Monday, April 1, 2013

New Beginnings

Last night, my family and I watched the final part of The Bible.  I was particularly struck by Con O’Neill’s portrayal of Paul, and the provided dialogue that guided his performance.  In the episode, it is Paul who confronts Stephen about his preaching and who also riles a crowd up to stone the young preacher.  Of course, this is a stylized version of Acts 6:8-8:1, where Stephen does preach before the Jewish religious leaders and where Paul is present for Stephen’s stoning.  However, all Luke records for us in terms of Paul’s participation is that he held the cloaks of those who stoned our first martyr (Acts 7:58).  Yet, it does provide the motivation for Paul’s holy war against the first Christians, which we read about in Acts 8.  As Acts 9 tells us, Paul is given orders to go as far north as Damascus to arrest Christians.  On the way, however, he has a “come to Jesus moment”—literally.  Blinded and broken, Paul is taken to Damascus where a Christian named Ananias preaches to Paul, heals him of his blindness and baptizes him.  Paul is now ready to “proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).  However, the initial reception to Paul’s conversion is not positive.  Yet, in a fleeting moment, Paul offers his only sermon in the miniseries—the famous words of 1 Corinthians 13.  He preaches about love and forgiveness, how God has offered both to him and how Paul now wants to offer (and receive) both from others.  “Love is patient; love is kind. . .It bears all things. . .Love never ends” (13:4, 7, 8).

As I was watching this, Paul’s words from Colossians 3 popped into my head, probably because this was the most recent sermon that I had preached prior to Easter.  There Paul writes, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:2-3).  In order to do this, we must get rid of all of the bad stuff in our lives, of which Paul uses abusive and inappropriate language as an example (3:8).  As Christians, we “have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed [ourselves] with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (3:9-10).  In short, we have traded one life for another.  We have made a new beginning.  If there were ever a Christian who understood that concept, it was Paul.  He had blindly beaten, arrested and killed Christians in the name of God.  Yet, now he could see clearly the will and way of God.  God was patient with Paul.  God showed kindness to Paul.  God forgave Paul.  God used Paul to spread the Gospel across the globe.  And God can do the same for you.

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