Easter 3 • Acts 9:1–22 • April 18, 2010
by Henry Gerike
A Chosen Instrument of God
While this text from Acts is the foundation for the observation of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25, on the Third Sunday of Easter this Acts reading gives us insight into the life of the church living out the resurrection of our Lord Christ.
The context shows us that we first meet Saul in Acts 7:58, where he is the “young man” serving as the coat-check person at the stoning of Stephen. Acts 8:1–3 indicates that Saul not only approved of the execution, but also participated in “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem.” Describing Saul as “ravaging the church,” with his entering house after house to drag men and women to prison, Luke is setting the stage for the Acts 9 text. The remainder of Acts 8 is devoted to the work of Philip and the conversion of the Samaritans (8:12) and of the Ethiopian eunuch (8:38).
Acts 9:1–22 is one of three accounts of Saul’s conversion recorded by Luke (Acts 22 and 26, plus the one given in Galatians 1), thus giving the weight of attention to this event. So Saul is reintroduced with Acts 9:1, characterized as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Far from being passive in all of this, Saul takes the initiative to gain approval of the high priest for his search-and-destroy mission that he had started in Acts 8:1–3. The targets of Saul’s search-and-destroy mission were those who belonged to the Way, who is Christ our Lord (Jn 14:6).
With Acts 9:3, Saul is well on his way of persecution, nearing Damascus, when there is an abrupt interruption in his journey. According to Acts 22:6 and 26:13, it was at noon that a light from heaven flashed around him. Saul, now on the ground, hears a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This recalls other divine interventions and self-revelations (Ex 3:4, 14; 1 Sm 3:4–7). As he would write later (1 Cor 15:8), “as to one untimely born, [Christ] appeared also to me.” “Persecuting me” emphasizes the close relationship between the risen Christ and his church, his disciples (cf. Lk 10:16).
Saul’s query as to who is speaking is answered by the Lord Jesus, whose words move from accusation to commission: “Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do,” indicating that Saul not only becomes a believer but one who has a role to play in God’s plan. As of verse 6, the old Saul, enemy number one of the church, has died, and now nothing will ever be the same for him, nor for the church. Acts 9:8 begins with Saul rising from the ground as well as from his old life and thus his death. Without sight, food, or drink for three days, Saul is totally helpless, as helpless as a little child.
A leader in the new Christian community in Damascus, Ananias receives instruction through a vision and initially responds, “Here I am, Lord” (cf. Gn 22:1; 1 Sm 3:6, 8). The Lord gives specific instructions to Ananias (“go to the street called Straight and at the house of Judas”) that he should search for and find Saul. Knowing who this Saul is and the evil he has caused, Ananias objects to the Lord, even for the sake of God’s “saints at Jerusalem.” The Lord does not argue with Ananias, but simply repeats, “Go,” along with startling news: this Saul, public enemy number one, is “a chosen instrument of mine.” “Instrument” is used by Luke (Lk 8:16; 17:31; Acts 10:11, 16; 27:17) with the meaning of a container or vessel. So here in Acts 9 Saul is to be a vessel “to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Reversing the description Ananias gives in reference to the havoc and destruction caused by Saul (9:13–14), the Lord (in v. 16) “will show [Saul] how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Ananias, as a messenger of God, does as he is instructed, addressing Saul as brother—a recognition of the same adoption as son of God that Ananias has experienced. For the benefit of Saul as well as those in attendance, Ananias succinctly reviews what has happened to Saul and reveals who has been behind it all—the Lord Jesus. Mention of “the road by which you came” brings to mind the fact that Saul had been on the road to search and destroy those who belonged to the Way. Now Saul has been turned around and set on the way—himself following the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Jesus Christ. Saul now bears in his life the name of Jesus and with his lips proclaims that “Jesus is the Christ.”
When looking back on this account of Saul’s conversion, one is struck by the simple objectivity of the story, rather than any subjective elements that might give insight as to what Saul was thinking or feeling. This objectivity also highlights that the work of conversion is all the doing of God alone; Saul was helpless in it all. We may not understand the choices God makes for his vessels, nevertheless, the choices are God’s. When God converts an enemy (a category that includes us all), his forgiveness makes brothers of us all, members of his family.
A Chosen Instrument of Mine
A. Saul, like us, was an enemy of Christ and his church
1. Saul breathed murderous threats and ravaged the church as an enemy of God.
2. Like Saul we are enemies of God (Rom 5:10).
3. Even before being struck blind outside of Damascus, Saul has been blind to the Truth, Jesus Christ.
B. Like us, Saul is met by the Lord Jesus and changed by his grace (9:10–19)
1. Helpless because of our condition of sin and death, we cannot help ourselves.
2. Saul is raised to new life in Christ (Baptism; 9:18), just as we are raised to new life in the water and Word of life
3. Saul is a chosen instrument of God
a. An instrument has purpose: to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
b. An instrument will “suffer,” show its wear and tear as it is used (9:16)
4. That Saul is identified as “a chosen instrument of mine” indicates that at our baptism, our conversion, we become chosen instruments of God, dedicated for his purpose of carrying God’s name to those in our homes, our workplaces, and our schools.
Benjamin Perkins January 22, 2015
Thank you for your work on this huge text! It’s great fun for an exegete, but the meat-and-potatoes application can be elusive. You steered me in the right direction with the duality of Saul’s blindness, his baptism and his being used as an instrument of God’s.