Acts 26: 12 (The apostle Paul testifies on his own behalf to King Agrippa telling his personal story of conversion as a young man) “With (persecuting Christians) in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14 When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'”
Here Paul is close to the end of his life. His is the remarkable story of a promising young Jewish leader (a Pharisee) who was forever changed by an encounter with the risen Jesus. An enemy of Jesus (and Christians) became the great Christian apostle to the Gentiles.
As is true of most everyone later in life, advanced years affords Paul gift of perspective. Key events of Paul’s life, both good and bad, are seen in the context of many years rather than in isolation. Perspective helps us better understand, not just WHAT happened in the past, but WHY things happened the way they did. It’s in that context, then, that a couple of verses of the passage really stick out for me this morning:
14 When we (Paul and his companions) had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'”
In particular my eye was drawn to “It hurts you to kick against the goads.” If you’re like me, you read that sentence and said to yourself “huh?!”. I’ve read this passage many times but never paid attention to it. Today is different. I did some research on this verse and found it very helpful.
To “kick against the goads” was a saying in ancient times that referred to the phenomenon of an ox or other beast of burden resisting the sharp stick of one trying to lead the animal in a particular direction – not unlike a cattle prod might be used today. It’s an image intended to highlight the stubbornness and/or heard-headedness of the animal. Two things about this:
1. Jesus is helping Paul understand what’s been happening as an obscure Jewish sect (Christians) have been growing in number and sharing the good news of the gospel. By resisting this group of Christian believers Paul has, in fact, been resisting God (the one holding the cattle prod).
2. By resisting this act of God, it may appear that the new Christian movement is paying the price. Not so. Jesus says “It hurts you (Paul) to kick against the goads.” Why is this a big deal?
Because you and I are often the ones who “kick against the goads” – and, like Paul, we are the ones who are hurt by it.
We resist God’s direction. We are slow to surrender our ways for God’s ways – even when we know what’s best. Know what I mean? Questions:
1. How might you be resisting God’s direction in your life?
2. How are YOU the one getting hurt as you refuse to follow God’s lead?
Lord Jesus, we are a stubborn and stiff-necked people. Give us grace to stop resisting your will and your ways. For we are the ones who ultimately pay the price for resistance and disobedience. We ask this in your precious name. Amen.