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

January 26, 2015

January 25, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“But 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 at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” That’s the way the Scriptures speak about Saul. It’s not the first description of him. That was given in a previous statement in the record of Deacon Stephen’s martyrdom: “And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul…. And Saul approved of his execution.”

Saul’s own biographical statement in his letter to the Galatians confirms his way of life: “For you have 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 traditions of my fathers.” Saul was a persecutor of those who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, who claimed Him as their Lord and the way to everlasting life. His desire was to quench and quash all expressions of that. He did so in Jerusalem and was willing to take the effort to the road, going up to Damascus to arrest all who placed their faith in Jesus.

But as you heard, the best efforts of Saul were thwarted. It wasn’t done as the Christians in Damascus armed themselves and ambushed Saul. Nor was it because the believers there hid and managed to keep themselves unseen and unheard. Instead, a divine act took place: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” This put an end to Saul’s effort of rounding up and arresting the followers of Jesus in Damascus.

Instead of Saul fulfilling his desire, a new will was given to him. Saul goes from the zealousness for the traditions of his fathers which drove his persecuting Christians to becoming one who actually believed and testified about Jesus’ identity. That was disclosed in the Lord’s statement to 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.” And after that, Saul goes into the synagogues, no longer looking to put down the confession of Jesus’ being the Messiah, but proclaiming it: “And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ … But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.”

Saul’s conversion from persecutor to preacher, from opponent to apostle, is celebrated by the Church on this day. The Church joins with the voices of its past members in speaking about him: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” Glory is given to God because of this great change that took place in him, as expressed in the Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world.” This glory is given because the Church has benefitted from this change. As many of you know, Paul’s letters that speak about Jesus’ identity and work and handed down His teaching are how you have learned to make the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

But this day that celebrates Saul’s conversion also brings to mind how you have been changed. Every single one of you who confess Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is Christ, that Jesus is the Son of God, have been led to that confession. This was not something that you innately knew. It is not a faith that you have always held. No, each of you has experienced your own conversion. Like Saul, a divine act has taken place in and for you.

The divine act that took place for Saul wasn’t just the light from heaven shining down and a voice being heard. It also included the giving of the Holy Spirit: “And laying his hands on him [Ananias] said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.” This has happened for you. The light of God has shone on you, enlightening you to know the LORD and His righteous will. The voice of God has been heard by you, so that you know who Jesus is and what He has done for you. The baptism of God has been given to you, so that the Holy Spirit fills you and you have the ability to see what is true and good. This is your conversion. This is how you have become one who loves Jesus and confesses Him as the Christ and your Lord.

But that conversion also leads you away from a past devotion or a past allegiance. That was seen with Saul, as he mentioned the devotion that he had to Judaism, calling it: “the traditions of my fathers.” Being called away from something can be jarring and it can be costly. There is a loss of comfortability.  There is a loss of what was loved. There can also be a loss of people that we were connected to.

Such loss is what Peter referred to in his question to Jesus. His question came after Jesus told a rich young man how to inherit eternal life: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” As he saw that rich young man go away sorrowful, Peter asks Jesus: “See, we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?” That question would have rattled around Saul’s mind. And as you experience the loss that following Jesus can bring, it will rattle around yours.

So how does Jesus answer? “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.” Jesus speaks the promise that comes with following Him. It is made in comparison to what is lost in that enterprise. Even the closest of items that are set aside will be replaced.

For the Twelve and for Saul, what Jesus mentioned was truly the case. There was the loss even of family ties and possessions. Such is the case with martyrs. And as you look around the world at the Church, you can see others losing the same. Through the power of satellite broadcasting, that has been made very evident with your fellow believers in Africa and Asia. Perhaps even some of you or people close to you have felt similar losses. This is what was meant when the Lord spoke concerning Saul: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.”

But the call which Jesus issues establishes the promise of more in return. It isn’t a promise of prosperity. It isn’t a promise of popularity. But it is the promise that the enterprise of following Jesus, of giving up things to be a disciple of Jesus, of renouncing things in order to have Jesus as Lord, will bring great benefit to you. It is a promise of what awaits, “when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne.” The promise is to receive eternal life. The promise is to rule when there will be nothing that opposes Jesus and His way.

You have been called to share in this. What will you have? You will have a place with Jesus. You will hold fast to the tradition of God the Father. You will have a life that does not end. You will be rewarded with a status that goes beyond anything that this world can offer. All this is part of the change in life, the conversion, that you have experienced. It is the result of the confession of faith that has been made to be yours as you have received the divine action: that Jesus is the Christ who has redeemed you. It has been revealed for you to see and know, just as it was to Saul. And so you will have what this Crucified and Risen Jesus promised.

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

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