Living the American Dream of Christianity: The Nightmare of a Christianity That Cannot Stand In the Face of Affliction & Bonds

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament scriptural account of the spiritual body of Jesus Christ which is the church as it was written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically, today’s reading is found in the first twelve verses of the twenty-seventh chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find all the events that led to the apostle Paul beginning his journey unto Italy having taken their course and the apostle Paul now heading unto Italy. What makes the words which we find in this passage of Scripture so incredibly interesting is when you consider them in light of how the twenty-sixth chapter of the book ended and concluded. If you turn and direct your attention back just one verse you will find Augustus speaking unto Festus and declaring unto him that the apostle Paul might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed unto Caesar. Pause for a moment and think about and consider that, for despite the attempts of the Jews against the apostle Paul, and despite the initial attempts the Jews made to kill the apostle Paul—at the end of it all the apostle might very well have been set free and released. This is quite an astonishing reality to think about and consider—particularly and especially when you consider the fact that even when the apostle Paul stood before Lysias the chief captain of the guard, he could find no wrong in him, nor anything worthy of being put to death. When the apostle Paul stood before Felix the governor who presided in Caesarea he himself could find no wrong in the apostle, nor could he find him guilty of committing any act worthy of death. As Procius Festus stepped into the picture the apostle Paul spoke unto him concerning his former life and manner of living as it was set against the backdrop of his new life which was found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Porcius Festus listened to the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto him and could find no wrong in him, however, it was while standing before Porcius Festus the apostle Paul would appeal to Caesar when he asked if he would be willing to be brought back unto Jerusalem. Keep in mind that it was in Jerusalem where the Jews already attempted to put the apostle Paul to death and where forty Jews conspired together and bound those elves with a curse that they would not eat or drink until they had put the apostle Paul to death. What’s more, is that you will recall that the chief ruler in Judaea, as well as the high priest attempted to have the apostle Paul brought from Caesarea in order that along the way unto the city he might be put to death. It’s absolutely and utterly amazing how much the Jews vehemently hated and utterly opposed the apostle Paul and sought to put him to death on multiple occasions. It is unclear whether or not the apostle Paul knew and was aware of the most recent attempt of the Jews to put him to death upon the request to have him brought back to Jerusalem that they might kill him along the way. Suffice it to say that divine providence and the hand of God was working behind the scenes to keep the apostle Paul out of the hand of the Jews, and from being put to death by their hands.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing realities that so grips and captivates me when I think about and consider the words which we find and read within these chapters found in the book of Acts is how the apostle Paul stood before four different political leaders and rulers—Lysias who was the captain of the guard, Felix who was governor in Caesarea, Porcius Festus, and finally king Agrippa. Pause for a moment and think about the incredible reality that the apostle Paul not only stood before four separate political leaders of that generation, but was also accused of the Jews while standing before certain of those leaders and rulers. In each of the cases when the apostle Paul stood before these leaders and rulers he sought not to defend himself—albeit he did reference that he was called into question because of his hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The apostle Paul did state that when he was found in the Temple he was not found stirring up the people, nor disputing or reasoning with anyone, not trying to stir up any dissent, and yet the Jews which came from Asia incited the people against him and thus caused the Jews to band together in an attempt to put him to death. What I so love about the defense the apostle Paul gave when speaking unto those political leaders before whom he stood was that in no instance, nor in any case was he ever concerned about his name, nor was he ever concerned with his reputation. This apostle who would later write the words unto the saints and church which were at Philippi would write and speak of Jesus Christ making Himself of no reputation, and there is not a doubt in my mind the apostle Paul was not at all, nor in any way concerned with his own name or his own reputation, but was concerned with the name and fame of Jesus the Christ. If you read the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto those before him he stood you will find that he was more concerned with the name of Jesus the Christ being exalted, and bearing witness and standing testimony concerning Jesus the Christ than he was with his own name and his own reputation. The apostle Paul would have gladly had his name dragged through the mud if it meant the name of Jesus the Christ would be exalted and magnified in the earth. The apostle Paul would have gladly been reviled and persecuted if it meant that the name of Jesus the Christ would be exalted, and if he could stand and bear witness and give testimony concerning Jesus the Christ. Oh, please don’t miss and please don’t lose sight of this reality, for it brings us face to face with how we live our own lives and how we conduct ourselves in the earth. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we would be willing to be of no reputation if it meant that the name of Jesus the Christ would and could be exalted in and through our lives. Would we be willing to humble ourselves and live in a place where we are perhaps disregarded and persecuted in order that the name of Jesus the Christ might be exalted. Oh, as I sit here this morning I can’t help but feel the need to present you with the words which the apostle Paul spoke—not only before his accusers, but also before those whom he stood trial. If you begin reading with and from the twenty-second chapter of this book and continue through to the twenty-sixth chapter you will find the words which the apostle Paul spoke before those who would accuse him, as well as before those who would listen to and hear his defense. Consider if you will the following words which the apostle Paul spoke before all those he would stand before—not only in Jerusalem, but also in Caesarea:

“Men and brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And He said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told of thee all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I cam into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou should East know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; and saw Him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: and when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And He said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles” (Acts 22:1-21).

“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is not resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God. And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle” (Acts 23:1-10).

“Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that you hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, belonging all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men. Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult. Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they have ought against me. Or else let these shame here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council, except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection fo the dead I am called in question by you this day” (Acts 24:10-21).

“I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily though with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with. Me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, sand saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand, upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:1-23).

The more I read the words which describe the apostle Paul being bound and in custody within the city of Jerusalem, as well as in Caesarea, the more I can’t help but come face to face with the fact that the apostle Paul had two distinct realities which he voiced and which he proclaimed in the hearing of those before whom he was accused, and before those who would accuse him. If and as you read the words which are found within this particular portion of the book of Acts you will find the apostle Paul on the one hand speaking of his former life before Christ and how he was not only zealous for the law, but also vehemently persecuted and wreaked havoc upon the church of Jesus the Christ. The apostle Paul was neither afraid nor ashamed to speak of his past and former life before Christ, and how he himself went about persecuting the church and committing them to be imprisoned and punished them—not only within Jerusalem, but also unto strange cities as he so aptly put it. What I find to be absolutely incredible is the contrast and dichotomy that exists between the apostle Paul’s former life before his encounter with Jesus the Christ and his new life in Christ—a life which was spent preaching the gospel unto the Gentiles and preaching the hope of the resurrection concerning Jesus the Christ. When standing before his accusers, as well as those who would hear and listen to the accusations against him and sat in the judgment seat the apostle Paul sought to demonstrate the transformation which had taken place within his life, and how Jesus the Christ had not only appeared unto him, and had not only spoken unto him, but had also completely and utterly transformed his life. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of the defense which the apostle Paul gave before his accusers and before those who sat in the judgment seat, for when giving his defense before those who would accuse and those who could judge him, he was not at all concerned with his own name, nor was he concerned with making himself appear to be something great, for he was concerned with one thing and one thing alone—namely that the name of Christ be exalted before men, and that men might truly recognize and understand that which Jesus the Christ had done within his life. The apostle Paul sought to demonstrate that what he was being accused of and what he was being accused for was the hope of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, as well as his fulfillment of the divine mandate that was upon his life by Jesus the Christ who had appeared unto him on the road to Damascus. The apostle Paul was concerned with testifying and bearing witness of Jesus the Christ in the hearing of those before whom he stood—regardless of whether they stood to accuse him, or whether they stood to hear the accusations against him, and then listened to and heard the words which he himself spoke.

I absolutely love the words which the apostle Paul spoke in the hearing of those who would accuse him, as well as before those who sat in the judgment seat with the power to sentence him to death or release him, for nowhere will you find any instance or any case when the apostle Paul reviled his accusers, nor even spoke evil against them. This is quite a unique and astonishing reality when you think about and consider it, for more often than not when we ourselves face accusation—particularly if the accusation against us is false—we tend to go on the defensive front and tend to lash out against those who would accuse us. I know that I myself have a tendency to go on the defensive and to lash out against those whom I feel are coming against me with any accusation or words against me. The absolutely incredible reality concerning and surrounding the apostle Paul is that before he even went down unto the city of Jerusalem he knew that bonds and afflictions would await and abide him there. Although the apostle Paul did not know, nor was he aware of what would actually take place within his life while down in Jerusalem he did know that bonds awaited him there, and that he would ultimately be handed over to the Gentiles. In fact, it is what we read and what we find in the twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Acts that begins bringing us face to face with the apostle Paul being handed over to the Gentiles just as the prophet Agabus professed unto the apostle Paul while he was still outside of the city of Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew when speaking unto the elders of the Ephesian church that he went bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem not knowing what would befall him there and knowing that they would never see his face again. The apostle Paul was willing to be bound in Jerusalem, and even to die in Jerusalem, and made such a declaration when speaking unto those who heard the words of Agabus when he declared unto the apostle Paul that he would be bound in Jerusalem and would be handed over to the Gentiles. We dare not miss and lose sight of the fact that the apostle Paul knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he made the journey down to Jerusalem, and yet he still deliberately and intentionally chose to go down unto the city itself showing absolutely no regard for his life, nor for his own well being. Oh, how many of us would be willing to live in such a way that we hold nor count our lives as so dear and so precious unto us that we are willing to embrace bonds and afflictions, chains and shackles, suffering and persecution. The apostle Paul did not count his life as being dear unto him, nor did he withhold it completely from Christ in order that he might completely and totally fulfill the purpose and divine will of Jesus the Christ for him. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote when writing unto the saints which were at Philippi in the third chapter of the epistle which was written unto them:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, where to we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:7-16).

I sit here this morning and I can’t help but be reminded of the words which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke and declared when great multitudes went with Him. If you turn and direct your attention to the fourteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel which was written by the beloved physician Luke, you will find words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto those who dared walk with and follow Him—words which would either discourage those who sought to walk with him, or words which would encourage those who would seek to walk with and follow Him. If you begin reading with and from the twenty-fifth verse of the fourteenth chapter you will find Jesus giving some incredibly pointed instruction and words to those who dared walk with and follow Him not at all realizing the tremendous cost that would be associated with such an endeavor. As I consider the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto those who dared go with Him—those who dared walk with and follow Him—I can’t help but encounter and come face to face with the awesome and incredible reality of how many of us truly know what we signed up for. I would dare say that many of us have signed up for a western Christianity—a Christianity of convenience, a Christianity of ease, a Christianity of comfort, a Christianity of freedom, and a Christianity of liberty. There is not a doubt in my mind that there are many of us who have signed up for an “American Christianity” much like many men and women sign up for and look for “the American Dream.” I am firmly and completely convinced that there are countless men and women who may very well worship with us in our churches today, and yet many of them have in fact chosen to walk with and follow Jesus the Christ, but they have done so according to a western version of Christianity—one that is completely void of any affliction, one that is void of chains and shackles, one that is void of bonds, one that is void of the threat of imprisonment and beatings, and one that is void of any type of persecution and suffering. I can’t help but wonder if my Christianity would hold up in a nation where you can be imprisoned, brutally tortured and beaten, and even executed and put to death for being a disciple and follower of Jesus the Christ. Would your Christianity—the Christianity you may hold and value so dear—hold up in a nation and country where you can be beheaded and/or even executed by a firing squad because you are a disciple and follower of Jesus the Christ? How much faith and how much stock do you have in your walk with Christ, and how much faith do you have in the Christianity you profess and boast about in this life? With those questions and realities being before you, I invite you to consider the words which our Lord Himself spoke to those who dared walk with and follow Him, and how those words directly correlate to our experience in this generation:

“And there went great multitudes with Him: and He turned and said unto them, if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciples. For which of you intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest happy, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able to with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he see death an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsake the. Not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciples. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his Saviour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. HE that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25-35).

Building on this reality even further I can’t help but be reminded of the words which our Lord Jesus the Christ spoke—words which are recorded for us in the New Testament gospel of Matthew. If we are truly going to understand that which was taking place within the life of the apostle Paul after returning unto the city of Jerusalem this third and final time. The words which we find written and recorded in this passage of Scripture serve as a solid foundation for understanding that which the apostle Paul lived by after his conversion to Jesus the Christ. The question I am finding myself asking is whether or not my own Christianity can in fact hold up in the face of opposition, affliction, suffering and even persecution. Is it possible that our Christianity works here in the west, however, it would not hold up nor amount to anything in the fact of bonds and afflictions. For the apostle Paul, he would find himself setting sail for Italy where he would go bound as a prisoner—not a prisoner of men, but rather as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus the Christ. When the twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Acts opens it does so with the apostle Paul bound as a prisoner heading to Italy and ultimately unto Rome where he would bear witness and give testimony concerning Jesus the Christ. Pause for a moment and think about and consider this reality, and whether or not your own walk with Jesus the Christ would and could even hold up in the face of such uncertainty. The apostle Paul knew that he was destined to journey unto Rome where he would stand bound as a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ and where he would give witness and testimony concerning that same Jesus the Christ. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not our walk with Jesus the Christ carries with it such a commitment and such a courage that we would be able to make such a journey knowing the grace of Jesus the Christ is sufficient for us, and knowing that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. With this in mind I invite you to consider the words which our Lord Jesus the Christ spoke unto His disciples when He sent them out in the world as His ambassadors in the work of the ministry:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and the shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.l And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endure the to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciples that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, hype are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followers after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loveth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:16-39).

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