Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chosen Vessel

The Chosen Vessel


Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” – Acts 9:13

One of the greatest obstacles a new Christian can face is his reputation.  We just aren’t willing to accept that God has changed them without seeing it.  And even then, sometimes we will reject the fact that God has created a new creature in Christ, and the old creature has died.  We can look at the blackest lump of coal, and see the possibility of a diamond.  We can look at the thorn covered rose bush, and find beauty.  We can even look at something as disgusting as a frog and think, “mmm….I bet those legs would be good fried!”, but we cannot see God in a newborn Christian past the reputation of a dead man!
A perfect example is given in that of Saul and Ananias.  Saul (later called Paul) had just had his Damascus road experience, meeting Jesus face-to-face.  It’s impossible to come face-to-face with the holiness of Jesus and not be changed.  Immediately Saul’s heart was changed, and he said in Acts 9:6, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  He was a willing servant from the very start of his conversion. 

He waited for three days without sight in Damascus for the question to be answered.  For three days he neither ate nor drank.  It was not due to a lack of sight that he didn’t eat, for he travelled with companions that could have fed him.  But having understood the ways of the Christians he had hunted, he fasted and prayed.  Fasting takes a lot of obedience to God, and reduces our spirit to humility.  This was the spirit of Saul for the first three days of his Christian life as he waited for God to give him direction.  He sits praying to God for three days and God is speaking to him about a man He will send to him to restore his sight.  Yet, everyone around him still knew him as Saul, the Christian killer, with a reputation that was anything but Christian!  All he had to do was appear outside the door of the house he was in, and Christians would run and hide.
But in the same town of Damascus, God had a disciple named Ananias.  After three days, God spoke to Ananias and said “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

Can you imagine Ananias first thoughts at hearing God was sending him to pay ‘THE Saul of Tarsus’ a visit!  Can you imagine his fear as he hears God say that Saul has seen him, “a man named Ananias” in a vision!  He’s already been on Saul’s mind!  It had not been many days since Saul had participated in the stoning of Stephen.  His reputation of hating Christians was fresh with stories of his latest attacks.  Acts 8:2 says that “he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.  As he went to receive permission to go to Damascus, Acts 9:1 says he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”.  He was travelling to Damascus to capture more worshippers – such as Ananias.
Ananias answered God with his doubts, saying in Acts 9:13-14, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” Ananias was afraid, and rightly so!  But God answered him saying, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  Imagine Ananias’ shock at hearing God call Saul “a chosen vessel of Mine”! 

At this point, Ananias did something that many of us have trouble doing today.  He freed Saul of his past.  He put down the reputation of Saul as the Christian slayer, and went to see the chosen vessel. 
As we read this story, we can see two chosen vessels.  Yes, Saul was one, but Ananias was another.  Had he been unwilling for follow God’s will, we wouldn’t have judged him.  Few of us would follow God’s instruction if He were to send us to the leader of Hamas to preach the gospel for fear of our lives.  But Ananias was a chosen vessel, chosen to be the first Christian to reach out to Saul and accept him into the family of God.

Ananias went to the street Straight, and entered the house where Saul was.  He addresses Saul as “Brother Saul”, immediately accepting his conversion.  He laid hands on him, and restored his sight, and Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He arose from his place, and Ananias baptized Saul. 

Our churches need more Ananias’, more chosen vessels of God’s grace.  We need to be willing to free new believers of their past and accept them with expectations of a glorious new life.  How many might be transformed from a Saul to a Paul if we would only allow them to live the new life God has given them without dragging the reputation of the “old man” behind them.    

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