“However some Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won over the crowds. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city. On the following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” Acts 14:19-20
I can relate to Paul. My walk with God has been a lot like his. Growing up Jewish, studying the Torah and being zealous for God’s kingdom. I never persecuted the church, but instead questioned why Jewish people would be the only people who God loved. I couldn’t imagine that my Gentile friends wouldn’t be in heaven with me, and it was that thought that permeated my life and prompted much of my searching.
My searching was not external but internal. I didn’t talk about it with my friends because I knew I wouldn’t be accepted after that. I was comfortable and popular and had a good life. But inside I was looking for so much more. I was looking for God…
Over the course of my life I was invited to many churches. I did go to some but freaked out, even running out of one of them. Jesus’ call was apparent, but I didn’t know who He was or why he was calling me. All I knew was that I was different enough and I didn’t want to be anymore different. At 19, I didn’t want to be alone…
But many years later at thirty-five, I could hardly ignore the call. Like Paul on the Road to Damascus, the Lord appeared to me and carried me, turned me the other way. It is hard to remember that night, not because I don’t remember, but because like Paul, it took so long for me to recognize him. Hearing Him was undeniable and He restored my life in an instant. There was no question in my mind what I had to do or where I was going, and this time I knew it would cost me everything.
The Book of Acts sometimes feels like my life story. It is hard to explain as a Jewish person what some of that persecution feels like. Before today, I really didn’t talk about it much, mostly because it is in my past. But sometimes the past has a way of creeping up on you…
I cannot imagine the persecution that goes on all over the world. I can hardly read or watch anything on the Coptic Christians. It’s the same way I feel about the horror of the Holocaust- it is hard to believe that people can hate you simply because of who you are.
So when I read the book of Acts this morning, I was struck by one verse in particular. It wasn’t about the persecution or prison that Paul faced. It wasn’t about the ugliness of his own people turning against him for following Jesus and preaching the gospel. It was in the beginning of Chapter 14, verse 20.
“But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city.”
Wow I thought. His brothers and sisters in Christ were just there for him. It doesn’t say they helped him up or prayed over him or anything like that. They simply gathered around him. Those words were incredibly comforting to me.
And that’s how I feel about so many of you. I’ve reached out to you and you gathered around me. It was almost as if I could feel myself lying on the ground, and you encircling me. Hands held from all across the world. It’s not in what you said, but how you responded. A common theme, “Get up sister.”
We are so much better together than on our own. If we’re honest and reach out, the power of Christ explodes. In our humanness, we forget that Christ told us not to let our hearts be troubled and afraid. It is the reminder from the great gathering that helped me realize I could get up, that I wasn’t dead.
Oh the weight of that old, rugged cross is heavy, and the cost of following Jesus high. But what He offers is untouchable- the promise of a new life, a joy and peace that cannot be shaken and a love like I’ve never known. I used to think that maybe I would be scared to die for Him until I realized in a way I already had. Now I’m not scared anymore…
I love you all more than words can say. Let us never stop gathering around our brethren, for it is the power of Christ within us that surrounds us and gets us up off the floor.