We have come to the end of another book, and Acts 28 finally brings Paul to Rome. Specifically, he met with the Jewish people of Rome, and he spoke to them about Jesus Christ. Some listened to him, and others did not, but it is important to recognize that the discussions did not seem to end when the people left Paul’s house where he was under house arrest.
Act 28:25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
Act 28:26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
Act 28:27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Act 28:28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
This is undoubtedly a controversial statement. It must not have made the Jewish people happy. However, going back to verse 24, it is clear that there was disagreement. Some believed him, and others did not. Some were ready to follow Jesus, and others were not.
I think about the value of discussion. I think about how these people clearly had a difference of opinion, but they were still able to have a conversation and civilly disagree. It seems to be the case that perhaps we are losing that ability. Part of me thinks that perhaps it is largely a technological development. It is easier to rant and rave when the other person is not someone that you know and ideally want to maintain a civil relationship with. When you yell at someone on the Internet, you will probably never meet them in person.
Whatever the reason, it seems to be the case that we can learn from Paul. Some agreed, some didn’t, but the discussions continued.
Paul had a remarkable testimony of miracles in his life, and Acts 27 seems to be one of the most significant. Again, Paul was going to stand before Caesar. We have seen that same echoing throughout the past several days, and Paul saw an angel who reaffirmed that destiny. However, the angel also told Paul that the ship was going to be demolished.
Act 27:22 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.
Act 27:23 For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Act 27:24 Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Act 27:25 Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
Act 27:26 Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.
Everything happened exactly as Paul described it. That must’ve been some type of testimony for the people on the ship. After all, they knew what Paul had predicted, and they ultimately knew it had come true. Perhaps that is why at the end of the chapter, when the ship was finally demolished, the centurion who was in charge chose to preserve Paul’s life against the advice of some of the other soldiers. In Rome, it was a big deal to have a prisoner escape, so it would have been safer perhaps to simply kill the prisoners rather than allow them to have the opportunity of escape when they got off the boat.
However, there is evidence here. There was something different about Paul and how he received this information. I find it interesting how so many people can miss that about the Bible. The Bible makes claims in many different places about many different things. Did Jesus fulfill Messianic prophecy? That’s just one example, but the Bible is a document that does open itself up to verification. It makes historical claims as well about people and places. Are those claims accurate?
Like Paul in this case, the evidence exists. As we show people these evidences, it might help overcome some of the intellectual barriers to hold people back from believing in Jesus Christ. In our personal lives, it has been said that the most powerful apologetic is the evidence of a transformed life. That type of testimony is powerful. People notice the difference, and they want to know what has changed. God is still in the business of miracles.
Acts 26 points out the plans of God and how they often times work together in ways that we would have no way of planning. After Paul presented his case to Agrippa, he did such a good job that they were ready to drop the charges against him.
Act 26:30 And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
Act 26:31 And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Act 26:32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
Interestingly, other than the Jewish people who were trying to get Paul in trouble, nobody really found him guilty, but he kept going from trial to trial. As we see here, he might have been able to go free, but because he had filed an appeal, he was going to another trial. However, Paul continued to persevere. He did not rant and rave against the system. He did not complain about injustice. He continued to go to Rome. He continued to do what he knew was going to happen anyway. He had been told by God that he was going to Rome. He knew that that was the plan.
We often times wonder what God might be doing. Certainly, I know I have plans, and there are some talents I think God has given me to use in certain ways. However, I might be wrong. God might have a different plan for my talents. Like Paul, I know that I need to be, and by extension, I know that all of us need to be, willing to follow that plan. That certainly involves flexibility, and it involves trust. We need to trust that God knows what is ultimately best for us. That is hard. However, Paul can be a good example for us.
Politics were important even in Israel 2000 years ago. In Acts 25, Paul was standing before Festus, and there were pretty high stakes for Paul.
Act 25:9 But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?
Act 25:10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
Act 25:11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.
Paul understood the legal system. He knew that if he went back to Jerusalem, it would be nothing more than a show trial. He also knew that he did not do anything wrong, so he wanted justice to be done as well as to fulfill the previous prophecy that he would go to Rome. Festus might have been willing to humor the Jewish people for some reason, but Paul knew what he was allowed to do.
Taking this into modern society, there are still governments. We don’t live in anarchy. It seems to me then that we need to be as aware as Paul was. He knew the reality that was around him, and he knew how the government worked. He knew he could appeal, and he exercised that right because he saw the political implications of not doing so.
Obviously, I know that many people are not interested in politics or government. However, I think that one thing we can see from Paul here is that he at least knew and understood the situation he was in and how to make the best of it. As we saw earlier, he understood he had to go to Rome. He was able to utilize even the governmental structure at the time to advance the mission.
What is our job on earth? We are to glorify God in all that we do. If we can do that by working through government, then there’s no problem.
In Acts 24, Paul is again granted a rather interesting opportunity to share his faith with Felix. Felix had just been his judge, but after that he called for Paul to explain Christianity to him.
Act 24:24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
Act 24:25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
Act 24:26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
Verse 26 points out that there very well might have been ulterior motives as to why he wanted to speak with Paul, but it is simultaneously true that he did not need to call Paul. It seems to be the case that at the very least, Felix was interested in the message of Christianity that Paul was spreading.
Paul then spoke about righteousness, temperance and the future judgment. Righteousness seems obvious. Felix was obviously a judge. He would have understood that some things are good, and some things are not. Paul would have talked about the righteousness that can only come from Christ, but it was an area of connection.
In terms of temperance, I do not know a lot about Felix as a historical figure, but as an official and the government, it is quite possible that he had a lifestyle of excess. At the very least, it would have been radically different than the Christian message of exercising self-control.
The future judgment would have been appealing to a judge as well. He would have understood the idea that people need to be judged according to what they have done.
The main point here is that Paul knew his audience. I think that we can sometimes be intimidated by sharing the message of Jesus Christ because it seems to be such a massive task. You all know I am interested in apologetics, and there are plenty of great arguments that can be used to defend the reasonability of a belief in Jesus Christ. However, I don’t need to use them all and memorize them all every time. We need to know our audience, and that will make the more relevant for the person we are talking to.
Acts 23 is very interesting because we get to see the simultaneous use of the natural and the supernatural in advancing the plan of God. First, after testifying before the Jewish leaders, Paul actually had a supernatural experience with Jesus Christ.
Act 23:11 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
After that, there was a Jewish plot to kill Paul by a band of 40 men who had sworn to not eat or drink until they had assassinated their target.
Act 23:15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
Act 23:16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.
In the first case, we see the supernatural providing encouragement for Paul. The text does not say if he was having doubts or any type of questions at this point, but even if he was not, I am sure he appreciated the supernatural encouragement.
In the second case, God used natural situations helped Paul remain safe. His nephew happened to hear what was going on and told Paul who told the centurions. Without that information, perhaps Paul would have been assassinated at that point.
The important part here is the plan of God was moving forward. God knew Paul needed to go to Rome. Therefore, he provided Paul with the encouragement to continue doing what he was doing. He simultaneously made sure that Paul was not killed before concluding that mission. God knew what was coming, and it was no surprise. However, it is a great privilege to be approximately to be 2000 years into the future and to have the ability to look back at how God was operating.
Paul must’ve been an interesting man. In Acts 22, the story ends with him explaining to the Roman centurion that he was indeed a Roman citizen and therefore could not punished until he was legally condemned. Paul could have said that at the beginning of the conversation. He could have avoided this entirely unpleasant episode, but he did not for some reason. Perhaps he did not because it gave him an opportunity to witness. However, it did not end there for his opportunities.
Act 22:30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.
Beyond this one opportunity, he was now going to have an opportunity to speak before a Council to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. I don’t know about you, but when I think about witnessing opportunities, I generally don’t think about beginning them coming by being arrested.
That is part of what made Paul a remarkable missionary. He did not pass up any chance he got. Particularly in this situation, he had the right to remain silent. Although that was not a right in ancient Rome like it is today, nobody was pressuring him. He could have been arrested, brought to the Roman castle, quietly went inside, explained he was a Roman citizen and then set free. It doesn’t seem that the Romans were that upset about Paul originally. However, he recognized that on the stairway, he had a chance to speak to the people. Then, he ended up going before the Council because he had gone down this path of speaking.
How would be react in this situation? I would like to say that I would be so attentive to potential opportunities that I would take advantage of them in the way that Paul obviously did. God does put us in situations where we can be utilized, and we need to take advantage of those.
In Acts 21, Paul knew what he was getting into.
Act 21:11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
Act 21:12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Act 21:13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Act 21:14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
Paul knew that he was going to be arrested. He trusted the testimony of Agabus who brought him this prophecy. However, obviously that did not stop him even though his friends were even encouraging him to avoid that situation.
This would be a perfect situation where I think most of us would try to improve on the plan that God had. God intended for Paul to go to Jerusalem, so Paul knew that he needed to go. That is admirable. On the other hand, I think it would be very easy to justify avoiding Jerusalem at all costs. Paul could have said that his missionary work was so important, and he would not be able to do it if he was in jail, so it would seem to make sense to maybe improve on the plan that God had for him.
We need to try to avoid doing that though. We might think that we can do a better job planning out the future, but as the company pray that the end of this passage, we need to look for the will of God to be done.
Paul visited Ephesus in Acts 20 for what he knew was the last time. As a result, he had some very important things to communicate to the people that had gathered at that church.
Act 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Act 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Act 20:31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
Fallen humans have a tendency to take that which is good and turn it into something that is not. People were going to enter the church, a good institution, and they were going to try to make people depart away from the message of Jesus Christ. We don’t necessarily know how or what they were going to do, but Paul seems to take this type of intrusion as a very serious assault which needed to be countered.
There are plenty of good things in the world today. However, it seems like people have a way of twisting them into something that is not good. For kind of a ridiculous example, food is a good thing. However, too much of it is not healthy for anyone. It is something good that has the potential to be turned into something unhealthy.
If humans are able to abuse something even that simple, then it should not be surprising that some of them were going to try to come to mess up something that is similarly good. It strikes me as the reality of living in a fallen world. The church was instituted by Jesus Himself, and it is a great institution. However, it is comprised of imperfect humans, and it is not surprising that these imperfect people make mistakes. It does not mean that what God has established is the problem however. That is the important differentiation to make note of.
Yesterday, we talked about Apollos, and today we get to see how Paul handled believers who had been taught by Apollos in Acts 19.
Act 19:1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,
Act 19:2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
Act 19:3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.
Act 19:4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
Paul pointed out again that they were going in the right direction, but they did not go far enough. Repentance was incredibly important, but there was also the necessity of a belief in Jesus Christ that came after that.
Think about society today. I don’t think you will run into anyone who would argue that we live in a perfect world. I think it is rather obvious that there is something that is wrong with the world. Some people might want to believe in the ultimate goodness of humanity, but I don’t really know that we can sustain that. It seems to make sense that the world is actually imperfect.
When faced with that reality, we can certainly be sorry about it. I think that is where repentance alone brings us to. We realize that we have messed up, and that is important. However, if we are just stuck there, then I don’t see that there is hope. The hope is a byproduct of what Jesus Christ did. Because Jesus paid the price, we can have eternal life. We need the repentance to recognize our hopelessness on our own, but we need the belief in Jesus Christ to actually understand what hope we actually have. It is a complete story as we saw yesterday.