Saul of Tarsus waited three days in the city of Damascus for someone to tell him what he needed to do (cf. Acts 9:8-9).
It was no doubt a trying three days, full of grief, repentance, and prayer. He refused to eat or drink. He knew he was in trouble and he knew he needed to do something about it. But he was forced to wait, for Jesus had commanded him to do so, and Saul had a new found awe and respect for Jesus.
On the road to Damascus, Saul had seen the risen Lord, and had been struck blind by the same. At that Saul had got off easy, for Saul had been hunting, imprisoning, torturing and killing Christians — doggedly so. The first words of Christ to Saul had been, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (cf. Acts 9:1-7)
Saul had been convinced that Jesus was a fraud and Christianity was a lie, but seeing the risen Lord in His glory had converted Saul. Saul went from persecutor to believer in record time. And being a man who desired to please God, it no doubt broke Saul’s heart to know how wrong he had been. It would not be unfair to deduce that his prayers were prayers of penitence.
But, rather than telling him what to do, Jesus commanded Saul to go into the city and wait. And so Saul waited. Three days he waited.
At the end of three days, Jesus appeared to a man named Ananias and told him to go to Saul, heal him, and tell Saul what he needed to do. Which, Ananias, after some protesting about the character of Saul, did. (cf. Acts 9:10-15)
Years later, when Saul, recalled that encounter with Ananias, he could remember it vividly. It must have been quite a moment, the climax of three days of worry, anxiety and sightlessness. Saul had been left alone with little but his wounded conscience. And then, there was Ananias, explaining that Jesus had sent him, healing Saul of his blindness, and telling Saul what Jesus expected of him. Saul had work to do for Christ, he was to be an ambassador, an apostle, sent to the Gentiles to teach them about Jesus. But first there was something that Saul still needed to do. He needed to make things right with God.
So Ananias chastised Paul: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16; NKJV)
Why had Saul waited? Because Jesus had told him to. But three days was enough waiting. Paul needed to do the right thing, and get rid of those sins that were still separating him from God. He needed to obey the command of Jesus and be baptized for the remission of his sins, and brought into the family of God (cf. Acts 2:38, 47; Mark 16:16)
Years later, another apostle, Peter, would write: “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” (1 Peter 4:3; NKJV)
How long did we spend in sin? Was it one year, five years, ten years, twenty years? However long it was, it was enough and then some. You’ve spent too much time in sin. Even if it was only a minute of sin, it was more than enough. You don’t need to waste any more time that way.
How long should we wait before we do what we need to do? Was it three days, such as Saul spent? Three years? Thirty years. Whatever the length of time, we don’t need to wait anymore. Once you know what you need to do, the question is, “Why are you waiting?” Three seconds spent in not doing the right thing is three seconds too long.
It’s notable that Saul is one of the very few examples in the book of Acts of anyone who had to wait before coming to Christ. (Cornelius in Acts 10, is perhaps the only other, and he, like Saul, was simply waiting for the preacher to get there.) Most often, when a sincere believer heard what they needed to do, they did it. Because while God is patient with us, eventually we are all going to run out of time to do the right thing; so, if you know what to do, and you haven’t done it, God is asking, “What are you waiting for?”
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.