January 12, 2014
INTRODUCTION – Cat lovers love to opine that “cats rule and dogs drool”. As we continue in our series in the book of Acts, and start our New Year in Christ together, I want to suggest this morning that Disciples rule and Christians often merely drool.
The church in our 3 coastal town region has some wonderful opportunities this year with all of the mobilization leading up to our Reach the Beach evangelistic outreach in April and our ladies retreat in May and our men’s retreat some time in October and who knows what else. Whether we seize those opportunities and make the most of them – will depend on whether we settle for being Christians, or whether we push forward together to live and walk and reign with Christ as disciples.
I find it interesting as I survey the book of Acts that the author – Dr. Luke – uses the word “disciple” 5 x’s and the word “disciples” 25 x’s, but only uses the word Christian once; and in that instance he merely states that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (acts 11:26) In fact that is the only verse in the Bible where the word “Christian” can be found.
Today a Christian in America can mean most anything. Some believe a Christian is someone who isn’t a muslim or Buddhist or hindu or atheist. Some believe a Christian is someone who believes in God and the golden rule. Some believe a Christian is a person who goes to a Christian church here and there. Some believe a Christian is someone who is a bigot and hateful and judgmental.
Biblically a disciple is someone who is following Jesus; and at least in the book of Acts – is almost always linked with other disciples who are following Jesus.
I want to remind us all this morning that only disciples change the world. And if there was ever a need for disciples to be on call and willing to do the seemingly hard things – it is now.
To ensure that you and I are increasingly that kind of person, I want us to learn some lessons from the first person ever referred to as a disciple in the book of Acts – a guy named Ananias.
There are actually two men named Ananias in the book of Acts. The first one is merely referred to as a man in Acts ch. 5 and soon after is struck dead by God and buried by the young men in the church for his compromise and lying spirit – – – “But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira” – Acts 5:1 reads. Today many might have thought of him as a Christian because he attended the church in Jerusalem and even gave an offering to it (at least once).
But the second Ananias is introduced to us this way from Acts 9:10, “Now there was a disciple named Ananias.” Why did Luke call this Ananias a disciple, and what can we learn about discipleship from this very short account we have in scripture of his life? Well I want to suggest three things: First we learn from Ananias’s life that
I. Disciples hear the voice and call of God Acts 9:10-12 (read it)
A. Jesus Christ said of Himself in Isa. 50:4 “The Lord God has given me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning. He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.” Nothing separates the men from the boys so to speak, or the disciples from the mere Christians – as the word is commonly used today – nothing separates the two more than the daily lifestyle a disciple has of listening for the voice and instruction and orders of their Master and Lord.
B. If you have studied this book – you know that the living God of the universe – the God of the Bible – is a God who speaks, and who speaks often. But the sad thing is His voice often goes unheard. In fact if you go back to Isa. 50:2 – just before Jesus describes His practice of listening to and heeding the voice of God, God Himself asks this question of the people of Israel, “Why was there no man when I came? When I called, why was there none to answer?
You see believers in that day, and Christians today believe certain things – sometimes the right things, but only disciples hear God’s voice. He often speaks; He has much to say; but not everyone is listening.
C. When God spoke Ananias’s name, Ananias knew it was God, and immediately responded, “Here I am Lord.” Perhaps someone had helped disciple him and told him of Jesus’s words as recorded in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;” Now in most cases the voice of God is not an audible voice, but an inner voice that we hear or sense in our spirit and learn to recognize as the voice of God as we mature and as we act on it, which is what produces maturity.
D. God first got Ananias’s attention by greeting him by name, and then he gave him his mission, which was to go to the house where Saul of Tarsus was staying and lay hands on him so his sight can be restored.
E. Before we look at how Ananias responded to his mission, I want to explore the mode of hearing God’s voice through visions.
Remember earlier in the book of Acts when Luke chronicled Peter’s first sermon to that crowd of Jews – who had formed after hearing the disciples speaking in tongues or languages unknown to them? This supernatural event was a first for this crowd of jews all gathered in Jerusalem from many outlying cities and regions for the Passover. Peter knew they were confused – so he explained to them – by quoting Joel ch. 2 – that this supernatural happening was due to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that had been long prophesied by Joel and others. And that this event had ushered in an age called the Last days – in which among other things, “young men will see visions”. Now visions aren’t restricted to just young men. What Joel was really saying if you read the whole prophecy is the Holy Spirit in this age called the Last Days – will work through various means like dreams, prophecies, and visions; and He will manifest these in and through every age group – young and old. Acts 2:17 is the only time the word “visions” plural occurs in the book of Acts. But the singular word “vision” occurs many times – Ananias being the first one reported to have experienced one. The question that is often asked when people read Acts 2:17 or when they read about this account with Ananias is how do they experience – – or how can we experience these visions? Well we don’t get much help from Ananias. But we do with the next guy who experiences a vision from God and that is with Saul of Tarsus in the next two verses. At the end of vs. 11 we are told that Saul “is praying and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in (to his room) and lay his hands on Saul. Was Ananias praying when he had his vision? I believe he was based on this passage, and what we learn from the rest of the people who had visions from God.
Can you guess who the next person is in the book of Acts who has one? Cornelius – a Roman centurion. Very unique person and a reminder to us that God seekers can be found in very unusual places. Vs. 2 & 3 of ch. 10 describes him as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, (which means it was a lifestyle for him), and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him Cornelius…” Why do you think Luke felt he had to tell us what hour of the day this happened to Cornelius? Where else have we seen the 9th hour of the day referred to? Acts ch. 3 when Peter and John went up to the temple “at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.” The 9th hour – or 3:00 p.m. -was an hour devout Jews gathered at the temple to pray. Very possible that Cornelius – being a Roman centurion – knew they gathered at the temple, knew he wasn’t welcome in the temple, but did try to honor that set apart time to pray – knowing the Jews did so regularly.
Well that leads us a few verses down to Peter, who vs. 9 tells us “went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” Vs. 10 tells us “he fell into a trance” (while praying) “and he saw the sky opened and an object like a great sheet coming down…” Well that’s a trance, not a vision. But then Peter in vs. 17 (Luke says) was “greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be”. And then in ch. 11 vs. 5 Peter tries to explain his experience with Cornelius and gang to some of the brethren from the church in Jerusalem, and he states, “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision…” So for Peter while praying – he fell into a trance and in the trance – saw a vision – in which God spoke to him. We will learn in a couple of weeks what that was all about.
Any more visions? Yes Paul has two more – one in Acts 16:9,10 that some call his Macedonian call. Vs. 9 says “A vision appeared to Paul in the night.” It doesn’t say he was praying, he could have been sleeping or he could have been praying.
Then in ch. 18:9 Paul was spending the night in the house of a man named Titius Justus, and vs. 9 says, “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; …” Again we are not told Paul was praying, but it was at night and he could have been praying or he could have been asleep.
In all of these visions – God spoke specific things to His disciples through them. There is no reason to believe these people had them every day. Nor should that be our expectation. But we should expect to experience them from time to time whether in our prayer times or while we are sleeping. Directing us through visions is one of the ways God speaks to His children.
OK. So our first point is “Disciples hear the voice and call of God”
The second thing we learn from this short account is that – –
II. Disciples convey their fears to God and wait for and listen to His response – vs. 13-16 (read it)
Rehearse context – Sauls’ rampage and violent rage filled nature
You know what I love about this guy Ananias – is he didn’t just slough this off, nor did he ignore how he felt, but went directly to the Lord with his complaint or concerns and fears. While it is rather foolish – in one respect – to tell God something as if He doesn’t already know it, God is always glad for us to emote with Him, as long as we allow Him to set us straight on our wrong headedness and help us deal with our emotions.
You may think He is a bit gruff with Ananias, but it very well could be that timing was crucial here, God knew that, and thus this wasn’t the time for a counseling session to try to unearth Ananias’s inner hurts. Perhaps Saul was getting despondent. For sure he was getting hungry and thirsty since he did not eat or drink for several days. Some experts say you can only go three days without water, though there have been a few exceptions to that.
While the command to “go” here is emphatic, God could have said “Go you rebellious disciple!” But there is no rebuke here. Instead God gives Ananias the inside scoop on a person who would become the greatest apostle and leader of the church probably in history.
I don’t want to get into a discussion of divine sovereignty vs. human will, but I would note here that when God chooses someone, He tends to get His way. Perhaps that was the key word that helped Ananias see – God knew what he was doing, and he needed to get on with his assignment.
Finally I would just note in this passage that we often think of Saul who became Paul – as the apostle to the gentiles. But this passage makes clear that he wasn’t just an apostle to the Gentiles. God nor Paul ever gave up on the Jews, though the focus of his ministry changed with their rejection of Christ and the gospel of the kingdom. And Paul was also the apostle to Kings, as God gave him extended audience with several of them before he died.
OK – final lesson from Ananias’s experience here
III. Disciples obey their Lord and bear fruit for His name’s sake vs. 17-19 (read it)
A. God’s explanation was sufficient for Ananias, and he immediately departed and entered Saul’s house.
B. Don’t you love this greeting of Ananias’s?! How quickly he changed his tune. “Brother Saul”…. That’s what hearing and heeding the voice of God does to fearful people like us – folks. What we feared and dreaded at one point, we can be embracing soon after – when we hear and heed the voice of God.
C. God sent Ananias to Saul for at least two purposes. 1. To be God’s instrument to bring healing to his blindness. 2. To be God’s instrument to see him filled with the Holy Spirit. He was already indwelt by the H.S. But he needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be able to fulfill this amazing calling God had given him.
Now God could have done it sovereignly. But Saul needed human touch and human encouraging words. He had just spent 3 days agonizing over all of his violent rampages against the people of God. He was going to needs lots of reassurance that he could truly be forgiven and could actually now become the servant instead of the enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and an integral part of the people of God.
CONCLUSION – – This morning we have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s table for the first time in 2014.
Referring back to that Isa. 50 passage wherein we get an inside look as to how the Messiah would live His life once He came to earth – – I quoted the latter part of vs. 4 where Jesus says of His early morning practice and experience, “He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.” In the very next verse – this is what He says about His response, “The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient, Nor did I turn back.” (vs. 5)
The apostle Paul said in Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
You may have been known for your rebellion and disobedience as a child and young person or even as an adult. But if you have Christ living in you – you can become just like Him – and just like the apostle Paul – – a disciple who hears and heeds the voice of God – – and thus who is increasingly used by Him to establish His kingdom on earth.
When you come to His table today, and perhaps before and after – – allow Him to cleanse you and fill you anew with the Holy Spirit – – perhaps you can come to the Lord’s table with someone else and pray for each other in this regard – – that we can all start off this year with a fresh resolve to seek Him daily and early – – to listen to His voice – – to pay attention to those dreams and visions – – and to heed all that He says to us.