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 9:13-14)
Arrested For Believing
Ananias was a devout man, who lived in strict adherence to the law and was well respected by the Jews for his fidelity of character, honesty, and example of justice and fairness. He had a good testimony with all the Jews which set him apart as a follower of Christ and one who called upon the name of Jesus with courage in the face of great persecution. News had arrived at the saints in Damascus that Saul of Tarsus was coming to find all those who were of the Way in the city to bind them to Jerusalem. Stephen had been killed for his faith in the risen Christ and Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s disciples wherever they could be found. The saints in Damascus feared what Saul would do when he brought his legion of Jewish mercenaries to root out those who believed Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He was not looking for murderers, rapists, thieves, embezzlers, or traitors to the crown of Rome. Saul was wholly devoted to finding men and women who embraced a belief that a man from Nazareth in the region of Galilee was the long-promised Messiah of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. These were law-abiding citizens in every sense of the word. The arrest records did not list heinous crimes against humanity or rebellion to the government but simply a belief that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried yet found alive after many days by hundreds of people. Small bands of followers had begun to gather in cities across Judea, Galilee, and Samaria being called Christians first in Antioch. Saul of Tarsus received authority from the high priest to arrest everyone who believed in Jesus dragging them bound to Jerusalem for trial. Word had come to the saints in Damascus of the coming of Saul and Ananias was gravely concerned for his own life. In came as a complete surprise to Ananias when the Lord told him that he was to find Saul and baptize him into the body of saints he had been so opposed to. Strengthened with great courage and faith in the word of God, Ananias went to Saul and baptized him into Christ changing the course of history forever. Saul would become one of the greatest servants in the kingdom of God leading untold number of souls to believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
The government is established for the good of the people and to execute wrath on those who practice evil. This becomes subjective to the ideals of the government when they decide to prosecute a body of people based solely on a system of belief. Saul had authority from the high priest to arrest a man because of a belief; not a crime against another man, an act of physical harm to another, or mistreatment of a neighbor. Legal actions were allowed to be executed against a group of people who quietly served their government with obedience to the laws of the land, rendering to Caesar those things that belonged to Caesar and to God those things that belonged to God. The acts of these believers were to care for others who had a need such as in the early days of the church when the first disciples had all things in common, selling possessions and goods and dividing them among all, as anyone had need. Through the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, the infirmed were healed of blindness, leprosy, crippled limbs, blood issues, withered body parts, stomach problems, cancers, and a host of diseases unnamed but all were healed by the workings of those endowed with the power of God. These were the people Saul had come to arrest. Benevolent workers of good toward the downtrodden and oppressed had their names on the list of charges brought against the church of Christ and its believers. Damascus was full of these disciples and Saul had come to find each person and to place them in irons. What was remarkable about these early saints is that in the face of such great persecution, they were scattered abroad preaching the word of Christ in every place they went. It did not stop them from telling the story of Jesus but it encouraged it. Saul had not come to Damascus to arrest the lukewarm and half-hearted believers but rather those who were dedicated to the cause of the Way and the name of Jesus Christ.
America is a place of religious freedom that allows its citizens to worship in whatever fashion they desire. This is a patriotic blessing but not according to the Biblical pattern. Nevertheless, there is a freedom to believe in Jesus Christ without fear of reprisal or arrest. This is not true in many places in the world. In many countries espousing a belief in Jesus can lead to arrest and in some cases death. It can become easy to be comfortable in a land that does not have men like Saul seeking out those who would profess a belief in a risen Christ. Owning a Bible is not illegal and is now available in more forms than in the history of man. Reading the Bible is not outlawed. Teaching the message of Jesus Christ is not refuted by armed thugs who kill those who believe in the story of man two thousand years ago. And this is where the problem will come of complacency and create a false sense of security for the believer. The saints in the early church faced a real threat that could bring torture and death and yet they did not stop doing what they believed and how they were sharing the message of Christ. Modern-day saints find it difficult to assemble with the saints when there are no laws against such assemblies. Reading the Bible is readily available and not acts of subversion against the government but few spend time in the holy pages. The truth lies in the fact the church grows best when it is persecuted for what it believes. The man from Tarsus was not interested in the once-in-a-while Christian who would easily deny he knew Jesus Christ than face death. The man and woman who courageously admitted they were a Christian and refused to give up their faith were the targets of abuse. What you believe may be tested one day by what you do when asked what you believe.