Profiles in Spiritual Courage
O Lord God, grant me the courage I need in the midst of the challenges of these latter days to stand firm in my convictions. Guided by Your Spirit and trusting in Your holy Word, may I ever prove faithful to You. As I join my fellow believers in worship this day, bless us with Your presence and inspire us with Your promises. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
It takes courage to confront individuals with their sin—especially when those individuals being confronted are powerful. Nathan courageously confronted David with his sins of adultery and murder. The Spirit of God led David to repentance, which then permitted Nathan to announce God’s forgiveness of David’s sins. David, however, while forgiven still had to endure the serious consequences of his sins.
It takes real courage at times to confess our faith in Christ. Yet, let us do so without fear, for Jesus alone is the “bread of life” through whom we receive the gift of “everlasting life.” Faith in Christ itself is likewise a gift, for faith is not something we are able to produce. God the Father must “draw” us to Jesus, creating faith through the preaching of the gospel.
Text: Acts 9:1-22
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against he goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “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.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.” But the Lord said to him, “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.” And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priest?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
In Christ Jesus, who calls us into His kingdom so that we might fulfill His appointed purpose, dear fellow redeemed:
What is courage? What does it involve? Courage involves a person possessing convictions and then acting upon those convictions even at great personal risk. Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and what is thought to have been an attempt upon our U.S. Capitol building. In the aftermath of those terrorist attacks a great many people demonstrated unbelievable courage, placing themselves at great risk, as they attempted to rescue victims of those attacks.
Years ago before he was elected President of the United States, John F. Kennedy wrote a book entitled “Profiles in Courage.” That book was a series of short biographical essays dealing with people who served in our government and who courageously decided to act upon the basis of their personal convictions and for the overall good, even though their actions placed them at great political risk. For any endeavor to succeed, including the work of our Savior’s kingdom, people must act with courage. Let us, therefore, consider today PROFILES IN SPIRITUAL COURAGE as we examine the convictions and the actions of the two men presented in our text—Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, and Ananias a simple believer in Damascus. First of all, we see Saul who admitted that he was wrong but then acted and, secondly, Ananiaswho admitted that Jesus was right and then acted!
Before we consider the events of our text, let me share with you some background information on Saul. Saul grew up among what was known as the Jewish Diaspora—those Jews who had left Palestine and settled in other places throughout the Roman Empire. Saul’s family had moved to the city of Tarsus in what was then part of Asia Minor or present day Turkey. They were business people—manufacturing and selling tents, many of which were purchased and used by the Roman armies. They became very successful and wealthy. As a result they were able to achieve the status of being Roman citizens. At the same time, they were very conservative religiously. They were members of the sect of the Pharisees, and when it came time for the young Saul to be educated, they sent him to live in Jerusalem, apparently with his sister, so that he could be educated in the finest rabbinic school of his day. Saul’s parents apparently wanted their son eventually to become part of the Jewish Sanhedrin—the highest Jewish religious court of that day.
Saul was well on his way to fulfilling his parents’ dreams as well as his own ambitions when the events of our text unfold. We are told that Saul, with great religious zeal and convictions, persecuted the early church “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He secured letters from the high priest to extend the persecution of the Christians beyond Jerusalem and Judea up to Damascus, one of the great centers of international trade in that day. Saul’s goal was evident—to stop Christianity before it was too late, for from Damascus it could and would spread throughout the world of that day!
While en route to Damascus we are told that “suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.” He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul did not know who was speaking, but understood clearly that the voice was divine—a voice to which he must listen…a voice to which he must submit. So he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The response Saul heard began a transformation within his heart, mind, and soul, which clearly was unexpected and quite frankly unbelievable for those who knew Saul. We are told, “The Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” For Saul, who was no hypocrite for he had been acting upon a firm set of convictions, albeit false convictions, this revelation was both astonishing and terrifying. Suddenly Saul came to realize that he had been wrong all along. Rather than being a champion for God, he had been a tool of Satan. Instead of defending the true faith, he had been instrumental in putting to death those who had embraced the truth. What could he do? What should he do? He asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Jesus, who had great plans for this man, responded, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do?” Saul, shaken spiritually, blinded physically, was led by the hand into the city of Damascus where he remained three days in prayer seeking God’s forgiveness and awaiting His direction.
The transformation of Saul is one of the most dramatic and remarkable in this world’s history. For Saul, who three days later was baptized into the Christian faith and who then over a period of some three years studied the Scriptures through which the Spirit of God reshaped and refined his convictions, was moved to act with great courage and become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christian missionary of the New Testament age. We are told that Paul “immediately…preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God…confounding the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” In so doing he placed himself at great risk and suffered great personal loss. It would appear that Saul was ultimately disowned by his family and forfeited his inheritance. He gave up his goal of becoming a member of the Sanhedrin. In fact, there is evidence that numerous of his former colleagues and at least some members of his family joined in an attempt to have him assassinated (cf. Acts 23:16). In describing his life as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul would latter say this: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). This is a PROFILE IN SPIRITUAL COURAGE! Saul admitted that he was wrong but then acted!
My dear friends, let us apply this profile to our own spiritual lives. How difficult is it for you and for me to admit that we are wrong, to seek the forgiveness both of God and our fellowmen? It is very difficult, is it not? How often after we have been corrected, do we not disengage ourselves from spiritual activity, perhaps due to our own embarrassment, rather than to act upon our convictions? As we rejoice in Jesus as our Savior, do we also accept Him as our Lord…submitting our will to His and seeking direction for our lives from Him? Saul could have quietly and quickly left Damascus and returned to Tarsus to pursue the family business. He could have kept his new-found convictions to himself, but he did not. He boldly stepped forward directed now by his risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! For the kingdom of Christ to advance—you and I must do the same. We must act with courage—Spirit wrought and Spirit inspired courage, even when that courage involves humbly admitting we are wrong, but then pursuing what is right even when we place ourselves at risk!
But let us now turn to our second PROFILE IN SPIRITUAL COURAGE…Ananias who admitted Jesus was right and then acted! We know very little about Ananias. He is simply described in our text as “a certain disciple at Damascus.” After Saul’s arrival in Damascus, the Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision. He told him, “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.”
Now, as I mentioned, we do not know much about Ananias, but we do know that he was no fool. He had heard about Saul’s persecutions in Jerusalem. He was also aware of the nature of Saul’s current mission. Ananias, at this point, assumed that the Lord must be making a mistake. It certainly did not seem to make much sense for Ananias to go to Saul, when Saul had come to arrest and imprison all the Christians in Damascus. Consequently, he voiced his objections—he did not want to comply with the Lord’s command, but the Lord told him, “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.”
Now Ananias could do nothing other than admit that Jesus was right. He acted—no doubt with a bit of apprehension—and went to find Saul. When he entered the house in which Saul was staying, he laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately scales fell off Saul’s eyes and Ananias observed and experienced things he had never expected to happen—the baptism of a former enemy of Christ and the fellowship of a former persecutor of Christians. This is a PROFILE IN SPIRITUAL COURAGE! Ananias admitted Jesus was right and then acted!
Again, my dear brethren, let us apply this profile to our own spiritual lives. How often does not the word of our God present to us truth and directives, which seem to contradict our common sense as we deal with people in this world? The Bible urges us to put the best construction on everything, but that does not seem to make sense. The Bible urges us to seek the well-being of others rather than ourselves (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:24), but that does not seem to make sense. The Bible urges us to “love our enemies” (cf. Matthew 5:44) and to “turn the other cheek” (cf. Matthew 5:39), but that does not seem to make sense. Yet, as we admit that Jesus is right and then act upon His instructions, convinced that what He is telling us is truth, we will experience many surprising things and receive many exceptional blessings. May God grant that we all become PROFILES IN SPIRITUAL COURAGE! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting