1 Samuel 9-13 , Acts 9:1-22 (NIV) 1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2and 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. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He 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. 6"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. 11The 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. 12In 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. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." 15But 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. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." 17Then 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." 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 20Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
Today, I'd like to tell you about two men who had the same first name. Both men were named Saul. Both underwent "conversion", meaning that their lives ended up very different from how they started. One converted from very good to very bad. The other converted from very bad to very good. But with these few similarities, there are a number of differences. One Saul lived in the Old Testament, the other in the New Testament. The first Saul was a king. The second Saul was an apostle. So let's spend just a few minutes and talk about these two men, shall we?
The first Saul, familiar to most of you as King Saul, lived during Old Testament times, about one thousand years before Jesus was born. He started out as a very good king. In fact, God hand-picked him for the job. 1 Samuel 9:2 says, "Saul [was] an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites a head taller than any of the others." In his early days, Saul was very humble, as is show in this verse, where Saul responds to great compliments from the prophet Samuel: "But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?" (1 Sam 9:21). God was so impressed with Saul that God made him king, giving Saul the kingdom of Israel. 1 Samuel 10:1 says: Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance? Quite an honor, out of all the men in Israel, to have God choose Saul to be King over His people. And the king of Israel wasn't just the ruler, but also a sort of spiritual leader. And so, we read this account of Saul being given the Holy Spirit: 10 When [Saul and his party] arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. 11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, "What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?"
Saul started as a great king. Unfortunately, even though he started off very good, Saul quickly turned to be very bad. 1 Samuel 13:8-14 tells about specific instructions that Samuel gave to Saul regarding sacrifices to God before a battle. The short story there is, Saul disregarded Samuel's advice, and clearly the Lord was displeased so displeased, in fact, that He took the kingdom away from Saul's family and established another royal family, the family of King David. Listen to Samuel's pronouncement of doom on Saul in 1 Samuel 13:13- 14: 13 "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command." Listen to how disgusted God was with Saul: 11 "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.
So the story of King Saul is like a conversion in reverse. Saul started off godly. He started off favored by God. He had everything going for him. Over his life, however, he fell from grace. In the end, God had so completely rejected Saul that He wouldn't even listen to him anymore. And the reason God didn't listen to Saul, was because Saul had no faith. Listen to 1 Samuel 28:6: 5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.
It's very sobering to think that a person can turn out like Saul, isn't it? Starting off Godly, end up ungodly. Maybe they are babies brought to the baptismal font by their parents in a Lutheran Church. In baptism, God washes away sin. God gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. God blesses them by calling them to be His own dear children. But... just like king Saul, what starts off good and godly ends up going bad. How? Maybe their parents don't take them to church and Sunday School. Maybe they decide on their own after confirmation that they simply don't want to have anything to do with church anymore. Maybe they meet up with friends, or marry someone who isn't interested in church and gradually are pulled away from church themselves. They start off good... washed in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, favored by God, members of a Lutheran Church. But they end up bad.... they fail to cultivate their baptismal faith. They fail to stay close to the Lord, and they end up just like King Saul, falling away from God.
Well, that's one approach. That's one man named Saul, who went from being very good to being very bad. As all kings in Israel were called "sons of God", he went from being "son of God" to being enemy of God. Now, since this is the Sunday to talk about "The Conversion of St. Paul", let's talk about the "second Saul", Saul the Pharisee.
Saul the Pharisee started out bad. He very zealously persecuted Christians. When Stephen, the first elder to be killed for his faith was stoned, Acts 8:1 reports, And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. And 8:3 goes on, But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
That's pretty bad, isn't it? Listen to Saul later called Paul describe his life: 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22:3-5) Philippians 3:4-6 has Saul describing his efforts like this: If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, (meaning his own works) I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Even though this man Saul started off very bad, he was converted for good... to be a child of God. You heard the story while ago in Acts 9:1-22. He was walking on the road to Damascus, papers in hand to arrest more Christians in Damascus, but before he could get there, he was knocked to the ground, blinded so as to be completely helpless, and then lead by the hand to a house in Damascus where he prayed for three days before God gave him back his sight. God took Saul from being bad and converted him to be very good... a child of God, an apostle to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. God took Saul and gave him the gift of faith. Not only that, but Saul was given a new name and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Acts 13:9: 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit,...
Saul of Tarsus might just look like the most unlikely person to be a Christian, let alone an apostle. Would you think of recruiting an enemy to be such a zealous advocate? Would you think of recruiting someone who had done such damage to the church to be the church's key spokesman? Right after his conversion, God told a Christian by the name of Ananias to go and restore Saul's sight, Ananias expresses reservations because of Saul's reputation. Listen to Acts 9:13-14: 13 "Lord, 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." Makes sense, doesn't it? If someone is a notorious persecutor of Christians, you are going to be slow to trust such a person. God, of course, had other plans. He told Ananias that He had chosen Saul for this task. This of course, shows the incredible depth of God's forgiveness. He took Saul not just from unbelief to faith, but God took Saul from a life of active persecution to a life of service as an apostle.
Saul, later called St. Paul, recognized the depth of God's goodness and how far he had come. 1 Tim 1:15-16 is Paul saying: 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. It is God's power working in us that changes us from being bad to being good. It is God's power that moves us from being God's enemy to being God's friend. God works in you, no matter what your situation or station I life, no matter whether you have just come to realize your sinfulness or have been struggling with it for a long time.
This is all possible, of course, because Jesus bought us out of a life of slavery to sin and brought us into the kingdom of God. Here are other ways St. Paul describes it: 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal 4:4-5) We started out talking about one Saul who was very good and turned very bad, and another who was very bad and converted to be very good. And the Gospel message Saul of Tarsus later called St. Paul the Apostle preached, talked about the PERFECT man, the Man who was perfect because He was true God. Yet He came to this earth to be considered to be the most imperfect of all. And he redeemed us, He bought us out of all of our imperfections by Himself, being perfect, being called the most imperfect person of all. He took our imperfections, our sin, our guilt to the cross, and paid the ultimate price... He died! He died to pay for all our sins. And this same St. Paul, the Saul who started off bad and turned out good, reminds us that we all started off bad, but in Baptism are considered perfect: 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:27). Being clothed with Christ means that all that is bad in us is covered with His righteousness and holiness. We don't always live up to that holiness. Yet Jesus assures us with His rich forgiveness that He continuously restores us to that holiness.
Two men named Saul. Both went through drastic changes in life. One started off in God's favor, very good, and ended up rejecting God and falling away. The other started off bad, persecuting Christians and blaspheming the name of Jesus. God called him from that life to faith in Jesus, and in that God called Saul renamed Paul to be His apostle to the gentiles. King Saul had the kingdom taken from him. Saul of Tarsus had the kingdom of God given to him. God gives you the kingdom of heaven. Through the blood of Jesus, He has forgiven you all your sins and made you an heir of eternal life. You started out filled with sin. God made you His own special child, and calls you to live in His forgiveness. Amen.
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