The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” (Acts 23:12-15)
I’m trying to get my mind around the clear violation of the Law being contemplated by this group who so passionately see themselves as defenders of the Law itself. Whatever were they thinking? “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) is what the law of Moses so clearly says. Perhaps these chief priests and elders were willing to turn a blind eye to the violation since it was at arm’s length, being carried out by a group of enraged patriots. Perhaps the religious leaders thought they themselves would be left untainted. But, they wouldn’t be. The Lord sees the heart.
On the other hand, perhaps they felt justified by another Old Testament passage that charged the leadership of the nation to eradicate anyone misleading the people with heretical teaching. Deuteronomy 13 lays it out. If a prophet or dreamer or even “your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love”should encourage you to “go and worship other gods”(Deuteronomy 13:6), then “do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9).
Certainly these leaders were convinced Jesus himself was a blasphemer. They’d put him to death as such. In line with that thinking, it made sense to do the same now with one of his committed followers. Especially since that follower – Paul – had been gaining converts throughout the Mediterranean world. This doctrine of the Way must be stopped so others wouldn’t be led astray!
The logic made sense. Except, of course, it was completely wrong. The Sovereign Lord, whose very Law they purported to uphold, had sent his own Son in fulfilment of that Law. Messiah had come. It was the Lord’s doing.
So how had they missed it? How did they end up fighting the very gift the Lord himself was giving? At the risk of being simplistic, it seems they didn’t guard their hearts. They scoured the Scripture. They amassed the rules. They poured endless energy into rule-keeping. But they didn’t nurture a heart toward God. They failed to pursue relationship with the Lord himself.
Jesus critiqued this same group of leaders years earlier. “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life … I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (John 5:39-42).
They had studied diligently, but failed to guard their hearts. They didn’t love God.
Such a pitfall is still possible. It’s all too easy to become impassioned about issues we think offend God, while actually missing out on nurturing our relationship with him. We can be so fervent in defending his name that we end up denying his character in our own lives. We can be so convinced we’re on the right track, that we miss following the Lord’s own lead.
Guard your heart. Nurture your love for the Lord. Keep eyes on Jesus.
Dear Lord, guard my heart. Let my focus always be you. Keep me following closely. I will love you with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. And when battles arise, let me hold ever tighter to your heart, your character, and your perspective – I don’t want to miss the direction you’re leading.
Reflect: What issues and debates capture your passion, in the church or the world? Are you in danger of engaging with attitudes or behaviours that aren’t characteristic of the Lord himself? Ask for his eyes to see. Submit to him again.