From Darkness to Light

FROM DARKNESS INTO LIGHT

ACTS 9:1-19

Listen to From Darkness to Light

chrysalis

In the Radio lab episode Black Box, hosts Jab Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, along with producer Molly Webster,  explore the concept of a Black Box.  The show’s description describes a black box as,  “those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery.”

                One of the stories in the show is the tale of how caterpillars become butterflies. Molly Webster travels Gainesville Florida, to the Florida museum of natural history where there is an indoor rainforest covered in thousands of butterflies.  Andre, Molly’s butterfly guide, takes a chrysalis and cuts it open for Megan to see what is inside this black box of nature.  Molly was shocked to discover there was no caterpillar there. No head, no legs, no spine, just a runny goo.

When a caterpillar enters a chrysalis it’s organic material literally breaks down, melting into a goo, and emerging again as a butterfly. It turns out that scientists have determined that the beginnings of butterfly wings and legs are actually already hidden within the caterpillar body before it enters the chrysalis. It takes a drastic transformation, a caterpillar must be turned to goo, for this hidden potential to be drawn out of darkness into the light.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “ I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city and you will be told what to do.”  With these words the Lord Jesus turns Saul to mush. Saul is struck blind for three days, the same amount of time Jesus lay in the death and darkness of the tomb. Those who traveled with him had to lead Saul to Damascus where he waited for three days, not knowing if he would ever see again. But God called the disciple Annais to restore sight to a persecutor of the church.  And something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes as he is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

The Apostle Paul, Paul being the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Saul, describes this incident in his own words in the book of Galatians. “ For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” (Galatians 1:1-16).

Paul describes how Christ revealing his glory to him affected him personally in the book of Philippians where he says,” If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:6-10).

Why did God choose Paul? Why did he call him in such an extreme way? There are many people who have persecuted the church through the centuries. Not many have gotten the special revelation that Paul got. And why call a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Jewish man steeped in Jewish culture, to minister to Gentiles, to minister to non-jews who he knew little about and probably had very negative attitudes towards before he met Christ on the Damascus road. In 1 Timothy, near the end of his life, Paul tells his beloved spiritual son Timothy why he thinks the Lord worked in his life in such an extravagant way. To quote Paul,

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience, as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

As Saul ravaged the church God was patient with him until in His Sovereign mercy He revealed His Son to Him. Not just for his sake, but so others may know God’s perfect patience. As Paul says in Romans God hands us over to the our worst desires, sometimes he gives us things that are bad for us, to display his kindness and patience which is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  And in Saul’s story of moving from darkness to light I believe there is good news for us today.

The Good News: When we demonstrate God’s perfect patience we shall lead others from darkness to  light.

We display God’s perfect patience by.

  1. Acknowledging that God is Lord.
  2. By acknowledging that the Lord’s name is Jesus
  3. By suffering as Sons and Daughters of God

First, we demonstrate the perfect patience of God by acknowledging that God is Lord. In our modern age much of the debate in our society focuses around whether God exists. The Bible assumes that God exists. To the biblical writers whether you believe God exists is irrelevant to saving Faith. As the book of James says even the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19) and they will not be saved. The question that the Bible is concerned with is whether you believe that God is Lord and Master of your life. The Bible is concerned whether you believe that the one who shaped you and formed you in your mother’s womb if you are his servant. If he has authority over your life. If you are a slave to him and you are willing to put aside everything to follow him. If you call him Lord. And Paul is already there. He calls this divine voice Lord. But he knew the character of this God was slightly different than what he had known before.

 

Second, we demonstrate the perfect patience of God by acknowledging that the Lord is Jesus. Jesus was a very common name at the time, the Hebrew translation would be the name Yeshua which we translate in English Joshua. Yeshua means Yahweh saves. This refers to the Old Testament. The book of Exodus. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to deliver his people from slavery from Egypt. Moses wondered who was he do go up against Pharaoh so he asked God His name. God replied through the burning bush, “I am Who I Am, I am who I will be.” I don’t have to justify myself to anyone for I made everyone.

But in revealing the name of His Son Jesus, God reveals to us his essential heart.  Paul thought God delighted in punishment and wrath. That is the only way he could persecute the church in such a cruel fashion. He had to believe that God delighted in punishing people. But Jesus reveals to us, that while Jesus will come again to judge the quick and the dead, because he is Lord of our lives, he does not delight in punishment but desires that none should perish but come to a knowledge of eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). God’s heart is the heart of Jesus. He is mighty to save. The word save in the Greek isn’t just about saving souls. It is about healing hearts, and bodies, it is about setting the captive free. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke at the beginning of his ministry,

“ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” If you find yourself captive today the Lord Jesus has come to set you free. In another account of the Damascus road in Acts 26 Jesus expands upon why he called Saul, and why he calls us to follow him, “ But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16-18). Though Jesus can move us from darkness to light overnight often the Christian walk is a longer process. So if you are walking in darkness today keep walking with the Lord he will lead you into the light if you are patient. For he has been patient with us.

Finally, we demonstrate the perfect patience of God by suffering as Sons and daughters of God.  Jesus is the only founder of any religion I know that says if you want to join me you will suffer more and not less. But we do not suffer as those in the world. We do not suffer as those without hope. But we suffer as Sons and daughters of God. And though we serve him as servants our heart is not one of a slave but it is a heart of a son and a daughter. As Paul says in Romans 8 our hearts cry out “Abba, Father.” I don’t care today how your parents were. How they let you down or lifted you up. We have a parent in heaven, an Abba in heaven, who is always faithful, who is always good, who frees us from slavery. And he wants to know in our suffering what good are we going to do with it? Because the Spirit groans within us, as a mother in labor, to see the birth of the children of God in this world. The question is not whether we will suffer. The question is whether we suffer as a mother giving birth to a child. The question is if we are going to push through and bring something good out of our suffering through the sovereignty of God.

As I thought of an example of someone who demonstrated the perfect patience of God in the ways I have described, I could think of no better example than the famous abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth. Born Isabella Baumfree to slave parents in Ulster County, New York in 1797 .  She was sold to several families and treated cruelly, while New York State began the slow process of emancipation at the turn of the century. To quote a history.com article, “Sojourner Truth was an African American evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who lived a miserable life as a slave, serving several masters throughout New York before escaping to freedom in 1826. After gaining her freedom, Truth became a Christian and, at what she believed was God’s urging, preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all, highlighted in her stirring “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, delivered at a women’s convention in Ohio in 1851. She continued her crusade for the rest of her life, earning an audience with President Abraham Lincoln and becoming one of the world’s best-known human rights crusaders.”

Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a woman speech is fairly short and it sums up her life well. Here it is in full. Delivered 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”

Saul or Paul as he was known in the non Jewish world, isn’t remembered by us today as an abolitionist or a feminist. Indeed, many people have problems with things he says about slavery and women in his letters. And many have been wounded by those statements being taken out of context.  But Saul was coming out of his own personal darkness in a dark time. And yet, God in his mercy, revealed to him His Son, and the light of the Son showed Paul the dignity of every human being, how Christ can bring out of all of us sinful caterpillars beautiful butterflies when we behold his glory. And today, as we celebrate our mother’s day brunch, we are reminded of the sacrifices of our mothers, may they be biological, adopted, or spiritual mothers,  whom like Sojourner Truth through their perfect patience brought us from darkness into light. So let us give thanks today for our mothers who implanted in us the seeds of sincere faith, as Paul gave thanks his beloved spiritual son Timothy’s sincere faith. A faith that first dwelt in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice, and thanks to their perfect patience was transferred to Timothy. To quote Paul, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:3-7). So today let us not give in to a spirit of fear but embrace the Holy Spirit who is full of power, love and self control. Let us demonstrate the perfect patience of our Lord Jesus Christ in order that those in darkness may be moved in their inner being, from darkness into light.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

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