7th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 9 – C)
July 3, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
History is replete with men and women who were drastically changed when the Holy Spirit came into their hearts gave them faith in Christ. Saint Augustine was rumored to have enjoyed wine, women, and song. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, was the captain of a slave trading ship. Hesham Shehab, an LCMS pastor, was a hate-filled Muslim in Beirut. Maybe you know someone who was transformed when they became a Christian, maybe you were drastically changed. One of the greatest transformation stories ever is found in Acts 9, but in my mind Saul’s transformation wasn’t the primary miracle. There’s another, even greater miracle, that impacted not just Saul, but each of you.
We’ve encountered Saul a couple of times now, and each time he seems a little worse. First, he approved of Stephen’s execution as he guarded the cloaks of those doing Satan’s work. Last week we heard how he was dragging Christians off to jail as he ravaged the Jerusalem church. Today, we learn that Paul wasn’t content with destroying just the Jerusalem church, he wanted to go find them wherever they were, even travelling to Damascus, 130 miles from Jerusalem.
The Epistle from Acts 9 is pretty lengthy, so I don’t want to rehash the whole thing, but there are some parts that we can’t gloss over. Saul is dead set on destroying the Church and he’s the least likely convert to Christianity. God though had a plan for Saul as He told Ananias, “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.” Saul, the persecutor of Christ, would become persecuted for Christ. It’s a transformation you almost have to see to believe.
What transforms Saul is something that hasn’t happened since; a vision of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Saul, a first class persecutor of Christians, was dramatically chosen by God and called to faith by Jesus Himself. It was this direct call of Jesus Himself that transformed Saul. He didn’t work for it and he certainly wasn’t looking for it. What happened to Saul came completely from outside of him. It had to because Saul was so filled with hate for Jesus that it was impossible for him to decide to love the one whom he was persecuting.
I think when we look at Saul in this way we have to see that the greatest miracle in this entire account is that God chose Saul. Saul was scum. He was approving of the deaths of innocent people. He ignored everything that Jesus had done before His crucifixion and he dismissed the evidence of the empty tomb. Would you choose Saul to become your ally? Or would reserve a special place in hell for him? I know what I would do. But thank God I’m not the one making that decision. We should all thank God that we’re not in charge of deciding who becomes a Christian and who doesn’t. We might disagree with God, we might wonder what He’s thinking, but God has a purpose and a plan, and He implements His plan by showing mercy when it is least expected.
Saul, who would later go by Paul when he focused his ministry on non-Jewish people, was fully aware that who he was had nothing to do with Him. As you read his letters, you can almost sense Paul’s amazement that he was chosen by Jesus to be an worker of Christ. He said to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). In his first letter to the Corinthian church he put it this way, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:8-9). The phrase “untimely born” doesn’t do justice what Paul was really saying about himself. I don’t want to over-explain this in an effort to scandalize you, but the word Paul uses here is the only use of the word “abortion” in the New Testament. He was saying that he was an unfit and repulsive creature, born before it was time. Paul is saying that you don’t have to be the best person in the world; you can be the worst person in the world and God will have loved you and sent His Son to die for you, and this is the greatest miracle for Saul and you.
Groucho Marx once wrote in a resignation letter, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” I think this quote fits the Church because if you were starting a new religion would you pick the dregs of society? Probably not. Would you pick those who hate you? Definitely not. But this is exactly what God did. He didn’t choose the best behaved and most faithful people, He chose sinners, scum and villains. He chose people who wanted nothing to do with Him. What I love about Paul, among other things, is that he was under no illusions that God brought him to faith because he was such a good person. He was fully aware that God chose him purely out of His grace and this is what we find for us as well.
We are sinners. We are. I know that’s not what people want pointed out to them, but it’s true. Left on our own we would never willingly choose to be a disciple of Jesus. We can’t believe in Jesus on our own because on our own we hate Him. And yet, Jesus came for us. He lived that we would live. He died that we would never die. He was brought back to life that we would have eternal life, and He just gives it to us. We are saved by grace through faith.
And what is truly amazing about this grace is that it is truly for everyone. In the great hymn Today Your Mercy Calls Us we sing “Today Your mercy calls us, to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been, however long from mercy our hearts have turned away, Your precious blood can wash us and make us clean today.” The truth of these words could not be more precious. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, you’re forgiven. It doesn’t matter who you’ve hurt, even if you’ve hurt God, He still loves you. Every, single one of your sins is washed away in the blood that Jesus poured out for you on the cross. He didn’t die for the good and holy, He died for the bad and unholy. He died for those who hate Him, who fight against Him. He calls those to faith you are blind to Him, those who wouldn’t see Him if he wouldn’t open their eyes. But God is gracious through Christ Jesus so He opens our eyes.
In the aftermath of his encounter with the risen Savior Paul was blinded by scales. The scales remained on him for three days as he prayed and fasted, as he wondered what God had in store for him. Then Ananias came spoke words of forgiveness and the scales fell from Paul’s eyes. He saw clearly what was going on, that he, an aborted fetus, was chosen by God through grace.
Your sin is often right before your eyes. Sometimes your sin is like Paul’s scales that keep you from seeing anything. But then the Word of forgiveness is spoken to you and you are forgiven. The scales of sin and death are removed as you are baptized and brought to faith. You were blind but now you see. You were dead but now you’re alive. You were filled with hate for God, now you are filled with God’s love for you.
Grace is simply God reaching down into the gutter of SIn and pulling you out of it. Pulling you out of the grime and nastiness of this world and washing you clean. This is what Christ has done for you. And if you think God hates you, if you think He would never love someone who has done the things you’ve done, think again. Better yet, look again. Look at the cross and see Jesus dying for you. Look at the Bible and see God’s promises etched in them for you. Look at the font and see the blood of Jesus that washes away all your sins. See the body and blood of Jesus, broken and shed for you. Don’t look at yourself, look at Christ and know above all else, why Jesus has chosen you – because He is gracious in His forgiveness, and this is what we always remember because God choosing us in the greatest miracle in the world.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen