Episode 8: May 24, 2015
The eighth episode of NBC’s series, “A.D.—The Bible Continues,” was aired on Sunday, May 24.
“A.D.” continues to provide good background to the historical landscape that surrounded the birth of Christianity and the Church. The Temple in Jerusalem was troubled by the rise of the new-found faith in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. The palace of Pilate is home to intrigue and political maneuvering; earthly power on display, often deadly for those who get in the way of political aspirations and personal grudges.
And while the reality of the Temple and the Palace, with their attendant power struggles and ambitions, is the larger context for the early stage of the Christian church, the true power lies both in plain sight and hidden from those who think the Temple and the Palace are all that matter, or even all that exists.
Saul travels to Damascus, Syria, from Jerusalem to hunt down Christians. His focused journey tires his traveling companions, who wonder about the value of Saul’s obsessive quest. After all, these followers of Jesus, not even called Christians yet, are not many, a minor sect at most. Why bother with them? Why give them attention they do not deserve?
Saul gives a clue to his fanaticism when he is challenged by saying that he cannot comprehend the God of the universe giving Peter, a “simple fisherman,” the task of being His spokesperson, His representative. After all he, Saul, is the more qualified person for the job. He is an exemplary Pharisee and by rights the job of being a representative of God should be his. So Saul pursues Peter to Damascus.
“A.D.” faithfully tells the story of Saul’s conversion, from his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, to his time in Damascus, blind, waiting for whatever is next to come, to the calling of Ananias, a Damascus Christian who has heard of Saul’s persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, to go to Saul, to Ananias laying hands of Saul and restoring Saul’s sight, to Saul’s public preaching about Jesus.
After Saul is healed by the Lord, through Ananias’ laying on of hands, Saul insists on being baptized. That is the logical first step for a new believer. To proclaim publicly that one is immersed in the Lord, fully and completely. Baptism by immersion in water is a sign that points to that reality, one that is spiritual with manifestations that can be seen and heard by others.
Barnabas has his doubts about Saul, he questions whether Saul has, indeed, changed and become a follower of Jesus. After all, does a zealot like Saul, who was willing to kill Christians, easily, if at all, change and become a new and different person? Is that possible? Barnabas, a Christian himself, changed by the Lord, needs evidence. After Ananias baptizes Saul, Barnabus is convinced, having been convicted by the Holy Spirit that Saul is a changed person, a new man, a follower of Jesus.
The evidence that such is the case begins to accumulate quickly. No sooner is Saul dry from his baptism that he heads to the synagogue in Damascus so he can present the case there for Jesus as the Messiah. Barnabus and Ananias try to warn him off, saying it could be very dangerous, but Saul is not to be turned away from his new mission, to be an apostle to Gentiles and Jews. He begins where Jesus began, with Jews in their place of teaching and worship—the synagogue.
As Saul told Barnabus, “I am not the same man. I was blind, but now I see.” For Saul it was both literally and spiritually true. Jesus has made Saul unable to physically see when they encountered each other on the road to Damascus. Saul, now a follower of Jesus, sees Jesus for who He is, while before he was blind to that reality.
Saul was blind, but now he sees, and it makes all the difference.