Monday, February 18, 2013
They Couldn't Make Sense of It
Acts 25:23 ¶ So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then Festus gave the order and Paul was brought in.
Acts 25:24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.
Acts 25:25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and when he appealed to his Imperial Majesty, I decided to send him.
Acts 25:26 But I have nothing definite to write to our sovereign about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write—
Acts 25:27 for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”
Paul has been a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and has traveled throughout much of the world of his day as a missionary, planting churches and bringing many to a knowledge of Christ. He has gone back to visit Jerusalem and there the religious leaders are simply furious with this man who had been a zealous Jew and now was even more zealous for Jesus. They wanted to be rid of him and did everything in their power to kill him. Finally they had him arrested but the government officials, just as with Jesus, could find no legal reason to try him. They were trying to make sense of it all. Why would these Jews want this man, Paul, to be arrested? The whole Jewish community had petitioned Festus to put Paul to death, but nothing made sense. The emotions of the Jewish elders had gotten the best of them and now, trying to make everything fit neatly within the Roman government system, Festus had to figure out what to do with Paul. This came about because Paul refused to allow Festus to send him back to Jerusalem. He knew that in Jerusalem he would simply be facing a crazy and angry mob that couldn't articulate their frustration with him. Instead, Paul decided to trust the government system of the land, and he appealed to Caesar. Once this happened there was no turning back. Paul would have to go and stand before Caesar, but Festus would have to send a letter along with him, explaining the charges. Here was the problem. He couldn't make sense of it all and did not know what to write.
It seems that these days the "world" is looking in on Christianity and simply can't make sense of it! The other day I saw a Public Service Announcement on television and it was all about "I won't be intolerant." The message was not necessarily about intolerance but about tacit approval of all things in the world. The world is saying that we must be willing to put our stamp of approval on any and all behavior that anyone chooses and in doing this we show them love. If we do not -- the language gets really strong -- we are "hateful."
As a follower of Jesus Christ I have really been mulling this over in my mind. The very language of Christianity -- the language of love is being co-opted by the world around us and is being used against us. Love is now being defined as acceptance of all things and there no longer seems to be any right or wrong. Therefore for a Christian to stand up for something -- to stand up for a belief which has been a part of the Christian faith, we are considered intolerant and non-loving. Jesus loved everyone and reached out to them, but he didn't say "I love you so much that I will just let you continue to live in your sin." If anything, Jesus brought people to "aha" moments where they recognized the way in which they were living was wrong. How many times did Jesus heal people and then say, "go and sin no more!"
The love of God compels us to change our lifestyles. God knows what is healthy for us and what is not healthy for us and therefore, in his love, he encourages us to step out of our sin. The good news of Jesus has always been transformational and therein lies part of our problem today. The world can't make sense of it because there is a belief that "I don't need to be transformed."
How does the church respond to a world that can't make sense of the church's message of transformation, and actually believes that the good news about Jesus Christ is a message of hate? Wow -- now that is a challenge! I'm not sure that I can make sense of it all but I believe that God in his wisdom can. It just means that God's people need to earnestly seek him and his wisdom to know how to interact with the world. I don't want to give up on bringing the good news of Jesus to the world around me just because it's all getting a bit complicated. Isn't that what the enemy would want us to do? At the same time the very nature of Jesus Christ must be revealed in us so that the world can see the love of Christ. Somehow in the midst of all the chaos of the early church the love of Jesus was able to shine through to the people of the world. They saw something completely different from what the world had to offer. Jesus himself and then his followers, filled with the Holy Spirit, walked the streets and touched people for Jesus.
Really, the only answer for today is for God's children to seek his face and to seek his wisdom. We need his power to lead us through and to help us to make a difference when neither we, nor anyone around us can make sense of it all.
Lord, I need you so desperately. Amen.