Jesus Creed

PaulCaravaggio.jpgPaul loomed over chapter 8 in Acts; he now lights up the pages with a conversion story. It’s appropriate to have this text today, because tonight I will give a lecture at a North Park seminary conference on the conversion of the apostle Paul. Caravaggio’s rendering is to our right — I like Caravaggio’s use of color and light.

9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 9:2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 9:3 As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 9:4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 9:5 So he said, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! 9:6 But stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.” 9:7 (Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.) 9:8 So Saul got up from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Leading him by the hand, his companions brought him into Damascus. 9:9 For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.

9:10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias,” and he replied, “Here I am, Lord.” 9:11 Then the Lord told him, “Get up and go to the street called ‘Straight,’ and at Judas’ house look for a man from Tarsus named Saul. For he is praying, 9:12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he may see again.” 9:13 But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, 9:14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call on your name!” 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. 9:16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 9:17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 9:18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 9:19 and after taking some food, his strength returned.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 9:20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God.” 9:21 All who heard him were amazed and were saying, “Is this not the man who in Jerusalem was ravaging those who call on this name, and who had come here to bring them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 9:22 But Saul became more and more capable, and was causing consternation among the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

Paul, for a variety of reasons and most of them surely connected to the threat the messianists would be to the integrity and stability of Israel and its commitment to Torah (Pharisaic), was grasping followers of Jesus and imprisoning them. He hauls it off to Damascus to get those who have fled Jerusalem with the persecution.

Somewhere along the way, but apparently close to Damascus, he encounters Jesus who says his persecuting of followers of Jesus is persecuting him — identification of the Body of Christ is at least implicit. Blinded, Paul enters Damascus and gets baptized and gains his sight. Once again, supernatural direction is involved with Ananias.
The focus of the text is not on Paul’s personal salvation but on his mission to the Gentiles. Paul’s gospel was (1) about Jesus as Son of God, (2) preached in the synagogues, and (3) that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah.
The mission of God is to reach all people with the good news about Jesus.
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