Seeing for the First Time – July 17, 2016
Psalm 24, Acts 9:1-22
July 17, 2016
Today we have the story of the conversion of Saul. And it’s one of the most well known stories – I think – in Acts, if not the whole Bible. Being “knocked off of ones donkey” has been a common expression over the years. It means having a great change occur in one’s life – maybe an unexpected change. It means having a great realization of something that “hit us over the head.” In perhaps more modern terms, it means having one’s “world rocked.” Did you ever have your “world rocked” by something?
For Saul, all of those things were true! And because of that, this was also one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. As I’ve said before, God has a great flair for the dramatic! And that’s certainly true here!
Saul’s life was completely turned around by this encounter with Jesus! As you know, he had been fighting the church! He had been the church’s worst enemy – and they had a lot of enemies in those days. We meet Saul at the stoning of Stephen. They laid their garments at his feet, and he was consenting to Stephen’s death. And I have to wonder. Did Saul merely see that “campaign against the Church” as his “duty” as a Pharisee? The Pharisees were supposed to be “keepers of the faith,” you know. Or was it more? Was the Church actually something that was abhorrent to Saul? And did he let that personal “emotion” guide his destructive actions?
That happens, doesn’t it? I think we’ve seen that in our world today. There are usually a lot of emotions flying around during an election year. And in this one, maybe more. I don’t know. It’s one thing to believe in a “cause” or an “idea,” but it’s another thing to let anger and emotion drive one’s actions in that cause. We’ve seen a lot of that lately, and I think it’s something we have to be careful about! (Personally, I believe that’s a big thing for our crazy world today! Because after a while, there’s a danger of having those emotions be the main driving force.)
Well, I wonder that about old Saul. There were a lot of other Pharisees. There were a lot of them who weren’t on such a campaign to “stamp out” the Church. At least not with the vehemence of Saul. They weren’t traveling from town to town looking for Christians. No one had the “reputation” of Saul.
As I think about this story, it occurs to me that Saul’s blindness, and later the recovery of his sight, was about more than just the functioning of his eyes. I think it was about his whole life! He was blinded to what God was doing in the world in those days. He couldn’t see past his own opinion about the validity of the Church. He couldn’t see past his own emotion, his own revulsion, of this new thing. He couldn’t even consider that it might be God doing it! The words of his own teacher, Gamaliel, were very prophetic in his case. Gamaliel said, “If what is happening is of God, you won’t be able to stop it, and you might just find yourself fighting against God!” Saul, in his blindness, was fighting against God. Wasn’t he?
Do we ever do that? If we follow Jesus, if we learn about him enough, we find that he went against a lot of the religious and social norms. Jesus’ love was “radical.” His acceptance of the “unacceptable” people was very uncomfortable for some people! That was one of the ways that Jesus “rocked his world!” Many people in his day had it all figured out who they should hate. And when he told them not to, they pretty much said, “Ok, then we hate you, too!”
I’ve heard this said, and I have to agree with it. (Even though it’s uncomfortable!) When we find ourselves having a passion and a love for people that others think we shouldn’t – even those we may disagree with – when we find ourselves having a passion for them, then , we might have a better feel for what it means for us to follow Jesus. I think that’s true, because that’s what Jesus did! He loved the “unlovable!”
Saul couldn’t do that. He couldn’t see past his own view – his own opinion – of the validity of the Church. He thought it was a fraud. He thought it needed to be “stamped out.” And he acted with “zeal” – with passion – and it was very much a destructive “zeal!” And I hope you see that there is a “negative” side of being “zealous!” Anger can make that bad, can’t it? Just because we are “passionate” about something does not necessarily mean that those passions are noble. We need to examine our passions!
So, Saul became the biggest enemy of the early Church. And you have to love the strategy on God’s part! This is the beauty of this story! How do you fight your biggest enemy? You make him your biggest champion! What a change this was for Saul!!!
Well, if you think that change was hard for Saul, just imagine what it was like for the other believers! One of the greatest examples of faith in this story was that of Ananias! He questioned God when he was told to go to Saul. “You gotta be kidding, God! Do you know what this man has been doing?” In fact, he and everyone else in this story, had a hard time believing this miracle took place, and that Saul was now on their side! Their trust was difficult, because if you think about it, what better way to “root out” those who believed, than to pretend to be one of them, to pretend you had changed?
But Saul had changed! Something like “scales” fell from his eyes. And I think that too is about his whole life. What were the “scales” that were keeping him from seeing? One of the biggest was probably the acceptance of the Gentiles into this new faith. That bothered a lot of people! What were the other
scales over his eyes? Maybe one was Jesus’ saying “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”? I’m sure that was very upsetting to the Jewish nationalists of the time! And when he said such things, I think we often think that he “wowed” them, and that they accepted what he said. But more likely, there were those who left those encounters with Jesus feeling humiliated and angry. And it would not surprise me of one of those was named Saul of Tarsus.
So again, something like “scales” fell from his eyes – and not just things that temporarily blocked his vision, but things in his life that kept him from seeing God. And I have to think that Jesus’ words to the Pharisees were “much on his mind” those three days. Jesus had accused them of being “blind guides!” When he healed the blind man in John chapter 9, Jesus said this. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” “Some of the Pharisees near him heard this – maybe even Saul! And they said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” (John9:39-41)
All of that must have been running through Saul’s mind. Personally, I believe he was there that day and I believe he heard those words of Jesus. And I believe one of the “scales” – a big one – that fell from his eyes that day was his personal aversion to Jesus himself! That changed, too, on that road to Damascus!
So I ask you today, and this is how we’ll close, “What are the “scales” that are before your eyes?” I believe we all have them. I know I do. I hope you will think, in the days to come, what those “scales” might be. What are the things in your life that keep you from seeing what God wants us to see?
Saul had to give up his point of view. He had to let go his anger. He had to let go his “aversion,” his hatred, for people he saw as wrong to include in the faith. He had to let go of his pride. He had to let all of those things “fall away” like “scales.” And his change, his transformation, was striking. And
from that point on, he was free to follow Jesus.
May we know those things that stand in our way. May they “fall away.” And may we be more free to follow.
Eternal God, in Jesus Christ, you showed us your love so clearly. Help us to follow him, even in those times that doing so may make us uncomfortable. Help us to see with your eyes. Help the “scales” that that keep us from seeing things through your eyes, to fall away. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.