Thursday, August 13, 2015

Joy in the Morning

Weeping may endure for a night.

Acts 8:1-8

New International Version (NIV)    scripture courtesy of
8 And Saul approved of their killing him.

The Church Persecuted and Scattered

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Philip in Samaria

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

As we continue on through the book of Acts we note as we turn the corner from chap 7 to chap 8 that there is a character shift. A new face. A new name. Saul. Last week we covered the stoning of Stephen. It was noted near the end of the chapter in v58 that the men doing the stoning "dropped their coats at the feet of Saul". If you've read enough of the bible, you will note that there are places where it seems a verse from the previous chapter gets leftover as we begin the next chapter. Perhaps there is contextual issue that the translators of our scriptures feel requires that one line to be included in the next chapter. Such it is as we enter chap 8 of Acts. 
And Saul approved of their killing him.
Last week we were wondering what the dropping of the coats at the feet of Saul meant.
We need look no farther.

These last few weeks we have noted the subject of persecution.
It's going to get worse. Especially now that this religious Pharisee named Saul is in the picture. On the same day that Stephen is killed by stoning, it says a great persecution broke out against the church. Especially those centrally located in Jerusalem. Stephen is buried. Then this wretched verse.
But Saul began to destroy the church.
 Could you imagine someone just coming into your house and taking your husband? Your wife? Your children? All because of their religious beliefs. In our country, we really have no idea what real persecution is for the believer. We have freedom given to us by our founding fathers. That is not to say there hasn't been heinous and unimaginable wrong done here in our country. People sue other people over their religious views. People get bent out of shape over another person's personal beliefs.  But, look half way around the world and we see a much different point of view. The kind of persecution we read about here in Acts is going on this very day. Just this week I read where the Islamic hate group ISIS is said to have massacred another 2,000 civilians as Iraqi Christians flee for their lives. Persecution is real. Another group in Africa called the Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalist sect, is said to have killed more than 13,000 civilians between 2009 and 2015. Why?

What does that word 'fundamental' mean? The 2nd line is our focus.

Definition of FUNDAMENTAL

2 a :  of or relating to essential structure, function, or facts :  radical <fundamental change>; also :  of or dealing with general principles rather than practical application <fundamental science>
   b :  adhering to fundamentalism
Lets see that last word there, too. 


1 a often capitalized :  a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching
   b :  the beliefs of this movement
   c :  adherence to such beliefs
2:  a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles <Islamic fundamentalism> <political fundamentalism>
Yes, fundamental teaching was an explosion through the 20th century. I believe, mainly because of mankind's inherent need to oversimplify. I just need to know the basics of how this works. You've heard me talk about sanctification before in my blog. One of the big reasons there is a gulf in thought between groups likes Nazarenes and Methodists, I believe anyway, is that there is an oversimplification of theology. Our Naz friends went the route of treating sanctification like a math equation. Just give us the basic ideas of how this works and we'll wipe out sin in man's heart in one felled swoop. While this sounds nice and God's provisional work through Christ means sin is dead, the actual working out of those fundamentals takes time. The human heart is rocky ground. It doesn't happen overnight. 

Fundamentalism isn't meant to be a violent means to an end.
Too often though this form of theological thinking brings on a radical means of living out one's religion. Fundamentalism can bring with it a "jumping to conclusions" mentality. Instead of taking the time to methodically think out where one is going in their theological thought, people instead think that everyone needs to be doing exactly these things in order to live a pleasing life. People begin to make up rules based upon these basic lines of thought and enforcing a rule for living that all must follow in order to be living right. Pharisaical thought seems to follow right along these lines. It was the work of the Pharisees in Jewish culture to interpret the law and provide application as to how to live it. Can you imagine what a line like "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" would be viewed? Have you read verses dealing with punishment for sin in the Old Testament? Verse like these would be dealt with by the letter of the law. If it says you should be stoned, then stoned you would be. There was no allegory with which to interpret. There was no reverse psychology with which to analyze. In many cases, there was simply a reading of what the words said and that's what they meant. Maybe from this line of sight we can understand why the religious leaders had such a hard time understanding what Jesus taught. 

Maybe from this vantage point that we can understand why the Sanhedrin of Acts (and more specifically, Saul) approved of the killing of Stephen. These new believers weren't keeping the law the way that it had been interpreted for centuries. There were basic rules here to keep. A certain social class that wasn't to be disrupted. These new believers were selling land and giving it to the poor. They were putting all their belonging in a community pile to help any one in need. The Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection of the body. These new believers were going on about this "Resurrected Jesus". None of this was acceptable to the life of a religious Jew in Jerusalem. Heresy. False teaching about false gods. What would have been done to those in the time of Ba'al when Elijah killed 450 prophets for misleading the people? How should these new revilers of the Jewish faith be dealt with?

A more important question to ask - what happens to a faith that is persecuted?
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
 I know if I was treated harshly over a subject I had been promoting there might be a bit of uneasiness as I went out the next day. Do I want to keep talking about this? What if I get treated just like I did yesterday? What if something worse happens than yesterday? Say...I die or something? All meaningful questions that deserve attention. You might have a family to support. Talking about Jesus could put that entire dynamic in jeopardy. Your job. Your livelihood. Maybe no one will want to do business with you once they know you're a believer in Christ. What we know here is that none of this seemed to bother or worry this new band of believers scattered over the Holy Land. They were persecuted for what they believed in the very city where their Savior had been crucified. As they are sent all over Judea and Samaria, they go with a new fervor to speak about this Messiah they trust and love.

There is another person who gets some minor attention as we travel on through Acts and that is Philip. This man of Bethsaida is said to have gone down into a city in Samaria and that he began preaching there. How do you go down when you're traveling north? It's an elevation issue. Coming down from Jerusalem, Samaria is at a lower elevation in the north. This was familiar territory. Jesus had been through this region. Philip might have been remembered around these parts as one who followed Jesus. Why not go back to place where some seeds had already been planted? In the midst of this recent persecution here comes someone preaching boldly the message of Christ. It's funny the effect persecution has on the sharing of this salvation. You'd think people would be in hiding. You'd think this would make the entire movement vanish. Remember the Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, back in chap 5? He predicted that these men would pretty much be like all the other that had been chased off after their revolting leaders had been silenced or put to death. But, if God was with them they would succeed at what they were doing.

Philip has amazing success at what he does. v6 says When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. People are listening and God is doing great and mighty things. That's the key, lest we forget. It's about God. It's not about us. Yes, it is human beings who feel the suffering and shame. The hurt and the pain. The same pain that Christ himself felt at the hands of people who didn't understand or listen. Which lets us know that we are not in this alone. God knows what we are dealing with and what we have to endure. It is utterly amazing how much God is with us when we face trials and sufferings. So much so that the devil has no foothold. It says here that evil spirits came out of people. People who couldn't walk got up and walked. People who were paralyzed suddenly could move again. 

Joy. Unspeakable. Full of Glory. 

In the midst of heartbreak and strife joy rears it glorious head. 

Psalm 30:5

New King James Version (NKJV)

Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

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