This speech in Acts 22 is Paul’s thesis statement; his most complete defense of the mission to which he has dedicated his life. He pours all his rhetorical talent into it - he addresses the people in their own language, he draws a connection with them by explaining that he too was a Jew trained in Jerusalem. He shared their devotion to God, and their values. And you can just hear them starting to change their minds, leaning in to listen closer...
But then, he talked about his mission to the Gentiles, and they decided they had heard enough. For all Paul’s skill as an orator, this was simply one message they would not, could not, accept.
What was it that they refused to believe? What was it that angered them? Simply this: God loved their enemies, the Gentiles. That God cared for the people that they despised.
The residents of Jerusalem aren’t the only ones who struggle with that message. We live in a world torn apart by millenia-old grudges that fuel centuries-long wars. We live in a country polarized by political partisanship, where each side refuses to see the good in the other. We live in a society paralyzed by fear - fear of people who live across the border, fear of those who believe differently than we do, fear of people who look different than us.
It is tempting for us to succumb to that fear and hatred - and sadly, many who call themselves Christians do exactly that. But Christ has called us to do better - to be better. He commands us to love: to love our families, our neighbors, and yes, even those who hate us. He calls us to be like Paul, who gave up comfort and security to bring the Gospel to people who frequently respond with violence. He calls us to be like Christ - to self-sacrificially love even those who would nail you to a cross.
Who is He calling you to love today? Who has He put in your path who needs His grace? Are you willing to follow?
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