41/97 30.11.97 Scripture: Acts 21:17-40
DEBRA Watts sat with me in the radio studio recently. She is an attractive young mother in her twenties. Her life story was one of incredible joys and sadness. She and Boris, her husband, started with little, worked hard, and moved into their own home. They both had good jobs. Boris was manager of a car-dealership near home in Richmond. They had a son Johnny, 7 years, and a daughter Terri, 5 years, and life was very good indeed. As active Christians, they enjoyed their church and friends.
It ended one afternoon in April '94. Debra looked out the window at home expecting to see Boris in the car with the two children. But it was a police car and instinctively Debra knew something was terribly wrong. A police woman told her of an accident. Boris was being taken to hospital but was not badly injured. Terri was seriously injured and was being rushed to casualty. Her seven year old son, Johnny, was dead from injuries.
Debra's world collapsed. From within she found deep reserves of courage and a peace that held her as she went through a whole series of events. She saw her son, comforted her deeply distressed husband, and sat beside the bed of her critically injured daughter. Each report from the doctors was worse. For five days and nights she sat beside her daughter in intensive care until she died. Debra helped Boris cope with the guilt he carried as the driver of their car. She planned a double funeral and with great courage thanked her family and friends for their support as she saw Johnny and Terri buried. Boris needed a great deal of support, and Debra herself lost a great deal of weight through the grief.
Debra slowly re-established her home. Boris was becoming increasing depressed. Fortunately they were both young and perhaps could start a family again. On 8th Nov '94, Debra looked out the window and saw another police car outside. Their message was clear. The body of Boris had been found in his car on the bank of the Nepean River. There was a gun which he had taken from his work. Debra was totally bereft, but from within, she found deep reserves of courage which enabled her to cope. She organised the funeral. She was pregnant with a new baby. She carried the baby through her grief giving thanks to God that the child of her beloved Boris would carry their early life into the future. In February 1995, a little daughter was born.
Debra's parents sold their home and moved in with Debra to support her and her baby while Debra got a job. Today, Debra continues with great courage to hold her family together. She works in Grace Bros Penrith Plaza store as a beautician on the Revlon counter. Go and greet her, and you will find a most courageous young woman. What is the secret of her courage that helped her through so many tragedies? Her courage conquered!
There comes a time when courage is required. Something happens and you are going to have to draw upon reserves within, reserves you did not know you possessed. The need comes suddenly. An accident, a squeal of brakes and a crash; someone is diagnosed with cancer; someone is hospitalised; a loved one dies; there is a fire or a capsized boat or a trip on the footpath. For everyone there is an unexpected moment when courage must conquer. Where shall you get it? How do you prepare for it?
That moment came for the Apostle Paul when he returned to Jerusalem. He loved Jerusalem. He revelled in its history. He had studied there as a Pharisee. When he became a Christian, there was more to tie him to the city. Here his Lord had been crucified. Here the resurrection had confirmed the power and promise of God. Here the church began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Now Jerusalem was suffering a famine. Paul had been collecting funds for its relief. Now he wanted to deliver it to the leaders of the church and report on his missionary journeys. But he was warned not to go to Jerusalem. On his way to Jerusalem people said: "`No, Paul, don't go. Your life is threatened. There are people there who are out to get you. They killed Jesus. They stoned Stephen. They imprisoned Peter. They killed James. Now they want to stop you. Don't go, Paul!' Paul's response was, `I must go to Jerusalem.'" So he came. He reported to the Church leaders. Then he went to the Temple for worship. That's when the trouble began.
He was recognised by some Jews who had come from Turkey. "They saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, `Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.'" The charges that Paul had been speaking against the people of Israel, the Law of Moses, and the Temple, were untrue. These were the same charges that had been made against Jesus and against Stephen and those charges led to their deaths. These were threatening issues for Paul.
The fourth charge was about bringing a non-Jew into the most sacred Temple. "They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area." Trophimus had not been taken into the Temple by Paul. Paul would certainly not transgress in this way. Archaeologists in 1923 discovered a large stone which had been set over the main gate going up to the higher court of the Temple. On that stone was inscribed the words, "Foreigners are forbidden from entering through this balustrade into the enclosure around the sanctuary. Anyone doing so will be to blame for the death that will follow." Two other discoveries since then have this same inscription.
The false charges were believed. "The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut." The noise attracted the attention of the Roman Guard, stationed nearby at the Tower of Antonia. The Roman soldiers quickly took action against riots for which the Jews were notorious. "While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul." Commander Claudius Lysias, a Tribune from Rome, led his officers and soldiers to the crowd. The fellow in the middle was arrested. Quick justice. No inquiries. "The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done."
"Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, `Away with him!'" Paul's visit to Jerusalem had turned into a nightmare. He needed then more courage than ever. When the Romans arrived, they saved his life.
As he was being carried into the fort, Paul spoke to the commander, "`May I say something to you?' `Do you speak Greek?' he replied. `Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago? Well! There is a riot in the Temple and the commander thinks the man getting beaten up is a terrorist come in from the desert!' Paul answered, `I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.'" Amazing! I would have said: "How about we get inside this fort and then I can explain." Not Paul. "`Please let me speak to the people.' Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he spoke to them in Aramaic."
This was the Hebrew dialect spoken by the rabbis and the Pharisees. The crowd grew quiet at the sound of the learned and sacred tongue, and listened. The statement that Paul made about himself and his faith we will examine next week. For now, I am impressed with the courage shown by Paul. We can learn from him when we need courage. Let us look at the A-B-C-D of courage.
Courage consists of our attitude towards life. You cannot have an attitude towards death until you first have an attitude towards life. It is a positive attitude, of being optimistic, of being prepared to live with a sunny outlook. Debra had a positive and optimistic attitude despite what was happening. That attitude results in courage in ordinary lives. If you want courage, start with an outlook that is positive. As a child in school I learned that you need a positive attitude from Adam Lindsay Gordon:
"Life is mostly froth and bubble,
But two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another's trouble,
And courage in your own."
Courage grows when you have a positive outlook on life. Any other attitude defeats yourself.
The courage Paul had and which we see in Jesus, grows out of basic belief. The Greeks made it clear that even for them, there was something divine about courage. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle made it clear that there was no courage at all unless the gods give it. We know that the highest courage is to be found in the service of Jesus Christ. President John F. Kennedy, wrote a book about great American politicians called "Profiles of Courage." In his last chapter he asks, "What makes for courage?" He wrote, "A man in this life must do what his religious faith and conscience dictate to him, and then if he loses friends and fame and fortune, esteem and position, he must still do what his religious faith tells him. No one else can give him that courage; he must look to his soul for it." Courage is born from faith in God beyond yourself.
Commitment means that you must tie yourself down if you are to fulfil your plan and purpose for life. You must grow in your faith and hold to the path you believe God has set for you. To your belief add commitment. Commitment is the third element. Do you have a commitment to what you know to be right? Have you a commitment to your belief, your faith? Have you a commitment to what God wants you to do? Or are you a wishy-washy hanger-on, a fence-sitter, always avoiding making that commitment to the way of God? Dante once wrote, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those people who in a time of great moral crisis maintain neutrality." It does not matter in what field of life, work, religion or politics we operate, those who maintain neutrality in a time of crisis are gutless people who lack courage and are always defeated. Be committed!
It takes determination. That is precisely what Jesus did. He laid down His life that others might be free from sin. Courage can grow in your life if you have the right attitude, the right beliefs, the right commitment, and the right determination. No victory is won without a determination to succeed, to study, to exercise, to try, to continue against the odds.
Debra shows us that an ordinary person can grow in faith by letting courage conquer! The Apostle Paul was following the example of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ whose courage encourages each of us. Have faith in Him. Let His example, His presence and His indwelling power strengthen you and enable you to face whatever comes and win!
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