by Michael E. Brooks
“When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill him” (Acts 5:33 NKJV).
“Then he said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live'” (Acts 22:21-22).
I was in a discussion with fellow missionaries recently when the conversation turned to the psychology of mob action. One man, referring to his experiences in Islamic countries, stated, “Someone cries ‘Allah Aqbar’ and everyone starts fighting with sticks and weapons.”
There are numerous instances of this in the Bible. In Acts 5, the Jewish leaders were made angry by the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. In the story told in Acts 22, Paul’s life was endangered because he dared to say that the Jews were not the only people whom God loved.
Our secular society might point to these incidents and use them to condemn religious faith. To many all believers are fanatics, willing to go to war or commit violence on behalf of their creeds. This is simply intolerable to their way of thinking.
While I certainly agree that war and violence are not appropriate ways to express Christian faith, I do find a positive lesson for us in these incidents. The Jews of the first century cared enough about their religion to respond passionately in its defense.
I must ask, how many of us are deeply enough involved in our religious beliefs to even perceive a true threat? And if we do, how many love their religion enough to defend it with such passion? As wrong as they were in so many ways, the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were not wrong in their love for God’s Law.
Granted, they were wrong in their understanding and application of the Law. They were wrong in their personal hypocrisy. They were even wrong in their exclusive appropriation of God as belonging only to them. But they were very right in their zeal for the true God.
Genuine religion is not and never has been a promoter of unjust war and violence. When those things result from religious motives, one can be assured that men have perverted and misapplied faith.
Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love, not hatred; peace, not wrath–these are the marks of faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ.
In all of the time he spent on this earth as a human, the only time we are told of Jesus’ demonstrating anger was because of the desecration of God’s Holy Temple (John 2:13-17). He could overlook any insult or threat to himself, but would not allow his Father to be disrespected.
Should not that also be our stance? Men cannot truly harm us (Matthew 10:28). They may destroy the body, but cannot harm our eternal soul. It is in the hands of God. He is our refuge. He deserves our worship and our love.
“I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. . . . The Lord lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted” (Psalm 18:3, 46).