Saturday, July 18, 2015

Falling On Deaf Ears

Go to jail. Go directly to jail. 

Acts 5:17-42

New International Version (NIV)

The Apostles Persecuted

17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Wow. Things seem to come in threes. 

The now "apostles" prayed for specific things to happen after last meeting with the religious leaders. They wanted signs and wonders to be done. Ananias and Sapphira provided a lot of excitement. They wanted to see healing happen. People dragged their loved ones out in to the streets on mats so just to catch and edge of Peter's shadow. They wanted to speak boldly for Christ and share the message of salvation in Jesus' name. Here comes the fulfillment of that prayer. 

Persecution is a eerie and wicked thing. 
Some questions come to mind as I sit here pondering the subject.
Why does it happen? Why do people persecute others for what they believe?

I feel as if I don't understand the word well enough. I haven't done any definition research in a while. This would probably be a good time to crack open Merriam-Webster. 

Full Definition of PERSECUTE

transitive verb
1:  to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically :  to cause to suffer because of belief
2:  to annoy with persistent or urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities) :  pester

The word is only used as a transitive verb. You can 'transfer' persecution. You can share it. Rarely do you see someone persecuting someone else on their own as a private cause. Most generally, it is something done by a group. The focus can be on one or more people, but it rarely comes from just one person. It usually come from a group; making it transitive. Just look at what happened to Jesus. He was persecuted from all sides. The Jews, who despised the idea of Jesus being God's Son and thought they understood what God wanted for them without Jesus' interpretation. The Romans, who didn't understand they Jews religion and simply wanted to keep any would be 'king' from rising up against the Emperor's rule. You could even make a case he was persecuted by the common people who tried to put him on a throne to rule over Israel as their King. They wanted freedom from the Roman rule over them so bad that they didn't truly hear the message of freedom and salvation on a spiritual level. 

Persecution comes when people outside our faith feel some personal sting about the central subject matter. The apostles here are sharing a message about salvation in Jesus, and it is also a message they have been warned about sharing. What is it about this particular message that seems to rub these religious leaders the wrong way? Again they are warned that they are not to teach in this name. They had been warned previously, as we read in Chap 4. But, there is a note that rings cold with the religious here that they cannot wrap their hearts around.
28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
The message of Christ brings us front and center with the need to confess our sins. There is a need to admit what we have done wrong as we approach God and seek forgiveness. And, in many cases, that is the very thing that keep so many away. It is also the very thing that causes some to rise up and persecute those doing the preaching. Admitting that one is a sinner is a very deeply personal issue. It takes us coming to a place where we have nothing to lose. "I'm a sinner. I admit it. I need help." Putting one's self in the shoes of these religious leaders we find they have much to lose. Their standing in society. Their power and prestige. They are not in a place where the message can easily penetrate the thick heart and cut through their pride. So, the opposite happens. They retaliate.

We need only look back at Jesus' life and see how it all unfolded.
It started with a man named John. He was baptizing and some of the religious, the Pharisees and others, come to the river to witness and inquire. John shoos them away. He senses that they are not in a place where they are ready to receive salvation. There is too much pomp and pretense. Maybe they are dressed in their religious garments. Maybe it all seems too much for show. In any sense, John the Baptist says...

Matthew 3:7-10

New International Version (NIV)
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Ok, there are a couple of ways to respond to this. 
If a person really wants forgiveness and is will to produce that "good fruit" that would cause one to feel sorry about their sins and repent so as to turn away from sin and seek God, then they'll find what they are looking for. But, if you're in the shoes of these Pharisees and Sadducees, then a person might feel rebuffed. Who are they to admit they are sinner? They are the leaders in their religious community. They don't need to come down to the same level as the common, ordinary people. They don't need that kind of forgiveness.  Feel the indignation. Feel the outrage. Feel the anger swelling inside. The recent line from the upcoming movie Batman v Superman rings appropriate to quote here. Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred is giving the Dark Knight some fatherly advice as he does so eloquently throughout his history. Bruce seems to be weighing all the information about this "Superman" and, from the previews, it seem to be turning him cold towards this fellow superhero. I find it suitable to the mindset of these religious leaders hearing of their need for salvation. 
That's how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men... cruel.
 When weighing new information we are receiving it can humans to fall to their knees in sorrow as they seek to find a new corner to turn in their lives, a new leaf to turn over. The message of salvation in Jesus can leave one feeling powerless. That powerlessness can lead to turning over one's life to God as we find that there is a greater power as work in the world than ourselves. Or, it can take people down a dark path. After that early encounter with John the Baptist the religious leaders are seeing and hearing of this man from Nazareth, this Jesus. It starts with his early teachings. They come, not with true questions as if they needed an answer to bring them closer to God. No. They come to argue. They come to fight. They come to bait Jesus with his words and his explanations of the scriptures. Remember, if you will, conversations like this one...

Luke 20:19-26

New International Version (NIV)
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Jesus had just told the Parable of the Tenants. It clearly put the religious leaders in the spotlight, and in not a very good light. They were shrewd enough to understand the parable was about them. Still they have a decision to make. Take Jesus' words seriously and find forgiveness. Or, allow their hearts to be hardened and become war-like. We know from this passage how they were and what they were seeking to do. They had their hearts set on expunging the country from teaching of this Jesus. And, to do so would most assuredly mean that he would have to die. And, Jesus does die. At the whims of Jewish trickery in the hands of a Roman court. Jesus gives it all. 
"Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Now, these followers of Christ have come to preach this same message of salvation.
The religious leaders are still in a haze as to what it has to do with them. Why do these simple folks assume that they had something to do with the death of this would be Messiah? Still they have a chance to come forth and own their sin. Still God is reaching out and wanting them to find the forgiveness they so desperately need. Still, they cannot find it within themselves to admit what is their need.

If it were not for the providential speaking of one of these men in the Sanhedrin, the apostle fate might have been found here. They might have all died in this moment and the book of Acts would be over early or have taken a different route. There have been uprising and rebellions before. Why would this one be any different? None of the other "messiahs" who have shown up at the doorsteps of the Temple so as to take down these religious placesetters has amounted to anything. Why would these men be any different at all? Let them go. They won't hurt anything. They'll be scattered just like all the rest.

The Sanhedrin can't just let them go. They are roughed up a bit. They are warned again not to teach in the name of this Jesus character. And, then they let them go.

Have you ever felt like you might be in a place where the message has fallen on deaf ears?
Can you put yourself in the shoes of the religious and see any hardened place in your heart?
What has God been trying to say to you that you have not been receiving, but rather have been shrugging off and making it seem less than noteworthy?

Have you been out sharing the word with those around you and feel as if the world is not listening? Take heart. That's how it is supposed to be. Same thing God told Isaiah. Same message Jesus explained to his disciples.

Matthew 13:10-17

New International Version (NIV)
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Share. Preach. Go forth. 
Even though they might not understand. Even though the people in which we speak to, many times, won't get it.  Speak. Share the message because it gives you joy. That joy comes from the Center of our lives. A place that only those who follow in the mercy and forgiveness we have will understand. 

It's a place welcome to all. Only those willing to admit their need will find it.

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