Sermon: An Unusual Conversion

An Unusual Conversion
Acts 9:1-20
RUMC April 24, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a handsome young prince who fell in love with a lovely young maiden.  But the wicked fairy god mother captured the young lady and held her captive in a tower.  Now the handsome young prince had a plan to rescue her, so he recruited the help of two insects to send a message to lady in distress.  First there was Claude the Caterpillar, who didn’t mind helping fair maidens in distress, but he was kind of an old crusty character who acted like he always got up on the wrong side of bed.

Anyway, the handsome prince gave him a special message and old Claude started inching along up the tower.  He had to work very hard to get there.  When he finally reached the window he said, “Are you the maiden in distress?”  She nodded while Claude gave her the once over and said, “You’re kidding.  You mean I came all the way up here for the likes of you.”  He shook his head and said in a very rude manner.  “I don’t know what the prince sees in you, but any rate, he sent me with this message: get ready.  He’s coming to get you.  5:00 sharp.  Understand?  All right.  Good bye” And off went Claude.

Next the handsome young prince sent Barney the butterfly.  With his soft wings; he soared gracefully into the air.  Just as he was about to reach the window, a bird swooped down and nearly ate him.  But after a frantic chase, poor Barney flew inside the window and landed softly on the maiden’s little finger.  Then he said, “Lovely and favored maiden, whom the prince loves dearly.  At the sound of his voice, you are to jump from this window and into his arms.”

The lovely young maiden replied, “Thank you beautiful butterfly.  You are very sweet.  But tell me, why did the caterpillar bring good news in such a nasty manner?”  The butterfly replied, “Oh, you mean Claude?  Well, that’s Claude being Claude.  I used to be that way too until I was transformed.”

My scripture text is about this very thing.  Saul of Tarsus was intent on destroying the early church, because he thought it was a false religion.  But then he had a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ and was transformed, later becoming the Apostle Paul.  The spiritual lesson is this:  When we have an encounter with Jesus, there is transformation.

My text is Acts 9:1-20.
Meanwhile 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.

Saul who was raised in the Jewish faith was considered to be on the fast track to be one of Israel’s up and coming rabbis.  But in his zeal, he felt it was his duty to root out and destroy those fanatical followers of a dead man named Jesus.  And with permission from the High Priest, Saul was given the legal authority to put to death anyone who was associated with the sect called the “Way”.  But, as you just read, when Saul approached the city, he had a vision of the risen Christ and was blinded by that experience.

Our scripture story reminds me of what Stephen Kinzer, a former columnist for the NY Times wrote about how certain men in Kyrgyzstan train eagles to hunt:  Baby eagles are usually taken from the nest or trapped in a net.  Once captured, a hood is placed over its head; the eaglet is placed in a cage on a perch that sways constantly so it cannot rest or sleep.  The animal is also deprived of food for 2-3 days.  During that time, the hunter will talk, sing and chant to the baby eagle for hours on end.  Finally the eagle hunter will begin to feed and stroke the bird.  Slowly the weakened creature will come to rely on its master.  When the eagle hunter decides that their relationship has become strong enough, the training will begin.

Sometimes God works in the same way with us; He allows hard times to come to get our attention, to bring us into a deeper level of devotion.  Often times, we can see the hard times as harsh or maybe unloving.  But in reality, if we could step back and look at difficulties with a different perspective, we would see that God is really in control and we can trust Him.

Being struck blind, as Saul of Tarsus was, seems to be a tragic occurrence, but what it did was drive him to his knees and helped him to discover that there is a loving Heavenly Fathered who had his best interest at hand.  It was an interesting paradox: Saul, who was spiritually blind, had to become physically blind so he could see.

Jacob Koshy grew up in Singapore with one driving ambition: to be a success and make all the money he could.  Unfortunately that goal led him into the underground world of drugs and gambling.  Eventually he became the head of an international smuggling network.  In 1980 he was arrested and sent to prison.

Frustrated beyond all endurance, Jacob’s life was empty and without any purpose.  Although cigarettes weren’t allowed in prison, he was able to have tobacco smuggled in to smoke.  He rolled the tobacco leaves in the pages of a Gideon Bible.

One day Jacob fell asleep while smoking.  When he woke, he saw that the cigarette had burned out and all that remained was a scrap of charred paper.  He unrolled it and read what was written, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Curiosity got the best of him; he asked for another Bible and managed to find the story of Saul.  Suddenly, he realized that if God could help someone like Saul, he could help him too.  There in his cell, he knelt and prayed and asked Christ to come into his life and change him.  Then he began to cry and couldn’t stop.  The tears of a wasted life were washed away and God redeemed him.

Jacob started to share his story with the other prisoners.  In time he was released.  Jacob found a church and became an active member.  There he met a Christian woman, and they married.  Now a missionary, he tells people far and wide, “Who would have believed that I could find the truth by smoking the Word of God?”  Jacob Koshy believed and was transformed.

Sometimes it takes something extraordinary for God to get our attention.  It could be a sickness, a disease, an accident, a death of a loved one, a bankruptcy or anything else.  But whatever it is, we need to embrace our suffering and not let it harden our hearts but let Jesus transform our lives.

Another person who was transformed with the gospel was a man named Juan Chavez.  At the time he was on Mexico’s 10 most wanted list.  Every effort to apprehend him proved unsuccessful.  Then one day, without warning the elusive criminal appeared voluntarily in a Saltillo, Mexico courthouse and announced, “I am Juan Chavez.”  The presiding judge was speechless at this turn of events.

The judge asked, “Who brought you in?”  Chavez held up a Bible and replied, “This book has brought me back, back to pay my debt to society.”  He explained it this way.  “When I got back from one of my raids, I found this book among the loot.  At the time I was hiding in a cave and since I had nothing else to do, I began to read it.  I couldn’t get away from it.  This Bible has changed my life.”

You see when we believe and allow Christ into our lives, there will be a transformation of sorts.

That is what the Christian faith is all about.  In my introduction, Barney the Butterfly was just like Claude the Caterpillar until he was transformed.  And even the lovely fair maiden noticed the difference in the two insects.

When Saul met the risen Christ, he too was changed.  He took the name of Paul which signified the beginning of a new life of faith.  Jacob Koshy, the head of an international smuggling ring was changed when he met the Savior and later became a missionary. And Juan Chavez’s conversion to Christ was so real that he turned himself into the authorities.

Many of you can identify with Saul and these examples, because you too have believed and your lives have been transformed by Christ as well.  That is the essence of the Christian faith.  If you have never committed your life to Christ, I would urge you to do so.  One additional shared thing about the people I have mentioned is that they never looked back, nor did they have any regrets.