Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Paul's Time-Travel Superman Adventure

There is an episode of Smallville (a show about Clark Kent before he became Superman) where Clark decides the time has come to reveal himself to the world. He does an interview, gets his story printed and is an immediate celebrity. People begin giving him free coffees and newspapers because of all the good he does in saving people. Crowds applaud as he walks down the street. Girls throw themselves off of buildings just so that he will catch them. He is seen as a hero who selflessly gives of himself to the world at large.

Until another reporter prints a story claiming Clark Kent is the first wave of an alien invasion and fabricates evidence linking him to a murder.

Suddenly, Clark Kent goes from admired hero to renegade outlaw. The police try to round up all of his friends, looking for a weakness to use against Clark. The S.W.A.T. team arrives at his farmhouse to bring him in for questioning. Overnight, Clark Kent becomes a wanted outlaw. Eventually, Clark has to pull the tried and true sci-fi time-travel technique in order to set things straight and keep the whole scandalous episode from happening. In the end, Clark decides that the world simply isn't ready to know about him yet, at least not by his real name.

Clark's journey from admired hero to wanted outlaw in less than a day parallels a similar journey in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas were in the city of Lystra, preaching the Gospel, and Paul healed a crippled man. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they immediately proclaimed that Paul and Barnabas were gods in human form, naming Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because Paul did most of the speaking. Paul and Barnabas tried to explain to the people that they were ordinary human beings and that God alone was responsible for the miracle, but it was all they could do to keep the people from making sacrifices to them. Shortly after that, some of Paul's Jewish adversaries from Antioch showed up and turned the once adoring crowds against them until "They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, apparently dead. But as the believers stood around him, he got up and went back into the city" (Acts 14:19-20, NLT). In just a few short days, Paul went from being considered a god to being stoned by a rioting mob!

Now, none of us can claim to be either Paul or the Man of Steel, but we should never be surprised when people who are really excited about us then turn on us. Too often, we place very unrealistic expectations on other people and when those expectations are not met, disappointment and even anger soon take the place of that initial excitement. Jesus experienced the same phenomenon when the expectant crowds from Palm Sunday realized that Jesus was not the kind of political messiah they had been hoping for.  Ministers have the same experience when congregations expect them to come in and, by their sheer presence, to radically transform their church or youth group overnight, becoming extremely disappointed when it doesn't happen.

If you feel like people have turned on you and that all the good will you once had has evaporated, remember that you are not alone and don't try to gain back their approval by being what people want you to be. Follow Christ, live out your calling, and allow God to work through people's disappointment and disillusionment.  We can't control people's emotional highs and lows. We can only control whether or not we live consistent, Christ-centered lives. 

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