“Some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.”
Do you find this incredible, that a bunch of 1st century Jews would vow to eat or drink nothing until they had murdered someone? It’s incredible to me, not only because of the great sacrifice involved (and the possibility that if they never killed Paul they would die of hunger or thirst), but also that they would bind themselves to such a terrible task.
I’m most interested not in their terrible purpose but in their incredible dedication. Such vows don’t just happen. They are too heavy and costly to just happen spontaneously. There must be some incredible motivation to inspire men to such awful purposes.
If Satan can inspire men to such murderous vows (and I’m thinking also of radical Islam of our own day – all 100 million of them), then surely the Holy Spirit can inspire those who are His Temple to acts of love and devotion equal to or greater than them.
So what good gifts of God has Satan perverted to make men motivated by such murderous malevolence?
First, we find that those who wanted to kill Paul “banded together” to kill Paul. This fervent frenzy of hatred was the ultimate social disease. Once Paul seemed to be a one-man wrecking crew, but such men are rare. Usually, men undertake such heightened actions only with the collective courage necessary to do so. And even Paul carried letters from other haters of Christians when he went about with his murderous threats.
But Christians often go about their daily worldly business with no greater purpose in mind than to make it through the work day so they can get to the real work of play. And we like to go it alone. No wonder we aren’t very motivated! No wonder why we’re so easily defeated or distracted!
God has made us the Body of His Son: that is the ultimate banding together that humans can experience. If only we understood the kind of banding together God desires from us and died to give us, our dedication to God and His kingdom would make the radical Moslems look like bunnies in comparison.
Second, those who wanted to murder Paul bound themselves not only to each other but also bound themselves with an oath. In other words, they took a vow. We used to know what vows meant. We still vow to tell the truth in a court of law. We used to vow to be bound to our spouses for life.
But if you’ve been baptized, you have taken a vow more profound and awful than the one the would-be murderers of Paul took. You vowed to manfully fight under the banner of Christ and His Kingdom. You vowed to renounce the devil and his works, the pomp and glory of this world, and the lusts of your own flesh. You vowed with your life that you would live for your Master and do His will and not your own.
How well do we hold ourselves, since we are bound to each other as well, to these vows?
Third, those who vowed to kill Paul ratified their vows with a particular outward sign of this oath: they promised not to eat or drink until they fulfilled their vows. Whatever motivation they had from hating Paul because they hated Jesus Christ, whatever motivation they received from the peer pressure of the group they had bound themselves to, there was now another high motivation: they would get to eat or drink only when the deed was done.
We, too, as Christians, have an outward and physical sign of our vows. We renew those baptismal vows every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. But unlike the followers of Satan who had to vow not to eat or drink, we have vowed that we will eat and drink to fulfill our vows. In fact, it’s only as we feed off the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that we’re able to fulfill our vows to God because Jesus is the only one who can keep those vows. And the food we vow to eat is no earthly food but the heavenly food which is God Himself in the person of His Son.
We do, however, have a fast in common with those murderers, but it is not from food or drink. In following our Master and fulfilling our vows to serve Him, we fast from ourselves and our selfish desires. Those we must give up, if we are to fulfill our mission. There is, therefore, a sacrifice we must give to our Lord, and that sacrifice is ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto God.
Those murderers had focus in their lives: they rid themselves of all distractions. The band of murderous brothers, the vow, the fasting all helped them to focus on the terrible task at hand.
We, too, must focus. But where are our brothers and sisters to keep us focused? Are they in our lives, or do we keep them safely at bay? Where is the memory of our vows, and where is the holy fasting and sacrifice? The world is too much with us, and I fear many of us have been seduced into a life of ease in Zion.
Finally, a great purpose is required for such dedication. Although Paul was only one man, his would-be murderers understood that he was attached to Jesus Christ, who was their real target. They killed him once, and He rose again. And now they wanted Him dead again. Thus, their life was about death.
But our lives are about Life, and life more abundantly. Our lives, our mission, and our great purpose, are those of God Himself! We seek not to kill with hatred but to give life with love. This is not only the ultimate motivation but also the greatest commandment.
Let us go, then, today, to fulfill our great purpose in life, armed with a great company of God’s army with us, with sacred vows affirmed by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ Himself, offering ourselves up to Him who sacrificed Himself for us, and with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s do it until we gather around His Table again to recount our stories of glory and be fed by Him again!
Prayer: Here, Lord, I offer and present unto thee, my self, my soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that I, and all others who shall be partakers of Your Son, may worthily receive His most precious Body and Blood, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. What is the incredible purpose to which God has called you?
2. Which of the things that the would-be murderers of Paul had do you lack to fulfill your vow?
Resolution: I resolve to renew my vows to God today.