Spending recent Sunday mornings at Faith Bible Church in Chapters 21-24 of Acts, one of the topics we've looked at is the intense and irrational rage directed at St. Paul by Ananias, the unbelieving leaders in the Council, and Paul's enemies from Asia who had been stalking him for months. It was a hatred that had led to serious breaches of the Law, lies, profaning the temple, and a murder plot by over 40 conspirators who were willing to risk the wrath of Rome on themselves and the people of Jerusalem for the slim hope of silencing the apostle of the Way forever.
It makes for riveting but chilling reading.
Why this compulsion to kill Paul? There are several attendant reasons: arrogance, power lust, jealousy, fear. But the most important of all was simply that Paul represented Jesus Christ. And, as Jesus had warned his followers, they will hate you and persecute you and lie about you and direct all sorts of evil against you...because you represent the Christ.
Men hate the light because they love the darkness. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They want to bury (deep and forever) anything that challenges their self-centered worldview. And to do so they will lie, malign, cheat, turn hypocrite against even their own moral standards, and sometimes proceed to violence against the source of conviction. Anything and everything to strike back against the light.
These issues were fresh on my mind then last Monday, the day immediately following my sermon on Acts 24, when I was out in front of the Bellevue abortion mill with my big, beautiful baby sign and my flowing banner which reads, "Mom, We Care About You and Your Baby." (Claire and Carol were on the east side of the building near the entrance.) Having been a sidewalk counselor for nearly 30 years has pretty much hardened me to the taunts, the nasty jeers, the threats and the imbecilic slogans that come from the street. But for the first hour the oppression was certainly above average, giving me plenty of pause to think about how the malignant motives and malevolent methods used by Paul's enemies in the first century were the same that Christians face in the twenty-first.
And yet I was still caught off guard when the police cruiser rolled up later in the morning and I found myself being accused of...get this...throwing a rock at one of the abortion clients! I've often said that nothing surprises me anymore. I was wrong -- this did.
The cop, a grumpy sort of fellow who openly admitted that the job had made him a cynic, took the whole thing quite seriously. He had already grumbled at Claire and Carol before spending 30 minutes inside the abortion clinic -- 30 minutes in which we thought he might have been watching us through the cameras set up around the building to see if we were walking in front of a driveway or something. Nope; he was getting the lowdown from the abortionists about the claim by one of the abortion clients that one of us (Dick Loneman had arrived shortly before this particular couple had driven in to the lot) had thrown a rock at her.
We were calm and courteous (always advisable towards a cop) but when he started asking for addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and employers, I asked, "Officer, may I ask why on earth you need all this information? You know this is a bogus charge. So why the hassle?" The policeman gave me a steely gaze, "I've learned not to believe anybody."
"Yeah, I understand," I said, "but seriously, man; can't you see the absurdity of a 58-year old man, the director of a Christian organization for 30 years and a pastor of a church, throwing a rock at someone? I mean, look at my signs. I want to appeal to these people to come over and talk to me about the alternatives to abortion. I want them to know I'm their friend, that I'm on their side. A rock? Look at those cameras ringing the building. Am I going to toss a rock with those trained on me. They won't miss a trick. And, for crying out loud, look over at the young man who is still sitting inside the vehicle. Why don't you ask him if I threw a rock at his girlfriend and, if he says yes, ask him why he sat on his duff and didn't come out to confront me."
The cop only repeated himself that he couldn't afford to believe anyone. Sigh. I replied, "Yeah, okay; I've got that. So why don't you just go in and see what the cameras showed. I mean, they're all over the place and we're glad they are because it protects us from goofy charges like this one. Go ahead, man; it's a simple enough solution. Just go watch the tape."
His reaction surprised us. He kind of stammered about "that kind of thing, uh, well that evidence isn't always readily...you see, we sometimes need to gather that at a later time...you know, the processing of that takes time and..." Huh? Did he not notice the cameras? Had he noticed them but had been told by the abortionists that they weren't working? (That would have been a convenient lapse seeing that the tape would have absolved us of the scurrilous lie.) Perhaps the fellow's Humean skepticism extended to photographic images as well.
By this time Claire was present and was discreetly videotaping the conversation. The officer went ahead gathering info from Dick and I (which we politely gave) so that he could complete an official police report. But he then assured us that it would be a closed matter. Oh, really? Like even a Sarpy County prosecutor would relish trying to make this stick? Goodness.
But then I seemed to hear the apostle whisper, "Remember Ananias? Remember Felix? How about Festus and Herod Agrippa II? Reason and justice can be easily cast aside even in courts of law when the hatred of Christianity is intense in a culture."
Yeah; that's right. And we have undergone such things over the years. I was once arrested on a Saturday morning for breaking a picketing law that had been overthrown because of a successful lawsuit I had won against the City of Omaha just a few days before. I showed the policeman the front page newspaper story about the matter and urged him to at least call his watch officer before making such a dumb arrest. Didn't matter. I spent most of the day in a lock up.
Another morning a young woman was literally being dragged into the abortion clinic. She was screaming for help and I went to her aid only to be physically attacked by several abortion escorts -- this while other escorts aided the girl's mother in pulling her into the abortion clinic. This was done in front of dozens of witnesses. Yet when the police arrived, not only did they refuse to go rescue the girl who was being forced into an abortion, they arrested me! The county prosecutor declined to take the case forward. That was nice but then he wouldn't pursue any charges whatsoever against the abortion escorts.
Yet another case that comes to mind (I'm afraid I could cite several) was when Kevin Carney was arrested for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic driveway. Kevin had several character witnesses who explained he didn't do this kind of thing. Plus he had two witnesses who were present with him on the very morning of his arrest. They testified that he had not blocked any driveway. The abortionist came up with two witnesses who said that Kevin did -- though their testimony was convoluted and wildly contradictory. (They had been sequestered and didn't realize that while one claimed Kev had blocked the south driveway, the other claimed he had blocked the one on the north side!) Nevertheless, he was convicted! (Our appeal though was successful.)
So yes, "reason and justice can be easily cast aside even in courts of law when the hatred of Christianity is intense in a culture." Therefore, our trust must be as Paul's was -- in the providential wisdom of the gracious God, the God of light and truth and mercy, the God Who gives His children a joyful strength to endure everything from taunts from the street and feckless charges of rock-throwing to the much more severe trials of unjust scandal, imprisonment, and even violence that faced our Lord, the apostles and countless martyrs throughout history.
"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11, 12)