Summary: This sermon looks at four elements to a counter culture mission
A Countercultural Mission
In Dayton, Ohio, attorney Derrick Farmer gave a motivational talk to at-risk teens. Derrick is 48 years old, and has been an attorney since 1999. Now, what was unusual about this event was that it was picketed by 30 Dayton police officers. Why? When Derrick was 16 years old, he committed the brutal murder of a civil-rights activist and a Dayton police officer as the trigger man in a jewelry store hold-up. But something happened in Derrick's life. He gave his life to Christ. In the world’s culture, you understand why it would seem absurd that Derrick would be lecturing to teenagers about right living. But we come from an upside-down, countercultural perspective. God uses people just like Derrick. The Bible lists a variety of people who murdered someone and yet God was able to redeem that person and use them for His work of salvation. Moses was one. King David was another.
In our Scripture today, we have just such an individual. Saul was the Osama bin Laden of his day, who thought he was obeying God by seeking the destruction of all Christ followers. Saul hunted down, persecuted and murdered those who professed a faith in Jesus Christ. On the road to Damascus, Saul encounters Jesus in a vision who tells him to stop persecuting His followers. As a result, Saul finds himself temporarily blinded. So Jesus directs his disciple Ananias to go to Saul, because he’s going to use him to change the world. When you talk about all the people to choose, Saul would have been the last one we would choose and yet he became the most influential Christian who's ever lived. He wrote most of the New Testament, laid the foundation of Christian theology and changed the mission of the church from just the Jews to include the Gentiles, who inhabited most of the known world. Yet he was a murderer. Ananias began to argue with Jesus, “Lord, this is not rational; it doesn't make sense. Saul 's the enemy, a murderer.” And yet Saul was Jesus’ chosen instrument to proclaim His name to the Gentiles.
We find there are four elements to a counter culture mission. First, the work of God is restorative. Today, when something gets old and worn, we throw it away. God is not a destructive God. He is a redemptive God. Only God can take a murderer and make him a significant servant in the building of His kingdom. That’s what a transforming encounter with the restorative God in Jesus Christ does. The word “save” means to restore to the original purpose or intent for which it was created. We talk so much in the church about being saved: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." It means that you are put back into the image of who God created you to be in Jesus. God is not a God of condemnation; God is the God who has sent his Son to save the world through him. This is the work of God in our lives. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton in the 1700s, but what most people don't know is that before he wrote this song, before he was restored, he was a slave trader. This is the kind of God we have. On his tomb today in England, it says: "Here lies John Newton, clerk. A Libertine and former slave trader who was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ redeemed, regenerated, forgiven and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy." God is a God of restoration. Condemnation comes from religion not from the cross.
Second this redemptive, restorative movement is relational. When Paul had this mysterious encounter with Jesus Christ on the road, where did he send him? To a community of faith, the house of a man by the name of Judas. Most of Jesus' ministry happened in houses, not in temples or public forums. Life transformation happens one on one or in small groups. So Jesus sends Ananias to Saul and it’s through him that the scales came off Saul's eyes and he was able to see what he formerly wasn't able to see, that his actions weren’t doing the will of God but instead seeking to destroy the new work of God. The presence of Jesus is revealed to us through our relationships with other people.
Rational arguments do not change people, changed lives do. Changed lives change the lives of others, and thereby change the world. Annanias’ life had been changed by Jesus, Paul’s life would be changed by Annanias’ and Paul ended up changing the world. In Keith Miller’s book, “A Habitation of Dragons”, he tells the story of a well-to-do attorney who encounters him after speaking to a group of men in an unnamed town. The man was in town not to hear Miller but to see his mistress while pretending to be on a business trip. However, as he gets out of his car a few blocks from the church where Miller is to speak, three men from his church see him and approach him. He almost fainted as they asked, ‘What are you doing here, Joe?’ ‘I uh…I’m just passing through’ he lied, scared to death they were going to see the guilt written all over me.’ ‘Hey great. We’re just going down to hear a Christian businessmen speak. You’ve gotta come with us.’ And I was afraid to say no, for fear I’d somehow give myself away.’