On whose authority? – Worship@Home Sunday, 05 July 2020

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner

Song 141        At the name of Jesus

https://fivefoldministryireland.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/paul-becomes-a-christian/

1. At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him
King of Glory now;
Tis the Father’s pleasure
We should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning
Was the mighty Word.

2. At his voice creation
Sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces,
All the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations,
Stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders
In their great array.

3. Humbled for a season,
To receive a name
From the lips of sinners
Unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it
Spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious
When from death he passed.

4. Bore it up triumphant
With its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures
To the central height,
To the throne of Godhead,
To the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory
Of that perfect rest.

5. In your hearts enthrone him;
There let him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true;
Crown him as your captain
In temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you
In its light and power.

Caroline Maria Noel (1817-77)

Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Bible Reading Acts 9:1-20

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 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. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 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. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the 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.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Song 347        Jesus came to save me

Jesus came to save me
By his precious blood,
Purchased my salvation,
Brought me home to God;
Cleansed my heart as white as snow:
This one thing I know!

This one thing I know!
This one thing I know!
God in great mercy pardoned me,
Snapped sin’s fetters and set me free;
Once I was blind but now I see:
This one thing I know!

Jesus lives to keep me:
O what wondrous love!
In the Father’s presence,
Advocate above;
Keeps me when sin’s tempests blow:
This one thing I know!

What a precious Saviour,
Of his grace I sing;
Once despised. rejected,
Soon our coming King.
On my path his light doth glow:
This one thing I know!

Sidney Edward Cox (1887-1975)

On whose authority?

Authority can be revered, feared, followed or flouted. And perhaps at different times we have been inclined in each of these ways toward various authority figures in our lives. I remember as a primary school child feeling the sharp slap of authority in a situation of my deliberately flouting that authority. Naturally I never did that again! 

Saul was a pedigree Pharisee! He was well schooled, trained and turned out. He could not be faulted on his knowledge and understanding of the law and was likely one of the most theological thinkers among Pharisees in his day. Saul was one who commanded authority and who sought authority, exacting precision at every level. Nevertheless, in one area of life he did not use his intellect or sound powers of reasoning; that was in matters concerning the followers of Jesus. Right at the beginning of Acts 9 we read the strong statement that Saul was “eager to destroy the Lord’s followers.” To Saul, the followers of Jesus were such an anathema, he would make it his business to rid the world of these ‘deluded’ people.

Despite Saul hearing the compelling witness of Stephen, a follower of Jesus (Acts 7), he would have been among those who clapped their hands over their ears and drowned Stephen’s voice out with their shouting (Acts 7:57). Whilst Saul neither seized nor mortally wounded Stephen, he assented to his murder, guarding the coats of those who participated, and watched as they stoned him to death. Saul would have also seen the way Stephen’s face turned heavenward during his stoning and was alight with that other worldly joy. But instead of weighing the words and actions of Stephen’s testimony with the wealth of his knowledge of the Scriptures to find the truth, he closed his eyes as well as his ears, resisting any other reasoning. In Saul’s own words he became as a “raging fury” (Acts 26:11) toward the followers of Jesus. John Stott writes in his commentary of the book of Acts “The very fanaticism of Saul’s persecution betrayed his growing inner uneasiness, ‘because fanaticism is only found’ wrote Jung ‘in individuals who are compensating secret doubts’.

Though Saul’s conversion to Christ is often spoken of as being one that happened suddenly in a definitive moment, the likelihood is that Saul and Jesus’ paths had crossed at some points, being contemporaries at that time. Even if it had not been in person, Saul would have had heard of Jesus’ popularity, his teaching and his miracles. If Saul had ever been tapped on the shoulder and told that he would himself become a follower of Jesus one day, the very notion of it would have caused him to utter a contemptuous “Never!”   Robert A. Heinlein stated, “One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.”[1] A person can be very sincere and devoted to a particular cherished thought, or meticulously uphold certain behaviours and so on, but it is possible to be sincerely wrong.

  • Have you ever been so locked into a particular viewpoint or at loggerheads with another about an issue that you would not meet them halfway to consider their standing on the matter?
  • Where are you now concerning that point of view or issue? What might Jesus want to say to you about that time? Is there anything you need to do now as a result of your conversation with Jesus?

As Saul sought authority to ‘wage war’ on the followers of Jesus, Jesus himself was ready to intervene with an authoritative word of his own. Closing in on the district where Saul would trap his prey, forcing them to return with him to Jerusalem as prisoners, Saul is himself arrested by a brilliant light and a clear voice.

As Saul tumbles to the ground in shock (v4) we read how he enquires who it was speaking to him and how it is revealed that it is Jesus. “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” (v5) In that wonderful, reassuring statement we learn how closely Jesus identifies with his followers. Persecution of them is actually persecution of him.

Saul might have gone to Damascus intent on fulfilling one particular mission, but now Jesus was sending him onward into Damascus on a quite different mission where he must wait to be told what he is to do. A letter of authority from the High Priest of Jerusalem is superseded by words of authority from the High Priest of Heaven! Having led the way muttering violence and threat, companions of the now blinded Saul lead him by the hand, silenced and thoughtful. Over the next three days, Saul fasts, intentionally going without food and drink so that he can devote the time to God; conversing, praying, praising and considering the next steps.  

The way ahead for Saul requires another intervention of Jesus through the hand of one of his followers in Damascus. If the believers there were trembling at the word that Saul was on his way to capture them, one man, Ananias, was resolute that he would wait upon Jesus to discern what he should do next.

The vision Ananias actually has could not have been more surprising! Help Saul?! But Lord, what “about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem!” (v13) Ananias responds. Did Ananias wonder if Jesus wanted to play him right into the hands of their tormentor Saul? Jesus calms Ananias’ fears by saying in effect “you leave him to me” when he tells Ananias “I will show him how much he must suffer for me” (16).

  • How do you react in times of fear and anxiety? Are you able to remain resolute, talking to Jesus about the situation and what he wants you to do in it?
  • Has Jesus ever told you to do something that was surprising or nerve-wracking? What was your response – did you do or not do as he asked? Take a few moments to talk with him now about that time.

Ananias chooses to obey, and in so doing discovers Jesus was not leading him into danger but into joy; the joy of working in partnership with Jesus and seeing the difference that partnership makes. By the power of Jesus flowing through him, Ananias saw healing and health poured into one who had been spiritually and physically blinded. With words of acceptance in his pronouncement of “Brother Saul” (v17), Ananias also saw a proud man remodelled in humility by the grace of Jesus.

Whilst Saul may never have conceived such a transformation from an ardent, committed Pharisee to an ardent, committed follower of Jesus, Jesus sees a greater picture for us than we could ever know or imagine outside of his authority.

Don’t think that living under Jesus’ authority crushes and curtails your personality or giftings or requires that you operate with robotic monotony at the whim of an unseen deity. No, the authority of Jesus is one of complete love for the one he directs to do his will, as well as complete love for all who would be impacted by the action of his servant responding to his authority.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that thebright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”[2]

When the ‘bright daybreak’ light of Jesus descends upon a life, the transformation is phenomenal as Saul and Ananias were to discover. I wonder what the ‘bright daybreak’ light of Jesus has meant in your life and mine; or what could it mean if we were to allow Jesus to have authority over all of our lives.

Chorus 71       I want to live right

I want to live right
That God may use me
At any time and any where
I want to live right
That God may use me
At any time and any where

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we are amazed at the people you appoint to spread your Good News: hot-headed Peter, sceptical Thomas, Matthew who collaborated with the Roman oppressors, and Saul, a sworn enemy of your Way.

This gives us hope that you have a purpose for us in your extending your kingdom.

Show me what qualities and talents you have placed in me, and how you want to use them to bless and save others.

Then make me as strong and resolute as Saul in following you and helping others to follow you.

I ask this in your strong and holy name. Amen

Song 734        I’ll go in the strength of the Lord

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord,
In paths he has marked for my feet;
I’ll follow the light of his word,
Nor shrink from the dangers I meet,
His presence my steps shall attend,
His fulness my wants shall supply;
On him, till my journey shall end,
My unwavering faith shall rely.

I’ll go, I’ll go in the strength,
I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
I’ll go, I’ll go in the strength,
I’ll go in the strength of the Lord.

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
To work he appoints me to do;
In joy which his smile doth afford
My soul shall her vigor renew.
His wisdom shall guard me from harm.
His power my sufficiency prove;
I’ll trust his omnipotent arm,
And prove his unchangeable love.

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
To conflicts which faith will require,
His grace as my shield and reward,
My courage and zeal shall inspire.
Since he gives the word of command.
To meet and encounter the foe,
With his sword of truth in my hand.
To suffer and triumph I’ll go.

Edward Turney (1816-72)

Benediction    May God’s blessing surround you each day

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.


[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/authority-quotes_2

[2] https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/never-quotes

About prophetable

My wife Elizabeth and I were commissioned as Officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in 1997, and have served in appointments in England and Scotland. Since July 2016 I have been working in The Salvation Army's Scotland Office as combined parliamentary and ecumenical representative.
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