In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Suppose you’re putting together a team of people to begin a new venture. How would you go about selecting the members of your team? What sorts of qualities would you seek in those people? Maybe you’d turn to a business consultant for help. Here’s one such (imaginary) consultants’ report for a team and a venture very familiar to us:
To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop, Nazareth
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.
The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.
Jordan Management Consultants
It doesn’t sound like a very promising group or a very promising start, does it?
Here’s some information on yet another candidate for the same sort of job: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1–2). Did you catch the word ‘still’ in there? It indicates that this wasn’t the first such activity on the part of Saul, this pursuit of followers of “the Way,” threats against the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Earlier in the Book of Acts, Luke records the case of one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to help with the distribution of food to the widows among the disciples. “Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Other Jewish men in Jerusalem disputed with Stephen, “but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (v. 10). So, as had been done with the Lord Jesus, false accusations were made against Stephen, he was arrested, and brought before the Council. There he taught them, preached a sermon to these men learned in Moses and the Prophets, showing them how the history of God’s people pointed to, led to, and culminated in, Jesus of Nazareth, “the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (Acts 7:51). Enraged, they cast Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death.
And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. … Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (7:52—8:1, 3).
Saul sounds like a great candidate to recruit for the secret police of some oppressive regime, not to be a disciple of Jesus, and certainly not an apostle! Saul had such a reputation that he was called “the Attacker, the Devastator, the Destroyer in Jerusalem of those calling upon this Name” of Jesus. Oh, Saul was a devout, religious man, to be sure. He had devoted his life to the study of Moses and the Law; he based his whole existence on keeping the rules. These followers of the Way were spreading a completely different message: faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God, crucified and supposedly risen from the dead, who forgives all their sins. To Saul and his fellow Pharisees, this teaching, this Jesus, was contrary to Moses, even destructive of the teaching of Moses, and it must be stopped!
Remember Moses? Yes, he’s the one who received the tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments, from the LORD on Mount Sinai—the first symbol on the banner of the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism. Remember also that Moses had been raised in the royal Egyptian household, as grandson of Pharaoh, of the king who oppressed the children of Israel. He learned all the things an Egyptian prince was expected to know. But Moses also killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, hid the body in the sand, and soon after fled from Egypt to Midian. Does this sound like the best candidate to lead the people of the holy LORD God? Yet the LORD revealed Himself to Moses there in the wilderness in Midian, calling him and speaking to him in the burning bush. In sending Moses to prepare the children of Israel to be delivered from their bondage in Egypt, He identified Himself: “I AM who I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex 3:14). The LORD God identified Himself as He Who Is, the Eternal, the Self-existing One. More than that, though, in calling Himself “I AM” He identifies Himself as the gracious God, ever present, as “I AM with you always.”
Saul got an opportunity to be like Moses. As the LORD had spoken to Moses out of the burning bush, so the Lord speaks to Saul out of a bright light from the sky. But it’s no comfort to him, for the Lord identifies Himself as “I AM Jesus, whom you are persecuting”—the very one Saul had set out to destroy. When Jesus leaves Saul along the road, Saul is blind and in despair. “And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank”—sound familiar? Luke is very deliberate with time elements in his two volumes, his Gospel and the Book of Acts. Saul was as though dead. By the Lord’s grace and calling, another disciple, Ananias, is sent to Saul to lay hands on him so that he could regain his sight. Ananias is a flesh-and-blood presence for Saul, bringing the Gospel of the flesh-and-blood Jesus. Upon being able to see again, Saul “arose and was baptized, and taking food, he was strengthened” (Acts 9:18–19). As Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so Saul was raised from the death of his old life to newness of life by the glorified Jesus working through the Holy Spirit.
Saul thought that he had known the fullness of the Law, the Torah, the Teaching of the LORD God, given especially through His servant Moses. He certainly continued to study the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. With the Lord’s self-revelation to Saul, he came to know the true purpose of the Law, the Torah, and the Prophets, that all were pointing to Jesus, who is Torah in the flesh! Once, Saul had used Moses and the Torah as his reason to stamp out Christianity. From now on, time and time again during his life, he would show how Moses pointed to Christ.
You have more than Saul had to know Jesus, who He is, and the purpose of His birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection. You have the New Testament Scriptures, the eyewitness accounts of the Apostles and Evangelists, the Gospels and the Epistles, including those letters written by Saul, whom we usually call the Apostle Paul. By the way, he never changed his name from Saul to Paul; Saul, Sha’ul in Hebrew, was his personal name, and Paul, Paullus in Latin, was his family name. Through the Apostles and Evangelists, you have the sure and certain Word of Jesus. In that Word He gives you the fullness of the revelation of the One true God in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whom you confess in the Creed. In that Word He gives you Holy Baptism in the name of the Triune God, the Baptism in which God claims you as His own, forgives your sins, and gives you new birth. In that Word He teaches you to pray, saying, Our Father who art in heaven, which is possible because in His Word, and in His great love, He gives you His heavenly Father to be your heavenly Father. In that Word He gives you food and drink to strengthen you, His body and blood in the Holy Supper, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” In that Word He gives you the words of Holy Absolution, and He gives you a pastor with His authority to forgive your sins as surely as if God Himself had spoken that absolution, that forgiveness, to you. In that Word He gives you His Holy Spirit, who is “the Mind of the Lord” (Rom 11:34), and the Spirit will fill your heart and mind beyond satisfaction with “Christ … the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24).
Consider a couple of other candidates, if you will, to be messengers for Jesus. One of them apparently suffers bouts of manic depression, and he has been known to have declared, “I hate God.” Another is known to have been so far gone in his beliefs that he has said that he thinks the Bible has errors, and the youth director in his church declared him “a lost cause” as far as the faith is concerned. You certainly wouldn’t want either of them for a pastor, would you? Well, the first ‘candidate’ was Martin Luther, and the second was the one who is preaching to you. The Lord made some strange choices for His apostles, His chosen messengers to begin taking His Good News to the world. We might wonder also about His choice of Moses, or of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Which of them seemed particularly worthy of the calling? As it is, the voice of myriads of angels proclaim the truth: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 5:12). Christ Jesus alone is worthy. Saul was not worthy, nor was Simon Peter, nor James nor John, nor any of the Twelve. I am not worthy. You are not worthy. Because we are found in Christ, the worthy Lamb, we are declared worthy by God for His sake, and by His grace the Holy Spirit works in us and on us day by day, transforming us more and more into His likeness. If the Lord could use this one named Saul, and all the other misfits and sinners He has called through the ages, He can certainly use you. For it depends not on you and what you can do for Him, but on Him, what He can and will do for and through you.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding,keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.