Text: Acts 9:1-22 (Kim readings below)
4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Last weekend we talked about fear and doubt and the persecuted church. The apostles were hidden in a locked room for fear of the Jews and were locked up in a public prison. Fear and doubt ruled the day then as today.
Now, this week we hear about Saul, one of the chief architects and muscle, who brought this persecution and fear to the people – men, women and probably children too – who were bound and brought by force to Jerusalem. Doesn’t sound like the best choice of a person to bring peace to a hurting world in the midst of persecution, does it?
Through God’s work we can proclaim Christ!
3 Now as [Saul] went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
As God would have it, the one he chooses to represent him – in bringing the peace of the Gospel to the world - was not who we would have thought.
When the NCAA championship game was on the line last Monday night tied 74-74 and with time running out, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a three pointer at the buzzer for the win.
The ball was given to one of the Villanova players for the opportunity to win the game.
What God does in our lesson today, as the clock is winding down, is not to give the ball to his best player or even a bench player but to pass the ball to the opposing team for the win. To give the ball to his opponent … what a surprise that would have been for Villanova, huh!
Well Ananias thought so too.
For in a vision, 11 … the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and what might Saul been praying … Lord, forgive me a poor miserable sinner …
12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
Saul was known to Ananias all right and for good reason.
“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
Persecution was real from the church – new as it was –and Saul was known to be about as bad as you could be in opposition to Christ and his church.
But when you think of it … what better witness to the power of God?
God used his word to reach Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And to reach Ananias as well: “Ananias, rise and go.” One was an enemy, the other a disciple, and both were called by God’s word to hear, to listen, and to follow that same word.
But through God’s work, we can too can proclaim Christ!
You too hear God’s word. Here on the weekends in our Divine Service, in devotions, maybe on the radio – probably not on the sports station. You hear, and at times you listen, and at times you obey, but … at other times you block it out.
So the question might be, how do you know when to listen, and when to obey, and what voice is speaking to you?
I told this story in Bible study a few weeks ago as we are in acts chapter 9 as the Lord would have it.
When I was taking a class on the Bible at Oakland Community College about 15 years ago the professor asked a question. Now the class was a night class so it was full of young and old alike. Some who were just starting their college careers and others who were going back to school like me or taking classes for personal enrichment? One older Jewish man who was sitting next to me turns to me and says, “When we get to the New Testament, you’re going to have to help me!”
The lesson for the day was Genesis 22 and the story was about Abraham.
God’s voice calls to Abraham:
“Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
The professor asks the class, “If you, heard the voice of God telling you to kill your only son or daughter, would you?” Well, one young lady, who was a Christian, was all too quick with her answer and said almost with a smile on her face a definite yes. To this the teacher asked, “How would you know … that it’s God speaking to you and why would he want you to kill your son?”
She was a bit silent to his question. How can we discern the voice of God from the voice of the devil, who masquerades as an angle of light (2 Cor. 7:14) and as the thief, [only] comes only to steal and kill and destroy? John 10:10, as witnessed in the scriptures from the apostles Paul and John.
The Lord chose Ananias, and said to him that Saul is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
The Lord also chose Saul, soon to be the Apostle Paul, as well as other men who served the Lord and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit were moved to write the words of scripture that we have and know to be God’s word. We can access that word of God daily as we read and by that same Holy Spirit discern God’s word and will.
The willing and the unwilling the Lord chooses and uses.
The fifth commandment Thou shall not kill reveals God’s will given through Moses in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 5 and what we should do and it is a different desire than what the voice of God called out of the heavens to Abraham in Genesis 22. [In various times and in various way … Heb. 1]
Following the giving of the 10 commandments God through Moses writes – and I paraphrase a bit here:
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 … teach them diligently to your children, talk [about] them when you sit in your house, and when you’re [out and about], and when you lie down [to sleep], and when you rise [in the morning].
8 … bind them as a sign on your hand – [like a string tied around your finger so that you never forget them] – [so that God’s word] shall be [always before] your eyes. Deut 6:6-8
Then you will know his voice, and his will, and his desires.
So Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul and we’re told something like scales fell from his eyes. God’s word through the sending of Ananias brings clarity and vision for Saul.
“Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
God’s word for you and me also shows, at times, his Law and our sinfulness but also his Son, Jesus our savior, and what he has done for us. By this we can know his will and hear his voice and obey what he calls us to do, though we fall ever short daily.
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Rom. 10:17
The Apostle Paul would write those words from prison in his epistle to the Romans, maybe reflecting his own conversion. But the word of God is always effectual. Whether it is God’s word proclaimed, the audible voice of God that Saul heard, or God’s word connected to the water of Holy Baptism or in, with and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.
It is God who is active and it is we who receive.
19 … Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the son of God. 21 all those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on his name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests? 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. Acts 9:19b-22
We too who have been born God’s enemies have been called to believe and by God’s Holy Spirit working faith in us we believe. It is no less a miraculous conversion for you or me than Saul. We who were dead in trespass and sin have been made alive in Christ! Praise his holy name!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!