Seeing Things Differently – November 15, 2020
Old Testament, Acts 9:1-19
November 15, 2020
We’re looking today at the story of Paul. Now, I was also hoping we would get a chance to think about the story of Steven, but we were one week short. Next week is Christ the King Sunday. And the following week, believe it or not, is the First Sunday of Advent.
That means we only have this one week left before those Sundays. So, Steven will have to wait for another time. Because I want us to think about Paul. Paul is one of my favorite characters in the whole Bible. And I’m sure he is the favorite of many! Maybe he’s your favorite, too!
I think one of the reasons the story of Paul is so appealing is that it’s a story of metamorphosis. It’s a story of great change. It’s like another story we think of this time of year – “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. And I’ve always wondered, and I wouldn’t be surprised, if Dickens was inspired by the story of Paul when he created his famous character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge went from one who was against the whole idea of Christmas to one who “kept Christmas well!” Paul went from being the greatest enemy of the church, to its greatest champion.
Whenever I think about that, I always smile and think what masterful strategy that was on the part of God, in dealing with this enemy of the church. What’s the best way to deal with your greatest enemy? Make him your friend! Get him on your side! I wonder if that’s happened any other time in the history of the world.
But I think this was more than that. I think God recognized the passion and the drive Saul showed in persecuting the church. He was relentless! He was methodical! He was extremely zealous! If only that same passion and drive and zeal could be used to promote the church! And that’s what happened!
Think about this story. Saul – as he was known then – was on his way to Damascus. He was going there to deal with the believers in that city. He had the official papers. He had the authority he needed to seek out and arrest the people. He also had the soldiers with him, with the weapons and the muscle needed to make the arrests, and bring the people in chains back to Jerusalem for trial!
That’s the scene on that road. And all of that changed in an instant! A searing bright light flashed around him, and knocked him to the ground, and blinded him! And we can only guess what it did to the rest of his entourage! Luke tells us that they “stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one.” They all heard the voice of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Then the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting! But rise and go into the city, and there you will be told what you are to do.” So, Saul was led blinded into the city, and there he waited for three days.
I think there’s a great metaphor in this story in the whole idea of Saul being struck blind. Because, at the end of this story, he was “Seeing things differently,” which is the title of this sermon. And I think he was seeing things differently in the sense that he was understanding things differently. That’s the metaphor here. And the irony in this, is that it wasn’t until he was struck blind, that Saul truly began to see. I think that’s great!
Now, there’s no doubt he thought he saw before this! He thought he understood before! He thought he was doing the right thing in trying to put a stop to the early church. As I’ve said before, the Pharisees were, among other things, the keepers of the faith. It was their job to identify anyone who might corrupt the faith or lead people astray. And it was their job to deal with them Saul believed that’s what was happening with these followers of Jesus. They were leading people astray! And it was a big problem! Because these people were charismatic, and they were growing in numbers very quickly. It was a serious situation, and it had to be dealt with in a serious way!
If you remember, the leaders of this movement had already been judged, legally. Peter and John and the others had already received a “cease and desist order” from the religious council. You might remember that from previous weeks. They were “The Law” in those times. So, Saul was just enforcing that judgement.
However, Saul did not seem to be heeding the advice of Gamaliel, a leader in the council who many believe was his teacher – his rabbi. Do you remember Gamaliel? Do you remember that scene from a couple of weeks ago? Gamaliel was the one who stood and said to the council, “Leave these men alone. If what they are doing is of their own power, it will fail. But if what they are doing is of God, you will not be able to stop them, and you might even find yourself fighting against God.”
Well, that turned out to be absolutely true for Saul! In this story, he found out what it was like to be fighting against God! And it was no contest!! In one moment, in a flash of light, Saul’s battle with God was over! It was a TKO in the first round!
Going back to that metaphor, it has been said, that “there are none so blind as those who refuse to see!” Have you heard that one? I think there had to be some of that going on here. I think as far as these followers of Jesus were concerned, Saul knew there was something different about them. But he refused to acknowledge it. He and the other Pharisees knew these guys had performed legitimate miracles. And it was ironic to the point of incongruity, that they had seen these followers of Jesus doing these great miracles of healing, and concluded that they must be stopped!
To me, it seems as though they were blind because they refused to see. If you remember, Jesus even accused them of blindness. He called them “Blind guides.” They were blinded by their sense of self-importance. He said they were like “Blind leading the blind.” Later, he called them “blind guides” again, saying of their religious practices and understanding, that they “Strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” I love that imagery!
So, I think there was an amazing amount of “refusal to see” on their part. They had this true miracle worker before them, but they chose to think of him as wrong, as leading the people astray, and as being dangerous. And now they thought the same thing of his followers.
And I ask you today, can we ever be so blind in our understanding of things that we refuse to see? Can we ever find ourselves thinking, “This is my understanding of things, don’t bother me with facts!” Have you ever known anyone like that? And, if you’re honest with yourself, have you ever been like that?
You know, it isn’t easy to know the ways of God. And one of my favorite passages in the Bible about that is Isaiah 43:19. There, God says to the people of Israel, “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth, do you not see it?” Think about that. God was doing a new thing! He can do that! Because he’s God!
Sometimes I think we get too firm in our ways of seeing God and thinking about how he works in the world. But we have to remember, that we worship a God who told the people of Israel, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” No matter what we think about the power and sovereignty and omniscience and omnipresence of God, that passage tells us that we worship a God who sometimes does “new things.”
And you know, some people can’t handle that! They would answer, “Doing a new thing? No you’re not, God!” And I hope you see that that’s different than a person saying about God, that “God is doing a new thing.” “I think God is doing a new thing.” That’s from our perspective. And then the answer can be, “No he isn’t.” We can debate that kind of thing. We can debate what we think about God or what we believe about how God acts in the world. That makes the whole theological process very “interesting.” But when God himself says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” We’d better not say, “No you’re not, God!” Do you see the difference? I hope you do.
We worship a God who sometimes does new things. He was doing a new thing and Saul was refusing to see it. But in the end he saw things differently. Think about the things you see differently now than saw them at another part in your life! I can think of several things for myself! Maybe you were really set in your ways about certain things, and maybe now you’re not so sure.
When you’re considering such things, when you “aren’t so sure,” my advice is that you do the best possible thing you can do. Take it to God. Ask him to guide your thoughts. Ask him what you should think about it. And, like Paul, be ready to see.
Eternal God, help us to see the world through your eyes. Help us to seek to know you better, rather than only knowing better what we think about you. Lift the scales from our eyes that may be preventing us to see your kingdom clearly. Help us in all things, to be still and know you are God. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.