Word of Grace – May 19, 2014

Posted by on May 19, 2014

Monday Grace

Dear Friends,

So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then Festus gave the order and Paul was brought in (Acts 25:23).

The Apostle Paul is taken into protective custody by the Roman Army. Then he is falsely accused of stirring up sectarian strife. From that point on he is passed from centurion to tribune to governor to king– a cast of characters worthy of a comic opera. None of them makes much effort to understand his case, or exerts himself to make a finding and render justice (Acts 23 -27).

Among the special hells experienced on this earth surely must be having your fate in the hands of a pompous, but indecisive bureaucrat. Every lawyer appearing before a judge who refuses to read the papers submitted in the case and rules out of convenience rather than understanding will know what I am talking about. Consider their clients whose case is snared in the procedural maze of a legal system in which the difference between being right and proving it is money.

Hardworking employees who can’t get a project completed because an administrator dithers over whether to get them the extra help or equipment they need can understand Paul’s ordeal. Students who have studied hard and met every challenge only to have their graduation rest on a committee’s deliberation over an irrelevant technicality will sense Paul’s frustration. So will patients with life-threatening medical conditions who can’t obtain permission from their health insurer for a needed treatment.

Jesus uses the image of a hard-hearted, self-absorbed judge refusing to rule in the case of an aggrieved widow to draw a contrast with how quickly God answers the prayers of his children.

I am sure you can think of your own examples of waiting for a decision that will not come while unfairness plagues your days and no one seeks to really care.

Where most would seethe with frustration and a growing cynicism, Paul finds his opportunity for witness. His long imprisonment takes him to places where he would never have entry as a tent-making rabbi. He is able to proclaim the Gospel in prisons, council chambers, courts and Caesar’s palace.

All along the way, Paul astutely refuses to play the power game. Those who assert power over others and those who resist it are really driven by the same thing– power. Generally, power asserts itself against challenge, but Paul willingly accedes to Rome’s authority to judge his case (Acts 22:25-29; Acts 25:11-12).

The charges against him were laid by Jews alleging violations of their religious beliefs and practices (Acts 24-25). Paul knew that this gave no cause to take action against him under Roman law. The Jewish leaders’ demand for Paul to be summarily sentenced to death for religious blasphemy would deny Paul the due process of Roman law (Acts 25:13-25).

Somehow through all the smoke of religious tradition and practice that fed the arguments and disputes about him, Paul was able to lay out the central question: will we argue about our theories and ideas of God or will we respond to God’s gift of eternal life through the resurrection. He said, “I have a hope in God–a hope that they themselves (his Jewish accusers) accept–that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. . . Let these men here tell what crime they had found when I stood before the council, unless it was this one sentence that I called out while standing before them, ‘It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today'” (Acts 24:15,20-21).

Paul maintained his dogged hope in the resurrection throughout all the years of buck-passing, corruption, moral cowardice and indecision that plagued those in power over him. The identities of centurions, tribunes, governors, kings and the emperor remain static on the pages of Scripture, bit players in an ancient drama of religion and state though each of them was deemed to have the power of life and death in their time.

It is Paul’s testimony of faith–for “dogged hope” is faith–that lives and inspires us still. He lived for something more than the here and now out of love and passion for the Lord.

For all who must live captive to circumstances they can do little about, who suffer under the conceits, posturing, cruelty and thoughtlessness of those who assert power over them, Paul shows that free life is found in faithful service to the Lord “and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same from the Lord whether slave or free” (Eph 6:7-8). In other words, obedience to God, makes irrelevant the compulsions and strictures of human power.

Such obedience is not passive piety. It is a stand taken that God alone is true and worthy of worship. This stand finds expression in love for the unlovely and compassion for the broken. It resounds in integrity maintained against moral compromise and liberty and justice championed against exploitation and oppression. It is the stand of those who conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to their life even in the face of death” (Rev 12:11).

The worst that can befall us under Satan’s power is bodily death. Christ holds power over our soul. It’s Christ’s life revealed in us and for us by which we enter eternal glory (Col 3:1-4). That’s why we are to obey and revere Christ, and not fear Satan (Matt 10:28). This is what David had in mind when he wrote, “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. “What can mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6).

Those immunized to the blandishments and punishments of human power by the indwelling life of Christ are viewed as truly dangerous in this world. They are persecuted because their faithfulness is a rebuke to the powerful. Christ rising from the grave to life ended the effective threat of that power over those who put their trust in him (1 Cor 15:45-56).

Jesus promised, ‘Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19b). May we live secure and free on that promise.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

 

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