I Am Jesus
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I Am Jesus
By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GLORY TO THE FATHER
AND TO THE SON
AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING,
AND WILL BE FOREVER, AMEN.
Now as Saul was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
If you have a Bible that puts the words of Jesus in red, you will see that the Gospels are just full of the sayings of Jesus but here in Acts we also have the Lord appearing and speaking to Saul who has been persecuting Christians and in doing so, persecuting Christ Himself and to Ananias, the Jewish believer in Jesus who is told to receive Saul. Saul is confronted by the risen Lord in a flash of light and is blinded by Jesus’ glory. And he is changed. He who had assented to the death of Stephen, who conspired with the high priests to arrest Christians and who even went on the orders of those authority to bind the believers of Damascus and drag them back to Jerusalem was changed. He met the risen Lord and he believed. Saul the persecutor and denier became Paul the apostle to Jews and Gentiles, the chosen messenger of the Lord Jesus to bring his name before the nations, and kings, and sons of Israel.
Today we celebrate one of the great turning points of history. It has been said that without the conversion of St. Paul, Christianity would have remained a small Jewish sect. Many attribute the rise of Christianity to St. Paul and in our text, we see that his appointed task was to bring Christ to all nations and peoples. Our text is a narrative, it tells the story of Saul’s conversion straightforwardly. Elsewhere, as in our second lesson from Galatians we have Paul’s own interpretation of the events. He also speaks of his conversion in two places in Acts and refers to it throughout his epistles to let his readers know that he like the twelve was also chosen by Jesus, that he saw Jesus and heard Jesus and was commissioned to be an apostle by Jesus.
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In our pastor’s text study this week we were talking about how some church traditions emphasize conversion. One of the pastors grew up in that tradition before becoming a Lutheran and said that as he would tell his conversion story over and over he tried to make himself seem worse before the conversion, so the change would appear more dramatic.
Even among some Lutherans there is this sense that one should have a dramatic long-changing experience. At Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church near where I grew up, no one could become a member unless they had a born-again experience that they could name. Some of us here have had such experiences. I shared one with my confirmation class this week of a young woman I knew who had drifted away from her religion and then as a college student happened to attend church with her aunt. Joyce heard the pastor read from Isaiah that the Messiah would not quench the dimly burning wick or break the bent reed and she came to faith in the Lord.
C.S. Lewis tells of his conversion that he was riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle on the way to the London Zoo with his brother. When he left home he was an unbeliever and somehow en route, he was, in his words, “Surprised by joy,” and came to believe.
Hans Nielsen Hauge, the Norwegian reformer was plowing his field singing an old German hymn, “Jesus, I long for thy blessed communion,” and his heart was so uplifted that he regretted that before this he hadn’t served the loving and all-gracious God. This experience sent him preaching and teaching and ending up in prison for his faith.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was already an Anglican priest when he went to the Moravian society in Aldersgate. He heard someone reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. He listened to a description of how God works in the human heart through faith in Christ and Wesley recalled,
“I felt my heart strangely warmed.
I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for my salvation,
and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine,
and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Luther himself had his tower experience where he came to understand God’s grace, St Augustine heard a child’s sing-song voice and took the Scripture, read and believed… and greatest of all Saul saw and heard the risen Christ.
Our narrative of the conversion of Paul is of more than historical interest. First, it shows us that Jesus does not give up on anyone. Nothing we have ever been or done can exclude us from the call of the Lord to be a disciple. Think of the worst sort of criminal behavior – taking part in a murder: Saul was part of the death of Stephen. Thank of the worst that one can do to Christians – attacking the faith, denying the message and hurting believers even to dragging them in chains to be imprisoned. Saul was doing this even going out of the country to Damascus to persecute Christians. This is the man who Jesus called.
Who are we to think that somehow we are unworthy of God’s love. Henri Nouwen once wrote,
“We all have our secrets, thoughts, memories, feelings that we keep to ourselves.
Very often we think, ‘If people knew what I feel or think, they would not love me’.
These carefully kept secrets can do us much harm.
They can make us feel guilty or ashamed
and may lead us to self-rejection, depression,
and even suicidal thoughts and actions…
One of the greatest dangers to our spiritual life is self-rejection.
When we say, ‘If people really knew me they wouldn’t love me,’
we choose the path toward darkness.
But we are precious in God’s eyes and all we are his pure gift.
To grow beyond self-rejection
we must have the courage to listen to the voice
calling us God’s beloved sons and daughters.”
If God can call Saul who hated Jesus and Christ’s followers, we can be certain that we are not outside God’s love. You are precious in God’s sight. God forgives you in Jesus Christ, forgive youself.
The second thing we learn from this text is the power of Jesus. Saul as a Pharisee of the Pharisees was religious before this conversion. He obeyed the law to its smallest detail. Even with his loveless behavior, he was approved by his religion. But Christianity is not the same as religion. We are called to fellowship with a person – the risen Lord Jesus. We enter a community that is in fellowship with Christ. We bear Jesus’ name into the world.
Our text shows the role of the Christian community – Paul is visited by Ananias and through his prayer and laying on of hands, Paul is healed of his blindness, the “scales fell from his eyes.” Paul is welcomed into a fellowship of believers who while at first reluctant because of his background, when hearing his testimony welcome him with open arms.
It is Jesus’ power which changes Paul not something in himself. It is Jesus’ power which changes the community to be able to welcome Paul. It is Jesus’ power today which transforms our lives in ways subtle and profound. Paul is a chosen vessel to go to the Gentiles and kings and sons and daughters of Israel. He is a special emissary of the Lord Jesus. Most of us don’t have a calling as Christians so extraordinary. There isn’t a Billy Graham sitting among us today. But we have our own callings to teach children the word of truth, to be with our young people in their growing years, to reach out to those who are homebound or in nursing homes. Some are going to work in an orphanage in Guatemala, a couple of Centralites are bound for India, many contribute with liberality to the work of the saints. Did you know that our Lutheran Church operates the largest social services network in the United States or has more nursing homes than any other church body, that we do mission work in sixty countries, that our women here send many, many quilts overseas to help the poor. We all have the call to pray and support and encourage one another, to bear Jesus Name to our families and friends and neighbors. As the old hymn goes,
“If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, ‘He died for all’.”
The third point for us in this story is following Jesus will not be easy. Jesus said to Ananias, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” The Greek really says it is necessary for Paul to suffer. Of course Paul suffered. He was imprisoned, shipwrecked, finally killed in Rome. But suffering is more than just something a few must go through. Suffering is a mark of the church.
Someone once said, “A wolf will never attack a painted sheep.” William Barclay notes that counterfeit Christianity is always safe. Real Christianity is always in peril. To suffer persecution is to be paid the greatest of compliments because it is certain proof that others think we really matter. A bold witness to the Lord Jesus will cost us. To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus means taking up a cross and following the One who was crucified. If we suffer with Jesus and if we die with Him we will most certainly live with Him forever.
Be encouraged in your faith. God loves you and wants you. God will change and transform you and call you to tasks difficult but very rewarding. Amen.
— Copyright 2004, James Kegel. Used by permission.