Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Road To Damascus

“9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:1-9 (ESV)
We return to Saul on the road to Damascus. It has become a by word in Christianity for conversion. Saul had gained letters from the high priest to bring any who belonged to “the Way” bound to Jerusalem for trial in the persecutions. It always amazes me just how much power and prestige the high priest must have had within the eyes of the Roman government to be able to issue such a letter. Damascus was close enough to Jerusalem that it was part of Israel in the days of David and Solomon. However, Damascus was considered part of Syria by the time Paul gets around to it. Though it was also considered to be one of the cities of the Decapolis a region that Jesus himself visited. The Roman authorities would had to have lifted an eyebrow or two wondering what business the high priest had in Damascus. Yet, the high priest issued the letter and presumably expected this was something he could get away with.
Here you see what was at stake in this whole controversy for the high priest, power and prestige. But for Saul it was his whole world view. Everything he knew about life was being challenged by the Way. All he had tried to earn with his good life was for nothing if Jesus had risen from the dead. This would mean that Paul would have to give up his own righteousness, and consider it to be as rubbish, skubola even. And that is a bitter pill to swallow. It isn’t that our own righteousness counts for nothing in this world. Here we live by the rules of society and society honors and rewards us for that, for the most part. And there is something to be said for all of that. But we want it to count for more. Paul wanted the life he had lived to count for more. And when it doesn’t, when we realize that either it is forgiveness or nothing, well then we have opportunity to see just how depraved our hearts really are. We start looking at others and thinking but they did all of this, they did drugs, they were promiscuous whore mongers, they went to wild parties, they were drunkards, they were you fill in the blank, and they get the same reward the same forgiveness the same righteousness before God as me, and we are upset. But a person has to ask himself why? Was it because you were tempted to be a druggy, a whoremonger or prostitute, a drunkard, was it because you really wanted to go to all those wild parties yourself? Are you seriously jealous of their sin? And the truth is, yes. Yes we really are. We think it is not fair that they should have gotten away with these things and received the same forgiveness as us who tried so hard to abstain from those things. It’s just a little messed up. If you took inventory of your sin you would see that you have more than plenty of your own, you don’t need to be jealous of others for theirs. You just haven’t lived a life that would qualify as righteous before God, as even your begrudging of their forgiveness shows. Jesus, the model of righteousness to which none of us lives up to shows his true righteousness in that he loves his neighbors, shows. Jesus, the model of righteousness to which none of us lives up to shows his true righteousness in that he loves his neighbors, you, I, the prostitutes, the whoremongers, the druggies and drunkards, the murderers and the self-righteous to afraid to enjoy life even a little less they be found to have sinned in the eyes of man. He loves them all as he loves himself and so he dies for all to give them forgiveness. But it makes the moralist masticate his pride. And Paul was a moralist as no moralist can be. His forgiveness will change him so much so that two thousand years later people are still as scandalized by what he wrote in his letters as he was by the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ. To this day when people take Paul seriously, they are called anti-nomians, just as he was called.

But now on the road he meets the man he persecutes. It is an insight into the body of Christ, and how real it is. When we are persecuted for our faith we are persecuted together. When someone insults us for our faith, it is not us but Christ, it is Jesus who is insulted, it is our creator and redeemer they blaspheme. And so we pray, we pray that even they would be converted as was Paul, we begrudge them not their sin, but for their sake’s we pray they would know the forgiveness of Christ’s cross and have their sin wrested from them. 

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