EYE FOR AN EYE
"The people in the crowd had listened attentively up to this point, but now they broke loose, shouting out, 'Kill him! He's an insect! Stomp on him!' They shook their fists. They filled the air with curses. That's when the captain intervened and ordered Paul taken into the barracks. By now the captain was thoroughly exasperated. He decided to interrogate Paul under torture in order to get to the bottom of this, to find out what he had done that provoked this outraged violence. As they spread-eagled him with thongs, getting him ready for the whip, Paul said to the centurion standing there, 'Is this legal: torturing a Roman citizen without a fair trial?'" Acts 22:22-25 (The Message).
What set the crowd off again? They had been listening to Paul's story without any reaction up to this point, but at the mention of "Gentiles" they went crazy, demanding his annihilation as though he were a bug. This puzzled the Roman captain. What was it with these people? Why this pathological hatred of Paul?
He thought that there was something more sinister to this man, Paul, that he was not letting on about; he would wring it out of him under torture. Flogging him would do the trick, so he thought.
Paul was not looking forward to yet another beating, Roman style. He had one card up his sleeve to put a stop to it which he quickly pulled out while he had the chance -- Roman citizenship. He did not whine to God about this unfair treatment. He used the system of the world he was in to protect himself from unnecessary suffering. There was enough of that ahead for him over which he had no power.
What should our response be to the injustices we, as believers, have to suffer at the hands of religious bigots? Jesus had an answer that befits citizens of the kingdom of God whose task it is to bring heaven down to earth. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV).
Strange as it may seem, Jesus maintained that persecution was a reason to rejoice, firstly because there is a great reward for those who are unashamedly loyal to Him and follow Him with no qualms; and secondly, because you are in good company since their own prophets received the same treatment as you are receiving.
James also wrote about the benefits of various trials and tests. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James1:2-4 (NIV).
Peter had this to say about the trials the believers were undergoing in his day: "In this (all the benefits of salvation) you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, These have come so that your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire -- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1 Peter 1:7 (NIV).
Paul also recognised the benefits of suffering: "Therefore we do not lost heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV).
What is God's take in this? Will those who inflict pain on His people simply because they belong to Jesus and bear witness to His grace, never receive the justice they deserve for the injustice they have done against other human beings?
"You're suffering now, but justice is on the way. When the Master Jesus appears out of heaven in a blaze of fire with His strong angels, He'll even up the score by settling accounts with those who gave you such a bad time. His coming will be the break we are waiting for. Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they've done." 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 (The Message).
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