November 25, 2014
They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
Paul knew how to open a conversation about the Gospel, and he knew how to end one. In today’s text he decides to go apostolic-nuclear on the Jews from Rome. Why? Here’s my theory.
There’s a type of sickness worse than death. Here are the symptoms: Eyes that see and yet functionally blind, ears that hear and yet functionally deaf, hearts that beat and yet functionally dead. This is the worst kind of sickness because by all appearances everything is fine. Even worse, everyone knows it but the one who has it. I suppose that’s the essence of self deception isn’t it?
To be self deceived is to suffer from immunity to the cure.
Perhaps the most damning symptom of this kind of infection is the self assured conviction you don’t have it.
The only thing worse than a self deceived person is a self deceived religious expert. About the only hope is some kind of train wreck or horse wreck as the case may be. Who knew this better than Paul. Maybe that’s why he was so slow to give up on his former colleagues. Paul knew what it meant to have a hard heart; to be convinced you are giving God the highest worship only to shockingly discover it was pure, unadulterated idolatry.
That’s what we’re dealing with here– idolatry. People inevitably become what they behold– for better or for worse. An idol has eyes but cannot see; ears but cannot hear, and a heart but cannot feel. When one’s worship of “God” becomes driven by self preservation or self gain they have slipped from worship to idolatry. To worship an idol is to worship oneself. Their religion consists in self deceived manipulation of the so-called “god.” “If we do this, God will have to bless and prosper us,” the thinking goes. It runs the gamut from the prosperity gospel to Islamic suicide bombers.
Take the latter as an extreme example. People who strap on suicide vests and detonate them in public markets do so not so much because they are deranged but because they are devoted. They believe such an act will return to them immediate, extravagant, and eternal blessing. Paul is a classic example. His devotion to “god” led him to kill Christians, and he had no idea of it. He was utterly self deceived. He had become deaf to the word of God, blind to the image of God and dead to the compassion of God. He had become the absolute worst version of his God created self. That’s what idolatry does.
Idolatry always eventually casts a long shadow of injustice. It leads people to do things they never imagined they would do. It’s because idolatry cloaks itself in the slow seduction of self deception.
The Isaiah 6 card is pretty much a game ender. Apparently Paul ran every play in his book to no avail. Finally, he played Isaiah 6: the apostolic nuclear option. Why? Because idolatry is a matter of life and death.
The Gospel, by its very nature, is confrontational. It doesn’t need our help. Sometimes, though, we must take it to the extreme. Sometimes it will require a willingness to possibly lose our friends in order to save their lives.
When all else fails, and there’s love in your heart for your hearers, don’t be afraid to go there. It may be their last best chance.
COME HOLY SPIRIT!
P.S. Tomorrow will bring our journey through Acts to a close. I’m considering giving you a break from me on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (we will see) to get geared up for a Daily Text Advent Series we’re calling RESET. I know. I know. I’ve already gotten you interested in the Advent book for this year, Not Yet Christmas. It’s Time for Advent. There may still be time to have it delivered for a Monday start if you hurry. The 25% discount stands if you use the code DAILYTEXT. Regardless, thanks for taking the Acts journey with me. I’ve learned a lot and been blessed by your encouragement.
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