Perhaps we have all heard someone exclaim, “That will leave a mark!” after witnessing an accident of some type or a particularly vicious looking weapon. Both speaker and hearer give thanks for not being a part of the crumpled steel or on the receiving end of the weapon.
Not all marks present themselves for visual inspection. Children who have repeatedly suffered from neglect, violence, or verbal shame carry marks on their spirit. While children are quite resilient in being able to survive harsh circumstances, they carry the marks of abuse where there should have be marks of love.
Some external marks do not convey the depth of spirit wounds. Surely the tattoos of holocaust survivors only reveal a tiny amount of the distress experienced on the inside. Those who suffer violence may have a scar where wounds once oozed the stuff of life, but the trauma of PTSD can shatter spirits for a lifetime. Humans have tools for accurately tracing pock marks on the moon, but we are at a loss to accurately measure marks on the human spirit and the impact of those wounds. Some wounds even get passed from generation to generation. Sin has marked all people, families, and elements of culture.
As I read Acts 14 I see many mark-leaving events. As I seek to place myself in the traveling disciple band, the sights, sounds, smells and texture of the marks jump from nearly every sentence Luke transmits to us. I can hear them “speak in such a way” that a great number of Jews and Greeks believe. The Gospel leaves marks that way. The hearer either accepts the grace marks or gives voice to the poisonous marks in their mind. Grace exposes the marks of sin even as it transforms the old wounds to healing paths that draw us to God, each other, and the Master’s mission in the world.
When a life-long disabled man listens to Paul’s talk, he dared to believe twisted limbs could be reformed by grace. When Paul saw faith begin to mark the man’s face, he commanded the man to stand. The man’s faith went even further; he sprang up and walked. At that moment the whole city saw grace marks and had to respond.
Marks are subject to interpretation. In this case the city misinterpreted the results of grace. Part of their collective psyche was an ancient story of gods visiting their city. The city rejected the gods except for one poor couple. When judgement fell, only the hospitable couple survived. The city went into god-welcoming mode when they saw their brother walk. Unfortunately they did not have adequate experience in reading the signs of grace even though all of nature declared God’s grace. Because of grace, God witnessed through the life-giving rains and fruitful seasons that brought gladness even to idol worshippers.
Plans for worshipping Barnabas and Paul as Zeus and Hermes escaped the apostles’ attention until the garland adorned oxen approached the city gates. The priests’ best attire, glistening knives, and smiling faces in the crowd told the men what the foreign tongue couldn’t … they were about to be worshiped as gods.
They tore their garments to mark the blasphemy of the occasion. Their explanation barely stopped the grievous outcome.
When the two men rejected the crowd’s interpretation, the people had to choose between two alternatives. Were these men witness of a new God as they claimed or were they some malevolent force that came to overturn all of their city’s traditions? Rejecting the praise of humanity frequently leaves a mark. Jesus would not be the kind of king Jerusalem wanted, so honor changed to angry mob action and Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul went from a god speaking for Zeus to a villain to be stoned. No middle ground existed. Paul could not accept worship for a while until he could transfer it to Jesus.
They left him for dead. They inadvertently helped Paul clarify his theology.
As the apostles made their way back through the various disciple bands they encouraged the new believers with a strange message. They would enter the kingdom by faith and by suffering tribulation. As I sit in on the Bible study held under the flickering light of an oil lamp, the bruises of the speaker must have punctuated the words more than a Hammond B3 organ. The word ‘tribulation’ sounds different when spoken through broken teeth.
The marked man offered his Bible study group the chance to be marked like him. Marked by faith in God’s offered grace and marked by the opposition. Evidently enough heard the call as they took the cup and bread that night to call for the appointment of new elders.
As I finish the journey with the missionaries, a journey that required walking 60 to 100 miles between cities after being left for dead, I have to come home to Texas. I cannot stay with them. I cannot worship them any more than the cities could. Like most people I want to leave some kind of mark on the world. But the apostles’ words still ring in my ears and I can still taste the cup and bread, tokens of Jesus’ suffering and hope, on my tongue. Am I willing be carry all the marks of grace, or do I want to be worshipped for having done something?
I think this calls me to pray.
Thank you for your boundless grace! My family and I carry so many grace marks that we have lost count. We know each day starts with new mercies. All we have to do is pray and receive.
I repent of the various ways I have accepted worship that only belongs to You. Sometimes I have lived faithfully and done good works to be noticed, to find value in that performance. Those efforts marked me those I served in a negative way. In those moments I have exchanged the boundless love and value you placed on me for my feeble efforts to produce value for myself. Forgive me I pray! Even now as I pray I know your grace washes over me afresh. Today has new grace marks.
I pray for the strength we all need to accept and even value the tribulations that accompany entering the kingdom. Surely identifying with You and Your kingdom will place us in opposition to a world that prefers idols of their own making, idols they control, rather than worshipping the Creator.
Finally, I am so blessed that I do not have to walk this way alone. The Holy Spirit guides my brothers, sisters, and me on this kingdom journey.
As I recount my marks today. I give you glory all over again. All glory and honor belong to You. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
In Jesus Name,