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.

December 26, 2017- He Brings a Sword- Matthew 10:34, 37-39, Acts 7:57-60, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:16-18

Jesus sword

 

(Jesus said:) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34, 37-39 (NIV)

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:57-60 (NIV)

Ironically, the Prince of Peace did not come to live among us to bring us flowers and kittens and warm fuzzies, as much as we may have wish He did. He brought a sword. He meant business.

Sometimes being a Jesus follower can seem to be a bit of a buzz kill. We just celebrated the wonder of Christmas and the awe of being in the presence of the Babe in the manger. However, Jesus came here among us not only to redeem us from sin, but also to reveal the truth and to show us how God meant for us to live.  He came here not only to heal the sick and comfort the broken hearted, but also to upset the money changers’ tables, and to challenge the hypocrisy and corruption of the status quo. For those in power, Jesus was a threat to their power, and so were Jesus’ followers. Ultimately, for Jesus to redeem us from our sins, He had to sacrifice Himself and die.

We as Jesus’ followers share in His suffering and sacrifice as well. He has a mission and a purpose for each of us that He has determined in advance for us to accomplish. Our missions in this life will sometimes be joyful and sometimes heart wrenching and tragic.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)

This is part of the good news of God-with-us, as difficult as it can be at times. God has created us to be where we are needed, to be the instruments through which His kingdom is built and maintained and grown. The young man named Saul from the Acts 7 passage, who stood by watching as Stephen the martyr gave his life defending his faith in Jesus, was to become the apostle Paul.  Saul thought he was doing God a favor by getting rid of Jesus followers- only to be set straight on the Damascus road, redeemed by divine intervention, and made into one of the most influential Jesus followers of all. God has ways of naming, claiming and redeeming His own, not to mention, at times, a very catty sense of humor.  As the prophet Jonah found out, if God asks you to do something- it was what He made you for, and you will end up doing it.  It’s far more pleasant to do God’s work the easy way and not have to find out about the hard way, but we humans are stubborn.

Our faith in Jesus may make us unpopular or controversial. We may upset the status quo.  We may cause conflict and strife even within our own families, for standing for what is right.  Even today in some places, standing for Jesus can lead to persecution- including starvation, imprisonment and even execution.

It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:16-18 (NRSV)

We are all called in some way to give of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God- some in living lives of generosity and sacrifice, and some even to give their lives, like the martyr Stephen.

The wonder of the manger and the tender heart of Mary are part of the same story of our redemption as Jesus’ sorrow of the garden, His bitter crucifixion, and His miraculous resurrection. As we look into that makeshift cradle, we are also looking at the cross- and we are drawn into the story we were created to participate in.