Sermon – April 10
Faith Lutheran Church – Markesan, WI
Pastor Mike Schierenbeck – 920.398.2778
April 10, 2016 Easter 3
Text: Acts 9:1-20
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 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. 3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 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.” 6 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.” 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 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. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 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.” 11 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. 12 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.” 13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 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. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 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.” 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. 19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. 20 Immediately he preached the Christ[c] in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
The Facts of Conversion
In the name of Jesus who lives so that we may also, dear fellow redeemed:
Years ago John Adams made popular a saying, “Facts are stubborn things.” He employed that saying as a lawyer in a court case defending British soldiers in the Boston massacre. Many people wished them to be guilty, but the evidence did not show it. There are many things that we wish were not true, but facts cannot be altered. This is seen in school. There may be different opinions as to what a poem means, but you cannot change the fact that 2 + 2= 4.
There are different ideas about conversion, that is to say how a person is changed from an unbeliever to a believer. Many groups believe that the change comes from within a person, that an individual has the power to become a Christian. But what are the facts? That is what we wish to explore today as we study the conversion of Saul who we better know as the apostle Paul. We will discover that Jesus is the One who chooses, converts, and empowers Christians. May His Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive His message today.
1. Jesus chooses the person, not the other way around
There is no question that Saul had no intention of becoming a Christian. He was the leader of those who were opposed to Christ. In verse 1 we’re told of how he was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. After the apostles were thrown in prison and Stephen was murdered, Saul wanted to take it up a notch. He wanted to expand the sphere of persecution and where he could legally operate. Many believers had fled the city and so he pursued them to Damascus. He was after anybody who was of the “Way” (an interesting description taken from John 14 where Jesus calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life).
Saul was definitely not of the Way. His life mission was to exterminate Christians and get rid of Christianity. In doing so he was fighting Jesus Himself. In verse 4 as Jesus appeared to Saul He said, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? He continued in verse 5, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads. He was fighting against his Savior who wanted him in the fold. The fact that Jesus chose Saul torpedoes the idea that a person makes the choice for Jesus.
It is also a fact that Jesus chose Saul before he was born. In face, He chose Saul even before the world began. In verse 15 Jesus said, He is a chosen vessel of mine. Jesus had a plan and even knew the very day that this event was going to occur. He knew what it would take to convert Saul and unlike His other post-resurrection appearances where He was proving that He was alive and instructing the apostles, He used this occasion to make Saul a citizen of His Kingdom.
Every believer has been chosen in the same way, and while your conversion was not as dramatic as Saul’s (you may not even remember the day it happened), the fact that Jesus sought you out and chose you is still true. Romans 8:29-30 outlines the work of Jesus from eternity to eternity as He predestines, call, justifies, and glorifies. . This decision of God is not based on merit. It is based on His undeserved love for lost sinners. He figured out the exact time, the exact circumstances, and the exact age you were when it happened. Jesus does not appear to people anymore as He did with Saul, but His Word is still effective and you may be His instrument using His Word to bring about in time for others what He planned in eternity.
2. Jesus is the power behind conversion
It is also a fact that the power for conversion comes from outside of us. The Lord is clear that on our own we are His enemies, and indeed spiritually dead. What we read about shows this clearly and is one of the more striking events in the Bible. Here we find Jesus taking a killer, His greatest enemy at that point in history and turning him into arguably His greatest ally. It’s hard to overestimate the work that Paul did for the Lord in getting the Gospel of forgiveness out and defending the truth of God’s Word when congregations that he founded were assaulted by lies. This was a complete change. He turned 180 degrees. It was quite amazing when you consider it.
Do you see that same miracle in the baptism of a child? Do you see that same miracle when an adult comes to understand that Jesus is his Savior? You should. The same change occurs. It may not seem as dramatic and the before and after consequences may not be as evident, but make no mistake that the same change has occurred. Jesus has revived a person who was spiritually dead, and turned an enemy into God’s child, and a heart of hate to a heart of love.
If we stray the fact that Jesus is the power behind conversion, then we find that all sorts of other false teachings would have to be true. The facts are indisputable in this account, and indeed in many other passages, but when human reason enters and grace is tossed aside, then new thoughts come forward to match it.
I’m not sure in what order these things occur but these are all wrapped together. If it’s true that a person makes a decision to become a Christian, then he has to be old enough to understand what he’s doing. What age is that? It’s unclear, but what happens to a person who dies before that age of reasoning. The conclusion is that individual would go to heaven because it would seem wrong if he didn’t. So the next step is to say that an individual is not responsible for sin up until a certain age. If that is the case, then what need is there for the baptism of infants. After all, if there is no responsibility for sin, then there is no need of the forgiveness of sins. Logically then grace is also out the window. If a person chooses to become a Christian on his own, what happens to the power and love of God? You can see how straying from one fact of the Bible leads you down a road that takes you away from God and His love.
3. Jesus has work for the converted
The other fact about conversion is that it is not the end. It is the beginning. We are not taken immediately to heaven because the Lord has work for us to do on earth. The life of a Christian makes for a lifetime of work, but it is a labor of love.
Both Saul and Ananias, as converted Christians, found work, though it was not what they necessarily wanted. Ananias was told to go baptize Saul. Ananias protested and I don’t blame him. It would have been like being asked to go the headquarters of ISIS and baptize their leader. It didn’t seem like a good idea either because of the danger or doubting the power of God to change Saul, or maybe both. Jesus had work for Saul too. He said in verse 15, He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel for My name’s sake. And Paul did those very things. He stood up to kings for the Lord. He took the saving news of Jesus out into the world. And he suffered. He really suffered in beatings, imprisonments and even being stoned and left for dead.
These men did what they were reluctant or maybe even unwilling to do at first because of the love of Jesus. That love changes a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. The love of Jesus turns from sinners into saints. His love changes our eternal destination from hell to heaven through the forgiveness of sins. . Through that love we are able to say no to things that we ordinarily would like to do, and instinctively want to do, and through that love we can say yes to things that we could never imagine wanting to do.
As one who has been converted by Jesus, you’ll find that you have work too. This work can be difficult, but it is what He has laid out for you. There are times that Jesus will call on you to take a stand for Him, and at times confront those in danger of losing their faith. He may be calling you to raise children to know about Him, or share your faith with another adult. You can pray for others. You can unite with your fellow Christians to carry out the Great Commission and educate the Lambs of God. These are all reasons why we have been changed. There is work for us to do. Take Paul’s example in verse 20: Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God.
Consider then these facts about conversion. They can’t be changed, and that’s a good thing. We would most certainly fail if it were up to us, but God is in control. Amen.