The Third Sunday of Easter (C)
“Never Say Never”
May 5, 2019
Sermon Text: Acts 9:1-20
Peace be unto you from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In a world filled with surprises… with unusual twists and turns… we have all learned to some degree, never to say “Never.”
For sure, difficult times and tragic events happen. But we also know… should know… that so do miracles and so many surprisingly wonderful things as well… thanks be to God.
The unexpected… unanticipated… unbelievable occurs more often then we think.
Our first lesson for this Sunday, taken from the Book of Acts is a perfect example of this. Who would have ever thought that this man, Saul of Tarsus, would become a Christian… a member of “the Way” – as the early Christians were then called?
And we should keep in mind that Saul (who we know as St. Paul) not only became a Christian… he was called to be one of Christ’s very own Apostles… one of the Christian Church’s great spiritual fathers… one of the greatest promoters and defenders of the faith… He who was… at one time… one of Christianity’s greatest and most feared enemies.
Never say never even though from a worldly point of view, it should have “never” happened – Saul’s conversion that is…. for he was a Jew’s Jew… trained by the Pharisee Gamaliel himself, one of the most famous of Jewish rabbis.
Put quite simply, Saul was a zealot… an enthusiast, an extremist, a fanatic of the Jewish faith. He was obsessed with ridding the land of this “dangerous” religious faction… these followers of Jesus Christ.
At the stoning of St. Stephen, our first Christian brother to be martyred, we are told that the witnesses who were at this terrible event, “laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58) and that Saul was consenting… that is, he approved, he condoned the execution of one of the Lord’s disciples.
We then read on in Acts, chapter 8, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:1-4)
It is interesting that even though the Church was being persecuted… even though Christians were being persecuted… the Word of God was still being preached, proclaimed, shared by these Christians. The “seed” of Christianity, ironically, was being scattered even more… even farther than before!
Now we come to our lesson for today and we see that at this time, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2)
This guy just didn’t give up. Damascus was approximately 150 miles from Jerusalem, a good five-day journey, but Saul was more than willing to make the trip to round up more Christians and bring them bound… tied up… back to Jerusalem.
My friends, if you were a friend or even just an acquaintance of Saul at this time, knowing how fanatical and radical he was about purging the world of this Christian influence… seeing him in action as we went after those who belonged to the Way… what odds would you have given for this same Saul ever becoming a Christian himself? You, like me, would have said, “Never! Not in a million years.”
Maybe not in a million years by the hand of man, but what is impossible for us… is possible for God… He who created all things in just six days. My friends, with God in the mix, we dare never say “Never.”
However, as important as it is for us to know and marvel at the fact that Saul was converted… that he did a complete turnaround… an about face… that he became a Christian… that he was reborn… regenerated…
… it is even more important for us to understand just how that conversion and regeneration took place. Why? Because we can then better understand and appreciate our own conversion… what happened to us, in us… how we became disciples of Jesus Christ… and we can better comprehend what is needed as we seek to bring others to the Christian faith.
How was Saul converted? Well, in a most dramatic way. As he journeyed to Damascus… as he continued to carry out his sinful ways, he was literally struck down by an intense light that shown down from heaven.
My friends, that light that struck Saul down emanated from none other than the Lord Jesus… He who is the light of the world.
And having been struck with this divine light, Saul is then also struck with the Word of God from the One who literally is that Word. Christ convicts Saul, declaring to him the Law. Saul inquires who it is who speaks to him and our Lord responds, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” (Acts 9:5)
Yes, our Lord takes it personally… very personally. If you persecute one of His own, one of His precious followers, precious children… you are persecuting Him for He is in them and they in Him. He dwells richly in all believers… in all of us.
Persecute one of the godly, you are persecuting God and face His godly wrath.
You may remember our Lord telling us as His disciples, “He who rejects you rejects Me.” (Luke 10:16 NKJ) It doesn’t get more personal than that.
Saul was persecuting the Church, the body of believers, and Jesus tells him, “You are really persecuting ME.” Here Saul is confronted with the full force of the Law.
Such is a key element of conversion… an essential ingredient in coming to faith… the application of the Law… God’s Law… that shows us our sins… that so brightly illuminates our sinfulness… our selfishness… that we are spiritually and yes, sometimes literally, knocked off our high horses… knocked off our feet… laid low… brought to repentance.
Christ our Lord gave St. Paul a wake-up call that he could not ignore. He stopped Paul right in his sinful tracks as he headed toward Damascus… and I cannot help but wonder how many times later in his life, Paul reflected on this incident and said, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you for bringing me to my knees so that You could then build me up in the Spirit…. with my feet firmly planted on You, the solid Rock on which I now stand.”
Well, that was Paul. How about us and others? How many wake-up calls has God given to you and to me? How many incidents and happenings has our Lord lovingly brought about or allowed to take place, all for the purpose of waking us up… shaking us up… all for the purpose of bringing us to the realization that the path we are taking, the decisions we are making, are the wrong ones?
How many wake up calls have you seen our loving God give to family members and friends, all for the purpose of convicting them of their sinfulness… all for the purpose of bringing them to their knees and hopefully to the point of repentance… all for the purpose of helping them realize there is no hope… there is no peace… there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ?
For it is only through having been laid low… it is only through us having been laid in the grave… that is, having died with Jesus through the waters of Holy Baptism and having been raised to new life in Him… that we can now likewise stand firm on the Rock and that Rock is Jesus.
It is important to note that Paul’s conversion was not complete, nor is any conversion complete by being brought to one’s knees. It cannot be accomplished with just the Law… when just the harsh, hard-hitting reality of the same is applied. For if it ended there… we would all end up in utter despair.
Oh, our Lord, certainly gave Paul three days in total darkness to think about things, but then we have the second part of the conversion equation applied. After the Law… once Paul had been convicted and brought to the full reality of his sins… then the sweet message of the Gospel is applied… and for Paul it came from the lips of one called Ananias.
We read, Ananias “entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:17-20)
Indeed, Paul’s conversion to the Christian faith was nothing but miraculous. And the fact of the matter is… our conversion was no less miraculous… no less spectacular… no less amazing, full or mercy, love and grace. It is all God’s work then… and now. To Him alone the glory.
It may not be His servant Ananias who gives us the Good News of our salvation… that we are absolved of all our sins and given our sight back… the all-important spiritual sight and insight of the Christian faith… but it is other called and ordained servants of the Lord who deliver this wonderful message to us. Christ working mightily through them.
Christ working mightily in all of us since the great event of Easter. And in the light of Easter, Christ giving us the great privilege of going and making disciples of all nations… of all people, including those who we think will never change… those who we think will never believe.
May we never say “Never.” May we never underestimate what God can do in us… through us… as we lovingly, patiently, consistently, truthfully tell it like it is. As we simply, forthrightly share God’s Word… in its entirety… the Law that shows us our sins as well as the Gospel that shows us our risen Lord and Savior. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“Never Say Never” 5/5/19 The Rev. Mark H Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL.