Isaiah 45:1-7; Acts 9:1-20
May 1, 2022
- Being God’s chosen instrument for service
Today’s message is one that is near and dear to me. It is one of the very first passages I ever used to preach, and it is a favorite passage of mine. Of course, I have no real memory of what I said about this Acts 9 chapter some 23 or 24 years ago. It does not matter all that much, though, because God uses us however, whenever, and wherever. And I mean that literally. [Acts 9:1-9]
Let’s say I ask you what verse in that section of the passage is the most striking, most impressive, or even most significant. You might jump right to Jesus appearing to Saul. Sure, I’ll come back to that. It is the obvious pick, and the whole story would not progress any further if that had not happened, but I am captivated by the very last verse – that Saul did not eat or drink anything for three days.
Now, I have never been accused of missing a meal. I did do a weekend fast before, as part of a mission project with our youth group a good number of years ago, but we still drank plenty, and it was not three whole days. I doubt anyone here has done this, at least on purpose. You may have been in a hospital without nourishment by mouth for some time, and that is completely miserable, but in a way, you were still eating something, even if it was liquid nourishment. This is VERY different. Saul’s level of fasting shows something we need to see, that his whole world has been rocked. He was not going to just start eating or drinking anytime soon; things were far, far, far from right. Literally, his entire understanding of God was cracked and needed to be put back together. After all, he was a Pharisee of Pharisees. They were fiercely devoted to their understanding of God. Pharisees were the most religious, the most pious, the most faithful, and the most invested faith leaders of the day. At the top of that list was Saul – the rising, brilliant star in the Pharisee ranks. He was making a name for himself in his service to the religious order. This was his lifeblood and his future, and just like that, it was all pulled out from under him. This is bigger than any of us discovering as an adult that we are adopted and our parents lived down the street the whole time. Everything we thought we knew was wrong, not bad – just not what we thought. In Saul’s case, it is even harder because his religious convictions themselves are in question. He had been wrong about his core beliefs. Any of us would be thrown for a loop to suddenly and mysteriously wake up one day and discover that Hinduism was the truth all along. Saul has just realized that the very Jesus Christ whom he has been trying to eradicate from the face of the planet is really Lord of Heaven and Earth. Saul’s life is over as he knew it. He has no way forward.
That’s when God provides the way. [Acts 9:10-20]
If we were to do the same exercise and ask what passage stands out to you, it is hard to not latch onto the scales falling from his eyes. He was blind and now can see – a dramatic, “Amazing Grace” image. Also, I like the genuine humanity of Ananias who is terrified of going to Saul the great persecutor. “Are you sure about that, God? You do know who that Saul guy is, right?” Prison back then was not “nice” like it is today. And yes, if you think it is bad now, be grateful that you did not suffer ancient incarceration. If your life was not worth much back then, you did not last long. And if you remember verse one, Luke even tells us that Saul was going with murder AND threats. This was going to be ugly.
My focus in this section, though, is different, again. What I find truly engaging is that language God uses to Ananias explaining Saul’s use and purpose, “He is my chosen instrument,” literally a generic tool. Saul is my screwdriver, my spatula, my pencil, my computer mouse, my whisk, my socket wrench, my remote control. You get the idea. The first time I ran across this word in Acts 9, I noticed how impersonal it sounded. We love the God who calls us God’s children or family or people or body or temple. I doubt anyone really wants to be that flat head or Phillips head, and we definitely don’t WANT to be a hard head. But that is exactly the language God uses for Saul – he is a tool, any tool. The issue is how useful you are to God. On a scale of 1-10, how useful would you say you are to God? If we are being honest, we might give ourselves a 1-3. If we are more honest, we might admit to being in the negative numbers. As Presbyterians, we admit how much we struggle to be God’s truly faithful people. Everything we do is tainted by sin. Every human being who has ever walked the face of the earth was an extraordinarily selfish person – except for one.
It is very natural and normal to think we could not be of much use to God, but that misses the point. That misses a HUGE point. Saul was actually the least useful person to God in perhaps the entire world. Saul was the worst person to pick as your chosen instrument. If you are going to begin a capital campaign, for instance, the very last person you are going to hire is the one who is trying to literally burn down your business. No one hires a nanny who hates children. The last pick for a treasurer would be someone just out of prison for embezzlement. Saul was literally trying to eradicate the presence of Christ Jesus off the face of the earth. He considered it the worst cancer in the body of the people of God, and following Jesus the fake Messiah was an entirely false and misleading religion. Saul thought that, and HE’S the person Jesus picked to be his chosen instrument, his special tool, to take the gospel to the nations. Once the tool, once that instrument is used in the correct way, however, then something good begins to happen that could never happen before.
Our Heavenly Father has a habit of picking the absolutely worst people to do the biggest jobs. This is all through scripture: murderers, adulterers, pagans, children, women, less than faithful, even a prostitute. They are not the people we would ever imagine, but they are exactly the people God needs. No one is worthy of being picked or selected or employed in God’s service. I am painfully reminded of this every week, myself. And yet, God continues to call people and choose people and select people for precious service in God’s Spirit of love. Saul is proof. This shows us something wonderful and essential about God.
This is the glory of God that loves us and invites us to become the people we are meant to be and gives us value just because God wants to. This is the glory of God that makes each of is special and important and something good in this world. We may not be the prettiest or smartest or most successful people, but God has a place for us in God’s glory by the grace of Jesus Christ. We each chosen for a special purpose, each and every one of us. All of us are called to embrace God’s glory in service. We are all called to be instruments of God’s beauty and love. Thankfully, we are not called to do what Saul was called to do, but we are all most definitely called to be God’s precious presence, God’s instrument of love.
We would not be here today, if Saul had not been given this vision. If Saul had not been selected, we would not be here today. The message of Jesus was largely kept to Jewish circles, and in order to follow Jesus, you had to become a Jew before Saul. That Saul whom we know as Paul, opened the doors to us all. He convinced the early church to take all people. If God could call and use Saul to do something so important and good, God can most certainly use me and you. You have a wonderful and tremendous value to God in this very moment. You have a great use to God in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is trying to show us his glory through your hands and your service. It is a good day to be God’s chosen instrument, God’s precious tool, the bearer of God’s glory. Let us pray…
Holy, holy, holy God, thank you for revealing your heart in this time of sharing in your word. Receive our willingness to be your faithful servants in this time. Give us a desire to be more and more your precious instruments in this world today, and use us as your tools of life, love, hope, peace, faith, and mercy right here and wherever you take us. In the name of Christ, our Messiah, we pray. Amen