Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Give Sight to a Blind Man” based on Acts 9:1-19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, May 5, 2019
About 150 miles. That’s the distance between Jerusalem and Damascus, the trip that Saul, now known as Paul, was on in the accounts from the book of Acts you heard earlier today.
150 miles. That’s a long way. It’s roughly the distance between Madison and Chicago. That’s a trip that people don’t even necessarily want to drive in a car today. You are talking about setting aside a whole day for the trip there and back…and you might even think about getting a hotel instead! For Saul, though, walking or riding a beast of burden, it would have been a two-week trip. That 150 mile distance between the cities can tell you a couple things about the context of this miraculous occurrence in Saul’s life.
First, it’s actually pretty neat to see that, especially after Pentecost, the message of the Gospel had been spreading. Within months of Jesus’ death and resurrection, people 150 miles away had not only heard about Jesus’ work, but were identifying themselves as followers of his Way. God’s Word is a powerful tool!
It does make you wonder though, as you read through the book of Acts up to this point, if there was another factor that facilitated the message being spread so far away from Jerusalem.
In fact, the first time that Saul was introduced in this book, it was a pretty bad situation. Stephen, a servant of God, was put on trial for preaching about Jesus and was subsequently stoned for speaking the truth. And, almost as a side note, the inspired reporter documented the approval that a young man named Saul was giving to Stephen’s death.
Now, perhaps you are a strong Christian. Maybe the prospect of something like having stones thrown at you, until you die, wouldn’t faze you at all. It’s possible that physical persecution wouldn’t cause you to gather your friends, family, and loved ones, and move over 100 miles away. But, it’s also possible that’s exactly what you would do and, pretty likely, that’s also what these first century Christians did as well, taking God’s Word with them as they fled to Damascus.
But, that 150 miles wasn’t only a great distance for the gospel or God’s followers to travel. It was, again, quite a distance for Saul to travel. That trip took commitment on his part. He must have been pretty vehement in his desire to go and that’s exactly how Dr. Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit described him. Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
Stephen’s death happened in Acts, chapter 7. In chapter 8, there are accounts of the people spreading all over Judea and Samaria, an interaction between the disciples and a sorcerer, and the famous account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. And then, after that all happened, still, Saul wanted to travel 150 miles away.
What would possess him to still want to go? The words that describe his murderous threats indicate that Saul was intoxicated with the death of the disciples of Jesus. He breathed it in when he watched Stephen die and he couldn’t get enough and, even after going through Jerusalem and eradicating the Way from there, he still wanted more, even if it caused him to walk 150 miles to find it.
Have you ever been that intoxicated? No, I’m not asking if you’ve ever had “tee many martoonies.” Have you ever been so driven by hatred or anger that you would walk a metaphorical 150 miles to see someone get what you perceive to be their just desserts? Have you ever been so impassioned that you have been blinded to common sense and rational thinking and have sent yourself on a misguided mission?
The interesting thing to keep in mind is that Saul, really and truly, thought he was doing what was right. He even thought he was serving God by carrying out this cause of persecution. Even when you think you are doing what is right, have there been times where, with a little time and perspective, you have seen the error of your own actions that you carried out with the best of intentions?
How appropriate that, in order to call Saul to repentance, Jesus struck him blind. He gave him a physical manifestation of the reality of his spiritual condition. His sin so blinded him from seeing how terribly he was sinning and so God took away his ability to see anything at all.
In somewhat the same way, that blackout hate and anger that you have felt at times is just a symptom of your greater spiritual blindness as well.
Though it may not have caused you to want to kill people who follow Jesus, you were so spiritually blind that you didn’t know what was right or wrong either and, just like Saul, if Jesus wouldn’t have come into your life, you would have continued on your wicked way until you reached your unfortunate destination. Not Damascus, 150 miles away, but the pits of hell, the furthest place you could be from the eternal Jerusalem in heaven.
But, thankfully, Jesus did come into your life and, though he may not have appeared to you, bright and shining on the road, he did come into your life like he did for Saul.
It was really important for Saul’s future ministry as an apostle of Jesus that it was Jesus, himself, who appeared to him on that road. But, if you pay attention closely enough, you’ll notice that Saul’s conversion to Christianity didn’t happen there on the road. It wasn’t Jesus’ appearance that changed him. Instead, God worked a different way; a way much more familiar to so many of you.
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.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul, who was breathing out murderous threats, now breathed in the sweet message of the Gospel. His life was changed. The scales fell from his eyes. He was no longer in the darkness of sin and unbelief. Ananias’ words were comfort. He didn’t have to worry about his persecution of the Church any longer. He was forgiven.
Your God didn’t whisper in your ear, He didn’t grab you by the hand, He didn’t shout from the skies. He wrote down His plan for your life. He gave you His Word and He employed messengers, like Ananias, to preach that Word to you.
Your God employs messengers to stand in front of you every Sunday to preach to you about every facet of your daily life. But that isn’t the main message that these messengers speak. They are not here to tell you how to live a better life, but to tell you about the One who lived the perfect life. They aren’t here to preach to you about how to leave your mark on the world, but to tell you about the mark that has been placed on you.
They put their hands on you and told you about Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection. The sin scales were removed from your eyes with a splash of water in Holy Baptism. The stains of your guilt were bleached pure white in Jesus’ blood. No more do you have to worry about your offenses against God’s Law; Jesus carried them to the cross and buried them in His tomb.
He continues to send His messengers to you to hear your confession and to unlock the Kingdom of Heaven to you with the Key of forgiveness, loosening you from the bondage of sin. He employs His messengers to hand you the body and blood of your risen Savior that was used to redeem you.
Breathe it in, brothers and sisters. Intoxicate yourself on the love of Jesus and, no matter how many metaphorical miles it may send you, spread your passionate fervor to those who are still blind. If God can work through an ordinary man like Ananias to convert the chief of sinners, and can then use that chief of sinners to be one of the greatest missionaries of all time, he can use you to be his messenger to all those who still need to see Jesus. Amen.