Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:20 KJV
This year we decided that the time had come to organize our vast collection of family photos. We put this off for years because in our cabinets lie thousands of snapshots of our own, as well as hundreds from our parents, and even grandparents. Slowly and methodically, we went through our collection, tossing out faded landscapes, faces of folks we do not recognize or wished we didn’t.
At first, this was simply tedious but as time went on and the images passed before me, the memories came rushing back. We laughed seeing images of our children (now in their forties) jumping on the couch, we wept to see faces of friends and family separated by death or broken relationships. Some of our memories are treasures, while others we simply wanted to throw away. As flipped through the pile of photographs, I saw my life in the faces and was reminded that God also has a family album of His own in Heaven.
From His vast collection, He has lovingly shared with us a few eternal snapshots, to teach us the most important lessons of life. From our children, we learned to be patient and to love them even when they failed. From parents and grandparents, He showed us how to face difficulties with faith and respect for those weaker than we are. But from those who hurt us He has given us the opportunity to learn the greatest lesson of all. With these Jesus brings us to the cross where He teaches us to treat thieves as companions, failed friends as family members and those who cause our deepest pain, as people in need of mercy. At the cross God shows us that in forgiving others, He has forgiven us in spite of our sins. Then by His grace He has added us one by one into His family album in Heaven where we will one day see His face forever!
All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. Revelation 3:5 NLT
I have been listening my way through the Bible and this morning spent 20 minutes hearing a list of hundreds of names at the end of Nehemiah. While at first blush long genealogies seem super boring, God showed me that they are not boring to Him. He reminded me that every time He writes down a name He sees that person’s face and every face is another life paid for at the cross. To Him those long pages of names are precious to Him. In fact Jesus tells us that the angels break into rejoicing every time one more is written down. But at the end of our lives it will not matter what things others write or if they remember our face. What will count is if our name is written in God’s Book and if our face will be seen at His throne! Is your name written down?
And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth Acts 23:2
This story is about 3 men named Ananias. While that seems a curious name and no one I ever knew has had it; in New Testament times it appears to have been quite common. These three men all went to the same church more or less at least once a year at the time of the high holy days. The first Ananias we meet is the most religious and important of all. He was the high priest in Jerusalem at the time of the Apostle Paul’s trial. The government of his day was quite corrupt and the high priestly position was likely rotated around by the Roman government to various wealthy pseudo-religious community leaders to curry favor with the ruling class. These were the type which Jesus was always in conflict with. It didn’t matter much to these leaders how many good works, miracles or wonderful teachings that Jesus did; they were primarily concerned to hold on to their power. Sadly while they had a great opportunity to learn about the God they proclaimed loudly that they were serving, they actually had no interest in anything that lay beyond their traditional religious exercises.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Acts 5:3
Our second Ananias seemed like a wonderful new church member. He came with his wife, got saved and baptized and showed up one day with a large offering. The only problem with this second Ananias is that though he outwardly accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ and wanted to be a Christian, he also wanted money and the praise of others. He wished to be seen as giving sacrificially when in reality he kept back for himself the best part of his offering. His offense may seem minor but God was not looking at how bad he looked to other people. God was looking at Ananias’ heart. In his heart he had chosen to lie to God, in order to gain the praise of men. In the end he discovered that the only person he had fooled was himself. How sad to have taken a step closer to Jesus than the first Ananias but to still turn away because he chose the values of this world over what is truly valuable to God.
But hang on because there is good news. Not one of us needs to end up like these first two! There is a third Ananias who all of us can become like today.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord! Acts 9:10
This third Ananias was not a powerful leader, nor a wealthy man with lands he could sell. In fact the only thing we know of Ananias is that he listened to God and did what He said even when it went against everything that he had heard. This relatively simple disciple had the great honor and privilege of leading the Apostle Paul in a prayer of faith and forgiveness and then having him baptized! After this we never hear of Ananias again but everywhere that Paul went, a little bit of Ananias’ ministry went along. Paul’s first mentor was not another Apostle, nor a prophet or great theologian in the early church. His mentor and example was Ananias who led Him to Christ and then disappeared from the public view. So we should ask ourselves today: which Ananias do we want to be. Will we battle to hold on to all we possess? Will we compromise what we know is right to have others give us praise? Or will we accept what God has called us to do and who he has called us to be so that even when everyone else has forgotten; we will find that He has written our names in His book of life?