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Understanding True Change - Acts 9
February 28, 2021, 6:00 AM

Are we a Saul or a Pharisee? 

We have been following the New Testament Church from its beginnings in The Book of Acts. In Chapter Nine, we have been following Saul’s conversion from a Jewish up and comer determined to stomp out this very church, to a leader of it following His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

God’s own interactions and studies this week with other people has developed an interesting view which I think is very applicable as we continue our theme of change in the Book of Acts during 2020-2021.Usually we read this Scripture as a Christian and use it as an example of Christian Persecution. Today, lets highlight a different viewpoint that seems just as applicable because it hinders true change.

Acts 9: 20-25

and immediately he (Saul) began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

 

Contemplate the similarities Jesus encountered with the religious leaders of the day…

 

Matthew 11

9 And departing from there, He (Jesus) went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they questioned Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—in order that they might accuse Him. 11 And He said to them, “What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? 12 “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then He *said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out, and counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

 

As we focus on the highlighted Scripture, we could localize the highlighted hate towards Paul and Jesus to the religious people in that region, and their hypocrisy, but I think we miss the mark by doing that. But, the fact remains, when confronted with the Gospel, and even Jesus Himself actually doing miracles in front of them as well as hundreds of others, there were those who were so devoted to their own beliefs, when confronted with the Truth, just couldn’t help but reject it. When challenged with something that didn’t fit with their doctrine in their own mind, they not only had to reject it, but they also had to destroy it!

But, at this point, we tend to glance over an important thought. These weren’t all bad people by our human standards. We can assume, at least some of these leaders were devout people. We have mentions of some of them by name and their attitude towards God. They cared about God and doing His will, at least as far as their church (or temple and synagogue) went. They helped their fellow man and followed God as Israel had for hundreds of years.

We like to make them out as evil, cheating leaders who were solely worried about power. I don’t necessarily get that from Scripture. I get the feeling that most, were not much better or worse than us.

There lies our problem. If we cast them simply as evil people, we don’t have to grasp a reality; they are us.

We don't like to consider this. We like to at least think of ourselves as not bad people, at least by the same human standards. We're smarter, more advanced and have the world's information at our fingertips.

But look at our communities, countries, and world at this moment. We hate. We don’t want to admit it, but we struggle with it. We try to disguise it and minimize it. Jesus commands us in the Beatitudes and other places not to, but we do. We cover it with fancy language and useful quotes fed to us by our media savvy leaders who say what we want to hear, but we do it none the same. We want to be like Saul or Jesus, but we just wind up being like the leaders who disliked them. Why?

Because we also have our own biases and sometimes, they don’t fit with what God is doing. We try to do God's work, but not necessarily His way.

We’re human. To truly open our mind, is to love, take our petitions to God and serve. But when times get tough, we sometimes just can’t bring ourselves to trust Him enough. So, we think it through and we decide how to deal with our struggles. Frustration and anger or sadness follows, with maybe temporary bursts of human happiness when we perceive a short-lived victory.

We see the discourse and actions we have now. We struggle with a worldwide pandemic. We burn our own towns and loot businesses. We storm government buildings, to take back something that, as Christians, never really belonged to us in the first place, if we know the Bible. Instead of reasoning in love and helping through service and prayer to solve problems, we ramp up our rhetoric until someone takes matters into their own hands for us. But we kind of let that slide because they fit our view of the world.

Our experiences and view of the world all form our personal “box.” We have things we care deeply about. When challenged by a different viewpoint, it’s natural to defend it. That, in itself, is not wrong. World War or coming to the aid of a persecuted group of people may be legitimate. The problem comes when we stop listening to God first about how to deal with it. We form our “box” or doctrine based solely on our own judgement, kind of sliding God to the backburner. So, when legitimate concerns to our viewpoints start taking un ungodly turn, we ignore obvious truths from God.

I see that on a daily basis nowadays. I find myself challenged with it. People, whom I know care, say and act in very ungodly ways. They post ungodly social media. So, we hate. But it’s okay because our cause is right? Can we change this? How?

The takeaway

God is the only one who can truly open our minds to truth. We are those religious leaders. We tend to hold dear to the truth that fits our narrative, but that’s all. We need to acknowledge that. Because to acknowledge that is to admit that no matter where we are in our walk with God, we need Him. We need to listen. We need to trust. We need to act as God leads us. Saul had a lot of these preformed notions, as one of those leaders himself, that were shattered at this point in Acts. Soon after this passage in Acts, he took 3 years to step away and learn to listen all over again.

Transformation is not always easy I can listen to people sometimes and just feel the anger boiling deep in my bones. But that’s not their issue…it’s mine. I need to get control of that. There are so many ways to better make a difference. Service to a candidate or issue, talking to people about Godly values in a way that speaks to their worldview or sometimes even not saying something and giving more life to something that is a dying idea anyway.

The world needs people who can bridge the gap in times of turmoil.  It's so easy to dismiss those in culture we disagree with as evil so we may justify anything we say or do as fighting the good fight. We all struggle with that.

Two facts remain constant for the Christian. God is in total control and, God wants to use us and has given us a guide to bring change to the world.

Many world problems would change if Christians simply got out in the world and shared the Gospel. Race relations, abortion and poverty for example, could all be affected in a good way. I think I can safely make the case that the average Christian is sorely lacking in this service to God. To do that, it takes work on our own Godly relationship.

During the period of 2020, to deal with my own change I spent time letting God probe my heart and change things as He saw fit. Turns out, I had some thoughts that needed realigned. I’m sure there’s more. I’m a sinner. But as we acknowledge that fact and seek God, things will change. If we don’t, we will remain as those religious leaders. It cost those leaders dearly in the long run. We are paying a price now. We need you. But we need people who are willing to open their mind to the infinite possibilities of Christ and His leadership.

Go make a difference.

 
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