Blinded by the Light

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2024

Today’s sermon is the second in my series on the Bible’s book of church history—the book called the Acts of the Apostles. Last week we were reminded that Acts is really the second volume of the Gospel According to Luke, because it was written by the same author. But one of the most important things we might remember about Acts is one of its main characters. Peter is mentioned maybe 45 times in the Book of Acts. But Paul is mentioned about 145 times.

Before we discover Paul, though, we need to go back to an earlier story—the story of how the apostles were too busy to do everything the people needed them to, and so they asked the church to choose seven from among them to do the extra work. These seven were called deacons—a word based on the Greek word for servant.

Among these seven was a man called Stephen. Stephen was one of the most faithful of all the early Christians, and to him, servanthood meant boldly proclaiming the gospel. There was danger in what Stephen did, and he quickly drew the attention of those who wanted to stamp out Christianity before this little sect had a chance to spread. And so they made Stephen Christianity’s first martyr—they stoned him to death.

And as Stephen dies, Luke tells us two very important things. The second (and more beautiful) thing was that, as Stephen died at the hands of those who hated him, he prayed for them, that God wouldn’t hold their sin against them. But just before that, we also learned that Stephen’s killers left their coats in the care of a certain young man—a young man named Saul.

After that little reference at the end of chapter 7, Luke tells us in chapter 8 that Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison [v 3]. So he may have been young, but he was vicious. And he took it upon himself to personally do away with as many Christians as he possibly could, so offended was he by this new religious expression.

Chapter 9 opens in the same way. Saul is so intent upon doing away with the followers of Jesus that he sets out for Damascus, because he heard there were Christians there, too. And it’s there on the Road to Damascus that he is blinded by a bright light, and out of that light, he hears a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It’s no surprise to us, but it was probably a huge surprise to Saul that the voice belonged to Jesus, who told Saul (still blind) to go on into the city and wait.

Only after Luke continues do we hear about the real hero of the story. You see, a disciple named Ananias suddenly has a vision in which Jesus tells him to get up and go over to Straight Street. There he’d find that a man named Saul of Tarsus was at that very moment having a vision of Ananias coming to heal him.

“Wait a minute,” said Ananias. “I’ve heard about him. Won’t he try to arrest me?”

“No,” said the Lord. “In fact, I’ve chosen him to be an apostle to the rest of the world.”

And so he obeyed. He found Saul just where his vision told him. And after three days of blindness, Ananias restored his sight. But can you imagine the amount of courage and faithfulness it must’ve taken on Ananias’s part to walk right into the lion’s den, where this persecutor of the church might have been lying in wait to arrest him?

But we know that’s not what happened. Saul was a changed man—so changed, in fact, that he quickly loses his old name and begins to go by the name of Paul. And as Paul, the last of the apostles, he is sent far away to bring Christianity to, well, to us. There are few people in this sanctuary who can’t trace our Christian lineage back to the people Paul shared the gospel with.

Thousands of books have been written about what the Apostle Paul did and thought. Millions of sermons have been preached about what the Apostle Paul wrote (mostly by me, it would seem). But today, after glancing at the beginning of his story, there are, I think, three lessons to be learned.


The first one only indirectly involves Paul, and it’s a lesson to be learned from Ananias—a lesson about bravery. Can you imagine the amount of courage it took for Ananias to follow his vision? He felt led to minister to a person that a lesser Christian might have considered an enemy. And certainly that’s what Saul would once have considered him to be—an enemy to be dragged out of his house, arrested, and even possibly executed.

There was a Christian activist in the 20th century named Maggie Kuhn. She advocated for the rights of senior citizens. And she once said something unforgettable: “Leave safety behind,” she said. “Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”

There are times in all our lives when we have to confront a situation or a person, even when we’re scared. Sometimes it may seem like we’re being sent by God—when we’re following our divine calling. Other times we’re frightened because we feel like we’re doing the right thing, even though it’s difficult. But either way, it’s important that we know we’re not alone. God is with us. Our outcome may not always be the outcome God has in mind, but we face it with God on our side.


The second lesson we learn from Paul’s story is one we already learned. Jesus taught it to us in Matthew 25. That’s where he told us that when we cared for the least among us, we were taking care of him. And he said almost the same thing when he confronted Saul on the Road to Damascus. He told Saul that when he persecuted Jesus’ followers, it was Jesus himself he was persecuting.

In Christ, God showed us once and for all that if we want to see God’s image, we are to look in the face of our neighbor. In Christ, God restored human dignity. And the way we treat the vulnerable among us is the way we would treat our Lord. To ignore the downtrodden is to ignore the image of God. “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me” [Matt. 25:42]. To oppress the faithful is to try to wipe God’s image from the face of the earth. “Why are you persecuting me?” [Acts 9:4]

It's one of the most basic teachings of Christianity. We don’t just say “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Our religion goes to the extreme, and tells us that the way we treat others is the way we treat our Lord.


The final lesson is a much more personal one. When Paul commenced his journey to Damascus, he knew who he was and what he was about. He understood his faith perfectly, and he was willing to destroy anyone who believed otherwise. But when he was blinded by the light, he began to see what was invisible to him before—that he was hurting the God he said he loved, and that he was surrounded by a family he had refused to even acknowledge.

You see, God doesn’t just leave us where we are. No matter how far along the path we’ve gotten, we can go farther. As our ancestor in the faith, John Robinson, said to the Mayflower Pilgrims, “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from the holy word.”

And no matter how far we might’ve traveled down the wrong road, God can call us back, turn us around, and make good on the promise of our life.

Even if we’ve fallen and we can’t get up, God will not leave us in the muck. Remember what the psalmist said:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord [Ps. 40:1-3].

No matter where we find ourselves this morning, there is still a new horizon, a new outlook, a new mission to undertake, a new song to sing. So take courage, act with kindness, and be hopeful: God isn’t finished with any of us yet.
—©2024 Sam Greening.