Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Third Sunday of Easter - Sunday, April 5, 2019

Text: Acts 9:1-19a

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If you had to give up one of your five senses, which one would you choose to lose?  That’s one of those questions that makes for an interesting conversation, and maybe you have already considered the relative value of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. Perhaps we look for an example from people we know. I would imagine that all of us know someone who has lost some of his or her hearing; that seems to be pretty common and tends to happen slowly over time. I have known a few people that have either temporarily or permanently lost at least some ability to smell or taste; and yes, they miss it, especially when it comes to their favorite foods, but they seem to get by. I don’t know that any of us can even begin to imagine what life would be like with absolutely no sense of touch, but as life-changing as it might be to never feel anything again, there is still one more that people would rather hang onto. 

There’s a survey for everything online, including this question. If you had to give up one of your senses, which would it be? 

  • So far, 57% say smell
  • 20% say taste
  • 12% say touch (I don’t know if they really thought that through)
  • 5% say hearing
  • And only 4% of people would choose to give up their sight.

Saul didn’t have a choice, though, did he?  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 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. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

What just happened? That had to be the question that Saul thought about for three days straight as he sat in darkness. And I suppose, there are two ways he could look at it. The most obvious description of what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus is this: Saul met Jesus, and then he went blind—he lost his sight. But there is another way to look at what happened that day, and it sounds like the opposite of the first, but it’s equally true.  Here’s what I am getting at: Saul met Jesus, and then he was able to see better than he ever had before, because he saw the light of Easter, and it changed a whole lot of lives forever, not just his.

Let’s back up a little. When we first meet Saul in the book of Acts, he is watching with approval while a Christian is being stoned to death. Soon afterward, we read this: “Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”  Why would he do that? Well, Saul thought he was protecting the Jewish way of life. He came to think that his whole purpose in life was to protect the world from Jesus and those who believed in him. These ideas that Jesus was the Son of God, and especially the lie Jesus had risen from the dead, needed to be snuffed out. Saul was convinced he was doing God’s work by going after Christians. 

That’s why he was on the road to Damascus in the first place. Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  Saul thought that he was headed in the right direction, but in reality, he was spiritually blind. 

Until, that is, he saw the light of Easter. And now those words had to be echoing through his mind…”I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…” “I wasn’t persecuting Jesus; Jesus is dead. I was doing what needed to be done. I was protecting our history, our tradition, our very way of life. I was doing God’s work. I was trying to keep the lies from spreading… …  ...but if Jesus just talked to me, that means he isn’t dead…If he isn’t dead, that means he rose from the grave, just like all these people are claiming…that’s why they are so brave, so unafraid…and if those claims about Jesus are true, then…(and here is always the hardest part…)…I’ve been wrong about everything.” 

Seeing the light of Easter meant that Saul finally understood his own blindness.  What happened that day?  Saul’s conversion happened that day. What does it mean to be converted? The word conversion literally means to be turned around, to be taken off of one path and pointed in a new direction. And by God’s grace, that’s exactly what happened to Saul; he went from persecuting Christians to becoming not only a Christian, but the greatest Christian missionary the world has ever seen—we know him as the apostle Paul. 

God sent a man named Ananias, who had heard of Saul and was a bit nervous about meeting a man with such a reputation. But God had different ideas for this former enemy of his. But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 

After those three days of blindness, Jesus gave Saul his sight back. And now he had a whole new outlook for the rest of his life. What about you? Did you see the light of Easter this year? Maybe it didn’t seem as powerful as Saul’s example today. Maybe it was a joyful day, but the joy has faded since then. Or maybe this year the light of Easter was clouded by some difficult circumstances in your life that surrounded the celebration. 

You and I are more like Saul than we are different. Maybe we haven’t actively persecuted Christians like he did, but we were all born into this world as enemies of God. Maybe we didn’t have a conversion experience that rivals the story of Saul’s, but Jesus did send his Holy Spirit to take away blindness of our unbelief. Maybe Jesus didn’t explicitly tell anyone about the purpose he has for us the way he did for Saul, but our Savior has given each of us a purpose for life that wouldn’t be the same without him.

Like Saul, you can have the confidence that all your sins are forgiven, because Jesus suffered and died to pay for your redemption. Like Saul, you were hand-picked to be a child of God.  And like Saul, you are called and equipped to shine the light of Easter that you have seen so powerfully, the light that takes away spiritual blindness and makes you a missionary with the single saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

So why don’t we shine that light more often? One reason is that we live in a world of darkness, a world full of people who aren’t looking for light because they don’t even know they are blind. But we can’t just blame everyone else.  Every single one of us has a heart that is resistant to our mission. We know how easy it is to get wrapped up in a schedule or routine, whether we plan out our weeks or someone else does it for us. We know how easy it is to get distracted by the challenges of life, and how easy it is to want to chase the good things the world offers. Quite often we fail to see the opportunities God gives to live in response to his grace. 

So take this reminder from Saul’s story. Who is more equipped than you to share God’s forgiveness—you who have been forgiven every sin because Jesus died for you? Who is more equipped than you to share eternal hope—you who would be eternally hopeless without Jesus? Who is more equipped than you to build up other Christians—you who have been brought here and encouraged so often? Who is more equipped than you to reach out to the lost—you who have been rescued from death, because Jesus lives? 

You have seen the light of Easter once again this year, but you know people who haven’t.  God has removed your blindness by the power of his Spirit.  May that same Spirit work in us to strengthen us for our mission, today and always.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.