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June 15, 2016

When a Terrorist Gets Baptized

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.… As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?’ 

 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord!’ he replied. The Lord said, ‘Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to Me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.’
‘But Lord,’ exclaimed Ananias, ‘I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.’ But the Lord said, ‘Go, for Saul is My chosen instrument to take My message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.’ So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.”  
Acts 9:1; 3,4, 10-18 (NLT)

Apart from Jesus Christ, I can’t think of a single life that has impacted our world with the Gospel more than the Apostle Paul. But, that wasn’t always the case. Luke records Paul’s radical transformation from persecutor to preacher in Acts 9.  What happened on Paul’s (then Saul’s) trip to Damascus forever changed the trajectory of his life!  He was never the same.  Not only would God change his name from Saul to Paul, but his whole life would change.  For all practical purposes, Saul was a first-century terrorist.  He was at the stoning of Stephen, and he aggressively pursued Christ followers, arresting them in an effort to extinguish what he perceived to be a Jewish cult.  He thought he was on a mission from God, but it was God Himself who stopped him in his tracks.  The light of God was so bright that it blinded Saul, and he had to be led by hand into the city of Damascus.  His physical blindness was a vivid symbol of just how spiritually blind he had become.

Christ followers had heard of Saul’s reputation, and they were afraid of what he would do to them when he arrived in their city.  It’s easy to imagine the concern Ananias expressed when God called him to visit Saul, lay hands on him, and pray to receive his sight.  The Message best communicates his concern:

“Ananias protested, ‘Master, you can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem!’” Acts 9:13 (MSG)

But, the Lord assured Ananias that He had a much bigger purpose in mind for Saul.  Can you imagine what that encounter must have been like?  I believe it provided a model for Saul that he would later use as he encountered those who would come to Christ through his ministry.  The Bible tells us what happened in the house where Saul was staying.

“So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” Acts 9: 17-18 (NLT) 

Think about it.  Ananias got to baptize a terrorist! What a baptism experience that must have been!  I wonder if Ananias was tempted to hold him under the water.  Saul may have even terrorized others who were close to Ananias.  But, Ananias obeyed what must have seemed so strange and unbelievable to him.  Then, when he meets Saul, he calls him “brother….”  He embraced this former enemy of the faith as a friend and brother in Christ!  

If God can save a man like Saul and give him a new beginning, He can do it for you.  He can even turn enemies into friends and brothers!