Here I Am: Ananias

Here I Am: Ananias

Here I Am: Ananias.

“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.'” (Acts 9:10; please refer to the whole story in Acts 9:1-19 and Acts 22:1-16).

Hineni (Hebrew word, literal meaning, “Behold, I am!” but is generally translated in Bible as “Here I am.”) In Scripture it is a response of someone to someone else asking for attention. It could be a response to God, to an angel, a response of a child to a parent, or a servant to a master. Sometimes it is even a loving response of a parent to a child. The Biblical Here I am means you have my full attention; I am at your service; I am completely available to you; whatever you want, I am all in; I am in total readiness to hear and obey you; I have no hesitation in responding to you. Most of the time in Scripture the person saying Here I am doesn’t yet know what the caller wants from him. So hineni can essentially be a statement of faith. When someone in authority initiates Here I am, such as God, it is a declaration of presence and readiness to speak or act. Generally, hineni is often stated in a pivotal moment of that person’s life. Here I am can just be a casual response to a caller, but it often is an important moment in the life of the person responding.

Ananias was one of the unsung heroes in Christian history. He was destined to have a crucial role to play in the spread of the Christian faith, yet is rarely mentioned as one of the New Testament’s superstars. He was a Jewish Christian living in Damascus at the start of Christianity. Damascus was about 190 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and many new believers in Jesus resided there. It was a major trade route linked to numerous other large cities in that region. Damascus continues to thrive to this day, its most recent population about two million people. It is considered to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Ananias means “The Lord’s gracious gift” in Greek, and “Yah is merciful” in Aramaic. And what a gift he was to Saul, who became Paul. But how did Ananias, a godly unknown believer who lived according to the law of Moses, even meet up with Saul in the first place?

At this time, Saul was a zealous Pharisee from Jerusalem, highly learned and anxious to follow the Law. He was only too happy to capture and imprison anyone following this dead man Jesus of Nazareth who didn’t conform to the Law. In fact, in his zeal to persecute people of the Way, Luke records that Saul was “breathing threats and murder against disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 9:1). Saul wanted to expand the area of activity against Christians by visiting Damascus and capturing any believers there. During those early days Christians were called people of the Way, suggesting that following Jesus was a way of life, and involved living a certain way that conformed to Christ. Communities of the Way were starting to spring up all over the region. Also, Jesus called Himself “the Way” (John 14:6), and so naturally believers wanted to literally follow the Way.

Why did Saul want to travel so far away to Damascus to capture and persecute Christians? Maybe he was chasing believers who had fled Jerusalem because of the martyrdom of Christians there. Maybe he wanted to prevent the spread of the Way to other main cities by nipping it in the bud in the busy trade route of Damascus. Maybe Saul wanted to impress the Temple leaders so he could advance his standing in the Pharisee community. Perhaps Damascus was developing a reputation of being a Christian hot spot, and Saul saw a chance to easily pick off some believers. Whatever the reason, Saul found himself on the road to Damascus, when his life took an unexpected turn. We don’t know if he was on foot or riding a horse, but we do know that he saw Jesus. He had a personal encounter with the risen Christ.

Saul and his traveling companions were on the Damascus road when suddenly a bright light flashed around them, flaring directly into Saul’s eyes. This was not a vision, this was literal reality, a real light from heaven. The men with Saul saw the light, they heard the voice, but they didn’t see anyone and they didn’t understand a word of what was said. They were struck speechless at this extraordinary spectacle. Saul fell to the ground, blinded by the light and terrified. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Lying on the ground, Saul gathered the courage to say in response, “Who are you, Lord?” He knew this was a divine encounter of some sort, but he wanted to know more about this mysterious voice from heaven. The voice then identified Himself, saying, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” This must have been a shocking idea to Saul… persecuting people of the Way was actually persecuting God? This man Jesus is actually alive? He learned there on the roadside that whatever is done to Christian believers, is done to Christ. He so closely identifies with and is present to believers that He can say, “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do to me.” (Matt. 25:40). Saul then asks Jesus, “What do you want from me? What do you want me to do?” Christ’s answer was simple, “Go to Damascus and you will be told what to do.” In effect, Saul is being told he is no longer in control of his destiny.

Because Saul is still blinded by the presence of Christ, he was led by the hand into Damascus and waits there for further instructions for three days, neither eating nor drinking. During this time, the saintly Ananias is praying, and the Lord speaks to him in a vision. “Ananias,” He says. And Ananias replied with those words He loves to hear, “Here I am, Lord.” Jesus then directs Ananias to Straight Street in the city, to the home of a man named Judas, to a man named Saul of Tarsus. Ananias resisted this assignment, because by this time Saul had developed a well-known reputation as a particularly fierce antagonist to people of the Way. The Lord reassures Ananias that He has a special calling for Saul, and that he shouldn’t be afraid of him.

At the same time Ananias was receiving his marching orders from the Lord, Saul was also praying and receiving a vision from God. A man named Anaias will come to you, he says to Saul, and lay his hands on you to regain your sight. So Ananias obediently enters the house, lays his hands on Saul, and calls him, of all things, “brother.” Despite Ananias’ misgivings, he trusted Christ and saw Saul as a Christian brother. Saul immediately received his sight, was baptized, and was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17). Ananias was comfortable throughout this time being in the role of the prophet, God’s messenger, God’s spokesman. He told Saul that he was destined to know God’s will, that he would see the “Righteous One” Jesus Christ, that he would directly hear Christ’s voice, and that he would be a living witness to all people. The word used here for “witness” is “martyr,” and this certainly became true in Saul’s life much later.

After his baptism at the hand of Ananias, Saul remained in Damascus for several days for some important teaching and fellowship with other believers. Saul began to proclaim Jesus in the local synagogues, and all who heard him were amazed that this was Saul, the persecutor, saying these things. It is thought that after his time in Damascus, Saul went to Arabia for around three years to receive more grounding in the Christian life and faith. (Gal. 1:17-18). Saul became Paul, and he succeeded in being the Apostle to the Gentiles, the most famous and effective missionary in Christian history. And where would Saul be had it not been for the faithful, overlooked Ananias, answering the Lord’s call with “Here I am, Lord.”