Here we are in the 4th month of the year and they say it is spring, but our temperatures seem to say it is still winter, and we already have gone through the birth of Christ, the start of a new year, the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Whew! What a beginning to this new year.
So, now what? What does all this mean for us today? How does the story of Easter, or any story effect our lives at any time? We’ve heard many stories of our faith that are in scripture and we’ve learned some about how some of our hymns came to be. But are they just stories that intrigue us? Or do they stir our hearts and souls? Does every Sunday morning worship leave us with a ho-hum attitude of that again, or does the message leave us with doubts, or does it challenge? Do we leave this place with hope, and even a desire to change our lives?
One day a man named Saul, a very religious man, a man who had some training as a rabbi, decided that those who were followers of Christ should be sought out, arrested, and punished. It was he, who following the out pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, watched as a follower of Christ blamed the religious leaders for putting Jesus to death and was stoned to death. Though it didn’t seem to matter at that point, that one act must have bothered him for a long time. Maybe he even had nightmares about it. Deep down in his spirit, Saul must have felt something wrong in his spirit, but he fought it. His anger came out, rather than a change of heart. Luke records that anger in Acts 9:1-19. It begins, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing murderous treats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way (that’s what the early movement was referred to), whether men or woman, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
That was Saul’s task. He, like some in the world today, wanted to weed out those Christians, those followers of Christ. You know Christians aren’t welcome everywhere in this world, like China or some other countries. You can go there, but you better not speak about your faith to much or you might be arrested.
While I was in seminary one of our neighbors who graduated from the college was heading to China as a teacher. It was his mission to bring the gospel to the people. The thing was, he couldn’t preach. But he found a way to be witness of the faith by using the Bible as one of his text books to teach English to the kids. A seminary student, who was a Muslim, who also was was once an atheist, became a Christian. When he went home to tell him parents, they beat him so bad he almost died right there outside their home. It left him with a bad leg, walked with a bad limp the rest of his life. The last words he heard from his father was that they had no son any longer, he was dead. Some time I’ll tell you the rest of his story.
Many years ago, Christianity was not welcome in Russia. It still isn’t, but I believe it’s not so bad as it was when Stalin was in charge. Our friends Pete and Carol Hughes go every year to a church that started there through finances they helped raise, and they have seen the impact the message of Christ has on those who attend that church. The message of Jesus lives on. It is working on the biggest problem there in Russia…alcoholism.
Saul was trying to stop the spreading of the resurrection of Jesus. What he saw was the joy of those who were believers. Such joy they spread the good news to everyone they met, not only with their words but with their deeds. With his warrants in hand, he headed out to Damascus to find those who were believers in Jesus. But on the way something happened. Something so dramatic that Luke recorded it so that the world would see how God forgives every sinner.
Luke says, “As Saul and his friends, neared Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you ae persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.’
One moment Saul is talking with his friends, perhaps going over the list he had in his hand of where every synagogue might be. The next thing he knows he is flat on his back on the ground.
It’s an amazing story. It’s one that the Christian world has embraced for many years. It’s the story that reminds us how God works. It reminds us how God comes searching for lost sinners.
Luke continues Saul’s story. “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and did not drink anything.”
Now do you think that is a coincidence? I don’t. I think it was just like what happened to Jesus. For three days Jesus was in the darkness of the tomb, and then came into the light of the resurrection. Saul spends 3 days in the world of the blind alone, not knowing what has happened. Not knowing what is going on. He had to do a lot of soul searching, didn’t he? And those three days of blindness were enough to help him search his inner self, we might say.
It reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son who went off to sow his wild oats but found the world wasn’t as welcoming and easy as he thought it was going to be. He wound up broke, no friends, and hungry. His spiritual blindness, one might say, was following the attractions of the world. He had friends as long as he had money. He was blinded by their friendship at that time. But now, on that pig pile, he, like Saul, had a time to reflect on the world around him, and his situation. Scripture says the “Prodigal came to his senses.” We might say, “The light came on.” We might say, “The light of God shined down upon him” and he, like Saul, was touched by God. For the Prodigal rose and headed home to find his father waiting for his return. When he got there, the father welcomed home the “one who was blind and could now see, the one who was lost now is found.”
So, it was with Saul. For in Damascus was a man named Ananias whom God spoke to and said for him to go and find Saul, touch him and bring him sight, share the good news of the gospel, and don’t be afraid of his reputation.
A fearful Ananias, who argued with God, much like Moses argued with God when he was sent back to Egypt, finally listened to God’s voice. “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Luke records that Ananias did what God wanted him to do, touched Saul’s eyes, the blindness left, and when he could see, Ananias shared with him the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The end of the story is found in verse 18. “The Lord has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up, was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
Praise the Lord for the things that the Lord can do! Once a persecutor of the gospel of Jesus Christ, now he would be a proclaimer of that same Jesus Christ. He would have a name change to Paul and write of his many encounters with churches he began and lives that were transformed through his ministry.
Let’s face it. God is good, all the time, and all the time God is good. We realize that when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden and went into hiding knowing they sinned, that was not the end of the story. God went looking for them. In fact, we know he called out their names. “Adam, Eve, where are you?” Now, we need to remember that God knows everything. He knew a couple of things about that scene. One, he knew they had picked and bit into the forbidden fruit. He knew they were hiding. In fact, he knew where they were hiding. He was just waiting for them to do what he expects all sinners to do…that is to acknowledge our sinfulness.
Paul’s letters have touched churches, people, and transformed life after life. His testimony lives on and on. It was when Martin Luther was translating Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that he found his faith. When he got to that verse, “It is by faith, and faith alone that you have been saved” the light of the gospel message came into his soul. That’s about when he was getting ready to pin his great letter on the doors of the church confronting the believes of the church at that time.
We often turn to Paul’s writings to be inspired and understand that though tough times come, you got to hang in there. Though things don’t always go smooth in your lives, that’s okay for God is still with us. Or we remember that Paul reminds us when things happen rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice.
Let me lead you to advise Paul gave to one of his preachers to preach. It’s found in Titus 3. Paul says, “At one time we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. BUT when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on the us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
So, it is with the message of Easter and the days that God has given us on this earth. Thank the Lord for the message of hope for today, tomorrow and forever. May we never get tired of hearing it. May it change our lives.
Here is a reminder. The light can come on anywhere, at any time. God draws us to his light. Neither Saul, nor the Ethiopian Eunuch that Philip was sent to, was met or was introduced to Jesus in Jerusalem or in the Temple precincts. Both happened as they were traveling. I had a friend that it happened to in his car. I know it happened to Chuck Colson as he was leaving the driveway of the President of Raytheon and he pulled over with tears in his eyes to seek God’s forgiveness. God meets, calls, and transforms people everywhere. The Light of the Gospel message can happen anytime, anywhere to anybody. If he can speak to a factory worker in MA he can speak to a truck driver, or a teacher, or a laborer, or a child, or a married couple, a housewife struggling with life, or a teenager who is in rebellion, or one who has been bullied, or a person who has sat in the pews for years and has not made a decision. Eyes can be opened anytime, when one hears the voice of God calling. Jesus revealed himself to Saul while he was on a mission to murder those who believed that Jesus was God’s Messiah.
And this is still the call of Jesus today. God seeks us out. God sends messengers to teach us lessons in healing and forgiveness. God gives us work to do, whether that work is teaching, or feeding, or encouraging, or praying, or preaching. God finds us where we are, and fills us with the Holy Spirit, and sets us on our way—God’s way—again.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today. Amen!