The Zealot and the Tax Collector

Mark 3:18 lists among Jesus’ 12 disciples “Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot.”

Matthew was a former tax collector for the Roman Empire, while Warren Wiersbe notes that “The Zealots were a group of Jewish extremists organized to overthrow Rome, and they used every means available to advance their cause. The historian Josephus called them ‘daggermen.’ It would be interesting to know how Simon the Zealot responded when he first met Matthew, a former employee of Rome.” They learned to prioritize following Jesus, but I suspect it took some time and patience on Jesus’ part.

No enemy of God is beyond His grace, and no enemy of yours is beyond His grace either!

This post was originally shared in December 2021, and referenced another recently re-posted blog about Zacchaeus, another tax collector Jesus loved: Found! A Man in Need of an Ally

Photo I took at the entrance to Westminster Abbey in July 2022.

Don’t Kick Against the Goads

The Apostle Paul, author of much of the New Testament, was first called Saul and was a very different person before meeting Christ.  As Saul, he saw no contradiction between persecuting his religious enemies (the new Christian church) and being righteous under the law.  He also may also have seen Christianity as a political threat, a new religion that would upset the balance of power between the Jews of the first century and the occupying Romans by demanding loyalty to a higher power above Rome.  From this perspective, he may have thought his religion required persecution of those who disagreed.

Luke, author of Acts, describes Saul’s pre-Christian life like this:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” – Acts 9:1-2

Paul himself does not deny this past, writing to the church in Galatia:

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” – Galatians 1:13

But when confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus as referred to in Acts 9 above, the Lord asked him to his face: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14).  This is a strange expression for us, but to “kick against the goads” meant that by fighting against God’s will (including His grace for His people in any nation or tribe), Saul was only hurting himself.  Goads were sticks that were pointed on one end and used to prod oxen to move where a farmer wanted them to go.  A stubborn ox who decided to resist would “kick against the goads,” only leading to more pain.  Persecuting the absolute Lord of the universe is not a good idea.

Saul learned his lesson and after that confrontation, changed his name to Paul, a man transformed in how he treated those he might consider enemies.  He went from “breathing threats and murder” against Christians, to wishing for the salvation of the Jews, and anyone who would listen:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved.” – Romans 10:1

In Christ, His hate for the “other” became compassion.  Saul wanted to put his enemies to death; Paul wanted to put his own sin to death.  He never shied away from his brutal past, but he also began nearly all of his letters to the early churches with a greeting like this one at the beginning of Galatians:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” – Galatians 1:3

Dear fellow travelers, as I mentioned in an earlier post about why I use that particular greeting, “Let’s strive to bring grace and peace to every encounter we have as we travel through this world.”  Even with those we might consider enemies.

Sola Gratia

How Bad Was Rahab’s Lie?

In chapter two of the book of Joshua we meet a prostitute named Rahab, who lived in Jericho.  When Joshua sent spies into Jericho, Rahab hid them and lied about it.  Bible commentators have a lot of things to say about Rahab’s lie:  Perhaps a lie isn’t as bad a sin as letting the spies be caught.  Maybe it was ok because she did it for a good reason.  Or it was ok because it was somehow in faith.  These explanations should worry us, because if we accept any of them, we can be tempted to apply the same principles anywhere we see fit.  Should we rank sins, and allow ourselves to “only” do the lesser ones?  Or only do them when we think it is in the best interest of the church or our country?  Should murder or other crimes be allowed when we think it is for the greater good of mankind?

I think what really makes the story of Rahab tricky isn’t whether what she did was a sin, but that we know – in general – that God works through sinners, but we don’t like to think that through to the specifics.  We don’t want the sins of the sinner to happen quite so close to God’s action of working through sinners.  It makes us a little uncomfortable, but the truth is that God has only worked through one sinless person ever – Jesus.  Every other person He has used has sinned, and God’s will has always come out ahead.

The message of Rahab’s lie might not be that sin is sometimes ok.  It might be that no matter how bad our sin, Christ’s sacrifice is greater.  Without this being true, there is no gospel, but somehow it still makes us uncomfortable at times and we want an explanation for God using sinners that just isn’t there, except the explanation of the cross.

Sometimes God’s grace overwhelms our sin, and we succeed in spite of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we did the right thing.  Thank God for His love and let His grace overwhelm you today!  Don’t look for explanations or excuses, but kneel before the cross where sins of all kinds and degrees were paid for.

Three Blessings to Count Today

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

Some say that grace stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, but what are these riches?  David says at the end of Psalm 144 that:

Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
            Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!”

The desire of the Lord is to bless His people, in part in this world, and fully in the next.  The verse above follows verses 12-14, which list three specific blessings: family, prosperity, and safety:

May our sons in their youth
            be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
            cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full,
            providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
            and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young,
            suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!”

Knowing God is no immediate guarantee of these things, but we may ask Him for them, and know that when we do receive them, they come from Him.  He has paid for our riches and our blessings in full on the cross, so that in Paradise we will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), be eternally His family (Ephesians 1:5), and our pain and tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4).

Today, count these blessings, praise God for them, and pray that His people will hope in His provision forever!

Forgiveness and Its Alternatives: A Quint of Quotes #6

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

Dear fellow travelers,

Today’s Rewind Wednesday takes a quote I posted last year (do you know which one?), adds four more, and creates another “Quint of Quotes.”  These quints are five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  Hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“You can have vengeance, or peace, but you can’t have both” – Herbert Hoover, after World War II

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” -Malachy McCourt, Irish-American actor, writer and politician

“Forgiveness is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performs. It meets the greatest need; it costs the greatest price; and it brings the greatest blessing and the most lasting results.”  – Warren Wiersbe

“In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” – Francis Bacon

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” – Jesus, in Luke 6:32-33

See previous Quints and other posts on quotes here.