ACTS9v10to19: SAUL AND ANANIAS.
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
After the spectacular events on the road to Damascus the part played by Ananias seems something of an anticlimax. However, this obscure, cautious Christian made an important contribution to Paul's spiritual welfare. Someone needed to lead him by the hand into Damascus, someone else looked after him in the house of Judas on Straight Street and finally Ananias initiated him into the church.
(B) God has many contacts.
It is very useful in life to have lots of contacts. The bird watching holiday I had in Japan with my friend Tommy Bamber was greatly facilitated by Tommy's contacts in Tokyo, Fukushima, Sapporo and Nemuro.
God had a man in Damascus. He knew where to find Ananias! It reminds me of an old itinerant preacher I knew called Walter Southgate. His second marriage lasted one day - his wife left him after their first night together! Walter always used to say when he was rather short of preaching engagements, "The Lord knows my telephone number."
God had a man in Washington for Charles Colson, President Nixon's close adviser, called Doug Coe. He was in contact very soon after Charles Colson believed in Jesus. This gave Colson the opportunity to confess Christ - to articulate his commitment aloud to another person - an important step on the long journey that leads to life.
God always has someone available to help us at a crucial stage in our spiritual pilgrimage.
(C) We should never be reluctant to do God's will.
Ananias was very apprehensive about going to see Saul. He protests: "Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." v13and14. Jesus had to reassure Ananias: "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." v15.
There are many occasions on which we, like Ananias, shrink from doing the will of Jesus our Lord. When:
I have just returned from visiting my brother, Paul, who is a Grace Baptist minister in London. He has nearly completed 30 years pastoring the inner city church of Courland Grove. I am pleased to say that he has seen his work and that of his wife, Ruth, blessed by God. Yet I can remember my dear old father, himself a pastor for 39 years, discouraging my brother from taking on a Grace Baptist church. My father was disillusioned by the poverty he had endured and his poor prospects in retirement. He influenced me but failed to deter my brother. Paul has not been rich in this world's goods, and this has affected him, but nonetheless God has used my brother to enrich the lives of others.
(b) Unexpected setbacks occur.
God tests our resolve and commitment to prepare us for worthwhile work he has planned for us. After my brother took on the pastorate of Courland Grove the elderly deacons all left. They had been looking for some one to take charge of the church so they could relinquish their responsibilities. It was a cynical ploy unworthy of them. However, my brother, with hindsight, acknowledges that it was probably a blessing in disguise. It gave him a free hand..... . He and his wife persevered and eventually the church grew.
(c) We put our own safety first.
I am at present reading, 'Goodbye to all that,' Robert Graves' autobiography. He does not write kindly of the conduct of Anglican regimental chaplains in the First World War: If they had shown one-tenth the courage, endurance, and other human qualities that the regimental doctors showed, we agreed, the British Expeditionary Force might well have started a religious revival. .... Occasionally, on a quiet day in a quiet sector, the chaplain would make a daring afternoon visit to the support line and distribute a few cigarettes, before hurrying back. But he was always much to the fore in the rest-billets. His opinion of the Roman Catholic chaplains is completely different: For the Roman Catholic chaplains were not only permitted to visit posts of danger, but definitely enjoyed to be wherever the fighting was, so that they could give extreme unction to the dying. And we had never heard of one who failed to do all that was expected of him and more. By Robert Graves' own reasoning the conduct of the Roman Catholic priests should have led the British Army converting wholesale to Catholicism! Still, we can but applaud the courage of the Roman Catholic chaplains. They did not put their own safety first but what they considered to be the eternal security of dying souls.
All through the centuries Christian missionaries of many different persuasions have risked and lost their lives to bring the gospel to unbelievers. I would be reluctant to visit many parts of Africa today for fear of picking up some nasty tropical disease. In the 19th century the life expectancy of missionaries in Equatorial Africa was not high! In stark contrast to those pioneering missionaries stand modern English Christians who fear to venture out to church on a stormy Sunday.
(d)Feel that we shan't be able to cope.
I love the stories Corrie ten Boon tells in her books. They do me a power of good. On a trip to Argentina Corrie visited a hospital ward where polio patients were being treated. People in iron lungs filled one ward. A nurse asked her if she wished to talk to some of the patients. Corrie felt unable to talk; she just wanted to go away and cry. However, she sought strength from the Lord and went from bed to bed telling men and women about Jesus. Eventually she came to a Jew on a bed that rocked up and down. When his head was up he could breathe in and when it was down he could breathe out. Corrie told this man about his Messiah. Finally, she took a small piece of embroidery from her bag and held it up. A beautiful crown was stitched on one side but the other was the usual mess. Corrie told the suffering Jew that his life was a mess like the untidy, knotted side of the embroidery but God was actually weaving for him a crown of life. The man picked up a pencil and wrote: Thank God - I am already seeing the beautiful side. Next day he died but not before he had written: For the first time I prayed in Jesus name.
Corrie did not feel able to cope with the human misery of that polio ward but God helped her to witness and to bring salvation to a sinner - just in time. If God calls us to do a difficult task he will provide strength at need. He always has and he always will.
(D) The wonder of Christian fellowship.
The first words that Ananias spoke to Saul were, "Brother Saul..." v17. I find that just so heart warming. Ananias welcomed Saul into the family of God. Who was he to argue with the Lord's choice!
When the Pharisees criticised Jesus for eating with publicans and sinners he replied: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mt9v12and13. Every genuine Christian is a saved sinner and as such should be happy to welcome other saved sinners into fellowship. We cannot be particular about this. Jesus welcomes any sinner who repents, submits and looks to him for forgiveness and reconciliation. We should be like Ananias and welcome our greatest foe into the brotherhood if he has been saved by grace and through faith.
After Chuck Colson, the advisor of President Nixon, became a Christian Doug Coe said, "You'll want to meet Senator Hughes - he is a tremendous Christian." Colson thought to himself, "But will Senator Hughes want to meet me?" Senator Hughes was his political enemy. He was anti-war, anti-Nixon and anti-Colson. A supper party was arranged so that Chuck Colson and Senator Hughes could meet. The atmosphere was tense and the guests uneasy until the Senator asked Colson to give his testimony. After he had finished there was silence. Then Harold Hughes suddenly lifted both hands in the air and brought them down hard on his knees. He said: "That's all I need to know, Chuck, you have accepted Jesus and He has forgiven you. I do the same. I love you now as my brother in Christ. I will stand with you, defend you anywhere, and trust you with anything I have." The Senator kept his word - right through Chuck Colson's trial for obstructing justice that eventually led to a prison sentence. That is what Christian fellowship is all about. When a man believes in Jesus he becomes my brother.
(E) The interdependence of Christians.
Ananias was a very obscure saint but Saul needed him. Ananias placed his hands upon Saul who received the Holy Spirit and the restoration of his sight. Ananias baptised Saul in the name of Jesus - the one who had sent him to the vanquished enemy of the church. That is all we know about Ananias - the small but essential part he played at the start of Paul's pilgrimage of faith.
We need other Christian's to:
Very humble Christians may be used to bring men and women to Jesus who later become great in the Lord's service. John Bunyan was much influenced by the godly conversation of three poor old women in Bedford. William Carey, the pioneering Baptist missionary to India, was apprenticed to a cobbler. It was while learning the shoemaker's craft that his fellow apprentice talked with him earnestly about Christianity and led him to the Saviour. D.L. Moody became a Christian in the back of his uncle's boot store in Boston. It was there, Mr Kimball, his Sunday school teacher, told him of Christ's love and the love that Jesus wanted in return. Mr Kimball said: It seemed the young man was just ready for the light that then broke upon him, and in the back of that store D.L. Moody gave himself and his life to Christ. I have written of the conversion of the famous Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon through the preaching of the ill educated, thin looking shoemaker or tailor, who was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say: LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.
Perhaps, one of the most encouraging stories is that of Augustine of Hippo's conversion. He was born in AD353 and became on of the greatest Latin fathers. One day, after a long struggle against sin, Augustine was agonising in the garden about his desire to be good. Exhausted and despairing, he burst into tears, crying, "How long, how long? To-morrow and to-morrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end of my uncleanness?" At that instant the sweet voice of a child was heard from a neighbouring house, "Tolle, lege - tolle, lege." (Take, read - take, read.) The words seemed an answer to Augustine's prayer. He went back into the house and began reading one of Paul's epistles. His eye fastened upon the 13th verse of the 13th chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans: Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh. AV. That was it - put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ... Those words were used to set Augustine free and bring him out of darkness into the light. Yet in the first instance it was through the sweet voice of a child that God spoke to Augustine.
(b) Share with us in the Lord's work.
I can remember a great wind one Sunday at Pioneer Camp - the Christian camp for young people at which I worked in the summer. The big marquee shook and the guy ropes threatened to pull out the iron stakes holding them fast. Our skipper, John Skull, sent to Tom Havers and Mr Denny for help. During the Sunday evening service, as the wind howled and canvas shook, we could hear the muffled sound of those two men hammering in additional stakes to secure the large tent. When the pair came into the marquee for cocoa at the end of the service a great calm had fallen on the boys and girls although the wind still raged without. It was as if the muffled blows had reassured those within that all was well.
In Christian service it is great to have backers and supporters - men and women who will give help in time of need.
(c) Encourage us in the Lord's work.
I saw Tom Havers yesterday at the Grace Baptist Mission meetings. He came up to me and shook my hand. He said, "I would like to thank you for your amazing web site. I've used some of your stories in school assemblies that I have taken." Tom is one of the very few of my Christian acquaintances that has given me any encouragement to keep writing.
From time to time we all need a fellow Christian just to be brotherly - as Ananias was to Saul of Tarsus.