Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
We live in a time when glowing personal testimonies are often regarded as God’s sure action.People may yawn at Scripture texts but get goose bumps over something that has no sure promise from God. Perhaps it’s an experience (near death/change of fortune/strange event in nature) or an inward feeling or a sign they imagine has occurred.
Consider the testimony of the young boy – poor of speech – who was sure he should be a pastor. When asked why he said it was because one day while in the field the clouds seemed to form the letters PC. He was sure that meant he should “Preach Christ.” A wise, older friend said – or perhaps “Plant Corn.” Another example is the person who said – I know God was with me today because a car ran a light and narrowly missed plowing into my car. A wise friend quietly said – then I guess God was with me even more because nothing bad even came close to me and my car as I travelled today. You see, our hearts look for signs from God in this and that and the other thing, yet seemingly overlook the simplicity of His Word and presence in the Sacraments.
Like Saul, like we heard of Thomas and really the other disciples last week, we don’t want to fall trap into what we fear might be a fraud. That’s what Saul thought and believed of Jesus He was convinced the whole business was: one massive deadly, dangerous deception. It’s not that he denied the resurrection of the dead; oh, no. He’d go to the bat for that. But what he specifically denied was that this Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead and then glorified at God’s right hand. Nonsense and downright evil, that’s what he thought.
Saul’s star was on the rise, he was a mover and a shaker! He was advancing in the strict sect of the Pharisees. He rallied people and gathered crowds. He received orders directly from the Chief Priest and the council of the elders. He was busily at work pursuing and imprisoning Christians. He was energetic and fully committed to his cause. As we heard from Acts chapter nine, he was hot on the trail of Christians who had fled from Jerusalem to the city of Damascus. He had undertaken this lengthy trip (150 miles) for the very purpose of hunting them down like criminals. He sincerely thought He was serving God with his actions. He was so confident that he was right!
Until. Until that moment. The light from heaven flashing around him, the glory knocking him to the ground. Utterly bewildered, he met the Fraud face to face. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city and you will be told what to do.”
In that moment everything crumbled for Saul. All that he was certain of became uncertain and one thing became more certain than life itself: the story about Jesus wasn’t a fraud or deception at all. He had seen Him with his own eyes in the bright light, had heard His voice, had discovered in that moment the truth: Jesus, the man who was murdered, crucified for the crime of claiming to be God’s Son, had in fact been raised from the dead.
As he sat, blinded by the light of the world, his whole world left in shambles, he must have gone over it a thousand times. He’d had it all wrong. The entirety of the Scriptures of Moses and Prophets then were about Jesus and about how all can receive forgiveness of sins through faith in His name.
But, but, but, he’d want to argue with himself, but all the buts died before the reality of what had happened to him on the road outside Damascus. And as if that wasn’t enough, another vision. A man named Ananias entering, laying hands on him, giving him his sight back. Reluctant Ananias who knew exactly what Paul had come to Damascus to do, embodying the very spirit of Jesus as he calls him “brother” Saul, lays on hands, baptizes, and gives a new life. “You are his chosen instrument, Saul. He told me. You will carry His name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. He told me. He will show you how much you must suffer for the sake of His name, but be heartened my brother! He has triumphed over death, and He is the forgiveness of all your sin.”
And so it began. He had more Bible study and education. You see, confirmands and those confirmed long-ago, there is still more time to run through the Scriptures and learn. So off to Arabia and then back to Damascus and at last up to Jerusalem to meet his fellow apostles. Paul, as he would come to be called, saw his whole life then as a grace. That God’s mercy and love in Christ would be big enough to reach out and pluck up someone like HIM and use HIM to be an apostle!
Consider the Apostle Paul giving a testimonial. Consider him, later in life, saying – Let me tell you what Jesus did for me! He hurt my reputation among my people. He halted my advancement and upward mobility in Jewish society and in my religious profession. He shattered my financial security. Let me tell you what Jesus did for me! He compromised my personal safety. He brought me persecution. He caused my arrest and imprisonment several times. He visited me with a thorn in the flesh – a painful ailment that was not healed and not relieved. He revealed my personal ongoing sin so clearly that He made me cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) He changed my name from Saul – taken from Old Testament king to Paul meaning “small”. Let me tell you what Jesus did for me!
Fellow-redeemed, the risen and exalted Christ is alive and well and present in His Church. No, it was no fraud. This Saul learned on the road to Damascus. And this the great Saint and Apostle Paul proclaimed and proclaims throughout the length and breadth of the entire world: “Jesus is the Son of God!”
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
His resurrection has changed all things! His resurrection makes lives as empty as the disciples’ nets to be new and full of hope. The risen Christ is alive and well! It is the Lord who called to the disciples from shore just as day was breaking. On this side of His open tomb the risen Christ was forthright in acknowledging some depressing realities. At confirmation, we swear that we’ll “suffer all things, even death rather than leave Him…” even if death is sure to come. That’s because the Church doesn’t sugarcoat the Christian life. Even for the Lord’s chosen servants Peter and Paul life in this troubled world would lead to persecution and death.
He intervenes in our lives in His way – in amazing and miraculous ways that He has chosen. His intervention does not mean an end to troubles and a relief from all suffering. Rather His intervention means life in the midst of a dying world. The first of the weighty questions in the rite of confirmation acknowledges that truth. Do you this day…acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism?
It is the Lord who has intervened in your life in no less a miraculous way then he did in the life of Peter and Paul. Let me tell you what Jesus has done for you! He has not called you to be an apostle, but He has redirected your life. In an amazing intervention he washed away your sins in your baptism.
Just as surely as He stood on the shore of the lake in our Gospel He has come into your midst this morning (evening)! It is the Lord! Let me tell you what Jesus has done for you! Even as He prepared a meal on the shore of the lake so He has prepared an eternal feast for you His Bride in the new heavens and the new earth. Even now heaven touches earth as He stoops low and gives you a foretaste and says, “take and eat,” – “drink of it all of you.” Forgiving your sin and strengthening your faith.
On this day recalling Paul’s conversion, we join in his confession even as we kneel before the same Crucified and Risen One and receive from His living hands the gift of His own body and blood, promising us the same forgiveness that embraced and converted Paul. May it transform us as well that we, too, may be joyfully testify and be witnesses to the life that never ends, the life that is God’s free gift to all in Jesus our Lord.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Amen.