The 3rd Sunday After Pentecost June 25, 2006
26(1-4, 6), 379, 775(1-3,5) [TLH alt. 285], 508
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
Dear fellow ambassadors for Christ:
What is evangelism? We might think of evangelism in the sense of mission work to those who do not know their Savior. Mission work is certainly part of it, but evangelism in the fullest sense is a much broader effort. Evangelism is—literally and scripturally—proclaiming a message of good news.
If someone is traveling and about to run out of gas, good news is seeing a gas station. In that case, I could proclaim the message of good news by saying: “Look! There’s a truck stop just ahead!”
When it comes to our soul, what is the good news we need to hear? The good news for the souls of sinners is that there is salvation. The good news that every single soul needs to hear is that Jesus came and lived a perfect life and died to take those sins away. There is no better news. There is no greater news. There is no other news that can give life to the souls of sinners. So, in the scriptural sense, evangelism is bringing or proclaiming the message of good news about Jesus to sinners. That is good news we need personally, that our families need, and that everyone needs.
The substance and message of evangelism is the Gospel. The account of the apostle Paul’s conversion shows the Gospel in action. God provides many details in this account, but if we were to summarize the whole story into one statement it would be that Saul was changed from a persecutor to an apostle. That miraculous change was brought about by the Gospel. The Gospel is a Miracle Worker. As we consider this truth we will see I. Paul’s self-reliant hatred against Christ II. Paul’s Gospel-created zeal for Christ and the III. Evangelism Truth: The Gospel is for Everyone.
We are able to see the miracle worked by the Gospel when we first consider what Paul was. Paul was a self-reliant hater of Christ. His name was Saul, but we know him better as Paul—a name he took following his conversion. Saul was a Pharisee of the greatest degree. Like any good Pharisee, Saul relied on his works and his own righteousness. The Pharisees were the ones who by words and actions said, “You have to abide by our laws. You have to be like us.” The Pharisees also relied on the fact that they were blood descendants of Abraham. Saul was one of these Pharisees and a faithful one. He had been instructed by the greatest teachers of the day. He had been taught by the Pharisees to be a Pharisee and a great Pharisee he was!
When Stephen was stoned to death because he confessed Christ in the early days of the New Testament church, Saul was there. He did not throw stones but he was the one, we are told, at whose feet the others laid their coats (Acts 7:58), and Saul was “consenting to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8:1).
Next we hear that Saul was on his way to Damascus having received authority from the chief priests to grab Christians and persecute them and to bring them to trial—a trial that would surely condemn them for believing in Jesus of Nazareth.
Paul later recounted this time of his life and said: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:9-11). Prior to his conversion, Saul did everything he possibly could to persecute the Christians. He compelled them to blaspheme. He was exceedingly enraged against them. He did everything he could to stop the Gospel from being spread.
When Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus He told Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” [v.5] Saul was kicking against Jesus, opposing Him at every opportunity. This is the nature of all self-reliance. Whether self-reliance leads someone to actively persecute Christ or not, self-reliance is opposed to Christ. Self-reliance depends on what we can do to find favor with God. Self-reliance says, “I can do this myself, I have no need of you, Jesus.”
Self-reliance can show itself in many ways. It can be the bold rejection that says: “No thank you, God. I don’t need you. I am doing just fine on my own.” But it can also be the subtle attitude hidden in our hearts that wants to go it alone, that acts as if salvation is something I will accomplish. It takes pride in self and puts focus on self rather than on Christ.
Whether it is the great and bold rejection or the subtle weakness, self-reliance is opposed to Christ. It is proud and arrogant. It rejects Jesus and the grace He came to bring to us.
Saul’s self-reliance showed itself in persecution, but we hear that after his conversion he preached Christ in the synagogues. Saul actually preached the same Jesus he had been persecuting. It was an amazing change! The people who heard Saul preaching were stunned. They asked, “Is this not the one who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem and has come here for that purpose?” [v.21] They couldn’t understand it. How could this Saul, who brought terror to Christians everywhere, all of a sudden be found in the synagogue preaching the very same Christ he had been persecuting? How could he go from doing everything he could to stop the Gospel to doing everything he could to promote the Gospel?
The change was greater than what Saul was preaching and teaching. It was a change of attitude and of heart. Later when the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians he spoke of all the reasons he had for Pharisee-pride, but he also spoke of the new attitude he had toward these things: “…I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless, but what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:4-10).
Saul’s attitude had changed. Before he was self-reliant, trusting everything he could do as a Pharisee. When he wrote to the Philippians he counted all of those things as rubbish so that he could have Christ. What a dramatic change! How could this change occur? God told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” [v.15] All of this change was possible because Saul was called by God to be a child of God and an apostle to the Gentiles.
In the Old Testament reading we heard God call Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Moses was called by God and was, therefore, equipped by God to do the task. Saul, a persecutor and a self-described sinner of sinners (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15), became an apostle, a chosen vessel of God to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and how mightily he did it! In future years, Paul would preach the Gospel and be stoned for it. He would face hardship and trial. He would ultimately lose his life for the name of the Son of God whom he had persecuted. That change had occurred because God called him to be His own.
In Romans 8 Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:28). In eternity God had chosen Saul to be His own. In time God called him to be His child and apostle, and He preserved him in that faith all the way to his death and has now given him the crown of life. What could accomplish that? What brought God’s calling and will to pass in Saul’s life? It was the Gospel—the miracle working Word of God that is the power of God for salvation (cf. Romans 1:16).
Jesus proclaimed the Gospel to Saul on the road. Ananias was sent as an instrument of God to Saul, but not only to restore his physical sight. Ananias was sent to bring the Gospel to Saul and to baptize him. Through this God poured out the Holy Spirit on Saul so that he would have the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word and be enabled to proclaim it with zeal.
The results of the Gospel working in Saul’s heart are amazing. Think of it! It was the miracle of changing a persecutor to an apostle and then think of all that God accomplished through him. What is true for Saul is true for us. God elected us before time. In time, God has called us to be His children. God has called us to serve in the capacities to which He has led us. He has called us to preach the Gospel to every creature.
The lesson learned for evangelism through this account of Saul’s conversion is that the Gospel is a miracle worker. It is the Gospel that indeed has the power to take a sinner whom we might never expect to be a believer and make that sinner into a child of God. Look! He has done it to us, why should we be so amazed when He does it for someone else, even if on the outside that person seems to be a lost cause?
This is an important truth to keep in mind as we go about our work of evangelism. How many of us have never invited that neighbor or friend to church because, “She’s not going to come anyway. Why even bother?” The Gospel is a miracle worker! Never sell it short. Ask! Invite! Bring the Gospel to people whether you think it is going to be worthwhile or not. It is not up to you! It is the power of God’s Word. It is that Word of God that will convert, not your logical reason that determines that such-and-such person will never believe. It is the Word of God that will bring life and salvation to the sinner, not anything that you will come up with. So we all need to get over ourselves, over our fears, over our ideas of what will take place and preach the Gospel because that is the power of God for salvation.
There is also the possibility, as we go about our evangelism, that there might be a little bit of Pharisee left in all of us—that little bit of Pharisee that isn’t so sure we want that person to be part of our congregation, the part that isn’t so sure we really want to take the Gospel to those sorts of people. But remember, the Gospel is a miracle worker. The Gospel is God’s Word of Grace—the good news He wants every sinner to hear. God’s desire for sinners is irrespective of social status, irrespective of past, irrespective of life right now—the Gospel has the power to convert and change! If ever we doubt this to be true we can come back to Acts chapter 9 and hear what the Gospel did for the apostle Paul.
There may be a hesitancy in us to speak. Again, the Gospel is a miracle-worker. The Gospel gives us the strength to speak the good news to others and the Holy Spirit will bless the message.
How should we use this miracle-working Word of God? First, by evangelizing—speaking the message of the Gospel—to our own hearts. We need this reminder because our sinful flesh is such that it might say, “Hmm, I don’t really need to hear God’s Word today. I have so much to do. I don’t have time to take an hour for worship this week.” Though our flesh might make excuses for not hearing and meditating upon God’s Word for our own growth and maturation in the faith, all such excuses can be set aside by remembering that the Gospel is a miracle worker and our hearts need that ongoing miracle.
Seeing the need and sharing the Gospel because it is a miracle worker not only creates faith, it is also vital for sustaining faith. Going to God’s Word to hear the good news is important for our individual hearts. The same is true for parents speaking the message of good news to children and everyone in the family. This continues to be true as the circle broadens and we evangelize each other within a congregation—equipping one another, building up one another, sharing God’s Word with one another so that we are better able to share it with others, and they to more, and on and on….all the way to the ends of the earth.
Whether we are doing evangelism with our own hearts, or sharing the Gospel with others, or praying for missionaries and mission helpers who travel thousands of miles to India, Africa, and across the globe, remember the Gospel is the miracle worker. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (cf. Romans 1:16). Amen.
Editor’s Note: This week’s sermon is the first in a five sermon series concerning evangelism.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.