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.

Desert Storm

Desert Storm—Luke 4:1-13/Ps 91. DBC. March 10—Dr. Denny

Introduction:
        What were you doing on January 1991?  What was America doing on January 1991?  Let me jog your memory.  This was the year that we entered into a 60 billion dollar war.  That’s what it cost to conquer Saddam Hussein.  35 nations followed George Bush and the USA into battle to save Kuwait and conquer Iraq.  The war took 5 weeks.  There were 262 coalition casualties.  It was called Desert Storm.

Background:
         Now let’s step into another desert storm, the one mentioned with such gravitas in the book of Luke.  Here we find the Savior still dripping with the baptismal waters of the Jordan being led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judeato face trials and temptations of the Devil.  And as we step onto the hot sands of the desert, we realize a truth all too common to people of all ages.  We are all prone to trials, testing, and temptations in our lives.  We must be prepared and we must guard ourselves against the certain attacks of the enemy.
Wilderness Judea.jpg

The wilderness of Judea into which Jesus walked is a place of majestic, silent beauty.  It begins near the city of Jerusalem and tumbles thousands of feet down to the Dead Sea. Moses stared humbly at this wilderness from the mountains of Moabto the east of the Dead Sea.  God, however, would not allow him to enter. But Jesus did venture into the wilderness, led by the Spirit and you and I must also enter daily for the life of a Christian is not void of trials.  We, like the Savior, must expect the devil to attack us daily, seeking our weaknesses, exploiting our frailties, striving to weaken our resolve to follow Jesus to the end.

The Judean wilderness where Jesus walked for 40 days is the home of one of the world’s oldest monasteries—Mar Saba.  If you could look down from the air you would see it perched precariously on the edge of the Kidron Valley midway between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  Built in the year 483 it houses today about 20 monks and is considered to be one of the world’s oldest monasteries.  It still maintains many of its ancient traditions. Mar Saba.jpg

It was into this rugged wilderness, the desert of Mar Saba, that Jesus wandered without food or water for 40 days fending off attacks by the Devil.  He studied the Savior and searched for weaknesses.

According to Luke, the devil knew Jesus was hungry and so he challenged him to turn the rocks into bread.  But Jesus said no.  Then the devil tempted him with power and fame.  ‘I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.’  But Jesus said no.  Then the devil tempted him to leap off the temple wall knowing the angels would come to his rescue.  But Jesus said no.

And so we too must learn to say NO! to the daily temptations that come our way.  And we can do this God’s help.

  *When was your last big test?  How did you handle it?  Did you fall apart?  Did you find your way through to success?

*The biggest test of my life did not come at my doctoral defense even though my best friend Phil Walker had gone into the room where the professors waited to grill all candidates for the doctor’s degree. And when he came out he was in tears. They had flunked his dissertation.  After many years of seminary work, he left without a degree. And as he passed me in shaking his head in utter disbelief, the door swung open and a boney hand from the lead professor summoned me in next.

No, the biggest trial of my life came at a much earlier time in my life.  I was just entering the second grade.  I had left Ms. White, my first-grade teacher behind in Sumpter South Carolina where I used to live in peace and tranquility.  And now I was in Japan and this was my first day in second grade with anew teacher I did not know or trust.  Her name was Ms. Mud and I think it was an appropriate name.

I sat near the back. I did not know anybody. I had no friends.  And then Ms. Mud made a declaration.  “All right, Class get out a sheet of paper.  We’re going to have a test.  I looked at her with my eyes blinking.  Ms. White didn’t give tests.  What is a test?  I squirmed uneasily.  “Number you page from 1-20.  I sighed with relief.  I did know my numbers.  I could probably count to 30.  I had this.

But then she started with something I did not understand.  She called out a word.  She said “our first word today is tree.  I noticed all the kids writing but I didn’t know what to write.  What did she want to know about trees?  I did like trees.  I had fallen out of one once.  I panicked. I didn’t know what to do.  So I just wrote YES!because I knew I did like trees.  But she kept going.  Our next word is DOG.  Everybody began writing.  I did like dogs.  I had a dog named Fluffy.  “YES! Our next word is GIRL.  By now I had it down.  Of course, I had no use for girls.  That was easy.  I wrote boldly the word NO.

When I was all down with the 20 words I turned in my test paper and waited for the verdict. Finally, she curled her finger at me like my doctoral professors and summoned me forward.  I came with high hopes. She stared at me hard with dark eyes and then scribbled a huge E on the paper.  I looked at the verdict and then smiled with such pride.  An Excellent on my fist test.  (It wasn’t until I got home that realized that than an E was a flunking grade).

Conclusion:
Tests and temptations come in all shapes and sizes.  None of us are immune to life’s trials.  Even Jesus faced them as we see so clearly in His Judean Wilderness experience.

Let’s close with the wondrous words of Ps 91, a Psalm for those under attack from the devil, for those of us in the midst of a desert storm.

In this amazing Psalm, we learn that God is our refuge and fortress in times of testing and temptation.  He builds an impenetrable wall about us.  He protects us.  He shelters us with His wings.   And he sends his angels to guard us in times of duress of temptation.

Each of these thoughts is a sermon in itself. God is our fortress—He shelters us with His wings—He sends His angels to watch over us.  Such powerful truths to help you and me through our wilderness wanderings, when we are under attack.