Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual growth’

Acts 28

Acts 28 begins with the shipwrecked crew and passengers figuring out that they had crashed on Malta.  The native people opened their island to them.  “When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand”.  Paul is helping make some warmth and a poisonous snake attacked him.  “When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live”.

They knew that the bite of a viper was deadly, so they were just handing around to watch Paul die.  “But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god”.  That’s not how things went.  You get bit, you die.  But Paul obviously had God’s hand upon him.  Paul had a chance to heal the father of the leader on the island, which opened the floodgates to any who were sick.  After three months or so, they board a vessel that has been docked there to continue their journey to Rome.

They finally get to the destination.  Some Christ Followers hear of Paul’s arrival and go to greet him.  “On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage”.  Sometimes we just need to see a friendly face.  Paul is excited to see some folks who weren’t out to kill him for a change, but wanted to spend time with him.  He arrives and asks to meet with the Jews to explain why he was there.  “But because the Jews objected, I was compelled  to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against  my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of  the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain”.  He’s come all this way to appeal his case, and the Jews in Jerusalem didn’t even know what he was talking about.

So Paul asks for the opportunity to tell them, and to share the Good News of Jesus.  “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 has yet another chance to tell his story.  Some got it, some did not.  “And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, having much dispute among themselves”.   Paul again manages to put the Jewish leaders on different sides of the table.  That allowed him to stay and live his life. “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance”.  He spends two years preaching Jesus in Rome without any interference.  That’s success!

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Acts 27

Acts 27 has Paul boarding a ship to be transferred to see Caesar as he had requested.  It was no short voyage, and the winds did not cooperate and their progress was slow and did not move them quickly enough on the journey.  They had many difficult days battling wrong winds and slow progress.  But they weren’t willing to give up. Paul tells them “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives. But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said”.  Paul obviously has the right answers, but they wouldn’t listen to them.

Things are not going well.  “Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.  They try with all their might to save themselves.  “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned”.  But their efforts are coming up short.  All that they were doing just wasn’t enough.  They are failing to save themselves in their own strength.  But its what we do as humans.  We put God on the sidelines until we are so far over our head we see no other way.

Then Paul takes charge.  “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to  take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told”.  Paul first reminds them that he told them exactly what was to happen, but now, since all their efforts have failed, it is time to trust God.

There is fear amongst the crew so they make plans to leave the ship.  Again Paul steps in.  “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved”.  God’s plan is not common sense in the eyes of the crew.  But they listen to Paul.  “Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go. As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for  not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you”.

Those were some pretty bold words.  But the crew listened and ate.  This wasn’t a small boat.  “We were in all 276 persons in the ship”.  Paul isn’t saving his own skin here.  There are hundreds of people at risk. They throw more of the cargo off but and then see a beach in a bay and decide to try to run the ship ashore there.  They strike a reef and fail to get all the way.  “The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan”.  They all make it ashore and are saved because they listened to Paul.

Acts 26

Acts 26 has Paul now making his case to Agrippa.  “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews”.  Paul again makes it clear that he hasn’t been living under a rock, but very publicly for many years.  “They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee”.  Paul takes Agrippa back to his life as a Pharisee, reminding him that he was part of the very strictest of groups. “And now 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”.

“And for this hope I am accused by Jews”.   Paul makes it clear that he is being persecuted because he has been looking forward to the Savior that is described in scripture, which is exactly what a God fearing Jew should be looking for.  But it wasn’t always that way. “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth”. Paul reminds us that he took action on Christ Followers:

  • “locked up many
  • put to death
  • punished them often
  • persecuted them even to foreign cities”

Paul definitely wasn’t a follower of Christ his entire life.  But then he met Christ personally, and his life was changed forever, so Paul goes on speaking and shares the testimony of his life.  Then he makes clear what God wants him to do.  “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness….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”.  Jesus calls Paul to share the gospel with all that he would see.

Then he makes clear what was happening in his current circumstance.  “For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me”.  Festus accuses Paul of being mad, but Paul says that is not true.  “I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner”.  Paul has lived his life openly and many have seen the change he has made from a man consumed with killing Christians to becoming a man whose life was changed by Jesus, leading him to now bear testimony to the shed blood of Christ.  King Agrippa, after hearing Paul’s story, says ”This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment”.  But since Paul had appealed to Caesar, he couldn’t be released.

Acts 25

Acts 25 has Paul saga continuing as he works his way through the Roman political system in an effort to tell the story of Jesus.  You may recall that Felix had retired and passed the torch to Festus who is now in leadership.  “The chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way”.  New guy in charge so the Jews try and get a favor from Festus, but he isn’t buying their plot which he has been warned of.

Festus decides to keep Paul safe and sound and again gives him opportunity to tell his side of the story.  “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense”.  Paul knows he is innocent.  But Festus offers Paul the opportunity to go to Jerusalem and be tried which Paul declines.  “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them”.

Paul again plays his Roman citizen card. “ I appeal to Caesar.””  Enough of this local political tug of war.  Why not just go right to the top and state the case there.  Festus agrees as he knows he is on thin ice if he allows the Jews to do what they want.  “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go”.  So Paul heads back to jail and safety while awaiting a trip to Rome so he can make his case before the ruler of all.  But as he waits, King Agrippa comes to town for a visit.  This gives Paul yet another leader to share his testimony with.

Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in”.  Paul has been before a growing number of Roman authorities, each time telling the story of Jesus and what has happened in his life. Festus tells Agrippa “I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to  the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him….For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him”.  So Paul gets put aside yet again to wait for a hearing before King Agrippa.  God continues to give him a platform from which to tell the story of His encounter with Jesus!

Acts 24

Acts 24 has Paul in prison under Felix’ protection.  “After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus”.  This guy was a lawyer very schooled in Roman law, a slick speaker who could impress judges.  He was brought along to try and frame Paul. He gets in front of Felix and makes his accusation.  “For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him….By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him”.

Not a very strong case as to why the Roman leader would want to take any action.  Then Felix allows Paul to speak.  “You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city”.  This big disruption his accusers talk about had to have happened fast.  Paul makes it clear he has only been in town for less than two weeks.  Accusation one put to bed.  “Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me”.  Paul makes it clear, they have no case.

That is, except as it comes to Jesus.  “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect,  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”.  Paul says ‘I’m guilty of believing what scripture says and the Savior it proclaims.  Then he makes clear what this is all about.  “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day”.

Felix obviously isn’t at his first powder keg situation.  “Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.  He knows Paul is innocent but decides to kick the can down the road rather than set him free and endanger his life.  The Jews weren’t about to let this drop.  So Felix does the next best thing in his mind, retain him and treat him very well.  “Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs”.  House arrest for the most part – protection but most of his freedom.

Paul had the opportunity to share with Felix and his wife Drusilla about Jesus.  It hit Felix who was ‘alarmed’ by what Paul shared.  Felix hoped “that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him”.  Best case for Felix was that Paul would buy his freedom and leave the country.  But Paul doesn’t.  “When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison”.  Paul sticks out his prison stay to the next ruler – Festus – who now inherits the challenging situation.

Acts 23

Acts 23 has Paul continuing to defy the religious leaders face to face as he tells his side of the story.  “And looking intently at the council, Paul said, Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day”. It is a common theme in Paul’s words – to look at his example and see for yourself how to live.  He stands before the leaders of his day and does the same.  Paul is a consistent message – be it word or action.  And he also is observant and knows how to lead.  “Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council….a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided”.

It wasn’t his plan.  It happened because he listened and observed and then used his God given ability to leverage the reality in the room to his advantage.  Things escalated and the two sides got out of control and “when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into  the barracks”.  Yet again, those wanting Paul dead fall short.  He manages to escape their desire and is protected by the government.

But they don’t give up.  “When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy”.  These guys were serious, and there weren’t just a few of them.  They have a plan and have committed to each other to kill Paul and end his life.  God again has another plan, and this time uses an unlikely way to thwart it.  “Now the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul”.

Paul sends his nephew to the tribune who believes the boy and immediately puts a plan in place to get Paul out of town.  “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen”.  He is taking no chances that Paul will be attacked under his watch.  Paul is a Roman citizen, so that makes it his problem to protect and make sure he gets a fair trial and hearing.  “So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris”.  He’s out of town before the Jewish leaders knew what happened and now in the care of the governor.  Paul just continues to move up the governmental ladder, telling his story every step of the way.

Acts 22

Acts 22 has Paul before his accusers after asking for the opportunity to address them.  “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you”.  Paul wasn’t going to let them get rid of him without telling his story.  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day”.  Paul level sets things and points out he was just like them.  Taught by a great teacher, all in behind the role of being a strong leader.

He explains that he was at the front of trying to shut down those following Jesus.  “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness”.  He had very publicly been a leader in the effort to disrupt and destroy Christ Followers.  But then things changed, and Paul gives his testimony.  “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me”?  The power of a personal testimony is that no one can dispute what we have experienced on our life journey.  Paul gives details on how he met Jesus and the things that happened.

It led him to ask Jesus this: “What shall I do, Lord”?  He goes on to share the direction he was given.  “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard”.  He’s explaining the direction he received and how he was baptized and cleansed from his sin and then he shared the commission that he was given: “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles”.  It all goes downhill from here.  Paul had told them how the Jews weren’t understanding the Good News and God was going to have him take it to people that most didn’t believe deserved to hear it or anything of importance.

So the tide turns.  “Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live”.  If the message means everyone is equal in their spiritual status and this Jesus will save all, we have to get rid of the messenger.  They stir up the crowd and again the tribune has to remove Paul to protect him, and as he does he plans to flog him and try to understand why everyone is so upset.  But Paul plays his Roman citizen card, and things change very quickly because that gave him significant rights and protection under the law.

So those who were about  to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him”.  Big mistake – how the tribune had treated Paul.  “But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them”.

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