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“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ “And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. ‘And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”
The crowd listened to what Paul had to say, UNTIL he mentioned that God sent him to the Gentiles. Why is this? Why did this incense them so? I think this is all part of the human condition. It’s just human nature to:
1. Want to be right and all others are wrong or more right than others which places us above the others.
2. Want to have our own clique or club, separate from all others, feel threatened that others might be as IN as we are.
3. Want to denigrate or destroy those who are not on the inside with us or, at least, we tend to be joyful over the “others” fall or difficulty or ruin.
Five observations: FIRST: Religious systems produce piles of guilt. And what’s even more interesting is that the guilty have the urge to throw on more guilt on everyone else.
SECOND: Religious systems produce fear and insecurity. The religious mindset of “innies” and “outies” is filled with insecurity and fear.
THIRD: Religious systems produce angry people. There is nothing more ugly than an angry, passionate, religious person with a bible verse.
FOURTH: Religious systems are not so much about God as they are about ME, MYSELF and MINE.
FIFTH: Religious systems leave the residue of shame on all who participate.
I keep defining religion as man’s best attempt to avoid going to hell, but religious systems are hell. A relationship with God says, “I’ve been to hell and don’t want to go back!” This relationship with God is a taste of heaven while going through your hells.
The crowd was firmly implanted, and even stuck, in their religious comfort levels, which emerges from a belief that God is exclusive. It’s a WE-FOUR-AND-NO-MORE approach to life. It’s ugly and a massive turn-off! Paul was speaking from the reference point of a relationship with God, which is all-inclusive for anyone who is interested. RELIGION ALWAYS DIVIDES; JESUS ALWAYS UNITES. Try it out and see for yourself!