What are the two most amazing words in the book of Acts? I would suggest the following:
“Brother, Saul . . . .” (Acts 9:17)
Of these simple but very profound two words, John Stott writes,
I never fail to be moved by these words. They may well have been the first words which Saul heard from Christian lips after his conversion, and they were words of fraternal welcome. (The Message of Acts, p.175-176, emphasis mine)
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is arguably the high point of the book of Acts. It is certainly the turning point of the book. He becomes the dominant human figure in the rest of the book. His conversion is recounted no less than three times in Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26), so it must be important.
His conversion must have been a shock to everyone who heard of it.
First, it must have been no small surprise to Ananias. When the Lord spoke to him in a vision, telling him to go seek out “a man of Tarsus named Saul” (v.11), he thought there must have been some mistake. He went from “Here I am, Lord” (v.10) to saying, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem” (v.13). The salvation of Saul was the last thing Ananias would have expected, but the Lord Jesus assured him that Saul was indeed His chosen instrument (v.15).
He would take the persecutor of the church and turn him into one of the greatest preachers of the gospel of Christ that the world has ever known! And Ananias was honored to be the one chosen by Christ himself to be the messenger of those two amazing words: “Brother, Saul . . .” (v.17).
It was also the last thing in the world that Saul (later renamed Paul) ever expected. Saul was confronted by the risen and ascended Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was blinded and practically incapacitated by the Lord (v.3-9). For three days Saul was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. His life was turned utterly upside-down. He had thought he had been serving God by seeking to destroy the church, only to find out that he had been attacking the Lord Himself (v.5).
We do not know what was going through Saul’s mind during those three days in Damascus, but it would seem that he had no reason to expect anything but judgment and destruction. But instead he hears those amazing two words from Ananias: “Brother, Saul . . .” (v.17). The Lord showed mercy and grace to Saul. His sight was restored and He was filled with the Holy Spirit (v.17-18). Ananias was the Lord’s messenger, not of judgment, but of salvation!
Lastly, it was more than a bit surprising to the church. It was so shocking that the saints did not believe it either at first:
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. (Acts 9:26 ESV)
They thought that it must have been some kind of trick. Perhaps Saul was trying to infiltrate the church in order to arrest more of them! But that wasn’t it. Not even close. He was now brother Saul, a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ! They (like we often do) underestimated the grace of God in Jesus Christ. But not for long.
Saul went from seeking to arrest disciples of Jesus Christ (v.1-2) to seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ (v.20-22). And the only explanation for this amazing turnaround is the power of God in the gospel.
Jesus Christ came to seek and save sinners, of whom Saul (Paul) saw himself as the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). And if He would save Saul of Tarsus, truly no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace in Jesus Christ!