Who in your life is very difficult? Who bothers you? Who is that person you really try to avoid? Maybe it is more than one person. Let’s start by thinking about that person. What makes them so distasteful to you that you want to avoid them? Keep that in mind, because today we meet a man who was asked to do the incredibly risky, go help his enemy.
This week we’re studying Acts 9:1-31, which is all about the astounding conversion of the Christian killer Saul. But instead of focusing on the lead role, Saul, we are paying special attention to his supporting cast. In the previous post, we saw Jesus break out of heaven and intervene in Saul’s life, and we watched as the men in Saul’s posse, ignoring their own bewilderment, sacrificially helped him out. In today’s post we meet the first candidate in the story for best supporting actor, a Christian named Ananias living in Damascus. If you’d like to follow along, please open your Bible to Acts 9:10, and there we read that Jesus appears to Ananias in a vision.
I need us to stop right there. We could move past this quickly because dreams and visions occur in this story as if they are just everyday happenings. It seems to me the author of Acts presents it that way, like it is no big deal. “Hey Ananias!” and Ananias responds, “Oh, hey Jesus, what’s up?”
It reminds me of the rise of group video chats in recent years, and especially now during the pandemic. We hop on Zoom and can have a school class with 20 other people. Faith Church has been worshiping using Zoom. Just doing what has become normal. Could you imagine what people even 25 years ago would be thinking if they could look into what would be the very near future and see Zoom? Their minds would be blown.
I think we should be equally amazed when we hear that Jesus appears to Ananias in a vision. I mean, was Ananias afraid? Excited? Freaked out a bit? Or was this so run-of-the-mill that he felt it was normal? Did Jesus check in on guys like Ananias regularly? We have no indication that it was a common thing, so it strikes me as fascinating how the author of Acts writes this as if it was common. Or maybe the author, Luke, just knew so well all that God is capable of that nothing surprised him anymore.
Take a look at Jesus’ instructions to Ananias. Jesus cracks me up here: “There is a guy from Tarsus named Saul, he’s in town, and I want you to go to him, because I gave him a vision that you were going to heal him of blindness.”
Jesus totally plays off the fact that Saul is the Christian killer! Instead Jesus tells Ananias, “Saul is just some guy from Tarsus who is praying.” As if this Saul guy is some unknown religious blind guy who needs help. And Jesus says, “I gave him a vision, too, that you are going to heal him.”
Heal him? This is wild stuff. Was Ananias healing people on a regular basis or was this news to him? If God came to me in a vision, I would be shocked. If he told me to heal someone, I would be doubly shocked. If he told me to heal an evil man, I would be triply shocked.
Ananias’ response is great. You can tell he doesn’t want to disrespect Jesus at all, and yet he has a very different way of describing Saul: “Lord, I have been hearing about this guy, and he is a monster. He’s here in Damascus to arrest us disciples.” Read between the lines, and you can get a semblance of what might be going on in Ananias’ heart and mind. He could be thinking that Saul is just faking. Or he could be thinking to himself, “Jesus has to know who Saul really is, right? But what if he doesn’t know? I have to make sure. I have to mention that this is THE Saul who is a Christian killing machine. Does Jesus really want me to go to help Saul?”
Of course Jesus knows what he is doing, though, and what he says in verse 15 and 16 is amazing. “Go, Ananias. I have a mission for Saul.” Basically Jesus is saying, “I know what I’m doing.” Then, as if to assure Ananias that Jesus was quite aware of how awful Saul had been, he says, “I will show Saul how much he will suffer for my name.” It could sound like an ominous statement, and in some way it was, because it turned out to be very true in Saul’s life, as he would suffer a lot for the mission of Jesus in years to come. In fact, that suffering already started with the blindness, and there is more suffering in store for Saul before we finish chapter 9.
Jesus’ command was enough for Ananias, and he goes to the house where Saul was staying.
At the house, we learn about another supporting cast member. Saul is staying at that house of a man named Judas. We don’t know anything about him, except that he apparently allowed Saul to have shelter. While it is a very brief reference, it is more evidence of people being sacrificial to support Saul.
Back to Ananias. He must have been a huge lover of Jesus. No doubt it would be amazing to have a vision where Jesus comes and talks to you, like Jesus did for Ananias. I would like to believe that if I had a vision of Jesus, I would instantly obey whatever he told me to do. But I also know how fickle I can be.
Ananias, though, is a rock. He obeys Jesus right away, despite his misgivings about Saul, who was obviously a horrible guy. Consider how sacrificial Ananias is. He walks right into the enemy’s lair, face to face with the man who is evil personified. Was Ananias shaking at all? Even with the vision from Jesus, was Ananias thinking, “I have a bad feeling about this”? Was he anxious?
OR maybe Ananias is wrestling with some anger? Think about it. This is a chance to get revenge. He could have hidden a sword in his cloak, and whipped it out to kill Saul. He could have thought, “Jesus has given me the opportunity to avenge the church for all the persecution Saul did!”
Instead Ananias trusts Jesus, in the midst of not fully understanding what is going on, in the midst of possible fear, in the midst of possible anger, he chooses to trust and to stay on the mission of God’s kingdom. Ananias’ greeting to Saul confirms that: “Brother Saul.” He could have accused Saul of being a killer, an ungodly man, or a whole host of other names. Instead, because of what Jesus told him, Ananias now calls Saul, “Brother.” What a picture of trust and of grace.
This gracious response continues as Ananias heals Saul, gives him the Holy Spirit, and baptizes him. Then Saul breaks his fast, and what happens next is wild. Check back tomorrow to learn about that.
For now, think about the gracious transformation Jesus brings to lives. The enemy has become the brother. That’s what his Kingdom is like. Taking the broken and making it whole. Saul is transformed, and Ananias affirms it. How might that relate to your life? Is there an enemy in your life that needs to be transformed to brother or sister? Are you struggling with someone who is difficult for you? Perhaps someone who has hurt you or hurt someone you love? What will it look to bring the grace of Jesus to them?