Friday, May 30, 2008

Listen, Trust, Obey

The intention of this paper is not to condemn any person, or point out the flaws of man, but simply to bring to your attention how critically human works and purpose needs God and to recognize His sovereignty over all things. I certainly hope that through these words you will be able to see the power of God, and the way in which He speaks to us.

In Acts, chapter 5:35-39, we are presented with the speech of a Pharisee named Gameliel, one of the most respected men in the council of the Sanhedrin at the time. He is addressing the council, after the defense of the apostles. The apostles, have been continuing on the work of Christ and preaching the Name of Jesus. The council has become furious with the actions and words of the apostles and wants them put to death. Gameliel stands up and orders the apostles out. What he says is a shocking contrast to his own character. Being a zealous Pharisee, one might assume that he would be in the same attitude as the other members of the council. Instead, he tells the council two stories, both of historical accuracy, referring to previous “similar” uprisings that ended up in the destruction of their leader and all the men involved. He calms the council by telling them that, “…if this purpose or this work is of men, it will come to nothing. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Fairly convincing, Christ-like words for a Pharisee aren’t they? This can be taken as a valuable lesson from an unlikely messenger. Listening for God’s voice in every situation, and in every person is important. He may not speak through the medium you expect. This is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit through an unlikely person. These words are even used in other passages of the Bible as we see in Matthew 15:13: “He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

What God is really saying through this man, is that when we rely on human strength, we can’t accomplish anything. Before we even define our purpose and begin in our works, we need to determine whether we are truly under God, and running solely on His work. Sometimes we even think we are accomplishing the will of God when we are not. This is a very careful point to approach and should be taken with much caution and prayer. Throughout history we have seen the work of those who do not follow the will of God, and act using their own authority. When we are working under the authority of God nothing can stop us. We see this as the promise of God in Luke 21:15 “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

If we are accomplishing God’s will, nothing can stand in our way or pull us down. Now, there is a problem. Humans like to be in control, and running on their own ideas. We like to have the steering wheel in our hands, and the power to change circumstances. Humans have so much pride that gets in the way, because we like to take the glory for our own actions. At the same time, we don’t want to take the persecution of our actions. The apostles would not have been able to suffer the persecution they did, without Christ. People tend to depend upon a person who is physically visible; a leader who can do the physical work for them, and who will take the blame for them if there is ever conflict. How much bigger God is then any human! We need to remember to let go of your own ambitions, and carefully evaluate our purpose.

As the apostles stood before the Sanhedrin and were judged, only the careful words of Gameliel saved them from likely death. The Sanhedrin flogged the apostles, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Christ and let them go. The most amazing thing about this passage is the apostle’s reaction. They don’t feel sad or sorry for themselves, they simply leave “…rejoicing that they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” The question is then: why do the apostles react this way and what does this mean for me when I face difficulties?

The first thing is that the apostles knew difficulties would come. In the words of Jesus in Matthew 10: 17 he foretells similar circumstances to those which the apostles are subject. “Be on your guard against men, they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.” It is an error that some of us fall into to think that hardship is a judgment from God. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Passages about hardship and persecution are all over the New Testament, none of them speaking negatively about the topic. The Bible tells us to rejoice, and tells us that we are blessed in our persecution. Matthew 5: 10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

How can you rejoice in suffering? How can you consider them a blessing? This is easy to say but hard to put into practice. Before I explain how this is possible, let me first say one thing. Trials will still be trials, and hardship will always remain hard. I am not saying these things will cease to be difficult, I am only saying that we must approach them differently if we are to get through them with joy. In order to have joy in our trials and see the blessing of God we must first rid ourselves of the idea that difficulties are bad. Let us take up the opposite idea, that trials are good. Trials produce in us good fruit, they help us mature. Trials bring us closer to God! They help us understand that we can’t stand alone. The only way we can move on is with God. It is hard to be any clearer about this than the Bible on the topic of joy in sufferings: 1 Peter 4: 12-13 says; “… do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” As the apostles did in Acts we can rejoice in suffering. For as Jesus Himself suffered, is it not an honor to suffer as He did and for His sake? Therefore, rejoice if you suffer in the same way as your Savior. Rejoice that you are found worthy of “…suffering disgrace for the Name…”

In concluding, through this paper, I hope you find encouragement, hope, instruction and a certainty of the faith we have in Christ Jesus. Letting God do the work through you is one of the biggest lessons in trust you can learn. If you let God work through you and use His authority, even in persecution, the outcome will be uncontainable. Rejoice in the trials set before you, and as you continue in your walk with Christ, “…never stop teaching and preaching the Name of Jesus Christ.”

- A Portantorchas Assignment by Andrew McKeeth and Andrew Geddert