SCRIPTURES – Acts 9:1-22; Rev. 5:1-14; John 21:1-14; Psalm 145
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.
Considering how amazing it is that Jesus rose from the dead, and also considering the joy and eventual boldness that filled the hearts of His followers, one might think that the years after His resurrection and ascension into heaven were for Christ’s Church a time of great joy and growth and few problems. If you think this, you are very mistaken.
Oh, it’s certainly true that the Christian faith spread rapidly. Just 50 days after Jesus rose Peter preached a sermon in Jerusalem that resulted in 5,000 people turning in faith to Jesus. Thomas, whose doubting of Christ’s resurrection we heard about last week, traveled as far as India with the Gospel, and many there came to believe in Christ. Within 40 years the faith had spread throughout the Roman Empire, and in 313 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine, who had come to faith in Christ, declared Christianity to be an accepted religion within the Empire. Soon it became the primary faith of people from N. Africa to the Middle East to western Asia and throughout Europe. Today there are Christian Churches throughout the world, and more people claim to be Christians – nearly 1/3 of the world – than claim to be followers of any other faith. The Apostle John’s vision in Revelation of the triumphant Church is being fulfilled! Jesus, the mighty Lion of the tribe of Judah, is conquering!
Yes, Jesus has brought great change and great good into this world. This does not mean, however, that it is easy to be a Christian. It never has been. This is because Jesus comes to us in weakness and humility, as the Lamb who has been slain. As He was persecuted, so we, His followers, will be persecuted. We see this already in the lives of the apostles and the first Christians. Christ’s followers were arrested, imprisoned, and even killed. Saul, who we heard about today in the reading from Acts 9, was an early and fierce opponent.
And yet, Saul changed. He not only became a believer in Jesus; he became the greatest missionary of the Christian faith in the 1st century. He traveled throughout the Roman Empire, preaching Christ crucified and starting numerous churches. His letters to those churches make up half of the New Testament of the Bible. How did this happen? What can we learn from Saul’s conversion?
Learn to trust God, to expect good from Him, and then to thank Him. “Saul is a chosen instrument of mine,” Jesus tells His disciple Ananias. He had plans for Saul, and so knocked him off of his horse and blinded him and turned him from his evil ways.
Pay close attention to Saul’s conversion. Since Jesus’ light shone on Saul from heaven and he heard Jesus speak to him, it is tempting to want to experience such things ourselves. “If Jesus would appear to me or speak to me like that, I would be a stronger Christian!” Well, you need to realize a couple of things:
Jesus never promises to do this. The way He appeared to Saul was unusual. It was not His normal way of working.
Realize also that Jesus did not leave Saul in peace! He told him that He was the Lord, and then that Saul had been attacking Him by attacking His followers. Then, he spoke no word of forgiveness but only told Saul that he would eventually find out what he had to do. Finally, he was blinded. None of this was good news! Saul was left with great fear and uncertainty.
His fear and uncertainty were only ended, and his sight restored, when Ananias came to him. "Brother Saul,” he called him. “The Lord Jesus has sent me so that you may regain your sight and receive the Holy Spirit.” Saul then received Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit in his baptism.
It may sound different, but really, what happened to Saul is much the same as what happened today to little Aiden. Ananias went to Saul as his pastor as I went to Aiden as his pastor. Both received the light of Christ and His Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Baptism that Jesus ordained.
The same thing has happened to you, has it not? God’s mercy to you in Christ is given to you in the ministry of His Gospel and Sacraments! Receiving them, you receive Jesus as your Savior and Friend. Dreams and visions would not give you anything more or greater. He is truly with you and has bound Himself to you, as He was with Peter and John and Ananias and Saul. You are no less blessed than they were blessed.
Do not expect to always see evidences of this, however. Instead, expect sufferings. Jesus is not loved by this world, you see. His Gospel is misunderstood and is often feared and rejected. So, then, will be those who embrace it and who love Jesus.
Expect sorrows and sufferings in this life also because that is the way your Lord works. Jesus is the Lamb who was slain. Even as He is exalted and praised in heaven He is seen this way. He could rule with an iron fist, for He has conquered sin and death and triumphed over every enemy. He has power over all things, even the fish of the seas! He is worthy to receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5) Right now, however, He hides His rule in this world under weakness and lowliness. He allows you to suffer, and even at times be persecuted and rejected for His name, that you might be one with those who are lowly and hurting and suffering and be able to share with them the eternal hope you have in Christ.
What is that hope? We heard it this morning. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus said to Saul. He has bound Himself so closely to His followers that to touch them is to touch Him. You who love Jesus are one with Him! You are His body, as close to Him as His own flesh. Since He is risen from the dead and shares in the glory of His Father, you will also rise to live in and enjoy God’s glory in heaven!
This is what lies before us in Christ. Hold to His words, then, and do not doubt Him. Rejoice that He has bound Himself to you in your baptism. Humbly and gladly receive Him in His body and blood, which was shed for you. You will then be made certain of your salvation, for Jesus has died and by His blood has ransomed us for God and made us “a kingdom and priests to our God, and [we] shall reign on the earth!” (Rev. 5)
In the blessed name of Jesus! Amen.