“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 15

“And Saul approved of their killing him.”

Acts 8:1

How does it get to that point? A person does something we deeply disagree with, and the thought occurs to us: “It would be great if he just went away, and never came back.” How can frustration reach so far into our hearts that we – in effect – wish someone’s disappearance, or even death?

For one type of person, that feeling might be understandable: You were actually hurt in a profound, life-altering way by what he did. Of course you don’t ever want to see that person, again. Of course, you might wish that he would disappear. To guard your heart against that kind of wish, about that kind of person, is a subject for another time.

I’m talking about desiring – even faintly – someone’s disappearance or death, when all that stands between you is a (very real) disagreement? This is what Saul (who became Paul) has allowed into his heart, and then acted out in the murder of Stephen: Saul “approves” the killing. If we are honest, almost everyone has had that thought about someone else – even someone who has not done us any real harm beyond being a royal nuisance.

Early in his ministry Jesus said this about that:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus wants, what can become murder, to stop at unrighteous anger – a person who plays with unrighteous anger, is like a person who plays with matches in a dried up forest, full of wooden houses. The brother of Jesus said the same thing: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6)

And, in this Holy Week, we should remember that the people who shouted “Hosanna!” when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, were the same people who shouted “Crucify him!” before he went to the Cross. How does it get to that point? How can things change so quickly?

It all begins with the unrighteous anger we allow – or don’t allow – into our hearts. Is there any of that, in there, in you?

Prayer: Lord, if I am honest, I have entertained the same thoughts that Saul did – they may not have been as bad; and I may not have acted on them, but I have done what you said I should not do: Abuse another person verbally – or in my mind – to the point that it shows I wish they would disappear, or even die. Lord, forgive me, and cleanse my heart of all unrighteous anger. Amen.

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