The Road to Damascus

Acts 9:1-9

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and 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. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul 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. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

さてサウロは、なおも主の弟子たちに対する脅かしと殺害の意に燃えて、大祭司のところに行き、 ダマスコの諸会堂あての手紙を書いてくれるよう頼んだ。それは、この道の者であれば男でも女でも、見つけ次第縛り上げてエルサレムに引いて来るためであった。 ところが、道を進んで行って、ダマスコの近くまで来たとき、突然、天からの光が彼を巡り照らした。 彼は地に倒れて、「サウロ、サウロ。なぜわたしを迫害するのか。」という声を聞いた。 彼が、「主よ。あなたはどなたですか。」と言うと、お答えがあった。「わたしは、あなたが迫害しているイエスである。 立ち上がって、町にはいりなさい。そうすれば、あなたのしなければならないことが告げられるはずです。」 同行していた人たちは、声は聞こえても、だれも見えないので、ものも言えずに立っていた。 サウロは地面から立ち上がったが、目は開いていても何も見えなかった。そこで人々は彼の手を引いて、ダマスコへ連れて行った。 彼は三日の間、目が見えず、また飲み食いもしなかった。

The Jews had been granted enough political power from Rome that they could extradite those who fled Judea who had gone against Jewish laws.  Saul was on his way to Damascus to bring back Christians who had fled there so that they could be put on trial. He was determined to destroy the new Christian faith.

On the way to Damascus, Saul encounters the risen Jesus and loses his eyesight. He does as Jesus directs and enters the city and waits for someone to tell him what he is supposed to do.  For three days, he fasted.

Around that time, the Lord speaks to a believer named Ananias and directs him to go meet Saul, who was told in a vision that a man named Ananias would come and lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight.

Ananias knows who Saul is – The #1 enemy of Christians, who has been hunting believers under the authority of the chief priests.  Ananias is a bit concerned and wants to make sure that this is what Jesus wants him to do.  When the Lord makes it clear that this is His will, Ananias obediently goes to seek out the most dangerous man known to the believers.

Acts 9:17-19 tells us what happened next:

17So 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.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

17 そこでアナニヤは出かけて行って、その家にはいり、サウロの上に手をおいてこう言った。「兄弟サウロ。あなたが来る途中でおあらわれになった主イエスが、私を遣わされました。あなたが再び見えるようになり、聖霊に満たされるためです。」 18 するとただちに、サウロの目からうろこのような物が落ちて、目が見えるようになった。彼は立ち上がって、バプテスマを受け、 19 食事をして元気づいた。

This is one of the pivotal moments of Christian history. Saul comes to be known as Paul, and he ends up contributing to the knowledge of our faith and authored thirteen of the books of the New Testament, as well as becoming a successful evangelist who spread the gospel throughout the region. Also, Saul’s conversion meant that not only did the church gain an evangelist, but it also lost a formidable enemy.

There are two men in this narrative, and at first glance, they seem to be at opposite ends.  Ananias is a devout Christian who is willing to risk everything to serve Jesus.  Saul is a devout Jew who will do anything to destroy Christianity.

However, when we look a little deeper, we see similarities between the two.  Both are serious about dedicating their lives to doing God’s will.  Both believe that they are serving God by what they are doing.

The only difference is that Ananias believes that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God who needs to be obeyed, while Saul believes that Jesus is a blasphemer who deserved his crucifixion and His misguided followers need to be stopped.

When Jesus overpowered Saul on the road to Damascus and convinced Saul that Jesus indeed is from God and is the Messiah, Saul turns his direction 180 degrees.  He now realized that by persecuting the church, he was persecuting the Messiah, and instead of serving God, he was interfering with God.

Saul’s realization of his great error and the grief he caused the Lord as well as the believers must have weighed heavily on him.  A few decades later, we find him referring to himself as “chief of all sinners” and still talked about how he had helped to kill Stephen. Still, the Lord’s willingness to use him as His vessel and representative humbled him and deepened his love for the Lord.

Ananias played a pivotal role here, further convincing Saul that the one he met was indeed Jesus of Nazareth, the Chosen One of God.  Before going to see Saul, Ananias probably still had some fear about Saul.  What if Saul decided to go back to his old ways once he regained his sight?  But Ananias was willing to trust and obey the Lord, and because of that, Saul’s conversion becomes a reality.

In today’s world we find ourselves inundated with peoples’ beliefs, and sometimes we find people believing exactly the opposite of what we believe. If it happens to be a topic that we are passionate about, then it can become a point of contention, even to the point where it negatively affects our relationships.

What we believe in probably comes from many factors – What we were taught, what we have observed, what we have read/heard, what we have experienced. Or sometimes we just inherit what we believe from someone else or sometimes from superstitious or faulty thought processes.

Whatever our belief system, which ones are important enough for us to act upon, even if there are some risks or costs involved?

In Ananias’ case, he was willing to risk going to see the #1 enemy of his faith, because he believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and the Messiah, and that he considered Jesus his Lord.

In Saul’s case, he believed in God, the creator of heaven and earth, and that anything that went against God needed to be destroyed.  He also believed that Jesus was not the Messiah.  But once he realized Jesus was the Messiah, and even though Jesus let him know that he was going to suffer much for His sake, Saul dedicates his life in spreading the message that Jesus is the Messiah and the savior of the world.

These two men took their faith in Jesus as the most important thing in their lives.  They were willing to act in obedience when and where they were directed.

For Saul, it was understandable that he mistakenly rejected Jesus as Messiah since God’s revelations were not complete yet.  The New Testament had not been written yet.  What Paul had available to him led him to believe that anyone who would die simply could not be the Messiah.  He was sincere in his beliefs, but he was wrong.

Today, the canon of the scripture has been complete.  If we pay attention to the scriptures, it will not be too difficult to avoid being led into false beliefs.  The danger will come if we ignore what is written in the Bible and instead rely on 2nd and 3rd hand information written by others or faulty opinions expressed on social media.  There is no guarantee that someone is right just because they have a large following or lots of “likes”.  So, it is important that we regularly read the Bible and use it as our reference.  Any proclamation being presented as a revelation from God must be bumped up against the scriptures.

Like Ananias, could the Lord prompt us some day to go visit someone who we know to be adamantly against Christianity?  It could happen.  Would we be willing to be obedient to follow through?  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can, which could lead to that person’s conversion.  The great thing about a detractor turning to Christ is that like in Paul’s case, not only do we gain a friend, but we also eliminate an enemy.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano at our worship service on August 8, 2021.)