Daily Reflections January 9, 2017
The story of Saul’s conversion is told three times in The Acts of the Apostles. It is told here in chapter 9, again in chapter 22 and a third time in chapter 26. Obviously Luke thought the story was important for us to consider. It is probably intended as a pattern of conversion. Saul was a man of violence and hatred, he was stubborn and proud, he was not seeking Christ, rather he was bent on persecuting the church when all of the sudden - BAM! - God intervened. He knocked Saul down, wounded his body, rebuked his pride and converted his soul! What a story! However, before we universalize Saul/Paul’s narrative, it is helpful to remember that it stands shoulder to shoulder with the far less dramatic conversion narrative of the Ethiopian eunuch. As one old preacher said: “There is only one way to God, through Jesus Christ, but there are many ways to Jesus.” That’s true. Not all of us have the sort of dramatic conversion that Saul had - some of us are more like the Ethiopian - or perhaps more like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus - but one way or the other, God draws us to himself through the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We should probably also notice that Jesus receives persecution of the church as an attack upon his own person. Look carefully at verses 4-5:
And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:4–5 ESV)
Saul thought he was persecuting the church - he didn’t know he was persecuting Jesus but the two things cannot be separated. That’s a helpful thing to remember the next time you pray for the persecuted church. The Lord identifies with his people:
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40 ESV)
As modern day Evangelicals we are almost incapable of understanding this chapter of the Bible. We don’t see what Ezra and the officials of Israel saw, but then again, we have not been through what those folks had been through. They had lived through exile and remarkable consequence and some of them, obviously, had learned the hard lessons of history. Bible reading Israelites knew that intermarriage with non-believers had frequently been a cause of apostasy and covenantal unfaithfulness. When Balaam had been unable to curse God’s people because God’s blessing rested upon them, he devised another way to bring them into ruin: seduce them with Moabite women! Through their relationship with these women many Israelites were drawn into idolatry and away from the living God. The same thing happened again with Solomon.
Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. (Nehemiah 13:26 ESV)
In many ways it was the interfaith marriages of Solomon that set Israel on the path to apostasy, destruction and exile; no wonder Ezra reacted the way he did when he heard the news that many of the Jews had taken wives from among their unbelieving neighbours:
As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. (Ezra 9:3 ESV)
How could people who had received such mercy turn again unto sin? Ezra can’t believe it and he cries out to God saying:
And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? (Ezra 9:13–14 ESV)
One of the most important lessons of the Old Testament is here set before our eyes: the law tells us how to walk before God but it does not give us the power to do it. We’re broken - we’re impossibly stupid and sinful, we don’t learn from history and we seem destined to repeat the mistakes of our parents and grandparents – we need intervention! We need rescue! We need a Saviour sent from God!
This is the sort of darkness into which Jesus comes as light – thanks be to God!