By Mark Ellis, Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA (ANS – April 4, 2017) — In February, a polarizing and provocative Jewish conservative was due to speak at UC Berkeley, but a peaceful protest turned into a riot, with bricks, rocks, and fireworks thrown, fires set, stores looted, and police barricades used as battering rams to breach the venue where this man was about to speak.
Under police escort, this controversial speaker had to be evacuated from the scene for his own protection, or he might have been torn apart by the mob.
That description is not much different from what happened to another polarizing and provocative Jewish speaker, the Apostle Paul, who seemed to stir up riots in many of the places he spoke some two thousand years ago.
What could have been so controversial? Why were people so riled up?
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave us a mission: to make disciples among every nation and people group throughout the world, to baptize them, and teach them to observe his commands.
He said that once we finished this great mission, taking the gospel to the whole world, then he would return to rule and reign over the earth.
Paul became one of the first and perhaps greatest missionaries to launch this worldwide movement. The most exciting thing is that the finish line is in sight to complete the mission.
In Acts 23, the Apostle Paul was at the end of his third mission trip, about 57 A.D. He came back to Jerusalem because he wanted to share the gospel with his brothers and sisters, the Jewish people, one more time during the feast of Pentecost. He had also collected money to help the struggling believers there.
When Paul went to the Temple, some Jews from Ephesus recognized him, started yelling, raising a ruckus, and knocked him to the ground. Then they stirred up the crowd against him, alleging that Paul was against the Law of Moses and the Temple.
These Ephesian Jews were calling for Paul’s death, the crowd was whipped up, and Paul would have been killed if it wasn’t for a Roman garrison nearby that heard the uproar, raced to the scene, and rescued him.
Paul got permission from the Roman commander to speak to the crowd. He told about how he once persecuted the Christians, how the risen Jesus confronted him on the Damascus Road, and how his life was changed.
But when Paul told the crowd that he was given a mission to reach the Gentiles, this sparked another riot, and the Romans had to grab him once more to protect him from the mob. Because of extreme prejudice, the Jews considered the Gentiles to be unworthy of God’s favor.
After Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen, the commander took Paul to the Sanhedrin, their Supreme Court, and placed him before the High Priest, the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Paul generated another uproar when he told them, “I am on trial for speaking about our hope and the resurrection from the dead.” Once again, the Romans had to rescue Paul and take him back to their barracks.
In Acts 23:11, it says, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.”
A plot formed to kill Paul. What could ignite such hostility? Paul had been openly declaring that Jesus of Nazareth, who they rejected, had risen from the dead and was their promised Messiah.
Jesus warned about persecution
Jesus taught that his followers would face opposition. In Matthew 5, he said, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.”
In John 15 & 16, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you…If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” He said, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”
This is the predicament Paul found himself in, and many Christians around the world continue to find themselves in today. If you stand up boldly for the name of Jesus, you will face criticism, mocking, some rejection, you may lose friends. In some countries, you might lose your life.
Paul was not exempt from such opposition and we are not exempt. The amazing thing is that the places where the persecution against the church is the strongest, in those places the church grows the fastest. Iran, right now, is one of the places in the world where the church (underground) is growing most rapidly.
You may face pressure within your own family to keep silent about Jesus. You may not be able to talk about him at work. I know a set of grandparents, that if they say anything about Jesus to their grandchildren, they will be cut off, not allowed to see their own grandchildren.
So here’s Paul, and he’s not just facing criticism, he’s facing 40 desperate men who hate the gospel of God more than anything. And they think they will do God a favor if they put Paul to death. They believed it was their religious duty to get rid of him.
Three things that helped Paul
How did Paul deal with such pressures? How can we cope when we face opposition because of our faith? There are three things that were vital for Paul to maintain his presence of mind and that should also be important for us.
First, Paul lived with a clear conscience. In Acts 23:1 Paul said, “I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” He had a good conscience, a clear conscience.
Your conscience is that inner voice God has placed within your heart that will either accuse you or excuse you for your thoughts and actions. The problem is that over time, it can become numbed or incapacitated by sin.
The Bible speaks of having a defiled conscience in Titus 1:15: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”
Photo captions: 1) UC Berkeley riot. 2) The Apostle Paul visits the Temple. 3) Underground church believers in prayer in Iran. 4) Mark Ellis with Dan Wooding when Mark co-hosted “Windows on the World.”
About the writer: Mark Ellis is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net), and is also the founder of www.GodReports.com, a website that shares testimonies and videos from the church around the world to build interest and involvement in world missions. Previously, Mark co-hosted a TV show called “Windows on the World” with ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, aired on the Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network (http://hsbn.tv/), which is now co-hosted by Dr. Garry Ansdell, Senior Pastor of Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, California.
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