by: Rev. Ed Schneider
In the last chapter of Acts it seemingly ends the story of an incredibly hard sequence of events in the life of Paul. Within a few short years Paul had been through the most difficult of times. His newly found awakening of the life and mission of Jesus had cost him greatly. Earlier in Acts it tells of Paul having a life-changing experience on the way to do harm to a group of followers of Jesus when a powerfully blinding “light” shone down upon him and knocked him off the horse he was riding. While on the ground trying to physically recover from this stunning event Paul reported that he received a message from Jesus himself, the “presumed” dead leader of this revolutionary sect of Jews. The message basically said, “Paul, why are you causing me all this trouble? If you are attacking My followers you are attacking Me. Stop this nonsense! Get up right now and follow Me.”
Wow! What a day!
Of course as many of you already know Paul’s “physical sight” eventually returned and he was able to see the world through a new set of eyes. Paul had literally heard the “voice of Jesus” both questioning him about his old life and calling him into a new way of living. Paul was completely aware that Jesus had already been killed and buried several years ago and he was absolutely sure that the “only way” he could have heard the “literal voice” of Jesus was if the resurrection stories he had heard were true. To say the least, Paul became convinced that he had experienced a “personal” and completely authentic “resurrection” moment. Shortly nothing else mattered in his life more than telling anyone and everyone about the reality of the “risen” Lord. That is exactly when all the trouble started.
Beloved, I’m sure you remember Paul had been one of the “up-and-comers” in the Pharisaic Movement. He had been one of the significant characters in the drama of stamping out this revolutionary group of Jews who believed in not only the teaching of Jesus but also in his resurrection. When Paul “changed sides” all hell broke lose on his life. What used to be his “friendly associates” were now his devoted enemies.
Just a few years later, after Paul had returned to Jerusalem from a missionary journey he was brought before the leadership of the Jesus Movement and warned that there were those who were looking to destroy him because they believed he had insulted the culture and beliefs of his fellow Jews. In an attempt to quiet down the acrimony James, the brother of Jesus, suggested to Paul to go to the Temple and participate in a cleansing and dedication ceremony that included shaving his head, reaffirming his religious faith, and commitment to the Law of Moses. The hope was that if Paul would demonstrate his open respect for the Temple, the Law, and to the concerns of other Jewish leadership the trouble surrounding Paul would lessen and he could then continue his work for the cause of Christ.
Well, that didn’t happen. A bunch of folks became abundantly angry when they saw him involved in the Temple ceremony. They eventually pulled out of the Temple and began to beat “the stuffing” out of Paul. Eventually the Roman authorities had to intervene. A series of hearings and trials took place and even though Paul was continuously found not guilty of the charges that had been thrown in his direction he was kept either under the protection of, or imprisoned by, the Roman authorities.
While waiting for his freedom during a two year stint in prison (after being yet again found not guilty) he continued to preach the “resurrected” Word-of-God to all that he could. Paul was absolutely relentless in his commitment to enlightening those around him through his empowered “new sight.” He wanted others to experience this new way of seeing the world. He felt secure that what he was going through was merely something that all followers of “the Way” were to endure.
Paul was constantly being reminded of the uplifting words of Jesus spoke directly to him. The resurrected Christ had something like, “Don’t worry, I will protect you from harm.” It is certainly reasonable to assume that if Paul believed he had personally experienced the “voice of Jesus” what in this world would he have to fear. Given that belief, Paul firmly concluded that nothing was going to delay the mission that was now on his life. No delays or denials. There would be no trouble that couldn’t be overcome with faith or trial that couldn’t be divinely maneuvered through.
Just a few months later, carrying a very friendly letter from a high ranking Roman official explaining Paul’s innocence, he was being transported to Rome to have an audience with The Emperor with the hope that this horrible episode in his life could end.
Given everything else that had happened to Paul since his conversion to Christ’s call, it isn’t surprising that he soon found himself shipwrecked on the island of Malta during the journey during the early months of winter. As he and others were being warmed by a roaring fire a snake slithered out from under a wood pile and bit Paul on the hand. The snake must have been a very angry critter because it didn’t just bite Paul and move on. No. That snake sunk its fangs deep into him and wouldn’t let go. Paul stood up with the snake hanging off his hand and pulled that thing off his hand and proceeded to throw it into the raging fire.
As Paul was feeling the sting of the bite The folks who were gathered around the fire thought the snake attack must be a “sign” of Paul’s actual guilt. I am absolutely sure they watched Paul expecting to see his hand swelling from the poison and his death to follow shortly thereafter. When there arose no swelling and no death all who witnessed the bite changed their minds about what had happened. They now believed. They had their own “life-changing” encounter with the proof of God’s miracle working power.
For me the story here is not so much the snake itself but rather what Paul did after he was bitten. Just like the rest of his new life “in Christ” he refused to let current circumstances hinder or halt the mission that God had placed on his life. What did Paul do after he was bitten? He went back to work for the cause of Christ. Paul went on to heal the sick, to facilitate the freedom of those who had been captured by their preconceived notions of who and what God is. The great apostle also passionately refused to give one inch to others who tried to convince him over and over again that he was grossly mistaken about his resurrection experience. He would have none of that!
Beloved, just like Paul, all believers, all those who claim to have had their own personal life-changing…falling of the horse…learning how to see with new eyes…”Jesus experience” need to be encouraged that you too can throw off that snake that will every once in a while unexpectedly bite you. Just like Paul, you too can continually redefine how you experience this life with a hope for the next. Believers who are growing in the service of God’s kingdom and the associated call of Christ shouldn’t let current circumstances good or bad keep us from the mission of sharing the Jesus that lives in each one of us. So, Beloved, throw off that snake and get back to work. Peace.