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12. Meeting people Christ has changed

Acts 9vs10-28; 22vs12-16. Church Growing Pains.

When a baby joins a family the family changes. The parents in particular and any older brothers or sisters, all have to adapt to the new life who has been entrusted to them. The demands of the youngster are put first because he cannot yet be reasoned with like the others. Parents make sure his needs are met in the best way they possibly can. They also find themselves severely embarrassed sometimes by the spills and smells of their new baby - who appears to have no sense of occasion!

When people are born again and join the Christian family it is essential that the existing Christian family provides all it possibly can to welcome and to nurture these new disciples. It is not always easy but it is essential.

One event that made a real impression on me was when some elderly ladies prayed in a prayer meeting at Blackheath Baptist in Australia. The church had had an influx of young adults and it was a great answer to prayer. But these folk did not know how to behave in church. They would get up and walk around, sit with their feet on the pew in front, sit when others were standing and shout questions or comments to the preacher during his sermon. This one prayer meeting though, impressed me because these older saints prayed "Lord, we don't like what these people do, how they dress, their bad language and rudeness, but we know you love them and we want you to help us accept them as they are." Gradually some were converted from the group, others lost interest, and over the months the situation calmed down. What a prayer! When we pray for converts do we put restrictions on God? Must they be from our race, our tribe, our social status, must they be 'normal' families with no messy divorces or criminal ties? Unfortunately all these things can make us have a wrong attitude to accepting into the church everybody God draws to Himself.

If the Jerusalem church had a problem between races, the Greek speaking Jews and the Hebraic Jews of Acts 6vs1, it is not surprising that Christian churches over the years have had problems accepting blacks in America and South Africa, accepting Asians from Pakistan or India in England, accepting tribal people in the Arab dominated churches of Khartoum. I have always thought it a pity that different tribes and people of different ethnic origins meet for worship as separate groups, even though our own Ambassadors For Christ ministry has encouraged it in Britain with Rev S H Massey's God-given vision of Asian Christian Fellowships in many towns and cities. Language differences do give one obvious reason, but I feel every effort should be made to show that Christians genuinely are all one in Christ Jesus.

Now for a moment I want you to think of the most unlikely person you know, who is alive and in your sphere of influence today, who is most unlikely to become a born again believer. Perhaps he is of another religion and he knows all the answers. Perhaps he is aggressively self-assertive and utterly intolerant of any other faiths. Perhaps he has the civic authorities on his side and has already done much harm to the Christian cause. Once you have thought of him (or her!) pray for him. Pray for his conversion. Then imagine you receive a phone call or a letter in a few weeks to say "please come and meet this person because God wants you to be his mouthpiece in affirming them in their new found faith." How easily would you go? How many excuses could you find? What would it take to convince you that God really had done a genuine work of salvation in his life?

The name Ananias means 'God is gracious'. I don't expect the disciple of that name in Acts 9vs10-19 agreed with the definition when he was called to visit Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a man of some reputation, and all of it bad news for Christians. He was the instigator of the "great persecution that broke out against the church at Jerusalem" Acts 8vs2. His personal role is described in vs3 "Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." He "was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples" when he obtained letters of authority to extend his vicious work to Damascus, 9vs2.

You and I both know what happened in Acts 9vs3-9. We know how Saul was confronted by the risen Lord Jesus, convicted of his own sin, and converted to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. But Ananias did not know that. He could have heard a rumour from someone who thought he may have seen Saul being led by the hand into Damascus, but he had no concrete evidence. Then God called him by name. "Ananias". "Yes Lord" he answered. 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 and place his hands on him to restore his sight," Acts 9vs10-12.

Six qualities in Ananias' life made him usable to God at this point. His role was simply to confirm the call of God to this one new convert and to point him in the direction of future service. If Ananias had made a mess of it however, you could rip out chunks of your New Testament because they would not have been written. There would have been no church at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe etc. The narrative of Acts would have ended at roughly chapter 12. The cause of Christ is immensely indebted to Ananias who went to meet a man Christ had changed.

How can we be useful to God in this sphere? We may have to take risks for ourselves and for our families. I know of Christians in the Arab world who have paid with their own freedom for trying to help converts from Islam. In my own churches there have been immense demands made on myself and my family when the teenage daughter of a family going through a bitter divorce became a Christian and came to stay. She came for one night and stayed eighteen months. There was a man with bleeding wounds to his eyes and mouth who turned up on the doorstep and said "Can you hide me because they're trying to do me in?" There have been people with mental difficulties, with criminal backgrounds including paedophiles. What does Ananias teach us about how to be useful to God?

1. He was a disciple, Acts 9vs10. He himself was a man who had heard the call of Jesus Christ and had come to Him and was now seeking to carry a daily cross, Luke 9vs23, Luke 14vs26.

2. He was a devout man, Acts 22vs12. He was a pious, reverent, sincere and earnest man who was loyal to the law of the Lord and who loved the Lord of the law.

3. He had a good reputation, Acts 22vs12. Other people inside and outside the Christian church could

4. He was calm enough to hear God's call, Acts 9vs10. He was close enough to God to listen and learn what God wanted him to do. It was a vision, literally "an appearance, that which is seen", that came to a disciple. The message was more important than the medium used. Ananias was less aware of the room where he was and life's present circumstance. He was more aware of sights and words implanted into him by God Himself.

5. He was willing to overcome his own reticence, Acts 9vs13-16. Having expressed his personal questions to God he accepted God's answers. He overcame his own statement 'I am unsure' with a resounding 'I am willing'.

6. He was faithful in doing what God told him, Acts 9vs17. We can see that he laid hands on Saul, prayed for him, and told him what God had revealed about the future plans for his life, Acts 22vs14-16. He challenged him towards believers baptism too.

We must be available for God to use us in parenting new Christians. Just as parents of human babies will only leave their children in a creche properly staffed and prepared, I am convinced that God entrusts spiritual babies to those who have taken on this responsibility seriously.

Perhaps we should notice in passing the three things that nearly stopped him from being usable by God. Firstly, there were the things he had heard from others, 9vs13, linked with an obvious personal fear for his own safety. Secondly, Ananias was unaware of God's plan for Saul's life, compare 9vs13 and 9vs15. Once God had shared His overall purpose, doing the task assigned became easier. Thirdly there was the danger of only going on outward appearances. He initially saw everything from a human perspective. He ultimately viewed the situation from a heavenly perspective and it changed his own actions. Ananias took six steps of faith: he listened to God, Acts 9vs10; he went to the house and entered the house, 9vs17; he placed his hands on Saul 9vs17; he told Saul what God had told him was in store, 22vs14, 15; he challenged Saul to be baptised, 22vs16.

Now, of course, visiting Saul on behalf of the church was only the beginning. Saul had to be introduced to the church back in Jerusalem so that they could accept him and attest to what God had done. Acts 9vs26 says "when he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple". At least several weeks had gone by since his Damascus Road experience and news must surely have filtered back to the apostles. But even these greatly used servants of God were sceptical of his testimony. Of course, they all knew families bereaved by Saul's murderous activities and perhaps the bitterness of some of them made a powerful lobby to give Saul the cold shoulder. So God raised up another man to keep His work on track. Vs27 "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus".

Barnabas went out of his way to welcome Saul. Just suppose he had been wrong. If he had introduced Saul to the meeting place and to all the key figures of the church and Saul had then thrown off his disguise of conversion and arrested them all, Barnabas would have been a name spat rather than spoken! Barnabas risked his own reputation. He did five wonderful things for Saul. Paul was what he was because Barnabas helped him. Thank God for Barnabas.

1. Barnabas accepted Saul as from God, compare Acts 9vs26, 27. When everyone else was going by what they had heard and remaining afraid of Saul, Barnabas was actually going to meet Saul to find out for himself.

2. Barnabas introduced Saul to the church. He believed the best about Saul, not the worst. Romans 15vs7 "Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God." He did not hold his past against him, Colossians 3vs13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

3. Barnabas was mindful of Saul, Acts 11vs25, even though several years had gone by he was still concerned that Saul's calling and potential were realised.

4. Barnabas shared his own ministry with Saul, Acts 11vs26. There was a large number of young uninstructed believers in Antioch and for a year Saul and Barnabas taught them all they could. The older Christian gave ample opportunity for the young Christian to find his feet.

5. Barnabas teamed up with Saul on missionary service. Acts 13vs1-3. He saw Saul right through from the elementary Bible class to being a missionary planting churches everywhere he possibly could. All of this could have been stopped if Barnabas had not persistently knocked on the closed door of the Jerusalem church with one hand while holding firmly to Saul with the other.

Aquila and Priscilla give yet another example of this in Ephesus, Acts 18vs24-28. The Egyptian Apollos came to Ephesus and, although he was an enthusiastic teacher of some truth, it was evident to Aquila and Priscilla that something was missing from his experience. Rather than stand back and criticise, as some would have done, this couple opened their home, their hearts and gave their help to the itinerant preacher. Apollos learned well. When the time came to move on he went with a letter of commendation to the church in Achaia.

A Christian church must welcome newcomers, whether newly converted or somewhat lacking in understanding and experience. If the church is to do it, you and I must do it because we are the church. We know God is still at work in our own lives, transforming us more and more into the image of Christ. We are probably ashamed now of some of the things we did, or we championed, in the past. Thank God people accepted us as we were and loved us into maturity. Let's make sure we do the same for others now.

Discussion questions

  • Think through what obedience means in your relationship with God. Share what obedience meant to Ananias.

  • Think of an attitude or action you personally find vile or horrific.

  • Someone you have come to respect shares their testimony. He/She did that. Share how you would react, and think through the situation as their friend in Christ.


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