June 21, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 23-24: Taking up your cross

I don’t know about YOU. But as I read through these chapters about PAUL’S arrest and trial. I’m reminded of an EARLIER visit to Jerusalem. About 20 years before. Of the events surrounding JESUS’ arrest, and trial, and suffering and .

They both knew it was coming, but they went to Jerusalem ANYWAY. Both had a showdown in the temple. Both were accused falsely. Both endured a mock trial before the Sanhedrin. Both suffered beating and abuse.

Jesus, and Paul follow much the same path.

And Paul followed because he knew this promise of Jesus to be true in his own life. Lk 9:23.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will SAVE it.

And that’s what PAUL was doing. Coming after Jesus. Losing his life in obedience to Christ. Denying himself. And taking up his cross. And following Jesus.

It’s what 28 yr old, newly-married Jim Elliot did in 1956. When, along with four missionary colleagues, they landed their seaplane on a quiet stretch of river, in the dense jungle of Ecuador in Sth America. And nervously, but optimistically, floated in towards the sandy beach on the river bank.

They were there to take the gospel to the ly headhunters of the Auca tribe. But they never did.

You might know the story. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, was sick, and couldn’t make that first trip. But before long she’d learned that the five missionaries had been speared to within a few days of landing. They’d denied themselves. Taken up their cross and followed Jesus. They lost their life for the sake of Jesus. And found it again.

And within a few months, Elisabeth, too, had denied herself, taken up her cross and followed Jesus. She returned to the Auca tribe. To that same stretch of river. To continue her husband’s church-planting work.

In an incredible act of forgiveness, she made it clear she didn’t want to prosecute the ers. And, together with others, she saw many of the tribe saved.

How could she DO it? Go back to the same tribe who’d killed her husband? She says it was BY RETURNING TO THE FOOT OF THE CROSS that she was able to cope, and where she found greatest comfort. Understanding what Jesus had done for her. And what that meant/ for what HER life should now look like.

To recognize that when Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” That was just what SHE needed to pray for THESE people.

Elisabeth Elliot is now a popular author and speaker. She says, “”When I have the opportunity to speak to prospective missionaries, I want to emphasize the need for AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE CROSS. I take them first TO THE FOOT OF THE CROSS and ask them if they understand what the cross was all about/ and what it means in our daily life – whether on the mission field, or at home. If Jesus told us that we must take up our cross DAILY and follow Him, in what tiny little ways might we experience this?”

And that’s my challenge for YOU today. What will it look like for YOU to take up YOUR cross? And do it DAILY? And follow your king?

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

1. Persecution and innocence

Which is just what Paul’s doing/ as he stands up to defend himself before the Sanhedrin. The same religious court Jesus was brought before 20 years earlier.

And it’s the first of FOUR TRIALS over the next few chapters. Some serious PERSECUTION. Which you MIGHT think must mean someone’s pretty GUILTY. But Luke’s point in describing the trials in such detail. Is to show Paul’s INNOCENCE.

To show his readers that this pioneer of the churches through Asia and Europe. Wasn’t a criminal or rebel. He was . Only doing what GOD HIMSELF had commissioned him to do.

And now, he was SUFFERING for it. Taking up his cross and following Jesus.

PERSECUTION/ AND INNOCENCE.

By WHATEVER measure you’d like to use. According to JEWISH law, he was . Or ROMAN law. Or even before GOD, he was . Which is how Paul begins his defence, in v1.

“My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”

Hardly filled with remorse, is he?! Remorse is something judges LOOK for in sentencing people. If the criminal’s SORRY, then the sentence might be LESS. But Paul’s convinced, before God, that he’s done nothing wrong.

Which just makes the chief priest angrier. And he orders that Paul be slapped. At which point Paul realizes he’s in for a tough day at the office, and he seems TO CHANGE TACTICS. He knows the Jewish system inside-out. And he uses that to his advantage. Look at v6.

6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the .” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)

It seems to be a plan to distract attention from himself. Which is just what happens. V9

9 There was a great UPROAR, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

And the whole thing degenerates into a farce. One side arguing with the other. And the Roman commander drags Paul to safety. AGAIN.

Two threads weaved through these chapters. Are those of PERSECUTION. And INNOCENCE. The Jews don’t let up on Paul. But his innocence is proved time and again.

Paul’s made it over ONE hurdle. But there’s plenty more to come. Which is perhaps why JESUS APPEARS TO HIM AGAIN. To confirm to Paul that he REALLY IS taking up his cross and FOLLOWING. That he’s being obedient.

Because that’s the temptation when things get tough. That we think perhaps we’re NOT on the path God wants for us. That we’ve made a mistake. Or that God’s punishing us, or wants us somewhere better, or easier.

But it wasn’t like that with Paul. Things were difficult EVEN THOUGH he was following Jesus. In fact, things were difficult BECAUSE he was following Jesus. Which is what Jesus says. There in v11.

11 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.”

In other words. “You’re on the right track. Don’t start doubting now. You’re right where I want you. So keep going.”

What a great encouragement that would have been!

3. Persecution hots up

Which was just as well/ because the next day, the persecution hots up. V12.

12 The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot.

And so, they come to the chief priests and elders with a plan to AMBUSH and KILL Paul. But Paul’s nephew hears about the plot. Tells the Roman commander, who swears the boy to secrecy. Then rushes Paul out of Jerusalem, under cover of darkness, under armed guard, down to the coast. To Caesarea. Where the Roman governor lived.

4. Still !

And so the plot fails. For now. But the enemies don’t give up. They’re coming down to Caesarea with their best lawyer. Because we’ve had the JEWISH trial. And now it’s time for the first of the ROMAN trials. But the result will turn out the same. Still .

Take up the story from Ch 24 v1.

24:1 Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.

And look at the slimy way the hired gun tries to win the Felix’s favour.

“We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4 But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.

The very picture of reason and calm. “Just agree with us and we’ll get out of your hair.” But there’s no real evidence. Just a lot of hot air.

So in v11, it’s Paul’s turn to make his defence. And this time, there’s no-one who’ll slap him down.

11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did NOT find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or STIRRING UP A CROWD in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they CANNOT PROVE TO YOU THE CHARGES THEY ARE NOW MAKING against me.

In other words “They’ve got nothing!” Although, they’ve got ONE THING right. I AM a Christian. V14

14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

There’s that same theme again. before God. And he continues. How he’s according to JEWISH law.

And then in v19, he introduces ANOTHER bit of important information. The people who ACCUSED me/ aren’t even HERE. It doesn’t say much for their case.

And because there’s no-one else who can present anything NEW, Felix adjourns the case. The Jews go home, and Paul’s placed under house arrest – as much for his own safety as to stop him escaping.

But it’s not the end of today’s story. Because there’s something about Paul and his words that have got under Felix’s skin. It’s an intriguing little episode. And it tells us SOMETHING ELSE about the way of the cross. Have a look at v24

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.

Still the judge sitting in court. Still weighing the evidence. But this time about the claims of Jesus. About eternal life. About forgiveness. A fresh start.

But look at the sticking point. Where Paul’s message gets a little difficult to swallow. A bit personal. V25.

25 As Paul discoursed on RIGHTEOUSNESS, SELF-CONTROL AND THE JUDGMENT TO COME, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

You see, the message of Jesus is two-sided. On the ONE HAND, he’s SAVIOUR. A rescuer from sin and and punishment. The one who offers a clean slate.

But he’s also LORD. The one who demands allegiance. And repentance. And change. The one who demands that we FOLLOW. And the one who’s coming back TO JUDGE.

And there’s plenty of people who like the ONE side of the message. Without being too keen on the OTHER bit. Because the OTHER bit means CHANGE. Changing BEHAVIOUR. And handing over control.

Paul may even have mentioned that if they wanted to have Jesus as SAVIOUR – that they needed to DENY THEMSELVES, TAKE UP THEIR CROSSES, AND FOLLOW HIM.

It was a message Felix and Drusilla desperately needed to hear. Self-control and righteous living were things they were notoriously SHORT on. But, perhaps not surprisingly, they weren’t interested. Felix was afraid, and said, “That’s enough for now!”

I wonder how many people there’ve been over the years who’ve had exactly the same response. “I like the RESCUING bit. But I’m not sure about the FOLLOWING bit.”

Or what about YOU? You’re here because of the GOOD NEWS that you can be RESCUED. But how keen are you on the FOLLOWING bit? The bit about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come?

And what does YOUR LIFE say? What CHANGE can people see in YOU because you’re FOLLOWING Jesus? And taking up your cross.

I caught the new Jamie Oliver show during the week. And one of his off-siders was interviewing young people to work in the new restaurant. And he asked the question, “What would your best friend say you were like? How would he describe you?”

When it comes to taking up your cross and following Jesus? When it comes to self-control and righteousness? What would your best friend say about you? What PROGRESS would they notice?

Would they notice a change in your language? Or your impatience and temper? Or your attitude to your parents, or your boss, or that annoying neighbour? Would they see a change in the way you played sport? Or in how you spent your money? Or in how much you helped out around home?

Or let’s get a little more personal. The things your best friend CAN’T see. When it comes to Bible-reading and prayer – how well are you FOLLOWING Jesus? Or the things you look at, and think about, when no-one’s looking.

Every day you have countless small decisions to make. Of choosing to deny yourself. To follow Christ. Or choosing to deny Christ. And follow yourself instead.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

Let me return to Elisabeth Elliot. Listen to what her biographer writes about her on the subject of taking up your cross.

“Elliot sees in the younger generation an aversion not so much to the grand cause of martyrdom but TO THE MUNDANE DISCIPLINE OF YIELDING TO CHRIST’S LORDSHIP IN THE SMALL THINGS. She says about mission college students;

“These students know that five missionaries were killed in 1956 and that was a very dramatic event … still in the minds of many…But the great question is how you respond to the TINY, LITTLE THINGS which are NOT DRAMATIC and NOT HEROIC. But those are the ways the cross is most often going to be presented to us.

“My impression is that they have not had the same kind of earnestness and preparation for suffering. America loves comfort and fun. And we need to face squarely the words that ‘If we endure, we shall also reign with Him’ (2 Tim. 2:12).

I want to do my best to pass on to younger people those soldierly qualities and necessities that we have to learn. Jesus spelled it out very clearly that, if we were going to follow Him, there was going to be suffering. It’s not going to be different.”

THERE IS NO OTHER WAY EXCEPT THE WAY OF THE CROSS. Jesus made it so crystal clear. He simply said, ‘If you want to be my disciple…,’ and that stands just exactly the same way today. He is saying that to each of us, ‘Do you want to be my disciple?’

“If the answer is ‘yes,’ then there can be no question about the willingness to fulfill the three conditions of discipleship which is [first of all] to give up your right to yourself–and that flies in the face of everything that the world is saying. When the world is saying ‘be good to yourself, work on yourself, do your own thing,’ that is the absolute opposite of giving up your right to yourself. You can’t take up the cross until you’ve given up your right to yourself.

“The second condition is ‘take up your cross,’ and that certainly means suffering of one sort or another. And the third thing, of course, is ‘to follow.’ And that means a determined obedience, from here to eternity.

“You don’t tell God you will do two years of missionary work, period, and consider that you have done your job. Following means one step at a time, one day at a time, but we have a Leader who will show us the way.”

And THAT/ DOESN’T change. Whether we’re in Ecuador, or America, or Caesarea, or Blacktown.

Let me finish with a declaration you MAY have heard of. It describes perfectly this sort of cross-bearing life. And I pray it may be YOUR declaration too.

It’s originally from a book “Words Aptly spoken” by Bob Moorehead. It’s called The Fellowship of the Unashamed

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.

My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, tamed vision, mundane talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, love with patience, rely on prayer, and labour with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my guide is reliable, and my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ. I am disciple of Jesus. I must go until He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know and work till He stops me.

And when He comes for His own, He’ll have no problem recognizing me. For my colours will be clear.

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