by Roger McCay
15 Sept 2019
Sermon Passage: Acts 19:1-19
Link to Audio Version
Have you ever travelled the Road to Nowhere?
Back in the 1930s and 40s, Swain County, NC donated the majority of its private land to the Federal Government for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with Fontana Lake, a reservoir for Fontana Dam’s hydroelectric production. As a result of this flex of imminent domain, hundreds of people were forced to abandon their communities—their homes for generations. And, not only were their homes gone, but Highway 288, the road to those communities was gone, buried beneath the waters of Fontana Lake.
The Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road, which would curve along the north shore of the Lake, from Bryson City to Fontana—a 30-mile stretch. Important to the victims of the imminent domain, this would have provided access to the old family cemeteries where generations of ancestors lay at rest.
However, environmental issues halted the construction of the new road, which had been named Lakeview Drive, leaving the road ending at a tunnel, about six miles into the park. Construction never resumed, as the environmental issue was eventually deemed too expensive to overcome. Aptly, Swain County’s citizens call this unfinished Lakeview Drive “The Road To Nowhere.”
You know, it sure is a blessing to rest in the hope that, in following Jesus, rather than heading down “the road to nowhere,” we are travelling on the road to somewhere. And, along the way, there are designated places to do something, even lots of somethings, in his name. But, we would never go anywhere, much less somewhere, if we didn’t rise and go when the Lord calls us. Yet, rather than “rise and go” in obedience to the Lord, there is often a tendency to “sit and stay.”
In our passage today, we see two examples of the Lord telling his people to rise, go, and do—Saul and Ananias. Saul’s conversion is a major focus, repeated three times in Acts (the other two times in speeches given by Paul in Acts 22 and then Acts 26). And, it’s easy to just hone in on all the elements going on there. But it is interesting to note that Paul’s conversion, at this point, is given in far less detail than in the later accounts. More time and attention in this passage is given to Ananias—more words with a longer dialogue.
Perhaps the often, exclusive focus on Saul’s conversion, in studies of this passage, comes from his status as a superstar (called to be apostle to the Gentiles) who would even get a special name change like Abram to Abraham, and Simon to Peter, and to forever be known as the Apostle Paul.
But we don’t want to overlook Ananias here. Luke certainly doesn’t. And when we look closely at both accounts, it becomes apparent that there are definite similarities to each of their situations. In both accounts the Lord manifests his presence and speaks to the individual. In both cases the Lord displayed his grace. And, in both cases the Lord told them to rise, go, and do.
There are differences, of course. Saul was a murderous Pharisaic zealot on his way to Damascus with a mission to eliminate followers of the “Way” (Christians). Ananias was a Jew of good reputation, and a disciple of Christ, who lived in Damascus. Saul’s was a conversion experience; Ananias’ was a sanctifying experience. Saul started strong and proud, but ended broken and humbled, yet redeemed. Ananias started scared of Saul and questioning the Lord, but obeyed anyway, blessed to be the one to welcome Saul into the family of Christ and to baptize him. But, in each case, the Lord gave his typical call to his people to rise, go, and do.
I did a cursory search through the Scriptures just to see how often the Lord tells his people to rise, go, and either explicitly or implied, to “do.” You know what I found? This is a very regular way the Lord calls his people, both in their initial call and their various callings along the way as they follow him. We see this in the OT with Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah (numerous times), Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, and Micah. In the Gospels we see it with Joseph, then with Jesus speaking to the paralytic, the leper, to Peter, James, and John, and also to his disciples as a group. Just in Acts we see this terminology used with Philip (in the passage we looked at last week), then with Saul and Ananias, and later with Peter.
For every Christian, “rise, go, and do,” is a summary of Jesus’ call to his disciples to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him” (Mark 8:34). In the case of both Saul and Ananias, that is exactly Jesus’ call.
Saul was a man who detested Jesus, whom he saw as a false Messiah, and he sought to destroy all of Jesus’ followers. This all changed in a moment of blinding light and with a gentle voice on the road to Damascus, as he was brought to an utter realization of the truth.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Saul immediately came to realize that the claim made by the followers of the Way was true. He had heard Stephen’s speech and testimony of seeing Jesus at the right hand of the Father in heaven as he died. He knew what they were claiming, that Jesus was the Messiah, that God raised him from the dead. And now, in the presence of the living Lord, Saul’s resistance crumbled to dust, now knowing for a fact that they were all telling the truth.
This Jesus was the Lord God himself—the Creator God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of Israel. He was fighting against the God he had always claimed to worship! He was persecuting the true Israelites, God’s chosen people. So doing, he was persecuting the Lord God himself. What a realization! It broke him. He was utterly humbled, utterly put in his place. Even blinded.
So, when the Master told him what to do next, he could only obey, “Arise, and go into the city.” Arise, and go. He had been chosen. He had been called. Now it was time to follow Jesus. So, he did.
And then there was Ananias. Ananias was just going about his day, following Jesus in the normal way of true disciples. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Lord speaks.
“Here I am, Lord.”
No confusion with Ananias. No, “Who are you Lord?” He responded as a servant answering his Master’s call, a Master whom he knew well. He was present for duty and ready to execute the Lord’s will.
Let’s look again at vv. 11-14.
11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
Damascus lies 133 miles to the north of Jerusalem, and is one of the most ancient cities in the world. It was first recorded in Egyptian records about 1500 B.C. It’s first mention in the Bible was in Gen. 14:15, in connection with Abraham’s victory over the confederate kings. We’ll also see Damascus mentioned tonight, Lord willing, in our study of 1 Kings 11.
The “Straight Street,” in Damascus, which the Lord refers to here, still exists. It is now called “Queen’s Street” and is the main street for the city. That is to where Ananias was commanded to rise and go in order to execute the mission the Lord had for him.
You can imagine his internal dialogue: “Head over to Straight Street, no problem. But, wait, what?” Saul of Tarsus!? Wait a minute, he’s that guy out to destroy all the Christians. That’s a suicide mission!”
There are a few ways we can take Ananias response in vv. 13-14, whether as a hesitation or a clarification. As it is, we see that Ananias knew exactly to whom the Lord had told him to rise and go. And it was a very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous call.
Sometimes, perhaps even quite often, the Lord calls his people to go into uncomfortable and dangerous situations. It’s his way. When he does, it doesn’t hurt to clarify in our mind that it is an uncomfortable and dangerous calling. In fact, in such a case, it seems better to go into a situation having made that mental acknowledgement. It gives us clarity as to the obstacle we need to overcome, issues that need focused prayer, and zeroing in on what it is for which the Lord will give us power to overcome, in order to accomplish his will—giving us more reason to praise and glorify his name.
The thing is, if you are a disciple of Christ, the Lord has not called you to sit and stay. He has called you to arise and go (that’s inherent in the whole “follow me” concept). Yet, sometimes we need a push to get us going. There are a variety of ways the Spirit of God prompts us. You can feel it. Sometimes it’s a quiet voice that speaks to you in your prayer. Sometimes it’s a conviction that comes upon you in the study of the Word. But he prompts us. It happens over and over in our life starting with our conversion to Christ: when he brought us from spiritual death to spiritual life (born again); when we first believed by his power.
And there are times when he pushes us to go into situations where we are totally dependent and uncomfortable:
– Like Saul, for example—a brand new disciple. New Christians generally do not have the knowledge, having not been discipled, to be fully independent in their walk. That’s just the way it is. They need discipling in the body of Christ. It is uncomfortable for some people to be led by the hand. But that is part of the essential humbling in following Jesus.
– Also, like Saul, what did the Lord tell Ananias? Verse 16—“For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” The Lord said it straight up that he was calling Saul to suffer for his name in his taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Sometimes the Lord calls us to arise and go, with full knowledge that we will suffer along the way.
– Then with Ananias, an established disciple … he was terrified by Saul. Yet, despite his fear, dependent on the Lord’s strength, he arose and went. It was entirely possible, from his point of view, that this might turn out to be a very painful, even deadly situation. Nevertheless, he trusted in the Lord and moved out even though the situation was acutely uncomfortable for him.
My friends, we all need the Lord’s strength in order to arise and go, as we follow Jesus—not just sometimes, but for every step along the way. One of the cool things about this is that it is in our weakness, our dependence on the Lord, that the Lord manifests his power. As the Lord has said and demonstrated time and again in his Word, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
It is as the David wrote in Psalm 29:11: “The Lord gives strength to his people.” He does this. The Lord gives us his strength so that we might do his will—to arise and go!
You might wonder about those who are handicapped. They are also called to rise and go. Saul was blind when Jesus told him initially to rise and go. He had to be led by the hand. But he obeyed. For those who simply cannot get about (the homebound, for example), rising and going might take on a different aspect of following Christ. It is honed down to the driving force behind the physical movements that are normally implied by the terms “arise” and “go.” It hones down to the direction of one’s heart—towards Jesus. And this form of arising and going might lead to a very special kind of doing. For if you can think, you can pray. And that is one of the most powerful doings there is.
Let us listen for the Lord’s call, in prayer and meditation on his Word, and answer it by arising and going where he sends—no matter what that might look like. This doesn’t have to be heading off to another country as a missionary, although if that is your calling you should surely go. Sometimes it’s just a trip over to “Straight Street” to see a neighbor or a stranger. Sometimes it’s simply a trip over to the church.
Where is the Lord calling you to arise and go?
Following after the Lord’s call, we can be encouraged in the knowledge that the Lord does not lead us along a road to nowhere. Indeed, he leads us to where we are to “do.”
For Saul, the “do” to which he was called, in the immediate context, was to “wait.” Did you know waiting can be “doing?” Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Waiting can be a preparatory time. How did Saul wait for those three days? He fasted and prayed. He repented, gave thanks, and praised the Lord. And he prayed that the Lord would show him the way. And, as Ananias arrived and spoke to him, greeting him as “Brother Saul,” what a thrill he must have had. Here it begins.
Saul further relays Ananias’ doings in Acts 22:13-16:
[Ananias] stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
Due to Saul’s faithful waiting in prayer and fasting, Saul was prepared to receive these instructions from the Lord. The Lord opened Saul’s eyes, and showed him the direction he was to follow; to arise, go, and do—in his life calling for Christ. But first, he must rise and be baptized (letting someone else “do” for him), while calling on the Lord’s name.
Sometimes, having risen and gone, the doing is waiting for the Lord to set us on a task, to give us direction, and maybe even to take us home to be with him. Sometimes the doing involves word and deed. In either case, the Lord blesses obedience. The Lord brings blessing on individuals—in salvation, baptism, and participation in the Lord’s work. The Lord brings blessing on the local church & surrounding community. Imagine the wonder the Damascan church must have felt. Saul, the persecutor of the church, was now a disciple of Christ—and there he was in their midst. Such must have strengthened their faith, and encouraged them to no ends. The Lord even brings blessing to the whole world. Paul the Apostle took the gospel to the Gentiles. The NT was largely written by him. The whole world, you and I, have been directly blessed by his rising, going, and doing (even from when he was in prison).
Simple obedience can bring great rewards we could never imagine. Generations of believers are impacted by the faithfulness of a single ancestor. People remain blessed their entire lives due to the faithfulness of a Sunday School teacher they had as a kid. People’s lives are transformed by the simple kindness shown to them in the Lord’s name. On and on and on we could go. Do not limit what impact the Lord can make through you. Your simple obedience … yes you! … your obedience to rise, go, and do can bring blessings that ripple throughout the world, effecting all time to come.
Teddy Roosevelt, in his speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually try to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Followers of Christ are like this, my friends. A person who does not try to arise, go, and do for the Lord (whatever that might look like, depending on their situation) will never know the blessings that obedience brings. They will turn into critics of the doers. They will sit and stay, going nowhere, doing nothing for the Lord, sometimes doing that nothing while sitting in a church pew. Such a person is not following Christ.
Dare to try. Pray about it, seek the Lord’s will. Call upon his strength, and dare to attempt to do things for the Lord that you would never dream you could do in your own power. That is what it means to follow Jesus in faith. Nothing in the Bible says it will be easy. In fact, repeatedly we are told it that it will be hard. Yet, in the difficulty of it all, we are brought closer to Jesus.
Arise, go, and do, my friends! Just look around you. There are lots of things that are calling for a faithful doer. Give it a shot! Because the Lord’s people are called to his purposes, we must follow his call to rise, go, and do.
 Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 87.