Jesus’ power brings the dead to life! (Acts 9:1-19)

Posted: April 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Road to Damascus

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to live at the time of Peter, James, and John?  To live at the time of the Apostles, at the time of the first century Christian church?

In some aspects, it would have been a wonderful blessing.  How many of us wouldn’t have loved to take a Bible class taught by John, or listened to a sermon preached by Paul?  To have had the opportunity to learn the Christian faith from those who learned it from the Savior himself – such a time must have been a wonderful time!

But what about the flip-side?  There’s always a flip-side, isn’t there?  While such a time would have been a wonderful blessing, it wasn’t always peaches and cream.

Those first-century churches didn’t have the luxury of worshipping in church buildings or out in the open.  They worshipped in secrecy, holding their services underground, marking their locations with secret symbols like fish.  They had to be careful about those whom they welcomed into their midst, because spies were everywhere.

Yes, those first century Christians didn’t have the luxury of something we call First Amendment rights.  There wasn’t freedom of religion or freedom of worship.  Christianity wasn’t even tolerated back then!

There were those who wanted nothing more than to stamp out the spreading flame which was the Way.  The Sanhedrin tried it by throwing the Apostles in jail.  The Jewish zealots tried it, as they persecuted those who confessed Jesus Christ as Savior.  Their efforts had two results – some Christians became martyrs, put to death at the stake; they were rounded up, thrown into prison with no hope of parole.

Perhaps no one was more zealous in his persecutions of the Followers of the Way than a man named Saul.  A Pharisees Pharisee, Saul hated the group that would later be known as Christians.  He saw them as perverters of his religion, as blasphemers of his God.  To Saul, these Followers of the Way were abominations that needed to be exterminated!

So he led the stoning of Stephen; he led groups of temple guards into the homes of Jesus’ disciples.  He earned himself a reputation as top persecutor for the Sanhedrin manhunt.  But he wasn’t satisfied with just rounding up Christians in Jerusalem.  He wanted to expand the Sanhedrin’s sphere of influence, because the other result of the persecution was the spread of the Way.  Jesus’ disciples fled the Jerusalem persecution and settled in distant cities like Damascus.

So Saul’s goal?  Get those Christians, too.  After asking for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that he might have religious jurisdiction, in order that he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 

But something happened along the way.  It was supposed to be a simple horse-ride over the some 200 miles from Jerusalem to Damascus.  But after crossing the mountainous terrain surrounding Jerusalem…after pushing his crew through the hot, arid wilderness…as Damascus grew closer and closer…

Bang!  A bright light flashed around Saul, taking him completely by surprise.  Saul fell backwards, falling off his saddled horse.  As he landed on the ground, he fell face-down to the ground.  And then the voice, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

Can you imagine the sinking pit that Saul felt in his stomach at that point?  Who are you, Lord? he asked with trembling fear, hoping that the answer which he would be given was not the one he was expecting.  Then it came: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, Saul heard the radiant figure in front of him say – and then waited for the inevitable, and now I will do to you as you have done to those who follow me.

For Saul, there was no escaping reality now.  He had wanted to deny Jesus’ statements during his earthly life.  Up to this point, when Saul heard Jesus’ disciples quote him, I am the way and the truth and that life; no one comes to the Father except through me, he wanted nothing more than to stick his fingers in his ears and drown their voices out.  When they preached of Jesus as true God made flesh, he wanted to scream with every ounce in his throat, No!  Blasphemy! 

But now?  There was no escaping the fact that what they said was true.  That what Jesus had taught while on earth was true.  He was God, and now he had to face what that meant: he had defied the God whom he sought to serve.  He had killed those who followed God.  Thinking he was serving God, he was acting to eradicate the world of the true God.

And for that, he had to pay.  For that, he deserved death.  He was a sinner, and now he was in the presence of the holy God – more than that, he was in the presence of the one whom he had persecuted by persecuting those who followed him.  Death was certain, because he had earned it for himself.

But that never happened.  Those words he expected to hear never came from Jesus’ mouth.  Faced with the reality of his sin, the completeness of his transgression, Saul heard Jesus speak a word of peace.  No get up and go.  You will be told what you must do. 

That’s when Paul realized that he had been squeezing his eyes shut.  As the bright light faded, Saul slowly opened his eyes…only to see nothing but pitch black darkness.  Oh, the sweet symbolism that blindness presented.  Up to this point, Saul thought he had seen things truthfully and that these followers of the Way were the ones who were blinded.  Yet, all along, he was the one who had been blind.  Blind by his own zealotry; blinded by his own hatred of Jesus; blinded by his own sin.

Now, now he was physically blind.  Left to wander the road of Damascus only by the assistance his comrades offered.  Left to sit on the dirt floor of a house owned by someone named Judas, on a street called Straight, in the darkness of his own blindness. Left to sit and do nothing except pray.  Pray that the Lord who had shown himself to Saul would have mercy on the sinner who persecuted him.  To pray that his blindness would be lifted, and he might be given a new life.

For three days he prayed.  For three days he sat, eating nothing, seeing nothing, and in nearly constant prayer.

And then came the knock at the door.  Saul leaned his ear toward the front door and listened to his gracious host speak with an unknown voice.  Then he felt two hands place themselves on his shoulders, and that same unfamiliar voice spoke again, Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me to you so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

And just like that, it was as if scales fell from his eyes.  The suffocating darkness that had been his world for three days was gone!

The Lord had granted him a new life.  The Jesus whom he had been persecuting had shown him mercy, even though he had deserved death!

Something had happened to Saul over the last few days.  Once a hardened persecutor of Christ and his followers, the same Lord whom he persecuted had shone into his heart and changed him.  He no longer hated Christ – he loved him.  He no longer abhorred the message of salvation through Jesus because this message meant life.

You almost wonder – don’t you?  What did Jesus see in Saul that made him desire him?  Why would the Lord of life intervene in the life of the one who hated him with every breath?  Why did the risen Jesus bother using his power to change the spiritually dead and blind Saul into Paul who lived by faith?

To ask that question is really to ask what Jesus saw in us, isn’t it?  After all, the difference between Saul and each one of us is non-existent.  The details of our stories may have played themselves out differently, but we, too, were just as much of an enemy of Jesus.  We, too, hated Jesus with every fiber of our being; we, too, wanted to stick our fingers in our ears at the name of Jesus and drown him out.  We, too, wanted nothing to do with the message of salvation through the life and death of Jesus Christ.

And as such, like Saul, we were marked for death.  Our hatred of the Savior-God meant that we would spend an eternity without him.  An eternity of suffering.  An eternity in the fires of hell.  An eternal death.  An eternity that we would have liked to ignore.

But then, the risen Jesus intervened in our lives just as he did with Saul.  No – not with the blinding light and personal revelation, but through the Word.

He intervened as he sent the Holy Spirit to us at our Baptisms.  He intervened as our parents read devotions to us as children.  As they taught us those songs of Jesus’ love.  He intervened through Catechism classes when we were barely teenagers, or through the coworkers with whom we share office space.  He revealed himself to us through a church-mailed postcard or a friend’s invitation.

And through that Word of Sacrament, he revealed why he came in the first place: not to judge the world, but to save it. That though we deserved death, God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son Jesus, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Yes – Saul’s story is our story.  The details may be different, but the point is the same.  This faith which, as we heard last week is blind but not without evidence, is not a faith we made for ourselves.  Its not even a faith which we gave ourselves!

This faith which we share – a faith that grasps Jesus’ sacrifice and victory on our behalf! – is a faith which was given to us.  It’s the faith which was worked in our hearts by the power of the risen Jesus.  It is he who has changed us from spiritually dead to those who will live forever!  It is he who has shone into our hearts through the blinding light of his Gospel.

And yes, Saul’s story can be the story of others, too.  If there’s one thing to learn from today’s lesson, it’s this: Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can change even the most apparently hardened of sinners into the most faithful of followers!  He did it with Saul; he did it with you and with me; and he can do it with those you know, too!

Yes, he can change those hearts of the people whom you know; the twenty-something who was raised in the faith, but has since fallen away in complete denial.  Those more willing to accept the theories of science than the truth’s of God’s Word.  Those who doubt God could love such a wicked person as they have been.  The risen Savior can not only change their hearts with the power of his Gospel; he desires to do nothing less!

And he uses us to share that life-changing message with them.  He uses us to take the message of Christ died and risen for salvation to those whom he has placed in our lives, so that he might shine into their hearts, too, through that wonderful truth.

The story of Saul continues, as you already know.  He went from being known as a Pharisee’s Pharisee to being a missionary’s missionary; the greatest missionary ever, he has been called.  Through Saul – who became known as Paul – the Lord shone into the hearts of countless individuals.  In fact, it is through the Lord’s work in Paul that you and I ultimately had the Gospel shared with us.

Lord, thank you for changing us from death to life through the power of your Gospel.  Use us just as you used your servant Paul.  May we share that same Gospel with others, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; and as we share that Gospel, change many, many more from death to life, too!  Amen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s