But that’s the story as we know it, from our perspective – in nice safe hindsight. Now see the story from the perspective of Ananias – a Christian living in Damascus who was well aware of the destruction Saul was wreaking on the faithful.
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘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 9:10-12).
It’s probably almost impossible to imagine how that instruction really felt to Ananias, but we get a glimpse of his reaction in his reply to the Lord:
“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel’” (Acts 9:13-15).
I think we have to put this in modern terms to even begin to understand the situation. Suppose you were a Jew living in hiding in World War II Europe, and God told you to go meet one of the highest ranking officers of the SS or the Gestapo. Imagine you lived in Soviet Russia, or today in North Korea, where Christians are routinely executed, and were told to go help the head of the secret police responsible for eliminating Christians. But look at Ananias’ response:
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).
We read over those last few words telling us that Saul “got up and … was baptized,” but imagine Ananias’ feelings waiting to see exactly what Saul would do once his sight was restored. Was this just a trap? What would Saul do next? The obedience and faith that Ananias demonstrated in going to Saul and helping to restore his sight were incredible, to say the least. It was an act of faith and bravery equivalent to helping a lion out of a trap. And notice one more detail about the way in which Ananias did this. It may seem like a small detail until you think it through, but the extent of Ananias’ faith was such that the man not only obeyed God’s instruction, but also fully accepted his enemy by addressing him with the words “Brother Saul.” The level of Ananias’ faith is seen again toward the end of Acts 9 which records that after his conversion Saul returned to Jerusalem, and that:
“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” (vs. 26). Ananias not only accepted God’s word in faith while it was still unclear what Saul’s intentions were, but also he accepted Saul as a brother.
Ananias is one of the many who, although not mentioned by name in the great “Faith Hall of Fame” found in Hebrews 11, can nevertheless be included in the “all these” individuals of Hebrews 11:39 – the many others who are likewise worthy of inclusion. His name in Acts is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Hananiah: “favored of the Lord,” and Paul himself later described Ananias as “a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews” (Acts 22:12). According to tradition he was eventually martyred, but we can presume that this man of God died in full faith. New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce sums up the life of Ananias in saying that he “has an honored place in sacred history, and a special claim upon the gratitude of all who in one way or another have entered into the blessing that stems from the life and work of the great apostle [Paul]” (F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts, page 201).