Cancel Culture: Not a new phenomenon

AdobeStock_358226652-1280x720I am preparing to study the Word of God tonight with our middle school kids at AWANA. Our lesson is about transformation. These kids have been studying the book of Acts this school year and their passage tonight is Acts 9:19-31. Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ and it transformed his life. He even demonstrated that transformation by changing his name from Saul to Paul. We know him today as the Apostle Paul. Before encountering the resurrected Jesus Christ, Saul was a murderer. He hated Christians and persecuted them in every way possible. From this moment on, Paul preaches the Jesus he once opposed. This proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads us to our examination of Cancel Culture. It is not a modern phenomenon. It has been around as long as sin has been around.

Before we jump into the text, I want to give a little backstory on Saul/Paul. He was born into a Jewish family and raised as a Pharisee. He was a student of the Bible from early childhood. He had to memorize almost 6,000 verses of the Bible in order to be a Pharisee. All of his study of the Scripture never led him to the Truth. He was a student of the Truth but he never fully comprehended the Truth until he met the resurrected Jesus Christ. After that encounter, he connected all of the dots. Even though he is a brand new believer, he has great knowledge of the Bible.

I. Examining the evidence

Once Saul was born again and had his life transformed by Jesus Christ, he immediately wanted to go to his people and share the Truth with them. He knew how they thought and was equipped to show the Truth to them from the Scriptures.

19 Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus,
20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9)

In verse 20, to proclaim means, “to be a herald“. In essence, Paul had a message that he was passing on to the audience. He did not add to or take away from the message. He delivered the message exactly as he had received it. Paul preached the unaltered Word of God to his people, the Jews. He demonstrated, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is God in the flesh. Many people will agree with you if you proclaim that Jesus was a great man, a teacher, a healer, and a spiritual leader. However, when you claim that Jesus is God, those many become few very quickly.

All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21)

Paul’s personal testimony accompanied this proclamation. The people knew his history. They were a little confused because they were looking at a transformed man and they could not understand what had happened to him.

But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:22)

Paul took advantage of the opportunity and continued to teach the Word of God to his people. The Word of God began to do Its work in the lives of the audience. In verse 22, the Bible states that Paul was confounding the Jews. He presented the facts from the Word of God that Jesus is God and that He is the long anticipated Messiah. Confounded is the English word used by the NASB (New American Standard Bible) translators. It’s a translation of the Greek word “Sugcheo“. It means to commingle. Paul’s arguments were beginning to make sense to the audience. The word “proving” in verse 22 is “Sumbibazo” in Greek. It means to unite. Paul was beginning to win over the crowd. The Word of God was changing their minds about Jesus. They were starting to see the Truth about Jesus for the first time ever. This brings us to the point of Cancel Culture.

II. Cancel Culture manifested

The Jewish religious leaders felt threatened by the Truth. They could not combat Paul’s argument so they had to turn to another tactic.

23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him,
24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death;
25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. (Acts 9)

It took them several days but they derived a plan. Since they could not defeat his arguments, they decided to cancel him, permanently. These same tactics play out in our midst today. The people of our culture have lost the art of debate. We automatically see opposition to our views as a personal attack. How many people today get “canceled” when they raise questions that are contrary to popular opinion? Just think about what happened on Twitter over the past 3 plus years. We often think of Cancel Culture as a modern phenomenon but, as we have seen from this passage, it has been around for at least the past 2,000 years. If we go to the Old Testament, we discover that it has been around much longer than that. How is Paul going to respond to Cancel Culture? How should we respond today?

III. History repeats

Paul escaped with his life. He almost got canceled. Will he do the same things that got him in trouble or, will he just keep his head down and mind his own business?

28 And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.
29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. (Acts 9)

Paul ended up in Jerusalem. The first thing that he did was to find his people and do the exact same thing that got him canceled in Damascus. He continued to preach Jesus as God, the long anticipated Messiah. In verse 29, the NASB translates the Greek word “Suzeteo” as “argue“. In earlier times, the word “argue” was used very differently than we use it today. In earlier usage, to argue meant “to make reasoned statements to prove or refute a proposition.” That’s the meaning of the Greek word, “Suzeto“. Today, we use “argue” to mean “to exchange or express diverging or opposite views, typically in a heated or angry way.” Paul was not angry with his audience. He used evidence, reason, and logic with them. He wanted them to experience what he had experienced. His life had been transformed by Jesus Christ. The audience did get heated because they could not refute his message. They decided to cancel him. If this is not the epitome of modern Cancel Culture, I do not know what is. Is Cancel Culture detrimental to the church? Many would immediately respond with a resounding YES. Cancel Culture can be detrimental to the church if believers do the opposite of what Paul did. It we put our heads down, stay in our lanes, and stop proclaiming Jesus publicly then YES, Cancel Culture will be detrimental to the church. But, if we follow Paul’s example and continue to love people enough to preach Jesus then the church will . . .

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9:31)

Did you discover the answer? It’s right there in the text. The church was built up and continued to increase! I want that and I am sure that you want that too. Continue to examine the Scriptures with others, pointing out in the Bible that Jesus is God, the long awaited Messiah. The Word of God will do Its work, minds will be changed, and lives will be transformed.

May the Lord help us live out these Truths each and every day of our lives!

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