Summary: Delivered as if Ananias were telling his story about encountering Paul: The Spirit calls us to believe that others can be changed, that if we do not go to them the consequences are large, and that others need a human touch from us.
I had always prided myself on understanding people. I had always thought I knew enough about the human mind that I could predict what a man would be like on the basis of what he had always done.
After all, if a person is a thief when he is a child, you expect that he will be a cheating thief when he is a youth and a lying thief when he is a man. And you expect that he will be a cheating, lying, imprisoned thief when he is old. You suppose that whatever a person is now, he will always be.
I took pride in my ability to read people and to predict what they would be, on the basis of what they had always been.
And so that’s why I reacted so negatively that morning when the Lord told me, "Get up and go to a certain place, and lay your hands on that man." I reacted very badly because I felt I knew exactly what he was up to, and that if I were to go there he would have literally destroyed me.
But I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I was! And I am just glad that I did not let my own hostile feelings control me, or else the world today would be a much worse place than it now is. Why, do you know that if I had let my feelings, my prejudices, control me, you folks might not even be Christians today? If I had done what I wanted to do, you might never have had a chance to hear the Gospel.
So I have to tell you this morning about how I learned to believe the best about the worst.
My name is Ananias. I am a citizen of the city of Damascus. Damascus in my time was in the country called Nabatea. You today call it Syria. In Damascus I had been, first, one of the leaders of the Jewish community. There were many of us, in fact – at least twenty thousand or so. We Jews enjoyed prosperity and a comfortable life, and we were connected to our fellow Jews back in Judea and Jerusalem by many ties of friendship and by our allegiance to the high priest at the Temple there. We Jews did well in Damascus.
But, I say, that was what I was at first – a leader of the Jews. But just a few short years ago, I and some of my friends became convinced that God had sent His Messiah, and that that Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth. My heart leaps as I still can remember that day when I first believed and trusted Him. I became a disciple; we didn’t use the word "Christian" as you know it. We said we were disciples, I and several other prominent, upstanding, solid Jewish folks.
Now I speak of us as prominent, upstanding, solid folks in order to emphasize for you that some of us didn’t have to change all that much in order to become Christians. Oh yes, we changed the way we worship and we changed the way we pray. We changed our religious vocabularies and we began to separate from the synagogue. But, you see, we had already been moral folks, upstanding, prominent, solid folks; and when we became Christians that didn’t have to change.
And so even the Jews who did not believe in Christ trusted us. I kept the same friends I had always had. They all thought poor old Ananias was a little crazy for having picked up on this Jesus thing, but my lifestyle was pretty much the same, and so they found it easy to tolerate me.
I guess you could say that it was easy to think the best about the best! It’s easy to look at solid respectable citizens who are sort of like you are and to accept them without much of a problem. You can think the best things about the best people.
But, as I’ve already hinted, the problem comes when you have to deal with somebody who’s not like that. The problem is that I heard the Lord telling me I had to think the best about the worst! And believe me, the man whom the Lord directed me to meet was the worst you can imagine.
Saul of Tarsus had built a reputation as a fanatical, fire-breathing, disciple-killing monster. In Jerusalem, just a few months ago, he had encouraged an angry crowd to stone and kill our brother Stephen. And then, in the furor that followed, Saul actually broke into people’s houses and dragged them off to prison, just for the crime, as he put it, of following Jesus. Saul was all over Jerusalem, taking men and women, boys and girls, into custody. And it was all done with a kind of ruthless zeal you wouldn’t believe.