God sent Ananias on a mission to find Saul. But Ananias didn't know that Saul was a changed man. He expected a blood-thirsty zealot but encountered a humble, new Christian. Jesus had forgiven Saul. Would Ananias?
In this sermon, we will explore the story of Ananias and Saul, two men who were transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Ananias was a devout Jew who was hesitant to meet with Saul, a former persecutor of Christians. However, God told Ananias to go and pray for Saul, and Saul was miraculously healed and converted to Christianity. We will learn how God can use anyone, even those who have made mistakes in the past, to spread his message of love and hope.
“A Street Less Traveled”
Every one of us, sometime in our schooling learned the story of Isaac Newton’s famous discovery. You remember the story, he was sitting under an apple tree one afternoon when a ripe apple fell from one of the limbs and hit Newton on the head - and at that moment Isaac Newton discovered the need for Excedrin - no - the law of gravity. Few of us learned that, if it weren’t for another scientist named Edmund Halley, the world might never have learned of Newton.
You see, it was Halley who:
-challenged and mentored Newton through his original ideas
-corrected Newton’s mathematical errors
-coaxed the hesitant Newton to put his discoveries into writing
-edited and supervised those publications
-and even financed the first edition.
Historians call it one of the most selfless examples in the annals of science. Newton began almost immediately to reap the rewards of scientific prominence and prestige; Halley withdrew into the shadows and received little credit. One biographical statement about Halley was that he didn’t care who got the credit, his mission in life was to simply advance the cause of science. In fact, the only reason we even know the name of Halley is because of the comet, whose orbit he calculated to appear every 76 years and then disappear once again into the vast heavens.
The Brief Appearance of Ananias
Our study this morning resembles the story of Edmund Halley and his comet - it’s the story of a man who launched the prominent career of another man, and then disappeared from sight. His name was Ananias - and the brief appearance of this man occurs in Acts chapter 9. Like the comet and its discoverer - he appeared for just a moment and then withdrew into the shadows of history, never to be heard from again.
Now, for the sake of memory, if you were with us in our last discussion in the Book, we watched the dramatic conversion of Saul - the grand executioner of the church. The main antagonist of the new church - a brilliant Pharisee who was on his way to Damascus to capture the Jewish Christians who had scattered from Jerusalem and bring them back to stand trial for heresy. While Saul was waiting for further instructions, the Lord was working on the heart and life of another man.
Let’s pick up the story at that point - would you notice verse 10. “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Behold, here am I, Lord.’”
By the way, you need to know that later in the Book of Acts, Saul recounts this story and describes Ananias as a leading Jewish Christian, a man who had an outstanding testimony of integrity and godliness. He was, no doubt, a leading member in the Christian community there in the city of Damascus.
It is to this man that the Lord appears in a vision - 11 “And the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 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.’”
Now don’t overlook the fact that the Lord does not tell Ananias anything about Saul’s conversion - Ananias only experiences the chill of hearing the name of the church’s arch-enemy - the dreaded hunter of Christians, the Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus.
The Difficult Assignment of Ananias
1) For Ananias to approach the enemy of the church was nothing short of an act of faith and courage.
I am so glad that the Holy Spirit moved Luke to record the next part of this conversation - it reveals that Ananias was made out of stuff that you and I are made of - it gives you and me great hope. 13 “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem.’” I love this - Ananias is informing the Lord about who Saul was - as if the Lord didn’t know. Excuse me Lord, may I remind you of some things I’ve heard about Saul - things you must have evidently not heard - this man is your enemy - and he’s done a lot of bad things to your children in Jerusalem. And furthermore - 14 “‘... and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name.’” In other words, “Lord, you’re telling me he can’t see - something’s happened to his eyesight - now we’re having a prayer meeting tonight - explain to me why that shouldn’t be part of our “answered prayer” column. If he can’t see - he can’t see Christians. . .like me. . .and that means he can’t catch Christians. This sounds like a praise item to me, Lord!
15 “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.’”
What a great lesson for all of us - you see, Ananias knew all about Saul’s past - God knew all about Saul’s future; Ananias knew Saul as the great persecutor of the Christians; God saw him as the great preacher of the gospel. Ananias saw him as a murderer; God saw him as a chosen instrument.
2) There’s more here - for Ananias to go was nothing less than an act of forgiveness.
Go back to verse 11 and take a closer look - “‘...for behold, he is praying.’” The Lord gives Ananias a clue - Pharisees didn’t do much praying in private - they usually prayed in public - furthermore, they usually didn’t hold prayer meetings in houses - but Saul was praying in the house of man named Judas who lived over on Straight Street. That street by the way is to this day the principal street running from the west gate to the east gate in the city of Damascus. Ladies and Gentlemen, God was asking Ananias to do nothing less than act as God’s agent of forgiveness by revealing first his own forgiveness of Saul.
Forgiveness . . . you know why there aren’t more travelers on streets named Straight? Because it won’t allow grudges, bitterness and hatred to accompany any traveler upon it’s pavement. The man who traveled down this street was a man who’d left anger and bitterness behind.
17 “And Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’” The verb be filled is in the subjunctive mood - this is not an imperative - “Saul, be filled with the Holy Spirit right now.” No, translated with the flavor of this subjunctive mood it could read, “Saul, if you want it to happen, the Spirit of God will fill, or control you at this moment; you need to decide.” Paul’s already saved - he’s already indwelt by the Holy Spirit - that happened three days earlier on the Damascus road - now he’s in need of control or domination by means of the Spirit.
18 “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened.”
3) There’s a third thing about Ananias’ coming and it’s also observed in these other disciples - it was an act of acceptance. Notice the last part of verse 19. “Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus”. What an incredible turn of events. The one who had come to capture them is now captivated by them.
But think of Saul’s great guilt - imagine how he must have felt as he came to know these big hearted people - as they shared around their meals and throughout the day their joy in Christ - and to think he had come to imprison and torture them - to think of the damage he had already done.
While the spotlight of our study is not so much on Paul, I think we can at least learn this truth, “You cannot go back and rewrite the first chapters of your life, but you can start now, to begin writing a new ending.” Think of Saul who will end his life, known not for murdering Christians but for advancing the cause of Christianity. What a different ending!
Tips for travelers along Straight Street:
1) Forgiving someone else is best enabled by remembering our own sinfulness.
Ananias could forgive Saul because he himself had been forgiven - he was perhaps among the crowd at Jerusalem who shouted “crucify him.” He was numbered among the nation who rejected Jesus Christ as Messiah.
Forgiving someone else is best enabled by remembering our own sinfulness and forgiveness.
2) Forgiving someone else is best engendered by remembering the example of our own Savior.
Wasn’t it our beloved Lord who hung on the cross in order to forgive?
Did not He say through the prophet Isaiah, “Come let us reason together, sayeth the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow, though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” Did not His Spirit move John the Apostle to promise, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Go to the foot of that cross and look up into the face of the One who had every right to be bitter, but He wasn’t. You will see in Him the person who had every justifiable reason to hold a grudge. But He didn’t. Go to Him and pray, “Lord, make me like You.”
Look back at verse 17. And Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “ “‘Brother Saul’.”
Once enemies, now brothers!
And the church will soon be introduced to the testimony of its chief ambassador . . . all because one man, who would soon disappear into the shadows of Saul’s prominent ministry, was willing at this moment, to obey the word of Christ and make a short and somewhat fearful journey along a street named Straight - a street that for us today doesn’t have many travelers - but for the believer, like Ananias, it is a street that should be well traveled - there’s not much traffic along that path - sinners who’ve been forgiven - now extend forgiveness to one another. And in so doing, advance the church mightily and bring honor and glory to the creator of the church, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.