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Easter 3 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
May 1, 2022

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            When you think about images of Jesus there are certain comforting images that come to mind maybe from the wall of a Sunday school room, or grandma’s house.  A favorite is Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding an injured lamb in His arms bringing the lamb safely and gently back home.  We like the image of Jesus knocking at the door.  Jesus teaching His disciples.  Also comforting in their own way are images of Jesus suffering on the cross because you know Jesus is suffering for you.  But I do not recall too many pictures of the conversion of St. Paul.  There is nothing comforting about this scene. Paul, then called Saul, is on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus and bring them back to be tried and imprisoned — or worse.  Saul hates Christians.  Saul is present and supports the stoning to death of Stephen, an early deacon of the Christian Church.  Saul is zealous about stopping Christians by whatever means necessary.  He is breathing threats and murder and on his way north to Damascus.

            Saul is an important person on a mission for the high priest.  It is 150 miles give or take to get to Damascus so Saul is likely riding a horse along with armed guards from the high priest to ensure the success of his mission.  Saul is riding high – bold and confident, convinced he is on the right path, doing God’s work, getting rid of those foolish followers of Jesus.  Saul is riding high.  But it all changes in an instant.

            Acts 9:3–6 (ESV) 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

            This is not the gentle Good Shepherd carrying a wounded lamb.  This is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  This is Jesus demonstrating that His is the kingdom, His is the power, His is the glory, forever and ever.  Jesus knocks Saul to the ground and leaves him lying there, a broken man, blinded and bewildered unable to eat and drink.  This is not a comforting scene — but it is a valuable scene.

            Saul is zealous about religion.  He is a firm believer, but he believes the wrong thing. Saul is fully committed to the cause and Saul is wrong, and Jesus tells him he is wrong.

There is a powerful temptation to never want to believe someone else is wrong, and an even greater temptation to never want to believe that you are wrong.  It is so easy to follow after the wrong things in this life and be led astray by the ways of the devil, the world and your own sinful nature.  It is an easy thing to firmly believe false teachings, as shown by the billions of people following false religions.  How do you know what is right and what is wrong?  Do you go with your gut?  Do you trust your feelings?  That is what Saul is doing and he finds out he is wrong.  How did Saul find out he is wrong?  Through the Word of God.  Jesus spoke directly to Saul.  How do you find out when you are wrong?  God speaks to you through Holy Scripture.  That is your rule and norm of what is right and wrong.

Jesus knocks Saul to the ground and tells him he is wrong and leaves him there dazed and blind with instructions to go to the city.  This is not a comforting image because, in this image, you can see a picture of God’s law working on you and knocking you down from your high horse and leaving you convicted and guilty knowing you are wrong. 

There is a great temptation for pastors to teach that if you become a Christian, life will get better and everything will be easier and you will have no more problems.  Join our church and your family troubles, money troubles, life troubles will all go away. But it is a lie.  For Saul, and for you, being a follower of Jesus can bring suffering.

Blind Saul is led into Damascus where he is three days without sight, food or drink, a shell of his former bold, confident self.  The Lord sends a follower of Jesus named Ananias to go to Saul. Ananias is hesitant since Saul is known to be hunting for Christians.  We hear the Lord’s final instructions to Ananias and they are more discomforting than Saul being left on the ground blind.  The Lord tells Ananias, Acts 9:16 (ESV) 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 

            Acts 9:16 (ESV) 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  I have not ever had someone choose this as their confirmation verse.  I have never seen this written on a wall hanging at Hobby Lobby.  Nobody has this on a bracelet.  This is not a comforting verse.  This is not what people want to hear. 

There is a great temptation for pastors to teach that if you become a Christian, life will get better and everything will be easier and you will have no more problems.  Join our church and your family troubles, money troubles, life troubles will all go away. But it is a lie.  For Saul, and for you, being a follower of Jesus can bring suffering. 

            Your suffering for the sake of Jesus will likely not be as dramatic as Saul who becomes known as Paul.  I pray you will not be stoned and beaten and imprisoned and executed because of Jesus.  But you will suffer. 

            You will suffer for simply speaking the truth in love to those who do not want to hear the truth.  Many do not want to hear that Jesus is the way, the truth and life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Many do want to hear that the 10 commandments are still God’s commandments and not just antiquated, outdated suggestions.  Many do not want to hear that their feelings are not authoritative, but rather God’s word is.  Many do not want to hear that marriage is a man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife and the two becoming one flesh.  Speaking the truth in love can bring the quiet suffering of being ostracized from family and friends and work and society because you are not constantly conforming your beliefs and practices to whatever the latest and greatest new thing you are told you must believe and celebrate or face the consequences. School and work can become very stressful.  Family gatherings become strained. 

            You may suffer quietly because you do the right thing when doing the right thing is not popular.  You speak up for the weak and vulnerable to protect them from the powerful. You defend the defenseless.  You reach out to the outcast. 

You will quietly suffer all of the big and little struggles as you faithfully do what you have been given to do as father, mother, child, grandparent, sister, brother, friend, worker.  You endure quietly as you get up early and fight traffic and do your job well because it is what you have been given to do to support your family.  You endure quietly as you patiently change endless diapers, and hold and rock your screaming infant even when it feels like such a lonely, difficult, thankless vocation.  You quietly struggle to keep Sunday morning set apart for worship and diligently fight the temptations to give up meeting together.  You suffer quietly as you struggle against that secret, sinful desire instead of giving in to the desire and embracing the sin. 

            Jesus does not promise you a comfortable life.  He promises you eternal life.  And with that promise you can live each day in the joy of the Lord and in the peace of the Lord even as you struggle through life.  Being a follower of Jesus is not a ticket to a life of ease.  Jesus does not promise that you will achieve the American dream.  Having a great job and a fancy house and expensive cars and health and wealth is not a sign that you are a faithful follower of Jesus.  Jesus does not give guarantees for physical abundance in this life, but He gives certain, wonderful guarantees for eternity. This is the great good news. Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  And because Christ has risen, it is proof certain that Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are credited to you in baptism.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life. 

            Saul getting knocked down and blinded is not comforting.  It reminds you of God’s law working on you.  The Lord showing Saul how much he is to suffer for Jesus’ name is not comforting. The King of kings and Lord of lords shows His power to Saul, but the Lord does not leave Saul in his broken blindness.  Acts 9:17–18 (ESV) 17 …Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;”

The Lord does not leave you in your sins.  He does not leave you knocked down and broken by God’s law.  He announces to you that your sins are forgiven.  He feeds you with His very Body and Blood.  He cleanses you and sends you to speak the truth in love to your neighbor and spread the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus. 

            Jesus knocks Saul down and then lifts him up giving him the Holy Spirit in baptism.  Saul was lost and Jesus found him.  Saul was blind, but now he sees.  He sees the truth about Jesus and he spends the rest of his life proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, and Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!” This enemy of Christians is changed by the Word of God into the greatest missionary of all times and the author of 13 books of the Bible.  The conversion of St. Paul may not be comforting but it clearly shows the power of God’s Word to save sinners.  Maybe alongside pictures of Jesus as the gentle Good Shepherd we should add a few pictures of the conversion of Paul to remember the power of God’s Word to save sinners, including you and me.  Amen. 

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