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Minor Men With a Major Message: Ananias – The Man Whose Love Knew No Limits

Acts 9:1 0-22

I apologize in advance for the horror which is part of the story I am about to relate. If I could think of a better way to begin what I have to say, I would use it.

You are aware of the fact that there is an increasing interest in satanism, witchcraft, and the occult in our land. Just last week, for example, a witches’ coven was granted tax-exempt status as a legitimate form of religion. Satanism and witchcraft are anything but legitimate forms of faith. They are, in fact, demonic and perverse. I lift up one incident to make the point.

A coven near San Francisco was about to conduct a service of initiation for newly-recruited witches. The leaders of the coven decided that something dramatic and spectacular needed to be a part of the ceremony. So they drove to a nearby college campus and abducted a young woman, took her to the place of initiation, stripped her, beat her and cut her. They placed her upon their so-called altar and raped her. Then at last they clubbed her into unconsciousness. Eventually they dumped her into a ditch by the side of the road. Somehow she managed to survive. Months later, after a painful and difficult recovery, she was walking across her campus, and she saw a man whom she recognized to be one of the witches who had so brutalized her. She went up to him and said: “I know you.” He quickly turned and walked away. She followed him. He stopped, turned and said: “What do you want?” She replied: “I want you to know that I have committed my life to Jesus Christ, and because of that I love you and I forgive you.”

That story is absolutely true. It is documented in every detail. And, frankly, I find it amazing that anyone should have in them such forgiving love. It makes me think about a disciple in Damascus whose name was Ananias. Do you remember his story? It is found in Acts 9.

A man named Saul of Tarsus was busily engaged in persecuting the early Christians. He had succeeded in driving many of them out of Jerusalem. Then he learned that a number of those Christian refugees were holed up in Damascus. So he headed off toward the Syrian capital to finish the job he had begun. But on the way he was ambushed by Jesus Christ. He was knocked from his horse into the dust of the Damascus Road. He was confronted with Jesus Christ so magnificently that he was literally blinded by the sight of Him. He had left Jerusalem proud, arrogant, ruthless and unbending. He entered Damascus stumbling, blind, helpless, and broken. At that point in the story we read these words in the Book of Acts: “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him, ‘Go and minister to the man of Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.’ “

The response of Ananias was swift and to the point. “Lord,” he said, “do you know who this fellow is? Do you know what he has been doing to your people? Lord, the man is a killer. He may be up to some trick. But even if it isn’t a trick, don’t you think we ought to make him prove himself? Shouldn’t there be some kind of probation period, some requirements to be met so that he can show us that he is genuine and sincere. I mean, Lord, you can’t just go around falling for everybody!”

I understand Ananias when he talks like that. I understand his reluctance to go and minister to a man whose whole life had been spent trying to snuff out Christianity. I understand that. I would have understood it if that young California co-ed, having encountered that witch on her campus, had begun screaming and calling for the police. I would have understood that. You just can’t go through life falling for everybody, now can you? That is a good way to get hurt. I understand the feelings Ananias had, and as far as I am concerned, he should have left it there.

But he did not do it. You see, it is very likely that Ananias himself was from Jerusalem and that he was probably one of those Christians driven out by Saul of Tarsus. It is likely also that Ananias, having been a citizen of Jerusalem, would have seen and heard Jesus. And I think that as he meditated over this assignment which the Lord had given to him in Damascus, he began to reflect on some of the things he had seen Jesus do and had heard Jesus say.

I think Ananias thought about Jesus’ teachings on love.

I think Ananias began to realize that for Jesus love was more important than justice. The Bible defines God at only one point and it does not say that God is justice. It says that God is love. That is foolishness, you say; why if you start to act like that the whole society would fall apart. You cannot go around loving everybody. You’ve got to give people what they deserve. Wrong has got to be punished. If you go around falling for everybody like that, the results will be…well, you just can’t imagine what would happen.”

That makes sense all right. But the problem is that Ananias kept thinking about Jesus. He no doubt remembered the day when they brought the adulterous woman to Jesus. Jesus said to the men who brought her: “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” With that they turned away. Jesus said to the woman: “Where are your accusers?” She looked around and said: “Lord, I have none.” And Jesus then said: “Nor do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Now as Ananias thought about that incident, he would have remembered that Jesus required no promises from that woman. No probation period was ordered. There is nothing in the record to suggest that she even wept a tear of repentance. No conditions whatever. Jesus granted her complete and immediate forgiveness.

Maybe as Ananias thought about that, he remembered how he had stood off in the distance watching as they crucified Jesus. Perhaps he recalled his own thoughts on that dreadful occasion: “Lord, do you see what happens when you make no firm requirements. You fell for these people. You laid yourself wide open to them, and where did it get you? What is that you say? ‘Father, forgive them’…Lord, forgiveness even for those who crucify you? You are not going to fall for them too, are you? That is foolish, Lord.” In fact, that is why some people have a problem with Christianity. I remember speaking with a Muslim in the Middle East and hearing him say: “We who are believers in Islam believe that Jesus was a prophet of God. We hold Him in reverence. It is just that we could never believe that an agent of God would suffer the immodesty of crucifixion and even worse would be forgiving of those who crucified Him.” Of course, that is precisely why we read words like these on the pages of Scripture: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to them that are called, Christ is the power and wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Yes, I think Ananias thought long and hard about the love of Jesus Christ.

And I think Ananias also thought about Jesus’ teaching on grace.

If you go to the dictionary and look up the word “grace” you will find that it means “the unmerited favor of God,” something we can neither earn nor achieve, but rather something God gives as a gift. It is a difficult word—and an even more difficult concept—to understand. That is the reason Jesus never precisely defined it, but instead told stories about it. They were stories Ananias would have known well.

The three most famous ones are gathered together in one place in the Bible—Luke 15. The first story Jesus told was about a shepherd who had lost a sheep, and the shepherd went out to find him. Jesus noted that the shepherd kept looking for that sheep until he found it—he did not stop short of his goal. Now that was not good business practice to leave 99 sheep untended while he went out after that one sheep that was lost. But Jesus says that that is the way God loves. He cares so much for one who is lost that He will risk everything in an effort to find that one and He will keep at it until the one who is lost is found. God never gives up on anyone.

The second story was about a woman who lost a coin. She proceeded to turn the whole house upside down trying to find the coin. Jesus uses the same phrase again: “She looked for it until she found it.” She lit the lamps—probably spending more on oil than the coin was worth. She moved the furniture—no effort was too great. She was willing to go to any length to find the coin. And Jesus says that God loves like that. He never gives up on us.

Then Jesus told the most startling story of all. It was about a young man who left home. Now that was never done in the Middle East of Jesus’ day. The authority of the father was absolute. No son would dare leave home. To do so would have been an unpardonable sin. Yet this boy left home. But then one day a friend brought word to the father that this sinful lad was on his way back home. Now the people in the village would have done exactly what they would do in a village in the Middle East today. As soon as the boy entered the village, they would have lined the streets, forcing him to run a gauntlet of blows by sticks and fists as punishment for his sin against society. But the father immediately rose to go to meet his son. The friend would have said: “Now don’t go down there to him. Stop that running…” You see, that is the one thing a father never does in the Middle East. A father never runs. A father is the picture of stately dignity and control and authority. When the father speaks, everybody else runs; but the father never runs. Yet this father starts to run. The friend cries: “Stop running after him. You have got him where you want him now. He needs to be punished. Treat him like a slave. Let him prove that he is worthy of being back in the fold. Be practical. You just cannot go around forgiving people like that. They will run all over you. Throwing your arms about him, protecting him from the blows? Don’t do that, I tell you. Giving him a ring? Don’t put that ring on his finger. It is a symbol of his sonship. He hasn’t earned that yet. If you give in now, he will nail you whenever he wants to!” And maybe Ananias thought to himself: “Yes, Lord, they will nail you whenever they want to…”

And I would wager that Ananias remembered one other parable—the story of the man who was forgiven an enormous million-dollar debt that he owed. But the very day he was forgiven that debt, he went to a friend who owed him $20.00 and he had the man thrown in jail until he paid up. And Ananias thought to himself: “Now who would do a thing like that? Who could be so ungrateful that, having been forgiven so much, he would then refuse to forgive someone else so little? Why that would be like being forgiven by God for all of my sins, and then refusing to be forgiving of someone else…like…Saul.” And when Ananias thought about that, this disciple from Damascus got up and went to find Saul to carry out the mission the Lord had given him.

Don’t miss the significance of that, please. I surely don’t. You see, I stand before you today absolutely assured of my salvation. I know that Jesus Christ is my Saviour, that I am forgiven of my sins, and that I am bound for the glory of heaven. I know that. It is not because I am a Presbyterian. Presbyterians are wonderful, but even true Presbyterianism is worth only as much as it shows of Christ. It is not because I have evangelical and orthodox in my theology. Any theology is worth only as much as of Christ it shows. I am not sure of my salvation because of good deeds—if I have to earn my way to God, I will never make it. I am not saved because I am baptized or because I regularly partake of the Lord’s Supper—those are not magical rites. I am not saved because of my ministry—God forbid that my eternal destiny should hang on anything like that. I am not even saved because of my faith in Jesus Christ—for my faith becomes weak just when I need it to be strong. But still I say to you that I know that I am saved—I know it because the Christ who saves me doesn’t lay down any conditions. If He did, there would be no hope for me. I am saved by His grace—His grace alone. I quit on Him all the time, and my only hope lies in the fact that He never quits on me. I think that is what Ananias thought.

So…

Ananias got up and he went to the street called Straight to find Saul. Did you notice his first words to Saul? He said: “Brother Saul.” Think of it. He called him “Brother,” this one who had been murdering his friends and loved ones. Ananias called him “Brother,” and put his hands upon him. When he did, the scales of blindness fell from Paul’s eyes. That is often the way it happens, you know. There are a lot of people who never really begin to see until some Christian loves them and forgives them the way Christ loves and forgives…Like the witch in San Francisco. When he heard that young girl say: “I love you and I forgive you because of Jesus Christ,” he himself was won to Jesus Christ. The reason we know every detail of the story is because he now tells that story as part of his Christian testimony.

My beloved, you and I are called to remember the loving, forgiving grace of God, and having remembered it, to resemble it. We are called to go to all the world’s Sauls—people whom we despise or dislike, people with whom we have nothing in common, people with whom we disagree, even people who have hurt and wronged us—we are called to go to them and say: “Only a God who falls for anybody could have fallen for me.” Or to put it another way: “The God who would fall for the likes of me would fall for anybody, including you.”

That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the Gospel that we are to preach and that we are to live…

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