“When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees! I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead! ” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and no angel or spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all. The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently: “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him? ” When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, rescue him from them, and bring him into the barracks. The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:6-11 HCSB)
Monday is a national holiday in the United States when we remember, celebrate and commemorate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is remembered and celebrated for his work and sacrifice while demanding civil rights for all oppressed humans, but especially black Americans. King once said, “If you’ve got nothing worth dying for, you’ve got nothing worth living for.”
In our modern culture, we seem to take many of our freedoms and rights for granted and often forget the great cost that it took to secure them and the cost it takes to keep them. A simple stroll through Arlington National Cemetery or the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach will give a vivid reminder of that great cost. In fact, nearly 125,000 U.S. servicemen and women are buried in American National cemeteries worldwide, and an additional 94,000 are commemorated on tablets of the missing.
However, it doesn’t seem to take much distance (time or miles) from these reminders for us to lose sight of their cost and their impact. One thing that I know for certain, the more personal the cost the more vivid the memory and the longer the impact. This is not only true of war, it is also true of life and the battles it throws at us. For example, when we lose someone we love to cancer then the cost becomes very personal, very real and the impact can last our lifetime, and even longer.
Maybe the battle in your life isn’t cancer but the cost can still be very real and very personal and the impact long lasting. For me, one battle is dementia or Alzheimer’s. I lost my mother and my wife lost her father to this horrific disease so we fight alongside others who now battle it as we seek a treatment or cure. We pray daily that it has been vanquished forever from our lives. We also battle Type 1 Diabetes daily in my granddaughter’s life. She’s the warrior that’s in hand-to-hand combat with the beast and the rest of us (her parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends) are support personnel.
Man or God?
What does all of this have to do with our focal passage? Paul is in a battle for the cause of Christ. He is facing opposition and threats from every side and at every turn. It seems like he makes one step forward and gets knocked two steps back. Is it worth the struggle, worth the pain? The cost is great, but the cause is greater. Wait?How is that even possible? The answer to this question is really wrapped up in Paul’s appeal to the Council. I mentioned, last week, that the Sanhedrin Council is split between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Pharisees, of which Paul was a former member, believe in the possibility of a physical resurrection. In other words, they believe that there is more to life than what we see, more to life than this life.
Paul appeals to this fundamental belief of a resurrection as the central issue for which he is being tried. More specifically, the physical resurrection of Jesus following his crucifixion and death. But, why would resurrection be the “central issue” for Paul and all of Christianity? Because, “…he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4 NLT) If Jesus’ physical resurrection is true, then his identity as the unique Son of God is affirmed and that changes EVERYTHING!
Some skeptics will argue that the early church didn’t initially believe that Jesus was divine but that this belief was developed as the church matured and grew in influence. They claim that if you read the Gospels in the order in which they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John – in that order) then you can see a progressive development of the deity of Jesus. For example, Mark is considered to be the oldest and the first of the Gospel accounts to be put into written form. It is the simplest and is, most likely, the result of Mark recording the stories as Peter remembers and relates them.
Skeptics claim that Mark never equates Jesus with God, but to do so is to simply overlook the actual stories, their content and their focus. For example, Mark chapter one is about John the Baptist “preparing the way of the LORD.” Chapter two relates how Jesus forgave sins and the skeptics respond “only God can forgive sins,” and Jesus responds “to show you I have authority to forgive sins, get up and walk.” In chapter three, Jesus heals on the Sabbath and casts out demons by “binding the strong man of the house” – Satan, clearly things that only God could do. Do you see the point? Mark does equate Jesus with God. He might not explicitly state, “Jesus is God,” but his stories clearly say, Jesus IS God! This continues throughout Mark and the other synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke) and then clearly culminates in John. As Paul insists, the resurrection is the proof of Jesus’ deity. He is GOD and is worthy of our love, adoration, worship and obedience.
The Christ > the cost
So, Paul is directly confronted by the cost of obedience – rejection, hatred, violence and death threats. But how could a God of love, grace and goodness elicit such a response? Even today, that question is still being asked. How can obedience to God in our modern world still elicit rejection, hatred, violence and death threats? It really is quite simple, but deeply troubling. The reason that real faith and obedience elicits such a response is the issue of lordship. Or, to put it another way, the core issue is idolatry – just who is God in this relationship?
You see, that’s the heart of the violent response by the Sanhedrin Council and that’s the heart of a negative response in any culture. Who’s in charge of my life? Who’s God – me or Him? Who determines my desires? My direction? My goals? My priorities? Paul had settled this question in his life, Jesus was Lord and worthy of absolute obedience, whatever the cost. So, when the Council responded with anger, hatred, violence and threats, Paul didn’t panic – he prayed. He didn’t run – he rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake.
I mentioned last week that Luke is painting a portrait of great contrasts in this story. One additional contrast that he’s painting is the contrast between the perceived obedience of the Council and the actual obedience of Paul. The Council believes they are in obedience to God’s will, and they prove it by lashing out in anger, violence, and hatred towards Paul. While I didn’t include the full passage above, due to sheer length, I would encourage you to go read the rest of this story about the “curse” that a group of them take as part of a vow to kill Paul (see Acts 23:12-22). In essence, they say “may God curse or kill us if we fail to kill Paul.” They fail to recognize the irony that their claim of obedience to God’s will is in direct opposition to stated will of God as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The very God who said, “thou shalt not kill” does not want them to swear an oath and attempt to murder Paul.
Now before you get too loud with your applaud and approval of my statements, be aware that we often make the same mistake. We often try and accomplish our perception of the will of God by acting in ways that are inconsistent with the proclaimed will of God as revealed in scripture. For example, we preach and proclaim salvation “by grace through faith” and yet we fail to offer grace to others because “they don’t deserve it.” This same Jesus said, “you will be judged by the same measure you use to judge others” (see Matt. 7:1-2). Yet, we often hold others to a higher moral standard than we expect from ourselves. We often wonder why God doesn’t strike down those who obviously reject Him and His Word. Yet, Peter reminds us: “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 HCSB)
So, is the Christ worth the cost? Actually, the question should be: “is Christ > the cost?” That’s a very personal question and one that only you can answer for yourself.
is HE > me?
HE > me
An affirmative answer to that question should result in love, adoration, worship and obedience. In fact, the origins of the word “worship” is from the old English “worth ship” which means that He is “worth” or worthy of all that is and can be given to Him. He is worthy of ALL of our love, He deserves our adoration, We ought to worship Him and He must be obeyed.
Fear or Faith?
The following night, Paul is assured by an appearance of Christ that he need not fear what the future might hold. Why? It is all a part of God’s grand plan. Christ could see beyond the pain, past the threats and He assures Paul that the pain has a purpose – “Have courage… you will also testify of me in Rome.” We tend to be very short-sighted. We fail to see beyond today. Jesus may have told us not to worry about tomorrow and to live in the moment but, in the very next breath, He said we should build our lives on solid foundations in anticipation of the storms that we will face.
Those might seem antithetical, but they really aren’t. We are assured that we need not worry about common, everyday needs because God knows of our needs. Then we are encouraged to build our lives on solid foundations in anticipation of the storms that will come. Why would God care about our daily needs and then allow us to face a storm that could threaten the very stability of our life? Let me pose an idea that you might not have considered… Is the focus of this life your personal satisfaction, enjoyment and happiness? It often tends to be, but why? If the resurrection is true, then this life is not the end – it is just the beginning. Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not suggesting we treat this life and this world lightly because we are “heaven bound.” It has been said that “some Christians are so heaven focused, they are of no earthly good.”
Perhaps an analogy might help – it helps me. Have you ever been part of an athletic team? If so, then you would have had a coach who’s primary goal was to prepare the team for playing their next game. He would take you through various drills and exercises in preparation for playing. He would drill you on the basic skills for your sport, over and over again. A basketball coach might drill you on dribbling, ball handling and shooting. A baseball coach might drill you on fielding a ball, batting, as well as catching and throwing. A football coach might drill you on blocking, running, tackling, passing, and catching. You get the picture. Why all of the work on the basics? Because those are your foundation. Your overall success rests on your ability to master those basic skills. Advanced skills simply build on the basic skills and a championship team will always be one that has mastered the basics well, very well.
The game of life is no different. Our coach’s goal is to prepare us through practice after practice for playing the next game, the real game – eternal life. Jesus said that He came so that we might have life, real life. A full and meaningful life. Are we willing to put in the effort now, during practice, to learn the basic skills? Really learn them well so that we are ready for the real game, eternal life? Let me point out that while “eternal” certainly includes an element of longevity, it is also about quality. Are you willing to submit yourself to the coach’s training? You might think his training methods are CRAZY but, trust me, He knows more about this game than you or I do. He knows what skills are needed and how to develop them in us and then enhance them for the championship game.
So, He said to Paul – and He says to us – don’t be afraid of where this is going. It is all a part of my game plan. I’m getting you ready, trust me. I’m walking you through some skill drills now in preparation for the real game. Just relax, lean into it and listen to My instructions. Do what I’ve taught you. You’ve got this, and I’ve got you. Remember, the resurrection is REAL and no matter what happens I’ve got you – forever! No fear, just faith.