Let us pray: Dear Savior, amidst a world that literally hates Your Gospel of peace, give us the courage and conviction to: “speak your truth in love.” Or, as Peter later writes: “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that you have.” Lord, as we do so, protect us from the enemies of Your truth and bless our labors. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE!
TEXT: Acts 14: 8-18
Dearly Beloved By Jesus:
Early this past week I read an upsetting article online put out on Fox News. Later, I got an email from the Family Research Council, a traditional values Christian Group, from one of their members, retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, on the same topic. Whatis this all about? Let me inform you.
It seems that some political appointees in the Pentagon don’t have enough military problems to worry about. So, they are taking on the issue of Christianity, specifically believers who share their faith with others while in the military. This doesn’t just include the rank and file, it also includes military chaplains. These civilian political appointees recently met with military leaders and someone named: Mikey Weinstein, who runs a national antichristian group. They are drawing up new policies to govern what they like to call: “Proseletizing” or simply talking about Christ as your Savior to another person. Note well, this even would apply to chaplains. Mr. Weinstein says that if you do such a thing it is: “treason, spiritual rape” and akin to “sexual assault.” Wow! These folks call people who actively practice their Christianity—which obvious includes sharing the Gospel—”enemies of the Constitution.” So, under this policy which they are discussing, they would court martial anyone who does so—including military chaplains! Retired General Boykin wants people to sign a petition to prevent this from happening. We’ll see what develops.
All this got me to thinking about our lesson in a different way. I thought: “What would St. Paul do if he was in a similar situation?” Well, first of all, he wouldn’t allow himself to be put into such a situation to begin with. Secondly, he would apply the same principle articulated by St. Peter when the Jewish Ruling Council forbade him from confessing Christ, when Peter said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Thirdly, if Paul happened to be painted into a corner by such unbelievers, no doubt, he’d be a test case for the Supreme Court. I want you to think about all this, especially the invectives being hurled around by those who want to quash any form of evangelism by labeling it: “Spiritual assault akin to rape” because that mindset is coming soon to a neighborhood near you. I want to you put those images in your mind as we examine our lesson.
The “gods” of political correctness didn’t reign during St. Paul’s time. Instead Greek and Roman “gods” were in vogue. And so St. Paul and Barnabas arrive in the town of Lystra. They come across a man crippled in his feet and lame from birth. This man had never walked. No doubt he spent all his years begging for alms at the city gate. We’re told: “He listened to Paul as he was speaking, Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed, and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.”
What was St. Paul doing here? He was preaching the good news of Christ. He was telling anyone around him that God’s Son came to die for the sins of the world. He preached: Christ crucified! It was politically incorrect in his day, too. But the Spirit worked through that message, created faith in this man’s heart, and not only was his soul reborn but so was his body via this miracle. Imagine someone trying to court-martial Paul for being so kind? Was this “spiritual rape” or spiritual freedom?!
The crowd was swayed by it all. They began to shout: “The gods have come down to us in human form!” They labeled Barnabas Zeus, the chief god, and Paul Hermes, the messenger god because he was the chief spokesman. Then the heathen priest of Zeus’ local temple decided to get into the act. “They brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.” I’ll give them this over our modern day nay-sayers: at least this heathen priest was more open-minded than those Pentagon officials, wasn’t he? At least he didn’t label what they were doing as “treasonous.”
Of course, St. Paul wasn’t a “god.” He was an apostle of God. He was a mere man like you and me who had been given the Gospel of peace and had his heart remade by Christ’s forgiveness for every sin. So, he and Barnabas torn their clothing to illustrate their point and then made their point by confessing Christ. They didn’t “proselytize” or “sheep steal” they spoke the truth in love and left the rest up to the Holy Spirit. “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.”
Note well how Paul uses nature and providential care to illustrate God’s goodness. That’s a blueprint for us when we work with people. Use the obvious and then slowly but surely take people to the source of it all—the Trinity. Then you can talk about sin, grace, forgiveness in Christ, and the new life in Christ that we all live. But lest you think it’s very easy to convert another, listen to what occurs next. “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” Yes, the changeability of the human heart knows no bounds…
Enemies of the Gospel abound in every time and every generation. Paul dealt with them. We have to deal with them. Paul suffered nasty slurs, we do likewise. What would St. Paul think of Mikey Weinstein and his attacks upon simply sharing ones faith while in the military?—I think you know. He’d probably borrow Christ’s phrase and call him a “whited sepulchar” a white-washed grave of a dead man walking, a zombie. And he’d be correct.
This lesson clearly teaches just how fickle the human heart really is. It teaches how hard it is to stand up for Christ and tell people the truth that will set their souls free. But it also teaches that one crippled man was saved for heaven and others (Those disciples gathered around Paul’s body) obviously came to faith and believed. So, do you want your unchurched family members and friends to be with you in heaven someday? Do you want them to have peace with God right now? Do you want their lives to be happier and richer? If so, then don’t be afraid to stand up for Jesus—even against the forces of darkness. Pray for, invite, encourage, and be an example to them! Show them exactly how Christ has set you free. This lesson also teaches that persecution ultimately makes God’s Church stronger. It refines, distills, and reinforces our inner mettle. Yes, God always turns evil against itself—using you and me to do it, and brings a blessed result because precious souls are at stake! One last thought comes to mind: I wonder if Mr. Weinstein and his adherents would court martial the President of the United States, the commander-in-chief, for addressing the national prayer breakfast? As for me, I’ll throw my lot in with the Almighty God described in Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; and Lord scoffs at them.” Indeed. Amen