Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 24, 2011

Sermon on Acts 26:9-29

God’s Game Changer

  • Order of Service: Common Service (CW, p15)
  • Lessons: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Philippians 2:1-11, Matthew 21:28-32
  • Hymns: 385, 347, 494, 593

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

What turns a Jesus-damning, Christian-killer into the guy who goes throughout the world and preaches that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20)?

What turns a chief-priest-obeying, death-penalty voting, synagogue-purging, blasphemy-forcing, traveling-to-foreign-cities-obsessed-with-getting-Christians man into the guy who says, Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31)?

What turns a Pharisee-of-Pharisees, an Israelite-of-Israelites, working my way to heaven kind of guy into the man who says, A man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (Romans 3:28)?

You know the answer.  The Word did it.  The Word of God.  That great heritage we sing about.  The Word of God works as God’s game-changer.  There stands Saul, convinced he should do everything possible to oppose Jesus.  No one in the world hates Jesus more than Saul.  He kicks against God’s goads, the Scriptures Saul knows so well, those Scriptures that testify about Christ.  And then – boom! – faster than Jahvid Best can break an 88-yard touchdown to put the Bears away it’s a new ballgame.  God knocks Saul off his donkey onto his butt.  And then Saul’s gone.  Or at least the Saul everyone had known.

A bribe?  No.  A threat?  No.  A trick?  No.  The Word.  I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 26:15).  The Word made flesh appeared to Saul and displayed the marks of His death and the indisputable proof that the dead One lives.  Now we’ve got a new ballgame, because much happened in that moment.

God opened Saul’s eyes.  To underscore this, first God literally blinded Saul.  But in the darkness, Saul had time to meditate upon what he heard, to listen closely to the preaching of Ananias, and to see nothing, but feel only the cool water of sin-forgiving Baptism.

And then darkness became light.  The scales fell from Saul’s eyes, literally.  And he saw.  Not just a room.  Not just poor, terrified Ananias.  But everything.  He saw the Word in bold relief, the same Word he would later preach to anyone who would listen, I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles (Acts 26:23).  But first, Saul needed to see Christ in that light.

Which couldn’t happen until Saul got a new boss.  He didn’t exclude himself when he said to the Ephesians, You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:1-2).  But now, in a blink of an eye, Saul finds himself under new ownership.  He went from the authority of Satan to the authority of God, who claimed Saul for Himself: I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant (Acts 26:16).

Which meant dealing with Saul’s past.  What about those murderous threats?  That coerced blasphemy?  Approving Stephen’s murder? A later, wiser Saul wrote, Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?…  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9, 11).  God did something about those things.  He mercied Saul.  He forgave Saul.  He made Saul holy by faith in Christ.  He changed the game for Saul.  With His game-changer: the Word.

That’s what God sent Saul – let’s call him Paul, now – to do.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17-18).  And that’s what Paul did.  I preached, he said.  He said nothing beyond what Moses and the prophets said.  When appealing to Agrippa, he cried out, Do you believe the prophets?  I know you do (Acts 26:27)!  Paul went where God sent not with eloquence, not with all his fancy degrees, not with sufficient cash to bribe the church councils, not even with spectacular miracles (though he did perform miracles), but with the Spirit’s power.  And that meant displaying Christ to them as he had seen Christ.  That meant resolving to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  That meant preaching the Gospel that he received.

And what a game-changer it was, eh?  Everywhere Paul went, the Church sprang up.  In Antioch, They were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).  In Iconium they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed (Acts 14:1).  In Derbe they preached the good news…and won a large number of disciples (Acts 14:21).  And so on and so forth.  Saul after Saul after Saul in city after city after city went through what he went through:  a game-change.  Haters became lovers.  Workers became the graced ones.  Unbelievers became the faithful.  With all the accompanying fruits that one can expect from a change of game like this:  adultery became chastity, greed became generosity, anger became understanding, and so on and so forth.

That’s God’s game-changer.  The Word opens eyes to see Christ.  The Word brings light into darkness.  The Word snatches you away from Satan and makes you God’s.  The Word gives the forgiveness it promises.  The Word promises your place in heaven through faith in Christ.  The Word plants fruit borne in Christian lives.

And your pastors have that word.  And not just pastors.  Of course, the whole Church, all believers in Christ, have the Word to share and proclaim as the shepherds did after they saw their swaddled Savior.  But especially your pastors have this Word.  God sent Paul out with the game-changer.  God sends your pastors too.  He’s called them to the work of using His game-changer when He called them into the holy ministry.

That’s your pastor’s call, Paul’s call.  I preached that they should repent.  God sends pastors to open eyes, to turn from darkness to light, from Satan to God.  God sends pastors to forgive and retain sins.  God sends pastors to reserve places in heaven.  God sends pastors to instruct in just how the game changes for those who come to faith.  Not by your clever skill, not by your tricks and gimmicks, not with any other game-changer but one – the Word.  In all its forms.  God entrusts to His holy ministry the various means by which He changes the game throughout the world.  The Word Paul preached your pastor preaches.  The Baptism Paul received your pastor applies.  The Holy Communion Paul consecrated your pastor distributes.

With the same results.  Forgiveness and fruits.  This calls for faithfulness.  This must be our main mission – preaching!  Everything we do must be preaching centered.  Because it doesn’t matter how cool, hip, real, relevant, or relational your pastor is.  That doesn’t change the game.  It doesn’t matter which social media your pastor taps in to or which social services your congregation provides.  Those don’t change the game.  Pastors haven’t been called and equipped to do anything but the work of an evangelist:  read the Scriptures, preach and teach.  Our Confessions talk about the holy ministry as publicly teaching and administering the sacraments (AC XIV) and that’s about it, because only that changes the game.  Article V of the Augustana tells us we do those things so that we may obtain this faith, because only through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given.  He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (AC V:1-2).

Sorely does the devil, the world, and my own flesh tempt me in other directions.  But there are no other game-changers.  Other faith-creators aren’t walking through that door.  Paul didn’t say anything except, Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).  So we hear Paul’s sermon for ourselves.  We repent of shirking our duties in proclaiming the Word.  We repent of kicking against the goads by letting things other than Word and Sacrament become the main thing, even if only for a moment.  We repent of considering anything else a game-changer.  And then we hear Christ, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  And the scales fall from our eyes.  We see the marks in His hands, marks made on our account.  We see where the blood poured out to wash away our sins.  We see the living Savior who appointed us for salvation and calls pastors into the holy ministry, even weaklings like us.

It’s the Word.  A Word for me.  A Word that rescued me.  A Baptism that washes me.  A Sacrament for the forgiveness of my sins.  Because the Word is Christ:  the Game-Changer.  Amen.

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