You Could Go Free

Posted on June 29, 2015

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A brief reflection in light of Obergefell v. Hodges

In Acts 21-26, Luke records the extended narrative of the Apostle Paul’s capture by the Jews in Jerusalem and their subsequent attempts to prosecute him and kill him.

In summary, against the wishes of his peers and church members (one of whom prophesied his eventual capture), Paul travels to Jerusalem to visit with Peter and others of the original 12 apostles. While there he is arrested under false pretenses by the Jewish leaders for allegedly preaching contrary to God’s law.  He is chained and hauled before multiple levels of the Roman and Jewish judicial system.

At each level, Paul gives an impassioned defense of both his legal innocence and of the Gospel.  Paul finally ends the charade by asserting his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard by Caesar himself, in obedience to the Lord who told him to go to Rome (Acts 23:11, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”).  The action concludes with an audience with Festus, the regional governor, and Herod Agrippa, the territorial king, in Acts 26:24-30:

And as [Paul] was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Those last words strike a chord with me in the wake of the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage, and for this reason:

You could go free, too.

You could.  You could go free from the opprobrium of people that call you a bigot.  You could sidestep any accusation that you’re a rube, a mouth-breathing sucker.  You could avoid any censure that you’re a naïf, a fundamentalist jerk, a final hold-out of a superstition that has begun breathing its death rattle.

None of that has to happen to you.  It’s all optional.  You could go free.

It would be easy.  Say that it doesn’t matter who sleeps with who or marries what.  That Jesus didn’t care, and why should we since it’s not our business.  That there are so many more important things in the world, things we can all agree on like feeding poor people or fighting for justice, or eradicating consumerism, or just being nice to each other.

It would be so easy.  Just stop, when you could keep going.

This is not about what is or isn’t now law regarding gay marriage in this land.  In any country where there are unsaved people, they will want to not only do things, but also legislate things, that are depraved, broken, wrong.  Christians should not be surprised by this.

Nor is it about acquiring license to spray malignant foolishness with every twitch of the tongue, to seek conflict and court debate because battle is a perverse kind of fun, to flex Twitter muscles or chest-thump.  1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 3 still apply to us.

Nor is it about opting out of the mandate to love our neighbor, to serve others, to be salt and light to this place and to people who don’t like us.  What credit is it if you only do good to those who do good to you?  Jesus asked.  Even sinners do that.

What it is about, is the mere thing of what you will say when your time before the crowd, before Festus, before Agrippa, comes.  Will you hit that ‘like’ button, share that link?  Will you say to your friends, your family, your church, that it doesn’t matter, that the clear word of Scripture doesn’t play?  Will you take the path that leads away from being laughed at, berated, wounded, excluded?  The path that winds to safety, fitting in, relevance?

You could.  You could go free.

Paul could have, also.  He could have stopped.  His case was airtight against the mob that formed to railroad him.  The sham of a legal process had reached almost to the level of farce. Festus knows that there is no breach of Roman law, and Agrippa’s words indicate that he would have let Paul go.

But Paul didn’t stop.

He appealed to Caesar instead.

Paul was on the cusp of winning his freedom.  He was one decision away from being unshackled.  He could take his chances with his enemies, trusting the Lord for protection.  He could possibly walk back into the mission field and plant more churches, savor many more years leading and writing and pastoring.  All he had to do was stop, when he could have kept going.

Instead he obeyed Jesus’ command  to him in Acts 23.  He appealed to Caesar, punched a ticket for Rome, and preached Christ.  He seized the chance to share the Gospel with the most powerful men in his region.  Agrippa got up and walked out with Festus.  This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. 

Paul stayed in his manacles, bound for Italy and an audience with Caesar, where he would assuredly have proclaimed the Gospel on an even grander stage.  He died there years later.  He would never be a free man again.

You could go free, too.  You could.  It just takes one decision.

The open question is, what is that freedom worth?  Is it of less value than handcuffs, of humiliation, of ridicule?  Worth less than obeying Jesus’ words?

Paul thought it was.

This man could have been set free, Agrippa and Festus said to each other.  What they didn’t know is that he was already free.  Paul was “a slave to righteousness”, a “bond-servant of Christ”, “in chains for the Gospel”.  He was free in a way they didn’t understand, couldn’t fathom.

In these days, on this subject, you could choose the same freedom that Paul chose for himself.  You could.

You could go free.

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