Saul, Saul
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 15 September 2013
Part 2 of 3

We are continuing in our study of Acts 9:1-19 where we find Saul’s name being repeated by our Lord. In our previous article, on verses 1-9, we looked at Saul’s encounter with Jesus. In this article, we will consider Ananias’ encounter with Jesus from verses 10-16.

In verse 10, we are introduced to Ananias. He are told that he was a disciple at Damascus. From Acts 22, we learn that he was a devout Jew, one who kept the law, and who had a good report of all the Jews that dwelt there. In other words, Ananias was a pious and prominent Jewish convert in Damascus, and in all likelihood, he was one of the leaders in the Church of Damascus. And as a leader in the church there, he would most definitely have been one of main targets of Saul for persecution normally begins with the leaders first. 

The Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Ananias,” and Ananias replied, “Behold, I am here, Lord.” Like Samuel of old, Ananias was all eager and ready to hear the word of the Lord and to serve him.

But he was in for quite a surprise.

The Lord went on to say to him in verses 11 and 12, “Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus: for, behold he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”

Ananias was instructed to go to a street called Straight. Here is the only place in the entire New Testament where a street name is given. Ananias was to go to this street and look for the house belonging to Judas, someone whom Ananias probably didn’t know, which explains why he had to inquire for it.

There in Judas’ house, he would find Saul of Tarsus. And what was Saul doing in Judas’ house? The end of verse 11 says, “Behold, he prayeth.” This was what he had been doing during those three days when he was without sight. He was fasting and praying. The word “behold” speaks of something strange or unexpected. Previously, he merely said his prayers out of duty, but now he was truly praying them as a converted man.

We learn from verse 12 that Saul had been given a vision by God of a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him in order to restore his sight. God was using a pair of visions to bring these two men together – two men who had been poles apart previously.

I’ll like us to observe two things from God’s vision to Saul. Firstly, the tables had been turned on Saul. He was supposed to go to Ananias to arrest him, but now, Ananias was coming to him to help him. Saul must have heard of the name Ananias before he came to Damascus since Ananias was a prominent Jewish Christian in that city and thus one of his prime targets. So instead of Saul going to look for Ananias, Ananias now had to go looking for Saul.

The second thing I’ll like us to observe from verse 12 is the Lord’s kind and tender dealings with this former persecutor of the church. In his moments of darkness, the Lord gave Saul hope by the vision of Ananias coming to him to restore his sight. Three days of darkness can seem like a very long time and the Lord did not want this newly converted man to be overly sorrowful or discouraged and so he gave him this vision of hope to encourage his heart. Indeed, as the Psalmist says, the Lord is merciful and gracious, and full of compassion. He knows our frame and he remembers that we are dust.

What was Ananias’ response to the Lord’s instruction? We read in verses 13-14, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.”

Ananias humbly objected to the Lord’s command. The Christians at Damascus had received word from those who had fled the persecution at Jerusalem, about the great evil that had come upon the saints there, and how Saul of Tarsus was the leader of that persecution.

Saul had become well known for his cruelty and ruthless dealings with the Christians. And as if hearing about the sufferings of the saints at Jerusalem were not bad enough, the believers at Damascus received news that this zealous persecutor was headed their way with the authority from the chief priests to arrest them – men, women and children; and to do to them the same evil that he had done to the saints at Jerusalem.

Most probably, Ananias objected to going to Saul because he was afraid for his own life, and it was his weak faith that prompted him to object to the clear command of the LORD. Ananias needed further encouragement and assurance before he was willing to go and that was what the Lord gave him in verses 15 and 16. “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.”

The Lord graciously and patiently condescended to reason with Ananias. Isn’t this another example of God’s tender mercies towards those of His saints who are weak? Indeed, the Lord was dealing with both Saul and Ananias in tender and gentle ways. The Lord said to Ananias, “go thy way” or “go where I have sent you without doubt or apprehension.”

The Lord then revealed two important things to him about Saul. Firstly, Saul was a chosen vessel or instrument to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, to kings and to the children of Israel. The word vessel is the same word found in Romans 9:21-23. God had chosen Saul to be a vessel unto honour and a vessel of mercy. When you read the epistles of Paul, you’ll notice that quite often, he would begin by calling attention to that fact that he was an apostle, not by the will of man, but by the will and commandment of God. And he was chosen by God to be an apostle for the purpose of bearing witness to the truth of the gospel before all kinds of people, especially the Gentiles.     

But the second thing which the Lord revealed to Ananias about Saul was that he would undergo much suffering for Christ’s sake. He was to serve and glorify the Lord actively through the preaching of the gospel, and passively through suffering for His name’s sake. He was called both to labour diligently as well as to endure much suffering. He, who up until that time had made others suffer for the truth, was now to suffer for it himself. Later in the book of Acts, Luke will record of assassination conspiracies, slander, stoning, beating, imprisonment, and shipwreck. Paul himself will give a catalog of his own sufferings for Christ’s sake in 1 and 2 Corinthians.

But notice the mixture of severity and tenderness in verse 16. Severity in that Paul was being sentenced to suffer many and great things during his life and ministry, but tenderness in that it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who would show him what he must suffer. It wasn’t ultimately Satan or an enemy who would put Paul through such pain and suffering. It was the Lord Himself. He, who is such a tender and kind Master, would not allow His servants to suffer unnecessarily or beyond what they can bear. All that Paul had to go through would be beneficial both for him and for the Church as a whole.

Paul was not suffering as payment or punishment for his sins, grievous as they were. It’s important to remember that. Christ bore all the punishment for Saul while He hung on the cross, and Saul’s sufferings did not add anything to his own redemption.

And so there is something very comforting and assuring about having the One who suffered and died for you to show you the path of suffering that you must take, because you know that He understands what you’re going through and He means you no harm at all. “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

—Linus Chua