Jump Start # 2723a
Acts 22:19 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You.’”
The thoughts in this verse came up recently in a couple of different classes that I’ve been teaching. In Philippians Paul said, ‘as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.’ And, in a class on beatitudes, there is “blessed are those who have been persecuted”. Violent persecution—it’s hard for us to understand how people could have such a hatred of peaceable and loving people. The Christians were not wicked. They were not causing harm. They were doing good. A couple of pages after our verse today, Paul said that he tried to force Christians to blaspheme.
Forcing someone to blaspheme. The image comes to my mind of a bully pulling your arm behind your back until you said “uncle.” It hurt. It hurt bad. You didn’t want to say uncle but you couldn’t stand the pain. I don’t know what tactics Paul used, but I expect there was no limit to what he would do.
There are several powerful lessons for us in these verses:
First, God is loving and forgiving. I expect if anyone ought to have been excluded from Heaven and the benefits of Christ, it should have been Paul. He not only was opposed to Christ, he tried all that he could to destroy that movement. He hated Christians. But he changed. He not only became one, he became one of the best. He loved. He forgave. He taught. He became one who received the very persecution that he once gave to others.
God can forgive you. God wants to forgive you. The troubles that you have had and the misery and messes that you caused can be made better by a change in you. Hope can lift up your eyes. Faith can change your outlook, attitude and it can defeat the selfishness in you. God forgave Paul and God can forgive you.
Second, Paul had to live with the damage that he caused. I wonder if he had nightmares the rest of his life, seeing him literally beating people and breaking up homes and dragging men and women off to prison. What happened to the children in those homes? Did those people ever get released or did they die in prison? What trouble he caused. His name was known. He was feared, hated and the source of all kinds of trouble. Now, years later, he changed, but what he did remained in his mind. Forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things ever to do. The pain we have caused to our parents by the sinful choices we made is hard to imagine. The hurt we’ve caused by breaking up homes through selfish divorces. The tears that were shed because of our selfishness. Yes, those sins have been washed away by the precious blood of Jesus, but the scars and the memories can remain. We can wonder what would have happened had we made better choices. What would have happened had we not been so selfish and sinful.
Beating an innocent person with a rod is beyond my comprehension. What is interesting is that Paul didn’t run and hide in a corner of the world where no one would ever find him again. He didn’t change his name, wear a disguise and take on a hidden identity. He wasn’t so ashamed of what he did that he drowned himself in alcohol or worse, take his life. No, where do we find Paul? Right back in the very places where he once beat people. We find him in the public eye, in synagogues teaching and preaching. Not only is he an example of God’s forgiveness, he is also an example of how to get up and be useful after one has made a real mess of things. Don’t run and hide. Don’t give up, especially on God and on yourself. Get busy and become useful.
Third, it took some forgiving by the people who listened to Paul preach. Imagine on Sunday morning, the man in the pulpit preaching is the same person that put your parents in prison a few years ago. Or, this is the man who beat and possibly broke the arms and legs of your mother simply because she believed in Jesus. In our world today, some would probably get up and walk out of services. Some would protest loudly to the elders about allowing such a person to come and speak. God had forgiven him. Paul had to forgive himself. Then, brethren needed to forgive him. And, this is shown by giving him a chance.
Fourth, all of us have a story and a past that has moments that were not good. We are all just like this. We can forever be looking in the rear view mirror and wonder why we did such wrong things, or seek God’s grace and move forward. We can allow our past to ruin our future. We can be chained to the past. We can refuse to enjoy God’s blessings because of our past. We need to learn. We need to help others. We need to move forward with God and be busy in the kingdom.
Late at night, Paul may have tossed and turned about all those people he beat and put in prison, or he could see all those faces who were coming to Christ because of his preaching.
Sure is something for us to think about.