Part 9: Seeing The Light
Pastor Terry Inman
This fictional conversation between the newly converted Saul and the Apostle Peter is probably a light version of the many conversations it took to convince the church that Saul’s conversion was the real deal.
Can you imagine the fear, hurt, disbelief and distrust persecuted believers like Steven’s family, and many others had to work though to forgive let alone embrace Saul. He was not the only one that needed to see the light.
The expression “I saw the light” comes from the most dramatic conversion story in the bible. Saul was a religious academic radicalized by his fundamentalist views.
As a militant Pharisee he was much like radical Muslim clerics that claim, terrorizing the enemy is part of Sharia Law. I’m not putting down races or religions, just ideologies that manipulate religion to justify their violence.
Saul who was later named Paul says,
“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (1Tim. 1.13 NIV)
Ignorance and unbelief are the two ways Satan holds humanity in darkness no matter how religious we may be. Ignorance is not the lack of knowledge it is unawareness of the truth. It is spiritual blindness.
Unbelief is caused by a refusal to accept the truth even after you have been exposed to it. Satan often uses pride, or prejudice to hold us in a state of skepticism. We call it intellectual doubt but its really darkness.
Later Paul wrote.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Cor. 4:4 (NIV)
Saul was driven by his blind belief that Jesus and his followers were ignorant infidels to be eliminated. One encounter with the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ opened his eyes to a new spiritual reality. Saul was suddenly confronted by someone brighter than he thought he was!
I’m sure this story inspired the line to the great hymn, Amazing Grace.
“I once was lost but now I’m found--was blind but now I see”
The conversion of Saul to Paul--adversary to missionary--is a study in authentic spiritual transformation. Paul was a student of Gamaliel one of the greatest rabbinical scholars of his time.
He was an expert in Jewish law with its many interpretations and applications. He says,
“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal 1.14 NIV)
He describes himself as,
“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Phil 3.5- 6 NIV)
He was a religious fanatic!
It is clear Paul did not come to faith in Jesus Christ by study. He came to faith though a revelation of Jesus. God sovereignly blinded him to his view of religious reality and opened his heart and mind to spiritual reality. There is a big difference between human knowledge and spiritual truth.
One overwhelming experience with the “THE LIGHT” and he was blinded to one worldview and awakened to another one. I am not putting down education. But not all education is true learning. Later Paul warned Timothy about people who were
“Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2Tim. 3.6 NIV)
Jesus said something strange,
“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 9:39 NIV) We are blinded to our reality in order see God’s reality!
Saul’s spiritual alteration is retold three times in the book of Acts. Chapter 9 is the first round. Paul retells the story with some added detail two more times while standing trial before Jewish and Roman authorities.
This story is not just about the conversion of a violent antagonist. It is the execution of a whole new plan in the mind of God. It is the story of the creator of the universe extending his grace beyond the Jewish people to the entire known world. God wants all of his creation to “see the light”!
Let’s drop in on Paul’s final testimony before King Agrippa staged in the great arena at Caesarea on the Mediterranean seacoast.
“I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (going against the grain)
Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.
I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
(Acts 26.9-20 NIV)
Paul saw the light. It blinded him to his past and even present reality. Like the hostages he had captured he was held captive in the dark for three days. He was so transfixed that he didn’t eat or drink for 72 hours of solidary confinement.
Then another follower of “The Way” named Ananias received a vision. He was probably one of refugees that had fled to Damascus. He may have been one of men on Saul’s hit list.
In a vision he heard his name. Ananias! Somehow he knew it was the Lord. He must have already been familiar with the voice of the Lord. If we want to hear from God we have to learn to distinguish his voice!
He gave a good answer. YES Lord. (Acts 9.10 NIV) He was given some frightening instructions. Go to a stranger’s house located on Straight Street. Ask for a guy named Saul from Tarsus. He’s blind but he’s praying and he’s seeing things! Prayer--That’s how we see light!
Verse 12 says,
“In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
It’s one thing to visit strangers, but Ananias knew Saul’s reputation. This didn’t sound like a prayer meeting. This sounded like he was being sent right into harms way.
There are several places in Acts where the believers were initially called followers of “The Way”. The label Christian didn’t come up until years later in Antioch and then it was only used about three times in the bible.
“The Way” is a path or a journey. Saul was on a journey. It was a path of destruction. He was diverted and totally redirected by the light. He was stopped in his tracks. Blinded to his pursuit and redirected on the WAY!
Ananias was at least a believer. He was even a “seer”. He was one of those that Peter talked about on the day of Pentecost. In the last days I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. All people on the WAY should be seers!
Ananias wasn’t an apostle or an evangelist. He was just a follower of the Way. He was on the journey and he had visions and he heard voices directing him to participate in God’s incredible plans.
It’s pretty normal for us to question our revelations especially when they may cost us our life. Ananias says,
“Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9.13-14 NIV)
So the Lord kept taking. He knows we usually need more information.
“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9.15-16 NIV)
Seriously? You can’t dream up scenarios like this. What if God told you to lay hands on the leader on ISIS or Al-Qaeda, pray for their healing and give them a new job working for Jesus? Crazy huh?
Well that’s what Ananias thought--but he obeyed the voice. He went. He found a blind and broken man. He placed his hands on him and called him
“Brother Saul”! Then he said, “the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9.17NIV)
The bible says something like scales fell from his eyes. He was baptized and filled with the Spirit! He sent a several days with the followers of “the Way” in Damascus. He preached powerfully that Jesus was the Son of God. Then he went on “the way” to Jerusalem where the Apostles weren’t as warm and receptive.
But another follower of “the Way” named Barnabas advocated for him. We will hear about him next week. But for today let me ask. Have we seen the light? What blinds us to God’s destiny for our life? Is it fear? Is it comfort? Is it pre-conceived ideas about who he is and how he works?
We can be blinded by our past maybe even our present. Our sin blinds us.
Our pride blinds us. Our hurts blind us. Our possessions, our positions even our opinions can blind us to God’s reality for our future.
Last week we talked about Steven. He was on the front end of Saul’s conversion. He was a seer. Just before he was martyred He saw Jesus standing at the right of God. Saul saw Jesus and it totally changed the course of his life. Ananias saw a vision and followed Jesus’ instructions.
Have you seen Jesus? Have you heard him call you? What is God talking to you about right now? What are you seeing? Are you seeing His light? Followers of the Way are seeing, believing and obeying people!