We have spoken of hearts and minds that are blind and deaf in several of our notes this year. Today, I want us to see something very powerful in the personal story of Paul about this same subject.
Acts 9:1-18 (NIV)
 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest  and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way (what the early Christian movement was called), whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus.  For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.  In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.  The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”  But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord---Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here---has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
The passage above highlights what is often referred to as the “conversion of Saul”. The passage outlines the time when Jesus, who came to seek and save those that are lost, came and found Saul on the road to Damascus, saved him filling him with the Holy Spirit, and totally redirected his life.
If you go back in Acts, you notice in Acts chapter 6, that Stephen, a godly man and servant in the early church is serving fellow believers, helping the young and growing church in any way he could. You will also notice that he is full of the Holy Spirit and did many miraculous signs and wonders among the people (Acts 6:8). This young man has been arrested for his belief in Jesus and the strong manner in which he is demonstrating his faith. He stands on trial before the Jewish religious leaders and the Holy Spirit anoints his replies back to those charging him falsely in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen delivers one of the most amazing and well-spoken accounts of the history of the Jewish people during his trial. If you ever want a summation of the history of the Jewish people, just read Acts chapter 7. As Stephen finishes, the Jewish rulers are incensed in rage and Stephen is led out of that place and stoned until dead. While he is being stoned, the people throwing the rocks lay their coats at the feet of a very religious man named Saul. It is this Saul that is referenced in the focus passage above and who would later have his name changed by God to Paul.
Saul was very zealous in his persecution of these new Christians. He did much to harm them and I personally believe those thoughts are one of the things that he never forgot and that was in essence a “thorn in his flesh”. What he did to the early church people, men, women and as a result their children, was a constant reminder to him and helped keep him humble following all that the Lord had revealed to him (2 Corinthians 12:7).
You are all likely familiar with the passage above so I will not elaborate on it very deeply. The primary thing I do want to call your attention to today is that Saul has been physically “blinded”. I believe this blinding action was not just for Saul but is also a symbol to us today, much like the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead also contained symbolism within it as we discussed in the note last week titled “Calling”. Saul, this zealous persecutor of the early church, a very religious man, has been blinded and has to be led around by others for three days.
Saul goes to where the Spirit of God tells him to go and there Ananias finds him. Ananias prays for him, he receives the Holy Spirit and as he receives the Spirit, scales fall from his eyes and Saul can now see. Ananias then baptizes him.
My question to you today is “what is the first thing that Saul saw when the scales fell from his eyes and he could finally see?” The answer; he saw Ananias. You may think, “so what”. What you may not be aware of is what the name Ananias means in Hebrew. The Hebrew name for Ananias was “Khananyah”. That name or term means “the Grace of God”.
So, what is the first thing that Saul saw when the blinders fell off? The first thing he sees is “the Grace of God”. Everything else you see in Acts and all of the other Epistles such as Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon and some say Hebrews; all follow this first event where Saul sees for the first time with new eyes, hears with new ears, and lives with a new heart. He has been born-again. Was he in Sunday School or a preaching service when this happened? No; quite the opposite. He was on the road on his way to further persecute others just like us, that are worshiping Jesus. He was religious but lost as a goose in a snow storm. Saul was highly intelligent and knew the Bible like the back of his hand but he did not know the “Author”. God had come and found Him. God had come and reached into a cold, dark, hard, zealous heart, and completely changed his life, making him a new creation. Saul’s blinded eyes were opened and he saw that he had been changed, not by anything he himself had done, but by “the Grace of God”.
The name Ananias is preserved in history for us today. It was the grace of God that Saul first saw when his scales of blindness fell off. It was the grace of God who baptized a wicked man. It was the grace of God that changed a wicked man. It was the grace of God that reformed and rebirthed a wicked man. It was the grace of God that used this now born-again, passionate man to bring the Gospel to the rest of the non-Jewish world, the Gentiles - us.
My dear friend, you were once wicked, no different than Saul. You may not have beaten, imprisoned, or had others killed as Saul did or stood by while others stoned an innocent man to death, but you were still doing your own thing, lost in this world. God though sent His Holy Spirit who found you and caught you along your road of wickedness and called you to change. He found you on your own “road to nowhere”. We were all on that road at some point in our life. He enabled you to see His grace and receive it. No matter where your road afterwards leads, may you always see “Ananias - Khananyah”. May you always realize you only see now, because of the completely unmerited, lavishly poured out, “grace of God” upon you that opened your eyes to the light of revelation – Jesus Christ.
I believe Paul likely sang a song some 1700 years before another man wrote it down for us and it made its way into hymnals all around the world. The tune or melody may have been different but the words were likely the same. That man was John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. If you do not know the story of John Newton and the wretched man that he was in his early life then look that up. He, as Paul before him, knew what the term “grace” meant. I can picture Paul and John singing this together in heaven now:
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost,
But now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.
Sing it today, and every day. You once were blind, but now you see because of the lavish and glorious Grace of God. It was His grace that opened your eyes.