Paul’s Mess, God’s Message

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At the end of the book of Acts we are following Paul in his ministry as he shares his testimony and all he is learning from God with established groups of believers as well as with those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ. He is told through a prophet that he will be bound by the Jewish leaders and sent to the Gentiles to share his story.  He is accused by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, then arrested and imprisoned while the Roman authorities try to figure out which side of the story to believe.  Over the course of Paul’s imprisonment he is moved to various cities and meets with several governors as well as King Agrippa.  Then finally he is sent to Rome.  During each of these transitions, Paul has an opportunity to share the story of his conversion…who he was…who he is and who he will continue to be through God’s grace.  Every time he is questioned he says something like the following phrase from Acts 23:1 “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 
Paul faced so much opposition during this period of time and yet he continued to stand firm in his belief that God had a purpose for him which would be fulfilled no matter what…arrest, false accusations, storms, shipwrecks, imprisonment, isolation, death threats, nothing was going to stop God’s message from being spread.
As the book of Acts closes we are given a chance to witness Paul as he teaches a group of Jewish leaders in Rome. 
Acts 28:23-30
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers
to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening,
explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets
he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said,
but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and
began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth
to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles,
and they will listen!” [29] [b]
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all
who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord
Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
Some of those who were listening, heard Paul’s message and their lives were changed.  Others found that they couldn’t believe what Paul was preaching and left.  They heard but didn’t understand, they saw but didn’t allow comprehension. Paul kept right on teaching, preaching and sharing his mess so that God’s message could get through.
Oh to have Paul’s boldness and eloquence!  There are many times that we are provided the opportunity to share our own stories of faith with others and we often let them pass us by.  Are we afraid?  Maybe we don’t think they would be interested, or that we’ll be bothering them if we share.  Or maybe we don’t want to offend anyone…but if we are learning from Paul’s example, we need to be sharing our stories of faith regardless of the personal costs.  God’s message will be heard, don’t you want to be a part of that exciting adventure? I promise it’ll be a good one!
-Joyanne Swanson
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Paul Serves and God Provides

Acts 28

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There has been a lot happen on the way to Rome, but Paul is still a prisoner. What, I wonder, were all the other prisoners doing? Were they mainly sitting around and only doing something when told to? We can see from chapters 27 and 28 that Paul couldn’t just sit by if there was something he could do to help. Paul had a servant’s heart. He served during the storm by encouraging the other 275 on the ship. He served by convincing them to eat and not give up. When they are shipwrecked on Malta, Paul immediately continues serving. He gathers wood for the fire. The natives are doing this, too, but I bet Paul is tired like all the others who had to swim for safety. He doesn’t let exhaustion stop him from serving. Paul serves again by going to see Publius’ father who is sick. He prays, lays hands on him, and heals the man. In a sense he has served everyone he came in contact with. He serves his own crew by serving and healing the natives because they, in turn, supply them for the next part of their trip! Paul was a blessing to everyone around him and he blessed them by having a humble and serving heart that prompted kind acts.

While Paul is serving and blessing, God is providing protection and opportunity. God gets Paul an audience by protecting Paul from the snake bite.  God also gets Paul an even larger audience by giving him the ability to heal “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases.”  Later, we see that God protects Paul in Rome from a miserable prisoner’s existence by providing a sizable rental property and a simple guard to watch over him. It seems sizable because this allows him to testify about the kingdom of God and Jesus to “large numbers.” God has provided Paul with suitable accommodations and the opportunity to witness to Gentiles and Jews while imprisoned in Rome for the next two years! For “two full years” he was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”

There seems to be a correlation between Pauls’ serving and God’s providing. What could this mean in our own lives? I personally would love to be a blessing to others as Paul was. Wouldn’t you? And what could be better than knowing God is protecting you and providing opportunities for you to make a difference for Him?

On a side note, I would like to point out that while it isn’t mentioned in this chapter, Paul did speak to Caesar. According to Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Obviously, there was some success there for God among some Gentiles, some Jews, and some among the kings at least! This was Paul’s purpose. (Acts 9:15)

-Melissa New

 

The Big Sea Adventure

Acts 27

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I love this chapter! It reads like an exciting adventure novel full of rising suspense, anxious expectation, unfortunate loss, and desperate hope. Now I don’t know a lot about sailing, but it sounds like as soon as they board the Alexandrian ship things don’t go so well. In verse seven we see that they had to sail slowly for a “good many days and with difficulty.”  They arrive at Cnidus with difficulty and then they arrive at Fair Havens with difficulty. This voyage is a lot harder than it should have been and they have lost a lot of time. Verse nine clues us in on the time of year it is by saying “the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over.” Matthew Henry’s commentary says that it was now late September. They knew they would need to stop soon for the winter because it wasn’t a good time to sail anymore. And Paul warned them to stop, but they weren’t listening to a prisoner’s advice at this time. The captain wanted to get around to a better location for spending the winter.

Isn’t this nice plot development? There is some nice character development, too. Let’s consider the nameless centurion for just a minute. He was in charge of the prisoners and he had already previously “treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.” Sure, he didn’t listen to Paul’s warning that they should stop travelling, but it seems reasonable to think that the centurion knows a fair amount about Paul. He probably went to the hearing Paul had with Agrippa. He saw the faith, love, and determination of a prisoner unlike any other prisoner he had ever been in charge of I would wager.

The storms get worse. The despair rises and Paul speaks up to assure everyone that God will save them, but not the ship. He tells them to be courageous. Soon, it looks like land is approaching and, while this is good news, a new threat is upon them. Can they safely make it to land? Some try to jump ship and this time it seems like the centurion listens to Paul when he says the men must remain in the ship in order for everyone to be saved.

We are approaching the climax of the story and Paul tells the men to eat and strengthen themselves. He encourages them and thanks God in front of all of them during a time of intense uncertainty. When day breaks will they see land? Will they be able to get to it? The next day finds the ship stuck and being torn apart by forceful waves. The soldiers think they need to kill the prisoners so they don’t go free. This seems like a reasonable plan, but the centurion steps up to protect Paul. What a climax! The ship is tearing to pieces, death is perilously near, and everyone must jump overboard. And the story ends just the way I love for a good story to end; with a happy ending! All 276 on the ship “were brought safely to land.” Was it all just physical salvation? Is there a future salvation for some who witnessed firsthand the power of God? Here is where the reader must speculate and come up with his/her own assumptions.

-Melissa New

Fulfilling Purpose…Or…Refusing Salvation

Acts 26

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There are two reasons why it’s interesting that Paul makes his case to King Agrippa. First, it really wasn’t going to do him any good because he had already appealed to Caesar and knew that meant he would have to go to Rome. Of course, he had been told that Rome was where he needed to go anyway. (Remember Acts 23:11) It seems that Paul’s defense before Agrippa was all for show. Agrippa wanted to hear Paul and Paul wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to share God’s message. We can’t forget Paul’s purpose given to him from Jesus. In Acts 9:15 we see that Paul is to bear the name of Jesus “before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” Paul knows what he is about! He is to share the message with not only Gentiles and Jews, but kings! So we can see why Paul is considering himself fortunate to get to speak directly to Agrippa.  He is fulfilling his purpose.

Secondly, it’s also interesting to think about who this King Agrippa really was. Agrippa’s great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby, Agrippa’s grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded, and his father martyred James, a disciple of Jesus and one of the sons of Zebedee. Why would Paul care to make his case to a man of this lineage? Could he really expect Agrippa to care about Paul? Paul understands that God still wants Agrippa no matter what he or his family has done. He knows that Jesus died for Agrippa, too. Paul could have thought, “It’s a waste of time to speak to him.” But Paul shows us that NO ONE is a waste of time.

Agrippa is almost persuaded to become a Christian. Paul makes sense and his intense concern for all to hear and accept the truths he shares is compelling. But there are so many watching. And there is Bernice and Festus there too. Festus has already declared Paul to be out of his mind. Agrippa would be putting his standing and esteem in a predicament if he agrees with Paul. He cannot do that. However, he can’t say that Paul has done anything worthy of death or imprisonment either and he seems regretful that he can’t let Paul go. It’s such a shame to see someone have understanding and yet be so comfortable with the way they are living that they refuse to accept salvation.

-Melissa New

Steadfast and Faithful

Acts 25

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The trial continues in Acts Chapter 25. Festus, a new governor, has come to power and Paul is under trial again. What a political sham! Everyone knows that Paul hasn’t really done anything to deserve punishment, but the influential Jews will not give up. Paul knows that if his fate is to be determined in Jerusalem he will not survive. He has to appeal to Caesar at this point.

Surprisingly, Festus has a real handle on the situation. He sees that Paul hasn’t done anything wrong. He just disagrees with the Jews on the resurrection and about Jesus. So he hands the case off to King Agrippa. It’s a total mess of a case. Some important people will be miffed if Paul gets let go. A leader’s popularity may be at stake here. Is Paul’s life really worth that? Finally, Paul must think the trial will end soon. There has to be a decision made at some point!

I picture a pitiful-looking fella appealing to the powers that be with kind words and loving eyes. He has just spent years in prison and the accusers really have no evidence against him. There is no case. Paul remains steadfast and faithful even though things don’t look so good for him. Could we do the same?

-Melissa New

Waiting – Patiently

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Acts 24

In Acts Chapter 24 the Jews get lawyered up and travel to Caesarea because their convictions against Paul are so strong that they feel “justice” is imperative.  Their case is simple, “We don’t want to take up too much of your time. Just believe us when we say this man is a pest and a troublemaker.”  Then Paul makes another eloquent speech and isn’t interrupted this time. He takes every opportunity afforded him to bring up the hope of the resurrection. Paul points out that he agrees with the Jews on a lot of things and wants to worship as other Jews do in the temple. It doesn’t seem like Felix finds any fault with Paul, and yet Paul stays in prison for 2 years while Felix is governor.

It is estimated that Paul spent 5 ½ to 6 years in prison during his whole ministry. It seems like such a long time. We know that while he was imprisoned he would still try to further the work of God by writing letters, but I can imagine that he spent an agonizingly long time waiting on God to do something. How often did he pray for God to help him? How often did he think about how unfair it was that he was wrongfully imprisoned in the first place? How often did he regret that he couldn’t be out speaking and teaching? What was God’s purpose for the 2 year imprisonment anyway? No one really knows except God.

I teach the teenagers at our church and I remind them often that we must patiently wait for the LORD to reveal His plans for us. His way is worth waiting for. I wish I could spare them some worry and tell them that God has told me who they will marry, where they need to live, what kind of job to strive for…I would LOVE to be able to do that for them because I remember what it was like. So much of the time we have to just seek, wait, love, and trust that God knows what He is doing.

-Melissa New

God’s Presence Even in “Failures”

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Acts 23

Paul knew what it was to be a Jew, but he also knew the benefits of being a Roman.  At the end of Chapter 22 we saw two ways you could become a Roman though you were a Jew. You could purchase the privilege at a great cost or you could be lucky enough to have been born a Roman as Paul was. Tarsus was designated a “free city” by Rome. Anyone born there was automatically Roman. We know it wasn’t luck, though. The commander (or chief captain depending on the version you read) must have thought Paul was a lucky dog! We know better. God was working in Paul’s life before he was even born!

Since Paul was a Roman, he was to have a fair trial. A nice little perk for being a Roman, you can see. Paul can sense right away at the start of Chapter 23, though, that he won’t get a fair trial among the Jews. They will surely find him guilty. Paul seems to be doomed. Fortunately, there was that commander that seemed interested in Paul. What a lucky dog! How very fortunate for him that God put that commander there! And this commander feels a powerful urge to protect Paul as a precious Roman.

What a terrible failure his time in Jerusalem seems to have been! No one would listen to him and people want him dead. But God’s active presence in his life is undeniable during this seemingly unsuccessful adventure into Jerusalem.

-Melissa New

 

My name is Melissa New. I am a Sunday School Teacher/Youth Leader at McGintytown Church of God of Abrahamic Faith in Arkansas. I homeschool the kids God has blessed us with and particularly love English and History. I’m pretty passionate about church camps too! 🙂 My favorite verse of the Bible is Jeremiah 29:13 and my favorite Psalm is Psalm 37.