Acts28:30-31 “Boldly by the Holy Spirit”

              Since June of 2009 for one and a half years, I’ve been preaching from Acts and finally we have come to the end.  Actually if you include since the time we started the first book that Luke wrote, the Gospel of Luke then we’ve been studying what Luke wrote for 3 and a half years.  The last ties everything together so today let’s once more look at what sharing the Gospel is.

              Beginning with the birth of the church Acts gives in a large scale a picture of the first church, but ends without much spark.  This ending is so plain, that many theories have been given as to why the book ends here. For example, when Luke got to

this point there was something that happened that prevented him from continuing.  Possibly Luke planned to write the rest in a 3rd book, but he died. Possibly he actually wrote the 3rd. book, but it got lost. Etc.

              However, just because a book didn’t end the way the reader wanted it to doesn’t mean that it is necessary to try to speculate on the reason. Rather, we should consider why Luke ended this way.  Luke is summarizing everything that he has said. In other words, Peter and Paul and all the people that appeared in Acts preached the kingdom of God Jesus Christ.  In today’s passage this is summarized well. Therefore, today let’s at the end of Acts as a conclusion to the whole of Acts and see how Paul shared the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord, Jesus Christ.

I.                Like this (vs. 30)

The key to Acts is Acts 1:8.  Luke is saying in Acts 1:8 and showing us throughout the book of Acts that the way the kingdom of God is preached and the Lord, Jesus Christ is taught is by the Holy Spirit coming upon us and when that happens then we will receive power.  It is definitely not by human power or ability.  It is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  People who share the Gospel have an end, but the work of the Holy Spirit has no end.  It is eternal.  By the work of the Holy Spirit the Gospel was spread from Jerusalem to Judea and Galilee, and to the utmost parts of the earth.  Luke who wrote this wanted to tell us that.  He had written in the earlier book, in other words, the Gospel of Luke, “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” (1:1)  In the continuation, Acts, he records the Growth of the God’s work of Jesus who was lifted to heaven, through the Holy Spirit, and through the church.  Therefore, the main topic of Acts is not Paul, but our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is not the Acts of the Apostles, but the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8) This means that the work of Acts is not finished. By the end of the book of Acts there were still places at the ends of the earth that the Gospel had not reached.  That is the same today.  We are still in the process of reaching the ends of the earth.  According to the survey of 2007 in Japan, presently there are over 1,500 cities, towns and villages without a church.  In Japan there are still many places that are at the ends of the earth that have not heard the Gospel.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we need to share the Gospel in these places.  We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and we need to be careful to not block the work of the Holy Spirit. We should never use human means, but work in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, and we should endeavor to prepare the way for them to hear Gospel.

Jesus said, “The wind blows where it pleases.” (John3:8)  “The wind” is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has personality and likes.  The Holy Spirit goes “where it pleases”. There are no Christians who don’t have the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is pleased.  Therefore, in Ephesians it says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 4:30).   When the Holy Spirit is grieved, we can’t be filled with the Holy Spirit.  

“The wind blows where it pleases.” (John3:8) So that the flow is not hindered,  let’s seek the Holy Spirit, and walk so that the Holy Spirit is pleased.  In that way the kingdom of God will be preached and the Lord, Christ, will be taught.

II.              Welcoming those who come to visit (vs. 30)

Here it says, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.” (30) The 2 years includes the time spent during the proceedings of his release, the whole time that he was under house arrest. According to the Roman law at that time, if the accuser didn’t appear in the court within 18 months, the case would be canceled. Therefore, the reason that Paul was here for 2 years in his own rented house was because the Jewish leaders that had caused such a disturbance and accused Paul, maybe they thought their                                 was disadvantageous, but they didn’t come to Rome and press charges against Paul.  Paul won and was not guilty.  The Gospel was victorious.

However, even though he was victorious in the courts, these 2 years were for him a very difficult time.  To have to spend time in this type of circumstances must have been very tough.  However, the Bible doesn’t say it that way.  Here it says, he “welcomed all who came to see him.” (30) and “he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus.” (31)    The way of evangelizing by welcoming “all who came to see him”. (30) if you consider just words, this seems a little passive, but on the other hand it is using every opportunity to preach the Gospel.  In reality at this time Paul was in chains, a prisoner, so he couldn’t go out and freely preach in the Jewish synagogues and squares.  However, just because he couldn’t go out he didn’t just sit on his hands.  Even in this type of condition he did what he could do.  For example, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, many of his letters were written then. Even in this kind of condition, he witnessed in the ways he could.  Not only that but in Philippians 1:12-14 he says, ”Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

Being arrested actually “served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)  For 2 years the guards watched over him and every time they went back to their office they told everyone about what Paul had said about Christ. Gradually the Gospel was spread  from Paul’s guards to the whole palace guard, and “most of the brothers in the Lord” (Philippians 1:14) were given confidence and more and more boldly testified to the Word of God.  It was really amazing.  Paul used the chances that he was given and did the Lord’s work. Therefore he “welcomed all who came to see him.” (30) was nothing more than the means by which he did so. No matter what came his way, he used it as a chance to evangelize and witnessed.

“Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.” (30) This wasn’t his “own” house.  He was still a prisoner with a guard. Therefore he was free, but not free .  However, at that rented house, there was God’s blessing.  Everyone wants to live in a house with land that they own.  However, even if you live in a rented house all of your life a house with the blessings of the kingdom of God is wonderful.  A rented house, an old house, a house with an entrance that is guarded, even if there is no freedom, but if there are many people who come to visit and if the kingdom of God is being preached to them, then it is a huge blessing. Whether it is a rented house or a house that has been bought, if those who visit are welcomed and the kingdom of God is shared with them then it is a wonderful privilege.

III.            Without hindrance (31)

Finally, let’s look at the fact that Paul preached “boldly and without hindrance.” (31)  It was a miracle that Paul was able to preach “boldly and without hindrance.” (31)  It we think back through Paul’s evangelism, in Judea, in Asia, and in Europe, there we always some king of barriers.  It was continuous barrier and obstacles.  Now Paul is in the middle of Rome, which prided the world with its culture, politics, and military strength.  Not only that he is a prisoner, but he is able to evangelize.  This shows that the Gospel is victorious.  This is the last verse of Acts because Luke wanted to say that the Gospel is always victorious.

Acts28:16-28 “Witnessing to the Kingdom of God”

Happy New Year!  The first worship service of this New Year God has given us this passage beginning with Acts 28:16.

“When Paul got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.”

The Christians who lived in Rome met Paul along the way to Rome, welcomed him warmly and encouraged him.  Paul who had received courage from them at last was able to come to Rome. “When Paul got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.” (16) This was a very special case to be allowed to live “in his own rented housed” (30).  This was probably because he had committed no flagrant crime which was probably affirmed in the report that Festus was required to send to Caesar on the case when an appeal was made. Festus didn’t “have anything definite to write” about. (25:25) Also there was probably a report from the centurion who was saved along with everyone on the ship when the ship wrecked. 

              In Rome too Paul “explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus.” (23)  This was the base of the Roman mission and he boldly continued to preach the Gospel. Today let’s look at 3 things we can learn from Paul who continued to preach the Gospel.

  1. I.             In season and out of season (vs. 17-23)

First let’s look at what Paul did when he arrived in Rome.  3 days after arriving in Rome, “he called together the leaders of the Jews.” (17)  He gave his to defense to the charges made by the Jews in Jerusalem. He also gives a summary of the trials. This was only 3 days after arriving so he must have still been tired from the trip.  We don’t know how old he was at this time, but he couldn’t have been so young that he would already be over the tiredness of the trip. Also he must have needed to put away his things and get the necessities for his life there.  We don’t know if he was able to accomplish all of this in 3 days or not, but very quickly after arriving in Rome, he attempted to meet the Roman Jews and called together and explained to the leaders from the 11 synagogues that were in the city of Rome at that time. 

Here Paul’s explanation makes you feel that compared to the way he has spoken up until now that he is trying to solve the Jewish misunderstanding. Paul is saying that the reason he was captured and brought as a prisoner to Rome, was not because he went against the Jewish people or the customs of their father, but “because of the hope of Israel that” (20) he is bound with chains.  This was the central part of the Gospel that he wanted to share.   In other words, he wanted to share who “the hope of Israel”, the Messiah that is recorded in the Old Testament is. This Savior, the Messiah, was put on the cross by the Jews, died and 3 days later rose from the dead is Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  He is in chains for preaching that.

The Jewish reaction to Paul’s defense was very calm.  First of all they said that they had not received any notice about Paul, and thus there was no one who said anything bad about Paul or who was talking about him.  Therefore, they thought that the best thing was for them to hear directly from Paul.  Of course among them there must have been some Jews who were in Jerusalem at Pentecost and of course they would have heard gossip about Paul from such people.  However, rather than listening to the private gossip of these people, they want to hear directly from Paul and make a decision. This is a really discreet attitude.  The proper thing to do is to not pay attention to gossip, but to listen directly to the person involved and make a decision.  However, in the midst of their calm response, we can see a little of their real intent which is added on to their remarks.  That is “we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.” (22) They knew that people were talking negatively about this sect.  Even so, even though they didn’t know Paul, they responded to Paul’s invitation and came together because they had interest in the new sect that Paul preaches about which makes Jesus Christ of Nazareth their leader.  They wanted to hear directly from Paul about this new sect.  Therefore, “They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying.  From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus.” (23) 

Here Paul’s appearance summarizes his missionary appearance throughout Acts.  He preached “from morning until evening.” (23)  He spoke “from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” (23) In other words, his preaching was based on the Bible.  The contents were “the kingdom of God “and “about Jesus”. (23)

This is what we should learn from Paul.  Even though he lived in his own home, he was under the constant watch of a soldier and bound in chains so he was in a handicapped condition. Even so, he continued to preach the Word of God.  In II Timothy 4:2 Paul sent the following words in a letter to the young evangelist, Timothy.

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.”

This was Paul’s lifestyle.  We are the same.  The season we are in may not necessarily be the best one.  In this age maybe people not only don’t want to listen to the truth, but in order to get the other person to say what they want them to say,   carefree requests and conversations are divorced from reality. However, no matter what the condition is, we have to overcome the difficulties and continue to preach the Word of God.

When we try to fulfill the great commandment, we will run into many difficulties.  However, no matter what the season, we need to preach the Word of God.  We must not stop.  That is the commission that is given the Church.

  1. II.           Some were convinced (vs. 24)

The result of the mission is given in verse 24.  Here the response of the people who heard Paul’s talk is clearly written.  Some believed and others didn’t.  Those who hear the Gospel always respond in one of these 2 ways. First a lot of people came, and there was unity and fellowship amongst them.  However, while listening to Paul their opinions began to lack agreement.  This reaction can be seen consistently throughout the book of Acts.  In Jerusalem, in Antioch, in Thessalonica, in Berea, in Corinth, in Ephesus, everywhere, there were always some who believed in the Gospel and there were always some who didn’t.

This shows that the Gospel of Christ sifts the listeners. The Gospel takes an active part in choosing some people and throwing away others. Even among the Roman Jews who put aside their educated biases, and listen to Paul fairly, the Gospel had such power that without anyone realizing it, they were divided into two. At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke it is written.

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” (Luke 2:34, 35)

Luke continued to write in the second book “Acts” the fulfillment of this prophecy.  At the end of the book, at Rome, the center of the world at that time, the Jews were divided.  This is carefully recorded so that we’ll see that as much as the Gospel is preached, there are two responses.  This is the reality of the preaching of the Gospel.  Today is the same.  Some people believe, but some don’t.  Not all people believe.  Even if we share and share, and sometimes we are discouraged because no one believes, we shouldn’t fluctuate between hope and despair, but we need to even in this real situation continue to preach the Gospel.  This kind of small step will eventually be a huge strength to change the world.

              Think about it.  The center of the world, Rome, there were few Christians at this time.  Later Rome knelled before Jesus.  In 313 the Roman emperor Constantinople recognized Christianity and in 390 Christianity was recognized as the national religion.  At first it was a small flock.  Some believed and some didn’t believe but even among those who didn’t believe the Gospel penetrated and eventually grew to change the country.  It was like what Jesus said in Matt. 13:31-33 that the kingdom of God is like mustard seed.  When it is planted it is a very small seed but when it grows the tree is big enough for the birds to make nests in.

              Therefore we need to continue planting the seeds of the Gospel among our neighbors. Even if those people do not believe, we need to faithfully give our all to it.  From among them eventually there will be people who believe and it will cause a huge wave.

  1. III.         This people’s heart has become calloused (vs. 25-28) 

Without coming to agreement, they started to leave.  Paul then recited to them the prophecy of Isaiah in verses 26 and 27.  This is from Isaiah 6:9-10.  God spoke these words to Isaiah when God commissioned Isaiah to be a prophet. These are shocking words to say to a person that is being commissioned to speak the Word of God.  The people he will be speaking to will hear but never understand. See but never perceive. “This people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their ears.” (27) Paul is using such a passage because the Jews that are standing in front of him, who are not even trying to believe, their hearts are calloused. When a heart is calloused it doesn’t even realize what it needs.  It doesn’t have an interest in salvation. The Jews who gathered at Paul’s place seemed like they had given up their biases, listened directly to what Paul was saying and seemed very calm.  However, in reality their calmness was not real.  If they didn’t jump in and listen, then their needs would never be met. This was their problem. Paul used Isaiah’s words to point out that the reason that they didn’t believe was that their hearts were callouse.

This wasn’t just them.  We are the same. The reason that a person doesn’t believe in God’s salvation is their heart is calloused. They think salvation isn’t necessary for me.  I’m not to the point where I have to depend on God.   They don’t feel the need for salvation.

Matt. 5:3

If we are not poor in the spirit, humble, and realize our needs, then we can’t be saved.  We will be like the many Jews who were listening, but their hearts were calloused and so the words had no meaning to them. We need to hungrily listen to the invitation of the Gospel, search earnestly for God and return to Him.

What is the training we should receive in faith?  It is to always keep our hearts poor before God.  This is the problem with legalism.  The problem with legalism is that even though you can’t follow God’s law completely, you think that you are and are proud and put other people down.  If we stand before God’s word, we would confess like Paul did in Romans 7:24.

“What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Let’s this year humble our hearts and become poor before the Lord, hungrily listening to the words of salvation and earnestly seek the Lord.  This year let’s not worry about others, but focus on how your relationship is with the Lord, and humbly seek the Lord. Then the Lord will heal our hearts.

Acts28:1-15 “And so we came to Rome”

Today is the last Sunday of the year and today is the last chapter in Acts.  Today’s title is “And so we came to Rome” (14) Acts tells us how the Gospel of Christ went from Jerusalem to Judea, Galilee and to the utmost parts of the earth.  Luke tells us how Paul gets to the last place, Rome which was his goal. When they arrived in Rome, Luke wrote “And so we came to Rome”. Today let’s look at 3 aspects of how they arrived in Rome.

I.                It was the work of the powerful Lord  (vs. 1-10)

In the chapter before we saw that the ship that Paul got on at Caesarea got in a wind storm and drifted with the storm.  By God’s miraculous care, the 276 people on the ship were all saved.  The place they arrived was the island of south of Italy called Malta. Today at the highest point on the island there is a statue of Paul holding a Bible in one hand, with his coat being blown out from the wind, looking intently at Rome.  Paul more than ever was moving toward his goal of Rome.  Luke tells about his 3 month stay in Malta in verses 2 to 10.

The people of the island were very kind. They built a fire and welcomed the people that came ashore with Paul so they could survive the rain and cold.  The fire not only warmed Paul and those who came with him, but it also probably warmed their worn out hearts.  Maybe the fire started to go out, but “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.” (3)   A viper is a poisonous snake.   The poisonous snake was “fastened” on Paul’s hand which means that poison is going to go all through Paul’s blood stream and he is going to die.   Therefore, when the islanders saw this happen, they started talking to each other saying, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” (4)  However, even though Paul was bitten by the snake, nothing happened to him.  “After waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.” (5)  What changing opinions!  However, what is important is the reason why Luke wrote about this event here.

From this event, we remember the words that Jesus spoke in Mark 16:16-18.

This was a sign that was to accompany believers.  After that in Mark 16:20 we are told, “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” This shows that the risen Lord was still with them and still confirming his word by the signs that accompanied it.  The Lord was with Paul as he moved forward toward Rome to complete his calling to preach the Gospel and the Lord was confirming his word by the signs that accompanied it to show that the risen Lord was still alive and working.

This is a real encouragement for those who are preaching the Gospel.  Even in this country where we don’t readily see the power of the Gospel, in reality, the risen Lord is with us and working.  He shows proof that the Word of God is right. He performs great signs and miracles.  The risen Lord is now alive and working.

George Duncan, an English preacher, said about this passage that not all the struggles we have are major events, but what is important is the poisonous struggles that take place in our daily events. Throwing branches into the fire is something that we can all do.  However, in this daily thing a snake can bite you.  That snake hangs from our hand and tries to destroy us.  What is important in these daily events is how we handle the snakes.   In our relationship with our spouse, with our children, in society there are many times we are bitten by snakes. At such times it is important that we don’t give Satan a chance, but walk in the Holy Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh.  This is in this age a huge sign that accompanies the Word of God.

In verse 7 the chief official of the island name Publius appears.   When Publius heard about Paul, he invited them for 3 days to his home and showed them generous hospitality.   Publius’ father was sick “from fever and dysentery.” (8) Paul prayed for him, “placed his hands on him and healed him.” (8)  As a result of this miracle, rumors spread throughout the island and “the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.” (9)  As a result Paul was really respected by the islanders.  When they went to sail, the islanders supplied them with all they needed.  Through God’s powerful work not only did it show that the risen Lord is now alive and working, but it prepared them for the next evangelistic trip.

Paul preached the Gospel wherever he went and showed the power of God. We too like Paul we need to not matter where we go show the power of God.  This is shown by praying for healing of the sick, and also by our lifestyle of love and grace.

In Thessalonica in Greece it was illegal for the first Christians to meet together.  Even so they put their life to steak and met together.  They endured persecution.  To these Thessalonica Christians who were in very difficult circumstances, Paul said, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess. 5:16-18)

This is an unbelievable spiritual power. Christians even when they are suffering, in agony, are discouraged, even so they can have joy, continue to pray and be thankful about everything.  That is the same power of God, the power of faith that makes it possible to be bitten by a snake and not to be hurt by it, to place our hand on the sick and they be healed. 

II.              Endure (vs.11-13)

Next let’s look at the importance of endurance.  Now it is time to visit Italy.  Paul left Malta First they stopped at Syracuse and then went to Rhegium. Then they went to Puteoli about half way to Italy.  They had spent 3 months on Malta.  Paul was anxious to get to Rome, but he had to spend the winter, 3 months, on Malta. 

From this we can learn that on the road of life there are times when we have to endure.  Within the control of God, sometimes there are times when we are stopped.  You want to go forward, but you can’t. You wonder why God doesn’t open the door. It is times like this that we can learn from Paul the importance of endurance.  This is an important time of training that the Lord gives his servants.  God’s people often go through such an experience.  For example, Israel also did.  Before they could enter the land that God had promised, they had to wander 40 years in the desert.  However, through that they were able to realize what faith is.  Life in the desert was training in faith for them.  In the same way, we too, want to go forward, but we aren’t able to move and become negative, complain, and don’t have peace and contentment.  In those times we need to endure, keep our eyes on Christ, and trust in God.

Hebrews 10:36

The words that present day children hate the most is endurance and training. An elementary school teacher said that in the future those 2 words will disappear.  In reality that is a really scary thing.  Those who are trained and can endure are successful in life and when something happens then these things will appear in their life.

Abraham Lincoln was so.  His life was so full of “failure and unhappiness” that he hated these 2 words.  He lost 7 elections, failed in 2 businesses, spent 17 years paying back a loan.  However, even when he lost elections or failed he flew over the obstacles and made them into a jewel.  Like a Daruma when he was hit down, he popped right back up and when he fell down he could stand up immediately.  He thought about where he fell down and asked God for wisdom to determine the cause of his failure.  .

When he failed at something he would go to a restaurant and have a huge meal and then go to the barber and cut his hair and put a lot of oil on it.  He thought then no one would see him as a failure because he was full of strength again.

Lincoln’s life was full of failures and unhappiness, but until the end he never gave up and that led him to be one of the great men of history.  He used his unhappiness and failures as the raw material to make happiness.

The road of life that we walk on too has times of failure or where doors don’t seem to be opening up.  We don’t seem to be moving forward the way we would like to be.  We need to remember to follow God’s will, and to receive God’s promise, and we need to endure. People who can endure will in the end have victory.

III.            Have fellowship with the brothers and sisters (vs. 14,15)

Paul who came to Puteoli at last was able to leave for Rome.  In Puteoli Paul and his companions met with the brothers and sisters who were there and spent a week with them.  It had been a long time they since they had a chance to meet with brothers and sisters in Christ.  The last time was in 27:3 when they left Caesarea at Sidon.  This was after difficult years and months at sea and therefore the one week of warm welcomed fellowship with the brothers and sisters in Christ must have joyful and encouraging.  Especially in that one week there was a Sunday so they were able to worship together.   Puteoli was 200 kilometers from Rome so for Paul who was heading to Rome he must have really been encouraged and received strength by being able to pray together and be united by prayer with the brothers and sisters there. And so they came to Rome.

Possibly the news that Paul was heading to Rome was spread by the Puteoli brothers and sisters. We don’t know, but as he continued toward Roman, the Roman Christians had heard that there were coming and “traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet” Paul. The Forum of Appius is about 80 kilometers from Rome. Three Taverns was about 53 kilometers away from Rome.  They had walked that far to welcome Paul who had for a long time endured and overcome hardships so he must have been greatly moved by their warm welcome.  If I was Paul, I would be crying.  Luke writes about Paul, “At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” (15)   Earlier Paul had written the Romans saying, “I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.” (Romans 15:29) Now we wonder where Paul’s strong strength went.  With Rome directly in front of him and the Lord’s promise almost ready to be fulfilled, his heart is dancing and at the same time is fearful and anxious.  However, God did not leave Paul alone.  As he continued God provided brothers and sisters in Christ.  This can be seen in these words, “At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” (15)

This morning, in the fellowship with the brothers and sisters, in other words, the fellowship of the church, let’s remember the great encouragement and strength that it provides.  It is greater that the bite of poison or the miracle of the healing of the sick.  God provides this type of fellowship.  Our walk of faith is the same.  It is certainly not a walk by ourselves.  It is within the care of God’s grace and by the love of the brothers and sisters that God has provided for us.    It is a walk that is encouraging and supported by their fellowship.  It is a road full of troubles and persecution.  It maybe a road that requires enduring.  However along that the road, the Lord with provide encouragement and support and the end of that road will lead to heaven.

Hebrews 12:1

The imagery of this verse suggests an athletic contest in a great amphitheater.  The witnesses are the heroes of the past who have already run the race.  As we walk or run the race or road that is marked out for us they will surround us and encourage and support us so that we can finish the race or road.   “And so we came to Rome.” (14) And so we will come to heaven by the leading of the Lord.  Let’s hold on to this hope and each of us run the race and endure to the end running to the goal. Let’s be thankful that we have come to the end of the year and believe that the new year we will continue down the road of faith by the encouragement and support of the Lord.

Acts27:1-44 “Overcoming Difficulties”

              Today let’s look at how we can overcome difficulties.

I.                A wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster  (vs.1-20)

First let’s look at the cause of difficulties. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2 first.

2 years have passed since Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and sent to Cesarea. For Paul who had during this time waited patiently but earnestly wanting to go to Rome, this day has finally come. At last the door for him going to Rome was opened.  In verse 1 for the first time since chapter 21, the word “we” reappears.  This is because Luke who wrote Acts has now joined up with Paul again.  In addition, “Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica” (2) went with them.  Paul’s trip to Rome was not a lonely one, but traveled in encouragement through the fellowship and prayers of fellow workers in the Lord.  The ship that Paul got on went from Cesarea to Sidon to Cilicia and Pamphylia and then to Lycia. There they “found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and “(6) got on board. The seasons were just changing from fall to winter. The Mediterranean Sea was known for storms at that time of the year.  Therefore, there were no boats heading for Rome. Therefore they had planned to go to the port of Myra in Lycia and from there to Italy by way of Alexandria in Northern Africa and then from there on to Rome.  The ship that is recorded in, verse 6 was a cargo ship that went back and forth between Alexandria in North Africa and the islands of Italy carrying grain.  It was a big ship that could carry 276 passengers and crew.  However, the weather on the Mediterranean Sea was already beginning to change to the stormy winter weather.  The ship was not making progress like they expected.  Finally they came to an island in the Mediterranean called Fair Heavens and stopped there. They spent a lot of time there so “that sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.” (9) Therefore, Paul warned them in verse 10, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our lives also.”  The Day of Atonement is in the beginning of October.   It was past that so it may have already been close to November. From the middle of September until the middle of November the Mediterranean Sea is very dangerous.  After that until the end of winter, the ships do not sail at all.  Paul thought of this and warned them, but the ship’s crew did not pay attention to Paul’s warning and set sail. Let’s look at verses 11-13.

Here 3 causes of problems in our lives can be seen.

1.                                  Relying on the advice of specialists rather than the Word of God (vs. 11) Even though Paul warned them that if they continued to sail that they would regret it and it would be dangerous for their lives too, “the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot.and of the owner of the ship.” (11)  That might be the usual thing to do.  The pilot and the owner of the ship were professionals so they had a deeper knowledge and were full of experience.  It is natural to trust in what such people say.  However, not all professionals are right

In this world there are lots of different ways of thinking.  Almost every week someone announces a new psychological therapy or starts a new religion.  One person says that the secret to a powerful life is eating bananas and yogurt. The next day the answer is stretching. Stretching helps with your circulation and makes you healthy. You think that’s right and the next day someone says that the secret is buying their seminar tapes.  All people have their own way of thinking and it seems like they have professional opinions.  However in reality, in a lot of cases their professional understanding is wrong. There are a lot of people who go from specialist to specialist looking for someone who has the same opinion as theirs.   However, if they get a wrong opinion, they will run into trouble, and will have difficulties.  The only thing we can really trust is God who has the perfect opinion.

2.                                  Following the majority (vs. 13).

Since the harbor they were at was unsuitable to winter in, the majority thought that they should sail on. They hoped to reach Phoenix in Crete and winter there.  Decisions like this that are made by the majority aren’t always correct.  The problem with decisions made by the majority is that the majority isn’t always right.  When Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan to spy out the land, the majority of them said that they should return to Egypt. This is a good example of the majority being wrong.   By taking on popular opinions faddish thinking sometimes causes us to run into trouble.  However, if we listen to what God has to say, we can move on the correct road.

                                         3.                         Trusting in the circumstances (vs.13)  

In verse 13 it says, “When a gentle South wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity” and set sail. When there was a gentle south wind, the crew thought that what they had been hoping for had happened.  This was their chance and so set sail without even thinking about it.  No matter how good the situation is, how good it looks, anything that ignores God’s warning is a stupid thing to do.  Even if the circumstances seem good now, it may mean putting the ship out into a storm.  Some people think, “This decision can’t be wrong because I feel good about it.”  However, sometimes our emotions deceive us.  If God says “wait”, then we should wait at the port.  If not, after we leave the port, the situation may change to the bad.

Look at verses 14 and 15.  Just as was feared, not long after they set sail, “a wind of hurricane force called the Northeastern swept down from the island.” (14)  They got caught up in it and couldn’t make any progress.  They “gave way to it and were driven along.” (15) Then “they began to throw the cargo overboard.” (18) “They threw the ship’s tackle overboard.” (19) and they  “finally gave up all hope of being saved.” (20)

They lost all hope because they didn’t put hope in God.  We may be facing circumstances that have caused us to lose hope too but there is no need to lose all hope because our hope is in Christ.  God controls all things. God gives us hope when we are in situations where it seems like there is no hope. Therefore, when we are discouraged we need to keep our eyes on God and trust in Him and our discouragement will be changed to hope.

II.        Keep up your courage  (vs.21-26)

                                    Secondly, let’s look at what we should do when we are in a discouraging situation. Let’s look at verses 21-26.

                                          In this dangerous situation Paul responded exactly in an opposite manner from the ship’s crew. When the ship’s crew became discouraged and lost all hope, Paul encouraged them saying, “keep up your courage”. (22) Paul was able to remain calm and have unshaken confidence in the midst of the heavy winds and the ship being driven away by the winds.  Even in the midst of danger, he didn’t lose courage. There was nothing that shook his heart or upset him. There are three reasons why he was able be so dignified.

                                          1.           He had confidence that God was with him.  (vs. 23, 24)

                                                        This passage teaches us that in every kind of storm we can’t hide out of God’s sight.  Even if we can’t see God, God sees us. Even if God seems far away, in reality, God is with us and he is watching over us.  God’s said to Paul through the angel, “Do not be afraid Paul.” (24) In the Bible there are many examples of such promises.

                            Hebrews 13:5

                            Matt. 28;20

                            John 14:16

                            The Bible repeats over and over again that no matter where we go, Jesus will be right there with us.  Also because God is always with us there is never a time when we have to weather something by ourselves.  No matter what painful thing we have to go through, God is with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. Therefore, we need to trust in him with all our hearts.

                                          2.           Paul had confidence in God’s purposes  (vs. 24)

                                                        In verse 24 the angel said to Paul, “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.”  In other words God is saying that he has a plan for Paul’s life.  It isn’t by chance that Paul got on this ship. God put him on the ship for a purpose. The plans that God has for Paul’s life is greater than what he is experiencing in this storm.

                                                        Christians believe somewhat in fate.  We are all born for some reason.  Therefore, even if a person experiences a storm with huge winds, it is just one stop on the road to God’s purpose.  There is nothing that we can do to change the plans of God.  It is the Lord’s will that we overcome the difficulties that we are facing now. Therefore, we need to look not at the problems that we are facing now, but at the plans of God.  If we don’t then we will be like the crew throwing everything into the water. In the end we will have only discouragement.  If we lose our goal, we don’t know why we are living and we are lost.

                                          3.           He held on to the promises of God with all his might (vs. 25)

                            In verse 25 Paul says, “So keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” What God told him is in the verse before, verse 24. “You must stand trial before Caesar” This is the same promise that the Lord gave him in 23:11.

              Paul hung on to the promises of God with all his might so when he was in a discouraging situation of the boat drifting away, he was able to say to his fears anxieties, “Don’t fear” “Take courage”.  For sure God’s promises will never be broken. Even if there’s a huge storm and the boat drifts, the promises will not disappear. For sure they will be fulfilled.                                          

              For Christians, to live in this world is an important calling.  No matter how dangerous a situation we are in, we need to believe in God’s presence, God’s purpose and in God’s promises and continue to have hope.

Hebrews 10:23

              We need to not only confess this hope, but stand in this hope.  We must encourage others who are in the storms of discouragement with “Take courage”.  This is not just empty courage because there is no base for it. Also it is not just a  temporary flattery, but the encouragement is based upon the promises of God that we have confidence in. We have this kind of hope and strength.

III.         Overcome the difficulties of life (vs. 27-44)

              First let’s look at verses 27-29 The results of drifting is recorded here.  On the 14th night they were still drifting, but “the sailors sensed they were approaching land.” (27)  Therefore, “They took soundings and found that the water was 120 feet deep.  A short time later they took sounding again and found that it was ninety feet deep.” This meant a way of escape from a dangerous situation. However, the fact that the water was getting more and more shallow caused another worry to rise.  That was that they might be “dashed against the rocks” (29) Therefore, “they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.” (29) They are different than before.  As a result of Paul’s encouragement filled with confidence, they were able to think calmly about what they should do.  They did appropriate things.  They put down the anchor and waited until daybreak.  If you look at verse 39, you can see that they had made a wise decision.  Because it was dark they didn’t know there was a beach there.  However, when it became light they realized that there was a beach there.  They thought they could run the ship aground there, but it “struck a sandbar and ran aground.” (41)  Even so they were close enough to land that “everyone reached land safely.” (44) What God had promised actually happened.

              There are times in our life when the wind blows really strong but we need to overcome it and put our anchors down. When we are drifting, the safest thing to do is to put our anchors on Jesus.

Psalm 125:1

  We need to trust in God, put our anchor on him, In every kind of storm we need to have confidence.  We can’t put a blockade between God and ourselves.  We need to believe that God is with us and that He has a plan for our lives. Also we need to remember that God has given us promises in the Word of God.  Perhaps God has given you “a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster” in your life.  However no matter what kind of wind it is, you can overcome it.  You will be able to reach the land safely. Let’s believe in God and overcome the wind.   

Acts26:24-42 “A decision of faith”

              Today I would like to talk about what is necessary to make a decision of faith.  In today’s passage Festus and Agrippa’s reaction to Paul’s defense is recorded.  The climax of Paul’s defense is verse 23.  The central point of Paul’s message is the cross and resurrection.  Not only that, but this was a vision from heaven.  Through this vision Paul knew that the Messiah, the Savior, that is written about in the Old Testament must be Jesus Christ. Paul explains this by beginning with the way he lived in the past. Today let’s look how Festus and Agrippa reacted to what Paul said. Let’s look at three things that are necessary to make a decision of faith both through Festus and Agrippa’s reaction to Paul’s message and from Paul’s words.

I.                A true and reasonable Word (vs. 24-26)

Just as Paul is getting to the height of his message, all at once Festus yelled, “You are out of your mind, Paul…Your great learning is driving you insane.” (24)  Paul had been speaking to Agrippa, not Festus, so for Festus to interrupt like that was not only very impolite, but wrong. He said this because he was not able to comprehend what Paul was saying.  It was very hard for him to listen about the cross. For Festus who was a Roman the resurrection itself was something of another world. Therefore he thought that Paul’s great learning had driven him insane.  In reality the problem was that he couldn’t understand, but he put the blame on Paul. He’s saying that Paul is saying strange things and that is why he can’t understand.  This is how man is.  Things that he can’t understand, he blames on other people. Even when the problem is within himself that he can’t understand, he says that the contents are too difficult or the person who is speaking is not right, and put the blame on others. However, the real problem, is not others, but himself.  He has to admit that.

Paul’s response to Festus’ words are recorded in verse 25. Paul did not think he was insane.  Of course, no one thinks that they themselves are insane.  However, he had a reason why he could say so.  That was because the words that he was speaking were “true and reasonable.” (25)  The word used for reasonable is the opposite of insane.  What Paul is saying was for Festus maybe insane, but it is “true and reasonable”. (25)  Commonly, even if a custom has no meaning, if everyone is doing it, then a person who does not do it is labeled as “strange”.  Humans have such strange ways of measuring people.  Therefore, they say things like, “You don’t want the shrine’s paper,( an image of god, that if you hang in your house, it will watch over you), and still you are Japanese?”

However, Christians are different.  It doesn’t depend upon whether others are doing it or not, but what is the truth.  If it is true and correct, then we follow it. This is the Christian standard for behavior.

Matt. 7:13,14

The gate to the road to destruction is big and the road is wide so there are a lot of people going on it.  However, just because everyone is choosing that road doesn’t mean that that road is correct.  The gate to the road of life is small and the road is narrow.  There are very few taking that road.  However, the truth will save people.  The truth doesn’t change or isn’t different in the East or the West. Even if a person in prisoner clothes speaks it, the truth is the truth.  Position or status or the amount of people involved makes no difference in deciding the truth. Truth is verified by whether or not it can really save people.

Romans 1:16

This is the real truth.  These words which are of value to our faith are “true and reasonable.” (25)

II.          You can persuade me to be a Christian  (vs. 26-28)

              Festus barged into the conversation and it was temporarily interrupted, but Paul starts talking once again to King Agrippa.  He wanted somehow for King Agrippa to believe.  Therefore, he explains what Jesus’ cross and resurrection is. In other words, “it was not done in a corner,” (26) but was something that everyone knows about and “none of this has escaped his (King Agrippa’s) notice”. (26)  Jesus Christ died on the cross and 3 days later rose again is an historical fact. Everyone knows it.  It is surely not a myth that the Christian church has made up.  To withdraw from looking at such facts causes our lives to fall apart. That’s because our lives are established upon such facts.  Therefore, accepting such facts is not impossible, but natural. Rather it is strange not to accept them.

              Not only that, but Paul continues on in verse 27, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know you do.”  Here Paul is starting a little at time to enter the core of his talk.  Paul urges King Agrippa by taking up the Old Testament which the Jewish King Agrippa should have known well and was the source of the Jews lives and which the King Agrippa should believe in. Paul is saying that if King Agrippa correctly believed in the Old Testament, then he should believe that Christ rose.  Paul is developing his logic standing upon the same foundation of the Old Testament that King Agrippa believed in. 

              Here King Agrippa is also beaten.  If he says he doesn’t believe then he couldn’t say he was a real Jewish believer. It would also put a crack in his position as King. However, if he said yes and accepted it would mean he would have to accept Christ’s Gospel too.  Agrippa didn’t know what to say. Finally he said the words recorded in verse 28.  These words came from hostility rising out of pride.  He thought he wasn’t that simple minded.  His hidden feelings were that he wouldn’t believe that easily.   However on the other hand, in such a short time his heart had been moved is a fact and in a short time he was close to becoming a Christian.  That was his honest thought.  However, the many things that King Agrippa had like, his status and position in society, the influence that he has on others, his prestige as king pressed against his heart and dispelled his heart. Therefore, I think the thought that he couldn’t easily believe in the words of Paul sprung up in his heart.

              Around us there are surprisingly a lot of people like this. They are convinced by hearing different talks. However, by believing easily they would hate to be thought of as superficial person. They think that they should take their time in believing.  When they are about to believe, the reality of their position, or the effect it will have on other people puts pressure on their hearts and dispels their hearts so they say things like “I still don’t know the Bible well so after I study more, I will believe.” or “I’ll study a little at a time.”  However, even if it’s only been a short time, or by an easy way, there is no reason that you can’t become a Christian. Depending on the person the way they enter the faith is different. It is important that when you think that you want to believe in Christ, to simply and obediently receive Christ. To believe simply is not to be a simple person, but is evidence that your heart is obedient.  That’s because whether a person believes obediently or not depends on the hardness of sin in that person. A person who doesn’t seem to ever believe and accept the Lord has a hard heart because of sin.

              All 3 gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke record the event of the children coming to Jesus and the disciples tell them that Jesus is too busy to deal with them.  However, Jesus gives his reaction in Luke 18:16-18

              God’s kingdom is made up of people that are like children, who obediently accept Christ in their hearts.

              Hebrews 4:7

              If we hear God’s voice we need to be careful not to allow our hearts to become hard.  When you hear the Gospel, how do you accept it? Are you like King Agrippa and dodge the issue with, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (28)   Or are you like people who heard Paul talk at the Areopagus in Athens who said, “We want to hear you again” (17:32) and put off making a decision?  Or are you like Felix and his wife who said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (24:25) and just continually put off the decision. It is important that we don’t dodge make a decision nor put off the decision. nor continually avoid putting off the decision, but to see the problem as your own, deal effectively with the problem, and don’t allow your hearts to become hard and become like a child and simply and obediently accept the Gospel.

III.         Fix your eyes upon God’s grace (vs. 29)

              Paul’s response to Agrippa’s remark, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (28) is recorded in verse 29.  These are really bold words. Paul who is a prisoner in chains professes to the king and governor, “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.” (29) It is difficult for us to say, “become what I am.” (29) However, Paul says boldly, “Become what I am.” (29)  That was not because he was a model Christian, a model evangelist, and was a model man of character. It was because he had the experience of the light that he testified to King Agrippa about.  In other words, Paul who persecuted Christ became a person who proclaimed Christ. A person under the power of Satan became a person living under the power of Christ.  Grace was a matter of fact.  It was nothing more than thankfulness.  This sinful me was saved and now I am living in the light.  This joy is thankfulness.  This is what Paul meant by “become what I am.” (29)

              Are you like King Agrippa with your pride controlling you so that you are always concerned about what others think of you and so even though in your heart you want to believe, that is always pulling you and keeping you from making a decision for faith. Looking at Paul we can see that even though he was in chains the experience of grace made him totally blessed.  This was a huge decision that brought him from the dark to the light, from death to life, from judgment to life. The time to make this decision is now.

              II Cor. 6:2

              Let’s not miss this chance to make this decision, respond to the invitation to light and receive grace.

Acts26:1-23 “Not disobedient to the vision from heaven”

              In today’s passage Paul’s defense before King Agrippa is recorded.  When King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, visited the governor Festus, Festus told them about Paul.  The King wanted to hear what Paul had to say so Paul was brought before him and Paul gave his defense.  The central thing that Paul wanted to say was verse 19 and 20.

              Paul wanted to say that the reason that he was proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ was that it was a vision from heaven.  Therefore, Paul was not disobedient to this vision and to those in Damascus, in Judea, and also to the Gentiles, he preached to all people “that they should repent and turn to God, and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (20) Today let’s look at three aspects of not being “disobedient to the vision from heaven”.

I.                It is hard for you to kick against the goads (vs. 1-14)

First let’s look at verses 1-3.   First Paul says politely and formally that he considers himself fortunate to be able to make his defense before King Agrippa. He felt fortunate because he thought this was a chance to share the Gospel.  On the way to Damascus when Paul was converted, the Lord spoke these words about Paul in Acts 9:15. “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” 

As these words say, now Paul has the chance to testify of Christ before King Agrippa.  This is just what the Lord had told Ananias that he would do. No matter if he’s a prisoner in chains or that he his being questioned out of mockery, if there is a chance to share the Gospel, then for Paul this is being fortunate.  This is not just Paul. We are the same.  We too at times are misunderstood or are hurt by persecution.  We would be really blessed if no matter how we are hurt or misunderstood, we see it as a chance to preach the Gospel.

After Paul expresses his thankfulness, he gives his defense which is recorded in verses 4 to 11. First he tells King Agrippa that he “conformed to the strictest sect” of the Jews, “living as a Pharisee.” (5)  He claims that all the Jewish people know that it is true and a fact that he lived as a Pharisee.  However, he is on trial for following the teaching of the Pharisees and putting his “hope in what God has promised our ancestors.” (6) This promise is what the twelve tribes were “hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night.” (7)  This is the promise of the resurrection of the dead. Let’s look at verse 8.

The resurrection of the dead was something, except for a small group of people like the Sadducees, that the Jews hoped in. Regardless of that hope, when they heard the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, they rapidly stumbled.  It is strange.  Those who looked forward to the resurrection of the dead when Jesus rose, not only were they not able to accept it, but they were against those who insisted that Jesus rose.

Paul was the same. In verse 9 he says about himself, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (8)  Not only did he just think that but in verse 10 in Jerusalem he “put many of the Lord’s people in prison,” and voted that they be put to death.  Not only that in verse 11 he went from synagogue to synagogue to have the Christians punished, and “tried to force them to blaspheme.” Paul was so obsessed with persecuting them that he “even hunted them down in foreign cities.”

Paul who believed in and looked forward to the resurrection of the dead when he heard about the resurrection of Jesus, not only did he refute the fact, but he stumbled and was strongly repulsed by the teaching.  In his head he believed in the resurrection, but when he heard that it actually occurred he could not consent to it.  This was because in his heart he had a conviction about the cross.  He was convinced that Jesus who had died on the cross could never be the Messiah.   This is because the Old Testament taught that, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” (Deut. 21:23, Galatians 3:13)  He couldn’t believe that Jesus who died cursed by God could have risen.  Of course passages like Isaiah 53:4-6 prophesize such things, but he thought there was no way the Messiah would be hung on the cross and die.

This is the stumbling block of Jesus.  At the same time this is the Gospel of Christ.  This is because Jesus took upon himself the pain and curses and died in our place.  Then because he rose again to life, we can have real hope in the resurrection of the dead.  This sounds absurd. However, even if it seems absurd, if we don’t believe in Christ, there is no way that hope can exist in us.

It bothers us when we can’t understand things fully or we can’t explain things with our heads.  However we need to accept the Bible like a child and believe it.  There is no other way to salvation.

Paul had an event happen in his life that led him to devote his life to the Lord.  It happened on the way to Damascus.  There he met the risen Lord.  He tells us about this even in verses 12-14.

This is the 3rd time that Paul tells us about his conversion (also in chapters 9 and 22)  However, each time he tells it there is a different audience and setting so the contents are just a little different.   One difference is in this passage the resurrected Lord, Jesus, speaks to Paul in Aramaic.  This does not appear in the other conversion testimonies. What the Lord said in Aramaic is “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (14)

Goads were whips made out of thorns that were used to send the cows away to work.  When the farmer walked behind the cow holding the reigns with his left hand, and in his right hand held a 2 to 3 meter long goad.  When the cow stopped walking he would use the goad.   And often the cow would kick against the goad, but it would hurt.  Therefore in the end the cow would have to walk as the farmer directed.  When Jesus said to Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (14), He meant that no matter how furious Paul got and he went against God and persecuted the church it was in the end the same as kicking the goads.  It would mean getting hurt, and sinking in sin.

That would be what Paul is saying in verse 19 “disobedient to the vision from heaven.” “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” We have all experienced this many times.  We kick against the goads wanting to go our own way.  We go our own way hurting all the time. We get hurt and actually aren’t happy. Kicking the goads only hurt and we aren’t really happy. God has his plan.  There is a road that he wants us to walk.  Walking on that road is the most natural and has the most happiness.  What is this road?

II.              The vision from heaven (vs.15-18)

Next let’s look at the vision from heaven, God’s road.  Let’s look at verse 15.  When Paul asked, ”Who are you, Lord?” (15), Jesus answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (15)  For Paul, to say that Jesus of Nazareth was God’s son, the Savior (Christ) was to blaspheme.   It was something that he couldn’t definitely do, It was something unforgivable.  That is why he had come to Damascus. He was going there to punish those who insisted such things about Jesus.  Regardless, Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (15)  This showed him that what he believed in what was totally wrong.  He thought that there was no possibility that Jesus of Nazareth was God’s sons, Christ. In reality Jesus was the Son of God.  No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t understand it.  That was the vision from heaven.

Up until now Paul was not able to comprehend that Jesus was the son of God.  No matter how much he thought about it in his head, he was not able to give birth to such thinking.  He wasn’t able to stand the central aspects of the Gospel either.  It was “the vision from heaven” that completely changed his thinking. Then the Lord spoke to him the words recorded in verses 16-19.

These words are not recorded in 9:22.  These words tell us why the resurrected Lord appeared to Paul and the purpose of doing so.   Jesus has appeared to Paul to appoint him as a servant and as a witness of what he has seen and will see of Christ. He is being sent out to tell the people about what he has experienced that they will have their eyes opened, that they will turn “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 Christ. (18)

This is the vision that Paul received from heaven.  Therefore, the correct understanding of the Gospel the zealousness Paul had for evangelism was not a human enthusiasm.  It was completely revealed by the vision from heaven.

This is something that we can say about our salvation and evangelism too.  No matter how much we think about it in our heads, we cannot have a correct understanding of the Gospel.  A correct understanding of the Gospel begins when a sudden light from heaven hits us, and knocks us to the ground. By the vision from heaven the way we used to think and the ideas we had that was our foundation and the lifestyle drenched with self that we have had up until now in a blink of the eye is broken down. The Bible calls this devoting our lives to God.

Before Jacob had to have this experience in order to receive the blessing of God.  This is recorded in Genesis 32.  He heard that his brother Esau was coming to meeting him and he was so nervous that he was unable to sleep all night.  He had the experience of wrestling all night with God.   “His hip was wrenched as he wrestled.”( Genesis 32:25) However this experience changed him into a real vessel of God.  In the same way, in order for us to experience anew the Gospel we need to take ourselves out of the center of our lives and devote ourselves to God.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) The word “again” means “from above”.  No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above.

Paul was born anew “from above”, in other words, “from heaven’s”            awesome power and vision and he was able to find a new direction of living.  Also, his extreme enthusiasm for evangelism was the same.  We too, if we are not born by the grace and power from above, we can not be born anew. If we have no vision from above, then we can not evangelize enthusiastically.

III.            Do not be disobedient to the vision from heaven (vs. 19-23)

Paul “was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.  First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles” (19, 20) Paul “preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (20)  The root of Paul’s evangelism was “the vision from heaven”.  The change in his life was not the result of meditating over and over again.  It was from the “the vision heaven.”   He preached to “repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (20) “to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles” (20) was because of the vision from heaven. He couldn’t be disobedient to this vision of heaven, but was obedient and chose to follow this road.

This is really important.  If we can follow this vision, then we can be obedient to it.   Jesus said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (14)  Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t kick.”  You can kick, but it will hurt.  In other words, we are given the choice to not be disobedient and to believe and follow or to kick.  Paul was not disobedient and followed.  How about you? We must me a decision to not be disobedient to the vision from heaven if we don’t want to be wounded and hurt. We need to not just believe and have our sins forgiven and then live our own selfish way, but it is necessary to life for the kingdom of the Gospel.  At a glimpse to give up your life of living however you want to, and live within the fellowship of the church may seem to be lacking freedom. However, this is actually is the number one blessed way.  Let’s not be disobedient to the vision, and just walk the road that God shows us and earnestly move forward.

There are very few Christians in Japan, less than %1.  However, if we have love and follow this vision from heaven, we will be able to overcome this wall.  This depends upon the decision that each of us make about our faith.

Acts25:13-27 “Christ is alive”

              Today’s passage takes place when the Jewish King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice came to visit the Roman Governor, Festus.  King Agrippa was king of Judea, a      territory of the present emperor, Nero.  When Jesus Christ was born in the manger, there is the famous story of all the boys under 2 being killed.  That was under the rule of Herod great, the great grandfather of Nero.  Also Herod Antipas who had John beheaded was his father’s uncle.  Also Herod Agrippa I which killed James by the sword in Acts 12 is his father.  His father did not give God glory so he was bitten by worms and died.  Therefore, this Agrippa is Agrippa II. 

This Agrippa who was strongly tied to Christianity came to visit Festus. The contents are a repeat of what Luke has already written about it, but the reason for Luke including this passage is written in verse 19.  In other words, about ”Jesus who died” Paul says “Jesus is alive”. Paul wanted to share this.  That is because this is the central part of the Gospel message.  This isn’t just a message, but it is the joyful hope for all living, believing Christians.  It is the strength for radically changing a person’s life. Today let’s look at 3 things about “Jesus is alive”.

1.               Jesus is alive (vs.13-19)

First let’s look at the fact that Jesus is alive. When King Agrippa and his sister came to visit Festus, “Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king.” (14) What he said about the case is recorded in verses 14 to 21.   What he says is a rerun of chapter 23 to 25. Here Festus claims that although his predecessor, Felix, was irresponsible and delayed the court judgment, he was different. He took on the responsibility and worked quickly to eliminate the problem.  However, what they were charging him for was more than Festus had anticipated. There were charging him for things related to their own religion.  It also had to do with the Jesus who had died.  Paul claims that Jesus is alive.

In 23:6 and 24:15 we saw them arguing over “the hope of the resurrection of the dead”.  This referred to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.    In other words, Paul is talking bearing in mind that Jesus Christ rose and is now alive too.  The reason that this is so important is that if this is true then what Paul is claiming is also true. It would be decisive proof that Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah. If death is the end, then there is no problem.  However, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then that is what the Old Testament prophets had prophesized so this is the ultimate proof that Jesus would be the Messiah.  Not only that, but that would make a huge influence on the life we live.

This is the central thing that Luke wanted to say in Acts.  All through Acts we read Peter’s and Paul’s messages. The central point was that Christ has risen and is alive. Christ arose and has been alive these 2,000 years.

For example, at Pentecost Peter gave a message.  In 2:32 he says, “God has raised the Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

Also in chapter 3 when Peter and John went to the gate called Beautiful they healed a crippled beggar.  As they were entering the temple, the man begged them for money.  They looked at the man in the eyes and said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (6)  They helped him up and he started walking. “Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” (9)  This happened because Jesus Christ is alive. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but 3 days later he rose again.  The name of Jesus healed, strengthened and made this man stand up.  Therefore, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” (4:33)

              The central point of the apostles’ message was that Jesus, who was put on the cross, rose and is now here.  This is what Paul and claimed and is the central message that we should be sharing in this present age.  Faith that believes in Jesus Christ, doesn’t just study about things that happed 2,000 years ago, but fellowships with Christ who didn’t just rise, but is here even now. This is experiencing Jesus.

II.              Faith in the resurrection changes people.  (vs.20, 21)

This faith changes the way we live.  In verse 20 and 21 Festus’ attitude toward Paul’s claim that Jesus rose and now lives is recorded.  He says, “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.” (20) However, this is a lie.   The real reason he asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there is given in 25:9.  That was because Festus was “wishing to do the Jews a favor.”  In other words Festus was afraid of his relationship with the Jews going bad.  Therefore, he wanted to do a favor to them.   If his relationship with the Jews went sour, then his position would be at stake.  He thought by taking Paul to Jerusalem and having him tried there would gain the favor of the Jews.   However, Paul was against this and appealed to Caesar.  Festus was required to send Caesar an explicit report on the case when an appeal was made, but Festus was in a great panic trying to write the report as we can see in verses 26 and 27.   

“His Majesty” refers to Caesar. Festus is calling Caesar, “His Majesty”. This is a religious term used for God.  Before, the Roman emperor Augusts and Tibelius     said that those were words for god and therefore, stopped their use for themselves.  In other words, for Festus, Caesar was god.  Festus feared Caesar like god.  In all ages it is the same. People fear their relationship with others going bad.  Therefore, they seek favor with them and work to protect their position.

However, Christians are different. Christians who testify that Jesus rose and is now here with them don’t try to win favor nor do they fear the governors, high priests or emperors.  That is because when they know God’s will, no matter how many years it take, they make that their plead and move forward, not staggering even one step, and with a steadfast heart move forward towards the will of God. If Rome, then towards Rome. If Spain, then towards Spain. They only want to live to be used by God.  That is because they believe that Christ has risen and is now here.  If Christ has risen, then in the coming judgment too, the Lord will judge righteously.  If we prepare for this judgment, and live before God and before men, so that we have nothing to be accused of and we have a clear conscious, that’s enough.  There is no reason to fear.  Therefore, to believe in the resurrection, brings a radical revolution to our faith, our lives, and the prospects of our future.

Christ was put on the cross, died and 3 days later rose again. And now today through the Holy Spirit is working. He is always with us in our lives.

III.            Live in the faith of the resurrection (vs. 23, 24)

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came again “with great pomp”.  The word “with great pomp” that is used is “fantaji” the root for English “fantasy”.  In other words it went beyond the impressive clothes, decorations, music, etc. that are traditional for an important official or public ceremony to the point of being almost like a fantasy or dream. It was like a parade of the Daimyo in old Japan.

In contrast, Paul was brought in at the command of Festus. He looked like a prisoner.  However, in reality the spot light is on Paul.  That is because by this what Jesus prophesized is fulfilled. “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.  They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.” (Luke 21:12)

This promise is now being fulfilled here.  Another way of saying it is Jesus who rose and now lives led this, that this is a great chance to testify to the Gospel.  Whether it is by a prisoner in chains or not, whether it is being made fun out of by questioning or not, if it is a chance to speak about the Gospel, for Paul that was a blessing.  All things are in the hands of God.  Believing that the risen Jesus is leading, let’s life a life of faith in the resurrection.  Paul said the following.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (II Cor. 4: 8-10)

Jesus is living so even in continuing days of suffering,we are not crushed, and we are not in despair, but can keep walking.  Because Jesus is alive we are not abandoned nor destroyed, but can continue living.   From this passage a person said, “A Christian can be knocked down, but not knocked out”.  That is true.  We can be “struck down, but not destroyed.”  A person with the life of Jesus, can live this kind of life.  That is because the resurrected Jesus is always with us and supporting us.  Luke wanted here not to share that Paul was claiming that Jesus is living, but he wanted to show that Jesus is alive by the claims of Paul.   By leaning on the support of our living Lord, Jesus, let’s stand strongly and walk in our faith.

Acts25:1-12 “Walking this way”

              Last week we looked at the trial of Paul by the Governor Felix.  2 years have passed since the trial, but still Paul is not free.  In the mean time the governorship has changed.  The new governor is Porcius Festus.  3 days after becoming governor, Festus went from Caesarea to Jerusalem and greeted the Jewish High priest and elders. They made accusations against Paul.  Festus said that since Paul was being kept in Caesarea and since he had plans to leave soon, if they had anything to accuse Paul of that they should come to Caesarea and make their case there.  They followed his suggestion and came to Caesarea and brought their charges so the Governor requested that Paul be brought out to the court. The trial took place there.  From this trial we can learn three things about walking the way of the Lord.

I.                Wishing to do the Jews a favor (vs. 1-9)

First let’s look at Festus who tried to buy the hearts of the Jews. Festus commanded that Paul be brought to the courts.  When Paul was brought there, the Jews from Jerusalem surrounded him and charged him with very heavy crimes.  They were not really giving any new evidence, but are repeating what they had accused Paul of 2 years earlier. First they said that Paul had gone against their Jewish laws.  Secondly, they accused Paul of defiling the temple.  Thirdly, they said that Paul was against the Roman emperor.  Before, Paul had defended himself against these same 3 charges, but here too he clearly defends himself.  Therefore, the Jews could prove nothing.

In trials like this usually it is dismissed due to lack of evidence and Paul would be set free.  However, from here on the circumstances suddenly changed.  After hearing both sides of the story, Festus said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on those charges?” (9) Even though Paul was given a fairly just trial, and even though Festus knew that the Jews had no real evidence, even so he was going to send Paul on to Jerusalem.  Actually by Roman law, if the trial was in Caesarea then the decision should have been made there.  That is why Paul was taken to Caesarea in the first place. Therefore, why would Festus send Paul to Jerusalem?

Luke gives the reason in Acts 25:9 Festus was “wishing to do the Jews a favor.” In other words, Festus who had just recently become governor, didn’t want his relationship with the Jews to go bad so he wanted to do a favor to the Jews so he made such a suggestion. He thought that in order to protect his position, he needed the support of the Jewish council.  He thought that by having Paul sent to Jerusalem, he would be able to keep honor among the Jews. Even though he was an authority who had control over others, he was always concerned over how to get other people’s support.

Felix was the same in 24:27 he too wanted to grant a favor to the Jews and left Paul in prison for 2 years. From old times up until now we see politicians who on one side are in a high position of influence, and on the other side they have a need to gain people’s support through flattery and doing special favors for them.  They make decisions not according to what is right or wrong, but by what is best for keeping their position. This type of people like Festus or Felix who thought only about getting the support of the Jews, earning points in Rome, and success, to have authority over Paul’s life is really dangerous.  However, this type of behavior is common in this world.

II.          Appeal to Caesar (vs. 10-11)

              Paul’s response is given in verses 10 and 11.  Paul completely resists Fiesta’s suggestion of going to Jerusalem and appearing before Festus. He boldly appeals to Caesar. This means he was requesting to go to Rome and appear before the Roman emperor for judgment.  Today this would be like going to the Supreme Court.  Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he had the right to have a trial before Caesar.  Paul made this request for 3 reasons.

              1.          Paul probably thought that even though the trial would before Festus, since he was being taken to Jerusalem that it wouldn’t be a just trial.  Even if you look at Jesus’ trial, or the trial that Paul was involved with, Stephan’s trial, they were not just.  Paul could foresee what kind of trial he would have.

              2.         The second reason was a matter of conscious.   If he had done something wrong, if he did something deserving death, then he would try to avoid death.  However, they had no proof for the things that they were accusing Paul of.  Therefore, he had confidence that no one could pronounce him as guilty.  If he has done anything wrong, that means that the Gospel that he was preaching was being objected to, which in turn would mean that God whom called Paul to preach the Gospel was also being objected to.  Up until now he always, towards all people intensively, truthfully, confidently fulfilled his calling to preach the Gospel.  In other words, now he is standing willing to give up his life, staking it on a pure conscious before God. Those who have such a free conscious are free from fear and have boldness and courage.  Paul is not giving his defense for his own profit.  He is defending himself for the truth and the Word of God.  That’s why he could be so bold and act so openly. He is an example of Jesus’ words, “And the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

              3.           The biggest reason was Paul thought that he must go to Rome.  Paul could use his Roman citizenship as a way to enter the Roman court.  In other words, he would be trialed before Caesar.  This would fulfill the calling that he received in 23:11. “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Paul strongly believed in this promise.  If he returns to Jerusalem, then that was for the fulfillment of the plans of God.  God’s will was that he go to Rome.  Therefore, he decided to use his rights as a Roman citizen as a means to appear before the Roman emperor.  Even though Paul had spent 2 years in prison, he had not lost hope, or given up, but patiently endured because of his calling.  He believed firmly in his calling.  Therefore, he was able to appeal to Caesar.

              In our lives too like Paul we experience lots of troubles, and are always suffering.  We want to run away from the situations that we are in. We want to have more fun.  Let’s once again stand before God with a clear conscious, and receive again the hope and calling that the Bible gives. Then we will know the greatness of God’s mercy and will know the place where we have been placed.  No matter what happens, there is no place to run away from.  We are able to stand.  Paul stood on this promise and this grace.

III.         Walk in the way.  (vs.12)

              After Paul appealed to Caesar, Festus conferred with his council and then told Paul, “You have appealed to Caesar.  To Caesar you will go.”  In Festus eyes, this was a religious argument, so to leave the judgment up to the emperor, means that he would have no responsibility in the decisions made. Thus the promise made by the Lord to Paul was greatly moved toward fulfillment.

              God moved those who were authorities in the world, and changed the way history was moving towards God’s plans.  The governor in whose hand controlled politics, trials, and the army, was not able to show favor to the Jews.  The high priests, who tried to use their own special rights for their good, were unable to.  The only thing that was answered was the prayers of Paul who was in chain and unable to put up a hand or leg.  In this world even though we may have no power, if God is for us then we are the strongest of all.  If we are standing truthfully before God, and waking in his way, then the Lord will lead us.

              There are times when we like Festus and Felix worry less about what is truth and correct, and more about what is best for our position when we make decisions.  We tend to do what is best for ourselves.  We need to stand upon the will of God and walk the way that God desires for us. No matter where we are we need to walk the road that God shows us believing that God will lead us.        

Acts24:1-27 “The coming trial”

              Today’s passage tells us about Paul’s trial before the Roman Governor, Felix. Paul who the Jews planned to lynch was transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea. In 23:30 the centurion wrote a letter to the governor saying, “When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once.  I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.” “Five 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.” (24:1) Today let’s look at three attitudes that Christians should have in every situation that we can learn from Paul as he faced the trial before the Governor Felix.

I.                Even when abused, don’t abuse (vs. 2-9)

First let’s look at Tertullus’ case.  “When Paul was called in, Tertullus (the lawyer of the Jews) presented his case before Felix.” (2) First he flattered Felix. He said to the Governor, “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.” (2, 3) This is just a flowery rhetoric.  Tertullus doesn’t see Felix as such a person at all.  In fact, in verse 27 Felix looses his post.  This was due to a Jewish delegation’s complaint to the emperor about his ruthless suppression of a dispute between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea.   Tertullus didn’t like Felix at all.  He was just trying to buy into Felix’s heart so that the trial would go well.

Tertullus gives his case in verses 5 and 6.  Here he says that Paul has committed 3 sins.

1.           Paul is “a trouble maker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.” (5) The lawyer labels Paul a troublemaker.  The word used for troublemaker literally means “plague-spot”.   He means that Paul is like the source of a plague.  If you leave him there, then it will spread through out the people like the plague. This is referring to the influence of the Gospel that Paul is preaching more than to the influence of Paul himself.  That’s how much the words of the Gospel had penetrated     and spread out among the people.  One evangelist has this much influence. It makes us once again realize how much influence the Gospel has.  It is like a mustard seed. When it is planted, it is a very small seed.  However, when it grows it is bigger than other vegetables and it is big enough that birds make their nests there. (Matt. 13:31, 32) It spread out enough to stir up riots “all over the world.” (5)

Even so the word that Tertullus is using (plague-spot) is a cruel word to use. Terullus is trying to convince Felix and the court by giving the image that Paul is a really dangerous person. 

2.                                  Paul “is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect” (5) Tertullus used a contemptuous nickname for Christians, Nazarene and labels them a sect-no more than an unauthorized minority movement within Judaism.  In other words Nazarenes was a sect that believed in the Nazarene Jesus as their Savior and the ringleader was Paul.  The governor knew what such antiMessianic movements could cause fanatic political movements because he had to constantly deal with such civil uprisings from such movements.  Therefore, Tertullus thought that by saying such Felix would think that he would have to do something.

3.                                  Paul “even tried to desecrate the temple.” (6)  This refers to events of 21:28 and 29. They thought that when Paul came into the temple. That he had brought the Gentile, Trophimus, in with him. That was their impression so they arrested him.  However, this was not so in reality. It was just their assumption.  They were wrong.  Even so they accused Paul thinking that the Saducees who were affiliated with the temple also supported the Roman government so they thought by doing so the trial would go well for them.

  Tertullus is again strongly charging that Paul is dangerous for the Romans and for the Jews both politically and religiously.  For Paul who believed that he was living completely righteously before God and men, this accusation must have seemed so disagreeable to him.  There are times that Christians who strive to live devoutly       also have this type of agony.  However, even if we are abused by being called “a plague spot” or gossiped about that we are “stirring up riots” or misunderstood as trying “to desecrate the temple”, there is no need to be disappointed

I Peter 2:19,20

Christ is so.  He left an example so that we can follow in his footprints.  Even if someone has to experience an unjust cruelty, even so God’s will is that he stifle that sorrow. 

Eccles. 7:21,22

In other words, even if a person experiences an unjustified cruelty, he must ignore it. That is so that person will not hear the curse.  Also that is because that person has also cursed others.   It is important to “not be over wicked, and do not be a fool” (Eccles. 7:16) It is also important to not go to extremes. We need to remember that although we didn’t deserve it, by the grace of God, by the atonement of the cross, our sins are forgiven. We need to stand on that grace. When George Newton, the captain of a slave ship, experienced God’s amazing grace, he wrote the hymn, “Amazing grace”.  We need to let that amazing grace penetrate deep within our hearts.

II,      Prepare for the coming judgment  (vs. 10-21)

              Next let’s look at Paul’s defense.  When Tertullus’ charge is finished, the governor motioned for Paul to give his defense.  Paul spoke against each individual charge that Tertullus gave.

              1.           First of all Paul spoke against the accusation that he was stirring up riots.   In verses 11 to 13 Paul says that if they looked into it that they would realize that he has not caused riots nor done anything to disrupt the peace in Jerusalem.  In reality he had gone to Jerusalem to worship, not to cause a riot.  It was the Jews who started the riot inside the temple.  Also he had only been in Jerusalem for 12 days so  he lacked opportunity to orchestrate a revolt. 

              2.           The second defense is against the accusation that Paul was “a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.” (5) In verse 14 Paul says, “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.” Paul didn’t say whether or not he is the head of the Nazarene sect. He only said clearly that he was a member of the flock that believes in the Nazarene Jesus Christ.  However, he explained that this flock, which from the Jewish eyes looked like a cult, was certainly not the teachings of a cult.  Moreover, what the Jews were calling a cult, those following the way were actually following the way of people of the Old Testament.  They are really following the way of the God of their fathers.

              3.          Then Paul deals with the accusation that he “tried to desecrate the temple.” in verses 17-21.  He says that he definitely didn’t desecrate the temple. Rather he was following the teaching of the Jewish law and went to the temple to worship.  He completely denies the Jewish accusations.

              From the beginning this problem occurred purely over the Jewish doctrine of resurrection between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. If that is the case, it is strange that they would be disputing this in the Roman court.

              By Paul’s defense the Jewish accusations were withdrawn.  However, among Paul’s words there is one verse that we need to pay attention to.  That is verse 16. Paul is saying in his defense that he always strives to keep his “conscience clear before God and man.”     He had said this before in 23:1.  The meaning of conscience can be found in Psalms 26:2.

              When we look together with God at our heart, this is conscious. There are times when we deceive ourselves.  We easily deceive others.  However, even though we deceive others, God knows our hearts completely. Paul says that he has walked before God with a clear conscious.  There are few people who can say that.  There are people like the Jews who thought they were living righteously but in reality they were talking about God and wearing the jewelry of the law for their own satisfaction and own fulfillment. There are also those who like Felix who uses his position “hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe. Also “because Felix wanted to grant a favor with the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” (27)  His heart was far from having a pure conscious.  However, Paul before men and God walked faithfully.  No matter who the other person is he insisted that what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. He didn’t figure how he could benefit from it and walked correctly before the Lord.  He was able to do this because he realized that there is another judgment.  This is the judgment of verse 25, “the judgment to come”.

              “The judgment to come” is the final judgment. a judgment that determines eternity.  It is a judgment that we must all face.  Paul knew this so he wanted to stand before God in his court with no shame and a clear conscious. Therefore, Paul is striving to do what is right.  We too, for the judgment day, want to not fear, but have a life of joy, having no shame but a clear conscious before men and God.

III.         Leave everything to the Lord. (vs. 22 & 23)

              Lastly let’s look at the result of the trial.  Even though Paul gave his defense, Felix did not give a judgment , but ordered Paul to be kept until Lysias the commander comes.  Luke gives two reasons that Felix delays his verdict; his thorough acquaintance with Christianity and his desire to hear the testimony of Claudius Lycias, the only independent witness to any civil disturbances.  Felix knew “the Way,” the opposition to it from the Jewish leaders-and increasingly from the people-and the potential for civil unrest that its very presence seemed to create.

              According to verse 27 Paul was there 2 years.  Even though Paul was given a lot of freedom, it must have been very hard to wait considering his determination to goto Rome.  However, during these 2 years he wrote Ephesians, Phillipians, Colosians, and Philemon. In our lives this happens a lot.  Things don’t seem to be moving in our lives, but we are being led the best way.  Therefore we need to leave all to the hands of God who controls and leads us.

              There is “a time” in all that God does.  We don’t know when things will happen, but God is leading us in his plan for our lives.  Therefore we need to believe the promises of God’s word and even though it may not be now, believe that God will lead us.  Let’s have hope in this.  Let’s have hope in God’s time.  

Acts23:12-35 “God who provides a way of escape”

In today’s passage Paul who was about to be killed by the Jews is rescued and is sent to Caesarea.  Paul after his third missionary trip returned to Jerusalem and here too strove to witness to the Lord.  However, the Jewish resistance was much stronger than he expected. It was like Agabus had once prophesized that the Jerusalem evangelism faced continuous persecution after persecution after persecution. Being in such a situation, Paul must have been depressed. However, the Lord came to such a Paul, stood next him, and encouraged him with the words recorded in verse 11.

              For such a tired and depressed Paul these words must have been such an encouragement and must have given him courage and strength.  With a new spirit, hope, and strength Paul must have been ready to move forward in his commission.  Just then another problem occurred.  That is recorded in verses 12 to 15.

              This seems like we are watching a suspense movie.  Just as we think the disturbance has calmed down, the simmering Jews made a plot to kill Paul. Not only that but they made an oath not to eat or drink anything until they killed Paul.  Today this would be called a “hunger strike”.  To go to the extreme to not eat or drink anything, gives a peek at their desperate efforts. “More than forty men were involved in this plot.” (13)  These men united with the Sanhedrin to have Paul brought before the chief priests and elders “on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case.” (15)  They planned to kill him before he got there.   No one knew what was happening so in the morning when Paul is brought to the Sanhedrin, along the way his killers will be waiting for him.  For Paul this was a dangerous situation and he will be driven into a corner. How will he escape from this dangerous situation? Today let’s look at three truths about God who saved him from this situation.

I.            God used Paul’s sister’s child (vs. 16-21)

              Here Paul’s sister’s child appears.  This is Paul’s nephew.  This is the only passage in the Bible that tells us about Paul’s extended family.  From this passage we can see that Paul had at least one married sister.  Paul’s family were Pharisees. Therefore, may be Paul’s sister married a Pharisee and was living in Jerusalem.  When Paul was studying the law under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, he may have even stayed at his sister’s house.  Therefore, it is possible that he lived with his nephew and they knew each other well. He may have heard of his uncle’s arrest and decided to visit him and bring food and other necessities.

              Paul’s nephew heard of the plot to kill Paul and so “he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (16)  As a result Paul was able to inform the commander and as a result of the commander’s decision, Paul was protected from the conspiracy and was able to escape from the danger of being killed by the ambush.

              Out of chance did Paul’s nephew hear about this plot?  Out of chance did he happen to tell Paul about it?  Of course not.  This was definitely not by chance. It was not an easy thing for Paul’s nephew to know and go to tell Paul about the danger his uncle was in. In a lot of cases the nephew would be putting his own life on the line by going to Paul and telling him about the plot. It was also possible that just by going to Paul that his name would be put on the blacklist.  Even so, despite the dangers, the nephew went to Paul.  He did this because God was working.  God spoke to Paul’s nephew and gave him the desire to tell Paul about the plot to kill Paul.

              This is a little different from the other ways people escaped that we’ve seen up until now in the Bible.  For example, in 12:5 Peter escaped from the prison.  The prison was completely closed.  Herod had thought he would “bring him out for public trial after the Passover.” (12:4) The church continually prayed fervently for Peter.  God sent an angel and helped him out of the prison. “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains.” (12:6)  There were also guards at the door.  An angel “struck Peter on the side and woke him up.” (12:7) Then Peter’s chains fell off. Peter put on his clothes and sandals and followed the angel outside.  At first Peter thought he was dreaming. However, after getting outside he realized that God had sent his angel and rescued him.  This was a miracle.  Humanly speaking it was an unthinkable thing, a super unnatural work of God. 

              However, in today’s passage neither God, Christ, nor angel does not appear. The nephew of Paul hears about the plot, and tells Paul who is under the keeping of the commander.  Even so, God was working behind the scenes.  God used people to help save Paul.  God like in the case of Peter uses super unnatural ways to help save us and God also like in the case of Paul uses natural ways by working behind the scenes to save us.

              Not only that but Paul’s sister’s child, Paul’s nephew, appears only one time in the Bible. His name is not even mentioned.  He is introduced as only “Paul’s sister’s child”.  Not only that but, he was a “young man”. (17)  The word for “young man” is usually used for boys between 8 and 14 years old.  In other words, a “young man” is about the age of junior high students.  This type of person was used to save Paul.  God uses different people and different methods to help save us.


II           The commanders amazing command (vs. 22-30)

              When the commander heard through Paul’s nephew about the plot to ambush Paul, he ordered Paul’s nephew not to tell anyone that he had told the commander about the plot.  Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them to go to Caesarea at nine o’clock at night.  They were to “get ready a detachment of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen.” (23)  Not only that, but they were to “provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” (24) This required an enormous amount of preparation.  This was about half the amount of infantry, cavalry, and soldiers in Jerusalem.  It was an unthinkable amount of military for taking just one prisoner.  Why would the commander send such a huge force with Paul?

              According to the letter that the commander wrote to Felix the reason given is that Paul was a Roman citizen so he helped Paul escape.  In other words, Paul was arrested by the Jews.  After investigating the commander realized that the problem was over the Jewish law, and that Paul had committed no crime worthy of death or imprisonment so he helped Paul escape from the lynch.  In other words, what the commander had done was because Paul was a Roman citizen so he did his responsibility faithfully to protect a Roman citizen.  His motives and prudence was that he wanted to be recognized or appreciated by his superiors. He wasn’t thinking about Paul. However, even though he had such motives and prudence, by this special method Paul escaped danger because God was working behind the scenes and was leading.  God controls all things.  God used the commander’s calculated motives to help Paul flee from the Jewish ambush and send him to the Caesarean governor where he would be safe.  Therefore, you could say that this was the road of escape that God prepared for Paul while he was in the trials of having his life at stake. 

I Cor. 10:13

              Paul’s nephew’s sudden appearance, and the commander’s actions rooted in his thinking at one glance seem as if there is no connection between the people and events, but in reality it is the Lord God Himself who prepared a road of escape for Paul.

              Why did God use such a method?  We wonder if God was going to save Paul, why he didn’t use a more exciting method. For example, suddenly superman came in the sky and like an eagle scooped Paul up and flew back in the sky and took him to a place that no one knows.  Rains came from heaven upon the Jews and they died so Paul didn’t feel any danger and lived a long life.  I’m not a novel writer, but God’s thinking is tremendous.  It’s deep. It’s perfect.

              When we think about why God chose this method, we remember Acts 23:11. “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

              In other words, this series of events: Paul being, accused by the Jews, arrested, fleeing and being sent to Caesarea was in reality, so Paul could have confidence that from Jerusalem, that God would fulfill this promise and that he would go through Caesarea and continue on to Rome. Now Paul isn’t going heroically to Rome. Paul is going as a prisoner in chains.  However, even though he is in a situation that he can do nothing about, the Lord’s hand is actually working.  In the midst of this condition, he is definitely moving toward Rome. God is definitely leading forward towards his goal.  It is for this reason that God chose this method.

              This is a huge encouragement to us who are living in the forward movement of the kingdom of God. When we meet various trials, and in the daily perseverance as we daily pray for help, we sometimes wonder whether God has forgotten us or not?  However, in reality the Lord’s hand is working.  Not only that but God’s hand is not just working so we can flee, but for the purpose of the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  It has real meaning.  Things occur that we never thought of, we have nowhere to turn, but even so the Lord’s hand definitely supports us, leads us, encourages us, and comforts us. Even if we live each and every day as it comes, in reality, we are moving closer to the will of Jesus Christ because everything is a part of the plan that God has for us.  Even if in our present situation we are facing obstacles that we have no strength to cut down, and have no strength to stand up to, still it is not meaningless to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It will become a fulfillment in the advancement of kingdom of God.

III.  Trust in the Lord (vs.31-35)

              Therefore, the third point is no matter what situation we are in to trust in the Lord. Then the soldiers did what was commanded and took Paul “during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris.” (31)  The next day the soldiers let the cavalry take Paul on and they returned to the barracks.  Antipatris was a military outpost about half way between Jerusalem and Caesarea. According to the command of the commander, the soldiers left in the middle of the night and took Paul to Antipatris.  They took him in the middle of the night because the Jews planned to kill Paul as quickly as possible.  They thought by leaving in the night they could avoid that from happening.  Even so leaving Jerusalem at 9:00 at night and going 55 kilometers to Antipatris was quite a hard schedule.  Then on top of that the next day they left Paul in the hands of the cavalry and returned back to their starting point. To walk 100 kilometers in 24 hours is impossible so they must have gone by horseback.  They left the rest of the trip in the hands of the cavalry. “When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.” (33)  After Felix read the letter he asked Paul what province he was from.  Paul answered that he was from Cilicia.  Therefore, Felix said that he would hear Paul’s case when his accusers came.  “Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” (35) By this the plot to kill Paul was completely destroyed. Humanly speaking, Paul was in a helpless situation, but by God’s method, Paul was saved from danger and was being led to complete his commission of witnessing in Rome.

              Here neither God nor Jesus appears. Also supernaturally God does not enter the situation.  Only Paul’s nephew found out about the plot to kill Paul and informed him and the commander is used to send Paul away from the danger.  However, behind the scenes God was working and leading.  God used these people and events to save Paul from danger.

              When you are in such dangerous situations, how do you try to flee from the situation?  Humans have an instinct to protect themselves.  Therefore, they rely on people and things. They rely on their own knowledge and wisdom, but those things won’t really take care of us.  Only God can protect us from such things.  God by amazing methods will protect us from all misfortunes.  He will take care of us.  Therefore, let’s keep our eyes on God who can really protect us, and trust in Him. When we pray to Him, we not only can overcome all earthly powers, but we can continue to walk strongly. Let’s believe that God is working behind the scenes, and leave everything in His hands.  If so we will see God’s works and glory greater than we ever imagined.  The way of escape that God prepares is a road of victory that we as brave soldiers walk on.  Let’s remember this and move forward taking one step at a time, looking more and more to heaven, and keeping our hearts up.