Most of us are familiar with detours. Those times when we alter our course due to the path being blocked. Sometimes, we may know about the detour and we adjust our path accordingly. For example, we know the bridge is under construction between Washington and Chocowinity so we drive on up to highway 17 and travel around the blocked bridge. There may be other times when we must detour due to unforeseen problems like a traffic accident. When we take a detour, we usually are not happy. We are traveling out of the normal path and there is a delay in our travel plans. In the case of unplanned detours, it may affect our arrival time as we did not factor in the extra time for the detour.
Even those of us who have heard and read that the unplanned things of this world may be the hand of God helping us to be prepared for or in the right place for His will, we are usually not pleased when we take a detour.
The Bible is filled with people who started on a journey and were led on a detour by the hand of God. This morning, we will consider one such detour and reflect on the impact of that detour on us today.
We first meet the man originally named Saul when the first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned. The men who drove Stephen out of Jerusalem and stoned him laid their robes (or outer garments) at the feet of Saul (Acts 7:58). In the 8th chapter, we learn that a great persecution arose in Jerusalem against the church and Christians were scattered throughout the region. So, when we read the 9th chapter, we find this man Saul has a mission. His mission is to travel to Damascus and find some of those Christians who left Jerusalem. He is to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem.
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2 NASB)
Saul is on his trip to Damascus to do what he believes to be the right thing. (There is a lesson for us. Our belief or feelings are no assurance that we are doing something God wants us to do.) Saul is traveling on the road when he comes to the orange cones and the barricade. Saul’s mission is about to take a detour. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:3-9 NASB)
Saul had a mission. He was trying to stop these pesky Christians from polluting the teaching of Moses. Now, the very object of worship for those Christians has stopped Saul and is causing him to take a detour. Saul and his company are stopped. Yes, they continue into the city of Damascus, but they are not continuing on their mission to arrest Christians and take them to Jerusalem. They are now traveling on a detour that God has planned.
While on this detour Saul has started, we see another detour. One of those pesky disciples named Ananias, is going about his business and God send him on a detour. This detour changes so much. This detour cast a shadow under which we are still covered today.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:10-12 NASB)
See how simple this is? Ananias only has to go to Saul and lay his hands on Saul and Saul will receive his sight. That shouldn’t take too much time out of his day. Ananias could do this and not mis too much from his planned activities.
Oh, wait a minute, Saul is one of the bad guys. Maybe God forgot this when He talked with Ananias. Perhaps, Ananias needs to remind God about who this guy is and what his mission is.
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” (Acts 9:13-14 NASB)
God listens to Ananias and then shares His plans for Saul. God has a detour for Saul to take. A detour that will lead Saul from the path of persecuting Christians to converting new Christians. Saul will be led from the path of trying to preserve the Jewish traditions to reaching out to sharing the inclusive message of God’s love and salvation with those outside of the “chosen people”. Saul’s mission will be to the Gentiles.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” So, Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, (Acts 9:15-19 NASB)
We see Ananias followed the detour God had planned and he went to Saul. Saul received his sight and is filled with the Holy Spirit. Now he is spending time with the very people who were the object of his disdain. The people whom he wanted to silence are now the people who are feeding him and helping him to regain his strength. Saul has changed his mission from arresting the Christians and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20 NASB)
The detour that Saul (who was later known as Paul) took led him away from his original mission and placed him on the path that God had planned for him. Because of that detour, Gentiles were included in the people to whom God’s message of salvation is extended. We, today, can see that not only did he establish many churches across Europe and Asia, he wrote more than 23% of the New Testament. His detour led him to become an integral part of the progression Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:8, where read: but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NASB)
This Saul (Paul) becomes the chief tool of Jesus to be His witness to the remotest part of the earth. That detour that occurred one day as Saul made his way from Jerusalem to Damascus changed the world. At first, the Jewish leaders thought that Saul (Paul) would fade into a dim memory. However, after more than 20 years of his church planting, they arrest him. They accuse him of speaking against the Law and bringing Greeks into the temple and thus defiling the holy place (Acts 21:28).
In his defense, he tells them of his detour.
“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.”
And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see our fathers the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ (Acts 22:1-16 NASB)
Have you reached your detour? Is it time for you to answer the Christ?