Summary: Christ’s call to Saul on the Road to Damascus and Christ’s call to Ananias to visit Saul in Damascus both provide insight into the nature of Christ’s call.
This passage is most typically known as Saul’s conversion story—his Damascus Road Experience. It describes a dramatic encounter between Saul and Jesus on the road to Damascus…the encounter that started Saul down a new path that would make him the most prolific evangelist of the early church and the most prolific writer in the New Testament.
This passage also describes an encounter—less dramatic and less well known—between Jesus and another guy, um, you know…Ananias.
Saul usually gets all the attention. But today I invite you to pay attention to Ananias too.
Ananias is a common foot soldier in the Lord’s army. He doesn’t get a lot of attention. Nobody really remembers him. The Lord didn’t blind him with a bright light. The Lord didn’t change his name. As far as we know, the Lord didn’t send him to far away places where he would suffer floggings and imprisonments and shipwrecks. The Lord did not give him an assignment to change his world so that our world would still be reverberating from the impact.
But the Lord did give Ananias an assignment to change the world for one person. And, for that reason, it’s worth paying as much attention to this account of the encounter between Ananias and Jesus as to this account of the encounter between Saul and Jesus. You and I may never be asked to change the world, but you and I will be asked, from time to time, to change the world for one person.
We don’t know a lot about Ananias. He was a disciple of Jesus, and he lived in Damascus. Later in Acts, Paul describes him as “a devout observer of the law and respected by all the Jews” in Damascus.
I wonder when Ananias came to know Jesus.
Was he in Jerusalem for Passover the week that Jesus was arrested? Did he meet Jesus then? Did he hear him teach? Did he see him die? Did he hear about the empty tomb? Did he come to faith then?
Or maybe he was in Jerusalem for Pentecost a few weeks later. Maybe he was in the crowd that heard Peter preach. Maybe he believed then and was baptized.
On the other hand, maybe Ananias was from Galilee originally. Maybe he met Jesus while he was teaching and preaching and healing there. Maybe he was among the 120 followers who waited in the upper room for the Spirit to come at Pentecost. Maybe he only moved to Damascus after Stephen was killed and the persecution began in Jerusalem and Judea.
Maybe Ananias was never part of the church in Jerusalem at all. Maybe he was introduced to Jesus by other disciples who came to Damascus from Jerusalem.
We don’t know if Ananias had been a follower of Jesus for a long time or a short time. We do know that he knew Jesus. We know that he had been in Damascus long enough to be known and respected among the Jews (and the Jewish Christians) there.
Saul did not know Jesus. He knew the name of course. It had become Saul’s career to know the name and to root out followers of that name.
Saul was from Tarsus, a Jew born into Roman citizenship. He was a Pharisee—a student and adherent of the Law, highly educated under the tutelage of the most famous rabbi of the first century. Back in Jerusalem Saul watched over the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. Now he is on his way to Damascus, the nearest important city outside of the Holy Land—“breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples”. He is carrying letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he finds Jesus followers among the Jews in Damascus he might arrest them.
On the road to Damascus, Saul encounters Jesus. Shortly thereafter, in Damascus, Ananias hears from Jesus too.
Two very different encounters…both very important to the future of the church…both with a lot to teach us about what to expect when Jesus decides give one of us an assignment—big or little.
First thing to notice…Jesus seems to be willing to give assignments to those who recognize his voice and to those who don’t…to those who are walking the path of discipleship faithfully and to those who are resolutely walking the wrong way entirely.
Saul was an enemy of Jesus—out to take some heads. When he heard the Lord call his name, he had to ask, “Who are you, Lord?”
If you think you have to get your act entirely together before Jesus will even consider calling upon you, think again. Sometimes it is only Jesus’ call that lets us know that we don’t have our act together.
Ananias was a disciple of Jesus—just trying to keep his head down and out of the line of fire. When he heard the Lord call his name, he recognized him and answered, “Yes, Lord.”