July 26, 2018- A Dearth of Due Process-Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles- Acts 22:17-29

acts of the apostles

“When I (the apostle Paul) returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”
The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered. Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.              Acts 22:17-29 (NIV)

The apostle Paul had a rather daunting calling. He starts off preaching the Gospel in the temple, but the Jews there didn’t know how to take him. Here was a guy once known as Saul- the Pharisee who had been persecuting Christians and who had not only green-lighted but also witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 7.)

All the sudden here goes Saul-who-became-Paul preaching the truth of Christ that he had once so vehemently opposed. This was offensive to the crowd, who probably didn’t realize Paul had such a sordid past, and their anger kindled when they realized who stood before them.

Interestingly enough, we see that Roman citizens had some advantages in Paul’s time. American jurisprudence borrows from Roman law the assumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Paul was not afforded the due process he should have been as a Roman citizen. Instead he was presumed guilty and summarily flogged as if he were a common street thug. Flogging was not just a smack on the hand or a whipping with a belt. The instrument, called a flagellum or flagrum, that Roman soldiers would use to flog someone in the first century looked something like this:

flagrum
There were many leather whip-like ends with heavy metal pieces on them that were designed to bruise and rip flesh.

It is a fact that Christians throughout the ages have endured unjust treatment for the sake of their faith throughout the centuries. There are many places in the world today in which Christians face persecution, torture and even death for professing Christ. The apostle Paul endured many such trials throughout his ministry journeys, yet his message stayed the same. The same Holy Spirit who sustains us in far lesser trials upheld the apostle Paul and multitudes of other believers throughout time.

The world may not always uphold our rights, whether they are natural rights or rights given by virtue of the law. Sinful humanity violating the eighth Commandment (do not bear false witness against your neighbor) is as popular as it ever was.

There was a sort of silver lining in the fact that the Jews rejected Paul and the Gospel he was preaching. While Paul’s own people rejected him, God intended for Paul to preach to non-Jews, people who had never heard of the One True God of Abraham, or of Jesus. Paul wrote many of the books of the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit- writings that Christians use to this day for doctrine and encouragement in the faith.

It’s easy to get discouraged when our rights are trampled on, or when those who should understand us and listen to us don’t.

We don’t always understand the trials that we go through in this life. All we do know is that we can trust God even when we can’t trust people. God will find a way to preserve us and to work in and through us, by His grace, to His glory.

July 13, 2018 – One Gospel, One Way- Galatians 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18

apostle paul

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1

There are many voices all around us that demand our attention. Demands of work, family and the world around us scatter our minds.  It’s easy to get our priorities messed up in today’s world- and even easier to create a value system (a religion if you will) of our own.

The media and the culture send us messages that “there are many paths to heaven,” yet if we go to Scripture, we learn from Jesus that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The only way to eternal life is through Him. (John 14:6)  We can’t earn our way to God’s favor.  All we can do is accept the gift of faith.

The story of the apostle Paul doesn’t point us to Paul, but to Jesus. Jesus is the one “doing the doing” as it were.  Jesus is the one who knocked the Pharisee Saul off of his high horse as he was traveling to Damascus. Through the Holy Spirit the Pharisee Saul – who once had approved the persecution and killing of Christians- became the apostle Paul, who wrote a large part of the New Testament and was eventually martyred for the cause of Christ.

Our culture isn’t accepting of the Gospel that Paul preached. The theology of the Cross, that we are both crucified with Christ and raised with Christ, is just as abhorrent to 21st century sensibilities as it was to those in the 1st century.

Some people twist the Good News into a license for anything goes (antinomianism) which denies the reality and the evil of human sin as well as the power and the necessity of Jesus’ death on the Cross to save us from the death we have earned and deserve.

Others preach a “gospel” of legalism or works-righteousness that requires rigid adherence to a series of rules and regulations and self-denials and penances to appease an angry and vengeful God who is stalking us and condemning us for every possible error or flaw in our conduct.

Still other so-called pastors, preachers and teachers teach for shameful gain the illusion that God is like a vending machine, perpetuating the error of Johann Tetzel that through the sale of modern-day indulgences we can buy our way out of hell, and/or have our “best life” here on earth right now. Jim Bakker, Rod Parsley, Leroy Jenkins and countless other modern-day wolves in sheep’s clothing who teach the false gospels of word-of-faith, prosperity gospel, or sell “miracles” for money fall into this category.

It is true that we need to hear and know God’s Law, and that left to ourselves, we have earned and inherited death and hell, but the purpose of knowing God’s Law is to show us our desperate need for the Gospel- the free salvation that Jesus bought for us on the Cross. We are not going to have a perfect life this side of heaven.  We do have Jesus walking with us, the Holy Spirit in us, and God’s promise that by His grace we will not be tried beyond what we can bear.  We do not have the promise of “prosperity now.”

Being nice doesn’t save us. Being social justice warriors can’t save us. Sending money to the televangelist du jour doesn’t save us or give anyone prosperity- except the one to whom the check is made out. We cannot do anything to earn or deserve anything from God. Even the ability to trust the One Who died on the Cross comes to us as a free gift from God.

Any “gospel” that denies the reality of and the need for Jesus’ death on the Cross is no gospel at all. The assurance that Jesus died to save us from our sins and that He rose from the grave is the Good News. It is the Good News of eternal life versus eternal death in which countless martyrs and saints over the centuries have stood firm.

As people who are called Christians and followers of Jesus, God’s opinion is the only one that matters.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

 

April 18, 2018- Necessarily Annoying? Acts 4:1-4, Romans 10:17, Luke 12:11-13, Hebrews 12:1-3

annoying.jpg

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. Acts 4:1-4 (ESV)

There is a saying that “well behaved women don’t make history.” The same can also be said for well behaved men. There is a place for gentle speech, logical argument and parliamentary procedure with all its niceties when relating to and when attempting to convince other human beings of a particular point of view.  However, when one’s speech versus silence is the difference between life and death, it can be necessary to be annoying.

It is necessary for an ambulance driver to run a siren and to take the ambulance through traffic lights- to make it highly audible and highly visible and to some, annoying- when the ambulance is being used to make a way to save a life. Desperate times require desperate measures.

We probably wouldn’t still be talking about the apostles Peter and John two thousand years after they died if they hadn’t made themselves annoying for the cause of Christ. It would have been a lot more polite of them if they hadn’t preached Jesus crucified and risen, at least not in the temple. They could have stayed out of jail for the night too, but then who would have heard their message of salvation? What may have become of the five thousand who came to faith by the apostles’ words- had they not been able to hear?  (Romans 10:17)

The fact that we still read about Peter and John and Paul and all the apostles and saints who have held fast to faith and proclaimed Christ even to martyrdom, says something for the truth of who Jesus is, and for the validity of the Word of God. The same good news that saved the five thousand is still saving millions- perhaps even billions- more, because God gave these men the conviction and the courage to be bold and get the truth out, even though they were considered by some to be obnoxious and annoying, even though it led them to persecution and civil consequences, and led many of them to suffer martyrs’ deaths.

It is not always easy to share our faith, especially in contexts where it could make us annoying, or even get us in trouble. The political and social climate is increasingly hostile to the Gospel message.  Even so, God gives us the ability and the courage to witness for Him especially when it is scary for us, or when we annoy the powers that be when we speak the truth because the truth offends their perceived authority.

We have the Holy Spirit to lean on in this: (Jesus said) : ”And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-13 (ESV)

When we are bold for our faith and we speak the truth of Jesus Christ, we are in good company. Throughout the centuries we are supported by the witness of the apostles as well as by countless martyrs and saints.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)

Faith comes from God. The endurance to run the race He has set before us comes from God. We run in HIS strength. We, along with the saints before us, look to Jesus, cling to His Cross, and in Him we can take comfort that the joy that was set before Him is set before us also.