IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE?
Acts 9:1-2 NIV
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 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.
It has been about one week since I last posted. It has taken me a few days to discern the text for our conversation. I was trying to discern whether or not I was to continue the HOPE & HEALING series or whether it was time to shift gears.
On last week, my pastor mentioned this text in his teaching and it struck me but I was not sure how it connected to the current series. And as I continued to think and pray, I was reminded that the healing that so many of us need is not just physical, but it is also spiritual. And so for the next relatively "few" days and beginning on today, we will walk through selected verses of Acts 9 - Saul's conversion to Paul - to explore what the Lord might be sharing with us. I pray that our reflections will continue to inspire and challenge you as we look to God who is the ultimate source of our HOPE & HEALING.
I have always been fascinated by Paul's conversion experience. Over half of the New Testament books are attributed to him and to read in Acts where he came from and how the Lord radically changed his heart and mind is amazing! In the book of The Acts of the Apostles, Paul is first introduced to us as Saul, a persecutor of the early church.
Acts 8:1-3 NIV
And Saul approved of their killing him/Stephen. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
OK. So, I humbly stand corrected. Saul was not just a persecutor but he was a DESTROYER of the church. Stephen is considered one of the first matyrs of the church in Acts when the church is just beginning to take off after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And Paul approved of Stephen's stoning. And the day that he was stoned, the church felt the pressure and the threats of her opposing forces and ran scared because in Stephen's death, they saw the reality that they could be next.
I can only imagine the prayer meetings that were happening in that day. I can only imagine the tears that were shed and the lack of freedom to worship by all who believed in Jesus. I know that this picture is hard for those of us who live in the United States to imagine. We live in a time where we might offer critiques of another's faith tradition but to drag them out of their homes and stone them to death seems unconscionable. We enjoy FREEDOM of RELIGION and the freedom to express our worship in a countless number of ways. But this was NOT the case in the text before us on today AND it is still not the case in countries
around the world.
And as horrific it is to think of anyone being persecuted or dare I say... destroyed because of their faith in Jesus, I step back from that perspective to wonder if MY faith, if YOUR faith in Jesus would have withstood the persecution and destruction of that day. I wonder if 21st century church haters would find me guilty of unashamedly loving Jesus. I wonder if my light would still shine under the pressure of persecution and under the threat of death. What about you? Would there be enough evidence of your faith in Jesus for the Sauls of today to drag you or your family and friends off to prison?
I believe that these are some serious considerations. We take for granted the fact that there are so many OPTIONS of places to lift up the name of Jesus. You can find a church to fit your personality, your music style, your preaching preferences, your time constraints, and your commuting convenience. And if you do not like the church you are in, you can leave and go to another one and hear the same Gospel truth. But the freedom that we take for granted was not the freedom that our Christian ancestors experienced.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 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.
Friends, I know that Saul will be converted in a few verses but the chapter does not open with his conversion. It opens reeminding us of his hatred for The Way. It opens by implying that even with the knowledge of Stephen's death, there were still men and women who believed in Jesus Christ and were willing to lose their lives for His sake. Yes, some did run away but many, if not most, given the lack of transportation options of that day, stayed at home and waited for that dreadful knock.
Again, I ask you on today, would there be enough evidence of your faith in Jesus for the Sauls of today to drag you or your family and friends off to prison?
BlogFam, I know that we live in a different day but the truth is that our commitment to our faith should not be any less intense than the women and men who kept following The Way of Jesus in spite of the persecution and destruction of the church. And on today, I pray that you would reflect on your commitment to Jesus Christ. I hope that you would repent for any way that you have been ashamed to take a stand on behalf of Jesus Christ. Lastly, I pray that believers around the world would pray one for another that we would stand firm in our faith regardless of our personal preferences to express our worship Jesus Christ.
GOD LOVES YOU AND I DO TOO!!!
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