Ever Zealous (Acts 9)
1. You see, I was one of the greatest persecutors of the Way during its infancy years. I don't mean to brag or boast, but I was probably the most dangerous enemy the Church has ever had. It wasn't because I was spreading false doctrine. It was because I was getting rid of any and every Christian I could find. I was very zealous to defend my beliefs and the beliefs of my fathers. After all, these beliefs were based upon the covenant that God had given solely to the Israelite nation. Anything that came against that needed to be wiped out. They needed to be gotten rid of. And that's what I was in the process of doing on the road to Damascus. I was armed with orders from the high priest that any Christians would be extradited to Jerusalem for punishment.
2. Then I saw the light. Literally. I fell off my horse, blind as a bat. Then the light lifted for a second as I saw a man standing in the clouds. He said to me, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (v4). I wanted to know who this was who was speaking to me. I found out later that the rest of my companions never heard the voice. Jesus' voice was directed only to me as He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (v5). He was giving me a chance to see the error of my ways because that's what Jesus always does. He looks to bring absolution to wayward sinners. He did that by blinding me.
3. I was blinded and led into the city of Damascus by my companions. I was taken to the house where Jesus had told me to go and wait. And wait I did. Three days. Three long days of not being able to see. Three days of fasting and zealous self-examination. Three of the most productive days of my life. Sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, the great teacher of the Sanhedrin, I had memorized the entire Scriptures. Everything from Genesis to Malachi floated around in my head. I spent those three days going back through everything there, trying to make it fit what Jesus had said on the road. The more I thought about it, the more it all started to make sense. Certainly, there were many things written about the Messiah. Some of them seemed contradictory, but with Jesus things were beginning to become more clear. I took everything from the Scriptures and what I had heard about Jesus and His teachings. Have you seen the connection yet? I was blind for three days. Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days. Jesus was in the belly of the earth three days. This was not a string of strange coincidences. This was a purposeful string of events to further show me what Jesus really meant. Jesus was showing me that He really was the Messiah and He had a place for me in His kingdom. That was why He came to me on the road and brought me to Judas' house.
4. While I was zealously going through my memory, Jesus was calling one of His disciples who lived in Damascus, one of those I had been searching for to take into prison, to come and minister to me. This Ananias was very reluctant to come talk to me. After all, how likely are you to want to talk to someone who has the authority to throw you into prison? Someone wants to inflict bodily harm on you. Do you REALLY want to talk to them? Not likely. However, Jesus has this way of making you do things you're not really interested in doing. Not to say that Jesus likes guilt trips, but He frequently points back to His death and says, "That was for you." Seeing what Jesus has done for you encourages you to do even the things you don't really like. Whether it's something as simple as dealing with that family member who, thankfully, you only have to see a couple of times a year at the big holiday gatherings. Or maybe it's someone you see more often that you don't commonly see eye-to-eye with, a co-worker, a neighbor, "a friend of a friend." Jesus still reminds you that because He loved you you should love them. So Ananias came and preached to me. The sermon was kinda redundant because I had been doing the same thing to myself for the previous three days. But he made a few points even more clear. My faith increased and my sight was restored. I stood up and was baptized immediately. I was one of the first true confirmands of the early church. Confirmed in the faith and then baptized for salvation. My zeal then strengthened as the course of my life was changed by the Jesus I met on the road.
5. With the same zeal, I went throughout the entire western half of the Roman Empire proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior and Messiah. Jesus showed me over and over again what He had told Ananias, "He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (vv15-16). As I told the Corinthians, so I also tell you now, " Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). None of this detracted from my zeal to proclaim Jesus to anyone and everyone I met. As you celebrate this great feast of the Church Year, may you have the same zeal in which I and the other Apostles carried out our mission--the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.