Rise and See!
A sermon based on Acts 9:1–20
Sunday, April 10, 2016 – Easter 4C
There are a handful of times in my life that I've been genuinely scared that my life might end. One of those was when I couldn't see. I had just bought a mo-ped in Raleigh, a 50cc scooter that could maybe hit 40 mph if I was going down a steep hill. I would often ride on the shoulder of the road to let cars pass. Well one night, when I was riding the 8 miles home from church, a downpour hit. And because my glasses kept getting all fogged up if I kept the helmet visor down and rain covered my glasses if I kept the visor up (there are no windshield wipers on a scooter) I could barely see a thing in the dark. But that didn't stop the semi-trucks on the highway from coming within inches of me as they kept barreling past at their regular speeds. I haven't told Becky, but that night, I thought there was good chance that she would become a widow. (Not that she'd have trouble remarrying.)
But that night while terrifying me, later made me appreciate again God's gift of sight. It's a gift we so often take for granted until we start to lose it. When I can't find my glasses, when the snow is causing a white out on the road, or when you're on a scooter in a downpour, anytime that vision is lost even partially or momentarily, we appreciate what we once had.
What a blessing sight is! How much easier life is if you can see and see clearly. Have you ever considered what it would be like if you went blind tonight? Thank God for that gift of sight. But thank God not just for the physical sight he's given. He's given each of us a much better sight. We have spiritual sight. We see Jesus clearly! We see the way to heaven! We see that there's nothing we have to do to get there! And we see how we can lead others there too.
Our text for consideration this morning is found in Acts 9:1–20…
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 traveling 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 saints 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 carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before 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 baptized, 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.
I. See How He Has Saved You
Can you imagine what Saul went through that day on the road? What a shock that day must have been. Here he was faithfully serving God with passion and zeal—doing all within his power, using all of his resources, devoting all of his time—to stamping out this Christian sect that dared to blaspheme Jehovah by suggesting he became a homeless man! He went above and beyond the call of duty not only rooting out such heresies in own city, but traveling to other cities to help them too! It would be like you not just defending the truth here at Grace, but going up to Faith in Anchorage (on foot, mind you) to correct some false teaching there too. What zeal he had for the Lord!
What a shock then to have this Jesus—the disciples of whom he was trying to murder—appear to him on the road in such brilliant glory that it robbed Saul of his sight! His zeal, his passion, his determination was horribly misguided. To say it was a total paradigm shift would be a huge understatement. Everything he knew, everything he was so certain of, had suddenly in an instant, in one encounter that maybe lasted only a few seconds, had completed changed. His mind must have been blown, his world turned upside down! And his sight was lost.
But why did God take his sight? So that Paul could really see. When Saul could see with his physical eyes, he was blind to the truth of Jesus. Only in losing his sight did he see how blind he'd been. He had worked so hard, but failed miserably because his aim was totally off.
When Paul lost his physical sight his spiritual eyes were beginning to open up. Jesus told him to rise and go to Damascus to have his sight restored. And there, in a vision, the blind man saw—he saw a man named Ananias come to restore his sight. And after three days, after Ananias put his hands on him, Saul could see again. But even more, he could see anew! Guided by the Holy Spirit, he saw the truth! He saw who Jesus was! The Son of God! His Savior from sin! His Savior risen from the dead! What wonderful sight Saul had!
Now to some degree or another, perhaps with the aid of corrective lenses, you and I can see with our physical eyes. But we too were once spiritually blind. We didn't know which way we were going or what we needed to do to get there. We were working hard, but were still failures because we worked for the wrong things. And even if we knew the right things we could never work hard enough. Our aim was way off. We were like blind people shooting at a target they couldn't see.
It reminds me Alice in Wonderland asking the Cheshire Cat which way she should go? He said, "It depends. Where are you going?" And when Alice replied that she had no idea, the cat replied, "Then any road you take will get you there." Not all roads lead to Rome. And not all paths lead to heaven. If we were left in our blindness we could work as hard as we could, sprint as fast as our legs would pump, do all within our power, use all of our resources, devote all of our time to get to heaven, but we would still fail miserably because we'd be going in the wrong direction.
We were born blind in sin and blind in unbelief and then we bumped and crashed our way through life, stumbling our way to hell. Our zeal or sincerity didn't matter because our aim was totally off.
But, God has since opened our eyes. We're now enlightened, as if the light has been turned on when we were in the dark. So we're not in the dark anymore. We're not blind. But see with amazing clarity! "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see." Now we see the road to heaven. Now we see, that it's not our zeal or our efforts or our accomplishments that get us there, but entirely God's grace to us in Christ. We see how Jesus lived a perfect life for us. We see how God put our sins on him. We see how he paid for them by his death on a cross. And we see how Jesus rose from the dead as the proof! We see how Saul became Paul, how the persecutor became the preacher, the murderer became the missionary and we see that there is no other explanation for this 180 degree turn, other than the fact that he really truly saw the risen Savior on that road to Damascus.
So we see how we are at peace with God. Our sins are forgiven! The things we've done in our misguided zeal are erased! Our mind is blown away by God's grace to us! And our world is turned upside down for the better! We are not going to the hell we deserve! We are going to heaven! We see the way there is in Jesus. We see clearly the Way. We belong to the Way. That is, we belong to Jesus. Now, let's help those stumbling in the darkness. Let's guide them so they can see him too.
II. See How He Can Use You
Can you imagine what Ananias went through that day in Damascus? What a shock that day must have been for him. Here he was faithfully serving God with passion and zeal—doing all within his power, using all of his resources, devoting all of his time—to build up this Christian sect that honored Jehovah by proclaiming his Son as the Savior of the world. And now God asked him to go visit the man who would kill him the first chance he got? What exactly was God asking him to do? To become another martyr? To die like James? To be stoned to death like Stephen?
But God told him to rise and go to Judas' house, to talk to the persecutor, to lay his hands on him, to help him to see—both physically and spiritually. And though I'll bet he still wasn't terribly excited about the mission God had given him, he got up and went.
And what a blessing he received! Ananias got to be God's instrument in bringing Saul—later called Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, the author of so many of our New Testament books—to faith! He got to be the one the Holy Spirit worked through to convert this great missionary. And he learned a valuable lesson that God picks his missionaries in sometime the most unlikely of places.
And friends, our eyes have been opened to that same truth. We see how God has chosen us, selfish sinners that we still are, to be a part of his team, to go and be the hands and feet, the mouths and tongues of Jesus himself as he uses us to bring others to faith!
He uses murderers like Saul, chickens like Ananias, drunks like Noah, adulterers like King David, doubters like Thomas, deniers like Peter, cowards like all the disciples. He uses sinners like you and failures like me. He takes away our sin—all of it! He takes away our failures—every one of them! He calls us perfect, sinless saints—each one of us, not just those Biblical "heroes." And uses each of us in his Kingdom to help others to see!
You're not out of the game because of your past sin. If God can use Saul to become a pillar of the faith, then he can use you to be the same. God used Ananias to get to Saul. Had he refused, maybe the church would be without Paul. And who knows, but God, what that person that you reach with the Gospel might do for the Kingdom down the road of life?
Soon we'll be starting a new Bible Class exploring ways that you can share the Gospel, even if you're not an extrovert, even if the thought of knocking on a stranger's door leaves you terrified. We'll brainstorm other ways that we can get the Word out that others might see God's grace. Watch for it, and if you can, come to it!
If you cannot be like Peter, if you cannot Preach like Paul, you can still encourage someone who can. You can pray for them. You can be like faithful Aaron holding up Moses hands. And through our efforts, as we do all within our power, use our resources, devote our time to build up the Kingdom, others will see too! They'll see their Savior! They'll see the truth! They'll see the way to heaven is not in their efforts or works, but in Jesus. And they'll see the peace that we see now.
Larry Hester was 33 years old when the doctor gave him horrible news. He would soon be completely blind. For the next 33 years he went through life in the dark. But then a medical breakthrough came in 2014. Hailed as a bionic eye, the world's first FDA approved device that restores sight to the blind was implanted on Larry's retinas. He only sees fuzzy shapes with extreme contrast with light and dark. But he can see.
God restored Saul's sight perfectly. God gave him better sight—spiritual sight. God has given us the same. Now let's rise and go and be like Ananias as we help others to see what we see—the Way, Jesus, our risen Savior! In his name, dear friends, amen.