Nightmare on Straight Street

Nightmare on Straight Street(Acts 9:11).  May 5, 2019.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a difficult but necessary task lies before you.  You can try to run from this challenge like Jonah did, but chances are if you resist the challenge you will encounter a whale, (in other words, there will be consequences).

I want to take you to such an event this morning and show you how an ordinary person—a person like you and me, faced a difficult decision, and how he handled it.  Perhaps this story will inspire you to face some fear in your life or to move forward on some difficult decision.

Background

There are two streets mentioned in our story this morning—one is unnamed and one is called Straight.  On the unnamed street near Damascus Saul travels on a ruthless mission.  His face is hard and set on murder.  With every labored breath, he utters a threat against the Christians who live peacefully in the ancient walled city of Damascus.

*On an old map dated 1855, tradition marks the place that Saul fell to the dusty street and fought against a heavenly voice and a bright light that blinded him.
Map of Damascus 1855.png

He was nearly there.  He was so close to committing the crimes against innocent saints.  He could see the walls of the old city looming just beyond the gardens and olive groves on the southern side of the city.  But God stopped him in his tracks before the untold atrocities could erupt in his untethered heart.

But there is another street mentioned in our story:  the street called Straight.  It was an ancient Roman road built in the fashion of Roman logic and orderliness. It ran 1500 meters (nearly a mile) west to east, perfectly straight, with a series of north/south corridors like river tributaries crisscrossing this main artery.

*I have an old photo made in 1900.  It has been colorized and it shows people strolling casually down the narrow street called Straight.  A few are on horseback dressed in Syrian garments.  Some are westerners wearing London suits carrying parasols to shade themselves from the fierce midday sun.

Street called Straight.png

It is on this thoroughfare that history was forever changed.  For it was here on the western side of Straight Street not far from the city where a disciple of Jesus named Judas lived. And it was here that Saul the raging bull lay trembling with confusion, blinded by a terrific light.  And it is here in Judas’ house that we have the Nightmare on Straight Street.

 

  1. God often used ordinary people to do difficult things.

Now we must pause and pick up our protagonist for this story on the northeastern side of the city.  On my old map, I see the house of Ananias near an old cemetery that lay just outside the wall. And it is there that we meet a believer in Jesus.  He is an ordinary man.   And it is here that I must pause and make the first of two points this morning:  God often uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  I see this principle at work throughout the Scriptures:  It was an ordinary low born Hebrew child in Egypt—just a little baby of slave parents, who rose to become Moses the liberator of a nation.  And it was just a lowly, ordinary lad who kept sheep in the hills around Bethlehem that pick up a few stones and slew Goliath.

And so don’t be alarmed if God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to step into a challenging task, a difficult assignment that you might feel is beyond your ability. Just remember our first lesson this morning:  God often uses ordinary people to do difficult things.

And this was the case when God slipped quietly into Ananias’ life with a vision(Acts 9:10).  “Ananias, I have a job for you.”  “What is it, Lord?”  “I want you to slip down the street called Straight just a few blocks from you live and lay your healing hands upon a murderer of saints.  He trembles in blindness in Judas’ house.  Go and touch his eyes for me.”

An ordinary man asked to do a difficult task.  He should have said no!

*I read an article the other day entitled 10 guilt-free strategies for saying no. In each scenario, the author shows us how to gracefully and effectively say no.  I don’t think Ananias had read this article.  He tried to say no but he couldn’t pull it off.  It isn’t logical to liberate murderers and criminals.  But his no carried no power with Jesus who quickly brushed his protest off and told him quietly clearly to just get up and GO!

*I often wondered how he would explain this assignment to his wife: Honey, I have to go out for a while.  “Where?  Just out. Where?  Down to Judas’ house.  Birthday? No.  Why?  To help a murderer!

So let’s all learn from this.  God sometimes asks us to do things that are difficult, out of the ordinary, things that we don’t understand.

  1. Difficult challenges make us stronger. It was Peter who said in 1 Peter 5:10 that difficult challenges always result in wonderful personal benefits.  And so is the case here.  Ananias is ordered to do a difficult thing:  Go and help Saul your mortal enemy.  It was a supreme challenge but it led to the birth of the world’s greatest missionary—the Apostle Paul.

*George Washington was given this impossible task.  Defend NYC against the British.  But the British had unlimited resources, and scores of powerful ships and 20,000 well-armed soldiers.  In Ron Chernow’s book on Washington he said, “For some soldiers, their only weapons consisted of sharpened scythes fastened to poles, forming primitive spears” (p. 253). Washington lost NYC but in that struggle, he learned about himself, and somehow gained a new strength that eventually led his forces to victory at Yorktown.

Conclusion:

Perhaps the greatest example of an ordinary man facing a difficult challenge is seen in the garden of Gethsemane.  There Jesus, a man born of poor ordinary parents, was now challenged to save the world and die upon the cross.  He kneeled in the garden that night and Luke tells us that he was in such agony and distress that he prayed for the cup to pass from Him if possible and He sweats drops of blood, so great was His inner turmoil.

As we leave the Nightmare on Straight Street let us bid Anania’s farewell and leave determined that we too will face life’s difficult choices with courage and hope knowing God is with us all the way.

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