The Incarceration Incarnation

Acts 4:1-4

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Do the Sadducees remind you of anyone? “We don’t like what you are saying, so we’re going to lay our hands on you and throw you in jail.” I try to avoid politics, which by definition is impossible, unless you live on a remote island all by yourself. And if you did you would not be reading this. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, politics are inevitable. I have certainly given hints as to where I stand on the political spectrum. Left and right are complete misnomers in the current cultural climate. Far right has government in control and the far left does as well. That would make me, a radical centrist, by definition and I assure you that is not the case. I am what would best be described as a “libertarian.” Here’s why; the millisecond one takes away the rights of one person, the possibility now exists to remove rights from anyone. This should win every argument but we simply only know what we have been taught, more like, indoctrinated. But at the heart of Libertarianism is the belief that every person is entitled to their opinion and the free exercise of free speech thereof. Libertarianism gives the power to the people by way of voting with their lives; where they purchase, trade, worship, etc. and takes it away from corruptable politicians. Believe it or not, I am going to quote a joke I heard from a mega-church pastor, once again.

A group of men came to a pilot who owned a small plane and asked him to deliver a package across the boarder, no questions asked. They offered him $10,000 to simply fly the package over the boarder where their associates would pick it up. The pilot refused. The men then offered the pilot $20,000. Again the pilot refused. A week or so later, the men arrived with two packages and offered the pilot $50,000 to deliver them over the boarder. Again the pilot refused. But then the men showed up with 3 packages and offered the pilot $100,000 to fly the packages over the boarder. This time the pilot notified the authorities and told them all that had happened. When asked by the authorities why he waited until now to inform them of this activity, the man replied, “because, they were getting really close to my price.” Point: don’t be deceived, everyone has their price, especially politicians, except the apostles and the martyrs.

What does any of this have to do with the context? Notice that John and Peter were arrested by the alleged powers that be for speaking the truth. Many people are like Pilate who rhetorically asked, “What is truth?” However, Jesus claimed that his words are truth. For the believer in Jesus then, the Bible is truth. Therefore Peter and John were jailed for speaking not only the truth, but about the truth. Remember, they had no money and were not making money. They were arrested simply for speaking the truth. They were not crooked politicians, they and their witness can be trusted.

Despite what my title seems to imply, this is actually nothing new. Jeremiah was jailed for speaking the truth as was John the Baptist. However this is new because of what we read in the context. As far as the context, remember that these events took place a mere seven or so weeks after the resurrection of Jesus  and 8 or so weeks after Jesus told his disciples, specifically, alone, “then they will deliver you to tribulation.” And this is where common sense and the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics trump all other dogma and traditions.

My pastor friend was forced to flee from his country over the threats from the powers that allegedly be, concerning the killing of his family, because he spoke the truth. Please pray for him and his family as they adjust to life on the run (can you imagine?). Some of his fellow countrymen who are pastors have been thrown in prison. And yet it is the dogmatic dispensationalists in the United States, who have never been imprisoned, who have claimed that the tribulation is right around the corner, but not until after the rapture of the church. Why? Because it was written to Timothy that men will go from bad to worse. Problems; that was written specifically to Timothy prior to 70 AD. But more importantly, it has surrounding context. Here, context is king; if you have not picked up on these subtle statements. Another problem; we live in the absolute (which is a very strong word) best of times to be able to spread the gospel. The technology that the dogmatic dispensationalists fear, is also the very same technology that Christians can use to easily spread the gospel message. This same technology allows me, in west-central Maine, USA, to converse with Pete, in South Africa, in a little more than a twinkling of an eye, and allows all of you to see it as well. Mark of the beast? Problem; rather than spreading the message of the gospel, we rather seek self-affirming approval from our “friends.” We love our likes on social media. Nevertheless, the stage is set for reaping the white fields of harvest. Which is exactly what Jesus taught John and Peter, who now find themselves in jail, but only for a moment–this time.

As is my custom, I listened to dogmatic dispensationalist while writing this missive. And as often as I write, “context is king,” they call people like me out as mockers and scoffers. While I don’t fault anyone for repeating what they believe, I have trouble when they beat the drum of the same Scripture over and over, out of context. I certainly promote, with much repetitiveness, to consider the context but that is so that the entire Scripture can be applied to our lives, the way in which the authors intended, letting the New Testament interpret the Old and vice a versa. If we don’t, we will find ourselves lead astray by the thoughts of men. Ironically, this is what Jesus said to the priests, Pharisees and Sadducees, the ones who are arresting Peter and John and the ones who the dogmatic dispensationalists argue will once again minister in Jerusalem.

Case in point: on this dogmatic dispensationalist radio program, it was said, “things are so bad that I can’t believe that we are still here.” Almost 2,000 years ago, weeks after Jesus was raised from the dead, and appeared to over 500 people, John and Peter are put in jail for Peter’s eyewitness testimony. Two sermons from Peter and boom, jail. These dogmatic dispensationalists argued that the apostasy in the church is rampant, mainly because the dubious dispensationalist dogma is loosing steam. But does it ever occur to them that in the early church, people visited temple prostitutes as part of worship? They promote Israel and temple restoration and sacrifice as important things to come in the future. But does the entire book of Hebrews escape their minds? What about the book of Galatians, where they were being convinced that they needed to be circumcised and follow the law? What did Paul write to them? Context is king.

Notice today’s text, that even though two apostles were thrown into jail, many who had heard the sermon, believed. Isn’t that what it is all about? Think, for a while, about modern technology, where did it come from? Is it from the devil? Think about modern institutions and where they came from. Universities, hospitals, schools, assembly buildings and the like, were historically, the first things that Christian missionaries would work to institute in the mission fields. “But Russell P, they’ve been taken over by the godless!” Have they, or did we let them go, expecting an imminent rapture? Did we subconsciously acquiesce because  we were taught that the earth must go to hell in a handbasket before Christ can return? In that way, do we believe that we are hastening the day of the Lord?

As we, Lord willing, continue through the book of Acts, we will see how hard a road the apostles had, compared to the serenity and security that we in the West enjoy. The dogmatic dispensationalists always quote, “wars and rumors of wars.” From Matthew 24 also, they rip, “this generation” out of context and say that it is the generation alive in 1948. Do you like numbers? Personally, I hate numbers, which is ironic because I am a builder. My life is full of numbers even though I prefer words. Nevertheless, some need to see the numbers. We will use the year 1948 as our pivotal point, since the dogmatic dispensationalists are obsessed with not only the year 1948, but of “wars and rumors of wars.” Conservatively, over 200 million, people died as a direct or indirect result of war from 1900-1948. In contrast, from 1949-2019 thus far, liberally, 95 million, people have died as a result of war. But the truth is we don’t really know because of how many nameless faces perished during these periods as a side effect to war and rumors of wars. Nevertheless, we keep much better records as of late than we did in the past. For argument’s sake, let’s say that the opposite has happened and that from 1900-1948, 200 million people died from war. And we will inflate the number of deaths resulting from war from 1949-2019 to 100 million. It makes for simple math. Using these numbers, since 1949, deaths from war have decreased by 50%. Lest we also forget that 1900-1948, is well over 20 years shorter a time span than 1949-2019, and that the population of the world has risen from approximately 4.5 billion in 1948 to over 8.6 billion now. Again, I am not a numbers person but it does help to give some perspective.

Let’s look at the numbers in Acts. 5,000 men were now part of the budding church, but that’s only after 2 were jailed. Would we be willing to call this a good return on investment? After all, it was only for the night, Peter and John were released in the morning. Two sermons, two apostles jailed for one night, equaled 5,000 men, plus women and children. Speaking of women and children, who suffered for suffrage and who labored for child labor laws? Who fought to free the slaves? Who forfeited their own rights for equal rights and justice for all? Who opposed cronyism, favoritism, nepotism, fascism, racism,  sexism and claimed that all men are created equal? It is only and solely because of the gospel of Jesus Christ that any of these things were combated or accomplished? But things have to get worse, the dogmatic dispensationalists say so.

That is, the gospel fails, but the Law of Moses, that’s forever and that’s God’s true intention, the gospel and the church are parenthetical to the blood of bulls and the new moons and Sabbaths. Or, we could consider the context. John and Peter jailed, for one night, and 5,000 men believed. Matthew 24 is not a chapter with verses, but Jesus explaining to his disciples what was about to take place during their generation. One night in jail was merely the very beginning, the first taste, of birth pangs. Not birth pangs of the absolute end of the world but birth pangs of the end of the world as they know it–the end of the Law of Moses and the Temple and the sacrifice. It’s not about an escape for the church but about the formation of the church. Stay tuned, it gets much worse for the apostles. And yet, through all the fire and fury, the church is preserved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Consider the question of Matthew 24 and what sparked the question. Jesus said that the temple would be destroyed. And it was, during their generation. Truly, this is why I write that, “context is king” and that, “unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught.”

Jesus will return to earth, and he will “rapture” his church, otherwise known as the True Israel of God, made up of both Jews and gentiles, Africans and Greeks, Chinese and British, men, women and children, the lame, poor, rich, middle class, old, young, blue eyed, green eyed and brown eyed, the weak, the strong, who all had one thing in common, they were all sinners and hostile towards God, but were saved by God’s gracious choice through the hearing of the gospel. The Law could not save anyone. Why then do these pious preachers proclaim that the church will be raptured to make way for the return of the Law and temple, especially considering what Jesus said, “something greater than the temple is here.” Law, temple, sacrifice and festivals were nothing but a shadow to the substance of Christ, Paul wrote this to the Colossian church. Yet the dogmatic dispensationalists want to label me as apostate and as a mocker and a scoffer, when I believe exactly what Peter says in his two stabbings sermons. I’m the apostate because I believe that the gospel wins. I am probably not even a christian because I believe that the temple is nothing and Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the true Israel, the true temple. I’m a scoffer because I believe that the Bible should be mined for all its worth, letting the Bible interpret the Bible, considering the context, genre, and author’s aspirations to his audience. I’m the heretic because I believe that when Paul writes, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.

Jesus promised persecution and tribulation to the apostles and we are beginning to see this in today’s text. John and Peter were jailed for speaking the truth. The truth they spoke was that some of the men of Israel present, killed the Christ but that he rose again, facts to which they were eyewitnesses. Notice that he also preached the gospel and the forgiveness possible through the response to the gospel.

Yet all is not lost. The dogmatic dispensationalists are correct, there is an apostasy in the mega-church. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in calling out the prosperity preachers. I stand with them on the cross of Christ and his sacrificial atonement. I stand with them on Christ’s love for the church. I stand with them that the King is coming, and it could be at any moment. And I wish we could leave it there. Unfortunately, they are dogmatic about their beliefs in a pre-tribulational rapture, calling those who disagree, mockers and scoffers–I have to defend my beliefs.

The greatest problem I have with the dogmatic dispensationalists is that they scoff at me as a scoffer. I am forced to wonder why we can’t be unified by the gospel and the immanent return of Jesus? Yes, obviously, time is running out. The fields are ready for a harvest, figuratively speaking. Are we willing to spend the night in jail to see 5,000 men saved? I will leave you all thinking; would I be willing to spend a night in jail for one lesbian, one transgender person, one prostitute and one homosexual man to come to Christ by my preaching of the gospel? Jesus is a redeemer, making all things new by his unbelievable atonement on the cross. Remember that in his first coming he scolded and reprimanded the religious leaders but ate and drank with tax gathers and sinners, to the point where they called him a drunkard and a glutton. When is the last time we ate and drank with sinners? When is the last time we spent a night in jail for speaking the truth, truth that freed thousands from their shackles of slavery to sin? Perhaps the dogmatic dispensationalists are right, that the gospel, ultimately loses. But what if we believed that the gospel actually can change the world?

John and Peter considered it a blessing to suffer for the Lord, and we will eventually see that Paul did as well. But we love our lives almost as much as we love our social media likes. We don’t want to go to jail for speaking the truth. And as a libertarian, I don’t believe anyone should go to jail for speaking about anything, true or false. Nevertheless, since I am in the minority considering not only eschatology but also politics, I have to warn you that jail is probably a better possibility than a rescue in the form of a rapture. Because we have fallen into a false faith. Expect history to repeat itself. The other option is to stop being pew warmers in our gospel ghetto and get out to spread the gospel to the unworthy, as we all are.

 

 

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