Acts 28 contains the story of Paul’s journey to Rome after being shipwrecked onto an island – we now know as Malta. Paul is treated well there and lives a life that changes hearts. He is bitten by a viper, and the locals expected him to die, but it had no impact after he shook the snake off into the fire. He also went to the home of the chief – names Publius – and healed his father and many others who came to him with diseases and issues. Paul prayed, laid on hands, and healed. And then he did what we all need to do – he shared life and the testimony of Christ to them. He touched many before leaving for the last leg of his journey to Caesar.
Upon arrival in Rome, Paul is hosted by some of the brethren. The Jewish leaders in town weren’t sure what to think about him. “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” They were unsure what to think. SO they asked Paul to share his views and help them understand why he was dragged all this way by the Roman guard. That opened the door for Paul and when the appointed day came, he didn’t hold back. “From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” Paul just talks about Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. Share the truth.
The results were mixed. Scripture tells us “some were convinced…..others disbelieved”. So once again a split decision on what to do with Jesus. But the telling verse comes when scripture says “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” This seems to describe the state of many in our country today. They see and hear but it has little impact. We really do need to wake up and hear what God wants to tell us. We are facing the same question as the Jews of that day – what will you do with Jesus? Will you be convinced, and believe? Or will you walk away from God’s truth and grace. There is a very important decision we all must make. God desires us to not be dull toward Him, but alive and excited to walk as Christ Followers. That is his goal for you and me.
Acts 27 has Paul on his trip to see Caesar. It is quite a trip. He is put under the custody of Julius who gets him on a ship headed toward Italy. But it isn’t a simple trip. In fact, there are many hardships and they struggle to keep moving toward the goal. While on the trip, Paul sees a vision. The captain and crew have already lightened the ship by throwing most of the supplies overboard. And now they believe that many will die if they don’t take drastic measures. Paul intervenes. He had told them earlier not to set sail during this time of the year. He knew bad things were ahead. But now God has spoken to him and told him “‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar”. There is still one more leg to Paul’s journey of sharing his story. God is going to bring him to Caesar no matter what the circumstances appear to be.
So Paul goes to the centurion in charge and tells him “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved”. Seems quite contrary to the common thought going on – which was to abandon ship and try to get to shore. But Paul makes his case and they listen and eat as Paul suggests. That lightened the ship again and they also threw some more items overboard. But it wasn’t enough to save the ship – it was being beat by the waves and wind even though they were attempting to run it aground on a beach. They couldn’t get there – the waters were not right for that.
It is interesting to note that scripture records the fact that there were 276 persons on the ship. Not a rounding error – an exact count. God cares about the details and not one of those people perished. They jumped overboard and swam to shore, or if they couldn’t swim, they hung onto planks from the boat as it was being destroyed by the rocks. But here is the key: “And so it was that all were brought safely to land”. Not most of the people – ALL of them made it – even those who couldn’t swim. God made a way to keep His word as spoken to Paul. That is the God we serve. He isn’t into getting close. He is in complete control and does exactly what He says every time. He knows every detail of your life just like the details of Paul’s journey. Never forget that. And when you factor in His neverending love for us we have a great relationship with Him indeed if we are willing to let Him have His way. Are you tuned in to what God is up to in your life? He knows the number of hairs on your head!
Acts 26 has Paul in front of King Agrippa to plead his case. He has been accused by the Jews and is now standing before his third authority on the way to Caesar. He starts reminding the king and his court why he is on trial: “I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day”. This is all about the Jews trying to shut Paul’s testimony down about Jesus. And Paul launches again into a detailed story of his journey – how he persecuted and was part of the leadership that killed many Christians before that fateful day on the road to Damascus – when Jesus revealed Himself to Paul and began a new story in his life.
Paul addressed Agrippa directly with his purpose. When we are standing before authority – we need to be clear as to why. So often people approach authority with no plan or idea of what their purpose is. But Paul knows exactly the job Jesus gave to him and states it this way: “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me”. Do you have.your marching orders clear from Jesus? Do you know exactly why you are here on earth and what God wants from your life?
Festus is in the room and responds calling Paul a crazy man. Are you crazy for Jesus in the world’s eyes? Have you sold out in your willingness to share the impact of Jesus on your life in a way that will make you stand out in the crowd. Festus says “ Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind”. Paul doesn’t hold back as he testifies to the king. He tells the exact same story he did the previous times. Straight talk about how Jesus has touched his life. That is what we are called to do. How has Jesus touched you?
Paul is not derailed at all by the comments from Festus that he is crazy. In fact, he immediately pushes the king to respond as he says “For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner”. Paul has a mission – to cause Agrippa to take a stance on Jesus. And the king understands the comment clearly and responds like this: “Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian”? Of course that plays right into Paul’s plan – to make the king take a stand. So rather than back down Paul puts it right on his plate: “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains”. He basically says that the king has plenty of information to make a decision, and it is time to do so. What about you? What have you done with Jesus? Have you taken a stand? Just like the king – you can’t dodge the question forever. And if you are a Christ Follower, who are you telling your story to? Who are you going to ask the hard questions of?
Acts 25 has Paul coming before Festus who quickly discovers he has inherited a hot potato. The Jews are all over him to give Paul over to them. But Festus realizes that Paul is innocent even wit them “bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove”. They are determined to find a way to kill him. Remember that this is over two years from the time their pursuit began. He has been in jail under Felix’ protection and now has been handed off to Festus. But Festus knows there is nothing that should be done to this innocent man. So as Paul is giving his defense, he says “I appeal to Caesar”.
That request was what was done to move things up to the next level in the court system of the day. “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” It didn’t take Festus long to go along with that request. He was going to pass on the problem rather than have to deal with it himself. Festus realized their case was non existent. King Agrippa came to town and Festus wasted no time in bringing him into the mix as well. He told the king “they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive”. But there really is no grounds for conviction and Festus knew their desire was to kill Paul. So to the king he went, and explains the situation asking for counsel in how to send him on to Caesar.
The issue was that Festus felt he had “nothing definite to write to my lord about him”. There were no charges that were real – just trumped up stuff the Jews were accusing Paul of. Festus tells the king “it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him”. So King Agrippa asks to hear Paul and to see for himself what this is all about. Paul will once again have the chance to share his life and testimony with another level of authority. He just keeps climbing the ladder and speaking about his life. That is all God calls us to do – to tell the world what He has done through our relationship with Him and His Son. Are you willing to speak truth about your life with Jesus? Or do you try and keep it quiet, especially when you are unsure what the response will be. Too often that is what we do. We can’t let people at work know. We can’t let our friends know. We have to keep it quiet. Not so – we need to be living Christ in a way that everyone knows we are His!
Acts 24 has Paul now before the governor – Felix. The accusations are wild that Tertullus makes: “we have found this man to be a plague…..stirs up riots…..a ringleader…..tried to profane the temple”. Of course all these are false accusations which are being made in an attempt to get rid of Paul. After the false accusations, Felix nods to Paul who begins like this: “I cheerfully make my defense”. Not exactly the words one would expect to hear of a man being falsely accused, eh? But Paul sees this as an opportunity to once again testify to the power of God. He welcomes the opportunity to make his case. He is excited to be able to speak to the governor.
So what does Paul say? Basically they are a bunch of liars making things up. But then he says “I confess to you…..I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust”. There it is. He lays out his beliefs and makes his case for being a believer. Paul does not run and hide. He is there to tell his story – the story of God’s faithfulness. Paul challenges the accusations and then calls the religious leaders out for what they really are: “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day” – zealots trying to silence Paul and his faith. This isn’t about anything but Paul’s beliefs and their concern for losing power.
Paul found favor with Felix who spent much time with him. But it was certainly not a quick process. Scripture tells us he was in jail quite some time: “When two years had elapsed” as he awaited a decision. Felix just left him there making the excuse that he was waiting for the local leader to come and provide some background so he could rule. Paul had favor and was there waiting and sharing his faith. As the chapter ends Felix is succeeded by Porcius Festus who inherits this sticky situation. So Paul is sitting in prison due to false accusations that the rulers all knew were trumped up charges but were fearful of repercussions should they let him out. Yet Paul doesn’t really complain or even resist – he simply uses the opportunity to share with his captors
Acts 23 has Paul standing before the council. He doesn’t just come in as a defeated man. Scripture says he was “looking intently at the council” and he begins to make his case stating that he had “lived my life before God in all good conscience”. That didn’t go well with the high priest who orders him to be struck. Paul immediately talks back to the high priest until he discovers that he indeed was the man in charge. Then his complete obedience to God’s truth comes out once he realized the authority of that man and he takes a different approach. Paul was obviously a student of those he was talking with. Not only here, but throughout his trips and preaching – he would identify the areas that were important for the audience he was addressing and focus on speaking about relevant and penetrating topics. Nothing different here. “Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees”. That may seem like a little thing – but it is a huge difference of belief and Paul uses that to get the focus off himself and onto their disagreement over the resurrection. He threw them a big curveball and they were off into the weeds fighting amongst themselves.
The local authorities take him away to protect him. While he was locked away, something powerful happens. “The following night the Lord stood by him”. Jesus came and spoke to him and encouraged him that he would also be taken to Rome to testify. That didn’t look all that possible given the fact he was locked away in Jerusalem, but it was what he was told. 40 of the locals plotted together to kill Paul. In fact they made an oath that they would not eat or drink until it was done. This wasn’t a plan they were going to execute someday – it was a now king of plan. They were planning to ambush and kill him when brought out of the prison back to the council.
“The son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush”. Quite a coincidence don’t you think? God does have a way of working out coincidences so His will is accomplished. This young man just happened to be where the topic was being discussed and overheard it. He comes to Paul to warn him and Paul immediately sends him to the local authority with the information. Upon learning it, it was time to get Paul out of town and down to Rome to be put on trial. So Paul is moved with an escort of “two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen”. There was no way Paul was going to die on his watch. Quite an escort for one guy, but they left during the night and he arrives before Felix the governor to be questioned. Paul is thrown in jail to await his accusers coming to town. He is fulfilling what he was told when the Lord came to him while in prison in Jerusalem.
So why does God allow Paul to be locked up and treated this way as a minister of the gospel? Shouldn’t God just keep him out with the people teaching and sharing his faith – not locked up in prison? God uses us in many ways that may not make sense to us. But the people in authority need to hear the truth just as badly as anyone else. God has a plan for Paul to share before those in authority here. First he did so in Jerusalem, now in Rome. Serving Christ does not mean the path will be easy. It is not a ticket to simple and smooth. But being a Christ Follower does mean that God will use us to accomplish His plan done His way if we walk in obedience. Paul is living like that – a vessel in God’s hands to deliver the truth wherever God puts him. Paul is not calling the shots here – God is. Paul is simply walking where God leads and being faithful to share the truth no matter the audience. He is living to please an audience of One. Are you?
Acts 22 gives us a lesson in how to share our faith and give our testimony. Paul has been beaten and almost killed by the angry mob. He was rescued by the local authorities and asks to speak to the crowd, and he does. He begins by giving them the background – that he had been “educated at the feet of Gamaliel…. being zealous for God as all of you are”. He starts by helping make the connection between who he is and who those are he is communicating with. He is one of them. He is of the same background and upbringing. Paul was connecting with the crowd. He is not some foreigner that has come into their midst – he is just like them. We have to connect with folks in order to earn the right to share truth. We can’t just dump or force it on them. And the more the connection, the more likely they are to listen and hear what we share.
Paul then tells the story of his conversion. And storytelling is a great way to share our faith. Our testimony should not be some sterile quoting of scripture. It has to be personal and real for those who listen. We just have to tell folks what life was like before Jesus, what caused us to realize we needed a Savior, and then what happened after we took the step of faith to receive God’s grace and make Christ our Savior. It is a pretty simple formula Paul uses as he explains the details of what happened on the road to Damascus and the ensuing activity of meeting Ananias. He brings the crowd into the story and ends it with these words: “Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him”. Not everyone’s story will be quite as dramatic as Paul’s was. But each of us have a story and Jesus has made a difference in our life. That is what we have to share. No one can deny the power of Christ in us. That is the one area we alone are the expert on and why sharing our testimony is THE single best tool for evangelism at our disposal. People may argue with the meaning of scripture, they may discount what the church says or stands for, but no one can dispute the power of God in our lives through the saving blood of Jesus. We alone are the expert on that topic and need to get it defined and ready to share.
Paul then shares what God’s plan was for his life:
– “know his will
– see the Righteous One
– hear a voice from his mouth
– you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard”
God had a mission for Paul to complete. Here is the reality my friends – He has a mission for you and me to complete as well. He has given us a story to tell. He has placed the Holy Spirit in us to make a difference in our lives. He has equipped us with a brain, ears and a mouth to be His instrument of sharing the truth of the Cross. We have a mission. We need to prepare for it. Have you thought about your testimony of faith? Do you know how to share the impact of God in your life through Christ? I encourage you to take time to write it out. It doesn’t have to be long – Paul’s entire story here doesn’t even take up one page. But by writing it out and then sharing it with a few close brothers and sisters, you can begin to refine and become comfortable with sharing it. We need to get good at telling our story. God has touched us – He has come into our life and made a huge difference. And it is our call to let others know exactly what God has done. It is our job to live life in a way that others see and are drawn to wonder why. It is our job to have an answer that explains who we are and why we live as we do. Are you ready to do that? What better way to begin a new year than to get your story straight. Make it a commitment to write it, practice it, and then share it with someone in your patch in the next few days. God wants to use us. He gave us more than we deserve. Now it is up to us to share it!