I have been reading the Book of Acts and read, again, the story of Saul’s conversation in Acts, chapter 9. I am always struck by how soon after Saul met Jesus that people were trying to kill him!
As I have been reading in Acts in recent days the Lord has really drawn my attention to the role that Ananias played in Saul’s conversion. We all remember the story, Saul is on the road to Damascus and he sees a blinding light and hears the voice of Jesus saying, “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul is struck blind and has to be lead into the city by his helpers. That is where Ananias comes in.
God tells Ananias to go to Saul and restore his sight. What does Ananias say? You can read the story in Acts, chapter 9, but basically he tells God, “That is a terrible idea. No, no, no, God! I know about Saul and he is a really bad guy. He has come here to arrest people in the church and now you want me to go see him?” The Lord tells Ananias, “Yes, I want you to go.”
So Ananias is obedient and he goes to see Saul and there are two things that struck me in a new way as I read the story this time. First, Ananias reached out and touched Saul and secondly, he called him Brother Saul, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus sent me to you.” Remember just four verses earlier Ananias was telling God what a terrible guy Saul was and yet now he obeys God, goes to Saul, reaches out to touch him and calls him brother, "Brother Saul.” Then Ananias sort of disappears from the story. We don’t know what happened to him, but we sure know what happened with Saul. He became Paul, the great missionary/evangelist and the author of so much of the New Testament.
How different is that story if Ananias says no to God?
Not too long ago one of our VOM staff was in the Middle East at a meeting of Syrian church leaders. They were talking about this very passage. Some of these believers minister in the city of Damascus. For them it is very easy to see Ananias’ side of the story. They talked about that very situation. What if a guy from ISIS calls and says he wants to meet? What if a fighter from Al-Nusra Front comes in the door of your church? “I have had a vision of Jesus and I need to meet with you to learn more.” What would these Syrian Christians do? What would we do?
Our Syrian brothers and sisters talked about that. Would they go to meet with a sworn enemy of the gospel? One-by-one they shared that it would be difficult, it would be scary, but that if they felt God calling them to go, they would go in spite of the risks. I am thankful for the example of Ananias who was willing to reach out and touch and call “Brother” someone who had been an enemy. And I am thankful for Syrian Christians who are willing to take that risk today. It is thrilling to know that God is reaching into the ranks of terrorists, even ISIS, and calling people to Himself.
We have had the incredible privilege to share some of those stories right here on The Voice of the Martyrs Radio. But those new believers, those Sauls, need an Ananias to help connect them to the truth and to a body of believers, and that is not an easy job. There is a lot of risk.
But it isn’t just former ISIS fighters that need an Ananias, it is people coming to Christ where you live, where I live; our neighbors, co-workers, students at our children’s school. I hope that you will pray with me that God will reach more Sauls among radical Muslim groups and also raise up more Ananias’ to disciple and teach them. I hope we will pray that we can be an Ananias for someone who needs a friendly face and a welcoming smile as they choose to follow Jesus Christ.
These comments were a part of a recent VOM Radio episode.
Todd Nettleton has served with The Voice of the Martyrs for 17 years. He’s travelled to more than 20 restricted and hostile nations and interviewed hundreds of believers who’ve faced persecution for their Christian witness. As VOM’s principle media spokesperson, Todd has done more than 2,000 interviews with media outlets ranging from Moody Radio to the BBC and Los Angeles Times. He is the principle author of Restricted Nations: North Korea and was part of the writing team for four other VOM books. He is the host of VOM's weekly half-hour radio program, The Voice of the Martyrs Radio, which you can find online at www.VOMRadio.net.