“Seeing the Light”

Some readers may not be aware of the origin of this title. It refers to an experience by a man who became an apostle and advocate for Christianity in its early days. Saul of Tarsus was a rabid persecutor of Christians: he was one of the ones who approved of the murder of Stephen (mentioned in a post two weeks ago).

Considered the leader of the faith’s early opposition movement, he encountered the risen Christ in a bright light as he was traveling to Damascus. Though planning to arrest more believers when he arrived, three days after ”seeing the light” he did exactly the opposite: he agreed with the Christians and let everyone know of his dramatic reversal. You can read the story in Acts 9:1-22.

Since then, “seeing the light” has become a proverb for any form of enlightenment or change of thought, but as with numerous biblical allusions, the original story carries a significant amount of context that we lose if we don’t know it. For example, the Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the “light of the world” (John 8:12), adding a layer of meaning that transcends the simple notion of “gaining a new insight.”

This experience has particular relevance to me. When I became a Christian in 1972, an office worker said to me, “So I hear you saw the light . . . ha, ha, ha” (think snigger, smirk, and eye roll). I was and still am unafraid to say, “Yes, I did.”

Mine was not a literal vision with a bright light shining around me, but it was certainly an enlightenment about the message of the Gospel and the truth about the lordship of Jesus Christ. Like Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, it is an experience I wish for everyone.

The Gospel of John characterizes our world as one caught in the grip of a paralyzing and blinding darkness. Only by seeing the light of Christ is the darkness pierced and the heavy burden of blindness lifted. I’d like to think my readers are at least curious enough to learn about that light for themselves.

- Bob -

“It Didn’t Work”

After the death of the church’s first martyr, Stephen, opposition to Christianity picked up steam. The rage that fueled his death (Acts 7:54) found a suitable outlet in Saul of Tarsus, a zealous persecutor of Christianity who began dragging Christians off to prison.

Stephen’s death and Saul’s persecutions drove many of the disciples out of Jerusalem and into the countryside (Acts 8:1). However, like trying to douse an oil fire with water, the opposition did nothing more than spread it: “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

If the opposition’s attempt was to stamp out this allegedly pernicious movement, it didn’t work. Historically it has never worked, and the persecution and intimidation generated by its critics usually serves to make the church stronger.

In many circles today anti-Christian bias has become a acceptable, and Christians in countries controlled by Islam are experiencing persecution and slaughter on an unprecedented scale.

However, what seems to work in the short run doesn’t work in the long run. The Book of Revelation reminds Christians that though things seemed bleak near the end of the first century, by enduring they would be victorious. The church and its message have endured many efforts since then to stamp it out.

Persecution may dampen the courage of many, but Christians believe that even the gates of hell cannot destroy the church.

- Bob -

Many Amazed/Many Angered

In the history of the early church (Book of Acts) the Apostles performed miracles that attested to the truth of the Gospel. Acts 3:10 tells us the reaction of the crowd when a man who had been crippled was given the ability to walk: his leaping and jumping around amazed them.

However, just as many people were amazed, many others were angered. The rulers of the Jews persistently resented the Apostles’ preaching in Jesus’ name and threatened them numerous times. Acts 5:33 tells us that their resistance reached a level of anger bordering on a desire to murder them.

Although their anger was thwarted by a Jewish teacher who was wiser and more level-headed, it never fully abated. Challenged by a Christian named Stephen later on they were once again enraged (Acts 7:54), and Stephen faced the full fury of their wrath: he was stoned to death.

Considering the rage often leveled at Christians today, critics of the Christian faith should think about this ancient but still relevant question: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain . . . against the Lord and against his anointed?” (Psalm 2:1-2)

Why so much anger directed at Christians? If the message of Christ is not true, why not just ignore Christians as mindless fanatics?

- Bob -

The Guests, The Gawkers, and the Goon Squad, John 12

The smell of food wafts through the house; guests mill about, jockeying for a place at the table. All eyes turn toward a most unusual celebrity: a man who had only recently been dead for four days. Here he was, laughing at jokes, conversing with other guests as if nothing were unusual, eating a feast that should never have been. The guests came to celebrate him.

He is Lazarus. He is seated with Jesus and his companions. His sister Martha has cooked and is serving the meal. His other sister, Mary, smears oil on the feet of the man responsible for Lazarus’ presence. But that part of our story is for another time. The guests have the privilege of touching, talking with, and eating with Lazarus, a man who is overshadowed only by Jesus himself.

Outside the street is lined with gawkers (the lookers who came only to look), peering through the windows, squeezing through the crowd to get up front, putting children on their shoulders to see this once-dead man, asking others, “Which one is he?” Excitement builds in anticipation of receiving Jesus into the holy city: a new king who holds the power over life and death. Lazarus is proof. They want to see for themselves.

Yet this crowd of excited viewers contains the poison of a goon squad (the lookers who came only looking for trouble). They fail to comprehend the miracle because of the jealousy in their own hearts, blind leaders, determined to put away this threat to their way of life, present only to search out how to arrest Jesus. To them Lazarus is barely an object of curiosity. He is evidence of Jesus’ power but more than that evidence that must be eliminated.

The stage is set for Jesus’ triumphal entry, his mock trial, and his crucifixion. As the story of redemption has unfolded up to our day, more guests are being included in the final feast where all will be resurrected to new life, and more gawkers are coming out of curiosity and will be welcomed to the feast. We aren’t quite as hopeful about the goon squad.