Such Opposition

Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 7:08 a.m. – the Lord Jesus woke me with the song “As the Deer” playing in my mind. Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 20:13-38 (NIV):

As the Deer / Martin J. Nystrom
Based off Psalm 42:1

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after You
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship You

You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship You

The Opposition

After the Lord Jesus met Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus, and Saul had now gone into the city blinded, the Lord Jesus visited a disciple named Ananias in a vision. He sent Ananias to Saul to restore his sight, and so Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit for the work to which God had called him. The Lord Jesus told Ananias: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

All throughout Paul’s ministry he knew the blessings of lives transformed by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace, and through the faith of those who believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. Yet, he also knew much suffering, persecution, and opposition to the message of the gospel, and thus to himself as one of its messengers.

The Defense

Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Dedication & Commitment

Paul was dedicated to Jesus Christ and committed to the task of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ despite all opposition and whatever he had to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Yet, he did so, not out of some type of religious obligation, nor out of some sense of moral duty, nor out of some desire for negative attention, nor because he was narcissistic, but because he loved Jesus Christ with his whole heart, and because he believed in what he taught, and thus he did so, as well, out of love for his fellow human beings. Even if it cost him his reputation, friendships, respect, honor, and the praise of man, he was willing to go the distance for Jesus Christ so that others may come to know Christ, too. Amen!

The reason Paul faced such opposition was not just because he taught that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and Savior of the people, though for that period of time and culture that would have been enough. I believe he suffered much persecution because he taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ, i.e. that we must turn to God in repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was persecuted for the same reasons. He told his physical brothers, who did not believe in him, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.” And, Jesus Christ said his followers would be hated, too, for the same reasons Jesus was hated (See Mt. 10:22; 24:9; Lu. 6:22, et al).

That word “repentance” is a dirty word in many evangelical circles today. And, its meaning is frequently debated. Encarta defines it as: “to feel regret about a sin or past actions and change your ways or habits.” defines it as: “a change of mind about sin and about God, which results in turning from sin to God.” The Bible frequently couples the word repent with the word “turn,” or with the understanding of the word “turn,” meaning to turn from our sins to God (See Ac. 3:19; 20:21; 26:17b-18). As well, the Bible teaches that we must turn from our sins and turn to following Jesus/God in obedience and faith if we want to have eternal life (See Jm. 5:19-20; Ac. 26:18; 2 Ti. 2:19; Ac. 3:19). Jesus said that if anyone wants to come after him, he must deny (disallow) himself (his self-life), take up his cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) Jesus (Lu. 9:23-25).

Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, even though he knew that such a trip could cost him his life, yet he was willing to die for the cause of Christ and the sake of the gospel, if need be, in order to see other people come to faith in Jesus Christ. He went because the Spirit of God compelled him to go. And, he went with the full knowledge given by the Holy Spirit that prison and hardships awaited him wherever he went. Now, that is dedication! Yet, his attitude was that he considered his life worth nothing to him. His only aim was to finish the race God had assigned for him, and to complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. His life was completely dedicated to Jesus Christ and committed to obeying his Lord in doing whatever Jesus Christ asked him to do. The Lord Jesus was his heart’s desire. He alone was Paul’s strength and shield, and to HIM alone did he yield his life in complete surrender to God’s will for his life. May it be so with us!!

Keep Watch

Although Paul was addressing his thoughts to the elders of the church, still there is application here for each and every follower of Jesus Christ. First of all, I believe we should all take encouragement from the life of Paul and his love for and dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the sharing of the gospel for the salvation of souls, despite all opposition and/or persecution. May we all follow his example in sharing the “whole” will of God.

Many have gone the way of diluting the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to make it more pleasing and more palatable to its listeners, and in order to not offend, but to make people more comfortable with “accepting” Jesus Christ. Yet, that is not the true gospel. It is a lie, and it gives people a false hope of salvation. The Bible teaches the cross as an offense, and that salvation requires death to sin and self. And, that is why those who share the “whole” will of God are often persecuted, hated, rejected and cast aside. Yet, the true gospel teaches the need of turning from our sin and turning to walk in obedience to our Lord and to his teachings as critical elements of true and abiding faith; faith that brings about salvation.

Paul said that he knew that after he left that savage wolves would come in among them and would not spare the flock. He said that even from among their own numbers men would arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. And, this is what is happening in evangelical Christianity in America today. A movement has swept across the church in America which denies the need for repentance, turning from sin, and walking in obedience to Jesus Christ as is necessary for salvation, and as taught in scripture. It focuses on the teachings of man, and often will even deny the teachings of scripture in favor of the teachings of man. And, it markets the church just like a business, using worldly methods to attract the world to their man-made institutions, frequently using gimmicks, lies and deceptions in order to draw in large crowds of people. We are to be on guard against this!

Then, Paul encouraged the believers in what was true. He committed these followers of Christ to God and to the word of his grace, which saves us from slavery to and the ultimate punishment of sin in hell for eternity. This grace will encourage and build us up in our most sincere faith through the knowledge of the truth. True grace slays the sinner. It does not entertain him or her. If we are not being taught that we need to turn away from (die to) our sins and self, and that we need to follow Jesus Christ in obedience, then that is not true grace, for it leaves us still dead in our sin. Our only hope of eternal life with God among those who are sanctified (made holy in Christ Jesus) is in our understanding of and our application of the true gospel to our lives via the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit within us in transforming our hearts and minds away from sin and to God. May we take this to heart, and apply its truths to our lives today.

As the Deer: