Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and 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. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“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.”
Acts 9:1-6 NIV
Before the events of our scripture today, Saul had been going around, eliminating anyone tied to Christianity. Saul was a vocal and voracious opponent of Christianity, and he believed that it was his spiritual duty to fight against Christianity as hard as he could.
Saul’s concerns center around the resiliency and commitment that these early Christians demonstrated as they lived their lives for the Kingdom of God. Saul, as well as many others, know that no matter how much he oppresses these disciples of Christ, they will not just lay down and die. They keep coming back stronger and more powerful.
Saul knows that if they will not give up their beliefs under oppression, it is his duty to turn up the heat. So, he received letters from the high priest to arrest any followers of Christ that he sees on his way to Damascus. Not only does this give him boldness, but it gives him legitimacy. He now has the backing of the establishment.
But his attempts to destroy this infant movement are foiled. While he is on his way, a light shines down from heaven. This light, God’s glory, flashes all around him and knocks him from his animal. He sinks to his knees, and he hears God say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
In Saul’s mind, this is not what he is doing. In his mind, he is protecting the law and defending the faith. Saul knows that as it relates to the law, he is perfect. However, on this road, Saul’s life was changed. He had planned to stop every Jew travelling from Damascus to Jerusalem but not anymore.
Saul goes from the pursuer to the pursued. While Saul thought that he was chasing down disciples, God was chasing down him.
This clashing moment showed Saul that he was created for something more than what he was doing. God shows up, challenges Saul, and battles with Saul. In our lives, it is similar. We might say things like, “I came to Jesus,” but the reality is that Jesus chased us down.
When God appears before us and calls us, our natural inclination is to raise objections, but that clash, when we surrender and sacrifice our personal goals and desires, brings us to an assigned place, not a comfortable one.
Just as Saul found out on the road to Damascus, we are always being pursued by God. He chases us to change our outlook until our outlook aligns perfectly with His will. He is chasing us so that we can live lives that matter, not just live a life.
We are often asked to use our gifts from God to do His work.
Most of the time, we easily accept these challenges. Other times, we are a little unsure of our ability.
2 Timothy 4:2 tells us, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (NIV).
We can preach and spread the word that we know, but even pastors are intimidated at the prospect of attempting to encourage or inspire others to do the same. Such lofty goals are sometimes only met if we tap into what we have been taught about “edification” and its role in the church and as part of any Christian’s goals in ministry. Edification is, of course, the instruction and the consequential improvement of someone—morally, intellectually, or spiritually—so that he or she is uplifted and, yes, inspired. In the New Testament, there is an actual term assigned to edification as a concept, and that term literally translates as “building a house.”
When we are asked to expand or build God’s Kingdom, we do feel that we can handle the task. Yet, when we have to check progress on whether or not we have truly brought people into the fold or moved them to do the same type of evangelism that we attempt, we fall short. In Timothy, we see clearly that we must be patient, and we must use careful instruction. We also must be comfortable correcting others and encouraging them. In short, to build God’s house and lead others to His Kingdom, it takes tenacity and confidence.
When we plan special events at the church, and when we participate in community outreach, we have to remember that the most important component should be the salvation and the systematic lifestyle change for those participants. We should focus on leading them to understanding, embracing, and spreading the Word of God, thereby expanding His Kingdom beyond the initial scratch made by the interaction at the event.
In other words, we can welcome people to the church, and we can advocate for the Word of God and His Kingdom, but we have to edify and evangelize those with whom we come into contact. Heed the words of Mark 16:15 – 16, “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned'” (NIV). Go out and preach the Word of God—convince others to expand His Kingdom—but remember, in order to lead, we have to commit to changing and edifying those with whom we interact.
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”
Exodus 4:13-17 NIV
Moses’ question to God was, “Can’t you find someone else?” Moses at this point had run out of valid objections, especially because God patiently responded to each one. God had assured Moses that he would be successful and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Now, Moses is being honest with God.
Moses is trying to say, as politely as he can, “I don’t want to go.” Moses’ struggle is that he is being called by God, and he doesn’t like the invitation. God is calling Moses, asking him to participate in His unfolding will for Israel, and at the same, he is inviting Moses to live out God’s plan for Moses’ life.
Moses knows that the privilege and responsibility of this call makes it difficult, and of all the people in Israel, God decided to extend the call to Moses, an exile of forty years. The call is hard due to the nature of the call itself: Moses must go back to the place that he messed up in, convince the elders of Israel that he heard from God, who was seemly silent, and suggest that He is now ready to deliver the Israelites, in the face of the powerful Pharaoh.
Moses’ response is, “God I don’t want to go. You need to send somebody else.”
The call of God is on every one of our lives. There is no such thing as being a child of God without a call. This calling is an invitation to exercise a theology of works: to give ourselves to a vocation. But, it is also more than that. To give our lives to God is more than a vocation. It is more about living united with God’s mission on the earth.
In this regard, we must avoid being like Moses, because in verse 14, God’s response to Moses’ reluctance was that “the Lord’s anger burned against Moses.” But, despite Moses’ many excuses, God’s mercy prevailed over his anger.
God’s call will out-grace our sin, out-grace our fear, and out-grace our rebellion. Even when we come to the end of the road and think that we have a “no” to stand on, God will still be there, pointing forward.
The sooner we know what God has called us to do and the sooner we surrender to His call, the more purposed and productive our lives will be. When we acknowledge that God has called us, the less frustrated we will be, and we will better understand the reasons for the events that unfold in our lives.
The call on our lives is going to win out. So, what do we gain by resisting? What do we gain by not wanting to discover what we are called to do?
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
John 20:19-23 (NIV)
As the disciples were waiting for Christ to appear to them after His resurrection, they locked themselves in a room, held their breath, and wondered what all of this could mean. Their lives had changed so quickly. Jesus had died, and He had resurrected. But the disciples were shocked. What they had thought Christ would do was not what He did.
Now, they were in a wilderness of despair and emotional confusion, and fear guarded the door of the room they were in. Jesus does not wait for them to emerge, however. He goes to the house, appearing in their midst, and announces to them: Peace!
Jesus also walks up on us while we are locked up in fear. Fear can twist us up until we lock ourselves in emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Then we let life pass us by, and the opportunities that we have been gifted escape our grasp. Fear taunts us about all of life’s “what-ifs,” and it makes us justify our inactivity and low ambition. We fail to let what God has done infuse us and urge us on to the next level. Fear makes us forget the positive, and we focus on the negative. But Christ meets and ministers to us in our locked places of fear.
The world wants to keep us locked in and scared. Then, we won’t act boldly, even though that is the natural inclination of anyone who has received power in the name of Jesus Christ. However, faith in Jesus makes us pay attention to the things that can be so that we are not a prisoner to the things that cannot.
For us, what is next is not the thirst for success or the desire to flee from failure, instead it is to deepen our belief in Jesus Christ. We know that by deepening our faith in Jesus, “No eyes have seen nor ears have heard… what God has in store.” So, we can accept that our faith gives us room to try, if nothing else.
When we build the ark, we don’t need to know if it floats, and when we step out onto the water, we don’t need to know that we can stand. The moment we start to apply our faith, we have already succeeded. Our faith grants access to Christ, and in Christ we know that fear is nothing. What can we fear when He has already faced and conquered death? We may not get to the end of what we may call success, but we truly succeed when we apply our faith and do something that we thought we could never do.
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:28-40 (NIV)
Going up to Jerusalem, Jesus does not stumble or hesitate, despite knowing the suffering and darkness that are coming. Jesus’ obedience is calling for the highest sacrifice, the surrender of Jesus’ life for humanity’s future.
The two disciples are given simple instructions and meticulously obey, bringing the donkey and laying their cloaks on him and bringing Jesus into the city on the donkey. At the same time, Pilate returns to the city as well, adorned like a King.
As Jesus entered the city, the crowds waved palm branches and shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
When the Pharisees tell Jesus to “rebuke [his] disciples,” they are making it clear that the king coming into the city today is Pilate, not Jesus.
But Jesus says to them, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
If we analyze this, Jesus doesn’t say who He is. He implies it. Jesus makes it clear that He is more than a king, but the Son of God. Truly only one king was entering the city that day and it was Christ, not Pilate.
The Pharisees knew that this adoration would lead up to a clash between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate had come into the city for the precise purpose of attending Passover to prevent uprisings against Rome. While Pilate would have a seat of honor at the Passover feast, Jesus was contrasting this by entering into the city on a donkey and ministering to the poor of Jerusalem.
This moment is a perfect juxtaposition between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. When Jesus enters in such a fashion, He sets the stage for Friday and his public execution. But at the moment where Jesus tells the pharisees that the stones will cry out, He makes it clear that there will always be a testimony regarding Jesus’ majesty.
Angels sang at Christ’s birth, and now crowds shout at his entry into Jerusalem. If humans ever grew silent, a chorus of praise would break out from the very rocks.
Similarly, if we do not want to give praise to His glory, our chairs would sing out in praise. No matter the stages of our lives, there are none in which our expression of God’s goodness is not still appropriate. From the crucifixion to the resurrection, Jesus is still to be adored.