There’s a fable that tells the story of a fox that was caught by a lion. The cunning fox said, “You can’t eat me because I have been made the leader of all the animals.” The lion didn’t believe him, but the fox said, “Follow me and see if any animal challenges me.” The lion agreed to this and followed directly behind the fox. To the lion’s amazement as they walked through the forest not a single animal they encountered challenged the fox. Indeed every animal they met fled in sheer panic. After this the lion finally agreed that the fox was the leader of all the animals and let him go.
This story teaches us that it is easy to remove the obstacles and dangers in our lives, the things that challenge us, and those that oppose us when we have a lion behind us! Alone we may be overwhelmed by such things – the good news is that we are not alone, there is one who watches over us, and gives us the strength and the protection we need. “The Lion of Judah” is a phrase in the Book of Revelation representing Jesus Christ – The Good Shepherd who brings comfort to the flock. The one who heals and saves.
Acts 13 is the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey. And if anyone needed strength and protection it was certainly Paul! He was not alone as Barnabas accompanied him. More than this though – the Holy Spirit led them to Antioch where at first he spoke to devout Jews before turning to the Gentiles. He told his own people something startling: “Everyone who believes in Jesus is declared right with God – something the law of Moses could never do.” (Acts 13:39).
As God had planned, through Israel came Jesus, the light of the nations, which would spread out and enlighten the Gentiles. Instead of accepting this, the Jewish leaders stirred up opposition, slandered Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town.
Still today when confronted with the disturbing truth of the Risen Christ and forgiveness of sins, people often turn away and refuse to listen. Eventually they can push the truth so far away that it no longer affects them. Jesus had told His disciples to shake from their feet the dust of any town that would not accept or listen to them (Mk.6:11) – so this is what Paul and Barnabas do, symbolizing that they were cleansing themselves from the contamination of those who did not worship God and rejected the message of salvation.
It’s not a problem to Paul and Barnabas – they had the Lion of Judah behind them. As far as their ministry was concerned God would remove all obstacles from them. They had shared the Gospel carefully and sensibly and would not be held responsible for the people’s decision. We’re all so different in the way we make that tremendous life-changing decision to follow Christ.
Let’s not forget that Paul himself had resisted the Truth for far too long. It was pride that stopped him accepting Jesus as Saviour – until he was eventually brought down to his knees in humility – but he knew firsthand how difficult it was to accept. Conversely when Jesus called Peter, James and John, it was very different, in the impulse of the moment they were ready to walk out on their fishing, their livelihood, to become His disciples.
Of course it’s easier to look to people and material things to satisfy our earthly desires instead of looking to the Lord. Yet it’s only in Jesus we encounter a God who really suffered for us, who loves us so much He died for us, and grants us eternal life sealed in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nourished together by His Body and Blood in Holy Communion we have the hash reality of His saving presence among us.
Being with Jesus isn’t an easy option. The disciples saw Him being nearly lynched in Nazareth after He had spoken in the synagogue. Opposition from the authorities had steadily grown and the time came when Jesus Himself began to talk of suffering, rejection and death as the path He must inevitably tread. One can love and respect and follow a leader as they loved and respected and followed Jesus. It’s highly likely that the disciples felt – believing that Jesus was making a big mistake.
Then they had fled the crucifixion. Post resurrection they were in fear of the authorities and had hidden behind locked doors. They had gone back to fishing. They were spiritually low. There was a shadow hanging over them. However at dawn the stranger appeared on the shore, they looked to Him, He filled their nets with a catch so large it was difficult to haul in.
“It is the Lord!” – During that time the eternal world suddenly became far more real to them than the everyday one for their understanding of the Resurrection centered on Jesus Himself. Here He was eating fish, an arm’s length away, yet in other respects, in His new body, He had become separated from them by a vast gulf.
Nevertheless, this experience of the Resurrection gave them a keener sense than they had ever had before of being in the presence of the glory of God and it was something they would never forget. No longer would death be the greatest tragedy of human experience. Paul would testify to the same thing. His conviction to preaching forgiveness and salvation is there in Acts 13:47: “For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.”
Proclaiming that God raised Jesus from the dead in the mighty act of resurrection vindicated His true identity and resurrection to eternal life through forgiveness for sins spread throughout that region for when the people heard it, “the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52). It was good news and whatever the cost, no matter how long it took, whatever obstacles he had to face to get the message across, with the Lion of Judah behind him, Paul would face them.
Is this how you are experiencing the Christian faith and commitment to the Gospel? We may not all be called to travel amongst robbers and lands plagued with malaria. But we are called to be just as obedient as Paul and Barnabas. We’re called to go where God wants us to go. Risk the comfort of routine and security for the uncertain challenges of God’s future. One of the paradoxes of the Faith is that it requires work on our part.
Unfortunately, a lot of us look upon the Christian life, and upon worship and involvement in the Church as being simply another drain upon our already scarce physical, emotional and spiritual resources. Yet we are not automatically filled with faith to move mountains or knowledge of the Bible. Ask yourself – is your life so busy, with countless things piled on top of one another, leaving you exhausted and tense that you are neglecting the fight of faith and your destiny: “Work out you own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Php.2:12).
Do you fully understand the nature of God revealed in Jesus? It’s a serious question because it’s the ultimate wonder! You may be a member of this church, and you may read your Bible, you may know the hymns, but do you understand them? Do you understand what the Atonement is all about and the point of the holy blood sacrifice? It’s not something made up – it’s a unique revelation: There on the cross when Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied.
Because of our changed relationship with God, we must be different and people should be able to see that difference. Our uniqueness as Christians should influence and change those we meet, steering them towards starting a personal relationship with God for themselves. Where there is desperate need, in the dirt and dust, in the petty round of life, people need the Gospel.
When people are motivated to delve deeper or challenged by a sermon, or stand under conviction of the Cross and the Resurrection, then the Spirit has been active and the heart has been receptive. We have to be discerning and respectful, know when to stop, metaphorically shake the dust off our feet, plant the seed, for only God’s Spirit and grace can make it grow and “they were very glad and thanked the Lord for Paul’s message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers.” (Acts 13:48).
That’s what we, as Easter people, need to be doing. Some of you may of heard of the poem – A Cross in My Pocket. It’s a poem of faith and to draw things to a conclusion we’re going to read it now…
I carry a Cross in my Pocket
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I am a Christian
No matter where I may be.
This little Cross is not magic
Nor is it a good luck charm
It isn’t meant to protect me
From every physical harm.
It is for identification
For all the world to see
It is also an understanding
Between my Saviour and me.
When I put my hand in my pocket
To bring out a coin or a key
The Cross is there to remind me
Of the price He paid for me.
It reminds me too, to be thankful
For my blessings day by day
And to strive to serve Him better
In all that I do and say.
It is also a daily reminder
Of the peace and comfort I share
With all who know my Master
And give themselves to His care.
So, I carry a Cross in my pocket
Reminding me, no one but me
That Jesus Christ is Lord of my life
If only I’ll let Him be.
© Verna Thomas, 1968