Called to Preach
Devotional Reading: I Timothy 4:6-16
Background Scripture: Acts 9:1-31
LESSON SCRIPTURES: Acts 9:10-20
Exerted from: Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017 (KJV): StandardLessonCmy2016KJV.
10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
After participating in this lesson, each learner should be able to:
1. Describe the interactions of Ananias with God and Saul.
2. Explain the fear Ananias expressed when directed to meet with Saul.
3. Evaluate how much of an “Ananias” he or she is when responding to God’s call and formulate a plan to change shortcomings identified.
Physicist Becomes a Preacher
John Polkinghorne was one of the greatest British physicists of the twentieth century. He finished a doctorate at Cambridge University at age 25 and was invited to return to Cambridge to teach when he was 27. He participated in formulating the theory of the quark, a particle that is one of the building blocks of matter. He was one of the most brilliant men of his age. Yet after 25 years of this spectacular career in science, Polkinghorne left it all to train for the priesthood in the Church of England. He was ordained and eventually returned to Cambridge University in 1986 to serve as chaplain for Trinity Hall, one of the colleges of the university. The physicist became a preacher.
This week’s lesson is about an even more dramatic career change.
Understanding the Lesson
Lesson Background: Saul
Saul, a Jew from Tarsus, had been trained as a rabbi by the best teachers in Jerusalem (compare Acts 22:3). His education in the law would have been the ancient equivalent of a doctoral degree today. When the Jewish leadership began to persecute Christians, Saul was their point man. We first see this in his leadership role in this regard in the stoning of Stephen (7:58).
Saul went on to terrorize the church by conducting house-to-house searches for Christians (Acts 8:3; 22:4). His persecuting zeal reached a fever pitch when he took the initiative to ask the high priest for authority to extend the persecution to Damascus, about 150 miles to the north of Jerusalem. His plan was to find Christians in the Jewish population there and bring them back to Jerusalem by force (9:1, 2). His encounter with the risen Christ is the immediate backdrop for today’s lesson (9:3-9). Saul’s ambitions and zeal had not gone unnoticed by the Lord of the church!
Lesson Background: Damascus
The site of today’s lesson is the city of Damascus. In the Old Testament, this city is identified with the kingdom of Syria (or Aram), the sometime ally but often foe of ancient Israel (see 1 Kings 15:18). Some claim that Damascus is the oldest continually inhabited site in the world. Indeed, the Bible notes its existence in the time of Abraham (see Genesis 15:2), and archaeological data extends back even further.
Damascus was important in the first century AD as a trading hub for caravan routes. It was a multiethnic city with a substantial Jewish population. These facts highlight the perceived need to extend persecution against Jewish Christians there. Threats to the “purity” of synagogues in Damascus could not be tolerated.
Saul’s mission to this city changed, however, before he arrived there. As today’s lesson opens, Saul is in his third day of blindness as a result of his encounter with Christ.
Faith and Obedience in Two Men
The dramatic events of Acts 9 record how extreme God’s action had to be for Saul to turn his attention to God’s call. Saul was so obsessed with climbing the ladder of favor within the Jewish leadership (Galatians 1:14) that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the Christian message. He was spiritually blind to the fact that he was persecuting Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God.
Saul, as Paul, went on to become the great apostle to the Gentiles. Christians of non-Jewish background owe him a great debt of gratitude, for he fought a somewhat lonely battle to gain an equal place in the church for people of all backgrounds. Even so, let us not forget the key role of the nearly anonymous Ananias, who was called by God to overcome his fears and minister to the church’s greatest enemy at just the right time.
The voice of Ananias was part of the call of God for the one who came to be known as the apostle Paul. Nearly 30 years later, Paul mentioned this man by name (Acts 22:12). He never forgot this man of faith, a faith that overcame fear.
Acts 9 is not intended as a pattern for how God brings people to faith, and the role of Paul as apostle was unique. Even so, God expects us at times to be His hands and feet, as was Ananias. May we overcome our fears as we answer that call.
From the Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017 (KJV): StandardLessonCmy2016KJV.
Restoration & Praise
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