Summary: Saul's conversion shows us that God can reach anyone and change anyone. Ananias' acceptance of Saul is a wonderful example. And Paul's reflection on the event reminds us of just how important it is to be baptized.
I don’t often think about Nottingham. I can’t remember ever visiting it. It’s 200 miles away and we haven’t had reason to go there. But Nottingham is an up-and-coming city. A few years ago, The Times newspaper named it as the most improved city in its survey of the best places to live. Nottingham wants to develop further. In the centre of Nottingham was a large shopping centre called Broad March. Imagine something as long and wide as Boscombe Precinct. Nottingham City Council asked people what they’d like in the city. People said they wanted more green space. So, the council decided they’d turn this very large shopping centre into a green space. It’s called the Broad Marsh Green Heart regeneration scheme. Here are a few pictures. It’s going to be a big job. Last month, the council announced the contractor to do the work. It was a firm called Willmott Dixon.
Choosing a contractor is a big step in a project. Nottingham Council’s choice of contractor for their regeneration scheme didn’t get into the national news but it got into lots of local newspapers and construction and business journals.
At this point in Acts, something a bit like that is happening. God was planning a regeneration. And it was much bigger than Nottingham City Council’s. God told Abraham three times that through him, ALL nations would be blessed [Genesis 18:18, 22:18, 26:4]. Isaiah prophesied three times that Israel would be a light to the nations [Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 60:3]]. God’s plan was always to reach out, not just to Abraham, not just to the people of Israel, but to the whole world. God always wanted men and women from every nation to be saved. In fact, God wants the whole of creation to be saved, to be regenerated. At this point in Acts, Jesus, Son of God, is going to move God’s regeneration plan forward. In his life on earth, Jesus restricted his mission to the people of Israel. But now, he will reach out to every nation, to Gentiles as well as Jews.
Nottingham City Council appointed a contractor to implement their regeneration scheme. Jesus didn’t employ a construction company. He chose a person to be his instrument. He tells Ananias that Saul ‘is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel’ [Acts 9:15]. Jesus appointed him to spread the Good News [Acts 22:14; cf. Romans 1:1 in CEV].
But isn’t God’s choice, God’s appointment strange!? It’s VERY strange! Why? Saul was not a nice person at all.
Our passage today started, ‘But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…’
A little earlier, Stephen had been stoned to death. His Christian brothers and sisters mourned him. But the church didn’t get a respite. In the following verse we read, ‘But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison’ [Acts 8:3]. Saul was like a Gestapo officer in the Second World War, going from house to house to drag Jews away. I listened to a sermon on this passage. The speaker described Saul as a monster. Saul wasn’t a person WE would appoint for ANY position in the church. And yet, Jesus chose him for one of the most important positions of all. What can we learn from this?
I’d like us to try to put ourselves in Saul’s position and then in Ananias’ position.
IN SAUL’S POSITION
Why did Jesus reach out to Saul? Later in his life, Paul wrote a letter to a young minister called Timothy. He wrote:
‘The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life’ [1 Timothy 1:15].
‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ That’s the business Jesus is in. Jesus saves sinners. If I’m a sinner, Jesus can help me. But someone might say, ‘I’m a TERRIBLE sinner. I’m TOO bad. Jesus can’t help ME.’ But Paul says, ‘You’re wrong. I was the WORST sinner and Jesus saved ME.’ That’s the whole point. That’s why Jesus saved ME. No one is too far gone for Jesus to reach out to them.
Saul’s story tells us that God has power to save. Not only that, Saul’s story tells us that God has extraordinary power to change people.
At the beginning of the 18th century there were two men. Lord Lyttelton went to Eton and Oxford and then entered Parliament. He had a cousin called Gilbert West. West also went to Eton and Oxford but he didn’t go into politics.