“Persecuting, Proclaiming the King of Kings”

Rev. Matthew William Crick

Faith Lutheran Church, Medford, OR, 97501

Third Sunday of Easter

April 10, 2016

www.flc-medford.org

Acts 9:1-19 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So 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; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

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A man named Saul was acting like a fire-breathing dragon throughout Judea. He was a man who hated the name of Jesus. He was a man who believed that Jesus was a dead fraud. He was a man who looked at those who believed in Jesus as perpetuating a fraud in order to destroy Judaism. His feelings about Jesus were so radically strong against him he willfully inserted himself into the effort to destroy the Name. He was going to stop these believers in Jesus by violently threatening them to recant. Early on, he sanctioned the execution of the believer named Stephen by stoning, which set off a massive persecution in Jerusalem against believers in Jesus. They fled to different regions and communities, spreading the name of Jesus wherever they went. Saul was not happy with this, and extended his fiery reach. “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

It is interesting that Saul was allowed to do this – pursuing believers in Jesus, followers of the Way, as a personal vendetta, a religious persecution, to arrest, imprison, and kill. He did this in a region where his people, the Jewish people, were not even in control. The Roman Empire controlled the land, and it was the Roman Empire that was law. How do we understand this? Saul was serving a government operating within a government operating within a government. The Roman Empire was the empowered government in the land, but within that the Jewish people and their government operated, and within that, the Jewish religious leaders operated, the Jewish religious establishment. It was within this very inner circle that Saul gained his power. The Romans pretty much stayed hands off of these petty Jewish matters. We are hearing a lot about the Republican and Democratic Party establishments. The Jewish religious establishment was a lot like this. It was a closed circle, which allowed only card-carrying members inside. They wielded a lot of power. It was this establishment that closed ranks against Jesus, and plotted to have him killed. It is not surprising, then, that they continued to wage war like fire-breathing dragons in the land, to kill off all believers in Jesus. They wanted to erase the name of Jesus from human hearts, and finally from the memories of people so that his name disappears from the heart and land. Saul, zealously serving the government within the government within the government, decided to travel north to Damascus to have synagogue leaders there hand over any followers of the Way in their midst and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. Saul, empowered, traveled north. Fear of him went on before. “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.”

Hopefully you understand how it was that Saul could act like a fire-breathing dragon on behalf of the religious establishment – that government within the government within the government. If so, we now turn our attention to a man named Ananias, who represents another level of “government” if you want to call it that. It is more accurate to say “community” in this sense. Ananias was a Christian, a believer in Jesus, and an active member of the Christian community in Damascus. They were a community that existed within the community of Jewish people, which existed within the Roman Empire. Ananias represents the community within the community within the community. He hears Saul coming for him and his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He and his fellow Christians are afraid. When a fire-breathing dragon is seeking to destroy you in the name of the powers that be, you get afraid. Yet Jesus soon empowered Ananias and his fellow Christians even as he doused the fire of Saul, and was having him brought to Ananias blind. “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11 And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ 13 But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’”

I think we can readily identify with Ananias and his fear. What fire-breathing dragons have been sent by the various inner establishments, the present day governments within governments within governments to extinguish the name of Jesus from our hearts and from the land? There are many. The dragons of Darwinist faux science, climate change faux science, the radical forces breathing the fire of gender identity confusion, the Islamists, all breathe the fire of unbelief: There is no triune God, no Biblical Creator of earth, life and weather, no gracious governor, no one who created human beings in holiness to live under him as the King of kings whom no earthly government establishment can contain; he reigns over all. These dragons breathe the fire of Saul, mocking the name of Jesus and the faith of Christians as a fraud as Saul did. We find it hard to stand up against the fire, though the Lord Jesus does reign. How we need Jesus and his cross, where he, God’s almighty Son, allowed the “great red dragon” (Revelation 12:3), the devil, to kill him, but he overcame, arising from death. When we hear someone coming for us as Christians, we fear, but Jesus encourages us as he did Ananias, who did not understand why Lord would choose fire-breathing Saul to serve him. The Lord was blunt with doubting Ananias. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” It is Saul’s conversion, his new faith worked in him by Word and baptism in Jesus’ name that testify to the true power of Jesus. Saul, in power, served the Jewish religious establishment to persecute Jesus the King. Suddenly, through no plan of his own, Saul began to proclaim Jesus, who spoke and died and rose again openly for all. All governments ultimately answer to him! We know this Saul as the Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary of Jesus ever, who, in power of the Spirit, served the world’s King, Jesus, not with threats but with sacrificial love, proclaiming the King of peace. Jesus is at work powerfully in our lives too, like this.

“The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble.” Psalm 99:1

Third Sunday of Easter – Persecuting Proclaiming the King of Kings – Acts 9-1-19