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Light In The Wilderness

John Collins07/23/2013

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Acts 9 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  It is this single chapter that brings hope of salvation to any who are reminded of their past sins covered under the Blood of Jesus Christ.  It is the perfect example that the power of the cross knows no boundaries.  God can take the most violent, cruel, and heartless sinner, wash them in His blood, and make them new creatures that are filled with excitement to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The early Christians were severely persecuted for following the teachings of Christ.  Christ's examples and actions clearly violated the Mosaic Law, which was the code of conduct required by the Jews and even partially enforced by Roman soldiers.  Violation of the Mosaic Law was considered Impiety, or lack of proper respect for the religious custom of the Jews.

When the new Christians who once were bound by Law started to experience freedom from that Law, their freedom was in the eyes of God — not the eyes of their fellow Jews.  With each new freedom came punishment when observed by others, even by men and women they once knew and held dear.  Depending upon the Law that was breached, the punishment could be severe, even death.

But Christ, by example, taught the early church how to live their lives by Love instead of Law.  Christ came and lived a perfect life among men to give us a living example, but that example was not bound by the requirements of Mosaic Law.

Under the Law of Moses, an adulteress was to be stoned for her impurity.  But under the law of forgiveness, Christ set the adulteress at the well free, even though she had been with several men. 

There was a difference in the Law of Love as compared to the Law of Moses.  It is a difference that many Christians of today do not see or understand:  The focus of Christ's law of Grace was the soul, while the focus of the Law of Moses was the physical body. 

Christ's teaching and "untangling the scriptures" for the people was seen as a threat to the Scribes and the Pharisees.  The priesthood was descended through the Levites, not the tribe of Judah that brought the Messiah.  According to Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood was established pure and holy, from the cleansing of hands to the practices of internal "cleanliness." 

But Christ came teaching others to serve, not to be served.  He taught that the lowest among them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  The chores most despised by the people — jobs that the priesthood would never do, such as washing feet — were the ones that Christ praised the most.

By example, Christ washed his disciples feet.  Though some churches of today have turned this into useless tradition, the message Christ was relaying to his disciples was that they were there to serve the people — no matter how filthy or how dirty the job might be.

The Scribes and Pharisees tried to stop this threat with personal attack.  Leviticus 10 tells how the priesthood should refrain from wine or strong drink when administering the Law to the people in the tents, and that tradition was held throughout time.

But Christ loved wine.  He enjoyed life without the Law and restrictions that did not produce Love, and drinking wine was one of those restrictions.  The Pharisees attacked Jesus, publicly denouncing him for being a "wine bibber."

Their personal attacks had little effect on the early Christians who had experienced a new life through the teaching of Christ.  The people could very easily see and understand that while the attacks were bred from hatred, Christ was giving them love and internal satisfaction.  The clean hands of the priests would never match the clean hearts that Christ was giving the people.

Paul was among those filled with hate.  He was very familiar with the Mosaic Law, and persecuted the early church in violation of that Law.  He was involved with the stoning of Stephen, a punishment that ended with death.

We know very little of Paul's prior life with the exception of the descriptions that he gives us, but we do know that it was not a life filled with the love that Christ taught.  Paul had a life undeserving of the Gospel according to the eyes of men.  In fact, many churches today would turn Paul from their door, having remembered his anger and hatred towards those who did not strictly adhere to the Mosaic Law.

But that is why I love this chapter.  As humans, we are born into sin.  We naturally are destined to fail.  We are all undeserving of the Gospel, and there is nothing we can do by ourselves to make ourselves worthy.

Studying the scriptures, especially the words of Paul after his conversion, we find that this was the primary purpose of the Mosaic Law.  It had failed.  This entire chapter of history for the Jews was to set an example for the rest of mankind, for the future generations to come, that works-righteous faith will never save. 

Many times as parents, we teach our children the correct way by first showing them an example of the incorrect way.  "Don't tie your shoelaces like THIS, it won't work.  Start by tying them like THIS."  "Don't make your bed like THIS, pull the cookie crumbs out from under your pillow first like THIS."

As a whole, the Bible is this type of example.  Our Heavenly Father is instructing us how to live our lives, and he starts with the first half describing what NOT to do.  He shows us how the Children of Israel sent Moses back up the mountain to ask the Lord how they could save themselves, shows us how that will NEVER work, and then sends His Son, Jesus Christ, to show us a better way.

When Christ came, he magnified the Law — put it under a magnifying glass for inspection.  The people that he taught were His pupils, letting them peer through the glass at the old Mosaic Law, pointing out the many failures.  It is as if he were standing in a classroom, saying, "Now class, this is not the way that will lead you to love of your fellow man.  All of these laws are fulfilled in two single commandments:  Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor BETTER than you love yourselves."

But again, Paul knew nothing of that teaching.  He did not know the Love that Christ poured out into his students.  In fact, in the example we just gave, Paul would be the student bringing a bomb into class, setting it off to kill the rest of the students, all while standing behind the bushes laughing.  He was the person that the other students should absolutely hate with pure devotion.

But Christ did not look to the things that Paul had done.  He does not look at the outward things, remember?  Christ looks at the heart.  And what looks like a heart of stone to us looks completely different in the eyes of God. 

These are the types of people that God loves to use! 

I like to think that this is God's sense of humor.  Let's take the worst example among you, the one that every single one of you would LOVE TO KILL, the one that causes you to have nightmares in your sleep, and let him LEAD YOU!  In the eyes of Hollywood, this is what you call situational comedy!

Listen how Acts Chapter 9 begins:

"But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."

Paul was a bounty hunter!  He got his papers to start collecting the Christians!  Even worse, he didn't do this for the money — he was fuming mad, breathing threats and murder against these new disciples!

"Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.  And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one." 

Now I know what some of you are thinking:  WHOOOAH!  Paul saw the "Pillar of Fire!"  Branham told us so!  After Branham had that photograph of the florescent light bulb that looked magical, Branham tried to associate this story with the poorly captured photo.

He LOVED to use this chapter, because there is very little description of the event.  It was almost as if Branham were saying, "Hey guys!  Read THIS one!  Don't read the description that comes later in the book, because ... um ... well ... it gives the details that I DON'T want you to see!

Acts 26 gives a better description of the Light that Paul saw in the wilderness; the light that blinded him.  And it wasn't a "pillar of fire," this was DAYLIGHT, remember?  The Pillar of Fire led the Children of Israel by night, not by day.  And Paul was not being led ANYWHERE — he was being BLINDED!

Literally translated, Acts 26 describes this light from the heavens like this:  "from heaven, above, the brightness, of the sun, having shone about me, a light."

The word "light" is translated from the word "phos", which is the same word used for "daylight."  No magical fires, no florescent light bulbs, absolutely nothing but God shining a VERY BRIGHT light to blind Paul so that he would see (no pun intended) and understand that Jesus was the Christ.

Let's continue:

"Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank."

Those of you who have fled the cult, think about that period of time when you first realized that Branham did not have a single fulfilled prophecy, and that his teachings did not align with scripture.  How did you feel?

I've had many describe this to me, and it matches my own conversion story.  It felt like a blow in the stomach, like a two-ton I-beam had fell from the Eiffel Tower and landed squarely on my gut while I lay resting on a park bench.  I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and might as well have lay there blinded!  What a waste of thirty-seven years that I could have been reading this Bible I owned instead of listening to a man who pretended to know what it said!

But God doesn't let you lay there bruised beyond healing.  You may seem down, unable to eat or sleep, winded from the huge blow to your stomach, but God will always send someone your way to lift you back to your feet. 

It happened to me.  It happened to others who have fled the cult.  It happened to Paul:

"Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord."  And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."  But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name."

Let's stop right here.  How many of you across the world who are helping others out of a cult and into Christ have this same exact thing come onto your minds!  "But Lord, I remember this man excommunicating even his OWN FAMILY because they simply QUESTIONED "the prophet!"  "I've seen this man turn his back on his own congregation — even when they were desperately in need — simply because her hair was cut or she wore a pair of pants!"

We can't look inside the soul.  Only God can.  When God says to extend a helping hand, don't turn that hand away.  That outstretched arm may be thinking about suicide.  Those desperate eyes may be looking at atheism or another cult even worse than the cult of William Branham!  Don't turn them away, show them Christ!

But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."  So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

This last verse describes my conversion to Christ.  I had read my Bible, multiple times.  I had studied the scriptures, but I had studied them according to the teaching of a man who decided to invent new scriptures that changed the meaning of the others.  I had studied it by a man who combined scriptures to give false points of reference for me, and those points of reference had turned it into another book entirely.

I can relate to Paul's experience.  It's something that I hope many of you will never go through.  It takes years to untangle twisted scriptures, and even longer to deprogram the programmed mind. 

Paul describes exactly what it felt like when I suddenly realized that my Bible was my Absolute, and absolutely no man is above the Word of God:

"And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened."

This is a great chapter in the Bible, Acts 9.  This verse will help you.  If you are struggling with sins of the past, think about this example that Christ has given us through Paul. 

The example that the cross has the power to save — no matter what the sin!