An Apostle and a Riotous Mob
Paul returns to Jerusalem after a missionary journey. Just before Paul’s missionary journey ends, Paul’s companions and church leaders warn him that if he returns to Jerusalem, he’ll be arrested. Paul feels led by the Holy Spirit, and he returns to Jerusalem anyway. Upon his return, the church leaders in Jerusalem suggest that Paul take a vow to be purified—a process that includes shaving his head and making sacrifices. Paul does this, and just before the seven-day purification period is finished, some Jews from Asia recognize Paul at the temple. These men, who knew Paul from his missionary trip, accuse Paul of teaching against Jewish laws and traditions, and of bringing a Gentile into the temple court—an offense that called for the offending Gentile to be killed. (There was no evidence to support this accusation against Paul.) Within minutes of these accusations, people come from all directions to form a large and angry mob. The mob drags Paul outside the temple gates and beat him, intent on killing him.
Just then, a Roman commander arrives and the crowd backs off. The commander arrests and chains Paul. But the mob isn’t satisfied. In fact, by the time the soldiers and Paul reach the steps of the barracks, the soldiers have to carry Paul through the crowd to avoid further violence.
But Paul asks the Roman commander for permission to speak to the mob. Then Paul asks the crowd to listen to his “defense.” Instead of pleading with the mob for a fair hearing, and instead of defending himself against the charges, Paul tells the mob what Jesus has done in his life. In short, Paul doesn’t plead for himself: He pleads for Jesus.
The crowd settles down and listens to Paul’s story of his encounter with Jesus until he gets to the part where Jesus sends Paul out to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. At the mention of Gentiles, the mob erupts again, and Paul is taken into the barracks.
Jesus Didn’t Call Us to the Couch
I stopped reading at this point. I had to wonder why Paul chose such a dicey platform to testify about Christ. But even a cursory reading of Acts shows that Paul and the other Christians seized every opportunity to spread the Gospel of Jesus. They didn’t question whether speaking out for Jesus was “wise” or not. They acted decisively. And their actions, their passion, and their commitment laid the foundation of Christianity. Their courage and their testimony stand as their legacy to Christians today. We stand on the shoulders of their ceaseless and courageous work.
For early Christians, following Christ was nothing but hard. Comparatively, for most of us in America, following Christ is easy. So easy, in fact, that it’s easy to grow complacent. Complacency means that we leave the business of introducing others to Jesus to “the church,” or to preachers and missionaries. And as for speaking out for Christ, complacency means that we avoid politically incorrect religious discussions that could offend others. In short, it’s easier to just live and let live.
And isn’t that just what Satan wants us to think, and isn’t that just how he wants us to act—or, more precisely, to not act? Can you think of a better way to grow crop of couch-potato Christians who don’t make one bit of difference? I can’t. And I’m not pointing a finger at anyone. I have plenty of first-hand experience as a couch-potato Christian. I know how easy it is to sink into the couch after a stressful day at work, grab the remote, and dissolve into the spiritual—and mental—black void of television.
But Jesus doesn’t call us to the couch. He calls us to follow Him.
“Follow” Is an Active, Moving Kind of a Word
Still, I wondered, what exactly does it mean to “follow Him?” So I looked up the word, “follow.” In modern language, it means to move; in other words, it means to take action, to move along a course, to emulate.
Then, I got out the concordance and looked up variations of the Greek definition of “follow.” Follow not only means to follow a teacher by becoming a disciple, but it also implies accompanying, going with, following along and continuing to the end, and following close up or side by side. (Emphasis added.)
Interestingly, in no dictionary that I own does “follow” mean to sit on the couch.
Dictionary and concordance definitions are enlightening. But the Bible is, predictably, even more enlightening. Jesus gets to the heart of what ‘Follow Me’ means:
* Luke 9:23 (NIV): “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”
* Luke 18: 22 (NIV): “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”
The way I read this is that no couch or television remote control is involved—rather there is action, movement every single day. For a minute, I considered how ironic it is that I expect Jesus to be here for me regardless of the time of day or the situation. And sure enough, He is there whenever I call on Him. He never stops working on my behalf. But, likewise, He calls me, and us, to work for Him—whether ‘working’ means showing kindness to an elderly neighbor, bringing food to the hungry, or telling others about how Jesus has changed our lives.
When Paul’s spoke to the mob in Jerusalem, he told them how the brilliance of the light of Christ temporarily blinded him. The brilliance of Christ’s light burns just as bright today as it did for Paul. We just have to let Him shine through us. And I’m convinced that won’t happen if we’re sitting on the couch with the remote control in hand. Nowadays, my prayer now isn’t for a day off to relax on the couch; rather it is for His guidance on getting “moving” —following Him.