Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
A few years ago, a colleague and I were encouraging a young adult to become a Christian. Shortly after he agreed to come to faith, it seemed that all hell broke loose around him. His health problems seemed to get worse, he lost his job and divorced. When he asked us why all that was happening and whether he made the wrong decision, we could only offer him the reassurance that God and the church family were standing alongside him both practically and spiritually. When we had the same conversation two years later, his life was almost back to normal and he was much stronger in faith.
I have often been puzzled by why Almighty God allowed Saul to fast and to be blind for three days before being prayed for and baptized? It is not uncommon for God’s people to be humbly broken by God before being spiritually equipped and send out. Saul’s self-righteousness, pride, misguided zeal, status and resistance had to be broken the hard way. This trial probably enabled Saul to truly die to self before being born-again. It appears that painful seasons of brokenness and unexplained suffering may be precursors of great blessings from the Lord. I can personally testify that some of my greatest personal blessings have been preceded by long seasons of unbearable pain, grief, weariness and even unexplained ‘disabilities’. Overtime, I have been learning not to fully despise those seasons or try to explain then away. I have rather been challenged to bear the cross of grief and shame and wait with hope. I understand hope here as the joyful expectation of great things to come.
Ultimately, Saul had to experience a ‘deep’ death to self. Hence, Saul must feel what it means to truly be ‘dead’ before experiencing the delight of new life in Christ. Although we may not all recall such sense of ‘ deep’ death before committing to Christ, it seems that ‘deep’ death, whether gradual or dramatic has the potential to enable a radical and ‘deeper’ transformation. Such ‘deep’ death is also likely to give us the impetus, zeal and passion to enable others to come to faith.
That deep death to self may happen at many stages of our faith journey and reminds me of the words of John 12.24-25: ‘Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal’ (Message translation)
Faithful and transforming God, help us be captives so that we may be truly free, prompt us to lay down our weapons so as to take Yours, enslave our weak and poor hearts into your matchless love, keep our power faint and low till we learn to humbly serve, assist us in deeply dying to self so that we may be fully equipped, make our desires yours, so that they may truly belong to us, and lead us daily so that we may lead in the world according to your will. Amen
Inspired from the hymn ‘make me a captive, Lord’ by George Matheson
The Rev’d Bachelard Kaze is Minister of Marlpool, Eastwood and Langley URCs in Derbyshire. .