now three days after festus had arrived in the province, he went up to jerusalem from caesarea. and the chief priests and the principal men of the jews laid out their case against paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against paul that he summon him to jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. festus replied that paul was being kept at caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “so,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”
after he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to caesarea. and the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered paul to be brought. when he had arrived, the jews who had come down from jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. [acts 25:1-7]
the seared conscience of the embittered
it has now been roughly two years that paul has been in prison, and yet the chief priests still show no remorse for lying about paul. how could these religious men who vigorously repent of their sins and make sacrifices for them consistently become blind to this sin of false witness? bitterness towards paul has seared their consciences—has burned away their hearing to hear the conviction of the Spirit. holding on to bitterness has that effect: it blinds us to our sin in certain areas. that is why the devil tempts us to bitterness so fiercely: it is an incredibly useful tool for him to blind the lost to their own guilt and need for a savior, and to rob believers of their power in the Spirit to crush his strongholds.
what is the cure to bitterness? we see it in john chapter eleven:
now when mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” when Jesus saw her weeping, and the jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. and he said, “where have you laid him?” they said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (v.32-35)
the tears of Jesus are the cure for our bitterness. that word that the esv translates “he was deeply moved” means more literally “he snorted with indignant anger”—Jesus came to put death to death and in response to mary’s sorrow over her brother’s death, he was furious. that fury moved Jesus both to enter into mary’s suffering by weeping tears of his own and to raise her brother from the dead. this act came at great cost to him, because this greatly angered the pharisees, causing them to plan his execution. this act signaled the end of Jesus’ public ministry and start of his road to the cross—a fact of which he was acutely aware in that moment he was moved to tears.
Jesus’ tears moved him to join mary in her sorrow and to bring life where before there was death. his tears can do the same for you. come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and i will give you rest. take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for i am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (matthew 28:28-30) bring your sorrows and bitterness to the feet of your weeping servant-king: he will weep with you, and he will bring life in the way only he can.
Lord, help us to trust you with our bitterness. remind us that you desire to enter into our sorrow with us, and that you will give us life in place of our bitterness. give us joy when we remember the suffering you willingly bore so that you could give us life!
~ stephen hall