Moments come when the world looks different to us. The most dramatic feel like the world will never be the same again. Saul of Tarsus experiences that here in his conversion to Christ. In the first eight chapters of Acts Jesus has established a kingdom across the whole of ancient Israel; it’s been a rebirth of the nation. Now he is ready to expand beyond the borders, as the salvation of a foreign eunuch has already hinted (Ac 8:38). Saul is his man for that job. But since Saul hates the very thought of Jesus’ kingdom (Ac 9:1), the Lord must first turn his life upside down.
In the backdrop to Saul’s conversion sits his anger. Anger can trigger within us due to a variety of factors, such as crime, anxiety, hardship or disruption. Sometimes it seems to well up from deeper places which are simply woven into who we are. Anger isn’t always wrong: it may be a proper reaction to God’s world being spoiled. But it’s often wrong thanks to the harm sin has done to our internal systems. We fire anger up and hold on it, when we ought actually to be saying sorry and seeking forgiveness. Saul’s anger certainly includes what’s wrong. Though his fears about Christians undermining his beloved Judaism are understandable, his anger also flows from a wicked pride which is arrogantly certain that he’s been right about Jesus and his people.
The fact is that Saul was blind long before v8. Just as Jesus condemned the Pharisees as ‘blind guides’ (Mt 23:24), so Saul has also failed to see God’s ways. And just as Jesus wound them up by his words, so he’s also been winding Saul up (Ac 26:14). But though Saul has stubbornly refused to yield to him so far, now Jesus makes a break-through. When the Lord shows Saul that he’s alive (Ac 9:5), then all Saul’s confidence is shattered. His people executed Jesus as a criminal, but God has overturned the verdict. How wrong were they? And to make it worse for himself, Saul has also pursued Jesus’ people – an action which he thought was righteous but which turns out now to be criminal. Anger can so possess us that we do dreadful things; Saul has. On top of that, through the appearance of heavenly glory (Ac 9:3) the Lord has proven himself to be the Son of God (Lu 22:70; Ac 9:20) and shown Stephen’s words to be true (Ac 7) that he does not need a temple or land to meet his people. Saul really has been blind! We should learn from this to be wary of sinful pride in our own lives. When the Lord breaks us, we should be ready to pause, think and pray. Saul even fasts in the aftermath of this blinding encounter (Ac 9:9).
But Saul’s shocking experience prepares him for new sight. Jesus tells a loyal servant, Ananias, to go to Saul (v10,11). This visit will be corroboration for Saul’s future testimony (Ac 22:12). However, more importantly, Ananias will be the way that Jesus renews Saul’s sight (v12). This will happen not only through healing but also through the impact of this believer’s unexpected visit. Ananias is terrified of Saul, even to the point of questioning the Lord’s orders (v13,14). That is precisely the type of visitor Saul needs. Firstly, this will cut away his pride about others as Saul realises it’s people like this man who are ‘saints’ (v13), ie those who have been made fully fit for God through faith in the Lord Jesus. Secondly, Ananias will give Saul a commission which prior to this point would have turned his stomach (v15), and in which he will face suffering similar to that of Jesus himself (v16). Both these will humble Saul so he sees things differently.
There is, however, a third way in which Ananias’ visit will change Saul. He arrives and places his hands on vulnerable, blind and weak Saul (v17). Yet it’s not to harm his persecutor, but to heal him as a ‘brother’ and see him receive the Spirit. In that act is powerfully displayed the truth that life is not about what we do for God but what he does for us. As Saul’s eyes clear (v18), he places himself in the hands of his new brother to be baptised before he breaks his fast and joins the other disciples (v19 – surely a remarkable encounter!). For Saul now sees life in a new way. And that should be something we too desire. Not only at conversion, but through life, we should want to escape blindness by putting away pride and anger, to grow in love for our Lord and his people.