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Archive for January 25th, 2014

From The Week:

The world’s most ancient Christian communities are being destroyed — and no one cares:

Christians in the Middle East have been the victims of pogroms and persecution. Where’s the outrage in the West?

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Acts 9:1-22  Galatians 1:11-24 Matthew 19:27-30

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world. Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About the Day:  St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascus is related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out for Damascus to arrest and bring believers to Jerusalem for trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.

Suggested Reading from the Book of Concord: Large Catechism IV 56-67

(Source for the above: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

From Luther’s Sermon on, Acts 9,  The Conversion of St. Paul

Introduction: After the Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself to Saul of Tarsus, Saul could no longer see. The Lord guides his footsteps. Luther in his House Postil (Sermon) for this Feast Day has great insight on the importance of pastors.   Then I will comment on it and the day:

Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (vs. 6)

Although he speaks with Paul directly from heaven above, God does not intend to put away the pastoral office or establish something extraordinary for him. Indeed, he might have spoken to him directly and revealed what he wanted him to do, but instead he directs him to go to the parish pastor in the city where he would hear and learn what he was supposed to do. Our Lord God does not purpose some special thing for each individual person, but gives to the whole world—one person like the next—his baptism and gospel. Through these means we are to learn how to be saved, and have no need to wait for God to reveal some new thing from heaven, or send angel.  For it is his will that we go to hear the Gospel preached by the pastor;  there we will find him, and in no other way…

Our Lord God did not mandate anything extraordinary for Paul to do, for he, after all, had heard the physical voice of Christ, the Lord, and he was to become a foremost preacher. Instead he is told to go into the city and to hear Ananias. So, get up and go! he says. Nothing special beyond this is done, no further instruction there along the road, no baptism, just the directive to go where his Word and baptism are to be had. And Paul willingly complies with the Lord’s directive, although he does not yet know where and by whom this will all happen…

Ananias to Saul: “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou tamest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (“vs. 17)

That is something we must really note well, so that we esteem the preaching office as we ought.  Paul receives his sight, his insight and the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of Ananias, so that he knows who Christ is, understands the power of baptism, and forthwith emerges as a changed man.

 My comments:  I would guess that if you asked a knowledgeable fellow Lutheran and Christian when was Paul converted, the answer would be, ‘On the road to Damascus”  But based upon the Text and from it, Luther’s sermonic insight,  Saul’s conversion does not take place on  the road to Damascus but in the Word and the Font, prayed and administered by the pastor, Ananias. Baptism is conversion, born from above, transformed. As the Apostle well knew when he wrote to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 6:

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(emphasis my own)

What happened to Saul on the road was not his conversion but the apocalypse by the Lord to Saul.  Note that  our word “apocalypse” is from the New Testament Greek, “reveal”, and “reveal” is the word the Apostle Paul used in his letter to the Galatians about that famous walk to Damascus: Galatians 1:16.  Similarly, when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Lord said the Father revealed, literally, “apocalypsed” this to Peter.  I think this day should be called the Apocalypse to Saul.

 Saul is blinded for 3 days (vs. 9) as in the Lord in the tomb for 3 days.  Saul was blinded by his own sin and the Lord’s judgment of his sin in consenting to the arrest and murder of Christians, such as the first martyr, Stephen, see Acts 7: 60-8:1.  Only by the Word of the Gospel that Ananias administered in prayer was Paul able to see and in Baptism be saved, receiving Christ Jesus’ forgiveness in His death and resurrection (see Romans 6: 1-11!!!). This is when Saul of Tarsus is converted.

Note:  there is no “decision of Christ” at all!  As Paul well knew this when he wrote:  “The letter (of the Law) kills, and the Spirit gives life.” (see 2 Corinthians 3:6) There is no intervention of the choosing self, the Old Adam.   It is all the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes! Receive the Holy Ghost, says the Pastor on the street called straight. Paul had no choice for the Lord chose him, one “untimely  born”(see 1 Corinthians 15:7-9).   We look for God in all the wrong places.  We think it should be glorious, but it is not, it is the Cross. Jesus does not give Saul any instruction but to go the means He Himself has appointed for Saul to be washed and saved:  Water and the Word (cf. St. Matthew 28: 18)

 Woody Allen’s  movie, Love and Death,  is  his funny take on 19th century Russian novels and his main character continually asks for ‘vision’, a revelation, for the proof of the existence of God.  He is always stymied. Those so  wanting a revelation will be disappointed, deluded and demonized because they are not looking to where the Lord said He will be found: His Word and His Sacraments. We have all sorts of people who consider themselves “spiritual” and even think the Lord has revealed Himself to them apart from His Word and Sacrament and then go on to  deny His means of grace.  But the Lord directed Saul to the Font, as Paul would also direct the Lord’s people, as did the Lord,  and as a  saint in your life also pointed the way to the Lord in His forgiveness for you:  not in the sky, but in the laver of regeneration, Baptism.  Thank Him for His grace which causes the blind to see His love in the washing unto eternal life! (see 1 Corinthians 6:11)  

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