and after five days the high priest ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one tertullus. they laid before the governor their case against paul. and when he had been summoned, tertullus began to accuse him, saying:
“since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. but, to detain you no further, i beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. for we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the nazarenes. he even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. by examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”
the jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.
[acts 24:1-9]
blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
[matthew 5:11-12]
nearly every word out of tertullus’s mouth is a lie. this is the definition of the ninth commandment, bearing false witness. from a worldly perspective paul’s situation looks bleak, but Jesus’ words in matthew chapter five call him blessed. the world says, ‘blessed are you when people compliment you and everyone thinks well of you,’ but Jesus says ‘blessed are you when others revile you.’ why is this?
God is a jealous God, and loves us so deeply that he demands that we love him the most. when everyone reviles us for Christ’s sake, we’re right where God wants us: in his blessedness. when we are thrust into a position of being hated by the world, we get to see the whole of God’s loving tenderness. this is why Jesus says it’s so hard for the rich to inherit the kingdom: who, filled with the praise of the world, looks to God for praise? it’s not the praised that Jesus calls blessed, but the reviled. it’s the reviled who hear God’s steadfast affirmation and receive it with tears of rapturous joy.
paul himself affirms this in his letter to the philippians he would write not long after this while in prison: but whatever gain i had, i counted as loss for the sake of Christ. indeed, i count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. for his sake i have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (v.7-9a) God himself—that was paul’s treasure. when the world thought well of paul, he was serving the devil by persecuting believers in Christ. when he turns and believes, how is he rewarded? not with worldly praise, he already had that in his former days—but with the surpassing greatness of knowing the Lord.
has it struck you lately—the strangeness that so holy and wonderful a God would take the time to notice you? you—in your pride, in the sins you blush to admit—he loves you enough to make you blush ten thousand times over. so much so that he sent his very best—his perfect son, to not only be cruelly killed by man, but to crush him under the weight of his wrath for every sin you committed. has that struck you lately?
when we thirst for man’s approval above God’s, when we disbelieve that God’s blessings come through being reviled, we say that the approval Christ purchased on the cross isn’t enough. in the moments before Christ died, the gospel of matthew says and Jesus cried out again in a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. the word translated “cry” is more literally translated shriek. the Son of God shrieked under the crushing wrath of the Father—for you. the approval that was denied Christ on the cross is now freely available to all who believe in his name. it’s a sobering truth, but if the Holy Spirit is in you, it should be the most joy-producing truth in the whole world. my God, my God, why have you approved me?
~stephen hall