He stood watching with a sense of moral pride as the sentence was being carried out on the prisoner. The punishment for the young man’s crime was death and it was administered with wolfish delight. The executioners righteous indignation and spiritual passion were demonstrated for all to see. It was meant to be a warning to anyone who chose to defy spirituality as it was defined by the ruling elders of the Sanhedrin.
What exactly had the young man, Stephen, done that garnered him the death verdict? He had become one of those fools who discovered a false spiritual passion in the teachings of the crucified and so-called Christ, Jesus, the one they claimed had been resurrected. For this crime, Stephen was brought to stand trial before the church leadership who believed they alone were the arbiters of godly spiritual passion. Because this young man was teaching heresy, he stood trial and was condemned for living and discipling passionate spirituality as it was defined by Jesus the Messiah.
Our spectator, who wasn’t allowed to participate in the stoning of Stephen, was relegated to holding the coats belonging to the elders of the church leadership. They, in turn, took great pride in their role as the protectors of God and His church. They had dragged the heretic from the courtroom shouting insults and picking up stones. The self-righteous authority figures would use the stones as instruments of torture and death. They were rocketing forward to the moment when true spiritual passion would be revealed in contrast to the counterfeit displayed by those who would hurl the stones.
Even as the men battered Stephen with the stones, he looked heavenward praying for those who were in the process of stealing his life from him. In that moment, a look of infinite wonder transfixed his face as Stephen saw Jesus standing in the heavens.
“They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59,60 NASB
Saul, holding coats, watched this spectacle of destructive passion. He became even more driven by the counterfeit of passionate spirituality he had just witnessed in the murder of Stephen the Heretic! Saul felt a growing sense of superiority and righteous indignation inflame his hatred for all those who defied the authority of the church. He wanted to cleanse the world of those who were trying to redefine everything he had been taught as a Pharisee.
Saul approached the church leadership with a plan to seek out these malignant troublemakers. He would bring them to justice if they refused to acknowledge the error of their choice to become followers of this counterfeit Messiah. In his own version of spiritual passion, Saul was prepared to kill those who defied the true faith. The church leaders agreed to give him all the authority he needed to stop the heresy of the Jesus followers. Armed with his newfound power and authority, Saul set off to practice the counterfeit of passionate spirituality which seeks only to destroy. Saul, the Pharisee, was about to come into direct contact with the genuine passionate spirituality in absolute contrast to that which he believed he was living.
The Passionate Spirituality lived by Jesus serves as the blueprint for the life of those who choose to be held in Him. Spiritual passion in Christ never tears down. It always builds up. This is how we discover what passionate spirituality looks like, what it actually does, and how it behaves.
While Saul was on the road to the city of Damascus, he was confronted by Jesus.
“As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, Why are you persecuting Me?’”
Saul had just had his first encounter with the Author of true passionate spirituality revealed through Jesus’ words to him. Passionate spirituality never chooses to destroy another. For in attacking others we are attacking the very One we claim to serve. Over and over we are shown that the only true spiritual passion is that found in the life, death, and resurrected life of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t condemn Saul. He showed Saul that his version of spirituality was accomplishing nothing but the very persecution of God. This revelation forever changed Saul’s life. The young man once known as Saul became Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ. He learned that only as it is found in Jesus does passionate spirituality cause one’s life focus to change. It becomes about building up the lives of others rather than about destroying them. In Jesus, we continually see that the counterfeit of spirituality is shown to be the polar opposite of that revealed in His dealings with humanity.
“If you want people to become passionate, engaged in a field, transformed by an experience don’t test them, you don’t lecture them and you don’t force them. Instead, you create an environment where willing, caring individuals can find an experience that changes them.” Seth Godin
Jesus is the Master Architect, creating a spiritual passion that transforms the individual to love and build up others. It does not become a force of counterfeit passionate spirituality relying on coercion or trauma. Passionate Spirituality as defined in Jesus brings about change without the destruction of the person or their existence in His love, grace, and mercy. This is how we identify the genuine from the counterfeit every time.
It really isn’t that difficult once we understand that true passionate spirituality is all about creating disciples of Jesus who reveal His character.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, as it was the substance of things which have come to pass; it is the evidence of things not seen. And in this way, it became a testimony concerning the elders. For it is through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that the things which are seen came to be from those which are not seen.” Hebrews 11:1-3 Ancient Eastern Text
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