But 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. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And 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 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.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at 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 instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and 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.”
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today we will reflect on one of these game-changing, or life-changing events that are recorded in the Scripture, that is, on what happened with Saul from Tarsus, whom we know as the apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus. The lesson that we will learn today is a very important one for us. For Christians living in the 21st century Western culture, be it in Barossa or elsewhere.
We have spoken about it a lot, and we have even formally agreed that we want to be a missional community. Meaning, we want to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who don’t know Him yet, we want to bring them into this wonderful divine loving fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I believe, I hope that what we have stated formally truly reflects what we believe in our hearts about the purpose of the existence of the Church. But it is not going easy. Father forgive us if we are too impatient! And we certainly need to give thanks that we already begin to see the first-fruits of our outreach initiatives. But it is not easy… But why is it so hard? Today’s reading can help us to find the answer and hopefully to give some good tips for our way forward.
Now, about Saul, obviously he was a very passionate man, both before he became a Christian and after. This may be one of the reasons why Jesus had chosen him to be His missionary to gentiles. Let me ask you this, – was Saul/Paul a bad person before he became a Christian?
Luke tells that he was “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.”
He was persecuting the followers of Jesus, our brothers and sisters. As Paul himself later remembers: “I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (Act 26:10-11)
Was Paul a bad person? What do you think? And then suddenly he became good? Remember how Paul, reflecting on his former life wrote to Philippians: “As to the law, [I was] a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Phi 3:5-6)
It sounds like the very opposite. It sounds like Paul wasn’t just good before his conversion, he even characterized himself as blameless according to the law. It is only after he became a Christian when he says that he is “the foremost of sinners”, and that there is nothing good in him. Was he good before and became bad after becoming a Christian?
Perhaps you remember that recently we spoke about our “glasses”. Not physical glasses, but virtual “glasses” that we all have. That we all, and every person in this world sees the reality through their own “glasses”. We don’t look at our “glasses” we just see everything through them, most of times not even realizing that that is how our perception works.
I would propose that the best way to understand what happened with Paul, and from this we will draw further lessons as well, is to describe this event on the road to Damascus as rather dramatic a change of Paul’s virtual “glasses”.
Paul was a faithful Jew before that. He knew and cherished the Scripture. He was passionate about serving his God. He was so committed that he actually thought that he had become blameless following the laws given by his God. His God should have been pleased with him. This is how Saul saw his life before that event. This is how his glasses made him see himself, his God and the world.
Now think about this. You would know many among your relatives or friends who are just like Paul was. They have their “glasses” and they see themselves as good or even great people. They do great things. They may be even blameless according to their own standards. And God, if there is one, should be happy about them, and if there is a heaven, they would be definitely going there.
[I hope none of us thinks this way!] They can’t understand, what is this fuss about Jesus, and the Church and repentance and forgiveness? They don’t need it. If those strange Christians need it, then let them have it, but, please, don’t bother us with your religious stuff!
This is how they see this world. Most of them don’t even realize that they wear certain “glasses”. They are as good people as Paul was before this life-changing, or should we say “glasses”-changing event.
What happened with Paul, happened very quickly. “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”
And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” […] Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing.”
At once Paul had lost both – his eye-sight and his virtual “glasses”. It is difficult to imagine how hard the next three days were for Paul. He didn’t see, didn’t eat and didn’t drink. The ground had just collapsed under him. His old “glasses”, in which he felt so sure about everything, were shattered.
And gradually during the next few days they were replaced with new ones. With the old ones Paul knew his God as the Lawgiver. God gives His laws and we are to keep them. And Paul knew himself as an obedient servant, as almost a perfect servant of his God. And he was ready to do anything to punish those followers of that Jesus who had offended his God claiming to be the Son of God.
Suddenly it was revealed to Paul, that his “glasses” had distorted how he saw the answers to the two of the most important questions – about God and about himself, or we could say, about human beings.
The heavenly being, whose presence had blinded Paul, had revealed His name to Him. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” That was indeed true God. The true God had indeed come as one of us, as Jesus from Nazareth, had died and risen from the dead. And now He reigned supremely.
He wasn’t that God-Lawgiver, who only expected outwardly obedience to some rules. This God was God of grace, who “[had] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he [had] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phi 2:6-8) It was true. Jesus had given His life for Paul. When Paul was still His enemy. When he was still persecuting and putting to death brothers and sisters of Jesus… How could Paul have felt discovering this?
And what about himself? He had thought that he was blameless. Now appears that he had been persecuting the true God, Jesus the Christ, that he had been putting to death the beloved family of Jesus. What did that make him?!
The light that had shone of the road to Damascus had shone in Paul’s heart and in this light, he had discovered what he would not have otherwise believed. That there was nothing good in him. And the more shocking was the fact that the only person who truly knew his heart, Jesus the Christ… instead of punishing and destroying Paul, had sacrificed Himself, so that only Paul could live.
New “glasses”. This is what it takes for someone to become a Christian. You see, we can alternate our service orders or times, so that they don’t intervene with our sacred lunch plans, or change the music, or serve better coffee, or try to do something that people who are not Christians could quite enjoy. But none of that will matter.
What people need are new “glasses”. They need new “glasses” thought which they could see who they truly are, that there is nothing good in them. Then they need to see who the true God is. That He is more loving, more gracious, more forgiving, more holy, more powerful, more interested in each one of us, than we could imagine, and that He is what we all long for in the depth of our hearts.
And this is where we as Christians come in. First, we need to understand what our “glasses”, the “glasses” of God’s wisdom and truth are like. The more we understand how beautiful God’s truth is, how wonderful the true God is, the more passionate we will become in our desire to share it with others.
Then we need to be clear, that everyone else have their “glasses”. They may be better or worse, but unless they can see the true God as He is, as Jesus Christ, as loving and gracious God, and unless they can see who they are, foolish and arrogant sinners, and unless they can see and appreciate what this Jesus has done for them and what He now offers to them, their “glasses” are worthless and need to be changed.
For Paul it took just a few days. For everyone else it will take much, much longer. It will take our time, our thoughts, our learning, our prayers, our efforts, but – for us as Jesus’ followers, there is nothing more joyful that to see a repentant sinner being welcomed into God’s family.
And the new “glasses” that we are sent to offer are incredible. Through them you see God, who values us so much that He identifies with us. When Jesus appeared to Paul, remember what He asked: “Why do you persecute … me?!”
“Me?!” Paul wasn’t persecuting Jesus, but Christians. But for our God you are so important, that He identifies with you, with His Church. What someone does to the Christ’s Church and His followers, they do to God.
Through these glasses we see God who welcomes sinners. What a joy for sinners, and what a shock for self-righteous it is. Paul was breathing death against Jesus’ disciples, but instead of destroying him, Jesus came to Paul and invited Him into His family. Whatever you have done, or have failed to do, this reminds you, – Jesus welcomes sinners.
Through these glasses we see God, who sends His people to welcome every repentant sinner. As Paul was hanging between heaven and earth, Jesus sent Ananias to welcome Paul in God’s family. Remember, how Ananias greeted Paul. With the most unlikely of greetings for a persecutor like Saul.
“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus … sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is how our God receives even the foremost of sinners. Because He knows that there are no good people in this world.
There are only two kinds of sinner. Those who have humbly accepted these new “glasses” offered by Jesus, and now rejoice in them, and those who haven’t yet accepted this gracious offer, and on whom Jesus is still patiently waiting.
And whenever someone is brought into God’s family, it is always only by God’s grace, only as the work of the Holy Spirit, and only because someone has helped them to obtain these new “glasses”.
This is our lesson for today. And I pray that we all not only would be grateful for our God’s given “glasses”, but would try to understand them better, so that when the opportunity presents, we can share them with those who still see the true God and themselves through distorted lenses.
So that one day we may speak to them these words: “Brother, sister, the Lord Jesus … sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Amen.