Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
Do you ever wonder if God will forgive even that sin? You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one you go most of your life pretending doesn’t exist. But it’s also the one that’s always on your mind. It haunts you. Just when you think you’re in the clear—BAM!—you’re back where you were before, steeped in this sin, caving to its craving, and buried by its burden. It’s the sin you confess each and every Sunday, hoping against all odds that you’ll be able to confess something else the following week. It’s the sin you never mention to another human being for fear of the guilt, the shame, or the repercussions. Do you ever wonder if God will forgive even that sin?
In today’s reading from Acts, we hear God’s resounding answer. Even your greatest sin can be forgiven. God will stop at nothing to save His people. The example laid before us is that of Saul. He had it all. As he described himself later in life, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He had it all. But notice what he says about his zeal. In his efforts to support and defend the truth, he ended up persecuting Christians.
The first time we see him in the book of Acts, he’s the big guy in town. It’s time to stone a Christian. But that’s a bit of a strenuous activity, and you don’t want to get your coat all sweaty. But you can’t just leave them lying around or with a random guy who may steal them. You go with the best of the best. And so they laid their cloaks at the feet of Saul. Here, he’s got official documentation of his purpose to seek out Christians, tie them up, and carry them back to Jerusalem. All the while, he’s “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” It was his way of life.
Yet even for the sin of murdering Christians, there is forgiveness. God will stop at nothing to save His people. He uses everything at His disposal to get Saul’s attention and turn him into the instrument He needs. God shines a blinding light from heaven on him that no one else can see. Jesus talks to him directly from this light. He blinds Saul so that his physical state matches his spiritual one. The Lord appears to Ananias to tell him what to do next. He restores Saul’s sight through Ananias. And to cap it all off, Saul is baptized.
Notice who makes the moves. It’s all God. He didn’t wait until Saul came to Him. He didn’t wait until Saul got his act together. He didn’t wait until Saul got started and at least turned to him slightly. No, God broke into Saul’s little world, smashed through his expectations of reality, and reached down to turn Saul around. Jesus came to Saul where he was, even as he was—both literally and figuratively—on the way to killing more Christians.
Notice also that God uses both ordinary and extraordinary means to save Saul. The blinding light, the vision, the blindness and healing—all extraordinary things. But He also uses ordinary means—just a few short words, the passage of time (three days), prayer, the witness of a simple Christian, and even plain old water in connection with God’s Word. God uses every means at His disposal to save His people.
And see how God works through it all. In the extraordinary events, God works without an intermediary. But ordinarily, in how God normally works, he works through means. He works through time, experienced by all. He works through the words of a believer. He works through water. God will stop at nothing to save His people.
This reading form the book of Acts ends with a snapshot of this newly converted Saul. He came with letters to arrest Christians in the synagogues, but now He is one, standing in the synagogue and proclaiming Jesus. He came believing that Jesus’ claims to divinity were rubbish, but now he says, “He is the Son of God!” He came with what he thought was it all: respect among his people, power, and dignity. But now, here he is, confounding the group he just left “by proving that Jesus was the Christ,” the only thing that now mattered to him.
Do you ever wonder if God will forgive even that sin? He did for Saul. Are you any different? Let me tell you just one more story this morning. It’s one you’re all familiar with because we’re not too far past the events of Holy Week and Easter. It’s the story of the lengths God went to to save you, to forgive your sin. Hear how Isaiah, about 700 years before Jesus described what was to happen:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
For our transgressions. For our iniquities. It brought us peace. Our iniquities were laid on Him. Each and every sin of yours and mine have been taken to the cross, driven through flesh and bone into the wood, and left there for good. It is finished. Yes, even that sin is forgiven. Even that behavior is covered. God is working even now in your life to draw you back to Himself again and again and again. He works through extraordinary means, sending His only Son, who is also God, to die and rise for you. And He works through ordinary means, water, bread, wine, fellow believers, prayer. He will stop at nothing to save you, His people. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell