Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Stephen and Paul enraging the mobs

The WORD of God incites people. It incites people to various reactions. Some are convicted and fall to their knees in repentance. Others get irritated and move away from the speaker. Still others become enraged. I was reading Acts 7 one day and then Acts 22 another day. It is the tale of two mobs' reactions upon hearing the Gospel.

In the first, Stephen, Christianity's first martyr, was speaking to the elders and the scribes. They were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Apostle Paul, then known as Saul, was int eh crowd.

The mob stones Stephen, (Acts 7:54-60)
 The Stoning of St. Stephen, by Paolo Uccello, Duomo, Prato

"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep."

Later in Acts, Paul is mobbed and about to be flogged, (Acts 21:35; 22:22-24)

"When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 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!" And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way."

I noticed a few things in thinking about the two mob scenes. First, like many fights, men take off their jackets, un-knot their ties, and roll up their sleeves. They did so there, laying aside their robes. The cut to the heart means to extremely exasperate, and gnash their teeth means acting in rage and pain. Imagine: the simple words of a man enraging them so much! They rushed at him with one impulse, and they drove him out, indicating frenzy and furor. From this description, we can safely say this is a mob scene.

In the second scene, there is the same thing happening again, and all because of the Truth! The WORD incites reactions. There was foaming at the mouth, furor and rage. Men took off their robes. They cried out. One difference is that this time, the mob threw sand over their heads. This is an interesting picture. We read of an enraged mob, disrobing, in a cloud of dust and noise.

What is this throwing dust? It is mentioned previously in 2 Samuel 16:13, "So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him." Casting dust is a sign of extreme hatred and rage and abhorrence. It is the opposite of the act of tamping dust down, as explained here:

"It was an ancient custom, in those warm and arid countries, to lay the dust before a person of distinction, by sprinkling the ground with water. Dr. Pococke and the consul were treated with this respect when they entered Cairo. The same custom is alluded to in the well-known fable of Phudrus, in which a slave is represented going before Augustus and officiously laying the dust. To throw dust in the air while a person was passing was therefore an act of great disrespect; to do so before a sovereign prince, an indecent outrage. But it is probable that Shimei meant more than disrespect and outrage to this afflicted king. Sir John Chardin informs us, that in the East, in general, those who demand justice against a criminal throw dust upon him, signifying that he ought to be put in the grave: and hence the common imprecation among the Turks and Persians, "Be covered with earth," or, "Earth be upon thy head."

The Gospel incites people who are under satan's sway. Any Christian who has uttered the name of Jesus has felt some sort of reaction ranging from disapproval all the way to martyrdom. In addition, note this: it changes lives. Stephen was stoned to death in AD 34 or 35. Paul was deep in his sin, persecuting Christians and becoming enraged at hearing the Gospel. He approved of putting Stephen to death. (Acts 8:1). It was some three years later, after Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, that Paul returned to Jerusalem to meet with James, and was himself subjected to a mob enraged beyond the capacity to rationally act, but this time it was directed at Paul, not Stephen. You never know where the road to Jesus' feet will take you. If any person, even respected Gamaliel. had told Paul that a few short years later Paul would be preaching Jesus resurrected to an enraged crowd, Paul would have laughed or worse, had Gamaliel arrested, I bet. The truth of Jesus is so great that a conversion such as Paul's, chief persecutor, was preaching the resurrection shortly after the first martyr's death  is a testament to the power of the truth to change lives!

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