Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, 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.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
If you watched any of the most recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, you no doubt saw some mini-documentaries on some of the athletes. On a practical level, these stories are informative introductions to athletes whose careers and sports most of us know little about. On a personal level, their stories are inspiring affirmations that the right blend of talent and training can lead to amazing accomplishments.
In the book of Acts, we encounter conversion stories that are more than informative or inspiring; they are surprising. While faith in Jesus Christ is always reasonable and the Holy Spirit is always at work, it should nevertheless always surprise us to see sinners transformed to saints by faith in Jesus Christ. Conversions are not just unlikely; they are, in every way, miraculous.
In the book of Acts, chapters 1-8, we find several surprising group conversion stories as God draws thousands of people to faith in Jesus Christ. We don't know all of the names, but we see the glorious disruption of Jerusalem as nearly a quarter of its citizens become Christians. And in Acts 8-10, with the gospel spreading beyond Jerusalem, we find three surprising personal conversion stories. There is the unnamed African financier, the Ethiopian eunuch, who comes to faith by reading Isaiah 53 and hearing Philip explain its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:26-40). There is the Roman general, Cornelius, who comes to faith by the work of an angel, a dream, and the witness of Peter (Acts 10:1-48). And in the middle, the most famous and most amazing personal conversion story in Acts: the story of Saul, the Jewish terrorist, who sees and hears Jesus Christ Himself, causing blind unbelief to become clear-sighted faith and life-changing mission (Acts 9:1-19). Together, these group conversion stories and personal conversion stories surprise us as readers and as participants in God's great work of redemption.
Living in the buckle of the Bible belt, we in Dallas may sometimes see our conversion stories as less surprising, less miraculous versions of the conversion stories in Acts. Perhaps we believe that the Holy Spirit need a miracle of lesser degree to save us, given the Christian mores of our culture and the general morality of our lives. Worse still, perhaps we believe that our conversion was somehow a result of being specially favored by God. But we have the same deceitful, debilitating, deadly sin nature as Saul and Cornelius. And we need the same atoning work of Jesus Christ, and the same regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Our conversion stories are just as surprising, and just as miraculous as the conversion stories in Acts.
Perhaps we could even push this point one step further: your conversion story should be to you the most surprising of any conversion story. Why? Because you should see and feel the weight of your sin and need for Jesus more than you see anyone else's sin and need for Jesus. Each of us should be able to say, "I am a log-eyed chief of sinners (Matthew 7:3-5; 1 Timothy 1:15)!" and "I am a prodigal heir of infinite grace (Luke 15:1-32; Ephesians 2:4-9)!" In the words of John Newton, our greatest wonder should be our own story of rescue: "If I ever reach heaven, I expect to find three wonders there. First, to meet some I had not though to see there. Second, to miss some I had expected to see there. And third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there."