Monthly Archives: July 2019

THE BOOK OF ACTS – SAME OLD STORY

CHAPTER 23

SAME OLD STORY

“The next day, determined to get to the root of the trouble and to know for sure what was behind the Jewish accusation, the captain released Paul and ordered a meeting of the high priests and the High Council to see what they could make of it. Paul was led in and took his place before them.

“Paul surveyed the members of the council with a steady gaze, and then said his piece. ‘Friends, I have lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment.’ That set the chief priest Ananias off. He ordered the aides to slap Paul in the face. Paul shot back, ‘God will slap you down! What a fake you are! You sit there and judge me by the Law and then break the Law by ordering me slapped around!'” Acts 22:30-23:3 (The Message).

Paul was in the same position as his Master had been some three decades before, standing before the Jewish Sanhedrin to answer for his life. Unlike Jesus, he at least had the protection of the Roman government as a Roman citizen.

It was obvious that the men of the Sanhedrin were tarred with the same brush as the religious zealots they represented. He had hardly opened his mouth to speak before the high priest, as the highest religious authority in the country, began his physical abuse of Paul. It seems that he was exactly the same as his predecessor, Caiaphas, unreasonable and a bully. He was not prepared to give Paul a fair hearing to satisfy the captain. He was using his position to vent his own spleen on him.

The church had begun in Jerusalem and flourished for more than thirty years in spite of the Sanhedrin’s efforts to stamp it out. Caiaphas had led the charge against Jesus, fully believing that His death would put an end to the movement that was growing up around Him, but instead showing up the character of the men to whom the people looked for spiritual guidance.

Paul had been their most successful partner in this enterprise. He was a Pharisee like many of them, fanatically zealous for the Law they were supposedly upholding. Unfortunately for them, he had turned traitor and was just as zealously proclaiming the very One he had been opposing. It was a golden opportunity to get rid of him and Ananias lost no time in demonstrating his intention. Humiliate him first and then kill him!

Jesus had taught His disciples not to be doormats to anyone. It’s one thing to have an attitude of meekness, choosing to submit to authority even if you don’t like it, but it’s another thing to submit to bullying just because you are a Christian. ‘Turn the other cheek’, Jesus said. What does that mean?

We think it means, ‘Accept abuse because you are a believer,’ but in the culture of Jesus’ day, to be slapped on the right cheek was an insult because the hitter would have to use his left hand which was considered “unclean” because the left had was used for toilet purposes. To offer the other cheek meant that you were insisting that you were an equal and should be treated with dignity.

Was Paul being rude or disrespectful? I don’t think so. Jesus protested when He was slapped in the face during His trial. If the trial was intended to find out what lay behind Paul’s arrest, then the way to find out was to give him an opportunity to speak for himself, not to use him as an object of contempt to be abused at will.

What does this incident say to us? It clearly teaches us that everyone has the right to be treated with human dignity no matter who they are.  Colour, culture, social standing, financial position, language or even accent does not disqualify anyone from being treated fairly because everyone has been created in the image of God.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – THE FEAR OF GOD

THE FEAR OF GOD

“When the centurion heard that, he went directly to the captain. ’Do you realise what you’ve done? This man is a Roman citizen!’

“The captain came back and took charge. ’Is what I hear right? You’re a Roman citizen?’

“Paul said, ‘I certainly am.’

“The captain was impressed. ’I paid a huge sum for my citizenship. How much did it cost you?’

“‘Nothing,’ said Paul.’ It cost me nothing. I was free from the day of my birth.’

“That put a stop to the interrogation. And it put the fear of God into the captain. He had put a Roman citizen in chains and come within a whisker of putting him under torture.” Acts 22:26-29 (The Message).

It is obvious, from this conversation, that Roman citizenship carried with it many privileges; a fair trial and protection by the state, for example. Not everyone in the Roman Empire was automatically a citizen. Some paid a high price for it, like the captain, while others were automatically Roman citizens by privileged birth. Paul was one of the latter, but he did not explain how he was born into it.

The discovery was enough to make the captain change his plan of action! He would have been in serious hot water had he, even in ignorance, acted outside the protection of Paul’s Roman citizenship.

If citizenship of an earthly kingdom carried with it such privileges, how much more does belonging to God’s kingdom offer blessings and protection for those who are born into it

The Kingdom of God is both all-exclusive and all-inclusive. It is wide open to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and receive Him as unrivalled Master of their lives. It is only for those who acknowledge Him as Lord, to the exclusion of all other gods, and submit to His absolute authority. According to those who follow other religions, that makes believers intolerant, but according to God’s Word, it is the truth.

Jesus Himself said, “‘I am the way and the truth and the life.” No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6 (NIV).

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ….Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” Ephesians 2:13; 19-22 (NIV)

The Roman captain was quick to realise his error when he was close to subjecting Paul to an unlawful flogging. He acknowledged his accountability to higher authority and did not act in a way that jeopardised his own position. Unlike Pilate who acted unlawfully towards Jesus and paid dearly for it, this man was not so arrogant that he ignored Roman law.

What of the many millions of citizens of God’s kingdom who have been imprisoned, tortured and even murdered simply because they believe in Jesus and are loyal to Him? Does God offer any protection or justice for them? It may not seem like it if we only take this life into consideration. However, God always takes the long look.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'” Revelation 6:9-10 (NIV).

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire, with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power…” 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – EYE FOR AN EYE

EYE FOR AN EYE

“The people in the crowd had listened attentively up to this point, but now they broke loose, shouting out, ‘Kill him! He’s an insect! Stomp on him!’ They shook their fists. They filled the air with curses. That’s when the captain intervened and ordered Paul taken into the barracks. By now the captain was thoroughly exasperated. He decided to interrogate Paul under torture in order to get to the bottom of this, to find out what he had done that provoked this outraged violence. As they spread-eagled him with thongs, getting him ready for the whip, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is this legal: torturing a Roman citizen without a fair trial?'” Acts 22:22-25 (The Message).

What set the crowd off again? They had been listening to Paul’s story without any reaction up to this point, but at the mention of “Gentiles” they went crazy, demanding his annihilation as though he were a bug. This puzzled the Roman captain. What was it with these people? Why this pathological hatred of Paul?

He thought that there was something more sinister to this man, Paul that he was not letting on about; he would wring it out of him under torture. Flogging him would do the trick, so he thought.

Paul was not looking forward to yet another beating, Roman style. He had one card up his sleeve to put a stop to it which he quickly pulled out while he had the chance — Roman citizenship. He did not whine to God about this unfair treatment. He used the system of the world he was in to protect himself from unnecessary suffering. There was enough of that ahead for him over which he had no power.

What should our response be to the injustices we, as believers, have to suffer at the hands of religious bigots? Jesus had an answer that befits citizens of the kingdom of God whose task it is to bring heaven down to earth. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV).

Strange as it may seem, Jesus maintained that persecution was a reason to rejoice, firstly because there is a great reward for those who are unashamedly loyal to Him and follow Him with no qualms; and secondly, because you are in good company since their own prophets received the same treatment as they were receiving.

James also wrote about the benefits of various trials and tests. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James1:2-4 (NIV).

Peter had this to say about the trials the believers were undergoing in his day: “In this (all the benefits of salvation) you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:7 (NIV).

Paul also recognised the benefits of suffering: “Therefore we do not lost heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV).

What is God’s take in this? Will those who inflict pain on His people simply because they belong to Jesus and bear witness to His grace, never receive the justice they deserve for the injustice they have done against other human beings?

“You’re suffering now, but justice is on the way. When the Master Jesus appears out of heaven in a blaze of fire with His strong angels, He’ll even up the score by settling accounts with those who gave you such a bad time. His coming will be the break we are waiting for. Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they’ve done.” 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 (The Message).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – A HORNET’S NEST

A HORNETS’ NEST!

“‘And that’s when I met Ananias, a man with a sterling reputation in observing our laws — the Jewish community in Damascus is unanimous on that score. He came and put his arm on my shoulder. ‘Look up,’ he said. I looked, and found myself looking right into his eyes — I could see again!

“Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has hand-picked you to be briefed on His plan of action. You’ve actually seen the Righteous Innocent and heard Him speak. You are to be a key witness to everyone you meet of what you’ve seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptised, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God.'” Acts 22:12-16 (The Message).

Paul was very careful to emphasize Ananias’ credentials, a Jew from Damascus who had good standing in the Jewish community there; but that did not take away from the fact that he was also one of those who followed Jesus in the “sect” they called “the Way”.

Just as Paul was looking for every way to defuse the situation, the crowd was waiting for him to indict himself by his own words. Up to this point there was nothing in his story to condemn him, so they allowed him to continue.

“‘Well, it happened as Ananias said. After I was back in Jerusalem and praying one day in the Temple, lost in the presence of God, I saw Him, saw God’s Righteous Innocent, and heard Him say to me, ‘Hurry up! Get out of here as quickly as you can. None of the Jews here in Jerusalem are going to accept what you say about me.’

“‘At first I objected: ‘Who has better credentials? They all know how obsessed I was with hunting out those who believed in you, beating them up in the meeting places and throwing them in jail. And when your witness, Stephen, was murdered, I was right there, holding the clothes of the murderers and cheering them on. And now they see me totally converted. What better qualifications could I have?’

“But He said, ‘Don’t argue. Go. I’m sending you on a long journey to outsider Gentiles.'” Acts 22:17-21 (The Message).

Paul’s credentials in his old, pre-Christ life were also impeccable. He was so zealous for the law that he was willing to kill those whom he considered traitors to Moses. Strange, isn’t it, that he was murderously defending the law that said, “Do not commit murder”! He was oppressing those whom the law defended against oppression! He was making decisions for those to whom God had given the right to make their own decisions! Isn’t this how religion works?

He had turned his religion into an idol which he worshiped with such fanatical zeal that it had turned him into a heartless monster and as blind as a bat to the truth. He had long since lost the understanding of the true God — the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who established a covenant of love with them and taught them, through the provisions of that covenant, to care about people and to protect them, not to destroy them because they had believed in their Messiah about whom his Scriptures had spoken.

It had taken nothing less than a face-to-face confrontation with Jesus to convince Paul that he was dead wrong about Him. Now Paul was trying to convince people who were as equally blind and stubborn as he had been that Jesus was their Messiah! His journeys through Asia and Europe had not yielded much fruit among the Jews. It was not likely that it would be any different here in Jerusalem.

Paul was standing next to a hornets’ nest and at any moment they would break loose and strike!

THE BOOK OF ACTS – BLINDED AND BLIND

BLINDED AND BLIND!

“As I arrived on the outskirts of Damascus about noon, a blinding light blazed out of the skies and I fell to the ground, dazed. I heard a voice, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?’

“Who are you, Master?’ I asked.

“He said, ‘I am Jesus, the Nazarene, the One you’re hunting down.’ My companions saw the light but they didn’t hear the conversation.

‘Then I said, ‘What do I do now, Master?’

“He said, ‘Get to your feet and enter Damascus. There you’ll be told everything that’s been set out for you to do.’ And so we entered Damascus, but nothing like the entrance we had planned — I was blind as a bat and my companions had to lead me by the hand.” Acts 22:6-11 (The Message).

Blinded and blind! Paul’s vivid encounter with the alive and living Jesus outside Damascus was forever engraved in his memory and coloured his understanding of the ways of the God. Was he writing about himself when he penned the words, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”? 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV).

En route to Damascus, it was a spiritually blind Saul who was bent on wiping out the people who were following Jesus in a new way of living. Then a blinding light shone in his eyes, blinding him so that he had to be led by the hand into the city. Blind on the outside, it was the first time he had really “seen” the light. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV).

Jesus claimed the title, “Light of the World”. On the first day of creation, God declared, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. What was this light, since the heavenly bodies were only created on the fourth day? John gives us the answer. “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it…The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” John 1:3-5; 9 (NIV).

Before He made the physical lights, God assigned the earth to Jesus to be the light of understanding and truth in a world controlled by the prince of darkness. His presence dominates the Old Testament but His people were blind to Him. He tried to alert the religious leaders of His day to this truth in His encounters with them but they persistently rejected His claims because they were too blind to recognise Him.

“‘Your father, Abraham, rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’

“‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to Him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’

“‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:57-58 (NIV).

That sent His opponents over the edge! They refused to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

This kind of blindness is a choice. “‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly, that what he had done has been done through God.'” John 3:19-21 (NIV).

“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 (NIV).