Sermon: Supernatural Heroes: Y Men
Scripture: Acts 9 (selected)
Date: June 5, 2016
Last week I went to see the new X Men movie, the latest Superhero blockbuster of the summer. Now I like the X Men movies because they always focus on the inner struggle of whether to use their powers for good or for evil. At some level each one of them wrestles with the question of whether they will use their powers to be a superhero and save the world, or a supervillain and try to destroy it. Sometimes the line between superhero and supervillain is a thin one. And some of them try to hide their powers entirely so they don’t stand out. Don’t get labeled as some kind of freak or fanatic, or mutant as they are called. But there always comes that point where they must say yes to their powers in order to accomplish the greater good. Well, I think Supernatural Disciples face that same struggle. Too many times we choose to hide our powers, hide our true identities, out of fear, rather than show our true nature to the world. We go along to get along. For the church of Jesus Christ to go into all of the world, rather than Superheroes who are X men, I prefer to think of Supernatural heroes as Men – because one of the supernatural powers that comes from the Holy Spirit is the supernatural power of Yes. (Show Chart). Totally devoted Disciples are Yes Men And Women.
So with that in mind I want us to get back to the story of Saul of Tarsus, which we began a few weeks ago. Remember when we last thought about Saul, we said that he was the first real super villain in the story of the early church and he was standing and watching the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr and scripture says that those Jewish leaders who were hurling their hatred at Stephen had laid their cloaks down at the feet of Saul, indicating that Saul was their leader and had probably ordered the stoning of Stephen.
So as we continue with the story of the early church in the Book of Acts this morning, and continue to think about the evolution of the Disciples into Supernatural Heroes, we are skipping ahead to the ninth chapter and the continuation of the story of the first real Super villain in opposition of the Supernatural Disciples after the Spirit came on Pentecost. Luke starts out this portion of scripture on a rather ominous note when he writes this:
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.
Now the first thing we need to note about this is that Damascus was not in Israel. It was in Syria. So, in essence, what Luke is telling us is that there was no place where Christians were safe from the hatred of Saul. That he would go wherever he needed to to stamp out the people of the Way. It also indicates that the new church was spreading rapidly beyond Jerusalem. That the great commission was already beginning to be realized in the immediate aftermath of Pentecost. And that there was a significant enough group of Disciples in Damascus, beyond Israel’s borders, to attract the attention of Saul. And so as the story unfolds, with arrest warrants in hand, Saul sets out for Damascus. (Show Map) Now the distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 135 miles over some very rugged terrain. It would have taken Saul several days, maybe as much as two weeks. And Luke says that just when he is outside of Damascus, Saul’s Pentecost happens. Luke describes a bright light from heaven that knocks Saul to the ground and blinds him. And then a voice calls to him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And confused and dazed, Saul says: ‘Persecuting you? I don’t even know who you are?” And then the words that have given hope and strength to Disciples for two centuries who have faced times of persecution. “I am Jesus. When you have persecuted my followers, you have persecuted me.” With those words, Jesus is telling us that whatever persecution may come to us, whatever pain we endure, whatever sacrifice we make, to be Supernatural Heroes, we are never alone. Christ feels our pain, endures our persecution and gives us strength to overcome. So Luke indicates that this is Paul’s personal experience of Pentecost. And after the light passes, Paul tries to pick himself up off the road, only to discover that he is suddenly blind. And once again the voice speaks and tells him to go into Damascus and find the home of Judas on Straight Street and wait there for a man by the name of Ananias to come and minister to him. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Damascus, there is a man named Ananias. Apparently a new convert to the church And Jesus comes to him and says: “Ananias, I have a job for you.” “Yes, Lord. You know I will do anything for you. You just name it and you can count on me.” “I want you to go to Straight Street and find the house of a man named Judas and inquire about a man who is staying with him. When you find him, I want you to lay hands on him and tell him how much I love him. I’ve got a special mission for him. But first he must know what it means to be my disciple.” “Sure Lord”. Ananias says, “I can do that. Who is this man?” And Jesus says: “It’s Saul of Tarsus.” And Ananias had a Jonah moment. “Wait Lord, Saul of Tarsus? There must be some mistake. We have heard that he was on his way to arrest all of your followers in Damascus. And now you want me to just walk up to him and witness to him. Surely you don’t really want Saul of Tarsus saved. He has arrested and even killed your Disciples everywhere he goes. Why do you want to save him?” But Jesus persisted. He needed Ananias to become a Yes Man so that his plan for the church could move forward.
Just as, two centuries later He would need a man by the name of Edward Kimball to become a Y-Man. He was a businessman who taught Sunday School at his church. He was not a great teacher. In fact, he was not even a very good teacher. But he was the only one willing to teach the teenage boys class at his church and his heart was in the right place. So he got the job. But truthfully he was boring and his students would often fall asleep in his class. He was growing increasingly frustrated about ever being able to reach them with the Gospel. And then one day, during his personal study time, as he was preparing the next week’s lesson and praying for the boys in his class, the Lord spoke to Kimball, much as He did to Ananias. And he placed the name of one of those teenage boys on his heart and told him to go to where he was working in a shoe store and share with him how much He loved that young man. Now, of all the boys in his class, this one seemed to be the least interested in Kimball’s Sunday morning lesson and so Kimball said, “Why that boy Lord? He won’t listen to me.’ But the Lord had big plans for that young man. So Kimball went, found the young man working as the Lord had directed, and he walked up to him, put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Son, I have come today to tell you how much the Lord loves you and he desires that you give him your heart. He has great things in store for you. And he wanted me to come here today and invite you to accept Him as your Lord and Savior.” But the boy just looked at him like he was crazy and didn’t say a word. So Kimball left the store feeling much like he did most Sunday mornings. Like a failure. But what he didn’t know was that all that day, while he worked, that boy thought about what his teacher had said to him and some of the other things that he had talked about on Sunday mornings, and after he got off work that very day, that boy found a quiet place to pray and he gave his life to Jesus Christ. Super(Natural Ymen. But there’s much more to the story. That boy was Dwight L. Moody, who went on to be one of the greatest evangelists of the 19th Century. Under his ministry, thousands came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And he founded Moody Bible College which continues to educate 100’s of students each year. But there’s even more. In 1873, Moody held a crusade in London, and while there he met a man by the name of Meyer, who met Jesus through Moody and became an evangelist himself. A few years later, Meyer went on an evangelistic tour of America and came in contact with a young man by the name of Chapman, who was so influenced by Meyer’s preaching, that he became a traveling evangelist and led a young baseball player by the name of Billy Sunday to Jesus. Billy Sunday eventually gave up baseball and became one of the great evangelists of the 20th Century. In 1934, Sunday met with a group of businessmen in Charlotte, North Carolina and they were so enthused by the power of his witness that they invited him to come back three weeks later and hold a city wide crusade. But Sunday was already committed elsewhere and suggested they contact a colleague by the name of Mordecai Ham. The first night of the crusade did not go well. And, discouraged, Ham wrote this prayer in his journal – “Lord, give us a Pentecost here. Pour out thy Spirit here.” And the second night a young man, a college student, responded to Ham’s invitation and said “yes” to Christ. That young man’s name was Billy – Billy Graham, who became the greatest evangelist of the 20th Century. Thousands of lives changed through his ministry. Including mine. Super(Natural power of yes, stretching across parts of three centuries, all because Edward Kimball was willing to say yes when the Lord asked him to go and share with Dwight L. Moody. But think about this. What if Edward Kimball had said “no” when God asked him to go. How would the lives and faith of Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday and Billy Graham and all of those they led to Jesus, have turned out. The Church of Jesus Christ is always diminished when Disciples say no.
Some time ago I heard about a pastor by the name of Dr. Satish Kumar. He pastors the third largest church in the world, and in all places – India. Less than 3% of the population of India are Christian. And every Sunday, Dr. Kumar preaches to 130,000 people in five services. And Kumar was asked, “How all this came about?” And he said, “I was raised Hindu but one day a college student from America came to our village on a mission trip and started telling us high school students about the love of Jesus and I opened my heart to the Holy Spirit. I began to share my witness and before I knew it, lots of people who were as hungry I had been for the love of Christ started to come. And now the Lord sends more and more people our way.” Supernatural Yes Men. But what if that young missionary had said “no”. Would Dr. Kumar and then 130,000 more have come to know Jesus?
One more story. Many of you know who Tony Campolo is. Christian speaker and author and pastor. Campolo tells of going to preach at a Pentecostal Church one time. And Campolo said he got to the church was ready to go. But a group of leaders said to him “Before we start, let’s go into the back room and pray.” So they had Campolo kneel in the middle of the group of about 10 people and they laid hands on him, and one by one, they prayed for him and the service. Well they got to the eighth or ninth guy and he said: “I too pray for Dr. Campolo. But I really want to lift up Charlie Stoltzfus today. Charlie is a man in our community that many of us know. He lives not too far from here in a silver double wide with his wife and three young children. He is getting ready to leave his family.” And Campolo said he remembered thinking. “Charlie Stolfus, who’s that and why are you praying for him. You’re supposed to be praying for me here. We need to get out there and get this service started.” But the man continued, “So I just want to lift up Charlie Stolfus to you today Lord. Stop him from doing this terrible thing. Heal this family.” Well finally the prayer time ended and they started the service. And, after the service, Campolo got in his car and started to drive to the airport to fly home. And he had not gotten down the road very far, when he saw a man hitch hiking. And he felt the Lord whisper: “Pick up that man.” And Campolo argued: “Lord, I never pick up hitch hikers. It’s too dangerous. And I really need to get to the airport.” But the Lord persisted: “I need you to pick him up.” So Campolo pulled over and picked up the hitch hiker. “I’m headed to the airport but I can drop you in the city if you want.” “That’s fine” said the man. “I just need to get away from here.” And so they drove on a little way and then Campolo asked him what his name was. “Charlie” he said. “Charlie Stolfus.” Now if you’ve ever seen or heard Tony Campolo, you know that he can be quite excitable. And he looked at the man and practically yelled: “You’re Charlie Stolfus?” And before the man could answer, Campolo made a U Turn and headed back to where they had been. And he said: “You live in a silver double wide with your wife and three children. And you are leaving your family.” And the man said, quite fearful now, “Who are you?” And Campolo said: “I am a man sent by God and I need you to take me to your home because I need to talk to you and your family.” So Charlie guided them to the double wide and when they got there he went and got his wife and said to her, “I’m not sure why I’m back here but there’s this crazy man out in the car. But I think he’s harmless. He just wants to talk to all of us for a minute. I think we should let him.” So they went out to talk with him and in a matter of minutes Campolo had led the whole family to Christ. And Charlie Stolfus chose to stay and be a husband to his wife and a father to those three children. Supernatural Yes Men. But what if Campolo would have said “no”. A marriage broken. Children growing up without a father. I wonder how many other families could be saved through the Supernatural Power of Yes?
So God comes to Ananias and says, “I’ve got a mission for you Ananias. I need you to go to Saul of Tarsus and lay hands on him and let him know how much I love him, even in spite of all that he had done against My people.” And at first Ananias balks at going. “But Ananias, I need you to go. I have big plans for Saul. Go and tell him how much I love him and baptize him.” And so Ananias goes. He finds Straight Street and the house of Judas (show picture) and Luke tells us that he says this: Brother Saul, our Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
And from there Saul of Tarsus, soon to be Paul, stepped from that house into history. In fact, the argument could be made that no one (other than Jesus Christ) has had a greater impact on the world in the last 2000+ years, than Paul. The SuperNatural power of yes. Disciples must be Supernatural Yes Men. But here’s the thing. What if Ananias had said “no.” What if he had let his fear, and even hatred control him, and said no when God asked him to go. What would have happened to the church of Jesus Christ without Paul, its greatest evangelist? Its greatest disciple maker? What if Ananias had said “no”? What if Edward Kimball had said “no”? What if Billy Graham had said “no”? What if that college student missionary had said “no”? What if Tony Campolo said “no”? What happens when we say “no”? You see, when we think in terms of the Disciples who built the church of Jesus Christ, we tend to think of men like Peter and John and Paul. And we wonder what would have happened to the church without these Supernatural Heroes? These Super(Natural Disciples. They were the ones that built the church of Jesus Christ that we inherit today. And we start thinking that to be a Disciple, we need to be like them. But here’s the thing, without Ananias, there would have been no Paul. Without Edward Kimball there wouldn’t have been Dwight L. Moody and Billy Graham. Without that missionary there wouldn’t have been Satish Kumar. How different the church of Jesus Christ would be today? The church was built and continues today because of Supernatural Yes Men like Ananias. Without his willingness to go, there would have been no Paul. And the dozens of churches he planted throughout the world, the books of the Bible which inspire us and shape our faith today would have never been written. Now we may think, “Well if Ananias had not gone to Saul, that the Lord would have found someone to go.” And maybe that’s true. But when reading this story we sometimes overlook one key verse. Luke says that the Lord says to Ananias: In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight. The Lord was counting on Ananias to say “Yes”. Supernatural Yes Men. And for the Kingdom of God to advance and His church to thrive He counts on us to use the Supernatural power of yes that the Holy Spirit places in us, EVERY time He calls us. Disciples of Jesus Christ are Super(Natural Yes Men. (show Chart.) To reach this place of total devotion we must be Yes Men. You see, I believe in every church there are three kinds of people. There are those like Ananias, who always say “yes” to the Lord, no matter what the cost or sacrifice might be. Yes to love. Yes to grace. Yes to forgiveness. Yes to giving our everything our very best to and for Jesus no matter what the cost. Supernatural Yes Men. And then there are those who, when God calls, too often say “no”. “No I can’t do that Lord.” “No I can’t give you my all.” “The costs of discipleship are just too high.” Has the Lord been calling you to serve more, give more, be more for Him, and you’ve been saying “no” Lord I just can’t afford the cost of that right now? Are you choosing to live in these places of Half Hearted or Mixed up devotion? I wonder how many Pauls, how many Satish Kumar’s, how many Dwight L. Moody’s and Billy Graham’s, how many Charlie Stoltzfus’s, how many broken families, are turning away from the church of Jesus Christ, because sometimes we say “no” when God calls us to go. The genius of God’s church is in Supernatural Yes men bringing others to the point of Yes. I thank God for all of those who have said Yes on my behalf through the years, and I repent of all the times I have said “no.”
And then there is a third group of people here today. You are the ones that God has been calling out to, sending Yes Men to you, but yet you have never even said “yes” to the presence of God in your life at all. So much of your life is a struggle just to keep your head above water. You often live in a place of remorse and anger and negativity. Isn’t it time to put all of that behind you and say “Yes” to God today? Are you ready to be a Supernatural Yes Man now, this very moment. Faith begins with the supernatural power of yes.
Years ago, I heard a pastor tell about traveling to Damascus. And he sought out the street called Straight and found the house of Judas (show picture again) which is now known as the House of St. Ananias. And he said, he opened the door to go in, but before he did, he took off his shoes because he had the sense that he was about to step on Holy Ground. And he said, as he stepped through the door, he was so overwhelmed by the sense of the Spirit’s presence there, that he fell to his knees and he prayed “Lord, you did it once in this place. Do it again. And again. And again.” And when he rose to his feet, he discovered that someone had left there a loaf of unleavened bread and a cup of wine, along with a Baptismal bowl of water. And he dipped his fingers into the water to remember his Baptism and he broke off a piece of the bread and dipped it in the wine in remembrance of Christ’s presence in that hallowed place. And so, as we come, today, may we pray: “Lord, you did it once. Do it again. And again. And again.” Amen.