Explore the Bible: Acts 9:10-19
Occasionally as we read through the historical narratives of the Bible we come across a person who enters the story for just a brief mention, then is never heard of again in Scripture. Some of these are figures of far more importance to redemptive history than their short notice indicates. One of these is found in Acts 9, right in the middle of the narrative of Saul’s conversion.
Ananias was a follower of Jesus who lived in Damascus. Later church tradition counts him as one of the 72 disciples Jesus sent out during His ministry, but the Bible tells us nothing of his background. We don’t even know if he was in Damascus due to the dispersion of the church due to persecution or whether he had already been a resident of the city, who had perhaps visited Jerusalem around Pentecost. What the Bible does tell us, in Paul’s later retelling of his conversion in Acts 22, is that Ananias was “a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by the Jews who lived there” (verse 12).
Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision; this one was less dramatic than Saul’s, perhaps because Ananias was prepared to listen to his Lord. Jesus’ instructions are straightforward, but Ananias pauses when he hears them. While he may never have seen Saul personally, he certainly has heard a lot about him, even understanding that Saul could have him arrested and brought back to Jerusalem. Ananias may not have been balking at his assignment, but trying to make sure he was hearing correctly. Jesus was sending him to the church’s chief adversary? And he was supposed to perform a miraculous healing on that man? I think it safe to say no one else in the history of the church has been given a mission like that!
Jesus not only confirmed His call, He added a message that Ananias would pass on to Saul (see Acts 22:14-16). Saul, the devout Jew and rabbinic scholar, was to become the Lord’s choice to take His gospel to the Gentiles. In addition, Jesus added that Saul, who had caused so much suffering to the church, would himself suffer much for the sake of the Lord.
Ananias went and fulfilled his divine commission. He went to the place Saul was staying and found him fasting, probably along with prayer. Ananias announced the Lord’s message and laid his hands on Saul, which restored his sight. While we aren’t told details of Saul’s response, he apparently was immediately baptized, even before he broke his fast. Ananias was convinced that Saul was a genuine believer and follower of Jesus.
While God is in control of all of history, and our human efforts cannot thwart His will, it is interesting to think about what the short mission of Ananias to Saul, who later became known as Paul, meant to the history of the church. Sixteen of the 27 books of the New Testament owe their writing to Paul: his own 13 epistles, plus three book penned by writers influenced by Paul (Hebrews, Luke, and Acts). A large number of churches were directly planted by Paul, and others were strengthened by his ministry among them. Paul’s writings changed the lives of many later Christians who became powerful influences for Christ in their own times and beyond. Paul is viewed as perhaps the Christian with the greatest influence of anyone after Jesus Himself, yet it was Ananias who brought Paul the gospel message he needed to hear and who helped him understand the changes Jesus would bring to his life.
Sometimes when we look at the great figures of the Bible, we can be overwhelmed. Even though we understand that all of those heroes had their weaknesses (even Paul), we look at their powerful influence and wonder how we could ever be like them. When we think like this, we need to remember that we are not all called to be Pauls. For many of us, our call is more like that to Ananias: listen to Jesus, then go and minister in His name where we are placed. No matter what you are called to do by Christ, you can have a profound influence on the world through your faithful obedience.