First, my apologies for not posting anything in over a week. I was on the road and between driving and preaching had no time to sit down and pen my thoughts on what will be the second to last post on the conversion of Saul.
Second, the Hand of Help staff has started an e-newsletter, and it will have exclusive content whenever it is published. If you would like to receive it, please go to www.handofhelp.com and sign up there. The first issue will be e-mailed sometime next week.
As always, thank you for your patience, understanding, and prayers.
Acts 9:13-14, “Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
There is one undeniable fact that all true servants of God learn throughout their journey of obedience, that when God sends you, you no longer take into account the roadblocks, or the insurmountable odds, but you go in His name, and He will ensure your victory. Often we are called to step out in faith in ways that are contrary to human reason, or the process of logic we have grown accustomed to applying to our every day decisions. After hearing what the Lord would have him do, Ananias applied just such a process of logic, and came to the conclusion that from a physical standpoint, through the prism of solely human understanding, it would not be wise to approach one who had the authority to bind him, and whose reputation eluded to the fact that he would have no qualms about doing just that.
If Ananias were to lean more on his own understanding than trust in the wisdom and authority of the Lord, by merely analyzing the facts he had at his disposal, and seeing the havoc Saul had already wreaked upon the followers of Christ, he could have easily talked himself into not obeying, not doing what he was told, shrugging off the entire experience as an incident where perhaps God did not have all the information after all.
Often God gives us specific instruction, and thinking that perhaps we know better, even if we would never verbalize such sentiment, we either drag our feet in obeying, or choose to disobey altogether. Ananias knew to place his trust in the Lord, and he also knew that even if all the hosts of hell would come against him, they could do him no harm, for he was walking in the perfect will of God. When God sends you out to perform a duty on His behalf, no matter how difficult it may seem to the naked eye, believe that He will bring it to fruition.
I have often contemplated Ananias’s reaction toward the voice of the Lord, as opposed to Saul’s reaction when he heard the voice. God spoke softly to Ananias, gently urging him to go and encounter Saul, and Ananias had a flicker of doubt, he questioned the Lord. Saul on the other hand had been felled to the ground by the awesome light of the Lord’s presence, and when he was told what to do, he obeyed without question or delay.
Looking at the situation from a purely human standpoint, knowing that Ananias was aware of Saul’s plan to destroy the church, he was simply trying to protect the body of Christ, and spare them any further harm. Ananias was among the first of Christ’s followers to be tempted into thinking that he somehow knew better than the Master that although the Lord’s command had been simple and to the point, He had somehow misspoken, or had been misunderstood.
Yes, the chief priests had given their authority to Saul that he may bind all who call on Christ’s name, but the Great High Priest had countermanded their authority, spoiled their plans, and confounded them by transforming one of the most aggressive persecutors of the church, into one of the most ardent defenders of the faith.
Man appointed and man sanctioned priests are only able to bind, to imprison, to hinder and to stifle, but the Great High Priest, Christ Jesus, is the One who is able to free, to restore, to make new, and transform. The origins of one’s authority are as important as the authority he possesses. If our authority comes from men, it is worthless in the eyes of God, and we are no better than the priests of old who went insofar as imprisonment and murder of those who opposed them for fear of losing their station, and their place of prominence. If our authority comes from God however, our singular concern is truth, our singular passion Christ, and promoting our agenda or denomination never enters into the equation. When the desire to advance an agenda, denomination, or any one particular person overshadows the desire to advance Jesus, we have failed in our mission, our calling, and our primary duty toward the body of Christ.
Acts 9:15-16, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Publilius Syrus a Roman author during the first century once wrote, ‘a good reputation is more valuable than money.’ Saul of Tarsus was not a man of good reputation by any stretch of the imagination, at least not when it came to the followers of Christ. All but God drew conclusions based on what they knew of the man’s actions, by chronicling what he had done, and coming to a rightful assumption concerning his character. We may know of men only what they are willing to disclose of themselves, only what they are willing to share, or what they are discovered to be when some dark and deeply buried secret makes its way to the surface of the general consciousness. God however, sees beyond the now, beyond what we might have done in the past, and knows what we may well become if we yield and submit to His chiseling and molding. The Lord spoke to Ananias, and commanded him to go to Saul of Tarsus, for he was a chosen vessel, one who would bear His name to Jew and Gentile alike.
It is interesting to witness the progression of Saul’s journey, first becoming a child of God by believing in the risen Christ, then becoming a servant of Christ, and lastly becoming a vessel. From child to servant, from servant to vessel, this is the natural progression of one who has been redeemed by faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ Jesus. For Saul, the progress came in quick succession, one quickly followed by the other, in fact almost instantaneous, but for others the growth comes after a period of spiritual growth.
A child cannot be made to labor, for it is a child, and must be allowed to grow. Even after a child has grown, and has become an heir, he or she can still resist a parent’s request to labor.
A servant is able bodied and able to work from day one, and since he or she is not an heir, the servant performs the labors and required tasks with no sense of entitlement or presupposed favor.
Luke 17:10, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.”
Even so, a servant can choose to be lazy, to bury his talent, and be an unprofitable servant. As the parable of the talents so aptly describes, even when a servant is given what he needs in order to perform aptly for his Master, and bring his Master profit, his profitability is not ensured, for it is dependent on what he does with the talent with which he has been entrusted.
When one ascends to the humbling honor of being called a vessel however, he or she has reached the pinnacle of submission and obedience. A vessel cannot resist. A vessel cannot doubt, a vessel cannot justify inaction; a vessel cannot refuse to labor. When one is called a vessel of the Lord, he or she is at the Master’s disposal in totality. The Master picks up a vessel whenever He chooses, He uses it for its intended purpose for however long He chooses, and lays it down whenever He chooses. The vessel does not protest, neither does it resist. A vessel has no will of its own, it has no agenda, no aspirations, no dreams of greatness or grandeur, it is in its Master’s house, waiting to be used.
2 Timothy 2:20-21, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”
Saul was named a chosen vessel by the Lord, and this particular vessel’s function and responsibility would be to bear the name of Christ to kings, Gentiles, and the children of Israel. This is the duty of every vessel, for we are all called to bear the name of Christ, and declare that He is Lord. Christ determines our function and duty in His body, but we all work toward the same goal, to proclaim the name of Jesus. Some are called to be hands, while other feet, while other eyes, while others lips, and as long as we are all aware of our calling, and the talent with which we have been entrusted, we will fulfill our duty every day of our lives. Whether in greater or lesser measure, we must all labor; we must all do our part. More could be said on the topic of vessels, those of honor and dishonor alike, but desiring to maintain the integrity of the whole, and keep my focus on Saul, I will save that teaching for perhaps another time.
While reading the sixteenth verse of the ninth chapter in Acts, I came to realize that Christ never sugar coated anything. He did not tell Ananias that He would show Saul how much he would prosper in this life, how great a ministry he would have, what an impact his life would be on humanity as a whole, but rather that he would be shown how many things he must suffer for Christ’s name.
For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, a great lesson lies within this verse. From the beginning of the faith, to the end of time itself, every true believer must first know the cross, then the duty. Only those who know to carry their cross are able to be vessels of honor for God, and worthy of the future glory.
Every man suffers for something. There are men who sacrifice their youth and their health for their dream home or their dream car, there are men who sacrifice their standards and compromise their beliefs to get ahead, but only suffering for the name of Christ will bring eternal reward.
The man or woman, who knows to suffer for the name of Christ, will carry the burden of all other suffering with ease. Just as Christ told his Apostles that they would have to suffer for His name’s sake, He would now be revealing the extent of his suffering to Saul. The first seventy years after Christ’s crucifixion, were the bleakest and darkest for the followers of Christ in the history of mankind. The cruelties to which the martyrs of old were exposed are unspeakable, their faithfulness awe-inspiring.
The persecution of the saints gave them an opportunity to proclaim the name of Christ, to men they would have never encountered otherwise. As they stood before judges and governors, kings and soldiers alike, they testified of Christ, inspired and compelled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remembering the Lord, His courage, his long suffering, His desire to fulfill the Father’s will, even when the were subjected to the greatest of suffering, they were ready to receive it gladly, considering it unworthy to be compared to the glory that would be revealed in them. His grace was sufficient, even unto death, and His grace is sufficient still.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.