But the Lord said him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)
The current Americanized version of Christianity doesn’t look much like the New Testament version of it. 2,000 years difference in time will do that. Existing in two completely different cultures and in two completely different parts of the world will too. The current Americanized version is basically an odd, hybridized mishmash of the New Testament version mixed together with the “American dream.”
In the current Americanized version, Jesus still dies on the cross and rises from the dead, but He is mostly a Savior who helps you get along in life and takes you to heaven when you die. You know, we’re not really interested in that whole “lordship” thing wherein you have to endure persecution and perhaps even martyrdom to prove your loyalty to Him. That was for Bible times.
In the current Americanized version, if you give God $1 out of every $10 you make, you’ve covered yourself until the next payment is due. And the church won’t even send you a past-due bill or a repossession notice if you miss every payment. You see, getting to keep 90% of our money or all of it works better for us than those scores of New Testament passages that encourage generous, abundant giving and strongly warn against the dangers of wealth (Matthew 6:19-21,24; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 12:13-21; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 18:22-23; Acts 4:32-37; 2 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Timothy 6:6-11; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 5:1-6).
In the current Americanized version, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) becomes the magic quote for success in athletics, the business world, the classroom, and anywhere else we might want success. The quote certainly has nothing to do with enduring imprisonment for the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:12-14), being abased and hungry (Philippians 4:11-12), or being in distress (Philippians 4:14). After all, we Americans are winners.
And in the current Americanized version of Christianity, we certainly don’t want to hear the word “SUFFER.” Can you imagine a “health-and-wealth” “prosperity-preaching” televangelist telling his viewers that he is grateful that God has allowed him and his staff to be afflicted and endure the sufferings of Christ to the brink of death so that they can now better minister to fellow sufferers? That doesn’t jive too well with wearing an expensive suit, living in a mansion, driving a Bentley, and flying around in a private jet, does it? And yet that’s what Paul said concerning himself and his traveling companions (2 Corinthians 1:3-11).
Can you imagine a pastor telling his Sunday-morning congregation that God has granted them the privilege of getting to suffer for the sake of Christ? More than one church-member sitting in a pew would think, “Gee thanks, God. I always wanted the privilege of getting to suffer.” And yet that’s the message that Paul relayed to the Christians of Philippi (Philippians 1:29-30).
And can you imagine a preacher advising an employee who works for a mean-spirited employer to quietly endure that employer’s harsh mistreatment and see it as a way of following Christ’s example of suffering? That employee would say, “Uh, yeah, I’ll get right on that. By the way, are there any other churches in town?” And yet that’s the advice that Peter gave to the Christian slaves in the Roman empire (1 Peter 2:18-25).
As I read our text verse, I can’t help but feel for poor ole’ Ananias. He lived in Damascus, had a good reputation, was a devout disciple of Christ, and was a leader in the church in Damascus (Acts 9:10, 22:12). As such a leader, he was one of the targets for the notorious Saul of Tarsus, the most feared persecutor of Christians in the land (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2, 22:4-5). Ananias had heard that Saul had received written permission from the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem to enter into the synagogues of Damascus, arrest any Christians that he found, and bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem. Surely the thoughts going through Ananias’ mind as Saul and his entourage approached Damascus were not comforting ones.
But then the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision and told him to go to the house of a man named Judas who lived on a street called Straight. There Ananias would find Saul praying and waiting for him to lay his hands on him so that Saul’s sight could be restored (Acts 9:10-11). God had already shown it all to Saul in a vision (Acts 9:12).
Well, it isn’t hard to guess Ananias’ reaction to the Lord’s instructions. He said, “Lord, I’ve heard many reports about this Saul. I’ve heard how much harm he has done to Your followers in Jerusalem. And now he’s come here to Damascus with authority to arrest all Your followers here” (Acts 9:13-14). Ananias might as well have added in, “Lord, are you nuts? If I go to see that man he might arrest me or kill me. And if he’s been struck blind, isn’t that a good thing? At least a blind man can’t go around arresting and killing your people.” But that’s when our text verse comes into play:
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
And it is that last part of the Lord’s quote that I want to emphasize: “For I will show him how many things he must SUFFER for my name’s sake.” Mark it down, Saul of Tarsus’ transformation into the apostle Paul would begin a ministry that would be characterized by incredible SUFFERING. There was simply no way around it.
So, what happened next? As soon as Ananias laid his hands on Saul, Saul’s blindness was cured and Ananias baptized him. That was followed by Saul spending several days with the disciples in Damascus. That was followed by him preaching Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus and creating a stir. And that was followed by the Jews plotting to kill Saul and him having to be smuggled out of town for his safety. From that point on, Paul would never spend much time outside the vein of suffering.
Now, getting back to our Americanized version of Christianity, have you ever heard a parent or a grandparent say of a newborn family member, “I want this child to make straight A’s, excel at sports, take music lessons, be class President, be Valedictorian, go to college, graduate with honors, get a high-paying job, get married, buy an upscale home, have a couple of kids, join the most popular church in town, and, oh, I forgot, I want the child to SUFFER a lot too”? I doubt you’ve heard that.
Whereas suffering was an expected and normal part of a New Testament Christian’s life, our Americanized version of Christianity simply isn’t interested in such a concept. Seriously, I couldn’t even use the word “Suffer” in the title to this post because I knew that it would instantly turn some people off and cause them to hunt something else to read. Unfortunately for us, we Christians here in America oftentimes come off as superficial, worldly people who’d rather live the American dream in prosperity and popularity than join in with the sufferings of our Savior by way of persecution, fighting Satan, or taking an unpopular stand.
Okay, that’s our choice I guess, but we shouldn’t be surprised then when we no longer have the spiritual power to set the moral tone for this nation. We forfeited that power sometime back when we became, to use an Old Testament phrase concerning Israel, “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). And as long as that ease is our true top priority then nothing is going to change. It all reminds me of that famous visit that Thomas Aquinas paid to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As the Pope and Aquinas watched the priests counting their money in the treasury, the Pope said, “You see Thomas, gone are the days when the church can say, silver and gold we have none” (Acts 3:1-6). But to that Aquinas replied, “Yes, and neither can it say now, ‘Rise up and walk'” (Acts 3:6-10).