Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

April 30, 2017 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.

Acts 9:17-22

Dear Friends in Christ,

Some of you may have heard of the Christian author Josh McDowell. He wasn’t always a Christian. At one point in his life he was an atheist who enjoyed trying to talk Christians into giving up their faith. He had been quite successful at this, but one day he ran into a Christian whose faith he couldn’t shake. He tried all his usual arguments and when they didn’t work he asked the Christian what he would have to do to get him to give up his faith. The Christian answered, “prove to me that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.” As Josh McDowell went about trying to prove to this person that the resurrection never happened, he became convinced that it did. He became a Christian himself and, instead of trying to talk Christians into giving up their faith, he began speaking and writing about Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus is like a fork in the road. As Paul says, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then it’s foolish to believe in him and be a Christian. But if Jesus did rise from the dead then it’s foolish not to believe in him and be a Christian. The resurrection of Jesus is the intersection at which you either go down the broad road that leads to destruction, or the narrow road that leads to eternal life.

Unlike Josh McDowell, Saul was not an Atheist. He believed in the one true God. He acknowledged God as the creator of all that exists. He believed that the Old Testament was God’s word without error. But, he also believed that Jesus was a false prophet. He believed what his Jewish leaders told him, that Jesus had not risen from the dead. His disciples had stolen his body. And, because he believed in God and honored his word he believed that false prophets and their followers needed to be gotten rid of. Unlike many people today, Saul understood that false doctrine is more dangerous than the plague. That’s why, when he heard that there were Christians in Damascus, that this false teaching about Jesus being the Messiah and rising from the dead was spreading, he was determined to stop it.

Saul thought he was on the right road, the road to faithfully serving God and defending his honor, the road to eternal life, but he suddenly came to a fork in the road. A bright light from heaven suddenly shone around him. And a voice spoke to him, asking him why are you persecuting me? When he asked who it was that was speaking to him, the voice responded that he was Jesus. Now, if Saul concluded that this vision was a trick of Satan, he could continue down the road of persecuting Christians. But, if Jesus really had appeared to him that would mean he must have risen from the dead; and if he had really risen from the dead then he must really be the Messiah. Then Saul would have to admit that he had been on the wrong road.

You know what happened. Saul had read about the Glory of the Lord, the brightness that accompanied an appearance of God- the pillar of cloud, the pillar of fire, the bright cloud that filled the tabernacle and the temple, the glowing face of Moses. He realized he was experiencing the Glory of the Lord in the face of Christ. When the vision ended, he was blind. For three days he fasted and prayed, and, I’m sure reviewed in his mind all the Scriptures he could remember that talked about the Messiah. The Holy Spirit used all these things to bring Paul to realize how wrong he had been. Like the crowds on Pentecost he must have been cut to the heart when he realized the terrible things he had done, thinking that he was serving God, when in fact he was doing just the opposite. The Holy Spirit also sustained hope, maybe through stories like the fall and forgiveness of King David. When Ananias came, he called him ‘brother Saul’. He assured him that he had come from God, and he not only healed Saul of his blindness, but baptized him, giving him the assurance that his sin of persecuting Jesus, which is what he had been doing, because whatever you do to the least of those who believe in Jesus you do to him, that sin and all his other sins were washed away.

The conversion of Saul was very dramatic, it was obviously miraculous. But, the Bible makes it very clear that, although your conversion may not have been as dramatic, it was every bit as miraculous.

The Bible makes it clear that you, that all of us, were like Saul and Josh McDowell. It makes it clear that we are by nature dead in sin and blind to the truth about God. Whether that leads you to be an atheist who denies God, or a Pharisee who is convinced you are earning your way to heaven by all the good you do for God, you are headed the same place. You are on the broad road that leads to eternal destruction. By God’s grace, at some point he brought you to a fork in the road. At your Baptism he called you out of darkness into light and gave you rebirth, spiritual birth, so that you could believe that Jesus has risen from the dead and is your savior. By God’s grace, at some point he confronted you with your sinfulness. He made it clear to you that your serving God could never get you to heaven because you can’t serve him perfectly. He led you to see that if you continued on that broad road of atheism or works you were headed to destruction. And when you were humbled by the realization of your sin and the inability to save yourself, he gave you hope, a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He brought you to a fork in the road and, by convincing you by the power of his word that Jesus did rise from the dead, he put you on the right road, the narrow road that leads to eternal life.

Ananias faced a different kind of fork in the road. He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead and was his savior from sin. He was on the narrow road that leads to eternal life. But, how would he respond when Jesus asked him to do something that seemed crazy, dangerous? “Go visit Saul at the home of Judas on Straight Street.” But isn’t he the one who is breathing out murderous threats against those of us who believe? You see the fork in the road, don’t you? One road says my life and my comfort and my safety are more important that Jesus. The other road says, “Lord, I will take the road you give me even if it means suffering, pain, and death.” It was a road Saul would travel himself as the Lord predicted. He did suffer many things, even death, rather than turn his back on Jesus. It was the power of the resurrection, assuring Ananias and Saul that they had the living hope of eternal life, that enabled them to stay on the narrow road, to take risks, to endure persecution, and even face death for Jesus.

You who are here today confess that you believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. The fact that you do is a miracle worked in you by God by the power of his word. By birth you were an enemy of God, dead in trespasses and sins, blinded by the pride of thinking that you were certainly earning your way to heaven because of all the evil you avoided and all the good you were doing. But God made you look in the mirror of his perfect will and humbled you. He made you alive with Christ. He called you out of the darkness and into his wonderful light. But, as the Bible clearly says, and as Saul and Ananias show us, there are still other forks in the road. Every day he presents us with choices, opportunities for service, opportunities to declare his praise. Every day we make choices that might lead us back to that broad road that leads to destruction because it’s a road of disobedience, a road that leads away from God. And it’s an easy road, a road that doesn’t bring us mockery, or persecution, or pain. It might be called “going along with the crowd.” The other side of the fork in the road might be called “cross”. It’s a hard road. Your sinful nature tells you not to take it. Your friends call you to join them on the other road that looks a lot more pleasant. It’s clear that if you continue on that narrow, difficult road, pain and suffering lie ahead. But that’s when you need to remember that Jesus is risen. Because he has, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful it might get traveling the road of serving Jesus, it leads to eternal life.

Because Ananias believed that Jesus rose from the dead he was willing to risk doing what the Lord asked. He went to see Saul and had the great blessing of Baptizing him and assuring him that God had forgiven him and called him to serve him. When Saul became convinced that Jesus really did rise from the dead it changed his life. As zealous as he had been in trying to wipe out Christianity, he was even more zealous in proclaiming Christ as Lord and Savior. May the resurrection of Jesus spur you on each day to stay on the right road no matter how bumpy it might get, expressing your thanks to God and proclaiming his praise until he comes to take you to live with him in glory forever.