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Conversion of St. Paul Sermon — Matthew 19:27-30

January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said to them: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

The Lord Jesus makes a great promise for both the Twelve Apostles and for everyone who follows Him. Underlying the promise is the fact that following Jesus involves earthly loss. There is a cost of discipleship that every follower of Jesus pays, some more than others. St. Peter said to Jesus: “We have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?” Jesus promises a restoration of what was lost, not every individual item but the value of them and more, in the life of the world to come.

This promise is extended to someone who was not part of the Twelve, the original company of apostles. That individual is St. Paul, the man whose conversion the Church commemorates on this day. Paul was not an original hearer of these words spoken by Jesus, but he does fit the description that Jesus gave of those who follow Him. The Lord speaks of leaving house, family, and lands—the things of earthly value—in order to be His disciple. And as you heard the story of Paul’s conversion, you can identify such loss in his life, a loss that would lead to eternal gain according to Christ’s promise.

The Church knows many things about Paul, as it possesses accounts of his life from his contemporaries, as well as a number of his own writings. You heard from one of those accounts—the Acts of the Apostles—and from one of Paul’s letters—the Epistle to the Galatians. In both of these narratives, Paul’s conversion was described. And there were few details omitted, not even some of the embarrassing ones.

The anger and wrath that Paul had for those who followed Christ was seen in the conversion accounts: “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Paul had arrest warrants for Christians, so they could be tried for apostasy and heresy, for their belief that Jesus was the Christ.

But this is not libel from the pen of the author, it is confirmed by Paul himself: “You heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the tradition of my fathers.” From Paul’s own hands, it is written that he wanted to destroy Christianity and was on a good career track with great potential because of his undying devotion to Judaism.

So what happens to Paul? All of this is turned upside down. The Lord God literally knocks him off his horse and keeps him from achieving his goal. But his is not just an obstructive move, it is the process by which the Lord God achieves a much greater purpose, a good purpose, in Paul’s life. A divinely-wrought change takes place in Paul to bring him to everlasting life and for him to become an implement that the Lord God uses: “He is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” By being selected by the Lord God for His task, Paul then becomes part of the people to whom Jesus promises great reward.

After the incident on the Damascus Road, the Lord God directs one of His believers, Ananias, to aid Paul in completing his conversion. And in the instructions given to Ananias, the Lord God reveals a part of Paul’s future. Not only will he go and carry Christ’s gospel to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, Paul will experience loss: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.” Paul experiences loss, just as Peter and the Twelve did. But this means that he fits the description that Jesus gave: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” That is Paul’s new fate.

Before his conversion, Paul would have none of that. Instead, he was the one causing Christ’s people to lose property, family, and earthly life. But this would be reversed, so that Paul would no longer be an enemy of Christ with earthly gain. Rather, he would be Christ’s apostle with a heavenly profit. And why is this so? Hear Paul’s own words: “He who had set me apart before I was born called me by His grace and was pleased to reveal His Son to me.” For that reason, Paul could make the great confession of the Christian faith, as you hear Peter make it last week: “Immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”

The Conversion of St. Paul is a great event, because it was how the Lord God set into motion the large-scale evangelization of the Gentiles. Individuals outside of the bloodlines of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were now being made part of God’s People, including many of your ancestors—those on the north side of the Mediterranean and beyond the Rhine and Danube and even to the very ends of the earth. It is part of your story of faith, your family tree in the Church.

But more can be said than it is part of your background. The Conversion of St. Paul is the story of your faith. What happened to him also happened to you. The place, time, and setting were different, but the mechanics were the same. You were an enemy of Christ, a hater of the Son of God and all He stood for. Some of you were active persecutors of those who held to the faith. You were blind and without sight of what was truly good, right, and salutary. Instead, you had a love of what ran contrary to mercy and pity and compassion, for all you knew was greed and hatred and oppression.

But what has transpired to make you different, to change your belief and actions, to turn you to devotion to Christ so that you are even willing to suffer things for His name’s sake? What happened? The One who set you apart before you were born called you by His grace and was pleased to reveal His Son to you through the work of the Holy Spirit. That which occurred in Paul’s life took place in yours. That is how you can see your own story of faith in the events of Paul’s conversion.

You were set apart even before you were born. The Lord God knew you would exist, even choosing you to be a recipient of His Son’s merits at that time. God the Father ensured that you would be in a place and time where you could hear the Gospel of His Son that the Holy Spirit would work through the Word of God being proclaimed in verbal form and distributed with earthly elements. You were placed where some of Christ’s disciples would declare to you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that this same Christ gave His life to atone for your sins and that He also wants you to follow Him. This is how it pleased Him to reveal His Son to you for your salvation.

For some of you, this may have been a dramatic occurrence, like the Damascus Road experience of Paul. For others, this took place near the very beginning of your earthly lives. But in both settings, the depth of your sin and your impending condemnation was great and the work of the Holy Spirit to remove that from you was dynamic. Settings differ, but the mechanics remain the same: you have experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in your lives, so that you can make the great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, my Lord and Redeemer.

All of you have heard the message that you have broken the Law of God, but have also been redeemed by Christ’s suffering and death. You have heard that you have new life because Christ has been raised from the dead. Through unworthy servants who have also been chosen by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit has worked this in you. And so the blindness is removed from your eyes; you can see the truth of God and the goodness of His will; you have a new view of divine righteousness that is yours, given to you by Christ Himself, as you have been called to faith by the Holy Spirit. That is the conversion that Paul and you and every Christian undergoes.

So like Paul, you can also proclaim the truth about Christ. You can follow Jesus and the Way wherever you may end up leading you earthly lives. You can suffer loss, even of your earthly lives, for His name’s sake. And this is so because you know what has been made yours by receiving the merits of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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