The Lesson of Ananias
I was thinking this morning about one of my favorite passages of Scripture. While the story is well known, the part of it that appeals to me is often just passed over. It is in Acts 9 and involves just two people, the disciple Ananias and Saul. Saul, notorious for persecuting Christians, has departed Jerusalem after obtaining a letter granting him authority to arrest any Christians he can find in Damascus. He is to bring these believers to Jerusalem for trial before the puppet court of the Sanhedrin. But lo and behold, while on the road to Damascus he has a dramatic, life-changing conversion experience. Out of a shining light Jesus calls to him and said “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul is struck blind. Jesus commands Saul to go to Damascus and wait to be told what he must do. He is led to the city by those who are traveling with him and he waits for three days and nights without any food or water. What these days are like we can only imagine. They must be filled with pain, remorse and repentance. They must be filled with great confusion and despair.
As Saul sits and waits, the scene fades momentarily and now we are introduced to Ananias (not to be confused with Ananias the High Priest or Ananias husband of Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit) who is called “a disciple at Damascus.” The Lord appears to Ananias in a vision and tells him “Arise and go to the street called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” God tells this disciple to run an errand on His behalf.
I have always loved Ananias’ response. Somehow he forgets his place and attempts to give God a bit of a newsflash. I can just picture Him stammering a bit as he takes it upon himself to remind God of just who this Saul guy is. I like to think that he began the sentence with uncertainty and confusion, and perhaps with with the words “Ummm…God….?” He says “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” Ananias had not only heard of how Saul had been systematically destroying the church in Jerusalem, hunting down men and women and turning them over to the authorities, but also knew that he was on the march to Damascus, ready to destroy that church as well. Paul’s hatred for Christ and His followers was common knowledge. We can well imagine that Ananias and the other believers were terrified as they awaited Saul and his cohort, for they knew their lives might be lost for the sake of Christ. They must have awaited his arrival at the city with great dread. And now here God asks Ananias to go and confront the ringleader of the persecutors. Ananias takes the opportunity to remind God of Saul’s credentials. After all, he has done “harm to Your saints in Jerusalem” and is now ready to “bind all who call on Your name” in Damascus.
Ananias showed weakness here. He did not have unwavering trust in God. As a matter of fact, he reminds me of me! I suspect I would have said the same thing to God just in case He had somehow forgotten a little detail. After all, this Saul guy was dangerous! Didn’t God know that? I’ve often wondered if missionaries don’t react in the same way when they feel their hearts stirred for a particular nation or people. “Um…God…don’t you know that that country is closed to missionaries? Don’t you know that your people are persecuted in that nation? Don’t you know what could happen to me, to my family, if I go there? God?”
God knew all about Saul. He tells Ananias “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My sake.” God knew exactly who Saul was and gave Ananias the assurance that He was still in control. As a matter of fact, providence dictated that He would use this man to do incredible things for His kingdom. Saul, the chief of sinners, the persecutor of the church, was God’s chosen means of bringing the gospel to great and small, Jew and Gentile alike.
Ananias is obedient. He appears before Saul and has the great honor of laying his hands on this broken man in the name of the Holy Spirit. At that moment Saul’s blindness is ended. As a symbol of the end of his spiritual blindness he is baptized, probably by the hand of Ananias himself. We then read that “Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.” Whether at that point Saul was the student or the teacher we do not know. Perhaps he sat and learned at the feet of Ananias. The Bible doesn’t tell us.
At this point Ananias fades from the story and we hear of him no more. His role in the drama of Acts is small, yet significant. We see a man who wavered when he heard God’s voice, yet despite his initial hesitation he was faithful and obedient. While at first he thought he might have to correct God, in the end he submitted himself and his very life to God’s call. God then used this man to further His purposes in launching the career of the most influential of the apostles. Ananias’ small act of obedience led to a great harvest for the kingdom.
And this is the lesson of Ananias that I have applied to my life. Small acts of obedience that are premised on the Word of God, even when they seem contrary to reason, and even when they seem to challenge what seems so plain, can have great significance. Our perspective is so small, so limited. God’s perspective is wide, taking in all of history in a single glance. We need to rely on Him, on His Word, on His voice, trusting that He will not lead us astray.