Ananias & Church Enemy #1
Acts 9:10-18; 23:12
Perhaps no one in the twentieth century was more notorious and epitomized evil like Adolph Hitler. Several attempts were made to remove him from power by those within the Third Reich and by foreign governments. All these missions failed. However, what if you had been sent on a mission to not assassinate Hitler but to convert him to New Testament Christianity? You might protest that he would be the last person you would expect to become a Christian.
The most notorious persecutor of the early church was Saul of Tarsus. And a preacher was sent out by God to convert him to Christianity. Before we look at this man and how he responded to this divine mission, let us first consider a little bit of background. The early church was persecuted in Jerusalem almost from the beginning. It was limited to the apostles, but with the martyrdom of Steven things became pretty intense for the Christians living in Jerusalem. Christianity spread to Judea, Galilee, and even to Syria. Saul leaves 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. On the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to Saul. Recognizing Jesus speaking to him, Saul wants to know what to do. Jesus sends him on to Damascus to wait for a man to come tell him what to do. This man is a Christian named Ananias.
■ A Certain Disciple
God, as always, sends a human to teach the Gospel to Saul. The man He chose is named Ananias. Ananias was a common name among the Jews, which in its Hebrew form was Hananiah. Another Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira was part of the early church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-10). The third Ananias was the high priest and president of the Sanhedrin at the time of Paul’s arrest (Acts 23:2). Ananias himself was murdered by assassins for his cooperation with the Romans.
This Ananias has been called one of the forgotten heroes of the faith. This unsung brave hero of the Faith does not get a lot of attention. He is simply referred to as “a certain disciple.” This is the only place we learn of him and all we know of him. Nonetheless he is a very successful disciple. “Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” A Christian does not need to be “in the spotlight” in order to be a capable worker for the Lord. Ananias plays one bit part in the story of the Gospel and is gone. As verse seventeen reads “so Ananias departed”. The only other thing we learn about him is from tradition in which he became bishop of Damascus and died a martyr.
■ A Devout & Respected Disciple
In another account of Saul’s conversion we are told more about the character and reputation of Ananias. He was “a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there” (Acts 22:12). God did not just send anyone. But, someone whom He could trust to carry out this very important mission to help save the world.
■ A Willing Disciple
When the Lord first calls upon Ananias, he is ready with a positive response: “Behold, I am here, Lord” (Acts 9:10). This reminds us of the ready attitudes of young Samuel, “Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears’” (1 Sam. 3:10). And that of Isaiah: “here am I; send me” (Is. 6:8). This is a servant willing to serve his Lord even if it meant confronting the number one enemy of the church. He could have been like Jonah who turned to run from his mission by going in the opposite direction.
■ A Reluctant Disciple
Ananias was sent to a street called “straight” to find Saul. This street still exist in Damascus running from the east gate to the west side of the city. Straight Street is now called Derb Le-Mastaquim.
Oddly enough Ananias seems to forget that an all-knowing God is speaking to him and tried to inform him of who this Saul really is. “Are you sure this is the man you want me to go see?” The Lord knows all about Saul and lets Ananias know they there are plans for him in the growing kingdom. Ananias is to go to Saul despite the personal risk to his life. Paul would later declare: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Ananias went, but may have taken a bit of fear and concern with him. He approached Saul and said, “B-B-B-B brother S-S-S-S-Saul” (at lest that is how the Vess Revised Standard Paraphrase reads).
When Ananias found Saul weeping and praying instead of plotting against and persecuting Christians, he realized he was dealing with a changed man. Saul would never again lift a hand against the disciples of Jesus Christ.
This was indeed the “chosen vessel” (2 Tim. 2:20-21). God also called him to witness to kings such as Agrippa (Acts 25:23-26:32) and likely Caesar (Acts 25:10-12; 2 Tim. 4:16-17). God told Ananias that this Saul who had caused so much suffering for Christians, would ironically suffer much for Christ (Acts 9:15-16). In fact, Saul would later list some of the suffering he had to endure (2 Cor. 11:23-28). The persecutor would become the persecuted.
Any other hesitancy Ananias had in regard to Saul would have dissipated when “Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). The word translated “proving” comes from a Greek verb, which means, “to knit together from several different strands.” His sermons were seamlessly woven together in a way to skillfully encourage listeners to accept the truth of the Gospel. Soon others were accepting of this former tormentor. “Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21). The Greek text uses the term from which we get the word “ecstatic” for “amazed”. Saul would go on to become the most prolific writer in the New Testament.
When Ananias showed some reluctance in carrying out this mission, the Lord chose to give him some important details about what He had planned for Saul. It may have not made a lot of sense at the moment for Ananias to share the Gospel with Saul, but he obeyed. It did not make sense for Noah to build a boat in the middle of dry land. It didn’t make sense for Moses to strike a rock to get water in the desert. It didn’t make sense to march around Jericho a total of thirteen times for seven days in order to defeat the city. Sometimes we need to obey out of trust without knowing all the details. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8).
■ A Commissioned Disciple
Ananias’ small act of obedience led to a great win for Christ and winner of lost souls. God could have commissioned one the apostles at Jerusalem to go meet Saul. Instead he gave the mission to Ananias who has ready and available. Ananias’ assignment was to go Saul, restore his sight, baptize him, and reveal his commission to him. He told Saul, “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) The Lord needs men and women like Ananias today, who will do exactly what God has asked them to do in exactly the way God has asked them to do it and exactly the place He’s called them to go.
Later in life Saul, who became known as Paul the apostle, would write to Timothy, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). If God can transform the worst of sinners, how much more can we expect him to do so with the sinners we know?
– Daniel R. Vess