Herod Agrippa was the grandson of Herod the Great, and was as cruel and vicious as he had been. In order to increase his political popularity with the religious leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem, he began to persecute the church starting with the leadership. Yet the Lord was fighting for His people so this attack did not last long. He sent an angel to release Peter from prison where he was shackled between soldiers and guarded by 2 more. How this was effected without detection is a splendid display of the Lord’s might. The horrible death of Agrippa in such a painful manner was also the act of the Lord fighting as a warrior to defend His own.
The church was also involved in this battle through the weapon of prayer. Yet the release of Peter was quite an unexpected answer, probably because the people anticipated his execution as certain since the apostle James had already been slain, and the Lord had not stepped in to halt it. This teaches us that we should take our own prayers more seriously. Sometimes we pray by mere habit or rote with little faith and trust that the Lord is going to answer. We should also be more open to the miraculous action of the Lord on our behalf. Neither the servant Rhoda and the church gathered expected the answer they got.
Today the subject of miracles is somewhat controversial. Some elements of the church maintain that miracles on a great scale are occurring today. On the other hand there are other groups in the church who feel that miracles are extremely rare and when they occur they will never be as spectacular and powerful as those we see in the scriptures. Yet the fact is God can act supernaturally intervene and heal any time He chooses in response to the prayers of the saints We should never limit Him and should avoid letting our faith waiver.
Saul was a man who was quite vigorous and zealous for the Lord, though his initial efforts were quite misguided. He had heard but ignored the warning of Gamaliel (Acts 5:33-39) and began to violently persecute those who believed in Jesus, thinking that he was doing God’s work. He must have recalled the warning of Gamaliel as he lay on the road outside Damascus listening to the Lord’s words of rebuke and chastisement. He, like so many others who would follow after him, had reached the bottom, the lowest point of his life. He realized that all that he had done in his life up to that point had been worthless. He must have felt totally disheartened as well as terrified for now he was blind and helpless at the mercy of Almighty God whom he had offended.
Yet the Lord showed mercy and kindness to Saul, healed him, forgave his sins and empowered him to preach the gospel. He used two obedient men, Ananias and Barnabas, to reach out to him when most Christians would not trust him. When Saul left Jerusalem he was actively persecuting the Christians. When he returned he was the one being persecuted. He went back to his home town for some years. The church was then at peace and began to grow and expand as we can see in the work of Peter. It is remarkable to note that the two miracles he performed allowed him to preach the gospel and convert a large majority of the populations of those 3 towns.
The history of Paul should teach us to reach out to all people of all backgrounds even those with sordid and questionable pasts. The fact is individuals often have to sink to their lowest state before they will cry out to the Lord. They have to come to a point where they detest and loathe their lives and fall into despair. Many will sadly opt for suicide. Therefore we Christians have to be there to help such despairing folks by giving them grace and hope in Jesus. The vilest of sinners should be able to find forgiveness and grace from the Lord in the fellowship of the Church and we should be eager to accept them with His mercy.
I recently read a book for review published by WestBow Press, “Jacks”.
“Jacks” is a novel by Trevor Rudolph Higgenbotham. The author endeavors to tell the story of Alonzo E. Jackson, known as Jacks, a chaplain in a large metropolitan hospital. The stories tell of several encounters Jacks has with patients and their families in various life and death medical crises.
Jacks reads more like a didactic presentation than a novel even though the chapters present real life situations and issues in the the form of stories with conversations and character interactions. These dialogues often seem stilted and wooden especially the words and prayers of Chaplain Jacks. Though Jacks does admit his own fallibility and that he wrestles with the issues of suffering and theodicy, he seems to always know what to say and do in any situation. As one who has experience in hospital chaplaincy, encounters with patients and their families are rarely easy or simple. The chaplain often fumbles for words to say and does not always say and do the best thing. Chaplain Jacks admits this but his actions belie that statement.
In sum, the book appears to be a collection of verbatim reports structured after the fact to teach professionals and laymen how to deal with critical issues in hospital. Consequently it will appeal mainly to those readers who, like myself, are familiar with the topics and situations covered here such as chaplains, clergy, pastoral care volunteers and health care personnel who have to deal with the life and death situation that the protagonist faces.
Luke continues His gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus in this book. In fact Acts can be called the Acts of Jesus which He continued to do through His followers, the church and the Holy Spirit because He is acting through them and continues to act through and with them up to the present day. This was Jesus’ plan, to use His followers to do His work by means of the Holy Spirit. He had to ascend as Luke described, so that His followers would act in faith for if He stayed, then they would not go forth, would not grow, and would not love for they would be waiting for Jesus to do all the work. They would always be depending on the Lord to do it all. After His Ascension they would have to depend on Him by faith, not by sight.
As Jesus is about to ascend the disciples’ questions indicate that they still did not understand that His kingdom was to be a spiritual one, not a national one as was Israel under David. After the ascension though they felt they were a new community and so stayed together in fellowship and prayer. In prayer they must have come to the realization that as a new community, the new Israel, they needed to have 12 apostles, or 12 leaders to represent the original 12 tribes, the 12 patriarchs. Their community had been fractured by the betrayal and suicide of Judas and had to be restored. The choice was made by lot so that the Lord would be the one who chose the one man He desired to represent Him on earth. We do not know how this procedure worked exactly but we do know that prayer played a major role. In fact prayer was a vital and central task of this new community and continues to be a major part of the Church today. Prayer is the means by which we discern the Lord’s will and conform ourselves to it.
The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest, most convincing evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And that is cause for great rejoicing. We see that joy in John’s account of the events following the resurrection, but not immediately for, as we know, the disciples had experienced great fear and confusion because of the crucifixion. In the light of what they felt they could not believe the testimony of emotional and hysterical women. Thus when they first heard of the disappearance of the body from Mary Magdalene, they were extremely skeptical. Peter and John had to go to the tomb to investigate for themselves and confirm that the body was missing.
John tells us that he believed when he saw the burial clothes lying there in the tomb. They were not cast about and in a mess. Apparently the body of Jesus had just disappeared, dematerialized leaving the cloths that had been wrapped around his body discarded like an empty cocoon after a butterfly has emerged, still retaining the form of the body, but without the body. No wonder he believed and rejoiced. Even Mary Magdalene rejoiced when she saw and talked with Jesus. The rest remained unconvinced, confused and afraid until they saw for themselves, Thomas included. We cannot really fault them for how they reacted. Although they had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, the idea of someone raising himself was so foreign to their way of thinking that it made no sense. Their testimony and eyewitness accounts serve as ample proof of the veracity of these miraculous events. Such a story was too fantastic to be something they made up, something they were willing to die for.
Pilate showed his weak and vacillating nature in his final decision to condemn Jesus to death. He did so out of fear of both the Jews as well as his superiors. The Romans would not like the Jews rising up against their authority. And if Jesus were a King, as the Jews said He claimed to be, the Romans would not appreciate it if Pilate ignored the situation. So he caved into the political pressure. His decision demonstrated that he really had no regard for the value of human life or the courage of his own convictions. Politics and an easy life were more important to him than justice. However, to be fair we must remember that God was in full control of these events and used Pilate’s lackadaisical attitude to accomplish His will.
In contrast to Pilate’s apathy we see in this story that there were other people who stood by Jesus despite the opposition displayed at the trials and crucifixion itself. Some of this hatred toward Jesus would have fallen on them. First we see the little group who stood by at the foot of the cross, Jesus’ mother Mary, the 2 other Mary’s and John the apostle. The same scorn and verbal abuse that was heaped upon the humiliated and exposed Jesus was no doubt heaped on them. This would be hard for them to endure for they were in the midst of tremendous emotional trauma and grief. Their grief would only be exacerbated by the unkindness that was shown them. In addition we see the courage and kindness of Joseph and Nicodemus both members of the Sanhedrin. They used their reputations and status among the religious leaders of the Jews to take Jesus body and bury it but at the same time they risked the abuse which would surely be hurled at them by their peers. Finally, let us not forget that they became ritually unclean at the time of the great feast of Passover by coming into contact with the dead body. These men and the others at the cross were motivated to do what they did out of love and compassion for Christ which was more important to them than the criticism and scorn of others.
Again as we reflect on the reactions of those who loved and followed Jesus, we must look at our own response to Him. Very often the opinions of others about Jesus affect our testimony to Christ. Often we would rather go along with the crowd instead of sticking up for Christian values and obedience to Christ. This is why our society and culture embrace sinful lifestyles as the norm because we Christians failed to properly proclaim the gospel. Yet the truth is when we fail to take a stand for Christ we stand at the foot of the cross not with Mary but with those who abused Jesus.