The Man Who Had Scales Fall From His Eyes
January 17, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. "The man who had scales fall from his eyes" is Paul. The great Apostle Paul. The Paul who authored a major portion of the New Testament. Had he not existed, the later church may not have existed. However, this same Paul was originally a persecutor of the church. God chose a persecutor, of all persons, to prepare the church's future. Of all things for God to do, he added a persecutor to a church that had been nothing but persecuted. [God] added a person who had put others to a violent death into a group of persons whose friends and families were violently killed. And God made both the man who caused the pain and the people who received the pain to worship the Lord together and to proclaim the gospel together. Impossible things like this have happened for real in this concrete world of reality.
2. To live believing in God is to live a life opened to many possibilities. God isn't having a hard time understanding things stuck in a box compared to our tiny little heads with our puny ideas. We're taught this point over and over throughout the scriptures. Often times God will make something come to pass beyond what we ever imagined in a way that we absolutely never could have even thought. At times, using what appears to be only the worst of things, God will deliver the best of things through a process that we had no idea about. The extreme of that is the cross of Christ. For, through the worst event of human beings and their putting the son of God on a cross, God made the atonement for sin come to pass, and gave salvation to this world. And, when we encounter God's actions that have gone beyond our imaginations, then we too will be able to see what we have never even considered to this moment, but we will truly see its value. What is written in the passage that I read to you today is one such example of God's deeds.
The Persecutor Saul
3. Today, I read Acts chapter nine, but it is in the scene where Stephen is persecuted to death in chapter seven that Paul, but with his other name Saul, first appears on the scene. "Shouting out loud, the people plugged their ears with their hands and aiming for Stephen attacked at once, and after dragging him outside the capitol city, they began to throw stones at him. The witnesses placed at the feet of a youth named Saul the articles they were wearing," (7:57-58).
4. From reading the description in chapter seven, Stephen's execution was clearly a lynching. It was not a law-abiding execution. But it is worth taking note of the fact that the text speaks about "witnesses." According to what is stipulated in the law, before anyone else, the witnesses are to throw the first stones. At least in form, it is suggesting that they proceeded with Stephen's killing with the appearance of a legal execution. There is an assertion of their righteousness with that [phraseology]. It was through and through to the end an execution that was based on their own righteousness.
5. It was this man named Saul who had kept a cold watch over Stephen's dying as he was hit by stones and bloodied, and who had expressed his approval of it. The Bible says, "Saul consented to Stephen's killing," (8:1). We think how cruel and barbaric of him! But this man called Saul and the others who had cast the stones were not, by any word, villains and hooligans. Perhaps almost all of the people who were there were members of the supreme court, the Sanhedrin. They were leaders who garnered the respect of others. They were righteous men who valued order and observed the law.
6. Truly barbaric acts do not show themselves among the evil of this world, but among the righteous of this world. Rather than putting it that way, it may be more accurate to have said the [most] barbaric acts are only done in the name of righteousness. Concurrent with the acknowledgement of one's own evil, humankind does not actively become accustomed to cruelty. This can be said with regard to things between one person and another, or one state and another. Whether bullying, killing, war, or terrorism, they all have in them a theory of righteousness behind them. When they have a theory of righteousness behind it, they [can] do barbaric acts of cruelty, not even realizing their own brutality. True sinfulness lies in not even thinking what you are doing is sinful but yet doing the sinful act.
7. Saul had consented to the killing of Stephen and then he began to persecute the church to the uttermost. "At the same time, Saul forced his way in from house to house and laid the church waste, and without even questioning the men and the women he dragged them out and sent them to jail," says the scripture, (8:3). Then at last he extends his hand of persecution as far as Damascus in Syria. In the passage that I read to you today the following is written. "Then, threatening the disciples of the Lord more and more, and zealous in his willingness to kill, Saul went to the high priest and asked for a letter addressed to the various synagogues in Damascus. [The letter's purpose] was [to authorize him] if he should find a person following the Way, to bind the men and the women without questioning them and to bring them to Jerusalem," (verses one and two).
8. It is not easy persecuting [people]. A considerable amount of hard work is required. But, not sparing himself the toil, Saul was ready to go way up to Damascus because he believed that he was doing what was right. Joy accompanies an action for righteousness. Even if it is the cruelest act, joy accompanies activities on behalf of righteousness. A person finds the meaning of one's existence in them. They get a sense of being alive, a reason to live. Therefore, people don't spare themselves from the hard work in it.
9. But God did not allow Saul to arrive in Damascus as a fighter for righteousness. Christ blocked his path. Christ knocked Paul down. The scripture says the following. "However, when Saul was on his journey and getting close to Damascus, all of a sudden, a light from heaven shined around him. Saul fell to the ground, he heard a voice calling out to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' When he said, 'Lord, who are you?,' there was an answer. 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up, go into the city. After that, you will be informed of what you should do.' The people who were traveling with him, even though they could hear the voice, but not seeing the figure of anyone, were standing, not saying a thing," (verses three through seven).
10. Paul was knocked to the ground. And when Paul stood up again, Paul's eyes could not see, he became blind. [As arranged by God], he was led by the hand by the others and he went to Damascus. This experience of his is truly symbolic. The one who was knocked down at that point was [this] Paul who did not doubt but believed that he stood so firmly. He believed that he himself had stood to this very moment on the side of the righteous, and after he judged others, then at that point the people, whom he had led to death, were knocked down. And the one who had been blinded at that point was Paul who was in used to believing that he was seeing righteous deeds. When Paul couldn't see a thing, he must have realized that that very darkness had been his life to that moment. He used to believe that he could see, however, [he found out] that he had been doing unthinkable things while actually unable to see [his own evil].
11. But though knocked down, blinded, and put into darkness, it wasn't the end. He had heard a voice at that point. He heard the voice calling his name, "Saul, Saul." He heard the voice in which Christ was calling him. It was the Christ whom Paul had been persecuting. But it was also the Christ who was crucified for Paul. What Paul heard in his ears was the voice of the Christ who was willing to forgive his sins, make him stand up again, and give him a future.
12. Thus, God came into Paul's life but not in a way based on how a person would see it. And he gave him the salvation and the forgiveness that far exceeded human expectations. When you think about it, though, isn't the way God acted, in the way that he surpassed human imagination, even the same with respect to us? Thus, I would say, here we are now in this place.
The Meeting That Was Prepared By The Lord
13. However, when God acts in a manner that goes beyond the human imagination, I don't think he is going to do all of it on his own. He brings in people into it. He uses people in a way that goes beyond human imagination.
14. The Lord appeared in a vision to a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. When the Lord called out to him, "Ananias!," Ananias replied, "Lord, here am I!" Whereupon, the Lord commanded him with an amazing thing. "Stand, go to the street that is called 'Straight Street,' and visit the man from Tarsus by the name of Saul who is at the home of Judas! He is praying right now. He saw in a vision the man Ananias come in, lay hands upon him and make his eyes see again," (verses eleven and twelve).
15. The two people meet in a way unimaginable. But then as it is written here in the text, the act of two people meeting in a way where one of them is given the specifics in a dream has probably never been experienced by anybody exactly in that way. But, don't we experience from time to time entirely unexpected meetings given to [us] in a way that could only be said that it was truly prepared by the Lord?
16. Thus, [we do have such] encounters prepared and given to us by the Lord. At first they are not necessarily something desirable. "Of all people, why do I have to be with this one!" "Why do I have to have business with a person like this!" There are times we can't help but feel that way. For Ananias, Paul was in no way the person "I really really want to meet." He was not the person he wanted to have business with.
17. Ananias had every possible reason he should refuse Saul. There were a lot of folks who had escaped from Jerusalem to Damascus. In Ananias' neighborhood, there was a great number of persons whose friends were put to death by the hated Saul and whose peaceful lives were stolen away from them by him. Ananias must have heard a bunch of stories about such folks. And now, the hand of persecution was about to extend to Ananias himself. It is highly unlikely that he wanted to go to a man like that or do anything for him.
18. Naturally then, Ananias would be resistant. Explaining to the Lord what kind of character this Saul is, he states his dissatisfaction with the Lord's guiding him to him. But the Lord says, "Go!" The reason was simple. The Lord says, "That man is the vessel I have chosen to communicate my name to the Gentiles, to kings, and to the children of Israel," (verse fifteen). Whatever his past and whatever his hereditary disposition may have been, he is the vessel whom the Lord has chosen. "I have chosen." -- No greater reason than that can be given. That is sufficient. And, the Lord says, "Go!" Ananias proceeds on to Paul. Then he lays his hands on him and says, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who has appeared to you while you were coming here, has sent me so that you will be able to see again, and also, so that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit," (verse seventeen).
19. "Brother Saul" -- That's what Ananias called the former persecutor Saul. It wasn't because Ananias was an especially generous person. He had accepted the choice and the plan of God, who had caused them to meet the way they did. The Lord chose Saul, entrusted a task to him, and gave him to the church. The Lord made Saul Ananias' true "brother." Ananias had accepted that truth in the presence of the Lord. If said another way, it would be that Ananias had accepted [the reality] that what God does goes beyond human experience and that God's plan far exceeds human imagination. We may not understand it clearly now, however, God will certainly do good things in a manner unimaginable to us. Believing that to be true, he trusted the Lord and obeyed. By faith, Ananias called out to Paul, "Brother Saul!"
20. Something like scales fell from the eyes of Saul, he could see again. Saul got up, received baptism, and was added to the Lord's church. But in a certain sense, I think the scales had fallen from the eyes of Ananias just as much as [it did for Paul]. Thus, along with those who have been persecuted, the man who did the persecuting comes to worship the Lord, serve the Lord, and proclaim the Lord. In this way then, God's deeds, which surpass human imagination, are one part of it, but then also human faith, which accepts God's deeds that go beyond human ideas, is the other part. As [the two parts] become one, the deeds of God's salvation come to pass in ways visible to the eye. Let's offer up ourselves [to God] and obey with faith and hope [for his salvation to be done before our eyes]!