The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come place his hands on him and restore his sight.” (Acts 9.12)
Not Much to Tell
Luke introduces Ananias with two slim facts: “In Damascus there was a disciple.” (Acts 9.10) Other than his interaction with Saul of Tarsus, soon to be Paul the Apostle, that’s all that we have. We don’t know if he traveled with Jesus or if he’s among the disciples at Pentecost. Is he on a first-name basis with Peter, Mary Magdalene, and John? Or is he a newer disciple—part of the 3,000 who join the 120 after the Upper Room (Acts 2.41), or one of those “the Lord added daily”? (v47) We don’t know. He’s just a disciple who lives in Damascus, not far from where Saul encounters Christ. While we’d love to know more about someone who plays an enormously pivotal role in our faith, I believe we’re not told more about Ananias because there’s not much to tell. He’s just one of many, a disciple. He’s chosen to end Paul’s blindness because being in the right place at the right time qualifies him for the job.
Ananias has heard of the infamous Saul “and all the harm he has done.” (Acts 9.13) He’s aware this tireless persecutor of Christ recently stumbled into town, blind and shaken on the arms of his companions. Nonetheless, Ananias seems convinced Saul “has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on [Christ’s] name.” (v14) He admits this during a vision in which Jesus instructs him: “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street. Ask for Saul. He’s seen a vision of you restoring his sight.” Ananias has concerns about his safety, and rightly so. But the Lord tells him, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles.” (v15) He bravely enters Straight Street, finds Saul, and says, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v17) Brother Saul….
Courage to Obey
The Church has never been more dynamic than in its infancy, when believers’ days and nights are jammed with activity. The task is so great Acts 2 says they pool their resources to devote more time to teaching, fellowship, dining together, and prayer. Yet the Church also has never been at greater risk, as zealots like Saul work equally hard, with solid backing, to stamp it out. Thus, as we read of the bookend miracles of Saul’s transformation into Paul—the vision that blinds him and his healing three days later—we can’t overlook the one connecting them: the transformation of Ananias from a believer troubled by fear to one emboldened by faith.
That he’s given the name and address of Saul’s host inclines us to think Ananias walks into unfriendly quarters. For Ananias to accomplish his mission, he has to trust he’ll pass through Straight Street unharmed, he'll be welcomed into Judas’s home, Saul’s consorts won’t attack him once he arrives, and the man himself will listen to what he says and allow him to do his work. With all these factors in play, what Christ asks of the disciple sounds unreasonable—except for the reason why Ananias must ignore his doubts and fears. God plans to use Saul to destroy faith boundaries. In his blind state, he’s already seen Ananias and heard his name. He believes the disciple will arrive. If Ananias doesn’t show, Saul’s faith won’t be honored. His life won’t change. So Ananias not only holds the key that will open Saul’s eyes and unlock The Way for millions of Gentiles. He also holds the key to saving hundreds, possibly thousands of fellow believers from future oppression. Not surprisingly, they’re the same key: courage to obey.
Ananias has to rely on confidence his vision is real and not an imaginary figment or erroneous impulse. Personally, I’m not convinced many of us could get past those doubts. Thankfully, we don’t have to. In Matthew 7.7-8 Jesus assures us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Everyone. This promise gives us courage to obey the call to Straight Street—the summons to unfriendly places where blind eyes await healing and the gift of God’s Spirit. And we must go, not for our sake, but for the benefit of those who’ve been told to expect us, the lives they’ll impact as a result of our obedience, and the fellow believers who will be spared from oppression because we courageously complete God's work.
How much quicker it would have been had God told Saul to send for Ananias. How much easier it would have been if Saul’s emissaries had knocked on his door and invited him to Straight Street. But how much more powerful it is for God to show Saul He honors faith and endows His people with courage to obey! Quick and easy aren't important to God. Deploying His plan and displaying His power are how He changes lives.
When situations put us in the right the place at the right time, we must believe we’re right for the job and do it. Gay believers can’t wait for Straight Street to open up. There are doors there, waiting for our knock. Women disciples can’t wait until roadblocks to Man Avenue fall and other rejected Christians can’t wait for Faith Boulevard to widen its lanes. There are doors there, waiting for our knock. And when they open, we embrace old adversaries, saying, “Brother Sexist, Sister Homophobe, Reverend Judge, the Lord has sent us so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9.18 says, "Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again." As his blindness fell away, it took his hatred, false piety, and proud name with it. The same happens when we allow God to use us. Without Ananias, there would be no Paul. Without us, who else may there not be?
It’s not about us. It’s about who’s behind the doors we’re led to and what God wants to do through them after He uses us.
Postscript: Friendly Reminder
I’ll be interviewed on The Drew Marshall Show this Saturday between 2 and 4 PM EDT. Live streaming audio will be available at the show’s Website. Please listen in and keep me in your prayers!