by Jeff Landis
Lent 2005: Great Journeys of the Bible
February 20, 2005
Last week we looked at Jacob’s journey and found an apparently undeserving man who stumbled into God’s way without even trying. This week we look at Saul’s journey. In Acts 9, we have the story of Saul’s conversion. In Acts 22, Saul retells his conversion story as he defends himself in front of an angry crowd that wants to get rid of him at the temple. Saul’s journey is quite different than Jacob’s. In Saul, we find a man who very purposely is doing exactly what he believes God would have him do (persecute Christians) and doing it to the best of his ability. How Saul, the great persecutor of Christians, becomes Paul, the greatest Christian missionary ever, is the great miracle of the Scriptures we are looking at today.
If I had to sum up in one sentence what I learned by studying these Scripture passages, I’d say, “Being on a journey with God is not about God going my way; it is about me going God’s way.” I could stop there but instead I have 3 points and two clarifications.
Point #1. I like the easy way. God’s way is not the easy way.
God’s way was not easy for Jesus. It was not easy for the twelve disciples or the early church or Ananias or Saul or Christians down through the ages. God’s way is not easy for us. The early church had people like Saul breathing out murderous threats against them, taking them to prison, and persecuting them to their death. That sounds tough to me. Ananias was told by God to go find and heal a man he knew came to town just to arrest people like himself. (Acts 9:13-14) I can hear Ananias saying, “So if it is all the same to you, God, I was thinking more of lying low for a while, maybe going out of town for a few months. Really this Saul blindness thing might not be a bad idea.” God’s way was not easy for Ananias. And then there is Saul. Ananias could have told him his journey was going to get tough (Acts 9:16.) Saul sums it up pretty well in writing his second letter to the Corinthian church (II Corinthians 11:23-27.) That sounds tough.
Myself, I like going the easy way. God’s way is not the easy way.
Point #2. I like going the way where I have the most power and control. God’s way is not concerned with my power and control.
One minute Saul is a feared leader with the backing of the high priest and the ability to put anyone he chooses in jail and the next minute he is a blind man who has to be led around. One minute Ananias, a disciple in Damascus , a devout observer of the law who is highly respected by all the Jews, is minding his own business and the next minute he is on his way to visit a man that he knows is out to harm Christians. One minute Saul is minding his own business in the Temple and the next minute he is being beaten, then arrested, then he is giving his testimony, then being arrested again and flogged so the crowd won’t try to kill him again. It all sounds quite out of control, but it is not. Saul is not in control, Ananias is not in control, the mob is not in control and the Roman commander is not in control. God is in control. (Acts 9:3, 6, 11, 15, 18 and 22:14-16, 18 and 21) We like to think that we are in control and it makes us uncomfortable when we are not. We need to get over it. God is giving the orders and we best be going where He says go and doing what He says do and we better remember that it is only by His power that our obedience ever amounts to anything.
Myself, I like the way that I have power and am in control. God’s way is not concerned with my power or control.
Point #3. I also like to say that my way is the right way. (Just ask Cheryl.) When my way differs from God’s way, I am wrong and God is right.
Saul knew the Law backwards and forwards and he was as zealous for God as anyone. He knew Christians were wrong and that God wanted him to get rid of them. God actually wanted him to stop persecuting Christians and instead be a Christian. God was right. Saul was wrong.
Ananias probably wanted to finish his lunch, read some Scripture, go to church, and stay as far away from Saul as he could. God wanted him to go to Saul and give Saul the healing and direction that he needed. God was right. Ananias was wrong. The mob wanted to kill Saul. The Roman commander wanted to arrest him. God wanted Saul to give his testimony. God was right. The mob and the Roman commander were wrong.
Saul wanted to stay in Jerusalem and continue to plead his case to the Jews that he knew so well. God wanted him to get out of town and grow the Church all over the world. God was right. Saul again was wrong.
God’s way is the right way. When I am not in God’s way I am wrong whether I know what I am talking about or not, whether I can explain it or defend it or rationalize it or not.
When my way is not God’s way, my way is wrong.
A journey with God means me going God’s way not God going my way. God’s way may be tough, uncomfortable, beyond my control, and not within my power to achieve but God’s way is the right way and by God’s grace I need to go that way. Like Saul I need to go. Like Ananias I need to go. I need to go and see what God will do, see whom God will save, see whom God will heal, see whom God will fill with the Holy Spirit. We need to go.
Clarification #1. One might say, “Saul thought God wanted him to persecute Christians. Don’t we have to be careful when we start saying God wants me to do this or that? What if we mess up like Saul did?”
To that I say, “The people of God will confirm what God is telling you.”
“But, Jeff, certainly Saul thought the high priest was a person of God and the high priest encouraged him to keep persecuting Christians.”
To that I say, “Be careful where your affirmation comes from.”
1. Don’t seek out someone you know already agrees with you, like the High Priest, to affirm your word from God.
2. Look for and listen to the people God sends, like Ananias, the unexpected people, the people who tell you what God said, not necessarily what you want to hear.
3. Finally, and most importantly, ask yourself, “Does the person, in what they say and do, lift up Jesus Christ or not?”
Beyond that, remember, when it comes to God’s word for you, God is in control. If God has to send a flash of light or let you be arrested to get through to you, like God did with Saul, God can and will do it.
One may say, “Jeff, this is all good stuff, especially for Saul and Ananias, but the Lord just doesn’t speak to me that clearly-no flashes of light, no visions, no audible voices. Jesus doesn’t come to me and ask why I persecute Him. He doesn’t tell me to go to this particular person’s house on this particular street and heal this particular person. He doesn’t tell me to leave this place and go to this other place. Stop this and do this instead. He just isn’t that specific.”
To that I say, “Really? Are you sure? Think back to this past week. God never got your attention? Never pulled you aside and said, ‘Go here, I’ll show you what to do, stop that and get out of there, you aren’t doing this anymore, do this?’ Jesus didn’t tell you the way to go this past week? Are you sure?”
My comfort from Saul’s journey, is this: that if I seek God and God’s way as hard as Saul did, even though I do it the wrong way, even though it is not within my power to do, even though the way is tough, God will set me straight, God will clearly tell me what to do, and God, through His awesome power, will use my obedience to build the Kingdom in incredible ways.
Seek God out this week. Expect God to talk to you. God will tell you where to go and what to do. And when God says “Go” you can make up a couple of excuses like Saul and Ananias, but make sure that like Saul and Ananias, you go where God says go and do what God says do and enjoy what God is going to do.