In the last few days I’ve been re-reading the Book of Acts trying to see its message as though it was my first time to read it. It is difficult to not read the Bible to re-learn the same things I’ve seen and known for years. In just about everything that I read, including the Bible, I mark it up, underlining, putting stars beside things that I want to focus on and writing notes in the margins to help me remember the things that stood out that time when I was reading it. While I believe that is effective in helping us remember and emphasize important things, it also has the negative effect of causing us to see the same things over again each time we are reading it. One of the reasons I read in different translations is to see things afresh as though it was being read for the first time. The truth is, when we read the Bible, what we are dealing with in our lives at that time will have a whole lot to do with what we see as we read. I’ve noticed that I see very different things based on how I feel at the time I’m reading or even the mood I’m in at the time.
David gives us a powerful testimony in the 119th Psalm when he prayed to God to “Open my eyes that I may see the wondrous things in your word.” I try to remember to pray that prayer when I pick up my Bible for my daily Bible reading.
I was reading today in Acts 22 as Paul was giving his defense to the Jews after they had tried to kill him in the temple. He asked the Roman commander for the chance to speak to the people and it was granted. Standing above them, he began speaking in Aramaic and that caught the attention of the people. They listened while he told the story of how he persecuted the church thinking he was doing God’s will as he savaged homes, arresting people, throwing them into prison and testifying against them as he tried to force them to reject faith in Jesus. He told of getting letters from the chief rulers among the people to go to Damascus in Syria to try to find disciples of Jesus there and bring them back for trial. On the road, as he neared Damascus a great light shinned around him and the people with him and he was knocked to the ground. Jesus spoke to him in Aramaic so that he understood but most of the people with him heard the voice but didn’t know what was being said. The voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you Lord?’ The voice answered, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Notice Paul’s response: “What shall I do, Lord?”
I wonder if that would have been my response if I had been struck down on the road like that. I don’t know. I might have responded, “I’m sorry Lord. I thought I was doing the right thing by persecuting those who followed you.” I wonder if I would have tried to explain myself by telling the Lord that he just didn’t fit the mold that I had seen and read in the Old Testament or what I had learned from Gamaliel, my teacher.” I wonder if I would have launched into a speech to try to convince Jesus that I would make it up to him if he would just give me the chance. I don’t know. I hope I would have been so moved by the appearance and words of Jesus that I might have asked the same question he did.
It was very simple! “What shall I do, Lord?” It is the right question always. It intrigues me how Jesus answered him. He didn’t give him a list of things he needed to do. The truth is he didn’t get in any hurry to tell him anything. Instead he said, “Get up, and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.” He had to have help to get there. For three days he fasted and prayed without any other message from the Lord. I suspect he was thinking all the time the Lord would begin speaking to him again from heaven. But God chose to speak to him by means of a certain disciple in the area named Ananias. God gave Saul a dream of Ananias coming before he ever spoke to Ananias about going. When Ananias tried to convince God that it wasn’t safe for him to go, God’s answer was simply, “Go”
When Ananias got there he laid his hands on him, called him “Brother Saul” and he was able to see again. Listen to what he said to Saul: “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Immediately he obeyed the charge and was baptized and started preaching and teaching the message of Christ to people who would listen. He even preached in Damascus to the shock of those who were expecting his persecution and went back to Jerusalem and preached to the people about Jesus who had sent him to persecute the disciples. What a shock it must have been!
The heart of Saul that would drive the rest of his life were stated in the simple question, “What shall I do, Lord?” It is a question we all need to ask often