Reality Check

In The Book of Acts, chapter 26, the Apostle Paul describes his early life, subsequent conversion to Christianity, and the purpose it gave his life. He spoke of his vision on the road to Damascus, his ministry of proclaiming deliverance from evil forces, the need for repentance, and his belief in a resurrected Jesus.

The significant feature of this chapter is the reaction of a Roman official, who engages in a familiar criticism. Festus blurts out in the middle of Paul’s speech, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”

We’ve heard this before. Jesus’ family thought he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), and his critics accused him of being demon-possessed (John 8:48), a condition beyond losing all grasp of reality, an irresistible influence for evil, a category of people for whom no serious consideration should be given.

We might forgive Festus for his outburst, being unfamiliar with the things Paul spoke of, ignorant of the traditions of the prophets. However, the criticism of being crazy can take a more sinister twist. It is used by critics who feel threatened by but cannot disprove Paul’s view of reality.

They think Paul and other Christians need a reality check. I have claimed elsewhere (TLC blog) that this is a lazy man’s tactic, an attempt to discredit without argument, a desire to force a view of reality on the rest of us without any discussion, a modern day enforcement of political correctness: “Long live Big Brother!”

If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, I have some advice for you: get religion. I mean get a true conversion experience. Take your faith seriously. Go to church every week. Stop partying, carousing, and drinking.

Tell your friends you don’t do those things anymore. At the very least they will see you as a fanatic or freak (1 Peter 4:3-4); at worst they will think you need a reality check . . . or maybe even therapy. Don’t worry! You’re in good company.

- Bob -

Felix and the “Unholy Trinity”

Acts 24 finds the Apostle Paul once again under arrest and on trial for his role in spreading the Gospel. He’s been accused of being a menace, starting riots, and being a ringleader of the “Nazarenes” (followers of Jesus Christ), Acts 24:5. Of course he freely admits to the last accusation.

In this chapter he is on trial before Felix, a Roman official. He had been sneaked out of Jerusalem by Roman tribune, Lysias, because of a plot by the Jewsto assassinate him. Although the tribune cannot find any just cause for imprisonment or death, Felix does not conclude with a verdict of his own. Instead he puts off his decision.

While Paul is under arrest, Felix speaks with him numerous times. His interest is purely monetary: he hopes to get a bribe from Paul (Acts 24:26). However, his character is not only revealed by this but also by one of the discussions he has with Paul, and he represents the unbelieving world and why many refuse to accept the Gospel.

Felix encounters the “unholy trinity” so vilified and rejected by unbelievers. Paul discourses with him on three things: “righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). These are the antithesis of pagan Rome just as they are of contemporary society shorn of belief in God. It is precisely these things that prevent many people from accepting the Gospel.

Righteousness is indicative of right behavior. Self-control is the necessary antidote to unrighteous behavior. Judgment is the coming threat against unrighteous behavior. They are a trio of fear-inducing and faith-denying items because they imply the need for change—repentance, in the religious vernacular. People don’t want to repent, so they resist these things even if they are close to believing that Jesus is a special religious teacher sent from God.

For some Christians as well, these items don’t fit neatly with the all-loving, all-accepting nature of God that they want to believe in. Yet Paul discourses on these as if they were perfectly natural and consistent with the Gospel of Christ and with the nature of the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.

Humans resist these things because their lives are sinful and prefer not to encounter the darkness within, much less make the necessary changes to live in righteousness and self-control. Either these are part and parcel of the Gospel or Paul is wrong. It should be obvious which of these choices is the right one.

- Bob -

 

The Sin of False Witness

One of the most underrated and ignored sins of the Bible is that of bearing false witness. Included as the ninth of the Ten Commandments, this sin is also listed in Matthew 15:19 as one of the many things that defile a person’s soul. As Christianity spread in the first century, so did the number of times people falsely accused Christians, especially the Apostle Paul.

While preaching in the city of Thessalonica, Jewish adversaries stirred up dissension by hiring thugs from the marketplace and accusing him of sedition (Acts 17:4-7). When these same people discovered that he had gone to nearby Berea, they went there and did the same thing.

Despite the accusation that Paul advocated another king besides Caesar, never once could his accusers provide proof that Paul attempted to overthrow the government. All they could do was to agitate and stir up the crowds. This was one of many times that people bore false witness against Christians.

Jesus warned his followers that people would “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” (Matthew 5:11). He had experienced the same lies at his trial. We are told that “many false witnesses came forward” (Matthew 26:60).

God detests false testimony. In politics and the media it has become virtually a way of life, habitually spreading lies, half-truths, and distortions of what people say, impugning their motives and character for the sake of scoring political points. Considering God’s condemnation of such things, we are left to wonder how this could have become such an acceptable way of life.

-Bob-

God’s Warning to Dictators

Acts 12 tells the story about the death of a dictator. Herod killed the Apostle James and arrested the Apostle Peter. Some time later Herod meets with constituents from another country who flatter him as being a god. He was stricken and died for his blasphemy.

The Book of Acts explains that he was killed because he accepted this honor without giving glory to God. First century Jewish historian, Josephus, informs us that Herod was stricken with severe abdominal pains and died several days after this incident. The Bible interprets it as divine retribution.

Going back in history we know that Herod the Great was his grandfather. He was the one who slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to kill Jesus. Herod the Great’s son was the one who beheaded John the Baptist, giving in to a grudge held by his wife.

The Herod we see in Acts 12 apparently followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, persecuting the righteous by execution and imprisonment. By his death God warns dictators everywhere and at every time: set yourself up as the supreme ruler and you will eventually pay the price.

It is no surprise that even in today’s world, totalitarian style governments and dictators resist Christianity. Theirs is a knee-jerk hatred for Christians, an intuition that resists Jesus because he is the legitimate ruler over all things.

We are not surprised that resistance has manifested itself in the most authoritarian systems of the 20th century and will continue until such totalitarian systems submit to Christ’s authority. Until such time, Herod’s death becomes a warning shot across their bow. As Psalm 2:9 warns: God’s anointed “shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

- Bob -