E100 – May 21, 2017

“A Variant Reading Question for Your Life” – Acts 9:1–31

Easter 6 – May 21, 2017


  1. Career path

How did you decide what career path to follow? (answers – 2 or 3 volunteers, 1 or 2 sentences)

Sometimes it’s what your dad or mom did. Sometimes it’s filling out one of those career assessment tools with a counsellor at school or college to determine what your strengths and abilities are. Sometimes it’s following an academic discipline that you excel in and finding some career at the end of your studies. Sometimes it’s being inspired by someone else in that career. Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know, and a path just kind of falls into your lap. Sometimes you just get a job, fairly unintentionally, and you just stick with it.

That’s what happened with my dad. He was a young farmer with a new baby – not me, yet – and his sister invited him to spend Thanksgiving in Regina with her young family. While there, she convinced him to apply for some jobs, which he did. A couple of days after my parents returned to their farm, he got a job offer from Ashdown’s Hardware, and the rest is history. He worked there for ten years, and then used his experiences learned there to get a job as the shipper and receiver at the brand new Woolco Department Store in north Regina, where he worked the next 30 years.

My dad probably could have been a pastor. He was the only one of his siblings to complete Grade 12, and he had the capacity to take his education farther. All the other boys in his confirmation class became pastors – both of them! I remember him singing bass in the church choir for decades, and teaching youth Bible Study, and then adult Bible Study. He recently shared with me a couple of devotional thoughts he had written. They are both really good, and one of them is coming to a sermon near you – on Father’s Day!

And then sometimes your career path changes. You’re bored. Your interests change. Circumstances change. A different opportunity opens up for you. They say that, while in the past people would stick with one career and sometimes one company for their whole working career, now young people will not only change companies, they may change careers as many as 5 or 6 times in their working lives. That’s what happened to a guy named Saul – he changed careers!


  1. Career Change

We heard about Saul three weeks ago in the last couple of verses of Acts 7 and the first couple of verses of Acts 8. He was a learned Pharisee (a Jewish religious guy) and he served as the coat check guy when the religious leaders of Jerusalem were stoning Stephen to death. We pick up his story again at the beginning of Acts 9 (and it’s a story that dominates most of the rest of the book of Acts – except for the Acts 10 & 11 story of Peter and Cornelius that we heard last Sunday).

a.The Encounter with Jesus

Saul was still on the war-path, trying to eradicate the disciples of Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest authorizing him to arrest any followers of the Way, and to bring them back to Jerusalem for imprisonment. As he approached Damascus, he was blinded by a bright light from heaven, and the vision and the voice of Jesus. The voice simply asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Now, I need to explain something here. There are hundreds of manuscripts of books and portions of books of the New Testament – parchment, papyrus, scrolls – and because they were handcopied (not scanned or photocopied!) there are sometimes variant readings. Let me assure you that these variant readings do not in ANY WAY compromise the message or the authority of the text of the New Testament.

When Paul was retelling his conversion experience to King Agrippa in Acts 26, he includes Jesus’ explanation: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Some manuscripts bring that variant reading into the original account in Acts 9:4, but only the King James Version of the Bible includes it. But what does that obscure phrase mean?

Actually, it was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to anyone who made a living in agriculture. An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the ox when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the goad, but that would result in the goad being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered. Thus, Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

One Bible commentator believes that, although Saul’s conversion appears to be sudden, Jesus had actually been working on him for years, prodding and goading him. He writes: “I believe the words and works of Jesus haunted the zealous Pharisee. Quite likely, Saul had heard Jesus teach and preach in public places… they would have been contemporaries in a city Saul knew well and Jesus frequently visited… Jesus’ ministry stuck in Saul’s mind. The more it goaded him, the more he [kicked back,] resisted God’s proddings.”

The blinded Saul asked the voice to identify himself. The reply was unexpected, startling and unsettling all at the same time: “I AM Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” The “I AM” that Jesus used was the same “I AM” He used to say things such as “I AM the Light of the World,” and “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life,” and “I AM the Good Shepherd.” It was a direct correlation to and identification with the Old Testament name of God. So Jesus was speaking and acting as God, but also identifying Himself as the Jesus who rose from the dead, the Jesus who Saul was vehemently trying to discredit and destroy.

But on this day, on that road, this vision of the risen Jesus broke down all of Saul’s defenses. Blinded, and hopeless, and helpless, Saul would no longer kick against the goads of God’s prodding.


b.The Assignment

One verse after the “goads” statement, there is a second variant reading, again only included in the King James Version. After Jesus’ self-identification, the variant reading of v. 6 begins, “Trembling and astonished, [Saul] said, ‘What do you want me to do?’”

There was more content to this conversation, but Saul understood that his life had been irreversibly changed and turned upside down, kind of like last week. Something that he had believed (or more accurately not believed) he discovered was actually true. The Jesus who was crucified was indeed alive. That didn’t just change reality, it changed HIS reality! No longer could he persecute those who followed Jesus, those who trusted Him. He was compelled to follow and trust Him, too. So the question “What do you want me to do?” even if it isn’t in the oldest manuscripts of Acts 9, is a reasonable one.

Jesus’ reply suggested an immediate response and a future response. The immediate response was “Rise and go into the city.” The future response was “You will be told what to do.”

Again, Saul’s account of his own conversion in Acts 26 before King Agrippa fills in some of the details. There Jesus said more, indicating that Saul was to be a servant and a witness to the things he had seen and heard from Jesus, and of the things that he would yet see and hear. He was also being sent to open the spiritual eyes of the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light (perhaps a direct reference to Saul’s own blindness) and from Satan to God. He was being sent to proclaim forgiveness of sins and a place in heaven for those who believe. God was tapping Saul on the shoulder, and giving him an assignment that no one else had – proclaim the name of Jesus to the Gentile world.


c.The Mentors

Paul wasn’t left alone in his new-found faith and assignment. God provided mentors to lead and guide him in the Way, to deepen His trust in Jesus and his understanding of Jesus to be God’s promised Messiah, and to equip him for that assignment.

Ananias was a follower of Jesus in Damascus – potentially one of those whom Saul would have arrested and taken captive to Jerusalem. As afraid as he was of Saul, he was called on by the Lord to find Saul, to lay hands on him and heal him of his blindness, and to baptize him. When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see – not just physically, but also spiritually… he could see Jesus as the Christ of God.

Ananias also confirmed Saul’s assignment: He heard from God that Saul was to be God’s chosen instrument to take the name of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles, and that he would suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name. That gave Ananias courage to seek out Saul, to speak to him, and to baptize him.

Saul hung out with the followers of Jesus at Damascus and learned from them, too, but immediately he began to discuss and debate and proclaim that Jesus truly was the Son of God. The people couldn’t believe that the man who had come to persecute Christ and His people was now proclaiming that same Christ. The Jews, who would have been Saul’s allies in squashing this new Jesus-sect, now became Saul’s adversaries and plotted to kill him. He escaped and went to Jerusalem, where – no surprise – he encountered hesitation and suspicion from the believers there. One more mentor – Barnabas – stepped up, took Saul under his guidance, and assured the Jerusalem believers that Saul was now “one of them.” The result of all this was – now that the chief prosecutor and persecutor of the early Christians had been converted, there was peace in the church, and also growth. Oh, and just as a side-note… Barnabas and Saul traveled together on the first Christian missionary journey.  And another side-note… the conversion of Saul is quite significant as this career change led to Saul/Paul writing nearly half of the New Testament.


  1. Faith Path / What to do?

Just as we do not all find our career path in the same way, we do not all find our faith path in the same way. Some were born into Christian families, and would say they have “always” been believers. Others were, but drifted away, and now have come back to faith in Christ. Others have no Christian faith in their background and have just come to believe in Jesus recently. Some might be able to point to a certain day or season or precipitating event in their lives when they came to faith. Others would see their path to faith as being more gradual. But so many of us have ended up at the same place. Somewhere along the road of our lives, and somehow through the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, we have seen the light, we have met and believe in the risen Jesus – the great I AM. We know and believe that, even though we are sinners – maybe we haven’t been an enemy of the faith as Saul was, but we are sinners in our own rebellious ways – even though we are sinners, we have experienced personally the grace and forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of Calvary, and we know and believe Him to be the risen Saviour.

When we know and believe that, it’s good to ask Saul’s variant reading question of God: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

Don’t expect that God will lead you to a career U-turn like He did with Saul. But don’t be surprised if He does either. If your life isn’t going in a Godly direction, or if you aren’t using your God-given gifts to their fullest potential, perhaps He will steer you toward a different path.

But there are some things you can do right now and right where you are. Like Ananias you can help someone else “see the light” (and the truth) about Jesus. That might be in a conversation or by some acts of love. Like Barnabas you can be an encourager. Maybe it’s someone who is down or discouraged, or someone who is sick or grieving, or someone who just needs an encouraging word to build them up and keep them keeping on.

Oh, and if you want some guidance for the answer to that question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” – you don’t need to complete some assessment tool, nor do you need to consult with a guidance counselor. Digging deep into God’s Word will provide you with lots of answers. You don’t have to be at the start of your earthly career either. And it may or may not involve doing something different than you are now. It might be as Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart… as for the Lord.” You can find some Godly purpose for your days and weeks no matter what stage and station of life you’re in. If you have young children, it might be bringing your children up in the instruction of the Lord, or connecting meaningfully with other young parents. If you have valuable work experience, it might be mentoring and sharing your experience with those who are still learning and growing in that area. If you are retired, it might be offering your time and energy in volunteer opportunities that make a difference to your family, to individuals or to the community.

God might have something for you to do just kind of fall into your lap. Recognize it, accept it, and, like the early church, have peace as you carry it out.

If you have “seen the light,” if you have come to know and believe in the risen Jesus as your own Saviour, watch and listen for God to somehow answer your question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Then, just do it… for Jesus’ sake… just do it!” Amen.

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