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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Acts part 17: Accepted by the church.

Building the right foundation part 17

Acts 9:10-22 

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptised; and taking food, he was strengthened.
And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying,“He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

English Standard Version Anglicised
Saul has had the most amazing experience on his way to Damascus, he had met with the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ who had spoken to him from heaven. Through this experience Saul had to recognise that he did not know God at all. The brightness of the Light of the Lord had left him blinded which caused the great and powerful man to be humbled and was then led by his accomplices into Damascas. For three days Saul was blind and he neither ate nor drank. It is after these three days that the events in our passage take place.
Our purpose this morning is to consider how it was that Saul the persecutor of the church can become an accepted member of the church in Damascus. As we shall see in the weeks to come this is only the beginning of his being fully accepted by the church. Saul was just about to set out on a 17 year journey to acceptability! Chapter 9 of Acts covers this whole period of time and is quite remarkable as an historical account. At first reading the events of the chapter seem to flow and give the impression that they cover just a few days or weeks but it is only when you compare Acts with scriptures in the New Testament that the reality is fully discovered, but more of that next time.
Today we will consider how the church in Damascus accepted Saul into their number. It all started with:
  • An unsung hero; who was:
  • Led by the Holy Spirit; which resulted in :
  • Saul being accepted by the church.

Ananias an unsung hero:
It just so happened that Ananias was a member of the church in Damascus, he was a disciple of Jesus who had a very important and specific job to do. As far as I can see this is the only time that this Ananias is mentioned in scripture; he is best known for this purpose recorded here.
If we stop for a moment and consider what it was that the Lord expected him to do it was a fearful task!
Just imagine for a moment the scene:
Ananias as a member of the church in Damascus knew well of Saul's reputation. They all knew of the great harm done to the church in Jerusalem. They had heard of the great persecution that he had orchestrated and so for anybody to have anything to do with him would be foolishness at the very least.
They also knew of Saul's commission. They knew that Saul was there for the purpose of arresting all of the Christians that he could lay his hands upon. Later on in his letter to the Galatians Paul reveals how he had persecuted the church with great violence in his attempts to destroy it. That reputation had gone before him and hence the church in Damascus clearly were afraid of his arrival. Saul had the full backing of another Ananias (and his evil High Priestly family in Jerusalem) to be about the business of killing Christians and ridding Judea of the followers of Jesus.
Ananias went into the house where Saul was staying and greeted him as a brother. Ananias really put his life on the line in doing so. We of course know of the leading that he had received from the Spirit of God but before we look at that we need to see that being an ordinary believer sometimes leads us into great adventures. I have just finished reading the 60th anniversary edition of Brother Andrew's “God's smuggler.” In his conclusion to the book, Brother Andrew challenges his readers that if God can use a man such as he who had very little schooling and had a violent past and who after his conversion did not even complete a bible school education then He can use any one of us for what Andrew calls the great adventure of being a Christian. Ananias' visit to Saul of Tarsus was the beginning of an adventure that Luke would record until the end of the book of Acts. The key player in this adventure from this moment on is Saul who would soon become known as Paul.
God on that day in Damascus was clearly working out His purpose in getting the gospel to the Gentiles. Saul of Tarsus was God's chosen man for the task and Ananias was chosen to heroically go to Saul's house and help him. He was to pray for him and to lay hands upon him whereupon Saul's conversion would be completed by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
What a privilege that Ananias to be a part of this!
When he spoke to Saul, Ananias knew the purpose had for Saul. He told him that he knew of his experience on his way into Damascus and that he was now about to receive his sight once again which would authenticate that this was the work of Jesus. Isaiah in chapter 35:5 of his prophecy told of the day when the work of the Messiah would be proven by the blind seeing or the deaf hearing. Saul's sight restored was a sign that proved to both himself and Ananias that this was a work of God.
What a privilege it is to see God at work!
We can only expect to see God at work when we are faithful and bold as was Ananias. Do not undervalue what it was that this unsung hero did, it was like one of us going into the home of the leader of Islamic State and speaking of Jesus to him. Saul was just as dangerous as any other enemy of the gospel and yet Ananias went to him.
How could that happen?
It was because he was:
Led by the Holy Spirit:
See how the Holy Spirit led Ananias to go and do such an heroic thing. It might seem obvious but firstly the Holy Spirit of God came to Ananias. For Ananias it was by way of a dream but the more we study scripture we find that the Holy Spirit came to various people in a variety of ways. He always comes with a purpose which is to speak to them and to direct them in the way that they should go. The New Testament tells us that formerly God spoke through the prophets but now He speaks through His Son. The scripture is the normal way that God speaks today and so God will never instruct His people to do what or to go where scripture forbids.
The Holy Spirit of God on this occasion instructed Ananias to go to Saul. His instructions were specific; Ananias was told exactly where to go and to whom. He was also told that Saul would be expecting him because the Holy Spirit had also spoken with Saul.
God never works in a vacuum, as He works out His purposes He also prepares the way for all who are involved.
Saul was already waiting for a man called Ananias to come to him. Just consider for a moment what would have happened if Ananias had refused to go. God's sovereignty would have been compromised and then who could ever trust Him again? But of course that did not happen.
We do however see the grace of our God in this, He is not above being questioned by His people. Ananias articulated to God the difficulties that he had for such a commission. We have looked at them earlier and so we now see how God dealt with them. He had already told Ananias that Saul was praying, in other words Saul is a changed man and his prayers were now heard and accepted by God. He is then told to simply go to him because Saul is chosen by God and will take the gospel to the Gentiles and also to royalty and Israel.
Saul was to be a much better known servant than Ananias was but Ananias was to be instrumental in Saul's commissioning.
We also are called to be faithful to the calling of God on our lives, it is never wrong to question God about His calling; we are not expected to be automatons who are unquestioning, God expects us to check out our calling but then when it is confirmed then we are to be like Ananias who went and did exactly what God had instructed him to do. When he did Ananias was the first Christian that Saul would have met, he was the first to greet him as a fellow Christian and he was the man that introduced Saul to the church.
Ananias was immediately making a disciple of Saul, he was mentoring him by introducing him to the company of believers. I am glad that this account is recorded by Luke because it is a challenge for us. Do we introduce people to the church or are we so negative towards our brothers and sisters that we would never bring others to meet the church and to be a part of it? Would we be as bold as was Ananias with Saul? Are we willing to go where God directs however difficult it might seem to be to us? We must be faithful to God's calling otherwise we will miss out on the blessing that faithfulness brings. I can imagine Ananias after this following closely the ministry of Saul and being proud of being part of what God was doing through him.
Saul was also accepted by the church in Damascus:
Luke simply records that Saul was for some days with the disciples at Damascus. A small statement of fact but it was massive in content. All that Ananias had gone through in accepting Saul the whole church now had to come to terms with. Ananias I am sure had to convince every single believer that this was a genuine conversion and not a deception that would bring about their annihilation. But he was clearly successful in doing so and Saul was accepted by the church.
I can think of few people who would be more odious than Saul of Tarsus and yet he was embraced by the church.
How do we accept new people, are they really welcome amongst us or do they feel the suspicion that comes towards them from us? The church must be a place of total acceptance for true believers and yet it is so often by reputation a place of negativity towards one another.

Who knows who it is that comes amongst us and what the Lord has in store for them and through them and us together!

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