Summary: We, like Paul, as followers of Christ, Christians, are sent to the Gentiles of our time: secular humanists, moral relativists, materialists, even atheists, to open their eyes, like Saul’s were opened by Ananias, so they may turn from darkness to light.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Apostle Paul’s conversion. As Saul Paulus of Tarsus, he was a rising star in the rabbinical leadership of the time. When Saint Stephen was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr, Paul stood by, supervising the execution and guarding the cloaks of the stone throwers.
After the execution, he traveled toward Damascus to hunt down even more Christians.
But along the way he met Jesus. After his conversion, he became perhaps the most prolific evangelist of the Early Church. In our reading from the Book of Acts today, we see what changed Saul, the persecutor of Christians into Paul the saint and author of nearly half the books in the New Testament (13 of 27).
Dramatic conversions happen even today. In a news report dated XXXXX YY, 200Y, (pick a date two days in the future) the following was discovered:
“Osama bin Laden was discovered in a hospital in Northern Pakistan, suffering from multiple fractures, lacerations, and contusions. He had been whipped, and beaten with clubs and stones and left for dead outside a mosque in Islamabad.
“According to local sources, bin Laden had been invited to the mosque where he began preaching about Jesus being the Savior and Lord of all nations. Bin Laden claimed that a visiting missionary from Voice of the Martyrs had met with him a few weeks before, and had later baptized him as a Christian.
“The Koran and Sha’ria law call for the death of anyone converting from Islam. Despite the obvious danger in publicly disclosing his conversion, bin Laden had been traveling throughout the region the past week, visiting other Christians in underground churches, until yesterday’s incident….”
That news report hasn’t really happened, as the date I gave you was in the future. However, it could happen, and the fact that we thought about whether it was a true story or not, even for a moment, is the point of Paul’s conversion. Anyone can be brought to Jesus; it is not too late for any of us.
But I ask you, do you think most Christians today really believe this? Would we trust bin Laden if we were a group of Christians worshipping in hiding in Pakistan? Someone who has devoted so much of his life to cruelly killing Christians? We would probably react like Ananias did at first — with total shock and surprise — but would we then obey God and accept him as a forgiven brother in Christ?
This is the same kind of dilemma the early Christians found themselves in. Jesus chose Paul as his messenger to the Gentiles. He wanted Paul to share the Gospel that he had been doing his utmost to wipe out. Paul’s conversion changed his behavior as well as his theology.
Paul was the bin Laden of his time, and the disciples were very skeptical about his sudden conversion. After all, he had been responsible for the imprisonment and death of many of their friends and brothers in Christ.
Finally, Barnabas had to convince them to even meet with Paul. Then they were convinced that he was truly called by God. His behavior showed it. He traveled through the known world of that time preaching Christ to anyone who was willing to listen to him, even to people who weren’t willing.
By his words and his actions, Paul preached Christ, leading many, continuing to this day to lead many, to salvation.
Nothing would interfere with Paul’s mission
Not his own desires
Not the floggings, beatings and stonings that he endured,
Not the pain of his injuries.
One of my favorite scenes in the film “Peter and Paul” shows Paul and Barnabas leaving yet another town where they’d been beaten and stoned. As they’re walking through the woods, Barnabas suggests they not go on to Lystra, since they get beaten, whipped, or stoned in every town they go to.
Paul says, “No. We’re going to Lystra,” and keeps walking quickly. Barnabas says “But what’s the use?” And Paul keeps walking, saying, “We’re going to Lystra.”
Barnabas starts walking quicker to catch up to Paul, and says, “Oh, well. Let’s pray to the Lord then that the stones are softer in Lystra.”
Do we follow God’s will as fervently as Paul did? Or do we avoid doing what God wants us to do because of how we think others will act toward us?
Do we do what’s wrong, just so our friends will think we’re cool?
Do we drive around with a fish logo and a “Jesus Loves You” sticker on the back of our car, but flip off other drivers that cut us off?
Do we use foul language, because everyone else in our crowd talks that way?