Rage or Boldness
Once the truth about what God is really like opens the heart and enlightens the mind, suddenly Scripture comes alive like it could never be seen before. Once the darkness of misapprehensions about God's character begin to dissipate, light from knowledge of His true glory illuminates passages that previously were puzzling or even frightening. At the same time the darkness of false assumptions about God becomes revolting and disgusting and reprehensible.
A text keeps coming into my mind that I decided to investigate under the light of this emerging glory. I sense that the closer we come to perceiving God through the lens of Jesus as the early believers did, the more clearly we can understand the things they did and said when the true gospel spread contagiously.
Who has said, by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant, Why are the nations so violently moved, and why are the thoughts of the people so foolish? The kings of the earth were lifted up, the rulers came together, against the Lord, and against his Christ: (Acts 4:25-26 BBE)
This is part of a prayer that the early believers spoke with passion just after Peter and John had returned from the temple where they had healed a lame man and caused a great uproar. The religious leaders who suddenly felt very threatened again as they realized that putting Jesus to death had not stopped their problems, had resorted to their usual tactics of threats of force trying to suppress the joy and the glory of God that was continuing to infiltrate people's minds and undermine their influence.
What this story reveals to me now that I am beginning to grasp the true meaning and purpose of Jesus' death on the cross, is strikingly different than what I have seen in this story previously. The early believers did not share the commonly assumed notions about the cross that permeates Christianity today. Rather they saw the death of Jesus for what it really was – an exposé of the evilness of sinful humanity and demonic influences, not some wrath of an offended God pouring out on His own Son. It was the people who had the rage, not God.
What becomes evident in this prayer is how these people grasped this truth so succinctly. They had come to realize that it is those deceived by sin that become angry, not our loving heavenly Father. Far from seeing Jesus' sacrifice as an appeasement for an angry God, they saw it as a sharp contrast revealed when a completely humble, loving, compassionate, forgiving God allowed Himself to be mistreated and abused by raging lunatics who fancied themselves to be experts of righteousness. Both the pagan Romans with their distorted views of the supernatural powers and their addiction to force, along with pious Jews set in their deep prejudices derived from the Old Testament Scriptures, all came together to suppress the clear demonstration of pure agape love that Jesus had brought to this world.
I see here how they were not asking about why the Father had killed His Son or even His rage against sinners. Rather they were asking why people in general and religious leaders in particular become so angry when God demonstrates His goodness as what had just transpired in the healing of the lame man. And it really doesn't make much sense when you think about it logically. Why do people become so furious and even resort to violence when someone teaches the truth about a non-violent, consistently loving Father? Yet it seems that this teaching more than any other can elicit opposition more fierce than against almost any other idea.
Nothing in these statements by these believers even hint that Jesus' death was some sort of payment or satisfaction to assuage an offended God. Rather, they saw what had happened as the rage of people who have been exposed as frauds desperately trying to suppress the glorious truth about God in their attempts to maintain the status quo and their control over the masses.
I also find it very compelling to see exactly what these believers asked God for in the face of these threats. Everything they said about God, about Jesus and about the situation they were in reflects a true appreciation of the real issues. Note the nature of their requests that resonated so accurately with the mind of God that it resulted in yet another outpouring of power over their lives by the Holy Spirit.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30 NAS95)
With the mindset that too many Christians have today, we might have expected them to pray for God to intervene with violence against those who were opposing the spread of the Good News. But these disciples had come to see in the example of Jesus that violence, force, fear and intimidation have no place in the lives of followers of Jesus. They were not ignoring the threats against them, but what they wanted were not counter-threats but rather a personal empowerment and an inward secure sense of identity in Christ so that they would not become infected by any of the fear that was attempting to infiltrate their minds and hearts. They wanted to be even more bold to share the good news about what God is really like so that even more would be attracted to this God that had been so long obscured by religious dogma and pagan mysticism.
After asking for boldness and freedom from all fear, they petitioned God to do what God loves to do – to display His unconditional love through even more miracles of healing along with any other signs or wonders that might draw people's attention to the witness of Jesus who had come to reveal the heart of the Father to an unbelieving, deceived world.
What we believe about what God is like has everything to do with how much God can use us in His service. When we harbor dark views of God that in any way make Him look like a deity needing to be appeased or persuaded to change Him mind about us, we cannot expect His Holy Spirit to empower us to spread such a message of confusion about Him. Only as we first humble ourselves and turn away from the damning doctrines of devils about God's character that have distorted and infected our beliefs for so long to embrace the true glory of His character, can we expect to experience the kind of power that rocked the world in the days following Pentecost.
I have been sensing over the past few weeks an intensity or urgency in my own heart that I need to become much more settled and secured in the things I have been learning about God. While the excitement of learning these things is nice, it is time for my own heart to begin to fully embrace them and completely renounce all the attitudes and habits of thinking that are not reflective of these glorious truths I am learning about God.
I think I can resonate a little with the emotions behind this prayer of the early disciples as they confessed their own need for more confidence and boldness. In the face of increasing opposition, particularly from within churches that claim to have the truth, I sense my own need for a more solid security and boldness as I will increasingly face those who fiercely resist the growing light coming from many directions insisting that God is much better than we have made Him out to be. It is difficult to not be swayed or feel hesitant about this message when highly educated and very influential leaders within the church present arguments against these truths and appeal to church authority in attempts to suppress this emerging light. But it is vital for anyone who wishes to follow the light as it continues to move and progress and becomes ever brighter, that they not remain stuck in tradition but base everything they believe and teach firmly on the Word of God alone and particularly the life and teachings of Jesus.
A polarization is becoming more and more evident, both in the church and in the world around us. Many in leadership positions are feeling threatened that their influence and authority is being undermined by emerging light and truth that has not been officially endorsed by them. So they resort to anything to try to return things back under their control. But the Holy Spirit will continue to lead all who are learning to listen to God and be taught by Him and who are willing to allow the mind of Christ to rule their lives rather than the traditions of religion. They are bound to meet stiff resistance and eventually that resistance will turn to threats of force and persecution as those seeking to maintain their positions and power resort to whatever it takes to keep it. But this is always what develops in the thinking of anyone who embraces beliefs in a God who resorts to violence and force to maintain His control. Worshiping a violent God always produces persecuting vigilantes.
What is most important however as this crisis begins to emerge is that those who see and embrace this new light keep their own hearts and spirit in harmony with the kind of spirit that was seen in the life of Jesus. Peter described His attitude quite eloquently.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV)