Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Message of the Kingdom of God Makes its Own Way - Acts 22

(read Acts 22)

Acts 21:39-Acts 22:2 (ESV)
39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:

Paul's defense before this mixed multitude and their response betrays the true offense of the radical message he carries.

Paul makes no apology for his Jewish heritage. He is glad for his people's history and the tradition in which he was raised. He worship's Israel's God, and compares his zeal for God to the zeal of those present, affirming their faith and passion as he identifies with them.

The crowd is made up of the religious faithful, Jews, followers of the Way both Jew and Gentile, and agents of the Roman empire. All listen closely to Paul's clear testimony of Jesus, and his experience of forgiveness for his heinous and violent sins. Paul describes his life entirely changed, as he is filled with the Spirit and enabled to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God on earth.

But when he claims that he was sent by God to preach Good News to Gentiles, people outside of the inner circle of the religious faithful, the crowd reacts.
Acts 22:22 (ESV)
Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”

It is not Jesus who was offensive, or the message of sin and forgiveness, but the universality of grace that was scandalous to their ears. They listened carefully through stories of miraculous healing, foreknowledge and messages from Jesus. The gates of the Kingdom of God are flung wide open. Jesus' love is a reckless one, liberally offered to everyone, everywhere, from family to strangers to enemies and everyone in between. This they could not abide.

Not understanding why the crowds act in such a way, the agents of Rome decide to have Paul flogged, believing they'll find the real story this way. Moments before Jack Bauer begins his interrogation, Paul politely offers the suggestion that perhaps what he's about to do is illegal.

Paul is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, but it's to the soldiers ready to torture him, it is his Roman citizenship that stays their hand. Violent torture may be forbidden in the Kingdom of God, but Paul wastes no time trying to convince the soldiers of this reality. In verse twenty-five, he appeals to human authority. The tension between his resistance to the violent and selfish spirit of the Roman empire and his appeal to its authority in this verse is not fully resolved, and something to be considered. In the past, Paul and others have been miraculously set free when imprisoned. Certainly Paul would have remembered these past dramatic occurrences. We need not assume he was right in appealing to Rome simply because it is recorded here. Still, the result does lead to another chance for Paul to share the story of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. They won't get their answer by beating him, so Rome must take the time to listen further to what Paul has to say.

This is not the first time Paul appealed to human authority. In Acts 16, he and his partner, both citizens of Rome, are unjustly beaten without a trial, against the law of the empire. In that incident, Paul holds the empire accountable after they've been beaten. As a free citizen of the eternal Kingdom, Paul lives in resistance to the empires of the world. The corrupt authorities would not submit to the Just law of God's Kingdom, but Paul held them accountable to their own.

Paul is brought before the chief priests once again, and once again he is in the presence of the agents of Rome. In fact, this time it is these Greek pagans who have called the meeting. When Paul was dragged from the temple, it was hoped that his message could be brought to an end. Instead, Paul is brought before the most politically and religiously powerful and influential people in Jerusalem twice to testify of the truth of the Risen Jesus.

Paul is an instrument in the hands of his king, to whom he has submitted wholly. No matter the injustice incurred upon him, God will work it in his favour. The final say will be had by his just king, and all vengeance will be his. Paul needs not beg an opportunity to have an audience. The message of the Kingdom makes its own way.

The gospel cannot be silenced, it cannot be coerced, it cannot be stopped by force or otherwise. It is a weed always in seed in the world's garden, as impossible to remove as the yeast in a batch of dough already risen. God will have his way, with or despite us. Freedom will be declared. Justice will be served. Kingdom will come.

(read Acts 22)

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