Summary: You know someone is coming, perhaps to arrest you for being a Christian. Then you hear the Lord telling you to minister to that person. This happened to Ananias of Damascus when he ministered to Saul of Tarsus.
Introduction: suppose you heard someone was coming to arrest you, or even worse. You also know this person is a recognized hater of your faith, and wants little if anything to do with you. With that in mind, now suppose a word comes from God Himself that this known persecutor has become a Christian, and the Lord wants you to speak to him!
Something exactly like that happened in the Book of Acts. The persecutor: Saul of Tarsus; the believer: Ananias of Damascus. This “go thy way” encounter is one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible! It further tells me that anyone can be saved, and that anyone can share the good news about Jesus.
The text comes from Acts 9:10-16, in the King James Version:
Acts 9:10:And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I [am here], Lord. 11 And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for [one] called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, 12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting [his] hand on him, that he might receive his sight. 13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. 15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
Ananias was a disciple
Verse 10 says that there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. His name was the Greek form of Hananiah, a name given to several men in the Old Testament. Some very good men were named Hananiah, such as Daniel’s friend or relative, who was better known by his Babylonian name of Shadrach. Other men named Hananiah were not so good. There was a false prophet in Jeremiah’s day who prophesied, falsely, that within two years, God would “break the yoke” of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 28:11). God spoke to Jeremiah that He had had nothing to do with Hananiah’s message, and directed Jeremiah to tell Hananiah some of the most chilling words in the Bible, “This year, thou shalt die (Jer. 28:16)”.
This Hananiah, or Ananias, however, was a disciple, meaning he had placed his trust in Jesus as Savior. We don’t know when those of Damascus heard the Gospel for the first time, but perhaps it was at Pentecost? Jews from all over the known world were there (Acts 2) and 3000 men believed that day alone! Others were saved as they heard the message and then believed. Regardless of when or how this happened, we can rejoice that believers heard and shared the message of salvation to many people. Someone told Ananias, and he was a believer, a disciple.
Now comes the call to Ananias, directly from the Lord! Again in verse 10, we read that the Lord spoke to him in a vision. The Lord spoke only one word, “Ananias!” And he replied, ‘Behold, I am here, Lord”. I don’t know about you but if I were to hear the Lord speak directly to me, in an audible voice, it surely would make me take notice of what He was going to say! After all, this didn’t happen very often, even in the New Testament.
Ananias was a doubter
Ananias was probably wondering just what the Lord wanted him to do or say. He now heard the words that must have left him puzzled, “Arise and go into the street . . called Straight”, which tells me Ananias didn’t live there. God won’t tell us to go where we are already, would He? Then he hears, “[And] go to the house of Judas because Saul of Tarsus is there and he’s praying (verse 11, paraphrased)”. The Lord went on to give Ananias additional duties once he found Saul, as in verses 12 and 13.
These instructions must have shocked Ananias from his head to his toes! Not that he was told to go to the house of Judas; who knows, he may have been familiar with that place already. But he was told to ask for Saul of Tarsus, perhaps one of the most feared men in that part of the world at that time!
He would have good reason to wonder at the commission! The first several verses of this chapter tell how Saul had received letters authorizing him to search for and arrest any believers, called “any of the way” in verse 2. Even worse, if any were found guilty (!) of being a follower of Jesus, they had the prospect of being taken to Jerusalem, bound, to face imprisonment and who knows what else. No doubt, the stories of what Saul had done to the believers in Jerusalem had preceded him by some time.