15 Feb 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 9:10-25. Saul and Ananias: his welcome into the church in Damascus.
So Ananias went to *Straight Street* (11), which is still Damascus’ main east-west thoroughfare, and to the house of Judas, indeed to the very room where Saul was. There he placed his hands on him (17), perhaps to identify with him as he prayed for the healing of his blindness and for the fullness of the Spirit to empower him for his ministry. Even more, I suspect that this laying-on of hands was a gesture of love to a blind man, who could not see the smile on Ananias’ face, but could feel the pressure of his hands. At the same time, Ananias addressed him as ‘Brother Saul’ or ‘Saul my brother’ (NEB). I never fail to be moved by these words. They may well have been the first words which Saul heard from Christian lips after his conversion, and they were words of fraternal welcome. They must have been music to his ears. What? Was the arch-enemy of the church to be welcomed as a brother? Was the dreaded fanatic to be received as a member of the family? Yes, it was so. Ananias explained how the same Jesus, who appeared to him on the road, had sent him to him so that he might both recover his sight *and be filled with the Holy Spirit* (17). Immediately *something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again* (Dr. Luke uses some medical terminology here). After this he *was baptised* (18), presumably by Ananias, who thus received him visibly and publicly into the community of Jesus. Only then did he take *some food*, so that after his three-day fast *he regained his strength* (19a). Did Ananias prepare and serve the meal, as well as baptize him? If so, he recognised that the young convert had physical as well as spiritual needs.
The next thing we are told is that *Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus* (19b). He knew that he now belonged to the very company which he had previously been trying to destroy, and he showed this plainly by beginning to *preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God* (20). It is amazing that he was accepted. Indeed, the people who heard him preach were *astonished* (‘staggered’, JBP), asking if he was not *the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem* among believers and who had come to Damascus to *take them as prisoners to the chief priests* (21). Luke does not tell us how their anxious questions were answered, but perhaps Ananias helped to reassure them. Meanwhile, Saul himself *grew more and more powerful* as a witness and apologist, to such an extent that he *baffled the Jews…in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ* (22).
Saul did not settle down with the Damascus Christians for any length of time, however. Luke goes on to describe how he left the city *after many days had gone by* (23a). It is an intentionally vague time reference, but we know from Galatians 1:17-18 that these ‘many days’ actually lasted three years, and that during this period Paul was in Arabia. He need not have travelled far, because at that time the north-west tip of Arabia reached nearly to Damascus. But why did he go to Arabia? Some think that he went on a preaching mission, but others suggest more cogently that he needed time to be quiet, and that Jesus now revealed to him those distinctive truths of Jewish-Gentile solidarity in the body of Christ which he would later call ‘the mystery made know to me by revelation’, ‘my gospel’ and ‘the gospel…I received by revelation from Jesus Christ’. (eg. Eph.3:3; Rom.16:25; Gal.1:11-12). Some have even conjectured that those three years in Arabia were a deliberate compensation for the three years with Jesus which the other apostles had had but Saul had not. At all events, after his time in Arabia Saul returned to Damascus (Gal.1:17). Not for long, though. For *the Jews conspired to kill him* (23b) and *day and night….kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him* (24). Somehow or other Saul *learned of their plan*, and in the end *his followers* (an interesting indication that his leadership was already recognised and had attracted a following) *lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall* (25), so that he escaped to Jerusalem.
Tomorrow: Acts 9:26-31. 4). Saul and Barnabas: his introduction to the apostles in Jerusalem.
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.