Monthly Archives: March 2015

Acts 28:17-21

17 Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.” 23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 26 “‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” [29]  30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

 

 

Paul finally arrives in Rome, and his comportment theretofore causes the Romans to trust him under house arrest. He takes the opportunity to speak to the local Jews in Rome, and learns that his accusers back in Jerusalem haven’t even bothered sending a letter ahead explaining the situation. Thus does Paul get yet another chance to expound on the gospel to his own people—and he takes it. The text tells us that many of them were eventually offended by Paul’s citation of Isaiah chapter 6, particularly as he applied it to them. Cut deeply by the personal nature of the gospel, many rejected it. The book closes with Paul shaking the metaphorical dust off his feet and finally moving his mission to the Gentiles. Just like in the shipwreck, Paul makes the best out of whatever circumstance he’s in. He stands for the gospel, and does it everywhere. But when he runs into opposition, it is frequently from people who are too prideful to admit that they are fallible humans. Those who take the biblical message of sin as personal affronts reject the gospel. Paul becomes the apostle to the Gentiles as a result.

 

We live in a culture that is rejecting Christ. They think they’re “born right the first time.” They proudly announce that “only God can judge me.” They display the anti-Christian pride in bumper stickers, t-shirts, and in the scripts of the tv shows they write. It’s offensive to them that the Bible teaches that they are sinners. While God provides for us, we must receive it. Paul received it, and was well-supplied even under house arrest. The Roman Jews refused God’s provision for their salvation, and God turned His apostle elsewhere. Despite the fact that our mission is from God and our power is from God and our success or failure is from God, we still are nervous about sharing the gospel. We are afraid of rejection, ridicule, even violence. We often forget that God is the guarantor of the mission, and that we are not responsible for the results—He is.

 

We have nothing to fear from the world. God loved them so much that He sent His Son for them—so tell them. If they reject that message, there will be another direction in which God will send you. Only open your mouth and speak it today.

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Acts 27.1-28.16

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. 13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. 21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” 27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away. 33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. 39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. 42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely. 28 1Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. 11 After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15 The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

 

 

Ironically, Paul’s appeal to Caesar would save his life from the Jews and buy him some time on the earth, but would ultimately lead to his demise. In moving toward Rome, he was moving toward death. But God would have the perfect time for that; in the meantime, everywhere Paul went became a mission field—Jerusalem, the tribune, Agrippa’s court, even a ship. This section provides some of the best evidence for Luke’s presence on the voyage, since the details of the voyage and shipwreck are so precise that only an eyewitness could have been there. When the Atonement Fast was over, Paul warned the centurion, pilot and ship’s owner that there was trouble ahead. But the centurion paid him no mind. The weather changed dramatically during the voyage, and the ship headed into a terrible storm. After almost two weeks of not seeing daylight for the ferocity of the storm, the men took a sounding and deduced that they were nearing land. They were prepared to abandon ship, but Paul spoke up once again—and this time, the centurion heeded his words. The ship broke up, and the normal policy would have been to kill the prisoners, but the centurion had developed an affinity for Paul—another evidence of the Providence of God. After everyone had made it to land safely, Paul publically survived a viper attack and prayed for the healing of Publius’ father, which happened. It seemed that everywhere he went, a mission field sprung up.

 

For what purpose has God been keeping and protecting you? Trust me—it isn’t just to “live.” All of us have been given the Great Commission, and God has kept you for the ultimate purpose of executing it. Everywhere you go, there is a mission field. And every conversation you have is an opportunity to point to the Risen Christ. God didn’t KEEP Paul from false accusation, shipwreck, snakebite or beheading. He simply empowered Paul to preach the gospel in the midst of those things. Avoiding adversity isn’t the goal; sharing the gospel in the midst of it is.

 

You’re here for a reason. Are you living it?

Acts 25:13-26:32

13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. 16 “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.” He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.” 23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.” 26 1Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. 12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” 24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” 25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” 30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.” 32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

 

 

Felix handed the ball off to Festus, Festus tried to run with it, but Paul’s appeal to Caesar placed the ball temporarily into Agrippa’s court. As Agrippa has come to town on other business, Festus sees it as the perfect opportunity to present the Paul Problem to him. With much pomp, Agrippa and Bernice enter the audience hall and send for the prisoner. And as he has done so many times before, Paul makes his defense by recounting his life as a lost man (26.2-11) then recalling the moment he was found (26.12-18). Festus remarks that Paul is crazy, but Paul brushes this silliness aside and goes straight for the heart of the matter: the personal salvation of Agrippa. He asks him, “do you believe the prophets?” (26.27). Agrippa refuses the “close the sale” at that time, but it is evident to everyone that Paul should have never been imprisoned. And so now, in the presence of the world’s dignitaries, Paul is recognized as innocent. Yet his appeal to Caesar means that he will make the same defense in front of the empire’s ruler. God is in charge of the events that take place, in order that the good news He has for men will be sent out.

 

God still cares about that good news being sent out. He is still in charge of situations around you. He is putting you into position to make a defense of your faith. He has placed you here with a purpose and a mission: to share the gospel and nurture the faith in others. Like Paul, you do not see your opportunity ahead of time; you have no way of knowing what God’s greater plan is. But you are being put into position to share this good news. Are you prepared to ask of those around you, “do you believe?” Like Paul, are you prepared to persuade others that Jesus is the Christ?

 

This is our purpose here on earth. It is the challenge that we meet daily. The gospel is our mission and our meaning. Are we prepared to make a defense of it today?

Acts 24:1-25:12

1Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.” The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true. 10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. 17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin— 21 unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’” 22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs. 24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. 27 When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison. 25 Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.” After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them. Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.” Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” 10 Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. 11 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” 12 After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

 

 

Once again, Paul finds himself in front of an audience—this time, the governor Felix. Once again, he takes the opportunity to squeeze the gospel into his conversation. In between defending himself from the spurious attacks of the Asian Jews who had stirred up the trouble in Jerusalem, he is still speaking of the resurrection of the dead and the love of God. Felix, for his part, was only interested in a bribe. It was two long years before Paul was transferred anywhere else—and so the gospel became his business in that place as much as it had been in every other place. The man who succeeded Felix—Porcius Festus—was once again besieged by the Jews, who asked him to transfer Paul to Jerusalem to stand trial at the Sanhedrin; of course, their true motivation was a second assassination attempt. Festus, for his part, was willing to placate them in some way, but Paul had an ace up his sleeve: his Roman citizenship. Knowing that no one the right to turn a Roman over to a Jewish mob, he appealed to Caesar.

 

Gospel, gospel, gospel, and more gospel. Intimate knowledge of the surrounding culture and law. More gospel. And then gospel on top of that. This is the pattern of Paul’s existence. Every conversation was an opportunity to introduce the gospel as a topic. Every bit of trouble that he got into was a chance to inject the gospel into the proceedings. Every place he found himself was a place for the gospel. The gospel wasn’t something that Paul attended to when he wasn’t taking care of his business; the gospel WAS his business.

 

Is it yours?

Acts 23:12-35

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.” 16 Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, “Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you.” 19 The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. 21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him, who have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for your consent.” 22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.” 23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night. 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect: 26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.” 31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

 

 

Paul has appeared before the Sanhedrin, and is scheduled to make another defense of his position soon; notwithstanding, the local Jews have taken an oath to kill him when he is brought down again. As long as he is in Jerusalem, he is in grave bodily danger. He’s ready to die this way, as he has indicated to others, but God has other plans—as He stated in 23.11. A young boy—literally Paul’s nephew—hears the conspiracy, and informs the proper authorities. The tribune arranges for Paul’s transport to the governor, Felix. Now he’ll get an audience with a Roman ruler, and no Jewish faction can assassinate him in such a place. And this becomes the irony of ironies: this same pagan, wicked regime that had mistreated God’s people and enslaved hundreds of thousands—a regime that was about a decade away from destroying their temple and their capital city—would now be used by God to protect His apostle from His people.

 

Only God can create such situational irony. Only God can provide divine protection and providence for His “sent ones.” As Paul lived his life and executed his ministry, he didn’t worry a bit about assassination or untimely death; he rather expected it as a consequence of standing for the gospel. He went about his business preaching, teaching, and training the young Church. But God was constantly working in his life to protect him from danger, provide him with sustenance, and give him the audience that needed to hear the gospel.

 

In our little church, we have begun to do the Lord’s work in reaching out to our community. We have begun to obey the Great Commission, even though it stretches us uncomfortably at times. Our first few efforts have resulted in more volunteer ministers than “lost” people from the community, and it would be easy to be deflated by this. But we understand that God provides the audience. We simply busy ourselves doing what He has called us to do—and HE gives the growth. He is the mover of the chess pieces of our lives. We trust Him to provide protection, provision and success for us. Because of this, we can define everything we do as successful, because to do otherwise would be to call God a failure. This gives us confidence to continue in His work.

 

Yesterday in worship, a young lady trusted Christ for her salvation. It was a powerful moment of the hearing and accepting of the gospel. Moreover, the same young lady had given her last dollar into the offering—and a complete stranger, moments later, had felt led by God to give her $100. In the first moments of her Christian infancy, this young lady had been taught that God provides for her in ways that she could never imagine. And we as a church are now being reminded of what the Lord Himself has promised to do for us.

 

Do His work today. It’s all you CAN do. He’ll take care of the rest.

Acts 22:22-23:11

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. 30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them. 23 1And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

 

 

The Jewish audience has heard enough of Paul’s testimony. The clamor for him to be taken away, and the Roman tribune decides to flog him. As he’s being prepped for the flogging, Paul casually mentions to the centurion that he is a Roman citizen. This changes things considerably: this is no mere slave on the racks here. The Roman tribune decides to hear from the Jewish council just what the man had done; calling the Sanhedrin together, he places Paul in front of them to defend himself. Once again, Paul takes stock of his surroundings and knows enough about his audience to shrewdly avoid the fate they have in mind for him. He knows that they are evenly split between Sadducees and Pharisees—those who deny the resurrection and those who accept it, respectively—and proudly stands in defense of the resurrection. This takes the wind out of the Sanhedrin’s sails, and they begin to debate among themselves. Paul is spared again, and the Lord tells him that he will testify in Rome.

 

There is that brand of Christian who claims that he doesn’t’ need to know anything except Jesus and Him crucified. This, of course, is a decontextualized perversion of a verse in Corinthians, and has no place in a discussion about education or training. One thing Paul had was an ability to exegete his culture. He always knew the audience to whom he was speaking, and never failed to find ways to connect with them. He knew the favored poetry and art of the Athenians (Ac 17). He knew the legalism of the Judaizers. He knew the resurrection debate of the Sanhedrin. He knew the Roman law. This was a man who didn’t stop learning, and made significant preparations to connect with his audiences.

 

How are you preparing? Do you study? Read regularly? Are you a student of the news? Of literature? Or art? Poetry? History? Music? You need more than “Bible learnin’” if you are to connect with your audience. It’s a fine exercise to learn to exegete the scripture; it’s equally important to exegete your culture. When you take the time to prepare, you speak more effectively.

Acts 21.37-22.21

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: 22 1“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

 

 

The multilingual Paul recognizes an opportunity when he sees it. He stands to his feet and speaks in the Hebrew language to his own people. When they hear the language of Moses, they fall quiet and listen intently. And what Paul does next demonstrates what was vital to him: he quickly ticks off his “Super Jew” credentials for the legalists present, then launches into his personal testimony. It is telling what matters to Paul. Unjustly arrested? Time to preach the gospel. Comfortable house arrest in Rome? Time to preach the gospel. About to be beheaded? Time to preach the gospel. Traveling? Time to preach the gospel. In every circumstance, Paul never misses an opportunity to speak of the transformative nature of the gospel of Christ. He speaks of the moment his life’s destiny was changed. He speaks of the call God placed on his own life. Surely there was no one left in that audience who didn’t understand that the old Paul no longer existed, because the new Paul had been transformed by the gospel.

 

It is unfortunate that many Christians see Christianity as a mere religion. They don’t understand the life-changing aspect of the gospel. I once was blind, but now I see. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I once was dead, but now am alive. This is the essence of the gospel, and Paul knows it. Do we? Have our lives been transformed? If so, then every circumstance calls for the articulation of that change.

 

Where is your opportunity to share your own road to Damascus today?