Homily for the Conversion of St. Paul

by The Rev. George F. Borghardt III

St. Matthew 19:27-30 - The Conversion of St. Paul

Conversion of PaulIn the name of Jesus. Amen.   There is only one group that gets the Gospel right in Matthew chapter nineteen.  Just one group.  

The Jews blow it.  They wanna get rid of their wives.  The disciples follow with more cluelessness - trying to keep the children from Jesus. Then, comes the Rich Young Ruler.

You know one that asked Jesus how to earn salvation, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"   What must I do?  I.. Me...  You know... Me.. Me.. Me.. That makes me the center of my religion.  What do I do to earn heaven?  

Jesus responded, "Keep the commandments."   "I've done that," says the Lawyer, "since I was young." 
Wrong answer.  There was something left, something undone.  The Law always has something that we don't do, some place where we could improve.

And to the one who seeks to justify himself, Jesus says, "If you want to be perfect, go sell what you posses and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me."

The rich young man leaves saddened.  If that's what it takes to be saved, how could anyone be saved?  The twelve apostles ask.  If you have to give everything away to the poor, if the Law has always something to demand of you, if you can't be perfect, how can you be saved?  

What have you given up to follow Jesus?  Don't dodge the Law.  Don't lessen it.  What are you holding back?  Don't try to escape in the "I'm only human."  What have you held back from Jesus? How will you be saved?"With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." says Jesus.  

Impossible?  You betcha!  It takes the impossible to save you and me from our sins.  God sends His Son to die for us to save us.  

Jesus gave up everything - everything.  His throne.  He set aside His glory.  The glory of the only Son of God.  He took upon the form of a slave - God serving you by dying. 

Then, comes today's Gospel.  We can't understand it without what comes before it!  That's the beauty of verse twenty-seven, it comes right after Jesus talking about how He does the impossible salvation!
The question comes from St. Peter.  He's always got to open His mouth and say what He's thinking.  
Jesus' answer is perplexing for us Lutherans.  Your pastor told me in Indiana with a smile that it creates more questions than it asks.  He seemed to chuckle as if the poor young pastor from Texas had quite the challenge.

To the twelve, the ones that left everything - thrones and judging Israel.   And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

Dear Saints of God, Jesus hasn't forgotten that you are saved by grace alone.  He hasn't forgotten that your works help and save you never.  

The key is in the rebirth.  You die, He raises you from the dead.  You do the dying.  He does the raising from the dead.  You then see just how deep His love for you is in Christ.

In the midst of all your suffering and pain, don't doubt that what waits for you will leave you no regrets.  Count on it.  Hundredfold.  Jesus said so. 

When you suffer rejection - even from your own loved ones, know that your suffering is not in vain.  Your pain is going to come to an end.  Your longing will be satisfied in Christ. And heaven really be all it's cracked up to be - more than you could ever imagine. 

This is not an if you do this, I will give you this.  But, you have done this, I know you have, not for salvation, but for my sake.  I can't wait for you to see all that is waiting for you.

Not by earning like that young ruler wanted.  No one is earning anything in chapter nineteen.  No one is right enough to earn anything!   Jesus makes that clear with these words:  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

You don't get any first-er than St. Peter.  Top of the apostles, always the one who bursts in, gives his statement, his opinion.  Everyone thinks he's top.  But, yet, here Jesus sets Him last. 

Don't look for the rewards, Peter, that will always land you dead last.  You too, if you would push yourself forward.  If you want to play that Rich young man game, you will find yourself out.  

And today, especially we must remember that there was no one more first than Saul.  A zealot for Judaism.  He advanced past all his contemporaries.  He was on the fast track to synodical president or at least a district president.

Saul had it all!  He knew the Law back and front.  He had zeal.  He had works - big ones!  He loved Judaism and hated her enemies. 

It was Saul who sat at that stoning of the young deacon named Stephen. Why was the young pastor martyred?  St. Stephen dared to preach Jesus and so he had to be silenced.

In today's Acts lesson, Saul had the orders he wanted.  Let me go put to a stop this Jesus.  That's Zeal!  He asked for them to let him go persecute Jesus' disciples.  And no one... No one was safe from his murderous threat.  He goes to Damascus to bind and jail anyone - man or woman - who belonged to Jesus, who is the Way.

Then... The impossible.  The Lord Jesus saved Him.  He knocked Him off his high horse - literally.  He called Him to repentance.  Blinded him.   

The first, became the Last.  Suffering.  Rejection.  Shipwreck.  Despised.  Slandered.  Jailed.  And finally most likely beheaded.

But Saul was saved - saved by the One who set Himself last for us.  Jesus, who put all of us before Him and died for us all.  Saul was given a new name, given new birth in Christ.  Jesus converted Him - changed his direction.  He once persecuted the faith and now preached the One He had persecuted.  
His gospel was not from men, but from above.  He was sent by Jesus, made an apostle.  Yet, Paul says, a different sort apostle - one born out of the regular way.   

God does twelve, but this one makes for what I learned in Louisiana as lagniappe - a baker's dozen.  Not the bling and glory or St. Peter.  If there are twelve thrones and twelve apostles, there's no spot for the left over one.

Yet, Paul preached.  He travelled and brought the Gospel to the ends of the earth - all over and then some!  And your New Testament is filled with his epistles - all of them pointing to Jesus.

For if Jesus could be such a savior, to save one who murdered His deacon and persecuted His church - how much more can He save you?  

If Jesus is for Paul, who says of himself is the chief of all sinners.  By grace, not by what you do.  Received by faith.  

So, eyes off Paul, back on Jesus.  Even when we talk of St. Paul's Conversion, his being turned to Jesus.  

Which takes our eyes back to Matthew 19, doesn't it?  What group gets it right in Matthew nineteen?  It's not the Jews, not the disciples, certainly not rich young man and St. Peter.  Who gets it right?
The children!  The little children were brought to Him.  The ones that the disciples, the twelve who have the thrones, tried to stop! They get it right - they receive. Receive a blessing, receive from the Lord, from the God who saves them by dying. 

That's the Christian faith - to receive from Jesus gifts.  In the waters of their baptism, Christ Himself washes them.  Takes their sins away, and brings the regeneration which Jesus talks about in today's Gospel to them!

Care for your kids, dear Saints of God.  Put the Scriptures in their hands.  Take them to the services in God's house.  Encourage your children to take their children to church.  Teach them the Faith, the Catechism and creed. 

Teach them that the Christian Faith is not one option amongst many.  They have tons of things to distract them - softball, baseball, football, band.  Make sure that of those priorities that the Word of God is key.   In Sunday School, in youth group, in church.

That's what it means to give up everything to follow Jesus.  It means to have nothing that is more important than Christ.  Nothing.

And pray for them - pray that they hear the Word and as the children in the Gospel lesson, receive from Jesus.  His life, His forgiveness, His salvation.

For the children, they are the ones that get it right in Matthew 19.  Jesus blesses them.  You too.  So, have a blessed Conversion of St. Paul day.  Jesus for Saul.  Jesus for little ones.  Jesus for you and me.  In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Rev. George Borghardt is Associate/Youth Pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Conroe Texas. Pastor Borghardt serves as the Higher Things Conferences Executive and hosts Higher Things Radio. 

Created: January 26th, 2009