The early church had the luxury of not having an ugly legacy to undo. People were able to hear what they had to say without suspicion based on what other Christians had done in the past. But we dont have that luxury. We stand at the end of 2,000 years of a history in which Christians did some wonderful things, but those years have also been filled with wildly un-Christlike behavior done by people who called themselves Christians. So-called Christians have burned people at the stake, drowned people for wanting to be baptized by immersion, sent armies on crusades to liberate the holy land, killing women & children and even Christians who didnt look like them. So-called Christians put millions of defenseless people in slavery and sold their children to strangers. They celebrated Easter by driving Jews out of their villages and cities. They annihilated six million of them in the holocaust. They deliberately forced a nation of people to become addicted to heroin so they could sell them drugs. They broke promise after promise to native people, and slaughtered them and seized land that they had sworn was theirs forever
I mention some of these horrible things not to stir up collective guilt, but to put our task in perspective. No, most of those werent real Christians, but they were the fruit of Christian cultures. They often went to church
a lot, and yes those churches failed miserably to disciple them. But the problem is, the world doesnt know the difference between a so-called Christian and a real one, and to be honest, neither do we at times. How often have we been shocked to discover someone was just playing a game?
So, here we are today, trying to proclaim New Testament Christianity to a world that has watched Christians closely for 2,000 years. And if all we have to offer them is more of the same, they will continue to look for help elsewhere. They must see people who shatter the stereotype, who live differently, who act differently, who treat them differently
for a long enough period of time to prove its not just one more marketing attempt. We, as a church, but also we as individuals, have to live in such a way that people will be able to discern the difference between nominal and genuine Christianity. Words will mean very little in this process. People dont believe our words anymore. Its time to let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:16).
Pauls response to a riot (Ac 21:27-22:23)
Lets continue to listen to Pauls testimony and then watch what happens when he speaks one particular word.
Acts 22:17, 18: Paul told them that after he left Damascus (Ac 9:19-25) he returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple when he was suddenly overwhelmed by Gods presence and saw Jesus and heard Him say, Hurry, get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not receive your testimony about Me.
v19: Paul admitted that he argued with the Lord. He reminded Him that everyone in the city knew that he had gone from synagogue to synagogue beating and imprisoning those who believed on Jesus, and that he had overseen the stoning of Stephen. But Jesus didnt change His mind. He told Paul, Go I will send you to distant nations (Gentiles).
vs22, 23: Luke says the crowd listened to Paul up to this word, his final statement about his mission to the Gentiles, and then their anger erupted again. They called for his death, saying a person like him shouldnt be allowed to live. They shouted and waved their robes and threw dust in the air, since there were no stones available on the smooth pavement of that courtyard.
Watching the Riot
Put yourself in the Roman commanders sandals for a moment. Youre standing at the top of the stairs looking over a massive temple courtyard filled with tens of thousands of people who believe the Bible. What kind of people has that devotion to the Bible produced? The answer is painfully obvious. He saw people who were angry, violent, racist, intolerant toward other faiths, even other interpretations of their own faith, and to whom human life meant little. Killing someone seemed to be their answer to most problems. Do you suppose in that moment he felt a desire to forsake his Roman gods and follow the God of the Bible? In fact, that horrible scene probably made his Roman religion look far more reasonable. You would think that what he saw from that stairway would ruin him spiritually forever, but maybe not.
The riot wasnt the only thing the Roman commander saw that day. He also had an opportunity to watch Paul, and that must have blown his mind. He had just ripped this man out of the grip of religious zealots who were trying to beat him to death, but there, at the top of the stairs, Paul turned to that mob and gently and compassionately tried to tell them about a Jesus who loved Gentiles
like him. I cant imagine he didnt have someone translate for him when Paul spoke to the crowd. The moment was simply too dangerous. And as he listened to him, this Paul, who also believed the Bible, was not at all like this crowd. He was not violent, he did not want revenge, he didnt even seem frightened. Instead he was trying to evangelize the people who had tried to kill him. He was concerned about their souls. He disagreed with them, but he spoke to them respectfully. In fact, what he saw as he watched Paul respond in that manner may have outweighed, in his mind, the bad behavior of tens of thousands of people. His name is Claudius Lysias. Listen.
One day later, after setting up a meeting where Paul could face his accusers, and he could listen to everything that was said, this Roman commander went to great lengths to protect Paul. Yes, in part because he knew now that Paul was a Roman citizen (Ac 22:27-29) but it would have been so easy to let that ambush happen and be rid of a problem. But, he didnt and I think it was because he had begun to respect him and saw something real; he saw Jesus in him.
When the prophet Isaiah looked 750 years into the future and saw Jesus, he described Him this way: He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth (Isa 53:7). And thats exactly what Jesus did, He did not retaliate like most humans. When James and John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village because they had refused to give them hospitality, Jesus said, You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy mens lives, but to serve them (Lk 9:51-56). When Peter cut off the ear of the man who tried to arrest Jesus, Jesus picked the ear up and put it back on the mans head (Lk 22:50, 51; Jn 18:10, 11). When soldiers drove nails into His hands and feet, Jesus asked the Father to forgive them (Lk 23:33, 34). And, He wants us to treat people the same way. He said, But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also, and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you (Lk 26:27-31).
He wants us to look past the insult or violence of the moment and see that persons eternity, to see a deceived soul, not an enemy. Our biggest problem is that over the last 2,000 years, very few people have done that.
It doesnt make sense that one persons good behavior could outweigh the bad behavior of tens of thousands of people, but thats a miracle God can do. If someone gets even a glimpse of Jesus when they watch us, something stirs inside them. I think every human heart wants to believe that there is a God of love and grace, but bad encounters with bad Christians can smother that hope and leave many concluding that Christianity is just one more religion, like all the rest, and sadly, in many cases it is, or has been. And, we cant change history, but we can change us. We can live in such a way that people might get a glimpse of Jesus when they watch us. We cant change history, but one person at a time we can try to repair the Lords reputation, by:
Serving those whove been abused
Staying calm and speaking kindly when attacked
Blessing those who curse us
Being a Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) and caring for the needs of our neighbors
Seeking out and investing ourselves in the poor, the young, the elderly, the overlooked, the sick, the addicted, the atheist, the forgotten
It never ceases to amaze me that a little bit of the real thing, when done consistently over time, has more power than all the accumulated damage done by the false. Its time for each of us to take seriously our call to repair the reputation of our Lord.
1) Who is the first person you can remember who gave you a glimpse of Jesus (you thought to yourself thats what Jesus would do!)?
2) Give an example of a time you actually stayed calm and spoke kindly when attacked.
3) The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) was an example of someone who loved his neighbor. He was willing to help someone others had overlooked. Give an example of you, or someone else, who did that.