Who was converted?

Acts 9:1-19

9Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus,

Are you tired of hearing stories about my son yet?  It seems like I have an unending supply of stories and I know that I only have a limited number of years to share them before he starts to get embarrassed about daddy talking about him from the pulpit all the time.  So like it or not, here comes another Paxton story.

So this week Sonya started back to work and that means that I am watching Paxton a couple days each week all by myself.  Scary, I know.  But I am a motivated person.  And I want to be the very best father that I can be to Paxton.  So I was a little disappointed one morning when I found my son in an unconventional place.

It was about 7:15 in the morning and Sonya had just left for work.  So I went back upstairs up to check on Pax.  Now here is something unique about Paxton.  He didn’t get this from his mother or from me, but when he wakes up, he is the happiest little boy in the world (he is 13 weeks old).  He smiles, he laughs, he coos.  It is really fun to watch and really fun to experience.  Really, there is nothing like the laughter of a baby.

So Paxton is laying in his crib on this Tuesday morning.  And around his crib is a white bumper.  So from Paxton’s perspective, if he looks to the right, all he can see is this white bumper.  If he looks left, all he can see is the white bumper.  His view above his head and below?  You guessed it, it’s a white bumper.  The only thing that he can see is the fish mobile that hangs above his head.

Now recently Paxton has discovered that he can move himself around by pushing his legs against the mattress.  We can swaddle him tight with several blankets, but he is able to kick out and then start moving around within the confines of his crib.

So Tuesday morning after I say goodbye to Sonya, I go upstairs to begin my day of looking after Paxton.  As I walk up the stairs I can hear him just a laughing and cooing with delight; even more so than usual.  But when I get into his room, I am shocked to find out that my son’s head has fallen off!  What had really happened was that he had gotten his head underneath the bumper and he was loving it!  Daddy didn’t like it too much, but Paxton loved it.

So I wondered as I took my young son into my arms what it was that made him so excited and so happy about having his head under the bumper?  And I think that what it was had to do with the fact that an entirely new world had just been opened up to him!  Remember, all he could see before were the four walls of his crib and a few fish circling his head.  But now he could see the walls, wardrobe, the changing table, and he could probably even see out the window.  To me, who was already outside of the confines of the crib, I saw this experience as something to fear.  But to him, this new experience was exciting and something to coo about.

What Paxton was experiencing was what is often called a new worldview.  Your worldview, believe it or not, is how you view the world.  Your worldview includes things like how you answer the question of “Why are we here?” and “Where did we come from?” and “What are we heading for?”  Your worldview will affect the way you look at other people, your worldview will affect how you live, spend time, and spend money.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we answer a lot of these questions with our religion.  We have a Christian worldview.  Someone born into a Jewish family in Poland would have a different worldview than a Christian born in North America.  A Christian born in Poland would probably have a different worldview than a Jew born in Poland.  A Christian born in Ohio might have a different worldview than a Christian born in Virginia.  A lot of things come into play in shaping our worldview, including our experiences.  Paxton has a very limited worldview, but by getting his head out of the crib, he was able to expand his worldview, and he was able to experience the world that God has made for him to steward and enjoy. 

I would say that one of the most powerful forces in the world is our worldview.

In our text for this morning, we find a man by the name of Saul disciplining some rogue Jews that were calling themselves “The Way.”  Saul himself was a Jew of high regard.  He was a descendent from the line of Benjamin, educated at the finest schools of Judaism, and he was able to achieve the title of Pharisee.  Saul was a man that knew the Law, the Torah, inside and out, up and down.  And he was so sure of his interpretation of the Law that he went around collecting people that tried to teach anything different from his understanding of the Law and take them into jail.  Our scripture says that he was getting permission to capture Jews that were not following the Law and bring them in shackles and chains to Jerusalem.  Now we don’t have any record of Paul using lethal force to correct those people that had strayed from his understanding of the Law, but we do find Paul looking on approvingly as a man named Stephen is killed because he is a part of these people that call themselves The Way, these followers of a man who was recently crucified for questioning the Jewish Law and authorities of the Jewish and Roman governing bodies.

So this Saul, who is getting quite the reputation for capturing these rogue Jews, is traveling one day to the city of Damascus, and he is confronted with a great light and a voice that speaks to him saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  But Saul doesn’t know who this voice belongs to.  Evidently he has been persecuting a number of people, because he doesn’t realize that this is the voice of Jesus himself.

That’s right, the very person that these silly people were following was now speaking to Saul from the grave.  Saul knows that he has been crucified and he has probably heard the stories that this man has risen from the grave.  But he didn’t believe those stories.  At least not until now.

Jesus gives him instructions to go into the city of Damascus where he will receive guidance after arriving.  And he does just that.  He listens to Jesus, he too begins to follow the teachings and instructions of Jesus.  This is his conversion.  This is where Saul goes from persecuting Jesus to following Jesus.  Saul has a major life changing event take place and the world as he knows it is turned upside down.  Saul’s worldview just…got…expanded. 

But getting to Damascus becomes much more difficult for Saul because something has been taken away from him.  Saul is unable to see any longer. 

I think that there is a bit of irony involved here.  When Saul’s life is turned upside down, when he meets the resurrected Christ and begins to follow him, we might say that his eyes were opened.  Only now is he able to see the world the way that it is and before he was blinded by his own narrow understanding of who God is and what God is calling His people to.  It is like the old song goes, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”  This is ironic because in Paul’s conversion, he was able to see the world in a new way, but his physical eyesight had been taken away.  (One sense is heightened when another is taken away?)

This is in a lot of ways like when Paxton was in the crib and all he could see was the bumper around the perimeter of the crib and the mobile over his head.  He was happy in the crib, he was content.  But that was because this was all that he knew.  (Of course this is an overstatement.  We take him out of the crib from time to timeJ)  But when he was able to get his head on the other side of the bumper, an entirely new world opened up to him.  A world filled with color and sunshine and the great outdoors.  Paxton then was able to see where he was in relation to other things is his nursery, perhaps not even knowing before that those things were even in his nursery.  What had happened?  Paxton’s worldview had just been expanded.

Now I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that nobody here today has ever had the same kind of conversion as Saul did.  Please, correct me if I am wrong, but I bet the risen Lord has never spoken to you through a flash of light from the heavens, blinding you for a period of three days.  But I bet that most of us have had our worldview changed and sometimes that can affect how we understand our role as followers of Jesus Christ.

Consider, for instance, Ananias.  Ananias was a follower of Jesus; he is called a disciple in verse 10.  Ananias receives a vision from Jesus and Jesus sends him to a certain place to meet Saul, to pray for him so that he can regain his vision.  I love Ananias’ response.  He is like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa right there, Jesus!  Maybe you didn’t hear about it, but this Saul guy is out to get us.  He has the authority to haul us off if we only mention your name.”  As if Jesus was going to say, Oh, I hadn’t heard.  Thanks for letting me know.

Perhaps Ananias had been absent the day that Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.”  Must have missed that day.  Or maybe he just misunderstood Jesus and thought that he had said, “Doubt everything that I tell you because you know more than God incarnate.”  Simple mistake.

Some commentators have said that it is possible that Ananias was a leader in the Christian church at Damascus and it was very possible that Ananias’ name was on Saul’s short list of people to capture and haul back to the High Priest in Jerusalem.  Ananias had reason to fear Saul.  But after some convincing, Ananias does as he is told and goes to find Saul to tell him what Jesus said.  He then lays his hands on Saul and the text tells us in verse 18, “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.”

If you read this text in the NIV or The Message, verse 18 specifies that the scales fell from Saul’s eyes and his sight was restored.  But in the KJV and NRSV is just says that the scales fell from “his” eyes.  The NIV and Message are interpreting that “his” to be referring to Saul, but in the original Greek, it just says “his eyes”.

Now I do believe that this is the correct interpretation to say that the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, but I also believe that metaphorical scales fell from the eyes of Ananias.  The Greek word for eyes is “ophthalmos” from which we get the word ophthalmologist, better known as an eye doctor.  Now ophthalmos is used throughout the New Testament to refer to people’s physical eyes.  When Jesus spits in the dirt to make mud that will heal the man born blind, he rubs the mud on the man’s ophtalmos.  But ophtalmos is also used metaphorically to describe the eyes of the mind, or the faculty of knowing (from greekbible.com’s Lexicon).  So when we read that something like scales fell from his eyes, I believe this can mean both Saul’s physical eyes and the metaphorical mind’s eye of Ananias.

Paul was able to physically see once again.  Ananias could see perhaps for the first time.  Perhaps now Ananias could see God’s plan for love and reconciliation, even for people that are considered enemies of the faith.  Not only Paul, but Ananias as well had his worldview expanded.

Like I said earlier, probably nobody here has had an encounter with Jesus like Saul did.  But I know that many people do have life changing experiences that can lead them to a life of following the risen Jesus Christ.  I was raised in a Christian home and though I had plenty of opportunity to make some bad decisions throughout my life (some of which I took) I have always considered myself to be a Christian.  So I don’t relate as well to Saul as I do to Ananias.

But I remember in my early 20’s, right out of college and in a pastoral position in a church in Ohio, thinking that I had God pretty well figured out.  I knew it all.  Things were clear to me.  I knew right from wrong and I knew why we were supposed to do this and not that.  I don’t want to give specific examples because to be honest I am quite embarrassed of how simplistic I was and in many ways continue to be.

Then I stuck my head outside of my crib.

When I moved to Virginia for seminary in 2005 I was just pretty cocky.  I figured that by the end of the semester they would be asking me to teach the classes.  And in this I feel like I was a lot like Saul and a lot like Ananias.  My eyes were closed and I was blind to the ways that God was moving around me.  I had put God in such a small box.  I would have considered many things to be unnecessary add-ons to the Gospel.  Helping the poor?  Well, that’s a good thing to do, but it isn’t necessary.  Working for social justice and peace?  Again, these were good things, but not necessary in my mind.

I believe that my eyes are continually being opened by God.  God is there with a crowbar trying to make me see how he is moving in the world around me and how he wants me to participate.  God wants to expand my worldview.  But if we approach the Christian faith like Saul and Ananias did, if we come in with our own preconceived anchored in concrete beliefs about what God should be doing, then we might miss out on joining in on a world-changing experience.  We are living life in the crib.

When God approached Moses in the Old Testament and told Moses that he would be God’s mouthpiece before Pharaoh, Moses said, “Send my brother Aaron.  He is better at this stuff than me.”  That’s life in the crib.  When God sends Jonah to Nineveh to preach to the Ninevites, Jonah decides that he would rather go to Tarshish.  That’s life in the crib.  Jesus is approached by a number of would-be followers.  The rich young ruler, the man that wanted to burry his father, the man that wanted to first say goodbye to his family.  That is life in the crib.  When we allow our worldview to keep us from experiencing and participating in the world that God is calling us to, that is life in the crib.  Our worldview is one of the most powerful forces in the world because sometimes we allow it to be stronger than the calling of God.

When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, the Holy Spirit entered into him.  And that same Holy Spirit is among us today, giving us gentle nudges along the way, showing us what God is doing in our midst.  The way I see it, we can harden our hearts like Saul and like Ananias did initially and not be receptive to the leading of the Spirit.  Or we can listen to what God is calling us to do.

Are we allowing our worldview to box us and God in?  Maybe it is time to get our heads out of the crib.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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