This morning, we take many daily events for granted. Lost in the hustle and bustle of today's "fast lane society" is the recognition and appropriate thanksgiving for the mercy of God. So many things that God does, as shown in His word, have more than one facet to them. Ask any professing Christian if they believe in the mercy of God, and the answer will be "yes." However, ask them to list the mercies of God to them, and many will fail to recall and bring to mind what God "just did for them in mercy." We remember quite often that God had mercy on us to rescue us from hell, but how often do we remember what He just did for us in that our natural lives and so many of the associated blessings of it continue to this very day? Sometimes, the thought of God's mercy in some situation is lost in our mind due to our own failure to see it for what it is.
Consider the case of the Apostle Paul as shown in our study verse above. Many times, we hear the thought that, "God's ways are not our ways. Paul seemed a prime choice to preach to Jews – as the Jew of Jews – yet the Lord chose a poor fisherman to be the apostle to the Jews and sent Paul primarily to the Gentiles." There is much truth in this thought, but the thought's truth still fails to bring to light the mercy of God in this action. From our verse above, we see that God tells Ananias that Saul of Tarsus – later the Apostle Paul – would carry forth the gospel as a chosen vessel to Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel. We see from the ministry of Paul that his primary ministry was to Gentiles (Galatians 2:7), though his life showed a great love and desire to preach from time to time to his Jewish brethren as well. (Romans 9:1-3, 10:1)
Even though Paul did preach from time to time to the Jews while constituting and writing to "mixed" churches (comprised of Jews and Gentiles), why would God use such a man as Paul to primarily go to Gentiles? To a man's way of thinking, he makes perfect sense to minister to the Jews, while another man could be raised to preach to Gentiles. By looking at the context of this verse, we see a glorious glimpse of the mercy of God in this divine direction. God speaks these words to Ananias who is being sent to restore Paul's sight and baptize him. Ananias, as no doubt many Jews in that area, saw Saul of Tarsus as a terrible force to contend with. As one that had Stephen put to death (Acts 8:1) as well as put the saints in prison, who would want Ananias' job to go to this man without some assurance from the Almighty that his life would not be in danger for doing so? Further still, who might want to be around him even after his conversion?
While Scripture is silent on the thought, Stephen could have had natural family in the church at Jerusalem. Even if he had no natural family in the church, he undoubtedly had a host of friends that still mourned his untimely passing. How difficult might it be for these people – forgiving as their hearts might be – to listen to a man preach to them who had just recently put their friend or relation to death? For those that had been imprisoned by this man or had loved ones that were, how hard or difficult would his preaching be for them to take?
Considering the other side of the coin as well, how difficult a time would Paul have had in preaching to the saints at Jerusalem? If any minister today had to preach to people he jailed the week before, how tall a task would be before him? While we certainly understand that God's power can overcome all these natural obstacles of our minds, consider just how merciful He was on this occasion to prevent these tense moments and situations from materializing.
Looking at situations that we are very familiar with today, we see that some churches and areas have a difficult time receiving a preacher that has "grown up among them." By seeing the boy become a man and later a minister, he has no honour in his home country (Luke 4:24), for they cannot get the mental image of the boy out of their head. Instead of seeing a servant of God with a mighty gift from above, they see that "little rascal" that got into so much trouble. Some have a hard time being ministered to by their natural kin. Instead of seeing their pastor trying to do what God would have him do, they see their little nephew, cousin, or child and fail to accept or receive the instruction.
If seeing these types of issue cause so much trouble and problem today with just the thought of natural ties and circumstances, how much more tension would they have caused with a former murderer and pillager of churches? If people cannot receive the "boy preacher" today, how much harder would it have been to receive the "murdering, bloodthirsty preacher" then? Too often today, people mourn when ministers get called to other places without considering God's will in the matter. Many times, God calls the "boy preacher" away – mercifully – to keep him from having to wrestle with his acceptance and their mental image of him. God here calls Paul away to other places to keep these dear saints from having to wrestle in their conscience with what they think of the man and Paul from having such a smitten conscience every time he preached to them.
Indeed, we many times have to get over things and forget things of the past. (Philippians 3:13) God would have been just in saying, "People, that is in the past. Deal with it. Love each other and let bygones be bygones." Our striving in this world should be to have the mind of Christ that overlooks one another for good, seeking to hit the mark of Christ in our walk of faith. However, God knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14) Since our Heavenly Father knows that we have problems in the flesh, He sometimes mercifully keeps some problems from being a problem. In this passage, we see Paul's past mercifully removed by God in sending him to people that do not know him and have no "bone to pick" with him about it. Just as God so often sends the boy preacher to a location that knows little of his background, so God sent Paul to lands that were unfamiliar with the deeds of Saul of Tarsus.
Truly, God doled out mercy beyond compare when He reached down to save us from our sins. Mercy poured forth from the Son of God when He willingly took our sins upon Himself and imputed His righteousness unto us. Yet, how merciful is God to us daily in our lives that we sometimes do not see the wondrous beauty of it. Heads have been scratched down through the centuries as to why God would use Peter for the work Paul seemed so "suited for." Yet, the mercy of God took Paul away from the work that would have posed so many extra issues for him and them. When our lives take paths that remove us from "extra issues" or "extra tensions" that we would have had otherwise, may we thank Him for His mercy to us daily. And should we fail to see and understand His mercy on some occasion, may we thank Him anyway, knowing that His mercy and compassion does not fail, being new every morning. (Lamentations 3:18-20)