About one year ago I preached on a text we read this week from Acts 9. It is the famous conversion of Saul, but instead of placing focus there, I gave more attention to an overlooked character of the story, Ananias. He’s the one given the task by God to welcome in a great enemy of the early church, the persecutor, Saul.
I set the stage like this:
Could you imagine? God comes to him in a vision, speaking his name, and Ananias responds, “Here I am Lord!” Then as the conversation continues he’s a little caught off guard. “You want me to do what? To Saul? I’ve heard of all the evil he is doing. You do realize that he has the authority to bind all (and by all, that means me!) who call on your name?” This has to be terrifying for him. We have the benefit of knowing the full story of Saul, how he is transformed by God and becomes a great servant of Jesus Christ. We know him much more as Paul the Apostle. Yet all Ananias knew was Saul, Saul the Persecutor of Christians, Saul the Enemy of the Church. Who really had persecuted the young Christian church more than he? Who had directly overseen more arrests and imprisonments? And that Saul is the one Ananias must lay hands on and heal.
Ananias has a tough task ahead. It boils down to the call we all have to love our enemies, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5. We aren’t to return love to only those who love us. No, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Saul fits that description quite nicely.
I finished the message with what we can learn from Ananias’ example of following Christ’s command, and in truth, Christ’s model of loving enemies.
…I don’t claim to excel at loving my neighbors, let alone loving my enemies. This is a challenge for me. But I don’t think many of us have enemies we encounter greater than what Ananias had in Saul. I don’t think our excuses for not obeying Christ’s command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute would match up with any of the excuses I’m sure Ananias could have come up with. But he didn’t make excuses. Christ is Lord, he trusted in him–he trusted that no matter how things might have appeared, God is in control, and he obeyed.