As many readers know, on Tuesdays this year (and beyond?) we’re on a journey to consider faith with fresh eyes, going back to the original disciples and apostles to try and get a clear view of what was important to them and why they were so effective advancing this new faith.
How did they talk? What did they emphasize? If we can find this, we might be more effective, too.
We started with an introduction (New Year’s Revolution), then last week, laid out the Rules of the Road.
Today, we begin in earnest.
The obvious starting point in searching for a First Century Faith would be Jesus, right? As Lee Corso says on ESPN’s Game Day, “Not so fast, my friend.” I promise, we’ll get to Jesus and his teachings about himself and God. Duly noted.
But because I’m weird, let’s start with the most unlikely apostle of all; Saul—who would become Paul. Instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” let’s ask, “What Did Saul do?”
Remember the original goal: We want to see what was important to these first Christians and what made them so strong. If that’s the goal, Paul, or Saul, is a good start.
The man wrote 13 or 14 of the 27 New Testament books, about 25%. In the Book of Acts alone, he’s mentioned a whopping 146 times. Just spit-balling here, but I’d say this means he is somewhat important.
So if I want to find out—with those fresh eyes—the best steps for a new Christian, Saul’s Damascus Road experience outlined in Acts 9 is a compelling launching point.
You probably know the story. Saul was on his way to Damascus, with letters in-hand to find Christians, arrest them and bind them, then haul them back to Jerusalem for show trials.
Remember, Saul was a leader in the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. He was more than serious about persecuting Christians; he saw himself like the Blues Brothers; on a mission from God.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Damascus. In Acts 9:3, a light from heaven flashed around him and knocked him to the ground (9:4). The next thing Saul hears are the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Let’s take a second and appreciate Saul’s response. This man understands his situation immediately. As in, immediately.
His first words? “Who are you, lord?” That didn’t take long.
As a good friend of mine points out; when someone has the power to flash light from heaven and knock you to the ground, it’s an extremely good idea to call that person, “lord.”
Not to get into the weeds here, but the Greek word for “lord” is kurios, which means “supreme in authority,” “master,” or even, “sir.” It’s different than the word “God” in the New Testament, which in Greek is theos.
While one might ask whether the Greek words matter here, if we truly want to know Saul’s first orders of business, we’ve got to understand how he first views Jesus in this stunning moment.
Here, Saul recognizes Jesus is superior, much like a servant would call his master “lord.” In the United States, we often don’t catch the significance; those who live in countries where royalty reigns would see this much more quickly.
First then? To Saul, Jesus is to be referred to as “lord,” just as a servant in a royal palace would say to a royal, “Yes, my lord.”
By the way, throughout all of this you won’t see me capitalizing the word “lord,” and there’s a reason. In the original Greek, there are no capitalizations. I’ll capitalize proper names (Jesus, Saul, Paul—you get the picture), but capitalizing “lord” came in our later translations.
What’s next is instructive also. Saul gets up from the ground (Acts 9:8), and finds himself blind. Yet, he has the presence of mind to take an extremely important step: led by the hand, he goes to Damascus.
In other words, Saul’s first act is obedience to the one he calls lord.
I know we’ve been taught this stuff over and over, but at the risk of being Captain Obvious, it’s incumbent upon me—if I’m going to call Jesus “lord”—to obey. It’s not optional.
If Jesus isn’t lord, no worries; do what feels right. But if he is, I’ve got to obey the commands of Jesus and the teaching of those who followed him first.
Next, we see a couple of things.
For one, in Acts 9:9 Luke’s narrative tells us Saul didn’t eat or drink for three days. This likely was not about a spiritual discipline of fasting, but more about a changed focus. My guess is, Saul wasn’t thinking about food and drink. Three days is a long, long time.
But because Saul was processing a miraculous experience, my guess is that when someone said anything about “dinner time,” he was entirely caught up in what he knew would be an entirely new life.
Consider, Saul was contemplating giving up his status as an up-and-coming Jewish leader for a sect which was heretical at best; at worst, a belief he might die for.
Then there was Saul’s next action. In Acts 9:18, Saul regains his sight, “and he arose and was baptized.”
Looking through Acts, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is everywhere. It just can’t be escaped. In Acts 2, Peter’s first sermon concludes with his admonition to “repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” And that’s only the first of many, many similar moments.
And here is Saul, making baptism one of his first steps after realizing Jesus is indeed his lord.
Today, we have plenty of debates about baptism. Perhaps these are worthy; I’m not smart enough to know for sure. But looking with fresh eyes at the first who followed, we never see such arguments. They just did it, like Saul in Acts 9.
Fresh eyes and a fresh view of a man named Saul. He was quick to see Jesus as lord, quick to understand the importance of obeying Jesus as lord, and in just days, was baptized by Ananias. Looks to me like a perfect start to a growing faith.
Stay in touch; email me at kirk(at)kirkwalden.com or on Twitter (@KirkWalden).