The Second Sunday after Easter April 18, 2010
736, 342, 380, 777, (TLH alt: 188, 374)
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.
In Christ Jesus, who calls us to follow Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, dear fellow Christians:
What were you doing last Tuesday? How about Thursday? Chances are you don’t recall a great deal about either day because they were likely very similar to many other days. Our lives slip into a familiar groove like the tires of a car in the well worn ruts of a gravel road, and there is nothing wrong with that. We can thank the Lord for a comfortable routine of work, school, and activities. We all have our favorite ways of relaxing, whether it is watching TV, reading, gardening, or going for a walk.
But then there are those few exceptional moments which are memorable because they are truly life-changing. When a toddler takes his first teetering steps it opens up a whole new way of getting around for him. The first day of school leads to a whole new world of experiences. Do you remember asking, “Will you marry me?” or accepting that proposal? How could you forget? Life is never the same afterwards. Watching grown children leave home, or leaving your home of decades to move to a retirement center, all of these are life-changing moments which stand out among the ordinary ones.
However, there is one experience which is greater than all of these others combined. The man Saul, whom we know better as the apostle Paul, never forgot it. It was truly life-changing. Before, he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” [v.1] and afterwards, “He preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” [v.20] It was all due to the life-changing light of the Lord.
Saul was a gifted, up-and-coming young man. He had been educated at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the leading scholars of the day. He was a member of the group called the Pharisees who were renowned for their knowledge of Scripture and their strict obedience to the law of God. Saul stood out as exceptional even among the Pharisees because of his dedication to stamping out Christianity. He saw Jesus as an imposter and a false Messiah and regarded the Lord’s followers as people perpetuating dangerous heresy. Later, looking back, he said, “I…was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth…I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them…I tried to force them to blaspheme…I even went to foreign cities to persecute them” (Acts 26:9ff NIV). Saul had power, position, prestige, and a mission. He was well on his way to gaining a seat on the Jewish high council called the Sanhedrin. Nothing was going to stand in his way, or so he thought.
But then came that life-changing moment. Just as he was nearing Damascus about noon, suddenly a blinding light knocked him to the ground. The risen Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” [v.4] This changed everything. The One whom Saul thought was dead and gone was speaking to him in heavenly glory. The awful realization swept over him that he was guilty of fighting against God Himself. He had been “kicking against the goads.” [cf. v.5] A goad is a pointed stick used to prod cattle. If an animal resists going in the right direction and kicks against the goad, it will only end up hurting itself. That was Saul’s situation. He had been using all his strength and effort to go in the wrong direction.
In a moment the Lord stopped him dead in his tracks. All of his strength and his carefully made plans were no match for Jesus’ power. Instead of arriving in Damascus as the one in control, Saul had to be led by the hand. Instead of giving orders, he said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” [v.6] He spent three humbling days in blindness, reflecting on his own sinfulness, but also making the connection between the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and their fulfillment in Jesus. It was the greatest life-changing moment of his life. No longer was everything about Saul and what he could do. He never saw himself or Jesus in the same way again. He confessed that he was the least of the apostles and the chief of sinners. He gladly praised Jesus as Lord and Savior.
But Saul is not alone. Everyone is born an enemy of God and is headed in the wrong direction. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7 NIV). What is even scarier is that by nature people don’t even realize it. They think they are doing fine on their own without God, or that they are even pleasing God and earning salvation by working hard at being decent and loving toward their families and others. They are like the bus driver who tragically drove off a bridge under construction thinking that he was turning onto a highway entrance ramp.
The Lord’s Law in Scripture is a blinding, brilliant light which shines into every nook and cranny of our hearts and lives. It humbles us by showing that we have nothing of which to boast. We haven’t persecuted Christians as Paul did, but haven’t we looked down on others as being lesser Christians for not being as regular in church attendance or as active in church work? Do we always say, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Do we give the hours of the day to the Lord, or do we just grudgingly offer Him a few minutes here and there? Do we thank the Lord for our income and use it as His stewards, or do we live as though it is ours to use as we choose? We so easily get caught up with our own power and pride.
It is an act of love when the Lord steps in and confronts us with His holiness. He may use a bad report card, financial loss, or a plan falling apart to cause us to stop and consider what we are doing and why. He shines into our lives and shows us the truth about ourselves and where we are heading when we oppose Him. There is no way we can justify ourselves before God. He is the holy God, and we are mortal sinners. To stand in the blinding light of the Lord’s glory is a life-changing moment. It forever changes how you see yourself and how you view the Lord.
The evidence was stacked against Saul. It was an open and shut case. The Lord could have judged, condemned, and destroyed him on the spot and left his body on the road for the crows to pick apart. But not only is Jesus the Lord of glory, He is also the God of grace. He wanted to save Saul, not condemn him. He reached out to him in a very personal way through a believer named Ananias. At the Lord’s direction Ananias came to this former enemy and addressed him as: “Brother Saul.” In His mercy Jesus had paid for all of Saul’s sins on the cross and by faith he was now pronounced righteous and holy in God’s eyes. He had been brought into God’s family, the Church. The Lord restored his physical sight, and He strengthened the eyes of Saul’s faith through the sacrament of Baptism. It was a great life-changing moment!
Saul’s whole outlook was completely changed. What used to be vitally important to him now meant nothing. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NIV). He went from a persecutor to a preacher of Christ. In a later sermon he said, “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children by raising up Jesus…Therefore, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:32ff NIV).
The Lord’s saving light has changed our lives more than anything else ever could. Think of how different things would be without it. What if you did not know or believe in Jesus’ life and death in your behalf? Sure, you could do what you wanted and set your own agenda for this life, but there would be no real peace, no real truth to count on, no solid help in trouble, and no victory over death. Life would be an empty, hollow shell.
So thank Jesus for the Ananiases He has sent to you: the parents who brought you to Jesus in Baptism, the Sunday school teachers who stay up late Saturday night so they may share the good news of God’s love in the morning, the Christian friends who care enough to warn you about temptation and sin in your life.
The Lord has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. He wants to keep shining that light into your life. He says, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). When the sun comes out from behind the clouds it changes the mood of the whole day. It warms the air and makes flower blossoms open. It lifts our spirits and makes us want to get outside and be active. Let God’s Word be your daily dose of spiritual sunshine. Let it warm your heart with the Lord’s love. Let it lift your spirits with the promise that, though you are the chief of sinners, your guilt is gone, paid for in full by Jesus. Let it inspire you to go forward in the new life of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Lord told Ananias that Saul was a chosen vessel. A vessel can be a container, but it can also refer to a tool or utensil. Picture a master craftsman with a whole wall of tools from which to choose as he works on a project. He pulls each tool off the wall as it is needed for a specific purpose. The Lord’s saving project is the building of His kingdom. He used Saul as a special tool to preach the Word to the Gentile world. The Lord has chosen each of us for a specific work in the kingdom too. He doesn’t leave any believer just hanging on the wall of the workshop with nothing to do. He has put you in just the right place for His purpose. He has given you just the right gifts to reflect Jesus’ light to the people around you.
Look at those people. Are there certain ones whom you have written off as lost causes because of their hostile attitude toward you or Christ? Look at Saul. The light of the Lord changed him, and it can do the same in the people you know. Does your life seem so ordinary that you wonder if the Lord has work for you? Look at Ananias. We never hear of him again in Scripture. From the little we know we assume he was an ordinary member of the Damascus congregation. Yet he played a vital role in God’s plan. So we, too, are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).
Take some time today to think about how you came to be where you are in life. What life-changing moments have there been? What moments are yet to come? Then look and see how the light of Jesus has shone into every part of your life giving meaning and purpose to it. Thank Him for calling you to examine yourself, recognize your sin, and humbly confess it to Him. Praise Him for taking your guilt to the cross and giving you new life through His resurrection. Pray that He may use you and all of us as His instruments in shining out with His life-changing light into a very dark world. Amen.
Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see. [WS 2000: 777:1]
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.