The only direct communication we have from Jesus after His ascension is Paul’s interaction with Him on the road to Damascus. Paul, then known as Saul, has been persecuting the church, and Jesus appears to him, asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14 NASB).
The first phrase indicates that Jesus identifies with His church. Technically, Saul hadn’t been persecuting Jesus at all. He had been persecuting Christians. But Jesus basically says, “If you are persecuting my Beloved Church/Bride, then you are persecuting Me!”
That should be comforting to us! Jesus identifies with our pain when we are misunderstood and given any negative feedback for our faith. Jesus is in our shoes! Even though persecution and even His sacrificial death didn’t make Him “take it personally,” He, in a sense, “takes it personally” when His people, His followers, are hurt or harmed. He doesn’t like it and He’ll fight for us. He stood up against Paul and He stands up for us!
I find this amazingly strengthening. I’ve never thought of this before–in that way. I’m not alone when I feel slighted, ignored, or considered ignorant when people reject Jesus if I share about Him. Their reaction isn’t about me, it’s about Jesus! He’s by my side and I can be strengthened to continue sharing as He leads.
The second phrase by Jesus, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” is the answer to the question Jesus asks in the first phrase. Jesus asks, “Why…? Why are you persecuting Me?” It’s like some Italian mafia guy asking in an thick Italian accent, “What are you? Stupid?”
It’s interesting that the phrase “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” is not in most original copies of Luke’s account in Acts 9. Paul adds the phrase when he gives his testimony to King Agrippa in Acts 26. Evidently Luke didn’t think it was that important or else Paul was trying to make a particular point to King Agrippa. Maybe he was saying to the King, “What are you? Stupid? Believe in Jesus!”
Regardless, Jesus’s comment is interesting. What surprised me is that Jesus is saying something like, “You sure don’t want the best for yourself, do you? Don’t you see that it’s not in your best interests to reject Me?”
“Kicking against the goads” is based on a proverb used by Latin and Greek writers. It refers to sticks which had pointed pieces of iron fastened to it and were used to prod the cattle as they plowed a field. If an ox rebelled and kicked against the prod, it would give itself pain. It wasn’t in the ox’s best interests to resist.
What surprised me is that Jesus is seemingly encouraging Paul to look out for himself. I might not go so far as to say, “to be selfish,” but Jesus is definitely pointing out that Paul is hurting himself. He could treat himself a lot better by stopping what he’s doing.
We could each ask ourselves the same thing. Maybe we’ll be more obedient if we asked ourselves, “What? Are you stupid? Why do you keep doing the same disobedient things when it’s not in your best interests?!” (Just don’t use an Italian mafia accent!)
Why can’t we see that obeying is the most selfish thing and self-protective thing we can do? Obeying a loving and wise and good God is the smartest, wisest, in-our-best-interests choice we can make. It’s a no-brainer! (And it shows we’re smart–not stupid!)