It has been a mystery to many that in all ages, God’s faithful children have often been the object of unfair and malicious attacks and persecution by both the church and the state. Some may wonder why God allows this and why He does not work miracles to deliver His children from difficult circumstances.
If the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem, which included the apostles of Christ, had fully surrendered their prejudices and feelings of bitterness toward the apostle Paul and accepted him as one who was specially called by God to bear the gospel to the Gentiles, the Lord would have spared him to continue his labor for the salvation of souls. But there is One in the heavens whom the Bible says sees the end from the beginning. He understands the hearts of all men and women and saw what would be the result of the envy and jealously that was cherished toward Paul. God had not in His providence ordained that Paul’s labors should so soon end. But He did not work a miracle to counteract the train of circumstances to which their own course of the early church leaders gave rise.
We need to be careful that we do not practice presumption, assuming that because we claim to be Christians serving the Lord, He will work a miracle to stop the consequences of our own decisions. Paul was advised by his brethren in the Jewish church to go with four men who had a Nazarite vow and to pay their expenses. The term of their Nazarite vow was almost expired, and Paul was a poor man who worked with his own hands for his daily bread, yet he was asked to bear the expenses of these people. He consented and accompanied the Nazarites to the temple to unite with them in the ceremonies of the seven days of purification. This concession was a mistake. It was not something that God had actually authorized him to do and it cut short his ministry.
Those who counseled Paul to perform this act of concession had not fully considered the great peril to which Paul would be exposed by this act. At this season there were strangers from all regions of the world thronging the streets of Jerusalem. They delighted to congregate in the temple courts. As Paul, in the fulfillment of his commission had borne the gospel to the Gentiles, he had visited some of the world’s largest cities, and he was well-known to thousands of foreigners who came to attend the feast.
Because of the hatred of the Jews against Christianity and Christian leaders, for Paul to enter the temple on such a public occasion was to risk his life. However, for several days he passed in and out among the worshipers apparently unnoticed. But, before the close of the specified period of purification, as he was conversing with the priests concerning the sacrifices to be offered, he was recognized by some Jews of Asia. Now these men had been defeated in their controversy with him in the synagogue in Ephesus and had become more and more enraged against him as they witnessed his success in raising up a Christian church in that city. When they saw him in the temple, where they did not expect him to be, they rushed upon him with the fury of demons.
“When the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.’ (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple)” (Acts 21:27–29). The result was that in a very short period of time the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. The Bible says, “All the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks. When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the solders because of the violence of the mob. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, ‘Away with him’ ” (verses 30–36)!
As the apostle was carried up into a Roman barracks as a prisoner with the people wanting to kill him just as they had wanted to kill Jesus 30 years earlier, Paul made a request of the Roman commander. He addressed him in Greek. It says, “As Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I speak to you?’ He replied, ‘Can you speak Greek? Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?’ But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people’ ” (verses 37–39). It says in verse 40, “When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language.” He didn’t want to leave without making some type of a final appeal to his countrymen.
Because he addressed them in the Hebrew language, a great silence fell over the crowd and they stopped to listen to what he had to say. “ ‘Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.’ And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent. Then he said: ‘I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our father’s law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way [that is, the Christians] to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished’ ” (Acts 22:1–5).
Anything that has much importance is generally spoken of at least twice in the Bible. The story of Jesus is recorded four times. This story of the conversion of the apostle Paul is so important in the history of the Christian church that it is recorded three times. This speech Paul made from the stairs addressing the Jews who had just tried to kill him is the second time it is recorded. Paul relates the story of his journey to Damascus, about thirty years before, to bring the Christians back in chains, to be bound or to be killed, three times, each successive time in greater detail. He says, “It happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shown around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So, I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus. Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him (Jesus) saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’ So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by and consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles’ ” (verses 6–21).
At this point the crowd was so furious that they tried to rush against him again and kill him. Unable to understand the Hebrew language, the commander did not know what was going on.
Their prejudice against the Gentiles, those who were not Jews, was the cause of their anger. Prejudice is a terrible thing. It has existed in this world for thousands of years and is still present today. People of one race are prejudiced against those of another race, or another religion, or of a different social or economic level. If we cannot overcome our prejudices against other human beings, we will never be in the kingdom of heaven, no matter how much we go to church or how many religious rituals we take part in.
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29).
Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, or whatever your social or economic condition is in this world, God views you the same. All the Lord wants to know is, “Whom are you accepting as your ruler? Who is the sovereign in your life? Who is the Lord of your life?” There is a great controversy going on in our world (see Revelation 12). It says war broke out in heaven and that war is still ravaging this world. It is a war over which supernatural power you yield allegiance.
Have you yielded to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
Paul taught that all men were made of one blood. Addressing the philosophical, highly educated audience in the city of Athens, He said, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:24–26).
Notice how he expressed this in Romans, the 13th chapter, verses 9 and 10. He says, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9, 10).
O, friend, how do you measure up? How do you feel about the people around you? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? If not, then how do you expect to go to the kingdom of heaven? When Jesus was here, He told His disciples a story about the end of all things. He said that when He comes back to this world, He will sit on the throne of His glory and all nations will be gathered before Him. He is going to separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be set on His right hand and the goats will be set on the left (see Matthew 25:31–46). What determines whether you have eternal life or eternal death is not if you have the right theology, or belong to the right church, or you were the right race.
Jesus said that your eternal destiny would turn on one point. “Then the king will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King shall answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me’ ” (Matthew 25:34–40).
A person’s eternal destiny will be determined in the final day by the way they have treated their fellow men, especially those who were in trouble. How do you treat people who are in trouble? Do you just walk by on the other side and hope that somebody in the government or in the church will step in to help them out without you getting involved? Or are you willing to get involved in helping those around you who are in trouble?
Then sadly, the King will address those He has labored for but have denied Him. The Bible says, “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (verses 41–46).
Where are you headed, friend? The way that you treat your fellow men is going to determine your eternal destiny.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.