I can't imagine the mind-job Saul must've had on the way to Damascus. A glory appears to him, and he gets his chance to see at least a glimpse of the glory of the Lord he had perhaps meditated on and imagined countless times, and it turns out to be the face of Jesus, whom he's persecuting by persecuting Jesus' "body" (all Christians). Just try to image all the stories and Psalms and prophecies swirling in his mind and as they come together in a way that's obvious, yet unexpected. And very soon the man who kept the Torah as zealous as anyone and sought to destroy those who "defiled" it is transformed, in a way only the gracious God can do, into God's chosen instrument for sharing the Torah's fulfillment with those who never even knew of it! Does God have a sense of humor? An overly passionate ends-justify-the-means fanatical super-orthodox ultra-nationalistic Pharisee will bring the good news to the nations? God can work with anyone, and that's part of the point! This reminds me that someday I’ll stand before Jesus and go, "Oh…”
Something interesting struck me as I read about Ananias. Here we have a bit of biblical Inception, a vision in a vision. Ananias has a vision in which he's told about Saul having a vision of Ananias coming...a bit of a neat mind-bender.
I do want to mention something of what Saul proclaimed in the synagogues. He shoes that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. Perhaps many Christians pass over these titles without giving it much thought. Of course, they occur together in Peter's great confession in Matthew 16:16. Basically, in the Old Testament the phrase "Son of God" referred to the people of Israel (Exodus), and to the son of David, the royal kingly Messiah (2 Samuel 7). A Son of God brought to mind fulfillment of Psalm 2, when God will do for Israel what he's planning on doing, that is, having all the nations (same word as "Gentile" in the New Testament) come under his judgement and saving rule.
And on a broader strike, the beginning of Paul's hardships in Damascus serve as a preview of his later ones. Paul proves Jesus to be the Lord Messiah, he's persecuted by his people (Romans 9 comes to mind), and he's shipped off. Why do you think this episode of Paul is brought into the midst of Peter's ministry? It's definitely contrasted with Peter's small pastoral episode, which really isn't small. Peter's visit reminds me to never neglect the "Dorcases." The widows or quiet people who go on serving others and living out the good news, and don't want attention brought to themselves. Their ministry is as important as anyone's.
And it brings out a mystery we see throughout Acts. Why some and not others? Why is Peter called to this lady and not others? Why is Aeneas healed, and not other disabled people? Why do some people get this special Spirit or angel prompting, and others receive word from ordinary messengers? Maybe it's just my American side that wants to "democratize" everything.
Anyways, the more I study the historical context of 1st century Palestine, the more I realize the significance of chapter 10. Here we have not just a Samaritan, not just an Ethiopian, but a ROMAN, the supposed ruling force in Judea, humbly accepting a crucified Jewish prophet as Lord over the world! Not Caesar, but Jesus!
And as I look at Peter's words and actions, it's clear that yes, God invites us as we are, but he does NOT leave us as we are. The point here isn't that all paths lead to "God" in this laissez-fair anything goes style, but instead quite the opposite. Luke makes sure we know that this Cornelius is devout and fear's Israel's god. He's a proselyte (one starting the process of renouncing former ways [Romans gods for him] and embracing Judaism). We see the transformation acted out in repentance, forgiveness, baptism and Spirit. Peter does preach a "tolerance" of all things (some today want to seem to tolerate good and evil...). Peter tells them that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel who has broken down all barriers between Jews and non-Jews. This is explained in detail in Romans 9-11. Oh, and I like Cornelius' Jewish faux pas, bowing down to another as a god. Do you think the Pope could learn this from the man he supposed succeeds?
And how insightful it is to see how Peter packages, so to speak, the good news about Jesus, how Peter tells about Israel's god, the one and only God, acting through Jesus. It's more than just "Jesus died for your sins" (not that that's always wrong to say, but God's story is much more interesting). Jesus proclaimed peace in the midst of nationalistic fervor for God's kingdom. Jesus was "messiah-ed" or anointed as THE promised Messiah, even though his kingship wasn't what people expected. God was with him, a significant point which recalled prophets and kings of old (Exodus 3:12, Joshua 1:9, Judges 6:12,16, 1 Samuel 10:7, etc.). Then Jesus was raised from the dead! And he chose the apostles to be his witnesses to announce this good news to the ends of the earth the same way a new emperor would "send out" or "apostle" messengers with the "good news" of a new reign/kingdom. And God has ordained this Jesus as the coming judge of the world.
And the tongues speaking shows that even these uncircumcised pork eaters are fit to be God's vessels for his Spirit and new life. The temple and Torah regulations, which had the proper and important, though temporary role of keeping Israel for God and making them holy (separate from the world for God's special purposes), have been fulfilled in the Messiah who did as Israel's substitute what God had always planned for Israel to do, which is to restore his good Creation which had become corrupted by sin and death. This is the heart of "justification by faith," but I'll leave this big topic for another day...
Wow. No wonder Paul calls the Gospel the power of God. It's a summons for all to hear (not a weak message akin to Hey! Come and check this out! It'll help your marriage, or what have you!). And those who trust and believe it themselves transformed from the inside out, aware of a new presence and new life inside them, and a calling to join God's people and their holy saving purposes.
Lots of good stuff to ponder...