Summary: retelling Ananias’ story, leading to see that all that really matters is loving God and loving others
You Expect Me To Love HIM Deeply?
The Story (pt 1):
The man and his family were settling into their new city. Oh, it certainly wasn’t Jerusalem, but Damascus wasn’t all that bad, really. And after what had happened to Stephen when he shared what he believed about Jesus, he could handle the differences. He could live without the great glory of the temple, without the feeling of importance that came from being a resident of the mighty city of David, capital of Israel, when that meant that he could sleep at night without fear of someone barging in in the middle of the night and dragging him off to prison. Terrifying his family, undermining his livelihood, threatening his life.
Yes, the persecution in Jerusalem had been difficult. As he knelt to pray, he recalled both the fear and the faith – fear of the persecution, but also the faith that came from knowing Jesus was with them. He remembered the moment he heard Peter preach the good news of the Messiah Jesus, how he had seen the power of God through the miracles, and how at that moment he said in his heart – “Jesus, are you for real? Are you really the Messiah??” – and he had his answer: in the depth of his spirit, he knew it was true, and he believed and was baptized.
He remembered his desperate prayer in the persecution – “Lord Jesus, where should I go? Where can I take my family to safety?”; and the Spirit’s answer – “Damascus.” And it had been good here, and even though there were rumors of persecution coming even to Damascus, he felt safe.
“Thank you, Lord Jesus,” he prayed, “for showing me your love for me, for forgiving me, and for surrounding me with a community of others who have helped me learn how to love you and how to love them. Thank you for a new home in a new city, and for safety for me and my family” Then he continued, as was his custom, to thank God for His goodness and faithfulness, and for His loving kindness.
And then something unusual happened. He often tried to listen for the voice of God as he prayed, and many times had come away with a strong feeling that God the Holy Spirit had spoken to him personally, and had given him guidance. But this was unique: The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street…”
Ananias nodded, thinking “I know the street – it is the main one, running right through the middle of town. It will be easy to find the house of Judas there.”
The Lord continued, “…and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
His heart stopped. At the sound of that name, the flood of emotion returned. He saw in his mind the smiling face of Saul as he presided over the stoning of Stephen. He could smell again the stench of the dungeon he had waited outside of for the release of his friends in his house church, friends whose wounds from the lashes oozed with the filth of the dungeon. He felt that same rush of bile in his throat that he had felt as he helped clean and dress those wounds, inflicted without mercy, by order of Saul of Tarsus. He felt the same trapped feeling he had felt just before the Lord had told them to leave Jerusalem for Damascus.
“Ummm,” he replied, as the message began to sink in, “Ummm, 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.”
While Ananias knew these facts weren’t news to the Lord, his own incredulity forced him to say them out loud. Perhaps, somehow, God didn’t really realize how desperate the situation was. Maybe he doesn’t really understand that this guy is dangerous! Maybe God would be a little more reasonable. After all, it doesn’t make sense – God had directed them to Damascus to keep them safe! To get away from the dangers of being a Christian in Jerusalem, to help them be more comfortable!! The persecution, after all, was so horrible that it couldn’t have been what God wanted, and that was why so many of them had scattered. “Umm, Lord – are you sure?”
But the Lord said, “Go! and do what I say.” And the terrifying rumble in that divine voice convinced him He was serious. This wasn’t an optional commandment, there wasn’t going to be any wiggle room here. The thought flashed through Ananias’ mind: “Am I sure I want Jesus to be my Lord?”; and was quickly met with a response of his spirit: “Yes. God chose me, and I chose Him. At my baptism, I declared Jesus as my Lord.” And as he affirmed his faith, courage began to grow. He felt the familiar stir of the Holy Spirit within him, bringing faith and peace and an assurance of the presence of God with him. And, as if in response to both the honest question and the decision to obey, the Lord continued with a gift: a glimpse of the reason: “For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for me.”