3rd Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 411, 578:1-3, 578:4-6
Text – Acts 9:18a
And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, & he regained his sight.
It got to be an almost comical occurrence. It was the eyeglass mission trip to Chihuahua, Mexico in 2007. We begin with the lowest power of lens, as people sit down to have their eyes tested. Not having seen anything clearly for years, even the lowest power often made such a dramatic difference that they thought they had gained their sight once again.
We had to tell them, “Wait. We want to try the next higher power.” Again, they were startled by how improved their vision was & thought they were done. Sometimes, this went on until we finally got to the optimal lens for an individual. It was a life changing experience for many of them as they regained their ability to see.
Good eyesight is easily taken for granted. When I was much younger, & doing electrical work for a living, I could see very well, even in almost dark conditions. That came in handy with the power turned off. Trying to do work like that now is a much greater challenge, & to be honest it can be extremely annoying.
Losing sight, though often gradual, is a much more common process than gaining sight. The Pharisee named Saul lost his sight instantly. It’s a commonly told event in the history of the Christian church – the conversion of Saul. It’s a powerful & dramatic event that makes for great teaching material.
Much of the drama revolves around the moment when Saul regains his sight, as the Bible describes something like scales falling off his eyes that he could see again. However, it was in losing his physical sight, that Saul gained spiritual sight. In a similar thought Jesus spoke to Doubting Thomas, once he had seen & then believed: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.’” (John 20:29 ESV) Once Saul could no longer see then he believed. Of course, the appearance of Jesus also had something to do with that. The point is that physical sight does not equal believing. Faith is an orientation of the heart. It is looking to our Creator in humility.
The Catholic church of Martin Luther’s day needed to regain its spiritual sight. Until he traveled to Rome, he optimistically believed that if only the Pope could hear Luther’s point of view, then all would be well. However, once he arrived at the Vatican & saw the city with his own physical eyes, Luther wrote this concerning what the Church of Rome had become:
“…the kingdom of sin, death & hell. It is so bad that even Antichrist himself, if he should come, could think of nothing to add to its wickedness” (Concerning Christian Liberty, Luther’s Works 31:336). The Pharisee Saul, by his own admission, was in similar condition prior to going blind. He was “breathing threats & murder against the disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 9:1 ESV)
Paul learned his lesson well. By the time he wrote to the church at Rome, 1500 years before Luther traveled there, St. Paul writes: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3 ESV)
What do you think of yourself? Are you sure that you are so helpless that not even God can do anything with you? You see, God took a murderer like Saul & turned his heart around so that he could travel the Gentile world & share the Good News about Jesus. Are you even more evil yourself? You might be if you refuse God’s design for your time.
Paul could not, & neither can we, gain sight on our own. Sin is the temporary refusal of spiritual sight. Unbelief is the permanent refusal. God has to cause us to see the things of the Spirit. That’s what He did to Saul, & the Holy Spirit caused Saul to quit refusing to see. Three days later, the Lord gave back physical sight to Saul. The same almighty Spirit of God that came to Saul has come to you & me. Do you live as if you have spiritual sight? Or, do live still as if you are blind? Later in the book of Acts, Paul describes the Gentile mission that Jesus would send him on, the mission for which the Lord restored Paul’s spiritual sight:
“…I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light & from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 26:17-18 ESV) Paul knew what it was to be blind, both spiritually & physically. He knew what it was to be lost, & this helped him in his work of showing others the true light.
If you don’t want God to use the talents & abilities He has given to you, which is a refusal to see. If you are afraid of letting God use the talents & abilities He has given to you, which is a refusal to trust His goodness. Whenever either of those attitudes is true we need to be resurrected because in fear or in refusing we are not living out the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We might be responding, “He is risen indeed,” while we are yet choosing to remain dead. That’s what sin has done to us with its corruption of our heart & mind & soul. We need God’s Spirit to blind us to the things of this world that we might truly see. We need the Holy Spirit to breathe life into us that we might live.
We might not be breathing threats & murder against God’s church, but if we are not for Him we are still against Him. So God sent Ananias to Saul to reassure him that his Creator would be working in Saul to cleanse him of all his past sins, & Saul had a great many, as we all do. What joy it is to have that burden of guilt & shame lifted from us.
Now, what do we do with that joy? Lest you think that from conversion on all of your life is about the things you do for God, our Lord allows sin to remain in order to keep us humble. As Luther said in the 1st of his 95 theses, the Christian life is about repentance, not about what we do. A repentant heart is a gift of God & because we are still 100% sinner, everything we do for our Creator must begin at & with repentance. The Christian life is kind of like being blind & getting fitted for a new pair of glasses each & every day. Each day our faith feels strong, we think we have arrived, but tomorrow, we need repentance & forgiveness again.
How many times before had Jesus appeared in the lives of the disciples? He lived with them for three years, yet in the Gospel reading, they had to learn again to recognize Jesus on that day. Like getting fitted for ever stronger lenses & seeing more & more clearly, each new day repentance is needed to clear the sin from our eyes that we might see Jesus anew again.
Then, we can work to further the kingdom of God through the power of the Holy Spirit instead of through our own misguided sense of power & accomplishment. It is through the repentance that the Holy Spirit works in us each new moment of every day that we gain our sight for now & for eternity. Amen.
Thy strong Word did cleave the darkness; at Thy speaking it was done. For created light we thank Thee, while Thine ordered seasons run. Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness, dark as night & deep as death, broke the light of Thy salvation, breathed Thine own life-breathing breath. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise to Thee who light dost send! Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end! Amen. LSB 578:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet