Knocked off your horse for a NEW course
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
7 The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.
11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’
13 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah
What at happens to a person and the community in which that person lives when a man who said he was God rises from the most brutal public shameful death that everyone saw, and says that you and everyone else can live knowing that you will do the same? You will rise from your own death and live in a new garden city community forever at peace and with great joy. All that is required of you is trust, faith, receiving this gift of love.
I know what happens. The Book of Acts!
The new is here and expanding … Easter Good News continues to expand in the world …
Last week it was going south on the Gaza Road with the Ethiopian man.
This week it is going North East into Arab territory – Damascus.
This is the most important transformation of a person in the New Testament.
It is the day that an angry law-loving, law keeping and law-breaker smashing man of faith in the God of the Old Testament, is knocked off his perch, thrown to ground, blinded and spoken into a wider, deeper faith and life by the risen Jesus.
This man, Saul will be transformed into Paul, and through him the new creation of Jesus will power on into God’s preferred future for the world.
This is important. The story is told here by Luke in some detail and Paul himself will tell this story of his own massive change to faith in Jesus twice more as he tells his own story in his own defence before the powers that be (before the Roman Tribune in Jerusalem, Acts 22:1-21, and before Roman Console, Agrippa, Acts 26:1-23).
This is his story; like the story you always seem to tell about your own history; what has made you, you. The story that made you, formed you (family, work, mentors, important influencers….), or when your life was saved or changed direction in a big way.
What formed Saul to this point was the Torah – first 5 books of the bible, or “The Law’; particularly the 10 Commandments and the Temple/Worship law.
The centre of that whole Law was the Passover; the day the Lord created a nation for his mission to bring the world back int the original peace of that original garden.
“Keep the Law, Saul. By this the Lord will bring his heaven and earth back to its right place”.
But what also formed him was the next story. The Exile – the era when the Lord kicked his people out of the promised land because of their consistent lack of belief, trust. The prophets were sent many times to call the nation back, but Israel could only ever partially come back to trust, love and promise.
The plan to rescue his people and his world was failing because of the people, not God. They could not trust him enough to keep his Law enough.
And for Saul, the Exile is still going on. Every time a Jewish person had to pay a shekel to the Roman occupiers this Exile continues – not in Babylon, but wore – now in our own country now ruled by Rome. The constant question? What will restore us fully to the free and beautiful new community garden of God?
More obedience! Saul was obeying Torah and doing his best to ensure that nothing and no one (especially the is new sect of Jesus of Nazareth) would undermine the effort to help this people keep Torah. If we keep Torah for a day, the promise might come…..
“Keep the Torah Paul. It is the way The Lord God will bring us back to earth and heaven together in peace….”.
Bang! Light, thud to the ground, dust, and a short, sharp question from some voice never heard before…
“Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Paul: “You know me, but who are you?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’
6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
No questions, No eyesight. No choice. No dissent. Just do … and Saul does …
We hear the rest. A very brave and trusting man named Ananias also trusts and obeys because there is no other way! No one wants to go near this guy Saul. They know the pain he is causing. Ananias goes and speaks and helps anyway.
The Spirit of Jesus comes to Saul and scales fall from his eyes – literally and spiritually!
Hope is now bigger. Everything familiar looks different. Like a person after a cataract procedure, things are brighter, clearer. The same well stories of creation, Passover, worship in the Temple, Psalms, prophets … all made new.
What happened to change this man? Here’s how one scholar put it:
This moment shattered Saul’s wildest dreams and, at the same split second, fulfilled them”. This was … The fulfilment of Israel’s scriptures, but also the utter denial of the way he (Saul) had been reading them up to that point.
God the Creator had raised Jesus from the dead, declaring not only that he really was Israel’s Messiah, but that he had done what the One God had promised to do himself, in person.” (Tom Wright, Paul, A Biography, Ch 2, 12)
Temple, Law, worship, community, world, justice, love, marriage, vocation, family….. everything re-created, re-shaped, by this resurrected Jesus, the Son of God for the re-creation of heaven and earth.
And now there is Paul – ‘sent one’ to non-Jews: ‘Apostles to the Gentiles’. He would transfer all the zeal for the keeping of Torah and his own nation, Israel to living in the expansive, wide, indiscriminate and free good news for everyone of any name from anywhere.
Fifteen years later this new man would write to the community in Galatia,
“There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; … you are all one in the Messiah, Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
So, what is your ‘Damascus Road’? Have you been knocked off your horse? Have you been blinded by his light and seen old things newly? What has shaped you?
What is forming your views your opinions and heart; three hours of TV everyday or 10 minutes in his Word?
For Saul it was national pride, cultural/family practices, legal compliance, controlling others bending others to his will, being obedient, being very, very good ‘to a T’, and ‘helping’ others get it right and be very, very good to keep in God’s good books. That can be me at times. It might be you at this time.
For the new man in the new resurrection life of Jesus, it was this now: the love and acceptance of the man, Jesus, the Son of God.
All things now new, the old has gone … only IN CHRIST, as Paul goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
You have been knocked of your perch and dunked in the water, as Paul was. You’ve been resurrected to a new life that is now shaped by and blessed by forgiveness and promise. That baptism is the Damascus road moment for all of us law keeping but law-breaking humans.
And it has power ongoing. It is the Spirit’s gift for the road, not the mantle piece.
We are now sent ones –‘apostle’s to the Gentiles’ with whom we live and move.
We are not keen to merely share a few ideas on life, or a bit of timely advice, or argue a new idea, or keep some rules, we are heralds: heralds of a new life, a new way to be human, a new forgiveness and healing and hope to be lived with hope.
All your hopes and dreams for your life and for your country and for your world are in this new king. He is the One who can do more than any government, military force, law court, educational institution. He can change a person. His grace is for everyone. He will do what it takes to find you, speak to you, invite you in.
He can re-create an angry law keeper into a loving peacemaker whom he works through to expand peace in a peaceless family or marriage or home or town or country.
Let him knock you off your high horse today.
Let him blind you with his brilliance and give you the new eyes of faith in his grace.
You will then be a participant in his expanding empire of healing, peace and new hope for a new life.