14 Feb 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 9:10-25. Saul and Ananias: his welcome into the church in Damascus.
Following the story as Luke tells it, we turn from the causes to the consequences of Saul’s conversion. It is wonderful to see the transformation of his attitudes and character which immediately began to be apparent, and especially of his relationships to God, to the Christian church and to the unbelieving world.
First, Saul had a new reverence for God. Ananias, instructed to go and minister to the new convert, was told ‘behold, he is praying’ (11, RSV). Three days had elapsed since his encounter on the road with the risen Lord, during which he *did not eat or drink anything* (9). Presumably, then, he spent those days in fasting and praying, that is, abstaining from nourishment in order to give himself without distraction to prayer. Not that he had never fasted and prayer before. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, he will have gone up to the temple to pray, and like him too could probably have claimed, ‘I fast twice a week’. But now through Jesus and his cross Saul had been reconciled to God, and consequently enjoyed a new and immediate access to the Father, as the Spirit witnessed with his spirit that he was the Father’s child (Rom.8:16). What was the content of his prayers? We can guess that he prayed for the forgiveness of all his sins, especially his self-righteousness and his cruel persecution of Jesus through his followers; for wisdom to know what God wanted him to do now; and for power to exercise whatever ministry he was to be given. No doubt his prayers also included worship, as he poured out his soul in praise that God should have had mercy on him. The very same mouth, which had been ‘breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples (1), was now breathing out praises and prayers to God. ‘The raging lion has been changed into a bleating lamb’.
Still today the first fruit of conversion is always a new awareness of the fatherhood of God, as the Spirit enables us to cry ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom.8:15), together with a gratitude for his mercy and a longing to know, please and serve him better. This is ‘godliness’, and no claim to conversion is genuine if it does not issue in a godly life.
Secondly, Saul had a new relationship to the church, into which Ananias now introduced him. No wonder William Barclay calls Ananias ‘one of the forgotten heroes of the Christian church’. At first, however, when told to minister to Saul, Ananias demurred. He was very reluctant to do any ‘follow-up work’ (to use the modern jargon), and his hesitation was understandable. To go to Saul would be tantamount to giving himself up to the police. It would be suicidal. For he had *heard many reports about this man and all the harm* he had done to Jesus’ people in Jerusalem (13). Ananias also knew that Saul had come to Damascus *with authority from the chief priests to arrest* all believers (14). But Jesus repeated his command ‘Go!’ and added that Saul was his *chosen instrument* to carry his name *before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel* (15) – a ministry which would involve him in much suffering for the sake of the same name (16).
Tomorrow: Acts 9:10-25. Saul and Ananias: his welcome into the church in Damascus (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.