AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE DISCIPLESHIP
by Dr. Henderson Ward
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Most people in the world are fascinated and enthralled when they come face to face with true examples of excellence in any field of endeavour. In sport we think of the Michael Jordans, the Muhammad Alis and the Peles just to name a few. If your interest is in the field of fine painting you will no doubt call to mind the Rembrandts, the Goyas, the Picassos and the many others. If perchance you are into classical music then such names as Bart, Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and the like comes to mind. One thing the entire aforementioned have in common is name recognition, more often referred to as fame, and sometimes they are so enormously famous that a single name will correctly identify them.
In this article we are centring our thoughts on a man, Ananias, whose name does not quickly spring to mind partly because there is little written about him in the Bible. However we are introduced to him in a powerful passage of sublime scripture – Acts 9: 10-18. It would seem he came from nowhere, made a quick appearance and then disappeared back into oblivion. In today’s colloquialism we would say that he had his fifteen minutes of fame. But that flippant characterization would be particularly misleading for this old and gracious disciple has something commendable to teach us all.
The early Church had countless problems to deal with and one of the biggest was a fanatically religious Jew named Saul. He persecuted the Church relentlessly even to the extent of having Christians killed. During a journey north to Damascus, to continue his mischief, Jesus met him on the way and he was miraculously converted. During that encounter Saul lost his sight and it was Ananias whom God selected to go and see Saul and help him. In spite of the apparent dangers and understandable natural fear and reluctance, Ananias went on his way as instructed. This is courage personified and a whole lot more so let us calmly examine what is involved here in this example-for-the-age of true discipleship.
First we should note that true discipleship must involve commitment
True discipleship is somewhat like marriage in that without commitment it will surely fail; although it needs much more than simply commitment. By commitment in this context we mean the acceptance of responsibility as a disciple, loyalty to God and the household of faith and steadfastness as you progress knowing that “…the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” (1 Peter 5:8) Ananias was extremely committed and it could be seen in several ways.
He was committed in his living
The Bible leaves us in no doubt that Ananias was living a proper Christian life, he had accepted Jesus Christ, was saved and baptized and was a committed follower, and the Bible rightly describes him as a disciple, “And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias…” (Acts 9: 10) Unlike the situation we have today, where freedom of worship is a human right, at that time in Palestine being a disciple of Jesus Christ was extremely risky and many believers were abused, tortured or executed.
This unsung hero is the kind of person God uses for his honor and glory; saved, sanctified and ready for service. God called him in an emergency and Ananias made no excuses in spite of the horrendous potential for harm. If you think things were easy just remember the afflictions Paul himself suffered a little later, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned…” (2 Corinthians 24-25)
Ananias knew that, “… all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) and he was fully prepared and willing to go the extra mile because he was fully committed to Jesus Christ.
He was committed in his listening
Ananias was not only diligent in his living; he was also attentive in his listening. We know this because as soon as the Lord spoke to him in the vision he immediately responded, “Behold, I am here...” (Acts 9: 10b) You notice that there were no questions like “Who are you?” or gasp of surprise because Ananias was accustomed to God’s voice.
How many of us, I wonder, can recognize God’s still, and calm voice amid the hurly burly of our existence. It pays to be listening. Remember Elijah managed to hear because he was listening and the Bible puts it like this, “And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out…” (1 Kings 19: 12-13)
He was committed in his labour
Ananias was a committed labourer in God’s vineyard and knew whom he was working for and recognized him forthwith, “…here Lord.” (Acts 9: 10c) Alas there are many who do not see beyond their immediate supervisor or pastor or bishop and fail to see the real boss. Jesus is Lord!
The modern church sadly has a long history of followers committing to the wrong people rather than to Christ. Remember Jim Jones of Guyanese-massacre notoriety? Let Jesus be “Lord” and surrender to him control of your life and he will use you for his honour and glory just like he did Ananias.
Next we should mention that true discipleship may involve concerns
It is true that some divine commissions are very demanding and may involve huge risks for the sake of the gospel. Many believers have perished over the centuries and are now with Christ having paid the ultimate price for their discipleship. God does not call us to easy discipleship or hard discipleship but sincere discipleship and that means to simply take up our cross and follow him whatever that entails. In all of this, whatever our concerns, we must remember that God will see us through.
We notice God’s command
Ananias, a man accustomed to hearing and doing God’s command must be in shock at hearing this latest, unequivocal command, “Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold he prayeth and hath seen in a vision a man called Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight” (Acts 9:11-12)
At face value this command to Ananias made no sense. Why give assistance to the enemy of the Church? Saul was killing Christians. Many would wish that Saul stayed blind forever but often we do not see the bigger picture as God does. God’s commands may not always make sense to us but they are always correct.
Remember God’s command to Jonah did not make immediate sense either but it saved a nation. “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3: 10)
Equally God’s command to Philip seemed rather far-fetched but it saved an entire continent, “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert (Acts 8: 26).
Finally remember God’s command to Noah to build the ark in that location was baffling but it saved mankind. “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark (Genesis 7:23)
We note the disciple’s concern
Ananias is not only shocked at the Lord’s command, he is initially reluctant to carry it out and sets out to convince God that in this case it is better to exclude him, “I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.” (Acts 9:13-14)
This is an unpleasant and dangerous task, as far as Ananias is concerned, and he simply wants to avoid it. Having a healthy regard for your safety is not in itself displeasing to God.
Remember Moses’ response to God, “… Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) This was different in that Moses was telling God that he was not capable of doing what God asked as if God do not know our capabilities.
Concerns are fine, we may have them at times but disobedience is not. You do it in Jesus’ name because God says do it! Never forget this powerful reminder that in the end it is God himself doing it through you. (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me - Philippians 4:13)
We note the disciple’s consolation
God listened to Ananias’ complaint with patience and compassion and then in an act of love to this frightened disciple gives him a worthy, magnificent consolation, “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)
Ananias must have been overjoyed at this great news. What a consolation to be told that you are taking part in helping God to evangelize the whole world!
God does not always let you know what or why he is doing something but in the end you are always glad that you participated. Remember we see only a small part but God sees the whole!
Finally we should observe that true discipleship must involve obedience
True discipleship and obedience go hand in hand for it is a measure of how meaningful the relationship really is. Jesus once said to his disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14) and on the other hand he reminded them that obedience is a vital part of that relationship, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) Here is how Ananias demonstrated his obedience.
We see his immediate response
For all his misgivings and initial reluctance once God tells him how it is, even if he does not know what is going to be the outcome, Ananias without hesitation starts out on his journey, “And Ananias went his way…” (Acts 9:17a.) This is mighty pleasing to the Lord and sets an example to believers for all time.
He was not prepared to be argumentative and stubborn but submissive and humble acting in faith and trusting the Lord. It would have been nice to witness his body language but I believe his demeanour was saying “Yes Lord, let’s do it!”
We see his instant reaction
Ananias, in obedience to the command of the Lord, goes to the house on Straight street, enters, approaches the blind Saul and says, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 9:17 b)
Saul would’ve been in a quandary not knowing what would happen next and in particular how he would be received by the believers he had persecuted. When Ananias arrived and spoke this must have been like sweet music to the ears of Saul who in all likelihood probably expected resentment from the Christians.
Ananias’ remark to Saul was the first contact he had with a Christian since his conversion and the first word he heard was the word “brother”. How deeply touching! May God help us to emulate this godly example?
We see his immense reward
Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was the greatest evangelist-missionary in the history of the church and this same Ananias set the whole thing in motion when he did as God commanded and laid his hands on Saul, “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith and arose and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)
God rewarded Ananias during his lifetime when he saw and heard of the immense contribution Paul was making to the life and ministry of the church but Ananias’ greater reward will come when God rewards the faithful. We do not know exactly what forms the crowns will take but we know that God will reward crowns to deserving believers – crowns of rejoicing, incorruptable crowns, crowns of glory, crowns of righteousness and crowns of life.
You may never know the results of your obedience to God here and now but heaven knows it. As Christians, we must take risks for God; the rewards are well worth it!
So here we have it, a supreme example of true discipleship and we need to praise God for Brother Ananias who has shown us how we can live our lives in service to our Lord. This beautiful example especially now at this time should make us examine ourselves and ask some important questions. Am I a good example to believers and my neighbours? Can God count on me to do his bidding? Am I letting pride and selfishness impede my Christian ministry? I pray God will help us to make matters right as we seek to become examples of true discipleship.
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