August 20 Lesson 12 Called to Preach

Devotional Reading: 1 Timothy 4:6-16

Background Scripture: Acts 9:1-31

Acts 9:10-20

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

Photo: Dennis Owusu-Ansah / iStock / Thinkstock

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

Key Verse

There was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. —Acts 9:10

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Describe the interactions of Ananias with God and Saul.

2. Explain the fear Ananias expressed when directed to meet with Saul.

3. Evaluate how much of an “Ananias” he or she is when responding to God’s call and formulate a plan to change shortcomings identified.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Physicist Becomes a Preacher

B. Lesson Background: Saul

C. Lesson Background: Damascus

I. Disturbing Vision (Acts 9:10-16)

A. Saul Waits (vv. 10-12)

Vision, Mirage, or Hindsight?

B. Ananias Fears (vv. 13, 14)

C. The Lord Insists (vv. 15, 16)

II. Dramatic Visit (Acts 9:17-20)

A. Ananias Obeys (v. 17)

B. Saul Sees (vv. 18, 19a)

C. Synagogues Hear (vv. 19b, 20)

The Foundation of Preaching

Conclusion

A. Faith and Obedience in Two Men

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

A. Physicist Becomes a Preacher

John Polkinghorne was one of the greatest British physicists of the twentieth century. He finished a doctorate at Cambridge University at age 25 and was invited to return to Cambridge to teach when he was 27. He participated in formulating the theory of the quark, a particle that is one of the building blocks of matter. He was one of the most brilliant men of his age. Yet after 25 years of this spectacular career in science, Polkinghorne left it all to train for the priesthood in the Church of England. He was ordained and eventually returned to Cambridge University in 1986 to serve as chaplain for Trinity Hall, one of the colleges of the university. The physicist became a preacher.

This week’s lesson is about an even more dramatic career change.

B. Lesson Background: Saul

Saul, a Jew from Tarsus, had been trained as a rabbi by the best teachers in Jerusalem (compare Acts 22:3). His education in the law would have been the ancient equivalent of a doctoral degree today. When the Jewish leadership began to persecute Christians, Saul was their point man. We first see this in his leadership role in this regard in the stoning of Stephen (7:58).

Saul went on to terrorize the church by conducting house-to-house searches for Christians (Acts 8:3; 22:4). His persecuting zeal reached a fever pitch when he took the initiative to ask the high priest for authority to extend the persecution to Damascus, about 150 miles to the north of Jerusalem. His plan was to find Christians in the Jewish population there and bring them back to Jerusalem by force (9:1, 2). His encounter with the risen Christ is the immediate backdrop for today’s lesson (9:3-9). Saul’s ambitions and zeal had not gone unnoticed by the Lord of the church!

C. Lesson Background: Damascus

The site of today’s lesson is the city of Damascus. In the Old Testament, this city is identified with the kingdom of Syria (or Aram), the sometime ally but often foe of ancient Israel (see 1 Kings 15:18). Some claim that Damascus is the oldest continually inhabited site in the world. Indeed, the Bible notes its existence in the time of Abraham (see Genesis 15:2), and archaeological data extends back even further.

Damascus was important in the first century AD as a trading hub for caravan routes. It was a multiethnic city with a substantial Jewish population. These facts highlight the perceived need to extend persecution against Jewish Christians there. Threats to the “purity” of synagogues in Damascus could not be tolerated.

Saul’s mission to this city changed, however, before he arrived there. As today’s lesson opens, Saul is in his third day of blindness as a result of his encounter with Christ.

I. Disturbing Vision

(Acts 9:10-16)

A. Saul Waits (vv. 10-12)

10. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

We gain a bit more information about this certain disciple ... named Ananias by consulting Acts 22:12, where Paul (formerly the Saul of today’s lesson) describes Ananias as “a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there.” We take care, of course, not to confuse him with two others by the same name in Acts 5:1 and 24:1.

Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, uses the word disciple dozens of times in his two works. In his Gospel, a disciple is a dedicated student of Jesus the teacher. In Acts, a disciple is a committed follower of the risen Lord. In that regard, Ananias may be much like many Christians today: serving the Lord faithfully in relative anonymity. How surprised Ananias must be, then, to experience a vision in which the Lord communicates with him personally!

The word vision implies seeing things not normally seen, but may also consist of hearing things not normally heard. The Lord’s communication with Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 is instructive. Verse 15 calls the episode “the vision,” although Samuel apparently sees nothing (but hears plenty). The same seems to be the case here. Further, both instances involve the Lord’s calling the name of the one being spoken to. But unlike young Samuel, Ananias recognizes what is happening immediately. So he answers behold, I am here, Lord.

What Do You Think?

How can you show appreciation for the behind-the-scenes, nearly anonymous people who have influenced you for Christ?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Sunday school teachers from your early years

Someone who showed you unusual kindness

Someone who provided wise counsel during a difficult period

11. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.

The divine communication with Ananias bears similarities to and differences from the divine communication with Cornelius in Acts 10:1-6 (next week’s lesson). Both visions name the individual being addressed, name the person to be sought, and provide location of the latter. They are different in that Ananias is directed personally to arise, and go, while Cornelius is directed to “send men” to accomplish the assignment at hand.

When we consider the verse before us in light of Acts 9:9, we realize that Saul’s “time-out” for prayer and fasting (while blind!) is in its third day.

What Do You Think?

What steps can we take to ensure we do not stagnate while in a “time-out” of life?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

During a lengthy recovery from an injury

During an unpaid furlough from work

While on military deployment

While spending much time providing end-of-life care for another

The street which is called Straight is a major east-west thoroughfare in Damascus. It is some 50 feet wide, with impressive gates at each end. It would be equivalent to the Broadway or High Street of some cities today, and a house on such a boulevard would be prestigious.

The Bible records no other facts about the particular Judas mentioned here. It is very unlikely that he is a Christian, but rather is one of the Jews in the city who expects to receive Saul and support his assignment from the high priest (see the Lesson Background). Ananias, as a Christian of Jewish background, likely knows of the house of Judas since the location of the man’s house on an important street is likely an indicator of his prominence and wealth. Judas is not an uncommon name at the time; therefore giving his address clarifies his identity.

12. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

The Lord reveals to Ananias that a parallel vision has taken place. Saul is proceeding as instructed (Acts 9:6), and we notice irony in the fact that the blind Saul is privileged to have seen in a vision the pending arrival of Ananias for the purpose of restoring Saul’s eyesight.

The irony should not distract us from the crucial issue of Saul’s blindness. This trauma surely prompts deep soul searching on his part! The vital nature of his experience on the road to Damascus is seen in that its facts are recorded in three places in the book of Acts: chapters 9, 22, and 26. The crucial nature of what is taking place surely is not lost on Saul, even at this early point. Saul’s vision of Ananias undoubtedly gives hope. But on another level, it also deepens the mystery for the time being.

How to Say It

Ananias An-uh-nye-us.

Cornelius Cor-neel-yus.

Damascus Duh-mass-kus.

Eusebius You-see-be-us.

Gentiles Jen-tiles.

Judas Joo-dus.

Messiah Meh-sigh-uh.

Nazareth Naz-uh-reth.

Pentecost Pent-ih-kost.

Tarsus Tar-sus.

Before moving on, we should note that the fact that Ananias is designated by name in Saul’s vision is important for at least a couple of reasons. First, the arrival of a man with that very name will be evidence for the divine source of the vision. Second, Saul will be able to inform the owner of the house of the pending arrival of Ananias so that the visitor will not be denied entrance.

Vision, Mirage, or Hindsight?

Constantine the Great was the Roman emperor from AD 306 to 337. During a time of unrest and civil war, he found himself leading an army against a larger force that had occupied Rome. The climactic battle, fought at Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312, was a decisive victory for Constantine, putting him firmly on the path to being uncontested as emperor.

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The victory also led the pagan Constantine to be the first emperor of the Roman Empire to embrace Christianity. According to church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, this came about because of a vision Constantine allegedly had from Christ on the day before the battle. The claimed vision was that of the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek, superimposed. This “trophy of a cross of light in the heavens” bore the inscription “Conquer by this.” Constantine did just that, after putting the Chi-Rho on the banners of his army.

Did the vision actually occur, or was it made up later to fit the facts of the battle’s outcome? It’s impossible to say. The Bible clearly establishes that God has used visions and dreams to communicate (Genesis 41:15; Numbers 12:6; etc.). But Scripture is equally clear regarding the problem of false visions (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16; Ezekiel 13:6-9; etc.; compare Deuteronomy 18:22). Our lesson text—interesting in that God uses a vision of one man (Acts 9:10) to explain the vision of another man—records facts of history. Even so, Hebrews 1:1, 2 sets forth a vital caution regarding claims of visions today: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past ... hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” —J. B. N.

B. Ananias Fears (vv. 13, 14)

13. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.

Like others called, Ananias does not immediately accept his assignment (compare Exodus 4:10-13). He wants nothing to do with Saul, having heard two disturbing things about the man.

First, Saul’s reputation has preceded him, since Ananias knows that this man has already done much evil to the believers back in Jerusalem. The nature of this evil is outlined by the perpetrator himself years later: “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, ... and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme” (Acts 26:10, 11).

Ananias is saying that he knows that Saul has been a persecutor of the church. Implied in this is knowledge of Saul’s complicity in the death of Stephen (see Acts 7:58). This too the repentant perpetrator admits to in due time (see 22:20).

14. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

Second, Ananias also knows that Saul intends to do in Damascus what he has done in Jerusalem. The authority from the chief priests under which Saul operates does not result in an undercover endeavor. Rather, Saul’s intentions seem to be a matter of common knowledge (compare Acts 9:1, 2; 22:5; 26:12). The concern of Ananias is understandable, given this man’s track record.

What Do You Think?

What are some ways to respond to excuses for resisting God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Concerning the “I don’t have time” excuse

Concerning the “I’m not qualified” excuse

Concerning the “It’s too dangerous” excuse

Other

C. The Lord Insists (vv. 15, 16)

15. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.

The Lord does not allow fear to alter the assignment. Instead, Ananias is privileged to be made aware of the broad contours of the plan. And as history reveals, Saul (as Paul) does indeed end up presenting Christ to the Gentiles (example: Acts 18:6-11), and kings (example: 26:1-29), and the children of Israel (example: 17:1-3). The zeal with which Saul serves the high priest (see Philippians 3:6) is being redirected for the Lord’s service.

Surely this prophetic word is an eye-opener for Ananias. Preaching Christ to the Israelites is understandable according to Jesus’ own model (Matthew 15:24; etc.), but by Saul of all people! Further, there is apparently no expectation of extending the gospel to Gentiles at this point in time (compare Acts 11:18, 19). The idea of witnessing to political rulers seems far-fetched if Daniel 2 is not called to mind.

16. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

The man who has caused more suffering among Christians than any other will join their ranks as one who endures persecution (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). No more letters from high priests, but a commission from the Lord of the church (also Acts 22:10; 26:15-18). No more well-funded expeditions to arrest believers, but shoestring-budgeted missions to cities to make believers (see 1 Corinthians 9:7-12). No more threats of murder for Jews who have become Christian, but plots against his own life (see Acts 9:23-25; 23:12-22).

What Do You Think?

In what ways have you seen Christians put aside fears and follow the will of God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In dealing with a family issue

In dealing with an abusive coworker

In dealing with a financial crisis

In dealing with a crisis in the church

II. Dramatic Visit

(Acts 9:17-20)

A. Ananias Obeys (v. 17)

17. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

As Ananias encounters Saul, we should remember that Saul cannot see him. There is no indication that the two have ever met, so Ananias’s voice is not familiar to Saul. We have to imagine that Saul is just as fearful as Ananias, if not more so! Saul may be doubting everything he has been taught and has believed to this point. His world is turned upside down. He has been waiting sightless for three days without eating or drinking anything (Acts 9:9).

No idle chitchat is recorded as Ananias seems to get immediately to the point of the visit. His willingness to touch Saul while addressing him as Brother seems to indicate that Ananias’s fear has been at least partially allayed. We do not have to be completely without fear in order to obey. Fear grows when we sit and stew about what might happen. Fear is overcome by faith as faith is put into action.

What Do You Think?

Under what circumstances should physical contact with someone in distress be encouraged or discouraged? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding private, one-to-one counseling sessions

In light of cultural expectations or dictates

Other

The Lord, even Jesus is the focus of Ananias’s pronouncement to Saul. It is Jesus who has granted the parallel visions of Ananias and Saul. This supernatural knowledge confirms again for Saul that the Lord is active in all of this. This is not demonic deception. The fact that the risen Jesus has sent Ananias to restore Saul’s eyesight as predicted establishes that the man has not been abandoned.

But Ananias has also been sent for Saul to be filled with the Holy Ghost, something not recorded to have been made known to that man (see v. 12, above). Only Luke of the New Testament authors uses the phrases “filled with the Holy Ghost” or “full of the Holy Ghost.” In Luke’s Gospel, this status is applied to John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), his parents (1:41, 67), and Jesus (4:1).

In the book of Acts, the same status characterizes the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4), Peter on a later occasion (4:8), believers gathered for prayer (4:31), seven chosen to serve (6:3, 5; 7:55), Barnabas (11:24), Saul (here and 13:9), and unnamed disciples (13:52). The second of the two passages applied to Saul is accompanied by his name change from Saul to Paul. Further, there is significant irony in the fact that the context has the previously blinded Paul pronouncing blindness on an enemy of Christ (13:9-11).

B. Saul Sees (vv. 18, 19a)

18, 19a. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.

As Saul’s blindness had been imposed instantaneously, so now is restoration of his sight. The word for what drops from his eyes is translated scales, indicating something like the scales of a fish. This does not mean that Saul has grown a fish-like skin over his eyes. The sense is of something that can be peeled off like the scales of a fish. It is as if a layer of skin that has covered his eyes is miraculously peeled away by the hand of God and falls to Saul’s lap. This may indicate that Saul’s eyesight was not damaged in and of itself, but has been blocked in a physical way as a result of his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road.

With this disabling condition removed, Saul wastes no time in receiving baptism. This likely is administered by Ananias, perhaps in the nearby Brada River. Saul is ready to go! The weakness that results from a three-day fast is quickly reversed by a meal. But we notice that the thing of greater spiritual significance (baptism) comes first.

C. Synagogues Hear (vv. 19b, 20)

19b, 20. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

The Jews of Damascus had expected Saul to come from Jerusalem and condemn those of their fellow Israelites who had embraced Christ. Instead, Saul begins to advocate the Christian message, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. So begins Saul’s career as a preacher.

The Foundation of Preaching

Walter Scott (1796-1861) was a highly effective evangelist and author. Over a lifetime of ministry, he developed an emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ. His book The Messiahship, of nearly 400 pages, documented his thought and study in this regard.

By analyzing the preaching of the apostles, Scott concluded that they preached only about Christ—that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. The apostles supported their assertion by pointing to Jesus’ miracles, to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and to the testimony of eyewitnesses. Scott argued that this was a matter-of-fact conclusion, one that anyone with normal intelligence could accept, based on the factual support.

Much of Scott’s gospel preaching drew from a simple outline regarding things a person must do and things God promised to do for someone to receive salvation. Some parts of that outline are worded better than others, given the advance of biblical understanding since Scott’s day. But the outline as a whole rested on the foundational premise of Paul’s preaching: Jesus is the Son of God. And so it should remain. —J. B. N.

Conclusion

A. Faith and Obedience in Two Men

The dramatic events of Acts 9 record how extreme God’s action had to be for Saul to turn his attention to God’s call. Saul was so obsessed with climbing the ladder of favor within the Jewish leadership (Galatians 1:14) that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the Christian message. He was spiritually blind to the fact that he was persecuting Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God.

Visual for Lessons 3 & 12. Point to the last two lines of this hymn as you ask, “What has to happen for us to be aware of the deeds God expects of us?”

Saul, as Paul, went on to become the great apostle to the Gentiles. Christians of non-Jewish background owe him a great debt of gratitude, for he fought a somewhat lonely battle to gain an equal place in the church for people of all backgrounds. Even so, let us not forget the key role of the nearly anonymous Ananias, who was called by God to overcome his fears and minister to the church’s greatest enemy at just the right time.

The voice of Ananias was part of the call of God for the one who came to be known as the apostle Paul. Nearly 30 years later, Paul mentioned this man by name (Acts 22:12). He never forgot this man of faith, a faith that overcame fear.

Acts 9 is not intended as a pattern for how God brings people to faith, and the role of Paul as apostle was unique. Even so, God expects us at times to be His hands and feet, as was Ananias. May we overcome our fears as we answer that call.

B. Prayer

Lord, tune our spiritual eyes and ears to perceive the tasks You have for us. Grant us humility with courage as we embrace those tasks. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

God’s call is insistent and persistent.

Involvement Learning

Into the Lesson

Before class, write this incomplete sentence on the board: “One household chore I try to avoid doing is ______________.”

As students arrive, draw their attention to the sentence on the board. To begin class, ask for volunteers to complete the sentence and give reasons for their feelings about the chore named.

Alternative. Distribute copies of the “Not My Job!” activity from the reproducible page, which you can download. Have students discuss it in pairs or small groups.

After either activity, lead into Bible study saying, “Some jobs are not pleasant, but they need to be done nonetheless. In the early days of the church, Ananias of Damascus was given a job to do by God himself. Let’s see how he reacted to the job and the difference that was made because of it.”

Into the Word

Divide your class into three groups. Give each group paper and pens. Each group should be assigned a section of the lesson text. Each group should try to title their section of the text four times—once in four words, once in three words, once in two words, and once in a single word.

Scripture assignments and sample titles follow:

Group 1Acts 9:10-14

Nightmare on Straight Street

Mutiny in Damascus

Impossible Mission

Fear

Group 2Acts 9:15-17

From Fear to Eternity

The Reborn Identity

Mission Possible

Chosen

Group 3Acts 9:18-20

Guess Who’s a Christian!

God in Charge

Altered Fates

Transformer

Allow time for groups to share their titles and summarize their Scripture assignments.

Option. Write each title on a separate slip of paper and distribute them to different class members. Read the sections of the text aloud one at a time, asking the class if anyone has a slip of paper with a good title for that particular section.

Into Life

Ask the class to create a list of fears that are common in our society. List them on the board. Here are some fears that students will probably mention:

Fear of death

Fear of the dark

Fear of public speaking

Fear of losing a job

Fear of failure

Fear of rejection

Fear of being alone

Fear of crime

Divide the class into small groups. Provide each group with a concordance and have them look for Bible verses that can strengthen their faith and overcome specific fears.

For example, they may find Psalm 23:4 helpful in confronting fear of death or darkness. God’s promise to always be with us in Deuteronomy 31:6 can comfort those who fear rejection or being alone. Matthew 10:28 might comfort those who fear crime, because of Jesus’ statement that we have no reason to fear those who might harm our bodies.

Alternative. Distribute copies of the “Faith Greater Than Fear” activity from the reproducible page. Have students work on this individually, and have volunteers report. If you prefer, use this as a take-home activity.


Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017 (KJV): StandardLessonCmy2016KJV.