The Way - Acts 9:1-19
Listen to our most recent Sunday message from “The Way,” a study of the church from Acts 9-20.
1 “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment 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.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength." (NRSV)
Questions for Personal Study or Group Discussion
- What do you notice when reading this passage? What did you find interesting or challenging?
- Perhaps the earliest name ever used for Christians is one we find here: “people of the Way.” Why do you think Christians were called this? What does a name like this mean or imply?
- What do we learn in this passage about the church’s mission? What do we learn about conversion to Christianity?
- Jesus asks Paul, “Why do you persecute me?” What is significant about this question?
Additional Study Notes and Observations
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
- The double-repetition of Saul’s name is a common feature of stories where God calls a person to a specific (and sometimes extreme) task. See examples in the stories of Abraham (Gen. 22:11); Jacob (Gen. 42:6); Moses (Ex. 3:4); Samuel (1 Sam. 3:10).
- It may seem surprising that Saul, of all people, would be chosen by God for a special task, but then again several others in the list above (Jacob, Moses) had checkered pasts, as well.
- More important to the quotation of Jesus is his use of the word “me.” Is Saul persecuting Jesus? Perhaps not directly. But in Jesus’ view, the church is his very own body—he identifies fully with the church. To Jesus, the church is not an “it”; it’s a “me.”
- Today, it is common for people to talk about loving Jesus but not being able to tolerate or stand the church. Jesus’ deep identification with the church challenges us to try to love the church as if loving Christ himself, even when that can be difficult.
Gospel-Bearers: The Vision of Jesus for his Disciples
- When describing Saul’s future as a Christian, Jesus says, “He is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before the Gentiles…and before the people of Israel.”
- The word here for “instrument” is frequently used by Luke in Luke and Acts to describe a “vessel” or “container” (Willimon; cf. Acts 10:11, 16; 27:17; Lk. 8:16; 17:31).
- We can imagine the image as one of Paul being filled with the Gospel and carrying it to the Jews and Gentiles in the places he goes.
- Think back on Paul’s letters. Can you think of times when Paul’s way of talking about his mission looks a lot like this?
- (1) II Cor. 4:7-12 — Paul describes Gospel as “treasure in jars of clay.”
- (2) Phil. 4:17 — Paul describes himself as “poured out” like a “libation over the sacrifice…of your faith.”
- Each of these connects the struggles Paul shares with the image of carrying and dispensing the Gospel to the world in life-giving ways.
- Like Paul, we are called to be God’s instruments, his “Gospel-Bearers” as we live out his mission.
Ananias as Somewhat Reluctant, Sometimes Forgotten Hero
- In all of the miraculous happenings of this story, we may forget about perhaps the most courageous character in it: Ananias.
- Despite his mixed feelings, Ananias is willing to humbly approach a known killer of Christians when the calling of God leads him to Saul. He even calls Saul “brother,” implying the desire for a deep relationships with him, despite what Saul has done. We may be challenged by his story to forgive and not discount people we might not expect from receiving God’s grace.
- We may also be challenged by Ananias to consider how the mission field sometimes comes to your doorstep. Ananias is not called to travel thousands of miles to share the Gospel, as Saul soon will be. Instead, he walks down a street in town he knows like the back of his hand. But God has prepared the mission to come to him.
- This story challenges us to keep our eyes open to the ways in which opportunities for sharing the Gospel may come to us in familiar or unexpected places. Like Ananias, we have to learn to be ready when opportunity calls.
Credits and Acknowledgements
The cover photo can be accessed with a subscription to Sharefaith church resources: http://www.sharefaith.com/faith/home.do
The commentary on the book of Acts by William H. Willimon was an indispensable resource to me (see esp. pp. 73-80), and is cited as follows:
Willimon, William H. Acts. Interpretation Commentary Series. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Print.