“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.” (Acts 14:1–7, ESV)
Our world is seriously divided today. The divisions are greater than almost anytime I can remember, though the Civil Rights movement along with the protests against the Vietnam military action (war) were pretty serious too. Yet there was a significant difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of peace and he worked hard to keep the civil rights battle non-violent. He did not sacrifice his principles, and what he was calling for was a specific change. Everyone, especially now, should read again and again that famous speech King made on August 28, 1963. You can find it here.
Today, the violence in our major cities is irrational. How can such destruction, crime, and death result in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I am afraid that there are some people who in the past, restrained by the Spirit of God, simply want to destroy anything they can see and touch. As in Iconium, their minds have been poisoned by unscrupulous leaders, university professors, politicians, and just plain anti-nomians.
At the same time, the American churches have forgotten the gospel. We have remembered part of it; the part with God’s love and grace. We have preached that anyone and everyone can enter the Kingdom if they would believe in Jesus Christ. But we have forgotten the hard part.
““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34–39, ESV)
These words of Jesus are an echo of the prophecy of Micah:
“The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:2–7, ESV)
It is frightening how the words from the ancient past accurately describe what we are living today. The basic truth, though, has never changed. All humanity is effectively separated from God by sin. The promise of Christ who would come to bring reconciliation would naturally cause the division between God and humanity to the fore. Those who look to God and Christ for their salvation do find it and experience forgiveness of sin and relationship with the Creator of all that is.
However, from Adam throughout all time, there are those who make the choice to oppose Christ and his salvation. They have a better way. And so, as in Iconium, peace becomes division all because many turned their lives to the one and only God. And division plots violence against God and his people. Haven’t you wondered why Americans tolerate every religion under the sun except Christianity? Could it be because Christians answer to a greater God and have his authoritative word? To make accommodation to any governments of the world is to deny the rule of Jesus Christ.
I am not suggesting that Christians become opposition to the government. Some have taken it this way. But we are to remain apart from the world while respecting the government as an instrument of God preserving life and order while he continues to gather his sheep. And that is the real problem. For decades, we have allowed human ideas to prevail over godly ideals. We have trusted the ungodly to educate our children naively thinking they had no agenda other than reading, writing and arithmetic. Once it became too late, we discovered that all humanistic education was a transforming of young minds slowly, generation by generation, until we arrive to a world that has not taught our children how to reason and think but what to think without reason.
So, in 2020 we have arrived. The great divide between God and man is before us in dramatic fashion. Jesus said it would happen and this is not the first time it is happening. And now can be the Church’s finest hour, or its saddest. We call all people to the gospel. We call them to the love of Christ who died for them. We call them to the grace of God who sent is Son to die for them.
When Jesus said he would bring a division between parent and child, he was not saying the child must stop loving the parent or the parent must stop loving their child in order to love God and become a disciple of Christ. He was saying that there must be a priority of love. “Whoever finds his live will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The great chasm between God and man has been bridged by the love of God. When the Spirit brings Christ’s reconciliation and applies it to me, I become a different me; one who loves the Lord my God with all my heart, all my strength, and all my mind.
The divide will be closed one day. Jesus will return to the earth for his final judgment. He will separate his sheep from the goats, his wheat from the chaff. It is interesting to me that in Acts 14, what has been translated as “unbelieving Jews” is really “disobedient Jews.” The “Jews” part is not what is important and to be clear, disobedient Jews implies there were obedient Jews. Paul was one. But the interesting part is that disobedience is really the foundation of all unbelief. Opposition to God, oppositions to God ordained government, opposition to the Word of Truth is what we are facing in our world today.
The judgment of God comes in many forms, and the rebellion and irrationality of violence may be one of them. But it is God who judges. We do not bring judgment on anyone. However, as my mother always said, actions speak louder than words, and we can discern those who love God from those who do not by their actions. And seeing so many who have been led astray must break our hearts. Because we have the only answer there is.
Nevertheless, division will remain, and Christian faith will always be a matter of bearing a cross. You can label the division however you like:
- Democrat versus Republican
- Conservative versus Liberal
- White versus Black or Black versus White
- Educated versus Uneducated
- Rich versus poor
When all is said and done, none of these divisions, perceived or real, is what Jesus Christ will look for when he returns. There is only one great division from which all others flow: the division between those who believe and those who don’t. Care must be taken by those who believe, for we all know that our faith was not something we could produce on our own. Neither is it possible for the unbeliever to turn from their disobedience apart from the grace of God and the Holy Spirit.
In the meantime, we who believe must pray for peace and proclaim the gospel always and everywhere. It is our calling. The Truth proclaimed is for those who do not believe that they may believe, or that they have no excuse when Christ returns.
Maranatha. Come quickly Lord Jesus. And make us faithful.