One of the great events in the life of the Christian church took place when our Lord Jesus led the man Saul of Tarsus to himself. How sovereign the workings of the Lord appear in the whole encounter on the Damascus road! The omnipotent power of the ascended Christ shone around the arch-persecutor of the Lord’s redeemed people. That divine intervention does, indeed, remind us that ‘salvation is of the Lord’. But the events that follow show, no less clearly, that God’s ways are often far different from ours.
A certain disciple
The situation is this, Saul, convicted of his sin, has been led in his blinded state into the city of Damascus. There he remains for three whole days, neither eating nor drinking.
At the end of that period, the Lord’s set time to favour Saul has come, and he chooses his instrument for the task. Who is it to be? We read, ‘And there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias’.
Ask who that man was, and you will find that we know nothing about him apart from this time in his life when he encounters Saul of Tarsus. And yet, how much we are taught through him with regard to our God!
In choosing out this unknown man for such a task, the Lord is pleased to demonstrate how often he uses the ‘ordinary’ to perform the ‘extraordinary’. When it comes to the performance of some of his greatest works, God is often pleased to take up what is apparently foolish, or despised, or insignificant.
There is today in our churches a high degree of what we might call ‘Napoleonism’. It was this famous soldier, you may remember, who coined the phrase, ‘God is with the big battalions’. He gave a certain amount of lip service to God, of course, and to the way God would undertake for him, but Napoleon’s real hope lay in his guns, horses and infantry. The big battalions — there lay the real assurance of success.
And how that attitude still prevails, even among the professing people of God. ‘Oh yes’, people say, ‘we believe that God can use the little things’. But then they devote all their energies to mustering the ‘big battalions’ of modern methods, well-known personalities, and slick presentation, in order to fight the Lord’s battles in our day.
The man for the job
There is no excuse for laxity, laziness, or carelessness, of course, in our gospel work. But we should constantly remember that we are absolutely shut up to the Lord’s ways and the Lord’s thoughts. These can only be discovered and realised through relentless recourse to his Word.
Put your own heart to the test in the case before us. Who would you have chosen to lead Saul of Tarsus to Christ? First choice might well have fallen on Philip. Here was an outstanding evangelist, hot from a successful campaign at Samaria. And what a great ‘personal worker’ he is. See how he dealt with that Ethiopian eunuch.
No, no, someone would say, Philip is only a deacon — he isn’t an apostle. This conversion of Saul of Tarsus is a job for an apostle. Don’t use the vicar if you can get the archbishop. Peter is obviously the man for the job.
Not Peter, someone will object. Peter is liable to put his foot in it and we’ll lose this valuable fish. John’s the man — young John.
No, no, not John — he’s better kept for the young folk; let’s get Matthew. This man Saul of Tarsus, you see, is an intellectual; you need somebody who can speak his language. And, at least, Matthew has had some education — he’s a civil servant — get Matthew.
God is wiser than men
But no, says the Lord, I will send Ananias of Damascus. Who? Ananias of Damascus! With one fell swoop, our Saviour lays in the dust all our Napoleonic reasoning.
Now, the case of Ananias of Damascus doesn’t stand in isolation. It is not just a particular incident that has no general application, for the Word of God is full of the same kind of workings on the part of the Lord.
What about Gideon, or the conquest of Jericho, or David slaying Goliath with a sling and a stone? These, and numerous other incidents, tell the same story. God’s ways and thoughts are far different from what man conceives. But the greatest manifestation of this principle of God’s working is to be seen in the cross itself, and in the ‘foolishness’ of the preaching of that cross in every age.
On the cross, through death, the Lord of all the earth ‘destroyed him who had the power of death’ (Hebrews 2:14). In so doing, he shows forth the great fact that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (1 Corinthians 1:25). And the cross of Christ, viewed in this fashion, is one of the greatest tests of the reality of our faith.
The crisis of the world
We make much of the phrase ‘The offence of the cross’. But there is much more to the offence of the cross than a few facts about Jesus of Nazareth dying on a cross for the sins of men. The true offence of the cross lies in the way it humbles our proud and stubborn wills before the ways of God. It causes us to lie ‘in dust life’s glory dead’ under the crushing truth that God has chosen things foolish in man’s estimation, for the explicit purpose of confounding man’s pride.
Neither Ananias, nor Jericho, nor Gideon, nor David’s sling, stand in isolation. Each and every one of them points to that ‘little hill’ of Calvary on which the crisis of the world was enacted. As long as God permits his church to remain on earth, that church will be absolutely bound to the principle displayed there.
Could God not have saved his church through the ‘big battalions’ of heavenly power? Surely, yes — ‘Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?’ (Matthew 26:53). But God chose the cross, with all its stigma.
Let it never be forgotten that the devil loves to see the Lord’s ways contradicted. Let us be careful, then, that our behaviour, methods, practices and hopes do not do that very thing.