Christian Persecution

The Context of 1st Corinthians

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1 - Introduction

Welcome to the first week of our series on 1st Corinthians! I’ve been really excited to start this series for two reasons. First, I really enjoy teaching books of the bible, and second, because I believe that the content of this series is going to be not only extremely interesting, but also very helpful.

As we go through this book and study its context and background you are going to see a lot of echoes of the present. Some people accuse the Bible of being an old, complicated, out of touch book for super-religious people and theologians locked in monastic towers, unable to speak to the issues and trials of modern life — but that’s an impossible conclusion to come to when we take the time to read and study it. And that truth is exemplified in 1st Corinthians.

The society that the church in Corinth was living in and the issues it was facing are the same issues we face today. The world in which they lived in is eerily similar to our world today. Sometimes, as a preacher, I have to dig a little deeper to find the application for our life today – but that won’t be the case for 1st Corinthians. It’s blatantly obvious in every chapter.

But before we get into our study of the book itself, it’s really important that we get some context.

 The Apostle Paul

The first think you need to know about 1st Corinthians is that it is a letter written from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth around 55 AD, about 25 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and 20 years after Paul’s conversion to Christianity. Here’s a quick bio on the author:

Paul, who was also known as Saul of Tarsus, was a Jewish man born in the city of Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman Province of Cilicia. He was a Jewish man, but he had Roman citizenship, which explains why he went by two names (Acts 22:3). He was born as the Hebrew Saul (SHAAL) and then later when he became a missionary to the gentiles, he dropped the Jewish name and went by his Roman name PAULUS.

Saul had the best of both worlds education-wise. His parents allowed him to be trained in the Greek education system, but at home he was also taught the importance of his Jewish heritage and the Torah. He was even taught how to work with his hands, sewing animal skins together to make tents. He describes himself in Philippians 3:5-6 as “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

At some point in Saul’s life he had embraced his Jewish heritage and found that he had a deep love for the Law of Moses, and found his way into being trained as a Pharisee – the keepers of the Law. Saul quickly rose to the top of the class and was taken for training under the very well respected teacher, Gamaliel – the grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel, one of the most important scholars in Jewish history. He is closely associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud – the foundational commentaries on Jewish Law and History. These werethe guiding documents for the Pharisees, a group dedicated to obedience not only to the Law of Moses, but also the Oral Laws and commentaries written in the Mishnah and Talmud. The Pharisees were the most trained, most hard-core religious people in the Jewish world – and young Saul was thriving under their training, setting himself apart as a man of extremely zealous passion for keeping God’s Word.

When Jesus was being born in Bethlehem, Saul wasn’t even a glimmer in his father’s eye yet, and was about 25 years old when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus would have been teaching in Galilee while Saul was growing up and being trained by Gamaliel and the school for Pharisees in Jerusalem.

With all the confrontations that Jesus had with the Pharisees, especially during Passion Week, there is no doubt that Saul knew about Jesus’ teaching – and had learned to hate Him as much as the rest of the Pharisees did. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Saul was in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus was, possibly even in attendance with the Sanhedrin crowd that condemned Him to death.

As the Christian church started to grow after the resurrection of Jesus, Saul’s hatred of the church was growing as well. The leaders of this break-away group, called the Apostles, were following in the footsteps of their leader and stirring up all kinds of trouble, winning converts away from the Pharisees and teaching that this Galilean carpenter from Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah, the Christ! Saul, an expert in the Law and Prophets, a Pharisee of Pharisees, hated these people who called themselves “The Way”. There was only one way, his way!

Paul the Hunter of Christians

The first introduction we get to the young man Saul comes in Acts 7 at the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. After Stephen had spoken about Jesus and accused this group of being stubborn and blind to the truth, it says in verse 54,

“Now when they [The Pharisees and the rest of the Sanhedrin] heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

The stoning of Stephen was the dam-bursting event that allowed all the pent-up hatred against Christians to finally be let loose. It was open season on the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the man they wanted in charge of rounding them up for imprisonment, trial and death was Saul, their brightest, most popular, and most zealous member.

Saul spent about a year actively hunting, imprisoning, condemning and probably even killing Christians. He also expanded his hunt far beyond the city of Jerusalem. We read the next chapter of Saul’s story in Acts 9:1-6, and find Saul travelling hundreds of kilometers in his pursuit of the followers of Jesus:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’”

In that single moment Jesus sends Saul’s whole world crashing down around him. Jesus literally stops Saul in his tracks and confronts him with his hatred, pride and sins. Saul gets up, blinded, and spends three days without eating or drinking, trying to absorb this new reality.

Then God sends a Christian named Ananias to help him, teach him, heal his blindness, bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to baptize him into the Christin faith. Ananias calls him “Brother Saul” and gently ushers him into this new world of faith in Jesus Christ.

After that meeting Saul spent some time telling the Jews in the synagogues of Damascus what had happened to him, but wasn’t well received by anyone. He left Damascus and spent a few years in solitude, away from the Pharisees, away from Christians, away from everyone, wandering Arabia in an extended time of reflection, prayer, study, and meditation on all that had happened. He was forced to re-evaluate everything he thought he knew about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Christians he had been hunting, and it took a long while. He needed to humble himself before Jesus, ask forgiveness and do some learning. He was no longer the darling of Jerusalem, the biggest man on campus, but simply a new follower of Jesus Christ, the one who saved him even though he had been the greatest enemy of His followers.

Fast-forward the story a little: After his time away Saul went to Jerusalem to talk to the Apostles and tell them that Jesus had chosen him to be an apostle too. The apostles were wary at first, but willing to listen. The Jews, however, were angry that their greatest weapon had turned on them and tried to kill Saul.

The Apostles decided send him back to Tarsus to lay low for a while. He stayed in Tarsus teaching about Jesus for about 10 years before the apostles sent Barnabas came and got him so they could work together on a mission trip to spread the gospel to new places while collecting funds to help people during a time of great famine.

Saul’s time with Barnabas would set the pattern for the rest of his life. His whole world had been changed by meeting Jesus Christ and He wanted everyone in the world to know about it. His Christian life would be lived on the road as a missionary to the gentiles. Yes, he still loved the Jews, and spent time telling them about Jesus too, but his upbringing, education, training, and passions made him a perfect missionary to non-Jewish people.

His first missionary journey would take three years, from 46-49 AD. His second missionary journey would take two years, from 50-52 AD. It was on this second journey that Saul, who was now going by Paul, would visit Corinth for the first time and stay for 1 and a half years.

These missions cost Paul much. His love for Jesus, the Gospel and His church gave Paul much heartache as he watched partners desert him and the churches he planted get attacked and fall into believing lies about him and Jesus. It took a toll on his body as well as he faced beatings, imprisonment, stoning, lashes, shipwrecks, starvation, and more. But nothing would stop him from telling everyone he could about the love and forgiveness he’d found in the resurrected Jesus Christ.

It was during his third journey, as he was staying in Ephesus for two years, that he wrote his letters to the Corinthians after receiving some news about their troubles.

The City of Corinth

Ok, so that’s some backstory for the man who wrote the letter, now let’s work on a little of the backstory for the city of Corinth. I told you before that the world the church in Corinth was living in and the issues it was facing are very similar to the issues we face today; let me explain what I mean.

To live in the city of Corinth was to live in the coolest city in the world. This was the newest, trendiest, most modern, exciting and wealthiest town around. It had been destroyed a couple hundred years before, but was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 46BC and quickly regained its prominence. By 27 BC (only 80 years before Paul got there) it had been named the capital of the province and by the first century had cemented its place as the most influential commercial centre, and an important manufacturing centre in Greece.

Their success came from their location. The city was a harbour town, located on a little strip of land that connected mainland Greece and Achaia. The weather often made it too dangerous to go around the whole of the rest of the land, so the Corinthians had a system where they would place ships on large wooden platforms and drag them across a stone road to drop them on the other side. Today they’ve simplified the process by digging a huge canal.

Corinth was a brand new (or rather refurbished) city with lots of money, people and things to do. Scholars estimate that the population of Corinth during the time of the apostles was somewhere between 500,000-700,000 people including Roman citizens, Greeks, foreigners and slaves. People would come from all around the world to witness the Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympics in their prominence.

When you think of Corinth, think of a twenty-first century “inner city” like downtown Toronto; an overcrowded, ethnically diverse, materialistic, urban concentration of people, bursting with upper-class professionals and down-and-out street dwellers. And just like our inner cities today, it was full of opportunities to sin.

Unlike today, however, all their activities were masked it all with a veneer of religion. Corinth had as many temples and places of worship as downtown Toronto has Tim Hortons’! There was a god and a temple for everyone. As a strong commercial centre they drew people from everywhere. You could worship the gods of Egypt, Rome, and Greece all at once – or even head to the Jewish Synagogue.

Corinth was a religious, hedonistic, self-indulgent, decedent city, full to the brim with people, money, commercialism and moral decadence, but they had one overriding obsession: sex. It was such a part of the culture that Plato used the term “Corinthian girl” as shorthand to refer to prostitution and the rest of the ancient world would describe sex-obsessed, promiscuous people as “living like Corinthians”.

One place that everybody went (except the Jews of course) was one of the most famous temples in the ancient world: the Temple of Aphrodite, which stood high near the rim of the mountains so everyone could see it from the harbour. Whether you lived there, was a visiting tourist, or simply a sailor waiting for his ship to make the journey across the road, everyone – regardless of their personal, religious convictions worshipped at the Temple of Aphrodite.

When you think of Corinth, think of it as all the worst parts of the internet coming to life – and the Temple of Aphrodite was pornography central. This cult was dedicated to the glorification of sex. Some scholars believe they had as many as thousand girls kept there as consecrated priestesses, or sacred sex workers, who would come in great, ritualistic processions, dressed in fine clothes and crowns on their heads, to excite the crowds of men so they could make their choice, throw money into the collection or not, and take the temple priestess to have sex as an act of worship to the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and fertility, Aphrodite. Some scholars believe that it was law in the land that every woman who lived in the city had to take their turn as priestesses in the temple, whether they wanted to or not. (Herodotus)

In the centre of town, for the even more perverse, stood the Temple of Apollo which also glorified sex, but this time it wasn’t with women, but with men and boys. Corinth was a monument to immorality of every kind. Slavery, greed, the pursuit of power, paganism and sexual immorality drove the economy and lifestyle of all the lived there.

Another internet-like thing was the proliferation of teachings, opinions and pseudo-intellectual nonsense that streamed through town. Throughout Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we read about four things that the Corinthian church wanted more than anything: “Spirituality”, “Wisdom”, “Knowledge” and “Power”, and though Paul taught that all these things were found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, God wasn’t working fast enough – or in the way they wanted Him to – and they were falling into their old habits to find it.

The celebrated Greek philosophers and teachers that everyone in town flocked to listen to, called Sophists, told everyone in town that to obtain super-spirituality, and great wisdom, knowledge and power, what they must do is separate their mind from their body by seeking out the biggest, wildest, most ecstatic experiences that they could. The crazier they got, the greater the physical pain or pleasure, the more insane the experimentation, the wilder the experience, the closer they would be to the gods.

This was the mindset in Corinth when Paul came to town in 51 AD. (Acts 18)

Parallels of Today

Can you see any parallels to today? It’s not too hard is it? When Paul walked into Corinth 2000 years ago he may as well have been walking into any modern day city in North America. The society around us is just as obsessed with money, power, trendiness, and sexual experiences as they were then. And our church, and the church in North America, is faced with the same temptations as they were.

The Corinthians needed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were utterly lost in their sin and were desperate to hear what Paul was saying about a new way of salvation. We’ll cover the story next week, but while the Jews argued with Paul, the gentiles of the city flocked to hear the message of Jesus Christ. Their hearts were full of guilt and shame, and hearing about salvation through Jesus must have been like getting a breath of fresh air or a clean drink of water while living in a garbage dump.

But even though they readily embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that didn’t mean their troubles were over. They were still very new Christians and were constantly surrounded by opportunities to compromise their faith and morality. They were bombarded by temptations to try to be cool, to follow the latest trends, to seek out spiritual experiences, to give in to physical pleasures, and to live for themselves rather than others.

There were Jewish and pagan teachers who came into their church and made a lot of sense to them, but were trying to pull them away from faith in Jesus and into pagan or Jewish worship practices instead. They were told that they either needed to follow the Law of Moses completely, or that since they were saved by Jesus and that they were new, spiritual creatures, they could do whatever they want with their bodies. They’d either be forgiven or it didn’t matter to God anyway. This was extremely confusing and very tempting to them!

Paul’s Letter

That’s where Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians comes in (1 Cor 1:1-2). This church that Paul had spent a year and a half planting and caring for was falling apart. As he was staying in Ephesus, he started to receive news that things were going badly. First came a delegation of men sent to bring Paul a list of questions and to talk him into coming to Corinth to fix things. Then came some people from a woman named Chloe’s house who came to tell him even more problems.

And all of these various thoughts, teachings and temptations were causing a huge division in the church. Some people wanted to go with what Paul had said, others wanted to listen to the new teachings, some wanted to go back to the Law of Moses, while others wanted to incorporate some of the things from the temples of Aphrodite and Apollos into the church. No one knew what was best anymore, everyone wanted their own way, and no one was getting along.

Paul was stuck in Ephesus, but to help in the meantime, he wrote some letters – four in fact. We don’t have the first or the third letter – they were lost, but we do have the second and fourth – we call them first and second Corinthians in our Bibles.

These letters are written to a confused church who wants to obey God and love each other, but are living in morally chaotic land full of voices that are telling them a thousand different things. They need some truth and so they write to their Apostle for answers.

Challenge

So that’s the first part of the introduction to Corinthians and we’ll leave it there for this week. What I want you to do before we come back next week is to read 1st Corinthians all the way through. It’s only 16 chapters, so that’s only a little over two chapters per day. As you read, I want you to keep what we’ve talked about today in mind – Paul’s passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the context in which the Corinthian church was living.

You’ll notice as you read that Paul keeps coming back to that: the truth of the Gospel, the importance of living in the love of Jesus, and all the implications that has for our daily life.

From Saul to Paul: A Conversion Story

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From Saul to Paul

Saul: Enemy of the Church

Paul has an amazing testimony, and it’s broken up into two very different parts. The part he is most famous for is where He is Paul, the great missionary and theologian of the Christian church. But he wasn’t always the Apostle Paul – for the beginning of his life he was Saul, persecutor of the church.

Saul was an incredibly intelligent scholar and up-and-coming leader in the Jewish community. No one matched his passion for studying and obeying God’s Law. He was trained by the best minds, trusted with important assignments, and relished in his position of power and influence – all of which he directed at this new group that was being formed in the name of the blasphemer and crucified criminal, Jesus of Nazareth.

He hated these people, and loved hurting them – he wanted to destroy them. He stood by, watching them stone the deacon Stephen, and then got more involved as he formed squads of people to go door to door, dragging off men and women who claimed the name of Jesus, throwing them into prison. He would publically beat them in their own homes and synagogues, screaming at them to renounce the name of Jesus or be arrested and tried. And when it came time for their trial, he would stand up with the rest of the chief priests and vote to have them killed. Such was his hatred for them that when the followers of Jesus fled Jerusalem in fear of him, he gathered up his temple soldiers and pursued them into the cities beyond, so he could beat them, arrest them, and drag them back to Jerusalem for trial. (Acts 8:3; 22:4-5; 26:10-11)

I watched the movie American Sniper last night and there are a lot of scenes of where the Marines are deployed to go door-to-door trying to find soldiers, insurgence, terrorists, and information about where the leaders of Al Qaeda were. It’s an incredibly violent movie, and I was struck especially by the sudden brutality of those encounters. The people in that area of the city were warned to leave, but many stayed behind – most to fight, but some because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) leave.

Tanks roll down the road while soldiers go house-to-house, kicking in the door, guns drawn, throwing anyone inside to the floor, screaming at them for information. The emotional trauma this causes to everyone involved is incredible. The overwhelming feeling I get from what I’ve read from the soldiers accounts, documentaries, and movies like this one, is that the soldiers don’t want to be there – they don’t want to be doing that – but they know they must.

Saul wasn’t like that. He loved it. He lived for it. He turned his amazing mind to trying to track down Jews who claimed to be believers in Jesus as the Messiah. He made it his life’s work to crush, humiliate, and defeat them. He wanted them all dead.

This still happens today, by the way, more often than we think. On June 15, 2014, in Kenya, a group of 50 Muslim militants walked into hotels and other public buildings with their guns drawn, chanted “Allahu Akbar!” and then killed anyone who couldn’t recite verses from the Koran. Then they went door to door asking people what their religion was, and if they said “Christian” they shot them dead and moved on to the next. The same thing happened in Libya.

Just 3 weeks ago in Egypt, 15 masked gunmen went door to door at a residential complex at 2:30 in the morning with a list of Christians who were in the building. They would check IDs, grab the Christians, drag them away, kill some and hold others hostage.

In March, 48 Christians living in Benghazi were tortured by having acid burn off the tattoos of crosses that some Christians have taken to putting on their wrists.

A few days before Christmas , a group of Muslim gunmen walked into the home of a Christian doctor, killed him and his wife and dragged off their 13 year old daughter – dumping her body in the desert two days later. It was learned later that they were targeted because the 13 year old girl refused to wear an Islamic veil. (Click here for the stories.)

When you picture the Apostle Paul in your mind, read about his journeys in the book of Acts and his letters to the church, you must remember that He wasn’t always Paul – at one time He was Saul, enemy of Jesus, persecutor, torturer and murderer of Christians. He was the one smashing in doors, dragging away fathers, killing families, torturing anyone who claimed to follow Jesus Christ.

Saul’s Conversion

It was on one of his trips to hunt down escaping believers that Saul was stopped by Jesus. We read about it in Acts 9:1-9:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”

Saul was struck blind and dumb. For three days he just sat there – not eating, not drinking, not seeing anything – trapped in the dark with his thoughts. That must have been agony. Can you imagine what this revelation did to him? It changed everything he thought he knew. It broke him to the very core of his being. Can you imagine, as he looked back on all he had done, what he must have felt?

He thought his passion was for God, for God’s Word, for God’s people, for God’s Temple. He thought he was right. He was the smartest person in every room he walked into. He was the most educated. He was the most passionate for the Torah. He was the most popular among the leaders in Jerusalem. He was confident to the point to arrogance that everything he knew about God was exactly right, everything he said lined up with God’s Word, and everything he did, he did, for God. And then Saul met Jesus, the Son of God.

Saul must have known the teachings of Jesus. He was a very smart man, well educated, and wanted to know his enemy. He must have studied the claims of Jesus, His sermons, His teachings, His prophecies, His disciples, His followers. He had had enough encounters with them to know what Jesus had said. Jesus said he was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Chosen One, with the authority to cleanse the temple, to raise the dead, to change the rules of the Sabbath, to fulfill the Law and interpret it perfectly. Jesus said He had the ability to die and rise on the third day – and all of his followers believed him. That was their fundamental belief. If Jesus was still in the ground, then it was all a lie – but if Jesus had risen from the dead, then that changes everything.

And Saul met Jesus. That meant it was all true, and Saul was all-wrong.

Those words must have ran through Saul’s mind a thousand times:

“‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?… I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”

“Saul. I am Jesus. Why do you hate me? I’m the one you’ve been hunting. I’m the one you’ve judged as evil. I’m the one you’ve been trying to kill. And here I am. Alive, and with God. Why are you persecuting me, Saul?”

Keep reading in verse 10:

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying…’”

At some point Paul’s agonizing thoughts turned to prayer. We don’t know what he was praying, but we know that he was in the dark and was talking to God. He was struggling with the life after death of the Jesus. He was confessing his sin. It didn’t make sense, and yet, there it was.

In his studies Saul had memorized the entire Old Testament, and now verse after verse – which he thought he knew the meaning of – crashed through his mind, finding different interpretations, new meanings, and their true fulfillment in Jesus. The Holy Spirit began to teach Saul, bringing up prophecy after prophecy, and revealing to Him their proper meaning. How did he not see this before? How could He have been so wrong?

It was all true. Jesus was exactly who He claimed He was. His followers were right all along — and His mind filled with the pictures of what he had done. He remembered holding the cloaks with a big grin he had on his face as he watched Stephen, the wise and soft-hearted, deacon of the church, stoned to death. He remembered the terrified faces of the followers of Jesus – they were terrified of him. And he had loved that look in their eyes. He loved making them, forcing them, with his own fists, to renounce their faith in Jesus.

Can you imagine the humility it would take to admit he was wrong? It would be like Osama Bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS), standing up in front of the UN and saying, “I’m sorry, I was wrong. I was wrong about my theology. I was wrong about Jesus. I was wrong to hunt you. I was wrong to hate you. I’m sorry. I’m going to disband my terrorist network and dedicate my life to following Jesus. Please forgive me. I’m going to go be a Christian missionary from now on.”

How do you think that would go down? Would you believe him? Would you forgive him?

Brother Saul

Let’s keep reading at verse 11:

“And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul…” (vs 11-17)

That’s an amazing title that Ananias calls Saul: “Brother”. Moments before he was saying: “Uh, are you sure, Jesus? Saul’s crazy. He’s got the authority to beat me, arrest me, drag me to Jerusalem and have me executed.”

And Jesus says: “Go, I’ve changed his heart. I’ve chosen Him. I love Him. I died for Him too, and I’ve given him a very special mission. This Jew of Jews who hated me, hated my followers, and hated everything non-Jewish, will be my missionary to the Gentiles. This man who caused so much suffering for my followers will have such a change of heart that he will be willing to suffer great things so more people will follow me. I’m changing the church’s greatest enemy into its greatest teacher and friend. Such is the power of my love.”

A Changed Man

Let’s keep reading.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.” (vs 17-19)

The falling of scales from Saul’s eyes was a reflection of the healing of the blindness and hardness of Saul’s heart. Saul was changed completely, and we see it immediately in his life. Look at how Saul has changed from this point on.

He submits to baptism in the name of Jesus, takes food and was strengthened – both physically and spiritually. He submits himself to the teaching of a bunch of disciples in Damascus. That would have been a humbling experience him, and a very confusing experience for the church.

The next Saturday Saul is standing in front of the synagogue, teaching about Jesus. They came to hear one of the greatest minds and most passionate Pharisees in Israel rail against Jesus – but here is explaining how a few days ago he had met Jesus on the road, had been completely changed, and now believed that the entirety of the scriptures points to Jesus as the Messiah.  It says that the Jews in Damascus were “confounded” but Saul was “increasing in strength.”

Their confusion soon turns to anger and they try (in an ironic twist of roles) to murder Saul, just as he had made the followers of Jesus flee Jerusalem, Saul escapes to Jerusalem, but the Apostles are a little shy about letting Saul find them. When they went out in public, they were arrested and beaten, so they hid, living under constant threat – from Saul. Only one man listens to Saul, a man named Barnabas, who brings him to the disciples and tells them his story.

The Apostles relent and begin to teach him. Consider that: One of the greatest minds, more learned in the scriptures than almost anyone in the world, sitting under the teaching of a bunch of unschooled fisherman, a Greek guy, and a former tax collector. There would be nothing more humbling for a Jewish Pharisee and Scholar. But he wasn’t that man anymore.

And they affirm Saul’s conversion. They listen to him. They learn from him. Saul preaches in public, argues with experts, and defends the name of Jesus. And then, in another act of humility, Saul is sent by the Apostles to go to his hometown of Tarsus – and there he stays for 10 years until Barnabas comes and gets him again. Tarsus’ favourite son, who left town as a brilliant young rabbi and whose name was known throughout Jerusalem and all the cities in the area – came home a follower of the despised teacher, Jesus of Nazareth and a traitor to his people. What would his father, mother, and sister think of him now?

The Power of the Gospel

Everything about Saul’s conversion was genuine and amazing and it points to the power of Jesus Christ.

Saul became Paul, a man powerfully used by God to change the world in His name. Near the end of his life, Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy,

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim 1:12-17)

That’s the power of the Gospel and something that touches my heart very deeply. Jesus dies for His enemies so He can make His enemies into his friends. For me too, and for all who understand the story of the Gospel of Jesus, we know that we were ignorant, but received mercy. We were blasphemers, but received overflowing grace. We were opponents and yet given faith and love from Christ Jesus.

“Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

He didn’t have to. He wanted to. He loved us so much that He was willing to save us. We talk about a lot of complicated things in church, but this is the foundation of everything we believe and do:

“Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

And that’s what we all are. We’re all sinners. None of us are better than anyone else. The closer we get to Jesus, the more we realize the depth of our sin, and the amazing grace and love of God to come and save us.

Paul’s life is an example. He says so himself. No one is outside the realm of God’s grace. Jesus Christ showed Saul patience and mercy, to prove that everyone who believes can have eternal life. There’s no one outside the purview of God’s grace. There was no one farther away from Salvation through Jesus than Saul – but Jesus changed His heart and saved His soul.

Yes, it took a miracle – but it always does. We all need to be turned from darkness to light. We all need to be struck with the reality of our sin. We will all be faced with the question that comes from Saul’s lips: “Who are you, Lord?” And we will all need to make an answer. Saul relented. He gave it all up for Jesus. Later he says,

“…whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ… I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

He gave up his pride, his position, his future, his plans, everything… because Jesus was better. And following Jesus became the driving force of his entire life. No matter what anyone would say or do, nothing would steer him away from Jesus – because Jesus saved him.

I find great hope in the story of Saul becoming Paul, because it shows that there is no limit to Jesus’ love. Jesus saves people. Jesus changes people. Jesus sticks with them. Jesus has abundant patience, grace and mercy… for Saul, for me, and for you.

Why Do People Hate Christians?

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Podcast Audio:

 “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1-6)

Jesus Goes Home

There have been a huge amount of miracles in the past couple chapters. Jesus has been going back and forth from crisis to crisis, performing amazing miracles, even raising the dead! But now it’s time for Jesus to make a stop at home. If we look back to Mark 3:31-35 we read about Jesus’ family coming to try to get Him to come home, so He might be returning at the request of his mother and siblings. And after coming into his hometown, hanging out with his mother, brothers and sisters…. as is the custom in the Synagogue… Jesus the traveling teacher is asked to give the reading and the message during the Sabbath service.

Now, he’s already gained quite the reputation in the area. The parallel account of this event in Luke 4:16-29 gives us a bit more detail as to what was happening there.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (vs 16-20)

You can already see the parallels between Mark and Luke. Jesus is asked to give the reading and message, but instead of keeping with the lectionary and reading whatever passage was supposed to be read that day, it seems that Jesus grabbed the scroll of Isaiah and opens it to a very specific passage outlining the mission of the coming messiah to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, preach repentance and salvation, heal people physically and spiritually, and free people from their oppressors. Then, as is the tradition of the day, he sits down to give the sermon.

Jesus Gives a Sermon About Jesus

Keep reading in verse 21:

“And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”

Luke only gives us the title of Jesus’ sermon, but we can tell that there was a lot more explaining done by Jesus about what this passage meant and how it would be fulfilled.

Can you imagine getting a sermon from Jesus Himself? Can you imagine sitting in church and having Jesus Christ Himself sit down in front of you, open the prophet Isaiah, and explain to you about all the things that came before, how the prophets spoke of His coming, and then to explain His mission and what He would do? What an amazing sermon that would be.

It reminds me of what happened to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus had died, had rose again, and these two disciples were walking down the road, talking together, trying to figure out what had just happened in Jerusalem, when Jesus comes up behind them (though they didn’t know it was Him at first), calls them dumb for not being able to figure out what had just happened, and then teaches them (again!) about the mission and methods of the Messiah.

After Jesus leaves them they look at one another and say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)

We would imagine that’s what it would be like to sit and listen to a sermon by Jesus Himself, right? Who wouldn’t repent and become a Christian if Jesus Christ Himself explained the whole Bible to them?!? So here is Jesus giving a sermon explaining Jesus to everyone. That should be a done deal!

Jesus Rejected

Well, let’s keep reading at the end of verse 22:

“And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”

Mark gives us a bit more of what they were saying:

“Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3)

They are absolutely blown away by His powerful teaching, and also His claim to be the Messiah! Now, this passage can be read two ways, right? It can either be”

“Wow! Isn’t this Joseph’s son?! Amazing! What a wonderful young man! How delightful to see Him grow up into the Messiah!”

or

“Wait, Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Where does He get off claiming to be somebody? What tricks does He have up His sleeve? This guy is a carpenter, not a preacher. He should stick to woodwork because He sounds crazy!”

It’s more likely the second one because look what comes right after in Mark 6:3, “And they took offense at Him.”

That word, “offense” is an important word because it comes up a lot in scripture. It’s the word SKANDALIZO which is where we get the English word “scandal”. A scandal, by definition, is “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” Outraged. Why is this word so important? Because it can also be translated “stumble”. And it is that word that describes why these people turned on Jesus and why people hate Christians today.

The Stumbling Stones

In Romans 9:30-33 we read,

“Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”

What is “the stumbling stone”? Thinking that salvation is about works. Thinking that we can work our way to heaven. We stumble when we believe that our relationship with Jesus is all about the physical and not the spiritual. Jesus was preaching that salvation was found by faith in Him.

There’s a lot of ways that people stumble over Jesus’ message and methods, getting worldly ways mixed up with His. People  love the idea of Jesus saving them and giving them abundant life, and joy, and love, and peace – all the benefits of being a Christian, but they stumble over how He does it.

Let’s turn back to the scripture in Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus tells us about Himself and His mission, and see how many ways people stumble over Jesus.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Stumbling over Exclusivity

He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. Their first stumbling block is Jesus’ exclusivity. That Jesus is the “the way, the truth, and the life, [and that] no one comes to the Father except through [Him].” (John 14:6)

When He said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, He was saying, “I’m here. I’m the Messiah. Salvation is found in a relationship with me as your Lord and your Saviour. Follow me, trust me, put me in charge. I’m your God, you’re my people. I’m Creator, you’re creation. I’m God, you’re not.  I have been ‘anointed’, chosen, set apart, and am uniquely equipped to accomplish what I have come to do. There is no other God besides My Father. There is ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)”

People today really struggle with this claim. They might like Jesus, but they also want to be able to set their own path. And therefore, when Jesus claims to be the only way, they react the same way as the people of Nazareth did. They “take offence” at him. They want a God of their own design and a Saviour of their own choosing. They want to have the assurance that their good works earned them something. They want to know that their wealth, or creativity, or sacrifice makes them better than others – more worthy of God’s attention.

They like parts of other religions and want to mix them into Christianity. They disagree with some of the tough things that the Bible says about sin so they want to be able to pick and choose what is right and wrong. Though they want to go to heaven and get all the benefits of knowing Jesus, they are not willing to conform their concept of God to who Jesus revealed Himself to be.

Many people are so offended by His exclusivity that they create a different Jesus. One they like better. A nicer Jesus. A more politically correct Jesus. A less offensive, less divisive, less demanding Jesus. They cut the parts out of His Word that they don’t like and write in their own. They make arguments about how Jesus would have moved on from His archaic thinking and would be more like them today. They invent a new Jesus because the real Jesus is too hard to get over. They stumble over the real Jesus.

Stumbling over Humility

The next thing Jesus says is that He has come “to proclaim good news to the poor.”

Just like the original hearers, many people perk up when Jesus says this! The payoff! Jesus wants to make poor people rich! He just said so, right? That’s “good news”! What better news could there be then that Jesus would make us all economically secure. Money equals happiness, right?

People really stumble over this. False teachers twist and turn the scriptures so that they say exactly the opposite of what Jesus means. A lot of people come to Jesus because of this reason – they want wealth and financial security. But that’s not what Jesus promised.

The good news of salvation is not merely for the financially poor, but for those who are “poor in spirit”. Jesus says in the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus cares for the poor, but He does not save them by making them economically happy. Instead, Jesus saves people who understand that they are spiritually poor and have nothing can offer God. Another word for that is Humility. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) He’s not looking for people who think they can save themselves, or believe that God cares about how rich they are. Jesus saves people who know they are sinners, completely spiritually bankrupt, and who are desperately in need of His help to be saved and forgiven.

This is such a stumbling block for people because people hate the idea of being humiliated and love the idea of being exalted. So when Jesus lays out the path of salvation as one that happens on your knees, they are offended. Praying a salvation prayer like David did in Psalm 51 is a remarkable act of humiliation:

“Have mercy on me, O God,… Purge me… wash me… create in me a clean heart… Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation… For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51)

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is true… as long as your realize that the “wonderful plan” God has for you includes discipline, suffering, sacrifice and humiliation. Most people wouldn’t call that a wonderful plan – but then most people don’t see things the way Jesus does.

A lot of Christians still stumble in this.

  • Every time we come to Jesus with an ultimatum, we are making the same mistake as the people of Nazareth, and the Israelites that Paul was condemning.
  • Whenever we say, “If it’s God’s will, then the doors will open and the path will be easy.” we are making the same mistake.
  • Whenever we look at our church or our ministries and say, “God, your job is to make this grow financially and numerically or we’ll quit.” then we are falling into the same error.
  • When we come to Jesus and say, “Ok, I’ll give you my heart, as long as you heal my family member, take away all my addictions, give me a good job, and make my life easier…” we are showing that we are stumbling over humility.

A Christian prayer says, “Our Father in Heaven, we worship and hold your name up high. You are the king, we are part of your kingdom, we put ourselves under your Lordship. We also put ourselves under your provision and ask for our daily bread. We will not fight, or steal, or hoard, or go into debt to get it… we’ll trust you to provide for our needs. We come to you to for forgiveness because we cannot forgive ourselves. Salvation is found in you alone. We choose to forgive those who have wronged us because their debt to us is nothing in comparison to our debt to you. (Matthew 18:21-35) And we come to you for spiritual protection because you are Lord of everything – the created world and the spiritual. We are nothing without you. We have nothing without you. We will be humble because you have told us to be and showed us how.”

Think of the words of Philippians 2:1-8 which say,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Stumbling over Lordship

Next Jesus read that “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” Jesus did miraculous healings and dramatic exorcisms to prove His Lordship over Satan. And He proclaimed people forgiven by God to show his ability to release people from the bondage of sin.

The people listening thought that Jesus would deliver them the way that God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt or Babylon, but He showed that the proclamation of “liberty to the captives” was not about political prisoners who were captive to human oppressors (which the Jewish people really wanted) but about releasing people from the greater captors of sin and Satan.

But those He was talking to, and many people today, are to short sighted to see that. They stumble over the idea of switching their masters. Jesus said in John 8:34-36,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Master and Slave is the language the New Testament uses to describe people’s spiritual condition. People want to be free from their sin, but they don’t want to admit that they are enslaved by it. And they especially don’t like the idea of submitting to Jesus as Lord. Jesus doesn’t allow for half measures though. This life isn’t about being either a slave or a free person, but about which Master you will serve. Jesus comes to “proclaim liberty to captives” by saying, “I’ve saved you and now you are mine!”

In Romans 6:16-19 says it this way,

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

You can’t be a citizen of both the Kingdom of God and the World. This ties into what we’ve already been talking about. It’s about Jesus’ exclusive claim to be the only way. It’s about humbling ourselves and making Jesus our Lord.

Yes, we believe that salvation is a free gift from God. Our salvation has been purchased by the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, and we can do nothing to add to that. Our faith in the saving work of Jesus is what allows the Great Exchange of our sin for Jesus righteousness to happen. But along with faith in Jesus as our way of salvation is the belief that He is God and worthy of being Lord of our Life.

People today hate this whole idea. They hate the idea of admitting that they are slaves to sin. They hate the idea of having to come under the Lordship of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We were captives of the kingdom of death, sin and Satan, and Jesus purchased us with His blood. Now we’re His property.

A slave can’t have two masters and doesn’t get to make their own choices. Christians don’t say, “No, Lord, I won’t.” Christians can’t worship God and idols. We can’t trust God and at the same time put ourselves into debt. We can’t go to someone else for provision. We are not our own highest authority. Jesus Christ is.

My body isn’t mine to do with as I want – it’s God’s. It was destined to burn in Hell and Jesus traded His blood for me, and now I’m His – Heart, Soul, Mind and Body. Instead we “Submit ourselves to God.” (James 4:7) because we believe what the rest of the Philippians 2 passage says:

“God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

Christians are the ones who bow first – knowing that at some point, ever other knee will bow too. People hate to bow. So they hate Jesus.

Rejecting Jesus

Can you see now why listening to a sermon from Jesus resulted in Him being rejected by His hometown? It’s the same reason people hate Him today. They didn’t want Jesus the way Jesus wanted to give Himself to them. They wanted what Jesus could do. They wanted His miracles, not Him, not salvation through Him. And He wouldn’t perform for them.

Jesus knew what was on their hearts, and He knew why all these people had come to the Synagogue that day. They wanted to see Him perform. They wanted miracles. In Capernaum Jesus was presented with a paralyzed man who was lowered from the roof, right in front of Him. And Jesus, in view of everyone, proclaimed the man forgiven of his sins and then healed him so he could pick up his mat and walk out the door! Both of those are miracles. To touch someone who is paralyzed and make them walk is a miracle! And to be saved and forgiven from sin, cleansed before God and fit to live forever in His presence is also a miracle!

Guess which miracle the people wanted from Jesus?

They didn’t come to be saved. They didn’t want to hear that Jesus was the One sent by God to save them from their sins. They wanted Jesus to do miracles. They didn’t want Jesus to bring them from Satan and Death. They wanted healing from their diseases, freedom from their troubles, food for their hunger, and deliverance from their oppressors. They didn’t want to make Jesus Lord of their life, they just wanted Him to make their life better. They didn’t want Him as Master.  They wanted Him to fix it so they could live without discipline, suffering, sacrifice and humiliation.

And so, we read in Luke 4:28-29,

“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”

That’s the reaction people have to the real person and message of Jesus. Jesus won’t play their game and be their Santa Clause, so they are offended. They fill with wrath, they drive Him and anyone who proclaims Him out of anywhere they can find Him. They harm, persecute, crush, punish, and try to drive Him and everything He says off of the nearest cliff.

That’s happening in Canada and the US. You’ve probably felt it. You can feel the noose tightening around believers in North America. It’s certainly happening in Iraq and Syria and many other places in the world. We should be outraged, saddened, and broken hearted for our brothers and sisters… but we shouldn’t be surprised.

Jesus says in John 15:18-23,

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also.”

And 1 Peter 4:12-19 says,

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

The Recovery of Sight to the Blind

Yes, there have been a lot of people who have done some horrible, even hateful things in the name of Christianity, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who hate Christians who act like Christians. They hate Christians because they hate Jesus.

  • They hate that He says He’s the only way.
  • They hate that He calls them to humiliate themselves before Him.
  • They hate that they have to admit that they are slaves to sin and Satan.
  • They hate that Jesus says there is nothing they can do to save themselves.
  • They hate that Jesus is God and won’t do what they want Him to do.
  • They hate that Jesus doesn’t choose their kind of people.
  • They hate that His salvation doesn’t equal earthly happiness.
  • They hate that they have to believe they are absolutely wrong about a lot of things.
  • They hate having to put themselves under God’s Word.
  • They hate that Jesus forgives all kinds of sin, even the people they don’t like, even the people that hurt them.
  • They hate that He doesn’t give preferential treatment to their people, race, nation, or group.
  • And they hate anyone associated with Him and His ideas.

But Jesus came as the Anointed Messiah of God to “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind…”. Jesus showed in His miracles that He could cure the physically blind – even those blind from birth – and it was a way to show that He had the power, not just over physical blindness, but spiritual blindness.

We must remember that these people who hate Jesus and His people so much are spiritually blind– just as we once were They “walk in darkness” and are blinded by Satan (John 8:12; 1 John 1:6; Romans 1:18-32, 2 Corinthians 4:4) .

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:18)

But Jesus can make the blind see and release the captives! That has to be our prayer. We want them to see, just as we see, and that is a miracle that God has to work. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says,

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

And that’s the only thing that is going to help. We need Jesus to shine His light into the hearts of these people, just as He has ours. We need to love them as He has loved us. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven. To grant them mercy just as He has granted us mercy.

Let us pray this for our unsaved family members and friends, and for our enemies and those who are persecuting the church. And let us pray for ourselves, that we will continue to live in the light. Trusting in Jesus alone, humbling ourselves before Him, and making Him our Lord every day.