Thursday, March 14
Kicking Against the Goads
26:4 “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand on trial because of the hope in what God promised to our ancestors, 7 the promise our twelve tribes hope to reach as they earnestly serve him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. 8 Why do any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I was in agreement against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to make them blaspheme. Since I was terribly enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
12 “I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests. 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 “I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have had help from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing other than what the prophets and Moses said would take place— 23 that the Messiah must suffer, and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Act 26:4-23 (CSB)
You may have noticed that we skipped a large chunk of Scripture in yesterday’s reading. Since we were focusing on Paul’s prison problems, I omitted his speech before King Agrippa. There is a temptation to skip it altogether, because, while Paul’s conversion is a new story to Agrippa, we’ve already heard it twice in of Acts. Besides the fact that if God mentions something three times in the Bible one should pay attention, Paul adds a detail this time that he hasn’t mentioned before. On the ground, blinded by the light, Jesus asked Paul, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? We know this line. But then Jesus said, It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
A goad is a livestock prod used to move large stubborn animals (usually oxen) in the right direction. I grew up on a hog farm and live on a cattle ranch, so I understand this agricultural axiom. When you encounter a stubborn animal, a prod is your best friend (my husband once returned from a trip with three cattle prods as gifts for our 8, 5, and 3 year-old boys, because, as he said, you always need a cattle prod, except the boys thought they were swords…but I digress). Modern prods are nothing than long sticks with rubber a rubber grip and rounded, plastic-tipped ends, because the power of the prod is not pain—it’s persistence. An animal might resist or kick, but eventually they’ll realize it’s easier just to go where they’re being directed.
The book of Acts gives no indication that God was ‘prodding’ Paul towards faith in Jesus. He was not fighting God over a personal poking, but he was flat-out fighting God’s entire plan—because he thought he was fighting for God. Paul was vehement in his persecution of believers, even though Paul had been warned not to fight against the movement. In Acts 5, after Peter and John’s second arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish officials wanted to kill the disciples, but a Pharisee named Gamaliel warned:
So in the present case, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; but it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.
Paul was not a member of the Sanhedrin, but he no doubt he heard Gamaliel’s advice…from Gamaliel himself. Pharisees learned Torah (the Law) by sitting at the feet of an expert Rabbi (Teacher), asking questions and being trained in interpretation and application. Gamaliel was one of the preeminent rabbis of the first century, and he was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher, mentor, and likely even a father figure to him, and so he had surely heard Gamaliel speak against resisting religious movements. He knew his teacher’s advice regarding this new Jesus movement. Don’t fight it.
Paul was young and passionate, though, and practically looking for a fight to prove his zeal. He should have listened to his teacher, though, because he found himself fighting against God. Yahweh Himself was the goad against which Paul was kicking. He was determined he knew the right way, and kept fighting The Way. No matter how much he did though, were always more believers, in more cities. Paul thought he could stop it with persecution—but you can’t stop God.
On the road to Damascus, Paul stopped kicking, and his experience became a warning to all who attempted to stop his mission to the Gentiles. In front of King Agrippa, Paul’s speech is equal parts Gospel-preaching and warning. The authorities could lock Paul up or even kill him, but that wouldn’t overthrow the Church. Jewish leaders or Roman officials or Caesar himself could try and stop the forward direction of the message of Jesus, but the Gospel was persistent.
Nothing could stop it then, and nothing can stop it now.
The world may kick against God and the Gospel. Sometimes the Church itself resists God’s leading. We as individuals Christians certainly kick against God’s direction in our lives. All that fighting is in vain, though, because in a fight against God, the human always loses. God cannot be overthrown.
Are you fighting against God? In what area do you need to stop kicking and submit to his leading?
Are you facing resistance as you follow God’s leading and finding yourself anxious, fearful, or doubtful? Trust God. Trust his leading. Trust that nothing and no one can overthrow His plan.
Almighty God, You are the Almighty one. The world may stubbornly resist and even actively fight against You, but the struggle is in vain. Any momentary victory by the enemy will eventually be crushed by Your unequaled power. Help me to trust that sovereignty when evil seems to be winning and the Church seems to be failing. And remind me of Your power and good plan when I am the one stubbornly resisting You. Resisting You just isn’t worth the effort, so I submit to You, my Lord. Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.