Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 12/2/01
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Isaiah 9:2, RSV).
Into a world black with sin, shame and guilt, the Savor came, bringing light and life to all men. John the Beloved said of Him, "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9, RSV). Isaiah declared that He came "to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness" (Isaiah 42:7, RSV). Jesus said of Himself, ""The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of SIGHT to the BLIND, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord"" (Luke 4:18,19, RSV). In our times together, we have often spoken of the fact that before Christ came, we and everyone else in the world were walking in darkness. The Lord came to be a light shining in a dark place. It was this same light of God which shone on the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Luke described the event this way, "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2:9-11, NIV). Notice that the angel characterized his message by saying that it was "GOOD NEWS of great joy, that will be for ALL the people." We can rejoice in that today as well. For as black as the world seems at times, as ugly as sin still is and as rebellious as some still are against the goodness of God, nevertheless, the angel of the Lord said that this Good News, born that day in Bethlehem, was for ALL THE PEOPLE!
The light appears to us all at some time in our journey back to God, from whom we came. Some people find it easily because they are seeking God, who is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27), and who is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6). Other people are rushing blindly along their own paths, thinking they have no need of God's light, perhaps because they do not know Him at all, or perhaps because they were brought up to believe they already had the light in full measure. Saul of Tarsus was just such a person. Let's look again at how He encountered the true light.
"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
"As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
"The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
"For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" Yes, Lord," he answered. The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:1-16, NIV).
This story has thrilled my heart, ever since I was a little kid reading it in Sunday School for the first time. As a child, I was VERY impressed with the raw power of God, stopping this man even as he was intent on murdering Christians. Later on, when God began to show me that His will IS done on earth (Eph. 1:11), I saw that truth plainly spelled out in this story. Saul was a VERY religious man. In his letter to the Philippians, he said of himself, that he was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (Phil. 3:5-7, NIV). You might say that he was a Jew's Jew. He kept the law, and in persecuting the followers of Jesus who were known as "The Way," he believed he was doing his best for God. That's what the Law of Moses was all about, by the way, doing your best for God. If you did your best and kept the law, offering sacrifices when you failed to do so, then you would be blessed. If you did not, then you would be cursed (Deuteronomy, Chapter 28). Saul was a "religious fanatic," a person who would die for his beliefs. He was a terrorist to the early church, dragging Christians to prison, to be tortured and killed for their beliefs. His passion for God, and his zeal for the Law was so strong, that he would face death rather than forsake his mission. None of that mattered, however, once he fell into the "divine combine." For those who do not know what a combine does, farmers use it to separate the grain from the chaff. The machine sucks up everything in its path, beats it around inside, and then spits out the grain in one container and discards the chaff. It's a great metaphor for God's dealings in our lives. Saul, for example, thought he WAS walking in light, but what he saw as light (the Old Covenant), was merely a shadow of things to come (the New Covenant). When the light of God's glory shown round about him, he was knocked off his horse and blinded.
It strikes me that God had to blind him to the flesh, so that his spiritual eyes could be opened. After encountering the ONE who WAS the WAY (Acts 19:9, 23), he said to the Philippian brethren that he now counted all his worldly accomplishments as dung in comparison to knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8). He wrote the Corinthians, "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Cor. 4:6). Saul saw that what he had thought was light was really shadow, but as a result of his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, he saw the glory of God up close and personal! We talked last week about how God takes us through tough and trying times to show us that our fleshly efforts to save ourselves are futile. He does not literally knock us off our horse and blind us as He did Saul of Tarsus, but many of us have endured experiences in our personal lives that left us feeling spiritually blind and lame. After He shows us that our own efforts are but "filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6), His unconditional love melts our pride and our rebellion so that, like the Prodigal son, we are then ready to pick ourselves up out of the pigpen and go home to the father (Luke 15:11-32).
Many of us have found ourselves in situations where we can no longer function the way we used to, when the reality of our physical lives was suddenly changed by something outside our control. Many people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11th, for instance, have had to face the fact that what was once "normal" for them, no longer is. The rest of America has had to face up to that as well. We have all had to deal with the terrorists called fear and worry, dread and anxiety. As horrible as Sept. 11th was, God had a blessing in it for America. Many have seen that there is more to life than possessions, wealth, and success. Many are coming to see Him, to trust Him, to believe in Him, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Do you realize that some people only know the God they heard about in Sunday school class? Or the God to whom they mumble a brief prayer at family dinners? Or the God who is a last resort when everything else fails? Let me ask you this: which is the first call you make when trouble strikes? Is it to God, or to your Mother, or to your banker? What do you ask for when you make this call? For deliverance, or for understanding of God's will for your life? Your answer will tell you a great deal about where you are on your spiritual journey.
Lenny reminded me about Job, who did all the right things, offering sacrifices for his children, worshipping God, giving to the poor, and other religious activities. In fact, God said of him that he was "blameless and upright" (Job 1:8), and yet, he said to God after his ordeal was over, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:5, NIV). So many people are just like that. They have heard ABOUT God, perhaps through Sunday School, or church attendance, or Televangelists, but they do not KNOW him. They have not seen him. Saul of Tarsus "who is also called Paul" (Acts 13:9), was exactly in this situation before He was stopped dead in his tracks. He knew all about God from carefully studying the Law. Yet, he had never met him, until that preordained day on the road to Damascus. Wouldn't you like to know what God showed him during those three days when he could see nothing with his physical eyes? I believe that it was during this time when his mind was transformed by the power of God (Rom. 12:2; Phil 2:5) and he was given the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16). Imagine what glory and truth the Holy Spirit poured into Saul of Tarsus during those days of physical blindness. Imagine how the eyes of his understanding were opened to see God as He is, not how Saul thought He was (Eph. 1:17-19).
God does not leave us forever in the ditch, blind, and helpless. As He did with Saul, He shines the light of His glorious gospel upon our souls, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits, and we are born anew, born from above (John 3:3, 6-7). Being born again reveals the truth of Isaiah's prophecy, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace"" (Isaiah 9:6, RSV). Matthew quoted Isaiah when he wrote, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us)" (Matt. 1:23, RSV). Like Mary, who was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and impregnated with the seed of God, each of us who are born again find ourselves "great with child" (Lk. 2:5, KJV), as the Prince of Peace is birthed in the womb of our spirit so that we go forth with singing, Hallelujah.
December 25 is NOT the date that Christ was born, by the way, and in fact, the early church condemned the observance of December 25 as sun worship. It is the date of the winter solstice, which Sun-worshipping pagans, therefore, celebrated as the birthday of the new sun. It was also the birthday of Zeus, supreme god in the Greek pantheon. "In the fourth century AD, the Roman Church chose December 25 as the day to celebrate 'Christ's Mass,'....as part of a concerted effort to 'Christianize' pagan Roman rites so that all peoples of the empire could be brought into the Roman Church." (Feasts of the Lord, P. 173). Some Christians we know have a fit if you decorate a tree, send a card, or even mention Christmas, because they say it is not commanded in the bible to celebrate Christ's birth, and it came from a pagan ritual. This all is quite true. However, their rigid stance seems every bit as legalistic to me as saying that you MUST celebrate Christmas, which other Christians do. As always, when it comes to distinguishing between law and grace, the Apostle Paul nails it on the head. He wrote the Colossian brethren, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:13-14, NIV). Having said that, he concludes, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ......Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings" (Col. 2:16-17, 20-22, NIV).
In other words, our life is hid in Christ (Col. 3:3), and we live victoriously because He lives in us (Gal. 2:20), rather than by keeping certain rules of behavior, which men cannot agree on anyway. The learned Rabbis throughout the ages could not agree on what the Law of Moses meant by what it said either. This is why the Apostle John wrote that if we have the anointing of the Spirit, we have no need of any man to teach us (I Jn. 2:27). Whether you celebrate Christmas or you wouldn't do it with a gun to your head; whether you rejoice or are offended by the holiday, consider this: in a world where men cry, "Peace, peace, but there is no peace," perhaps someone will hear the name of Jesus for the first time, and call on the name of the Lord and be saved. That is what light does, after all. It drives out the dark places in the hearts of men and women wherever it shines. It blinds men to the physical which is temporal and opens their eyes to the spiritual, which is eternal. I'm sure I will get e-mail about this, and that is OK. You are only responsible to listen to the Spirit of Truth, not to me. I am no one's guru, no one's judge, nor is anyone but God, mine. We are all "a work in progress," God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). When we are arrested by the light, with Paul, we say, "Shine, Father Shine!"
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850
Poem, Shine, Father, Shine
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 12/01/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/04/08.