saul’s orders from the high priest were to bring suffering to others; his new orders from God were to bear suffering in order to bring good news to others.

And so Ananias takes this message to Saul. He finds the house, lays his hands on Saul, and greets him with tremendous grace by calling him brother. And that is just the beginning of the good news: “Brother Saul, the same Jesus who appeared to you sent me to heal you, and fill you with the Holy Spirit.” This is mercy beyond belief! Pardon for the persecutor? Forgiveness for the man who was hunting Christians down for destruction? Saul deserved hell; he received the Holy Spirit!

And what a lesson for us: if God can forgive Saul, how much more should we forgive our those who sin against us? Any wickedness ever committed against you pales in comparison to Saul’s persecution of Jesus Christ, and yet Jesus forgave Saul, and welcomed him as a brother. Does it seem impossible to share fellowship with someone who has hurt you, sinned against you, broken the most important promises a human can make to you, abused you, hated you, lied about you, slandered you?

Before you can show this kind of love and grace, you need to receive this grace from Jesus. You need to realize that although you may not be a persecutor like Saul, apart from Jesus Christ you are a sinner like Saul. Every time you choose to serve yourself instead of Jesus, every time you sin against someone made in the image of God, it is an assault against Jesus Christ. But the example of Saul shows us that no matter how much you have opposed Jesus through your life, your words, or your actions, you are not out of reach of God’s grace! This is the good news: Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom this man claimed to be the worst.

When Ananias passed God’s blessing onto Saul, Saul’s eyes were opened. Immediately, he arose, and declared himself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ by being baptized, becoming a member of the Way he had come to persecute. Saul the persecutor was dead, but God raised up Saul the disciple of Jesus Christ. The blinding mercy of God had transformed the persecutor into a chosen instrument for the gospel.

Posted on Thursday, May 01, 2014 by CJ Bowen