Read the Manuscript
Have you ever been in a dark place? I mean a really dark place.
When I was a boy my family visited Mammoth Cave. It was so cool. At one point on the tour our group was corralled into a room and the tour guide turned off the lights.
I never knew darkness had weight to it until that moment. It was so thick I felt like my parents, who were standing right next to me, had disappeared. It was smothering.
I was truly blind.
I invite you to think about an experience when you were walking in a dark place. Maybe it was in a cave, like my story. Maybe you are walking in the woods and the tree canopy is so thick that it is almost dark as night. Perhaps you are working in your basement.
Now, imagine yourself walking from that dark place and suddenly stepping outside, into the full light of day. You accidentally look up and straight into the sun.
How does that feel?
It’s painful isn’t it. And shocking.
It might even knock you down it’s so bright.
Isn’t it interesting how shocking a sudden exposure to bright light can be. In that moment between darkness and light, the light can even blind us and disorient us.
It is disruptive.
In our story today, we encounter two men who had a moment like that.
Both men were walking in a form of darkness and both men had a disruptive encounter with the light.
My hope for us today is that we, too, might have a disruption like this.
Let’s dive into the story to see what I’m talking about.
Our text today is found in Acts 9:1-20.
It is actually the story of four people.
The first person is a man named Saul.
We first encounter Saul back in Acts chapter 7. The religious leaders had dragged Stephen into the street and blugeoned him to death with stones.
Saul stood by and approved of the murder.
Who is this guy?
There are three important things to know about him.
First, he was a Jewish man, born in a Greek town called Tarsus, far away from Jerusalem.
Second, he was a Roman Citizen. This was very rare for a Jewish man.
Third, he chose to move to Jerusalem and train as a Pharisee. He was a devout Pharisee and teacher of the Law of Moses. He loved his country and was violently opposed to anyone whom he considered to be a blasphemer. He actually blamed the Law breakers as the reason why God had not delivered them from the Roman Empire.
Let’s see what happens to Saul. The story starts in verse 1:
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way [this is what they called the disciples of Jesus at that time], men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul 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. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
He encountered a bright light, heard the voice, and now is blind.
Let’s look at the second person. Verse 10:
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Let’s pause here for a moment.
Put yourself in Ananias’ position. You are a disciple of Jesus. You have heard that Saul is on the rampage. He’s killed before, and you and your family might be next.
How open would you be to the Lord’s message?
I might be, “Um, Lord, do you have the right number. This is Ananias. You know that, right?”
Before we finish reading the story and talk more about Ananias, I want to talk about the third person in this story.
The Risen Christ.
This is who Saul encounters on the road.
Spoiler alert: Saul later becomes known as The Apostle Paul and spreads the Good News of Jesus across the Roman Empire and fights for racial unity between Jews and Gentiles.
What I find fascinating is that the Jesus that Paul knows is not exactly the same as the Jesus that Peter, James, John and the original disciples knew. They got to hang out with Jesus of Nazareth who was fully human. They fished together, ate together, sat around the fire and told stories together.
This Jesus, that Saul encounters, is The Risen Christ. Saul encounters him as a blinding light and a voice.
Ananias encounters the Risen Christ as a vision and a voice.
I could go on for hours about the importance of this, but let me just say this one thing. The Risen Christ is more than that particular man from Nazareth. The Risen Christ is the power of God’s promise that there is life beyond death, there is peace beyond fear, and there is unity beyond boundaries of race, religion, and politics.
The Risen Christ shines the light of reality into all of our darkness.
Look how the Risen Christ transformed these two men.
17 So 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.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Do you see it?
Notice how Ananias addresses Saul. He calls him brother.
Notice what happens to Saul. He can see again. Now he is baptized into the name of Jesus and brought into the fellowship of the very people he was determined to exterminate.
Both of these men lived in a shadow.
Ananias lived in the shadow of fear.
Saul lived in the shadow of hatred and self-righteousness.
Both men encountered the light of the Risen Christ and were knocked down, disrupted, and reoriented into a new way of seeing.
Now, when they look at each other, they see a human being, created in the image of God and worthy of love and respect.
When we started, I said this is a story of four people.
We’ve seen Ananias, Saul, and the Risen Christ.
The fourth person is you. It is me.
The question for us today is this: What are the shadows in which we hide. What are the reasons that cause us to see a person who is different than us and live in fear and hatred?
The Risen Christ shines the bright light of truth into each of our lives today. The light drives away the shadows and exposes the truth that all people are children of God. The Good News is for all people.
The Good News disrupts our systems that divide and judge and calls us into the scary and difficult work of reaching out across the boundaries and seeking reconciliation and ways to say, “Brother, Sister, in Christ, we are one.”