Summary: Our prejudices, our doubts, our fears prevent us from entering the lives of, sharing Christ with, and extending grace to those who are far from God.
As we read through this familiar passage for many of us, listen or follow along in your Bibles or pew Bibles, I want you to begin thinking about this question I will ask again at the end: is there anyone you know that you have thought, ‘this person is too far gone,’ or have written them off. Perhaps you have even subconsciously thought, even God can’t save this person or turn them around. Maybe there’s even a person or two here this morning who have thought I am too far, I’ve done too much. I hope this story is a reminder to you of God’s amazing grace.
Read Acts 9:1-19
This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible because it reminds me of how amazing God’s grace is. God took the person we would least likely expect, someone who spoke “murderous threats” against the Christians, tried to throw them in prison, and in one glorious moment Jesus appeared before Saul and changed his life forever. Being face to face with the risen Jesus, Saul went from persecutor of the church, to proclaimer of Jesus Christ.
No One is Beyond God’s Grace and Ability to Save
What Saul’s story reminds us of is that no person is beyond God’s grace and ability to save, to make whole, to heal, to restore, to make new. No one. There is no sin too big and no number of sins which are too many that God’s grace cannot forgive. Listen to Saul’s own words, written as Paul, in a letter to his spiritual son, fellow missionary, Timothy (1 Tim. 1:13-16):
1 Tim. 1:13 Even though I was once a blasphemer (someone who speaks against or scoffs at, or insults God or Christ) and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
What Paul (aka Saul) is saying here is if Christ Jesus could save him, a persecutor of Christians, filled with violent, hateful, murderous thoughts, a guy we might say today has ‘serious issues’. If Christ had “unlimited patience” with Paul and his grace was enough to forgive him and give him the gift of eternal life, to transform him from hatred and violence to one filled with faith and love instead, then God’s grace and forgiveness can be poured out abundantly on anyone who is willing to, as Paul says, who is willing to “believe on him [Christ Jesus] and receive eternal life.” Paul saw himself as a primary example of God’s amazing grace in action. No one is beyond God’s grace and ability to save and make new.
Grace became one of Paul’s favorite words he used in the letters he wrote to churches. Somewhere in the first few sentences of every letter of Paul’s we have in the NT, he wrote “grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” And he would frequently close his letters by writing, “may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,” or some similar variation. Paul loved the word grace, because it defines the Christian life, we are who we are because of God’s grace, nothing more, nothing less. We came into the world by God’s grace. God loves and pursues us, not because we deserve it, but because he loves us. Grace again. He provides a way to salvation, forgiveness of sin and into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, a gift of grace again. We didn’t earn it by our good behavior. God continues to works in our life after we are saved to make us more like himself, loving, joy filled, patient, etc. Again by grace, nothing we did to earn it, we simply receive the gift.
If anyone has thought they are too far beyond God’s grace, there is some sin in your life even God can’t forgive, let Saul’s life remind you that there is nothing you have done which is beyond God’s forgiveness. That is the whole reason Jesus went to the cross, to cover all our sins. I still remember the guy I ministered to in our mission trip to Mississippi, who had served in Desert Storm and had accidentally shot an Iraqi mother and child. As I talked to him about God’s forgiveness, he could not believe or receive the grace of God. He thought what he had done was too great to be forgiven by God. He thought it was his burden to carry around. People carry unnecessary burdens that the Lord wants them to unload. That is the Good News.