Author: Ron Graham
What if They'd Said No?
—Jesus, Ananias, and Saul
The story in Acts 22, of Saul’s conversion to become the apostle Paul, shows a chain of command: God to Jesus, Jesus to Ananias, Ananias to Saul. All three men obeyed the directives given them. What if they had not?
I know that's a hypothetical question. All three men obeyed. So why should we worry about what would have happened had they not obeyed? There's a good reason. There's a fourth link in the chain of command: Paul to you.
God to Jesus
Jesus to Ananias
Ananias to Saul
Paul to You
When we see how critical it was for Jesus, Ananias, and Saul to be obedient, we will know how critical it is for you to obey Paul the apostle’s directives to you.
What if you don't obey Paul's gospel? That's hardly a hypothetical question about something that happened long ago. It's a very present question about your soul today.
Now that you know what this lesson is about, let's read the story as told by Paul when he was addressing a hostile crowd in Jerusalem...
¶“1Paul said, 'Brethren and fathers, please hear my defense which I now make to you.' 2When they heard Paul speak to them in the Hebrew tongue, they became more quiet. Here is what Paul said to them: 3'I am a true Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up here in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel. I was educated according to the strict manner of the law of the fathers. I was zealous toward God, as you all are this day. 4I persecuted this way of Jesus to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. 5To this the high priest and all the council of the elders can testify. I received letters from them to the brethren, and went to Damascus to find followers there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem in order to have them punished.' ” (Acts 22:1-5).
¶“6'On my journey, as I neared Damascus about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. 7I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 8And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.' 9Those who were with me saw the light and were afraid; but they did not hear the voice of him who spoke to me. 10And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise, and go into Damascus; there you will be told everything appointed for you to do.' 11I was made blind by the glory of that light, and my companions had to lead me by the hand. Thus I came into Damascus.' ” (Acts 22:7-11).
¶“12'I was visited by a man named Ananias. He is a devout man according to the law with a good reputation among all the Jews living in Damascus. 13Ananias came and stood before me. He said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' At that moment I looked up and could see him. 14He said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One, and hear words from his mouth. 15For to all people you shall be his witness and tell what you have seen and heard. 16And now why do you wait? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.' ' ” (Acts 22:12-16).
¶“17'When I returned to Jerusalem, while I was praying in the temple, I fell into in a trance. 18I saw Jesus who was saying to me, 'Make haste, and get yourself quickly out of Jerusalem; for they will not receive your testimony about me.' 19And I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you; 20and when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I was also standing by; and consenting to his death; and I minded the clothes for those who slew him. 21And he said to me, 'Go now, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' ' ” (Acts 22:17-21).
1 What if Jesus Had Said No to God?
Ananias said to Saul, "The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One, and hear words from his mouth." (Acts 22:14). Although Jesus spoke to Saul and Ananias from heaven, it was the God of the patriarchs, the Father of Christ, who chose Saul to be a witness to the Gentiles. Jesus spoke what his Father had determined.
Jesus accepted the choice of his Father. He accepted Saul as a chosen vessel unto himself. But what if Jesus had rejected his Father’s choice and chosen someone else? Jesus would have good reason. Saul was arguably Jesus’s worst persecutor.
If Jesus had taken that line, and disobeyed his Father, Jesus could no longer say, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). There would have been disunity in the Godhead, and the consequences of that are beyond our ken.
However, Jesus has always obeyed his Father, even "unto death, even death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). So Jesus, in perfect agreement, accepted him whom the Father had chosen.
✭ In the light of the unity between Jesus and his Father, you should consider whether you yourself, like Jesus, are in agreement with God, united with him, and obedient to him. If you are not so, the consequences are most terrible. Jesus will say to you, and all like you, "I never knew you; depart from me you workers of iniquity" (Matthew 7:23).
2 What if Ananias Had Said No to Jesus?
In Luke’s account of the story (Acts 9:10-19), he records how Ananias was told to visit Saul and minister to him. At first Ananias objected on the grounds of the persecution inflicted by Saul on Christians.
But Jesus commanded Ananias, "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" (Acts 9:15-16).
Ananias obeyed Jesus, perhaps helped by the knowledge that Saul would justly suffer what he had caused others to suffer —although not in order to punish him.
Years later, Paul would say, "I rejoice in the sufferings for you and I am filling up what is lacking of the tribulations of Christ in my flesh. [I do this] for his body which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).
Paul himself had caused many "tribulations of Christ" by persecuting Christ’s body, the church. He regarded his sufferings as a cup to be filled to overflowing, and he did not want it to lack.
Ananias, had he disobeyed Christ, would not have helped Saul on that path in which he, as Paul the apostle, did so much, and suffered so much, for Christ.
Ananias would have lost a human being’s greatest privilege, of being an agent of the Lord (like an angel of the Lord). Ananias would have lost the joy in saying, “Thank you Lord for choosing me to get Saul on his way with you.”
What could be more wonderful, more eternally enduring, than the joy of being the Lord’s obedient servant in opening people’s eyes to Christ and starting them on their life’s journey with him?
✭ In response to these things, you should consider what marvels are lost if you disobey God. The angel said to Daniel, "Those who are wise will shine like the bright firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). In disobedience you will lose your intended destiny and fail to help others find theirs. That is a loss unfathomable.
3 What if Saul Had Said No to Ananias?
The acts of Paul take up most of the book of Acts, and his letters make up about a third of the New Testament. Paul was a highly qualified scholar in his own right. As an apostle, he was also inspired by the Holy Spirit. His word was therefore powerful and convincing —and it still is.
Toward the end of his life, Paul was able to say, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. For the future, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." (2Timothy 4:7-8).
Ananias said to Saul, "Why do you wait? Arise and be baptised and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Had Saul said no to that directive, his good fight would never happen. To the world’s great loss his wonderful story and teachings would never be written. His crown of righteousness would never be stored up, and his future would be dark indeed.
✭ As you think about what Saul would have lost by disobedience, take note that Paul said God reserves a crown of righteousness not only for Paul but also for all who love his appearing. You don't love and hope for the Lord’s appearing if you don't obey him. And you forfeit the forgiveness of your sins and your eternal crown. Why let that be so? Why not rather say yes to the Lord? Why not obey him today?