Sermon Manuscripts

January 24, 2021 — FCBC                       

Philippians 1:12-30 “WHAT ARE YOU LIVING FOR AND IS IT WORTH DYING FOR?”

The story has been told of a museum guide who would take his tour group into a darkened room, shine a light on a mass of string, colour and apparent chaos and ask the group, “What do you think this is?”  “We don’t know,” was the inevitable reply.  He would then say, “Stand over there and watch.”  As the group moved over to the other side of the room, he would turn on a spotlight.  It was instantly apparent that the mass of jumbled coloured string seen just a moment earlier was in fact an enormous tapestry–seen before from the back side.  The real work had to be seen from a different perspective to understand what the artist was creating.  That is a good way to picture God and His ways.  We often look at what God is doing or what is going on and ask questions, not because we assume there is no purpose to what God is doing, but because we are on the wrong side of eternity to be able to have the perspective that would enable us to see the order and the pattern of God’s work.  In each life, in all circumstances, in all that He allows He is forming a glorious tapestry.  Someday we will see how all the strings and colours fit together. 

As I recalled this story I was reminded of a song I first heard years ago written in 1971 by Carole King, the song bears the title of the album on which it was released, Tapestry.  I still have the album, for those younger that’s one of those huge CD’s that you play on a turntable.  I still have a turntable too and enjoy listening to the song every now and then.  There is something about the crackle of a record that I really enjoy.  The all digital generation has no comprehension of how wonderful it is.  The opening lyrics of the song say:  My life has been a tapestry  Of rich and royal hue  An everlasting vision Of the ever-changing view A wond’rous woven magic In bits of blue and gold  A tapestry to feel and see Impossible to hold. 

I set that before you because the Apostle Paul gives us a wonderful perspective on God’s control of every facet of his life.  God was in full control of Paul’s life and times as He is of ours.  Nothing was happening by chance. 

All the varied threads of Paul’s life and circumstances were being woven by God into a pattern that would result to the praise of God’s glorious grace.  An unknown author put it this way: 

Not till each loom is silent,     And the shuttles cease to fly,

Shall God reveal the pattern   And explain the reason why

The dark threads were as needful In the weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver For the pattern which He planned.

The supreme purpose in the life of the Apostle Paul was to share the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nothing else really mattered.  After he was arrested by Jesus through his vision of Christ on the Damascus road he saw whatever happened to him in light of his relationship to Jesus.  God was weaving the tapestry of his life to the glory of Jesus Christ. As a servant of Christ he told the Corinthians he faced “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and was often near death.” And now having been arrested in Jerusalem and brought as a prisoner to Rome he continues to languish in prison but what marks his life is joy!  In the passage before us he rejoices that Christ is proclaimed whether through good motives or bad, he desires that Christ is honoured through his life whether he lives or dies and he encourages the Phliippian believers and us to live lives that are worthy of the Gospel of Christ as God weaves the tapestries of our lives. 

1.  REJOICE THAT CHRIST IS PROCLAIMED AND THE GOSPEL IS ADVANCED!

Philippians 1:12-18

2.  REMEMBER THAT CHRIST WILL BE HONOURED WHETHER WE LIVE OR DIE!

Philippians 1:19-26

3.  RESOLVE TO LIVE FOR THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST! 

Philippians 1:27-30

1.  REJOICE THAT CHRIST IS PROCLAIMED AND THE GOSPEL IS ADVANCED!

Philippians 1:12-18

Paul cared deeply for the people of the church at Philippi as we learned last week.  They were on his mind, in his prayers, in God’s hands, in Paul’s heart and in God’s love and so he prayed earnestly for them to have love that abounds, knowledge that discerns, understanding of what really matters and he prayed that they would be pure and blameless, filled and fruitful through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. 

What we now learn is that the people at Philippi also cared deeply for Paul.  They were concerned that he was a prisoner in chains and that at his age his imprisonment was not only dangerous to his health, his trial could result in his death.  They wondered how he was doing and what was happening, so they sent Epaphroditus to find out and to help out. 

Philippians 2:25 (ESV) tells us that Paul was ready to send him back with this letter of encouragement to them but it also reveals that they had encouraged him. God was working on the tapestry of Paul’s life.  “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need.”

Philippians 4:18 (ESV) reveals even more of the threads that God has been putting together.  “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”  

In verse 12 Paul begins to update them on his current situation.  He addresses the brothers and sisters at Philippi and tells them that what has happened to him has served to advance the gospel. 

That takes us back to Acts 28:30-31 (ESV) “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.”

As we have learned Paul was bound but the Gospel was unbound.  How we need that reminder in these days of restrictions and lockdowns.  You and I have every opportunity to share the Gospel. 

The Wesleyan Commentary says:  In an age when society is turned in upon itself, and we are pressed relentlessly to think first, last, and always of how circumstances and situations affect ourselves, it is chastening to see that Paul’s first thought was of how what happened to him would affect his ministry. In the piercing words of Karl Barth: “To the question how it is with him an apostle must react with information as to how it is with the Gospel.”

Paul took every opportunity to share the message of the Gospel and the whole imperial guard, Nero’s elite soldiers, a force of 6 to 9 thousand knew about his imprisonment for Christ.  These were the most elite Roman guards in the entire empire.  They were the personal bodyguards for Caesar and served in his imperial palace.  Paul is awaiting a legal verdict from the emperor himself.  His confinement has not lessened his commitment to make Christ known.  Roman soldiers were bound for hours on end to this man who loved to talk about Jesus.  They were his captive audience to hear the message of the Gospel. 

In these days of confinement what do you love to talk about the most?  Politics and foolish politicians?  The weather and the restrictions?  Or Jesus and His love! 

Because of Paul’s boldness in sharing the Gospel in spite of his chains other believers became bold in speaking about Jesus without fear.  The Gospel was carried into the household of Caesar himself a place where Paul could never have gone but God was busy weaving the threads of the tapestry of Paul’s life.   

Paul rejoiced in the advance of the Gospel, the word used is “prokope” meaning to move out.  The gospel is going forward even through Paul’s imprisonment.  That’s why he sees himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ, not Rome.  And he shares this news in order to encourage them and us to be bold in witnessing for Jesus Christ.  We need to speak the truth with increasing confidence.  Whatever obstacles we may face there is no obstacle that can stop the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We need to see obstacles as opportunities to share our hope in Jesus. 

The great nineteenth-century theologian B.B. Warfield put this wonderfully well:  “In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in this unfolding of his eternal plan.”  

God is unfolding his tapestry. 

Paul rejoices that Christ is proclaimed even though some were doing it for the wrong motives.  There were those who spoke against Paul blaming him for the trouble he was in, but he rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached.  “Selfish ambition” literally means “one working for hire.”  It was used of someone who could be bought.  These people were in it for what they could get out of it, not for what they could give to others.  They may have exalted Christ in their words but they were using their position to promote themselves.  We see far too much of that in our day.  Paul had his critics as we all do, but he continued to proclaim Jesus and rejoice that the Gospel was advancing and that there were those who preached Christ out of love for the Lord and love for His Word knowing that Paul was in fact, imprisoned for the defense of the Gospel.  In spite of his trials, Paul rejoices that Christ is being preached.

John MacArthur shows how this can be our reaction too:  “Paul’s example of selfless humility shows that the worse circumstances are the greater the joy can be. When the seemingly secure things in life begin to collapse, when suffering and sorrow increase, believers should be drawn into ever-deeper fellowship with the Lord.”  

Rejoice that Christ is proclaimed and the gospel is advanced. 

2.  REMEMBER THAT CHRIST WILL BE HONOURED WHETHER WE LIVE OR DIE!

Philippians 1:19-26

Paul had full trust in the Sovereign purposes of God being worked out in his life.  He knew that the Philippian believers and others were praying for him and he knew that all of these events would turn out for his deliverance.  Did he mean he knew he would be freed by Rome?  He hoped to be freed but what he knew was that whether he lived or died he was safe in the arms of God.  Peace and rest come when you lay your head on the pillow of trusting God.  So Paul lives with expectation and hope.  Eager expectation means to stretch the neck forward, this is a rare word, used only here and in Romans 8:19 speaking of the eager longing of creation for the sons of God to be revealed. 

Paul is looking ahead.  Hope refers to the confidence that God will work all things together for our good and His glory for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  Paul was hoping to be vindicated for the sake of the Gospel but either way he knew that he would be delivered.  His goal was to honour Christ whether by life or by death. 

He had the heavenly perspective on his earthly life because his faith was in Jesus and that’s why he was able to say:  Philippians 1:21 (ESV) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 

What are you living for?  And is it worth dying for?

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark, faces an excruciating dilemma. His uncle has murdered his father, seduced and married his mother, and seized Denmark’s throne. Because Hamlet can see no way to avenge his father and restore justice, he contemplates ending his inner torment through suicide. Taking his own life might offer escape from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune . . . a sea of troubles . . . the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” So, he reasoned, “’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Yet he hesitated, fearing the unknown future that lay beyond the grave:

To die, to sleep— To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. . . . For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th’ oppressor’s wrong . . . the law’s delay, The insolence of office . . .

But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovered country from whose bourn [realm]

No traveler returns, puzzles the will  And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all . . . .

The words that Shakespeare put into Hamlet’s mouth show a mind at the end of it’s resources, a soul in despair.  And there are too many in that dark place during these times.  They need to see that God loves them and desires to be the Master weaver in their lives. 

Paul is staring death square in the eyes and yet he has hope, he is rejoicing that Christ is proclaimed, and he knows that Christ will be honoured whether he lives or dies because he knows where he is going.  The only way to be prepared to live is to be prepared to die.  Do you know that if you were to die tonight you would go to heaven to be with God?  You can know.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved today!  Turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ to save you! 

Paul says to depart and be with Christ is much, rather, better.  He uses a triple adverb to describe what he looks forward to in heaven. It’s not the streets of gold (though those will be pretty fantastic), it’s not loved ones who’ve gone before (though it will be wonderful to see them), it is seeing Jesus face to face, knowing Him as we are known and praising and glorifying Him forever.  

But for the sake of the Philippians and other believers he is willing to stay to encourage them in their faith.  What he asks is that they glory in Christ and what he lives for is to honour Christ, literally to make Christ large meaning to make Christ known to more and more people. 

Remember, if and only if to live is Christ, is to die, gain!!! Have you trusted in Jesus, do you know that God is weaving the tapestry of your life as He was Paul’s?

John Eadie in his commentary on Philippians eloquently summarizes Paul’s thought when he writes:

For me to live is Christ—the preaching of Christ the business of my life; the presence of Christ the cheer of my life; the image of Christ the crown of my life; the spirit of Christ the life of my life;the love of Christ the power of my life; the will of Christ the law of my life; and the glory of Christ the end of my life. Christ was the absorbing element of his life. If he travelled, it was on Christ’s errand; if he suffered, it was in Christ’s service. When he spoke, his theme was Christ; and when he wrote, Christ filled his letters. 

Paul rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed and the gospel was advancing. 

He remembered that Christ would be honoured whether he lived or died. 

And he challenged the Philippian believers and us to…

3.  RESOLVE TO LIVE FOR THE GLORY OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST!

Philippians 1:27-30

On the basis of all that he has shared about his present circumstances and his future hope, Paul encourages the Philippians and us to live for the Gospel of Christ.  Paul challenges them to live in a way that is consistent with the Word of God.  “Let your manner of life be worthy” is literally “live your life” in the original Greek it is the word “politeuo” from which we get such words as “politic, political.” It referred to the public duties of a person as a member of a body.  It was used of citizenship.  Paul’s picture is how we should live as citizens of heaven.  Worthy of the Gospel of Christ.  Standing firm in one spirit with one mind.  Striving for the faith of the Gospel.  Not frightened by those who oppose.  Facing suffering for the sake of Christ.  Engaged in the conflict.  Seeing God at work unfolding the tapestry of our lives to His glory. 

D.A. Carson explains: Your change in character, your united stand in defense of the gospel, your ability to withstand with meekness and without fear the opposition that you must endure, constitutes a sign. That sign speaks volumes, both to the outside world and the Christian community. It is a sign of judgment against the world that is mounting the opposition; it is a sign of assurance that these believers really are the people of God and will be saved on the last day.

The proof that the Philippians belonged to God was the fact that they were graced with salvation and with suffering.  They were not only blessed to belong to Jesus by believing in Him they were blessed to suffer for His sake.  Kent Hughes says:  The suffering that comes to a Christian (as a Christian) is not a sign of God’s neglect but rather a proof that grace is at work in his or her life.

The transcending call is to let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.  The only way that can happen is if you know what you are living for and that it is worth dying for.  And the only One worth dying for is the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you.  It is in knowing Him that you are able to say: Philippians 1:21 (ESV) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Do you know Him today?  Are you telling others about Him? 

What mattered to Paul was that Christ was proclaimed, Christ was honoured and that believers live their lives for the glory of the Gospel of Christ.  What are you living for? 

Do your children and your grand-children know what you are living for? 

Have you told them about Jesus?  Have you asked them if they are saved? 

We need to engage in the conflict of confronting the people we love with the love of Jesus!

The Holman Bible Commentary shares the following summary of the passage: 

PRINCIPLES 

God is bigger than my circumstances.  From on high God understands why!

Proper perspective produces praise.  In Christ, life or death is a win-win situation.

When we are ready to die, we are best prepared to live.

APPLICATIONS 

Rest in the fact that God is with you in the midst of difficulties.

Ask God to help you see His vantage point in your circumstances.

Hold a steady course in the midst of perplexing problems by trusting God.

Thank God that a Christ-centered, eternal perspective brings joy.

As the Sovereign God weaves the tapestry of your life rejoice that Christ is proclaimed, remember to honour Christ, and live for the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! 

————————————————————————

January 17/21 Philippians 1:3-11 

HOW TO EFFECTIVELY PRAY FOR OTHER BELIEVERS!”

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians.  The foundation of fellowship!  

To have and to be good friends with others is a wonderful experience.  But what Paul describes in his prayer for the Philippian believers goes far beyond mere friendship.  He is describing and defining Christian fellowship.  Fellowship occurs among friends committed to a common cause or goal and flourishes through their joint pursuit of it. 

One of my favourite books, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy sets out this reality. The first book is called The Fellowship of the Ring and that fellowship is made up of individuals of disparate origin and ridiculous diversity that exceed any of our ethnic or social differences.  The group is comprised of: four hobbits, tiny beings with large, hairy, shoeless feet—Frodo Baggins and his friends Merry, Sam, and Pippin; two men, warriors of the first rank always dressed for battle—Boromir of Gondor and Aragorn, son of Arathorn II, King of Gondor who, (spoiler alert ends up being the king who returns).  There is one wizard, Gandalf, the ancient nemesis of evil and a repository of wisdom and supernatural power; an elf, Legolas, from a fair race of archers of the forest with pointed ears; and a dwarf, Gimli, a stout, hairy, axe-wielding creature from the dark chambers under the mountains. 

The nine members of the fellowship of the ring bore few affinities. The elves and the dwarves were natural enemies, each looked down on the other and both had an unspoken agreement to feel superior to the other. However, these nine very different individuals, bound together by their great mission to defeat the forces of darkness and save Middle-Earth, became inseparable and their covenant indissoluble. The man Boromir, despite his lapses, gave his life for the hobbits. And the elf and the dwarf came to form a great friendship, so great that Gimli was inducted into an honoured order reserved only for elves.  And the hobbits the smallest of them all, evidenced the bravest hearts. 

Such can be earthly human fellowship when the conditions are right. But here in Philippians Paul shows us a depth of fellowship that far exceeds any earthly fellowship as he says in verses 4 and 5—“making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”  The word translated “partnership” is “koinonia” and it means “joint participation in, fellowship in.” 

Paul rejoiced in the Philippians partnership with him in the gospel.  This involved their prayers for Paul and their support for his missionary endeavours as we learn in Philippians chapter 4. 

I believe this serves as a reminder to us that though we are separated from one another in terms of meeting together physically we can still rejoice in being spiritually joined as we pray for and support one another.  What precious times we have in prayer and in our growth groups to encourage one another.  Remember here was Paul separated by the miles, a prisoner of Rome, chained to a soldier and he is rejoicing in his fellowship with the Philippian believers and he sends them a letter. 

We may think we have it so hard, but for Paul there was no instantaneous communication.  Unlike us he didn’t have Facetime, Messenger, Google Duo, or Zoom, all of which we used over Christmas. He could not see those to whom he was writing.  It would take ages to get a reply or even to know that the letter had been delivered and yet Paul is rejoicing so let’s learn together how to effectively pray for one another from Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. 

1.  THANKING GOD FOR YOU IN PRAYER: Philippians 1:3-5

A.  You are on my mind: Verse 3 B.  You are in my prayers: Verses 4-5

2.  HOLDING YOU IN MY HEART BECAUSE OF GOD’S GRACE: Philippians 1:6-7

C. You are in God’s hands: Verse 6 D. You are in my heart: Verse 7

3.  LOVING YOU AS JESUS LOVES YOU: Philippians 1:8-11

E.  You are in His love: Verse 8  So I pray that you will have…Verses 9-10a

LOVE THAT ABOUNDS Verse 9 KNOWLEDGE THAT DISCERNS Verse 9

UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT REALLY MATTERS Verse 10a

And I pray that you will be…Verses 10b-11 

PURE AND BLAMELESS Verse 10b FILLED AND FRUITFUL Verse 11

Through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Verse 11

1.  THANKING GOD FOR YOU IN PRAYER: Philippians 1:3-5

A.  You are on my mind: Verse 3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,”

Paul has no regrets in any of his relationships with the believers at Philippi so he literally thanks God for every memory of them.  He thinks of them all the time and prays for them always.  He is consistent in praying for them, the adverb always “pantote” meaning “at all times” expresses the regularity and frequency of his prayers, in every prayer he remembers them.  It has been ten long years since he last preached to them but he continues to cherish this special body of believers.  He is thankful for this beloved church family as I am thankful for you.  The sentence that begins here in verse 3 runs all the way through verse 6. 

B.  You are in my prayers: Verses 4-5 “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

If you reread Acts 16 you might find some things that you would think would cause Paul to be sorrowful, not joyful.  He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul, because it was through this suffering that the Philippian jailer and his whole family found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi.  For Paul each recollection was a source of joy. Warren Wiersbe says:  It is worth asking, “Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to the mind of others when they think of me?”

The intercession—praying to God on behalf of others—that Paul offers to God is his sacrifice for them. He is representing the Philippians before God, for their spiritual good. Those specific prayer requests will be detailed in verses 9-11.  A thankful heart in intercessory prayer for other believers should be a part of our lives.  In the midst of whatever we are facing we should never lose sight of praying for others.  When we pray this way we set aside our own problems and focus on the needs of other believers.  It is good medicine for our souls.  When Paul prayed for the Philippians, he thanked God for them, and he prayed with joy.

The focus on joy sets this letter apart from all of Paul’s other letters; the word “joy” (in its various forms: joy, rejoice) is found fourteen times in this short epistle.  Paul’s life was on the line, yet he could rejoice and encourage others and so can you and I.  He rejoiced in the fellowship in the Gospel!  The Life Application Bible Commentary says:  We can feel joy in trials because we know that God is still in control (as stated in Romans 8:26-28). True joy is found only in relationship with Jesus Christ. Joy is the gladdening of the heart that comes from knowing Christ as Lord, the feeling of relief because we are released from sin; it is the inner peace and tranquility we have because we know the final outcome of our lives; and it is the assurance that God is in us and in every circumstance.  Supernatural joy floods Paul’s heart as he prays.  Does this kind of joy flood your heart.  Joy runs deepest when we are on our knees before God in prayer. A good test of the depth of joy in our lives is the nature of our prayers for others.  We need to rejoice that through prayer and support we are partners together in the spread of the Gospel!  Paul may be bound but the Word of God is unbound! 

2.  HOLDING YOU IN MY HEART BECAUSE OF GOD’S GRACE: Philippians 1:6-7

C. You are in God’s hands: Verse 6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Paul knows the Philippian believers belong to Jesus Christ by grace through faith.  He is certain of their future.  Steven Lawson says:  Salvation is not a matter of our working for God’s acceptance, but it is God working for us and in us. None of us can work our way into earning God’s favor, nor can any of us through our work maintain God’s ongoing favor. God already did the work for us in the death of Christ upon the cross. Further, he graciously applied this work of Christ in us by the Spirit. Salvation is not by human achievement, but by divine accomplishment through the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. This free gift was applied to our lives by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. From beginning to end, salvation is entirely a divine work of grace. If God has caused you to be born again, you can be assured that he will complete this work until “the day of Christ Jesus.” As a believer in Christ, you are as certain of heaven as though you have already been there ten thousand years. God finishes what he starts.

This is the real source of joy to know that God is working in the lives of other believers. What was true of the Philippians is true of us as believers today. God is the one who began the great work of redemption in us, making us a new creations by the work of His Spirit. He continues that work in us as we share in the benefits and implications of the gospel in partnership, fellowship with other believers. But we still must await the great day of Christ for that work to be completed by the transformation of our lowly bodies into conformity with the glorious body of the risen Jesus.  The day of Jesus Christ emphasizes the future day when Christ will return for His church, complete all believers’ salvation, and give all believers their rewards. 

In the past God began His good work in us, in the present He is doing His good work in us and in the future He will complete His good work when Christ returns! 

D. You are in my heart: Verse 7 “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”

The Greek word translated “to feel” is used by Paul 23 times in this letter.  It is more than just affection or an emotional expression, it means Paul is deeply concerned about their spiritual well-being.  They have a special place in his heart as he felt their support through prayer and was strengthened in the grace of God as he shared and defended the message of the Gospel.  They were fellowshipping with him.  The word partakers is “synkoinonos” based on the word we looked at earlier, “koinonia” “joint participation in, fellowship in” the Gospel.  And all of it is by God’s grace. Grace is a one word summary of all that God has done for us in Christ. 

3.  LOVING YOU AS JESUS LOVES YOU: Philippians 1:8-11

E.  You are in His love: Verse 8 “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Paul feels a deep passion for all of the believers are Philippi and he loves them as Jesus loves.  The word for “affection” is “splanchnon” which the KJV translated bowels.  The idea in Paul’s say was that our deepest feelings came from that part of us that we sometimes hear let’s say, gurgling.  The concept is a feeling that comes from our innermost being.  A depth of love difficult to express in words.  No matter how doctrinally sound we may be, if we are without love, this deep and heartfelt affection, we are “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Without love for others,  we are “nothing.”  The power of the gospel is shown in the supernatural affection that it produces, not only for Jesus Christ Himself, but also for those who belong to Jesus Christ. This affection is deepened as believers experience fellowship in the gospel.

So I pray that you will have… Verses 9-10a

Paul’s pastoral heart is revealed in his prayers for the spiritual growth of the believers at Philippi.  He longs for them to become more like Christ. Verses 9-11 are a single sentence in the original. 

LOVE THAT ABOUNDS Verse 9 Philippians 1:9 (ESV) “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.” 

Paul does not specify if this is love for God or love for others, it is both, love for God results in love for others.  As Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  The Ten Commandments were structured in just this way.

The first four command love for God, and the last six command love for others. Vertical love first, horizontal love second. Love that abounds is a love that keeps on growing. 

KNOWLEDGE THAT DISCERNS Verse 9 “With knowledge and all discernment.”

Without knowledge and discernment love will be off target.  Love abounds in both knowledge and discernment.  Both of these requests involve full spiritual insight which leads to Christlikeness. The first, “epignokso,” is usually used in the NT for the knowledge needed for salvation. The second “aisthesis” was more practically oriented and emphasized lifestyle choices meaning perception, discernment. Christian maturity involves all three elements: (1) correct doctrine, (2) personal relationship, (3) and a godly lifestyle.  A growing knowledge of the Word of God builds up discernment of what is right and wrong and what others need as we express the love of Christ toward them and pray fervently for them. 

UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT REALLY MATTERS Verse 10a “So that you may approve what is excellent.”

The word for approve is “dokimazao” meaning to test with a view toward approval, it is also translated to discern.  It means to understand what really matters.  Wisdom is the application of truth to life situations.  The things that are excellent literally means the things that are tested in the light.  Love displays itself in knowledge and discernment especially in relationships where we learn and apply what is best to our lives and to the lives of other believers. 

And I pray that you will be…Verses 10b-11

PURE AND BLAMELESS Verse 10b “And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

True love requires a pure heart and a character without blame.  Put positively, to be pure and blameless means pursuing personal holiness in such a manner as not to give offense to others through any moral failing. The apostle asks God to make it so that in their daily walk they will not

become ensnared by the world.  The God’s Word for You Commentary says:  It matters to God how we live our lives. Forgiveness of sin does not bestow freedom to sin. The grace that pardons us is the same grace that must purify us. This kind of personal integrity should mark the daily life of every Christian. Our love for others will be demonstrated by living in such a manner as will not cause them to stumble in their Christian walk.

Paul puts this request in the context of the coming of Christ, that Christ might find us faithful on the day that He returns.  Romans 13:8 (ESV) “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

FILLED AND FRUITFUL Verse 11 “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”  

This kind of fruitful living comes only through the filling of the Holy Spirit.  The first fruit of the Spirit is “love.”  Paul is praying for the kind of spiritual fruit that results when we are in a dynamic fellowship with Christ and a deepening fellowship with one another.  Far better than the Fellowship of the Ring is the Fellowship through the Spirit! 

Fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ because He is the One who has made us right with God, it is His righteousness that shines through our lives to the glory of God.   

Through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Verse 11

The Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote: “The aim of the obedient soul, in prayer and praises, in talking and walking, in giving and receiving, in living and doing, is divine glory.”

Again a reminder of the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.”  The only way to enjoy fellowship with God is to be in Christ! 

Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you, is the hope of glory.”  Paul’s ultimate aim in prayer is the glory of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings us together as the people of God that we may display the glory of God.  This prayer by Paul for the Philippians provides a helpful, concise checklist that can and should direct our prayers for others. 

A.  You are on my mind: Verse 3 B.  You are in my prayers: Verses 4-5

C. You are in God’s hands: Verse 6 D. You are in my heart: Verse 7

E.  You are in His love: Verse 8  So I pray that you will have…Verses 9-10a

LOVE THAT ABOUNDS Verse 9 KNOWLEDGE THAT DISCERNS Verse 9

UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT REALLY MATTERS Verse 10a

And I pray that you will be…Verses 10b-11 

PURE AND BLAMELESS Verse 10b FILLED AND FRUITFUL Verse 11

Through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Verse 11

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January 10, 2021 Philippians 1:1-2         “OVERFLOWING WITH JOY IN THE JOURNEY!”

There is a certain sadness when we come to the end of a journey.  I have had the privilege of joining with you in the journey of faith in your lives as members and adherents of Forest City Bible Church for the last 21 ½ years. Part of the journey’s end for me this week was deciding what to study as our final series in the Word of God.  Over the last several weeks many books and passages have been coming to mind even as we completed our travels with the Apostle Paul as he made his way to Rome.

At the beginning of this week  I felt the Lord’s leading to zero in on the book of Philippians, known well as the Epistle of Joy.  Having chosen the book I began to do some reading and re-reading of the Scriptures and when it came time to look at a commentary the first one I began to read said this in it’s Introduction to Philippians:  When a pastor preaches his last series for the church where he has served as pastor, the Scripture he chooses should be carefully selected, to leave a lasting impact with positive encouragement upon the lives of his precious flock.

I could not agree more fully.  I felt the Holy Spirit confirming where we should go.  I am thankful for the opportunity to share this time with you.  It is extra time that I thought I would not have, but God knows and He has a plan in all that has happened.  He continues to lead His dear people along. 

The book of  Philippians harmonizes well with the final words of Acts, Acts 28:30-31 (ESV) “He (Paul) 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.” 

Paul wrote Philippians while a prisoner of Rome yet his dominant theme is joy.  Tones of joy flow throughout the epistle but the theme reaches it’s crescendo with the triumphant words of  Philippians 4:4 (ESV) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

Max Lucado in his introduction to the book of Philippians in the Inspirational Study Bible writes:

Perhaps the symbol of this generation is the exercise bike.  It represents what most of us have, excess weight.  It represents what most of us want, to be different. 

It represents what most people spend most of their time doing—pedalling furiously and getting nowhere.  High activity but low achievement.  Car pools, diapers, bills, time clocks.  Office walls painted grey with routine.  Houses framed with wooden humdrum.  For many, life is lived on the exercise bicycle.  Day after day in the same seat, doing the same thing but seeing the same scenery.  Is there any end to this tunnel of greyness? 

There is. 

Go with me back in history a couple of thousand years.  Let’s go to the city of Rome.  The thrilling metropolis of gladiators, chariots, and empires.  But don’t stop at the coliseum or palace.  Go rather to a drab little room, surrounded by high walls.  Let’s imagine that we can peek into the room and look.  Inside we see a man seated on the floor.  He’s an older fellow, shoulders stooped, and balding.  Chains are on his hands and feet.  And chained to him is a guard from the Roman army. 

It is the apostle Paul.  The apostle who has travelled all over the world.  The apostle who has liberated people in every port.  The apostle who was bound only by the will of God is now in chains—stuck in a dingy house—attached to a Roman officer. 

Here is a fellow who has every reason to be in a slump! 

He is restricted by walls.  He is afflicted by friends (verse 15).  He is conflicted by danger (verse 21).  He is writing a letter.  No doubt it is a complaint letter to God.  No doubt it is a list of grievances.  No doubt he is writing the New Testament version of Lamentations.  He has every reason to be bitter and complain.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he writes a letter that two thousand years later is still known as the treatise on joy. 

Sound interesting?  Of course it does.  Who couldn’t use a guide to joy in this world?  Why don’t you spend some time with it?  Dismount the bicycle to nowhere and follow Paul as he guides you down the trail to peace. 

There is a trail through our trials.  And it does bring a peace that passes all understanding. 

The graphic illustrates how the Book of Philippians came to be written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome. 

Remember Paul is writing while being held in chains, in chapter 1 he mentions his imprisonment four times in verses 7, 13, 14 and 17.  He talks about the imperial guard who have the responsibility of keeping him confined.  He is  nearly forgotten in a sluggish legal system, awaiting a trial that will determine if he will live or die and he is fully ready to go either way as he says in Philippians 1:21-24 (ESV) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Paul may be bound but as the title of one commentary I have on the prison Epistles (Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians) says: “Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound.”  As he comes to the end of his letter we learn that even members of Caesar’s household have become saints embracing faith in Jesus Christ.  Philippians 4:22 (ESV) “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”  Paul continues to witness to the power of the Gospel. 

And though we find ourselves in these Covid days where we may feel confined not by chains but nevertheless by restrictions and lockdowns, we too can know joy and continue in our witness to the power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:9 “The Word of God is not bound!” 

Paul had a desire in his heart to preach at Rome, but I’m sure he had never imagined that it would be as a prisoner.  Though he was facing many obstacles, Paul overflowed with joy. 

What was the key to his joy? 

There are at least 16 references to the mind in Philippians through words like, mind, think and remember.  Obviously living a joyful life has to do with what we think about.  So the question is,

what are we supposed to think about to live joyful lives?  Paul focuses our attention on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Reference to Jesus Christ is made by nouns and pronouns at least 70 times in 104 verses.  The key to Christian joy is found in the way a believer thinks, his or her attitudes. 

Philippians 2:2 (KJV) “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 1:21 (ESV) “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Philippians 4:8 (ESV) “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The book of Philippians explains the kind of thinking we as believers must have we are going to experience Christian joy in a world filled with trouble.  Our example in doing this is Jesus Christ

Himself.  In Hebrews 12:2 (ESV) we are encouraged to be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Today we’re going to begin our final journey by looking at verses 1 and 2.

1.  SERVANTS OF CHRIST: Philippians 1:1a

2.  SAINTS IN CHRIST: Philippians 1:1b

3.  GRACE AND PEACE FROM CHRIST: Philippians 1:2

 1. SERVANTS OF CHRIST: Philippians 1:1a

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.”

The very first word identifies the author.  Paul doesn’t even appeal to his apostleship as he takes pen in hand to write to the believers at Philippi because their relationship is so close.  Along with Thessalonica they were one of the churches that faithfully supported him.  It was common in Paul’s day to identify the author first whereas in our letters our name is generally signed at the end of the letter.  Imagine getting a letter from the Apostle Paul, author of 13 epistles in the New Testament.  Timothy is with Paul, a trusted companion and fellow servant of Christ Jesus.  This is the most important phrase.  They are servants, slaves in the Greek language from the word “doulos” meaning bond-servant.  In Roman society a servant would have a few possessions and be protected by some rights.  Servants would be hired for a certain project and then be able to return home.  A slave, or bond-servant actually belonged to his master like a piece of property.  He had nothing and was entirely dependent on his master to provide for his needs.  He existed to please his owner.  And that is how Paul and Timothy saw themselves as bond-servants of Jesus Christ.  This reminds us that all authentic leadership in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ must be servant leadership. 

Paul presented himself as a slave leader, a slave of Christ who had been bought by his master to be his possession.  This is not onerous, we know and serve a Master who died out of love for His bond-servants.  Following Jesus as Master and Lord brings true freedom.  Every believer is a slave of Jesus.  Paul humbly opens his letter expressing his absolute devotion and subjection to Christ.  That is the first step toward joy, submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  John 15 expresses the joy of abiding in Jesus.  John 15:11 (ESV) “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

2.  SAINTS IN CHRIST: Philippians 1:1b

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:”

Paul now describes those to whom he is writing.  He identifies all the believers as “saints in Christ Jesus.”  Saints means holy ones. The words “holy,” “hallowed,” “saint,” and “sanctification” all come from the same Greek root. These four words sound different in our English language, but they are similar in the Greek language. “Saint” is the most common word Paul uses to address believers in the early church. With this understanding, this phrase could be translated as “to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” 

Steven Lawson says:  The word “saint” is drawn from the word “holy” (hagios in the Greek), which refers to one who is set apart from the moral pollution of this world and set apart unto God. To be a saint means that by the operation of grace, a Christian no longer lives a life of pursuing sin in the evil world system and, instead, is pursuing moral purity. This involves both a negative and a positive separation. This is the dramatic change that takes place in every believer’s life when they are converted to Christ. They are immediately set apart by God from their old life of sin, negatively, and are engaged to a new life of purity, positively.

What made them saints and what makes us saints today is being in Christ Jesus.  We are vitally connected to Christ and have entered into a personal relationship with Him. 

Romans 8:1-2 (ESV) “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Galatians 3:26 (ESV) “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”  

Paul is reminding the believers in Philippi and us of our privileged position in Christ.  Paul had visited Philippi on his second missionary journey and preached the Gospel.  And God opened the heart of a woman named Lydia.  Along with powerful preaching, Paul set free a demon possessed slave girl which enraged her masters and Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten and thrown into prison.  But you know what happened.  As they sang praises to God at midnight, God sent a powerful earthquake that led to the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his entire household.  The church formed at this time is the group to whom Paul addresses his letter.

Here we see the importance of the local church. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you should be an active member of a local church wherever you live. Christianity was never intended to be lived in isolation from other believers. God’s design for healthy spiritual living is for us to be a functioning part of a church where the word of God is faithfully preached.

Paul in his opening remarks also recognizes the leadership team of the church, the overseers and deacons. Overseers (also called elders) were in charge of the church, “overseeing” it—watching over, nourishing, and protecting the spiritual life of the believers.  Concerning the role of overseers, John MacArthur explains: “They mediate the rule of Christ in local churches by preaching, teaching, setting godly examples, and giving Spirit-guided leadership.”

Deacons were those in leadership who were selected to handle the church’s external concerns.  The word “deacon” means “servant.” Those who served as deacons facilitated ministry behind the scenes.

You can never pray too much for those who serve the  church in positions of leadership.

3.  GRACE AND PEACE FROM CHRIST: Philippians 1:2

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s familiar greeting is grace and peace which he used in all of his letters.  Grace and peace were the typical Greek and Hebrew greetings (respectively) utilized by Paul to express God’s desire for the believers’ well-being. “Grace” is God’s undeserved favor—his loving-kindness shown to sinners whereby he saves them and gives them strength to live for Him; “peace” refers to the peace that Christ made between sinners and God through His death on the cross. “Peace” also refers to that inner assurance and tranquility that God places in the heart, producing confidence and contentment in Christ. Only God can grant such wonderful gifts. Paul wanted his readers to experience God’s grace and peace in their daily living.

The relationship between grace and peace is important. There is no peace until there first is grace. That is why Paul mentions grace first. Wherever there is grace, peace inevitably results. The grace of God in a life prepares the way for the peace of God to flood a heart. Grace is the root, and peace is the fruit. Put another way, grace is the cause, and peace is the result. These two spiritual blessings are like twins. Wherever you see grace, there you will find peace.

And the end result of grace and peace at work is joy!  The Life Application Bible Commentary says:  The world offers a temporary and counterfeit version of grace and peace. Grace might be considered luck; peace might be seen as the absence of conflict. But for believers in Philippi and today, God’s blessings are not the result of luck, but because of God’s grace; peace is not a fragile calm, but an inner security. Grace and peace are abundant and available even in troubles, conflicts, and turmoil. Paul was in prison and the Philippians were experiencing persecution (1:28-30), yet Paul greeted them with the assurance of grace and peace.

And he encouraged them and challenged them through his letter to know joy! 

The key to knowing grace, peace and joy is to be in Christ.  Servants literally Slaves of Christ, Saints made holy in Christ experience Grace and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  C. S. Lewis told a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like.  The lad replied that as far as he could make out, God was “the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.” 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

But if we’re not careful, we will be like the sad-faced man on a bus.  After several days of watching this sober chap board the bus, a curious fellow rider asked him, “Excuse me, but are you a minister?” 

As someone well said, “If you have joy in your heart, please telephone your face!”  

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin said: “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.”  This theologian had a good deal in common with the Presbyterian sages who penned the Westminster Confession of Faith “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.” 

The only way to enjoy fellowship with God is to be in Christ! 

Romans 6:20-23 (ESV) “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Come to Jesus by grace through faith, know His peace and experience His joy! 

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January 3, 2021   Acts 28:17-31   “TIME TO GET OUR ‘ACTS’ TOGETHER!”

Max Lucado in the Inspirational Study Bible writes: 

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“The fire that lit the boiler of the New Testament church was an unquenchable belief that if Jesus had been only a man, He would have stayed in the tomb.  They couldn’t stay silent about the fact that the one they saw hung on a cross walked again on the earth and appeared to over five hundred people.  I wonder if sometimes we stay silent because we’ve forgotten the One Who was on that cross.  Let us ask our Father humbly, yet confidently in the name of Jesus, to remind us of the empty tomb.  Let us see the victorious Jesus: the conqueror of the tomb, the One who defied death.  And let us be reminded that we, too, will be granted that same victory!”

As a church family we gather together to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is alive! Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed! 

Our studies in Acts are drawing to a close today.  I must admit that I’ve enjoyed every part of our journey through the history of the formation of the early church. The passion and the fire of Pentecost as the church was born.  The spread of the gospel across the world as the church was scattered.  The blinding light on the Damascus Road, Christ arresting Saul and claiming him for the kingdom.  Songs from the dungeon teaching us what worship means.  Miracles authenticating the message and the messengers.  Learning to persevere in spite of persecution.  The power of prayer and the glory of the gospel touching, changing, transforming lives.  And, all too quickly the stories of the lives of  Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Luke, Aquila, Priscilla and many more have passed before the screens of our minds leaving us longing for more. 

And that is just the point of the Book of Acts, the story never ends!  It goes on in mighty acts of faith, in random acts of kindness, in simple acts of love, in caring acts of mercy.  It continues in the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people of God.  It is seen through the power of prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God through preaching.  And it is revealed in the greatest ongoing miracle of all, the salvation of a soul through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. 

The last chapter finishes with a flourish, with a perfect ending challenging us to get our acts together.  The focus is on ears, eyes and hearts. 

1.  HEARING EARS: Acts 28:17-22

2.  SEEING EYES: Acts 28:23-27

3.  UNDERSTANDING HEARTS: Acts 28:28-31

1.  HEARING EARS: Acts 28:17-22

Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  Proud capital of the greatest empire the world had ever known, Rome was a centre of decadent paganism.  Because of his appeal to have his case heard by the Emperor, Paul found himself a prisoner in the midst of a vast mission field.  It is fitting that Acts, which has focussed on evangelism closes with the account of Paul’s first evangelistic effort in Rome. 

Not one to waste time, after being in Rome only three days, Paul called together the leaders of the Jews, probably the heads of the 11 synagogues in the city.  It had always been Paul’s pattern when he evangelized a city, to go first to the Jewish community.  As a prisoner in Rome he could not go to their synagogues so he invited them to come to him. 

The first question they would ask is “Why are you a prisoner of Rome?”  His brief defence before them is the sixth and final one recorded in Acts.  Acts 28:17-20 (ESV) “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.  When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.  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.”

The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem had accused him of sedition against Rome, of being the leader of a heretical sect, and of violating the Temple. (Acts 24:5-6) Rome’s Jewish leaders would not have been too concerned with the first charge, and Paul doesn’t even mention it.  The second two charges he categorically denies.  To support his claim of innocence he points out that the Romans were willing to release him.  Three Roman officials, the tribune Claudius Lysias, the governors, Felix and Festus as well as Herod Agrippa had affirmed Paul’s innocence.  The Sanhedrin could not prove its case despite three separate hearings.  The only reason they didn’t free Paul was because the Jews objected, so they did the politically expedient thing and kept him a prisoner.  Paul was therefore forced to appeal to Caesar to have his case decided.   So the Jewish leaders could hear everything from him firsthand, he asked to speak with them.

Then he brought up the real issue behind his arrest and imprisonment.  The hope of Israel.  The glorious hope of Israel was the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection and the kingdom associated with His coming.  It was Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the resurrected King of kings and Lord of lords that antagonized the Jewish authorities.  Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed! 

The Jewish leaders were willing to hear Paul and they denied any knowledge of Paul’s case.  They had heard nothing officially or unofficially about him.  Acts 28:21-22 (ESV) “And they said to 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.” Cautiously and without any commitment they indicated they were willing to have hearing ears about the sect and about Paul’s views.  But, as we shall learn, hearing ears alone are not enough. They needed seeing eyes and understanding hearts. 

2.  SEEING EYES: Acts 28:23-27

So they set a day to come and learn more.  They came in large numbers to the place he was staying and it turned into an all day marathon.  We are not told how many came but the Jewish population of the city at that time is estimated at a minimum of 20,000 and possibly up to 50,000.  No wonder it took all day. 

Acts 28:23 (ESV) “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.”

Expounding and testifying to the the kingdom of God meant preaching the gospel, the good news that God Sovereignly calls sinners hopelessly caught in the realm of Satan, facing death and destruction because of our sin and He invites us to enter the realm of salvation receiving eternal life and the hope of glory.  To expound means to declare, to expose.  To testify is the word  “diamartyromai” the root of which is “martyr” one who testifies, gives a witness. 

Paul proclaimed the truths concerning Christ using the law of Moses and the Prophets.  He shared the Old Testament promises and the prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ witnessing to the power of the Gospel, fulfilling the mandate of the Book of Acts as expressed in the key verse:  Acts 1:8 (ESV) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

And as always, the gospel proved to be decisive and divisive.  Some were persuaded, but others would not believe.  Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah, whose atoning sacrifice is the only acceptable payment for sins, and repentance from sin and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ to save us is man’s responsibility.  God’s Sovereignty brings people to hear the good news.  He places before them a choice which they must make.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!  Those who believe have hearing ears, seeing eyes and understanding hearts. 

While some believed, those who chose not to believe were rejecting their Messiah and God had described through His prophet Isaiah what that rejection would be like.  Acts 28:26-27 (ESV) “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”  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.”

Those who refused to believe were rejecting God’s messengers just as had their forefathers.  The apostle’s solemn warning that broke up the meeting was a quote from Isaiah 6:9-10.  That same passage was quoted by Jesus as a rebuke of Israel’s hardhearted rejection of the gospel in Matthew 13:14-15 and in John 12:39-40, John applied the words to Israel.  Paul quoted them in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 11:7-8).

Warren Wiersbe says:  It is one thing to listen and quite something else to hear, and there is a great difference between seeing and perceiving. If anybody should have possessed spiritual understanding, it was these Jewish leaders, but their hearts were dull and hard. Too often those who enjoy the most spiritual privileges are not ready when they must make spiritual decisions.

Their willful act of rejection was sovereignly confirmed by God and they became unable to see with their eyes, to hear with their ears or to understand with their hearts.  Because of continual unbelief, they became unable to believe. They had stopped ears, closed eyes and dull hearts. 

What is your condition today?  Seeing, hearing, will you understand with your heart and by an act of your will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.  Or will you stand in your unbelief, not knowing if this might be the last time that the Holy Spirit of God makes His overtures of love to your heart? 

3.  UNDERSTANDING HEARTS: Acts 28:28-31

Verse 28 explains what an understanding heart does.  In the plan of God a part of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah was God’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles.  Having made the explanation to the Jews, Paul now sets out the invitation to the Gentiles.  God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Paul said: Acts 28:28 (ESV) “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Will you listen today? 

Some manuscripts add verse 29 “And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, having much dispute among themselves.”  Israel’s rejection of the Messiah did not cancel God’s promises to His people for “God is able” as Paul put it in Romans 11:23 “to graft them in again.”  They needed only to respond with hearing ears, seeing eyes and understanding hearts. 

For two full years, Paul remained a prisoner in his own rented quarters in Rome.  He had the freedom to welcome all who came to him.  “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Many more came to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and understanding hearts. 

What happened during those two years?  Paul carried out an extensive and intensive evangelistic campaign, aided by some of his dear fellow workers.  He also wrote four New Testament epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon aptly called the prison epistles. 

What happened when the two years were over?  We don’t know for certain but it would appear that Paul was released from custody.  Having been found innocent by two Roman governors it is reasonable to assume that he was found innocent by the emperor as well.  Most likely, his accusers never showed their faces in Rome to prosecute the case and Paul won by default. 

So why two years?  John MacArthur in his commentary on Acts explains:   First, delays were not uncommon due to a backlog of cases. Does that ever sound familiar.  Second, the records of the case were probably lost in the shipwreck and had to be resent from Caesarea.  And third, they were awaiting the arrival of Paul’s accusers because the Romans took a very dim view of poorly substantiated cases.  Roman law gave him the right to face his accusers so no trial was likely in their absence. 

The final words of Acts tell us that Paul preached with all boldness and without hindrance.  That’s what I find so ironic about the ridiculous opposition of churches to the lockdown requirements of our day.  No one is saying you cannot preach the gospel with all boldness and without hindrance. 

Boldly for two years Paul was able to proclaim the Gospel as a prisoner of Rome but he saw his imprisonment through the eyes of faith: 2 Timothy 2:8-10 (ESV) “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

Although Acts ends abruptly, it is not incomplete.  It reveals the church’s source of power – the Holy Spirit; the pattern of blessing for the church – walking in the Spirit; the church’s message – the saving gospel of Jesus Christ; the perils to the church – sin from within, false teachers from without; and the church’s priorities – teach the Word to those who know Christ, and preach the gospel to those who do not. 

Because Acts is preeminently a book about evangelism.  The key verse is Acts 1:8 (ESV) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We can learn much about being witnesses from Paul’s example: John MacArthur shares these principles for evangelism from the life of Paul:

1.  Paul preached the gospel whenever and wherever he had opportunity. 

2.  Paul’s presentation of the message was clothed in humility and grace. 

3.  Paul preached biblically and doctrinally. 

4.  Paul never wasted an opportunity.

5.  Paul preached tirelessly and incessantly. 

6.  Paul preached to all, Jews, Gentiles, slave, free, male, female. 

7.  Paul preached Jesus Christ as Lord, Saviour and Messiah. 

Luke’s objective in writing Acts was to describe the process by which the Holy Spirit led an often reluctant church as it began to fulfill Jesus’ mandate to be his “witnesses…to the end of the earth.”  Luke achieved his goal, but in a deeper sense the very way that Acts ends points to a new beginning.  The book describes one important phase in the history of the church, but that history is far from complete.  Acts is still being written – the history of the Risen Christ who leads His people as they take the gospel to the end of the earth. 

Acts stands as a challenge to our concept of the church and its task.  The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the messianic community through which He carries out His mission in history.  The mandate of the church is Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We are to go and make disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit as His witnesses declaring that Jesus Christ is alive.  Christ is Risen.  He is Risen indeed. 

Reviewing Acts we see that the first result of the gifts of the Holy Spirit was that everyone “heard,” in his own native language, the “wonders of God.”  We followed the Spirits’ work as He fought off every attempt to limit the gospel to one circle or another.  We watched Him lead a reluctant church out of its native territory and culture, toppling one barrier after another as Samaritan, Ethiopian, God-fearer, pagan, Greek and Roman heard and believed. 

As a result we are led to the conviction that God’s primary agenda for His church is that, led by the same Spirit we should continue to take the Good News to everyone.  We need to ask ourselves: Where does God want me to be involved as He continues to write Acts chapter 29 in the year 2021?  The NIV Worship Bible shares this prayer: 

“Revive us today, Lord, that we may accomplish mighty acts of faith.  As You did at Pentecost, breathe the breath of life into Your church.  Let us see Your power at work among us and through us, accompanying the preaching of the Gospel.  Give us a strong, living, active faith.  Put fire in our tongues when we declare Your wonders.  Plant joy in our hearts when we suffer persecution.  May it be said of us as it was said of the first believers: The NLT translation of Acts 8:4 (NLT2) says: “But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.”

People need the opportunity to gain hearing ears, seeing eyes and understanding hearts. What is the response of your heart today?  

A time honoured tradition every Christmas for our family along with reading the Christmas Story from the Scriptures before opening our gifts on Christmas morning, is watching the movie, A Christmas Carol (better known as Scrooge), by Charles Dickens on Christmas Eve. We always watch the Alistair Sim version produced in 1951. 

After Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, he realizes that because of his greed and bitterness he has made himself and others miserable. Most of all, he realizes the importance of loving relationships.

On Christmas morning as Scrooge awakens clinging to his bedpost curtains, he determines to change and positively affect the future, especially that of Tiny Tim.

I think one of the classic lines takes place when Scrooge unexpectedly drops in on his nephew’s well-attended Christmas Day party. In the Alistair Sim version though not in the book, he says to his nephew and primarily his nephew’s wife, to the delight and the astonishment of all, “Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years?”  These sincere, humble words represented the reconciliation of Scrooge to his family, in particular his sister’s son and his wife.  And they show us that Scrooge is a changed man, he has gained an understanding heart.   

Another of my favourite scenes is at the conclusion of the movie where we see Scrooge sitting in his office after overwhelming Bob Cratchit with kindness and generosity having told him because he was late to work: “Well, we won’t beat about the bush my friend, I’m not going to stand this sort of thing any longer, which leaves me no alternative… but to raise your salary!”  And he laughs heartily. 

Then after Bob has left quite dumbfounded, as he sits alone in his office, he is overwhelmed by the changes in his life and Scrooge says out loud, “Oh, I don’t deserve to be so happy! But I can’t help it, ha, ha, ha! (He wipes tears of joy from his eyes) I just can’t help it!”

The book ends stating: “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” 

Scrooge gained hearing ears, seeing eyes and an understanding heart.  May we do the same.  But we know that such change truly comes only from the working of the Spirit of God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as we have seen so many times in the Book of Acts!  Unstop your ears, open your eyes and understand with your heart.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved! 

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December 27/20 – Acts 28:1-16 

“KEEPING SAFE, THANKING GOD, TAKING COURAGE!”

Paul’s Ministry in Malta and Making it to Rome. 

The Apostle Paul displayed an unconquerable spirit in the Book of Acts.  From the time he encountered Christ on the Damascus Road he lived a faithful and a fearless life in service for Christ through the presence and power of the Spirit of God.  Journeying back through the book of Acts we remember that Paul opposed Elymas the sorcerer to his face.  When he was stoned in Lystra  and left for dead, as his disciples were mourning over him, he got up and walked back into the city.  After being beaten in Philippi and jailed, he and Silas gave a gospel concert at midnight and it must have had quite a beat because there was a miraculous earthquake that set them free.  He stood against the intellectualism of Athens, the corruption of Corinth and the violent mob of Ephesus.  Having been taken prisoner in Jerusalem and incarcerated at Caesarea he continued to witness to the power of the Gospel giving testimony before the religious leaders, governors and kings.  And now as a prisoner having appealed for a hearing before Caesar in Rome he is almost on the final leg of his journey. As we saw in our last time in the book of Acts, Paul was absolutely amazing as he encouraged and comforted his fellow passengers through the storm and the shipwreck described so vividly in Acts 27.  The apostle Paul had desired for many years to visit Rome. After years of waiting, two years in a Roman prison, a terrifying two week long storm at sea and his fourth shipwreck, he must have wondered if it would ever happen. 

Paul was still on his way to Rome, but in God’s plan the people of Malta needed to hear the good news so Paul had another stop to make before he would reach Rome.   

Paul now stands on the shore of the tiny Island of Malta in what is today called St. Paul’s Bay where every year on February 10th the island celebrates the shipwreck of the Apostle Paul.  The name Malta means “a place of refuge.”  A reminder of Psalm 46:1 (ESV) “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  We need to remember that well during these Covid days.  

Malta would be Paul’s home along with 275 other passengers for the duration of the winter months until travel on the Mediterranean would again be possible.  

1.  WET BUT WARMLY WELCOMED: Acts 28:1-2

2.  SNAKES AND SUPERSTITION: Acts 28:3-6

3.  MIRACLES AND MINISTRY: Acts 28:7-10

4.  ARRIVAL, ENCOURAGEMENT AND FELLOWSHIP: Acts 28:11-16

1.  WET BUT WARMLY WELCOMED: Acts 28:1-2

Remember that God had promised Paul that although the ship would be destroyed, no lives would be lost.  He had also promised that the ship would run aground on an island.  Both promises were fulfilled when they found themselves on the island of Malta. 

All 276 passengers made their way safely to the beach, you can imagine them soaked through to the bone, wet and exhausted huddled together on the shore.  Only then did they find out they were on the Island of Malta.

Malta, located 58 miles south of Sicily, is about seventeen miles long and nine miles wide.  Since it is not a large island, it would not have taken the sailors long to discover where they were. 

They may simply have found out from nearby inhabitants.  The people who lived on Malta were of Phoenician descent, and as I mentioned earlier the name Malta means, “a place of refuge” in the Phoenician language.  Malta became a British possession early in the nineteenth century and gained its independence in 1964. 

God had prepared a safe haven for Paul and his fellow travellers and it was clearly in the miraculous plan of God that the ship being driven by the winds for fourteen days would come to rest on this little speck of an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. 

The reaction of the people of the island to their unexpected guests is described as “unusual kindness.”  The people are described as native people, the word in the original is “barbaroi” which means “non Greek speakers”.  The translation barbarian is misleading and no slight is intended to them.  What they did was well beyond what would normally be expected. 

The water was cold, and did anybody notice it was now raining?  The word in the original indicates a drenching rain, just what you don’t need when you’re already exhausted, cold and wet.  Just as Paul had promised through God, not one of them had lost a single hair from their heads but probably most of the hairs on their heads were standing on end.  When you’re wet and cold, there is nothing more comforting than a nice warm fire.  Exhausted from their long ordeal, soaked from their swim to shore, drenched by the driving rain, and chilled by the cold November wind, they welcomed a fire to warm themselves.  But where do we find Paul?  After enduring the many days on the sea and the wintry swim to the shore, surely Paul had earned a break. 

2.  SNAKES AND SUPERSTITION: Acts 28:3-6

Wood needed to be added continually to the bonfire to keep it going.  Paul’s servant heart was in

evidence as he gathered brush to place on the fire.  Humility is essential to true servant leadership.  Jesus said: Mark 10:45 (ESV) “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus gave the classic illustration of humble service by stooping to wash the disputing disciples feet. 

Acts 28:3 (ESV) “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.” When Paul put the branches in the fire a venomous snake indigenous to the region was startled from its lethargy by the sudden blast of heat and fastened itself to Paul’s hand.  Paul has just experienced his fourth shipwreck and now this happens. 

Satan is obviously out to destroy Paul but God is out to preserve his life.  God has told him he would be His witness in Rome.  God continued to keep Paul safe. 

It is just the same for you and me.  Romans 8:31 (ESV) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Romans 8:28 (ESV) “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Acts 28:4 (ESV) “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.” In many translations you will notice that “Justice” is capitalized as a proper noun.  The word in the original Greek “dikastes” actually means “a judge.  One who executes justice.  One who maintains law and equity.”  The people of the island of Malta revealed an awareness of a divine judge who maintains justice.  All cultures have a sense of justice.  The Maltese people had a clear sense of right and wrong. 

Probably they had learned from the soldiers that Paul was a prisoner and here they thought that justice had caught up with him.  Every culture has some concept of right and wrong placed within them by the Divine creator of all things.  Out of love for the world, God makes Himself known even in the most remote places on earth. 

Through His natural revelation God desires for people to seek the unknown through which they learn to know and to pursue a greater knowledge leading to salvation through God’s special revelation.  Paul penned the clear words verifying God’s universal declaration of His existence: Romans 1:20 (ESV) “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  Men are without excuse but God did not leave mankind without a Saviour. 

Acts 28:5 (ESV) “He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.”  The islanders were expecting Paul’s hand to swell from the bite and the effects of toxic poisoning to run their course with him suddenly falling down dead.  They were superstitious and believed in the Greek goddess of “Justice” the daughter of Zeus and Themis. When he did not die, they jumped to a new conclusion. Acts 28:6 (ESV) “They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. 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.”

This was not the first time, Paul had been called a god (In Acts 14 after the healing of the crippled man in Lystra).  No doubt he quickly set the islanders straight.  Paul and his associates didn’t just arrive on Malta by accident, well actually they did, but it was an accident planned in the mind of God to bring the Word of God to the people of Malta.  And now God had established the credentials of His messenger and further miracles would authenticate His message.

3.  MIRACLES AND MINISTRY: Acts 28:7-10

Not far from where they landed was the estate of the chief official of the island a man by the name of Publius.  (Latin for “popular”.)   He was the Roman governor of Malta.  His estate must have been fairly large since he graciously welcomed all 276 people who had been on board the ship.  How would you like to be Publius’s wife?  “Honey, we’ve got a few people who are going stay with us.”  Not only did they welcome all 276 travellers they entertained them for three days until they could make arrangements for winter quarters. 

As a family we still talk about one winter when we were in Owen Sound we had a special speaker and his family storm stayed with us.  They don’t call the town Snowen Sound for nothing.  Their  kids and ours all succumbed to the stomach flu and were sick all over the place but they all had a great time.  Publius’s hospitality takes on a new dimension when you realize his father Acts 28:8 (ESV) “…lay sick with fever and dysentery.”  Identified as “Malta fever” (Micrococcus melitensis) in the nineteenth century it was traced to the milk of Malta goats, and a vaccine was developed for it in 1887. Untreated, it lasted an average of four months, but in some cases up to two or three years.

Paul entered into Publius’s father’s room “and prayed, putting his hands on him and healed him.”  (Acts 28:8) Paul’s prayer acknowledged his dependence on God’s power.  No surprise, but after word of this spread the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 

Although Luke does not mention it, we have no doubt Paul preached the gospel to the people since the purpose of miracles was to authenticate Paul as God’s messenger.  They stayed for three months, giving Paul many opportunities to preach.  According to tradition the church on Malta dates from this time and their first pastor was Pastor Publius.  (Given the meaning of his name, he was Pastor Popular.) 

Luke records that the people honoured them in many ways and as they were preparing to leave the island they provided the supplies that were needed.  Was this for the entire travelling party?  Probably for Paul and his companions this was an outpouring of love and ministry from the newly founded church.  With sea travel becoming safer again they “set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead.”  (Acts 28:11)

4.  ARRIVAL, ENCOURAGEMENT AND FELLOWSHIP: Acts 28:11-16

When winter had passed, Paul and the others boarded this ship bound for Rome.  They had a three day stay in Syracuse, followed by a brief stopover in Rhegium and then they reached Puteoli.  The most important commercial port in Italy, though 150 miles from Rome was the capital’s chief seaport.  In Paul’s day it was a city of 100,000 people. 

In a city of that size they found some brothers who invited them to stay with them, and no doubt with Julius the centurion’s permission they stayed seven days.  From there, Luke notes with dramatic understatement, “And so we came to Rome.”  (Acts 28:14 ESV) 

A number of Christians from Rome travelled to meet Paul as far as the Forum of Appius (43 miles away) and the Three Taverns (33 miles away).  They were Christians who had heard Paul was coming and came to encourage him.  “On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.” (Acts 28:15 ESV) Paul had been kept safe and now he thanked God and took courage. 

In the early spring of A.D. 61, God fulfilled His promise to Paul.  He arrived in Rome.  The text is brief and leaves us longing for a little more detail.  Luke who wrote so much about the shipwreck, did not include Paul’s reaction when he reached Rome.  Surely he was overwhelmed by the imposing sight of the city, but even more overwhelmed at the faithfulness and the power of God.  Having arrived safely, “He thanked God and took courage.”  Paul had never seen anything like Rome.  At the time of his arrival, Rome was inhabited by one million citizens and approximately the same number of slaves. 

As Paul approached, I believe God knew he would be overwhelmed by the sea of strangers and the certainty of enemies so God met him at every turn and every stop with brothers and sisters in Christ.  Paul uses the words, sister, brother, brotherly or brothers at least 140 times in his epistles.  The Greek word for “brothers” is “adelphos”.  In reference to fellow believers in Christ, the term “came to designate a fellowship of love equivalent to or bringing with itself a community of life.”  As Paul approached Rome, God knew he needed “a fellowship of love” or “a community of life.” 

Paul’s need was not unique.  People are desperate for a sense of community today.  We all want to feel like we belong somewhere.  God recognizes our need for community and has provided for that need to be met through His church- the body of believers organized to provide a community of life.  Paul obviously sensed a strong bond with other believers.  Many Christians were already in Rome.  Paul had never met the Christians in Rome and yet he considered them brothers and sisters in the faith.  Paul’s approach helps us to understand the sense of community that God wants us to know.  You cannot live the Christian life on your own, you need other believers to encourage you to thank God and to take courage. 

As Paul reached the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns on his way to Rome, he was greatly encouraged by a group of strangers who met him there because they were his brothers.  Their faces were unfamiliar, but they belonged to Jesus and were joined in the bond of love. 

Paul was now in Rome and “was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.”  We learn from verse 20 that there were probably several soldiers who pulled Paul duty as the day progressed and were chained to Paul’s wrist.  Paul was put under house arrest. Under this provision, the guard was changed every six hours. Paul would later write to the Philippian believers, Philippians 4:22 (ESV) “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”  How did men in Caesar’s household get saved? By being chained to Paul and hearing the message of the Gospel.   

Paul used his limitations to attempt great things for God.  I’m reminded of the words of William Carey: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God. Who would have ever thought that a chained prisoner could reach Rome and more? As James Stalker so beautifully pointed out, Paul’s room became a fulcrum from which he moved the world. How did that come to be? As Paul explains in Philippians 1:12-13 (ESV) “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”  According to the last verse of Acts, Paul witnessed to all visitors “with all boldness and without hindrance.”

Furthermore, while a prisoner Paul, through the Holy Spirit, wrote the New Testament books of Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy, the first four of which, as John Stott has pointed out, are the most Christological of all his writings. God did great things during Paul’s difficult years and despite his personal and circumstantial limitations. As Paul wrote shortly before being martyred for Christ, 2 Timothy 2:9 (ESV) “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!”

God’s leading in Paul’s life sets an example for us to follow. God kept Paul safe through the storm and delivered him from the viper.  He sent other believers to encourage him and Paul thanked God. We need to thank God for keeping us safe and for the fellowship we can enjoy and we need to take courage. 

As we enter into 2021 there is a lot of uncertainty but we can be certain of this God loves us and He is Sovereignly working out His eternal plan in our lives.  Keep safe, thank God, take courage. 

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“THE GLORY OF GOD” – Christmas Sunday December 20/2020

One of the lovely things about Christmas is enjoying the multi-coloured lights on Christmas trees and on houses in the neighbourhood and in special displays.  However, how some of the inflatables relate to Christmas I cannot figure out.  I remember growing up in Brantford Ontario and going to Simcoe to see the Christmas lights displayed in Wellington Park. That display is still going strong.  I looked it up online and it’s now called, the Simcoe Christmas Panorama and it has been in place since 1958.  It has welcomed thousands of guests for over sixty years.  I fondly recall taking someone very special to see the lights on her first visit to my childhood home at Christmas. 
Here we are again celebrating the Christmas Season which is all about Jesus first coming to this earth to seek and to save the lost.  Luke 19:10 (ESV) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  And for all of us this Christmas will be different to say the least.  But the message of Christmas remains constant even in the midst of all of the upheaval that surrounds us. 
The theme I want us to consider for this Christmas Sunday is light.  The Lord laid this theme on my heart as we considered the Apostle Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa two weeks ago.  As he shared about seeing the bright light at midday, brighter than the Sun when Jesus spoke to him on the Road to Damascus for Paul the lights went on and he learned that Jesus was alive and had been sent from God to be a light both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. 
Paul was appointed as His servant.  Jesus said to Paul: Acts 26:15-18 (ESV) ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand upon your feet, for 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.’
Paul was appointed as Jesus’ servant and His witness to share the message of the light of the Gospel calling to mind God’s words about His servant Jesus in Isaiah 42:5-7 (ESV) “Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Jesus is the light of the world and Paul shared the message of the Gospel as he concluded his testimony in  Acts 26:23 (ESV) “that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
John MacArthur says:  One of the most beautiful metaphors used to describe Jesus’ nature and character is that of light.  It conveys the ideas of illuminating the way, revealing truth and exposing sin.  In John 1 we are told: John 1:4-5 (ESV) “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John also tells us that John the Baptist came to bear witness to the light.  John 1:8-9 (ESV) “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”  Jesus says in John 3:19-21 (ESV) “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  Jesus also said: John 8:12 (ESV) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
In the Old Testament, walking in the light was often used as a figure of righteousness and obedience to God, while walking in the darkness was a figure of wickedness and disobedience.  Now Jesus presents Himself as “the light of the world.”
Coming to faith in Jesus Christ is expressed in the Word of God as coming to the light.  Jesus Christ came not only to reveal the darkness that sin causes, but also to bring the light that overcomes the darkness. 
As the hymnwriter, Philip P. Bliss puts it…”The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin…The Light of the world is Jesus.”  Because those who do not believe live in spiritual darkness, God sent His Light into the world and revealed His glory!  The Apostle John added in  1 John 1:4-5 (ESV) “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”  It is light that reveals the Glory of God so that is our topic for this morning.  God’s glory, the light that shines in our world! 
 
1.  A GREAT DISPLAY OF GOD’S GLORY: Psalm 19:1; Genesis 1:3
2.  A GREATER DISPLAY OF GOD’S GLORY: Luke 2:8-14
3.  THE GREATEST DISPLAY OF GOD’S GLORY: John 1:14; Luke 2:30-32; Hebrews 1:1-3
 
GOD’S GLORY: Psalm 19:1; Genesis 1:3
Psalm 19:1 says: Psalm 19:1 (ESV) “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
Sir William Herschel, a Christian astronomer said: “All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more strongly the truths we get from on high.”
 
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and He said “‘Let  there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) God effortlessly spoke light into existence.  This dispelled the darkness and God has been working to dispel the darkness ever since.  In the creation God was the Provider of light and He will in eternity future be the source of light.  Speaking of the heavenly city in Revelation 21:23, John says: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
Though all the preachers on earth should grow silent, and every human mouth cease from publishing the glory of God, the heavens above will never cease to declare and proclaim His majesty and His glory.  To say that the universe happened by chance is absurd.  It’s design, intricacy and orderliness point to a personally involved Creator.  Nature proclaims God’s existence and power and all creation reveals God’s glory and majesty. 
The One who said, “Let there be light,” the One whose love moved Him to shine His saving light through creation and upon conscience, the One who set aside a special people for Himself to be a light to the nations, is the One who mercifully clothed His light in a human body so that He might bring light to men. 
 
2.  A GREATER DISPLAY OF GOD’S GLORY: Luke 2:8-14
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Margaret Deland wrote these words: 
Like small curled feathers white and soft, the little clouds went by
Across the moon and past the stars and down the western sky;
In upland pastures where the grass with frosted dew was white,
Like snowy clouds the young sheep lay that first blest Christmas night. 
With finger on her solemn lip, Night hushed the shadowy earth,
And only stars and angels saw the little Saviour’s birth;
Then came such flash of silver light, across the bending skies,
The wondering shepherds woke and hid their frightened dazzled eyes! 
And all their gentle sleepy flock, Looked up then slept again,
Nor knew the light that dimmed the stars brought endless peace to men–
Nor even heard the gracious words That down the ages ring–
“The Christ is born!  The Lord has come, Goodwill on earth to bring!” 
Then o’er the misty moonlit fields, Dumb with the world’s great joy,
The shepherds sought the white-walled town, where lay the Baby boy–
And oh, the gladness of the world, the glory of the skies,
Because the longed-for Christ looked up, in Mary’s happy eyes! 
Bethlehem is near Jerusalem and many of the sheep used in the Temple sacrifices were tended in the hills outside the town.  The hills were prime grazing land and shepherds worked in the area day and night, all year round.  They supplied the lambs to be offered in sacrifice for sins. 
A multitude of the heavenly hosts, a great company of angels appeared to shepherds in fields near Bethlehem declaring: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  A multitude or great company of the heavenly hosts was a term used to describe an army encampment.  The armies of heaven were mobilized to declare the glory of God the Son. 
 
The coming of Christ brings glory to God displaying the wisdom, power and mercy of our God.  The whole character of God stands in His faithfulness and His love.  All of His promises are fulfilled in Christ.  His love is demonstrated through His Son.  Glory to God in the highest heaven, in the highest attributes of Almighty God and in the highest degree in the person of Christ! 
The message of peace is God’s gracious gift to those who are the objects of His good will. 
Why was the message given to shepherds?  Perhaps because they would understand.  The Saviour, who was now born and lying quietly in the peaceful manger, was to be the Lamb of God.  And as the Lamb, He was destined to die for the sins of the world.  To die for these very shepherds as their Saviour.  This is only one of two places in the gospels where Christ is referred to as Saviour, the other is in John 4:42.  Perhaps these shepherds who cared for young lambs destined for the altars of sacrifice, who sat through cold dark nights in the fields to guard and protect their flocks might understand the shepherd’s heart of God the Father, might glimpse what it meant for Him to give His One Lamb, once and for all. 

The NIV Worship Bible shares this prayer:
“Lord, I cannot comprehend that You, the Creator of the universe, took on flesh and were born of a peasant girl.  You, the One who spoke the galaxies into existence, became a speechless newborn baby.  You, the One who gave the stars their light, veiled Your own glory and slipped unnoticed into the human race.  You, the One who clothed all of nature in its boundless beauty and order, came to us wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough.  The miracle of Your incarnation is all too unexpected, too mysterious, too holy for me to understand.  I can only follow the shepherds to the manger and bow in astonishment and thanksgiving, glorifying and praising You for all that I have heard and seen.” 
The majesty of the music of creation, the heavens and earth that reveal the glory of God and the magnificence of the angels declaring the glory of God, cannot compare to the glory of the Son of God Himself who came to bring redemption to mankind. 
 

3.  THE GREATEST DISPLAY OF GOD’S GLORY: John 1:14; Luke 2:30-32; Hebrews 1:1-3
John 1:14 (ESV) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
While Christ as God was uncreated and eternal, the word “became” emphasizes Christ’s taking on humanity.  This reality is surely the most profound ever known to man because it indicates that the infinite became finite, the Eternal was conformed to time; the invisible became visible; the supernatural One reduced Himself to the natural.  In the incarnation, however, the Word did not cease to be God but became God in human flesh.  That is, His deity was undiminished, though He was in human form as a man.  When the Word became flesh, the glorious presence of Deity was embodied in Him.  We beheld His glory as John 1:14 says: John 1:14 (ESV) “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
As Charles Wesley expressed in his hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the Incarnate Deity.”  Although His deity may have been veiled in human flesh, glimpses exist in the gospels of  His divine majesty.  The disciples saw glimpses of His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.  The reference to Christ’s glory was spiritual as well.  They saw Him display the attributes or characteristics of God, grace, goodness, mercy, wisdom, truth, etc.  His glory was like that of the Father.  Jesus as God displayed the same essential glory as the Father.  They are one in nature.  The only Son is the One and Only and carries the concept of the only beloved one.  It carries the meaning of singular uniqueness, of being loved like no other.  By this word, John was emphasizing the exclusive character of the relationship between the Father and the Son. 
His glory is full of grace and truth.  John probably had in mind Exodus 33 and 34.  On that occasion, Moses requested that God display His glory to him.  The Lord replied to Moses that He would make all His goodness pass before Him.  Exodus 33:19-20 (ESV) “And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
These attributes of God’s glory,  grace and truth, emphasize the goodness of God’s character, especially in relationship to salvation. 
Behold His glory! 
When Paul saw the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ he bowed before Him and said:  “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10 ESV) Jesus told Paul that he would be His witness before Jews and Gentiles.  In Acts 26:22&23 Paul declared the goal of his ministry: Acts 26:22-23 (ESV) “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass:  that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
Christ would proclaim light.  In Luke 2:29-32 Simeon gave witness to Christ.  Luke 2:29-32 (ESV)
 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,  a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”  
His song is called the Nunc Dimittis from the first two words of the Latin translation.  This is the first explicit statement in Luke that includes both Jew and Gentile.  Salvation is portrayed as light.  It would be a revelation to Gentiles because they would be able to participate in God’s blessing with a fullness that had not been revealed in the Old Testament.  Jesus is the glory of Israel because through Him the nation would see the fulfillment of God’s promises.  Jesus has restored the glory to Israel and brought the light to the Gentiles so that all people can be saved.  
 
The message that Paul proclaimed was the message of light.  Scripture frequently uses light as a metaphor for salvation.  Because of that, salvation can be described as being called “out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  ( 1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
And believers can be described as sharers “in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14 ESV)
The blessed result of salvation is the forgiveness of sins.  That’s why Jesus came and why He sent Paul to be His witness and why He calls us to witness to the same truth.  As Jesus said to Paul about his ministry to the Gentiles in Acts 26:17-18 (ESV) “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.”
Salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. 
The promise made to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 (ESV) “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus Christ is the revealer of the glory of God.  Hebrews 1:1-3 (ESV) “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
 
We would never be able to see or enjoy God’s light if we did not have Jesus to look at.  Standing one day before the Temple, Jesus said, John 8:12 (ESV) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus Christ radiates God’s glory and He can transmit that light into your life and my life so that we in turn can share the glory of God.  We live in a dark world, into which God shines His glorious Light!  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV) “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  
 
The Nicene Creed (325 A.D.)
And (I believe) in one Lord, Jesus Christ, The only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God, Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father; By Whom all things were made;
Who for us men and for our salvation, Came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, And was made man. 
The NIV Worship Bible shares this prayer:
Son of God, before Whom angels bow, I kneel humbly at Your feet.  Word of God, through Whom all things were created and by Whom God has spoken, I am silent and awestruck before You.  Light of Light, Who outshines the radiance of heaven, I glorify You.  Even so, O Lord, how can my worship begin to be worthy of You?  However extravagant my praise, You are greater still!” 
 
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  In these days of shining lights remember what Jesus told us:  Matthew 5:16 (ESV) “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Let your light shine and give glory to God!
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December 13, 2020 FCBC                            Sermon  

Acts 27:1-44                 “HOW TO ENDURE (ENJOY?) THE STORMS OF LIFE!”

One of my memories from my childhood was a of a set of Word Records my parent bought, probably somewhere during the sixties.  They came in bound volumes with titles on the outside.  Great quartets, trios, soloists, instrumentalists.  But my favourites were the children’s stories and one of my favourite stories was Paul being shipwrecked.  I can still hear the description of havoc as the ship is being beaten by the wind and waves.  Lift that bail, tote that barge, lash that sail, secure the hatches, we’re running aground….then silence. 

As we rejoin the Apostle Paul he is finally nearing the fulfillment of his great ambition to go to Rome.  Acts 19:21 (ESV) “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

In Paul’s day Gentiles saw Rome as the centre of the earth. It was a strategic place to get the gospel out to the nations because everything went in and out of Rome—hence, Paul’s had voiced his desire to go there in the Epistle to the Romans 1:10-16; 15:22-23. In the first century Rome was the most powerful political entity in the world, and Paul was a Roman citizen. The apostle had spent over twenty-five years of ministry in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, but he had dreams of taking the gospel as far west as Spain, using Rome as a launching pad. About three years before this trip, Paul had written his letter to the  Romans preparing them for his visit and outlining his plans.

And as you well know, Jesus had told him he would be His witness in Rome.  Acts 23:11 (ESV) “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

At this point in the Acts narrative one of the safest places to be would be with the Apostle Paul on his journey to Rome.  God had guaranteed that he would get there.  But he probably never imagined that he would reach Rome as a prisoner.  The description of the way he gets there reads like an excerpt from an exciting novel. We can feel the drama building as the events unfold through Luke’s vivid description. These two chapters also contain details typical of the record of one who was part of the travel group (this is a “we” section).  Luke travelled with Paul along with Aristarchus. 

Paul’s sea voyage to Rome was filled with adventure, great danger, imminent disaster and the Sovereign intervention of the Lord.  Luke uses twice as many words to describe the voyage to Rome as he does telling us what happened when Paul got there.  He records their arrival with the very succinct:  Acts 28:14 (ESV) “And so we came to Rome.” 

Behind the first person account of their journey to Rome, Luke encourages us to see the power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of the Risen Christ, the providential leading of Almighty God. 

He points us towards calmness in the calamities of life.  Courage in the midst of the storm.  Faith that overcomes fear.  And hope that trusts in God no matter what. 

His message is exactly what we need for our day and time as we are in the midst of a Covid storm and controversy dogs our heels and plagues our days and we need to keep our eyes on God and the fact that He is firmly in control even as it seems that everything around us is out of control! 

The NIV Application Commentary shares this insight:  One of the most helpful resources for the study of this passage is a book written more than a century ago by James Smith, The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul. As an experienced yachtsman and classical scholar, Smith “made a careful study of Luke’s narrative in relation to the route which it maps out—a part of the Mediterranean with which he himself was acquainted—and formed the most favorable estimate of the accuracy of Luke’s account of each stage of the voyage.” Smith says about Luke’s style and content, “No sailor would have written in a style so little like that of a sailor; no man not a sailor could have written a narrative of a sea voyage so consistent in all its parts, unless from actual observation.”

Fortunately for us, Colin J. Hemer has made available many of the findings of Smith and of others in arguing his case for the historical accuracy of the book of Acts. Portions of these passages read like a ship’s log. The nautical detail is impeccable. Luke’s knowledge of the sea, ships, and sailing is vividly shown. But in each section of the account there are powerful insights about living in the Spirit, trusting in the Lord, seeing His plan being worked out. 

1.  SETTING SAIL: Acts 27:1-12

Paul’s journey to Rome begins…

2.  STORMY SEAS: Acts 27:13-38

The folly of not listening to warnings and the fun of saying “I told you so!” 

3.  SHIPWRECKED BUT SAFE: Acts 27:39-44

Have faith in God that it will be exactly according to His Sovereign plan!

1.  SETTING SAIL: Acts 27:1-12

Paul’s journey to Rome begins…

The first person plural pronoun “we” tells us that Luke was travelling with Paul.  How providentially handy to have a personal physician along for the journey.  Also accompanying him was Aristarchus, who had trusted in Christ during Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica.  It was he who had been dragged into the theatre at the beginning of the riot in Ephesus. He had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem and now continued with him on to Rome. There is no indication that Luke and Aristarchus were prisoners as well, they were simply there to support and to encourage their friend. 

We are introduced to the Centurion Julius who plays a prominent role in preserving Paul’s life through the storm.  God used him to care for Paul. 

The reminder is this: Paul had people he could rely on for encouragement.  Do you have those in your life who encourage you, give you insight, advice?  That’s why you and I need other believers involved in our lives.  If you haven’t yet joined a Growth Group let me encourage you to do so. 

MAP

Paul is accompanied by some other prisoners, how many, we don’t know and the first ship on which they travel is a boat of Adramyttium, a city north of Pergamum in the region of Mysia in Asia.  This boat was a long way from home and was a coastal vessel, travelling close to the shore and putting in at various ports along the way.  Only the largest grain ships set out into the open sea of the Mediterranean, and Julius hoped that at one of the ports they would encounter one.  Also, only the bravest of sailors set out at this time of year as Luke notes in verse 9 that their trip took place after “the fast”—the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur—had ended, in mid-October. This trip, therefore, took place in the autumn and presented a grave threat to the travellers’ safety. This threat shows itself as early as verse 4, when Luke describes the winds as “against us,” forcing the ship to divert.

Under the best of conditions, in the best seasons for navigating the Mediterranean which are the spring and summer sailing straight to Rome from Caesarea, would take five weeks to transfer Paul to his intended destination. But when this trip is over, the journey will have taken well over four months.  The first part of the journey goes well and they cover the seventy miles to Sidon in one day.  There, Julius treats Paul kindly and allows him to visit his friends in the city.  Then, as they put out again, Luke tells us the winds were against them.  They finally came to Myra in Lycia and there Julius found a ship bound for Italy and booked passage on it. 

The God’s Word for You Commentary says:  Adramyttian ships were typically sixty feet (18m) long, and rough seawaters could easily swamp them. Alexandrian ships were roughly 180 feet (55m) in length, forty-eight feet (14.5m) wide, and forty feet (12m) high. They were the largest ships produced at the time. Though larger, these ships came with their own host of problems and dangers. Not only was this particular ship carrying 276 people (v 37), but these ships also customarily carried grain in their holds. These holds ran the length and width of the ship and were six feet (2m) deep. When filled with grain, the ship took on enormous weight. Further, this grain would be shifted in the holds by the action of the waves, causing a rocking effect that made stabilization challenging for the ship’s captain and if it became wet the weight and the danger increased exponentially. 

The Roman military considered any sailing after September to be extremely dangerous, and anything between November and March to be suicidal. Paul knew the danger of such travel and advised them not to go on warning them:  Acts 27:10 (ESV) saying, “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.”

Paul was an experienced traveller, after all, he had been shipwrecked three times and spent a night and a day adrift at sea (2 Corinthians 11:25).  But the captain would be paid a premium if he delivered his grain at this time of year so he wanted to go on.  Paul was humble enough to let others make their own mistakes.  The captain decides to head for the double harbour city of Phoenix to spend the winter there.  But the ship is pushed by the wind out into the open sea. 

2.  STORMY SEAS: Acts 27:13-38

The folly of not listening to warnings and the fun of saying “I told you so!” 

“Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore.  But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.  And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.  Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we

managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat.  After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along.  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.  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.  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.  For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship,  and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’  So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.  But we must run aground on some island.”  When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land.  So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms.  And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come.  And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow,  Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”  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.”  And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.  Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.  (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.”  

Their trip became a nightmare and for two long weeks they fought against the seas doing all they could think of to keep safe.  Ancient ships would tow a lifeboat but in a tempestuous storm it could ram the ship, so they towed it aboard.  They wrapped the ship with ropes and cables to try to hold it together.  They jettisoned the cargo and threw the ships tackle overboard leaving the ship without means of navigation or propulsion. 

Paul knows God will get him and the company to Rome. Acts 23:11 continues to drive the narrative. Paul lived as he did because he kept his mind set on the promises of God. Paul, therefore, steps in to offer much needed encouragement and he begins with an “I told you so.”  He is not insulting them, he is identifying himself as the voice of reason and then he shares the reason why they should trust God.  Paul’s words provide three vital applications: 

First, he exudes an unyielding confidence in God’s sovereign will.  He rests in God’s perfect will.  Paul you are going to Rome! 

Second, he is confident in the Lord in the midst of trial.  He witnesses to those on board revealing the one true God. 

Third, he tells them what will happen.  They will run aground on some island.  The act of having faith in God’s purposes is to run the ship aground. 

God has placed all aboard in the hands of the Apostle Paul because Jesus is with him in the storm.  The storm does not restrict God’s sovereignty or hinder the power of the gospel. Paul is not primarily the prisoner of Rome.  He is an ambassador in chains for Jesus!  As he identifies himself in Philemon 1:1 (ESV) “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”  

He continues to direct the crew as they think they will escape by the lifeboat.  He tells them if they enter the lifeboat they will lose their lives.  And he urges them to eat some food giving thanks to God in the presence of all.  They all were encouraged.  Then, they jettison the rest of the cargo including their food. 

3.  SHIPWRECKED BUT SAFE: Acts 27:39-44

Have faith in God that it will be exactly according to His Sovereign plan!

The next day they can see land and they plan to run the ship ashore, but when the ship strikes a reef in open water, the front of the vessel is jammed, while the back of the boat continues to be beaten by the waves. Naturally, the boat begins to break apart. The soldiers know that if they go back to Rome without their prisoners, having let them escape, they will face the same judgment as the prisoners.  So they devise a plan to kill the prisoners and blame it on the extreme situation.

The centurion, however, intervenes as he trusts Paul and wants to save his life. The centurion orders everyone who can to jump overboard and swim for dry land. Those who cannot swim grab hold of planks from the ship and float to safety. Just as God had promised all 276 people on board were spared.  God’s power and providence had triumphed and His glory had been displayed. 

The whole chapter, right up to the very last verse, presents us with a remarkable picture of God’s sovereignty and power. Nothing will thwart the will of God. Indeed, nothing will stop God’s will or hinder His purposes for His people.  God does not promise His people a life free from suffering and trials, but He does promise that in the midst of trial He will be with us.

Paul endured much for the cause of the gospel. But he pressed on because of God’s promise.

We must not lose sight of the reward that awaits those who obey God. God has promised an eternity beyond anything we can ask or imagine. He has promised that we will be with Him, face to face—that death will be no more and sin will pass away. There will be no more tears. No more death. No more sadness. No more grief. God calls His people to hold onto His promises.  

Our obedience will only be as strong as our faith in the promises of God. Paul said in verse 25, “So take heart … for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Does we possess such faith? Do we believe in the promises of God? Do we live as if we believe in His promises? Are we telling others that we have faith in God?  That we know that God is in control?  That we trust His Sovereign purposes to be worked out to His glory and if we trust in Him for our good? 

Earl Palmer, in a fine little book entitled “The Enormous Exception,” tells the story of a pre-med student at the University of California, Berkeley “who became a Christian after a long journey through doubts and questions.”  When Palmer asked the young man why he had chosen Jesus Christ, he answered what had “tipped the scales” in his spiritual journey were the actions of a classmate who happened to be a Christian.

During the previous term the pre-med student had been very ill with the flu and, as a result, had missed ten days of school.  “Without any fanfare or complaints,” his Christian classmate carefully collected all his class assignments and took time away from his own studies to help him catch up.  The pre-med student told Palmer, “You know, this kind of thing just isn’t done.  I wanted to know what made this guy act the way he did.  I even found myself asking if I could go to church with him.”  (from “Simple Faith” by Charles Swindoll retold in “The Inspirational Study Bible”) 

Lord help me to see every storm of life as an opportunity to grow in my faith and dependance upon

you and to build the faith of others! 

William Cowper reminds us in his classic hymn of these sweet words:

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face. (“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”)

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December 6, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 25:1-26:32                   “THE ABSOLUTE AGONY OF ALMOST!”

Paul’s Fourth Defence before Festus and Fifth Defence before Agrippa and Bernice.

William Jay (1769–1853) preached the gospel from the age of 19 to 84, and was for over 60 years pastor of the Independent Argyle Chapel in Bath, England.  From what we learned of Felix last week and what we see in this passage we’ll consider today his advice written so long ago is timely: 

William Jay said:   ‘Bless God if you tremble at his word; but remember, conviction is not conversion. Depend not on excitement in religion, without principle. Pray that you may tremble to purpose. Let your fear induce you to flee for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before you. Beware of losing your burden on the wrong side of the hill. Lay it down nowhere but at the feet of him who cries: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”‘

At least two years have passed since Paul was incarcerated in Caesarea. The Roman statute of limitations for a prisoner to be held without proper charges is now past.  Acts 24:26 tells us that Felix sent for Paul many times but mainly in the hope that Paul would offer him a bribe.  There is no mention of him seeking hope in God.  No further word suggests his awareness of sin.  Felix may have resisted the Holy Spirit until conviction finally passed.  If only he had responded when he felt conviction, when he was filled with fear at Paul’s message of sin and righteousness and judgement.  According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Felix was recalled to Rome in order to explain his savage suppression of a dispute between Jews and Syrians over their respective civil rights in Caesarea, and would have been severely punished but for his brother Pallas’ appeal to Nero.

A new Governor Festus had replaced him and we now get to listen in as the apostle Paul gives his testimony before a new audience of a Gentile Governor and a Jewish King and his consort. 

1.  AN APPEALING TIME: Acts 25:1-12

2.  ASKING ADVICE: Acts 25:13-27

3.  A GRIPPING TESTIMONY TO THE RESURRECTION: Acts 26:1-32

1.  AN APPEALING TIME: Acts 25:1-12

If the information that Josephus shares about Festus is correct, he was much more honest than the governor who preceded him or succeeded him.  Unfortunately he held the office only for about two years dying in A.D. 61 or 62.  According to Josephus upon taking office he did tackle the problem of the troublemakers in the land and to the Jewish leaders that meant the Apostle Paul so after only three days when he went up to Jerusalem they made their accusations.  Their appeal to the new governor was to have Paul returned to Jerusalem for trial.  They planned to ambush and kill him on the way.  Two years had passed, and they were either very hungry because of their vow not to eat until Paul was killed or they had abandoned that vow, yet still they harboured such hatred of the apostle that they cold think only of killing him.

Festus wisely told them to come to Caesarea to make their accusations in a hearing convened before him.  It is possible that he had been briefed on the situation by Felix, either way he knew what he was dealing with in the volatile Jewish territory.  What he did not know was how corrupt the Jewish leaders were. 

They came before the tribunal he convened and made their charges that still lacked any proof.  Paul’s fourth defence was simple: Acts 25:8 (ESV) “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”   It is interesting that Paul adds Caesar to his list as that would carry some weight with Festus. 

To this point Paul has been protected by his Roman citizenship which meant that the charges against him had to stand up in a Roman court of law.  But now, in order to secure favour and keep peace in the land, Festus considers releasing Paul for trial in Jerusalem so he asks Paul:  Acts 25:9 (ESV) “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” And it is here that Paul makes his appeal to Caesar a right held by every Roman citizen.  Paul knew that going to Jerusalem would be suicide so he exercised his right to trial in Rome which is you’ll remember is where Jesus had told him he was going to be his witness anyway.  Acts 23:11 (ESV) The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Paul states that he is already standing before Caesar’s tribunal and he does not fear trial according to Roman law so he makes his appeal to Caesar.  Festus after consultation with his council declared:  “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”

But he now faced a dilemma. He would have to write an official report (as he later states in verse 26) specifying the charges that stood against Paul, and the reason for the appeal and it had better be substantial as Nero is the Emperor and would not take a frivolous case lightly.  That sets the stage for what happens next. 

2.  ASKING ADVICE: Acts 25:13-27

The opportunity to gain insight into the situation comes a few days after Paul’s appeal to Caesar.  John MacArthur describes the King and his consort.  King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II) and his consort Bernice arrive in Caesarea.  They had come to pay their respects to the new governor, Festus.  This is the last in the line of the Herods who figured prominently in New Testament history, Agrippa II ruled the northern part of Palestine during the Roman occupation.  His father, Agrippa I, was the Herod who killed James, arrested Peter and met an untimely end, judged by God by being eaten by worms for failing to give God glory.  His great uncle, Herod Antipas, figured prominently in the gospels as the ruler who executed John the Baptist, sought Jesus’ life, and later tried Him.  His great-grandfather was Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, and murdered the children of Bethlehem in an effort to kill the newborn King.  

His sister Drusilla whom we met last week, was the wife of the former governor, Felix.  His other sister was Bernice.  Their incestuous relationship was the subject of much gossip in Rome, where Agrippa had grown up.  Bernice would occasionally leave her brother and lover for another man, she had been the mistress of the Emperor Vespasian and later of his son Titus, but she always returned.  They are inseparable in the Acts account and the symbol of the vicelike grip of sin on Agrippa’s heart.  Although he did not rule Judea, Agrippa had been granted control of the Temple treasury and the right to appoint the high priest.  The Romans considered him an expert on Jewish affairs and so did the Apostle Paul. 

Their official visit required the couple to spend a number of days in Caesarea which allowed Festus the opportunity to ask for Agrippa’s experience and expert advice.  He “laid Paul’s case before the king.”  Festus reviewed Paul’s situation for Agrippa.  Refusing to accede to the demands of the Sanhedrin to have a trial in Jerusalem (so they could ambush him on the way) Festus held the hearing in Caesarea and discovered that the charges did not involve any serious violations of Roman law but were “points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”  (Acts 25:19 ESV)

Festus had discovered that: It was the issue of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that set Christianity apart from Judaism and His resurrection is the cornerstone of the gospel.  Festus knew nothing of these things so he thought Paul should go to Jerusalem to be tried.  Paul, of course refused and appealed to Caesar.  Festus’s dilemma was that he had to send a letter with the prisoner outlining the charges against him and his reasons for handing the case over to Caesar’s court, and he had nothing to write.  He was desperately in need of Agrippa’s help and Agrippa, no doubt flattered by the appeal to his expertise and perhaps somewhat curious says: Acts 25:22 (ESV)  Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.” 

The scene that unfolds is one of the most rivetting in the New Testament.  On the next day with great pomp and ceremony, Agrippa and Bernice enter the auditorium.  This is the only use of the word  “pomp” (phantasia) in the New Testament.  It denotes a grand and showy pageant.  Festus turned Paul’s hearing into an opportunity to honour Agrippa.  Accompanied by the ranking officers and leading men of the city they waited for Paul to appear before them.  Military tribunes were those like Claudius Lysius whom we met earlier who ruled over a 1000 men. 

The spectacle must have been breathtaking.  Agrippa would have been decked out in all the trappings of royalty, including a purple robe, golden crown, rings and perhaps a sceptre.  Bernice, though not technically Agrippa’s queen, would have been similarly attired.  The five tribunes assigned to the area would have been in full dress uniform and the prominent men of the city wearing their finest clothes.  An honour guard of soldiers would escort all of them into the auditorium.  Then Paul was brought in.  The contrast could not be more striking.  Into the midst of the assembly hall, walks a Jew who has been described as short, bald and physically unimposing.   Those who entered with pomp and ceremony proved themselves to be nothing but pompous fools.  Paul who was the least impressive person there has been proved by history to be one of the most noble and powerful men who ever lived. 

The stage is set and Festus opens the proceedings by introducing Paul.  And he openly shares his problem: “I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him.”  

Paul was probably not bound by law to even attend this inquiry.  He had appealed his case to Caesar and it was out of this jurisdiction.  But Paul would not miss an opportunity to share the gospel in such an auspicious setting.  Through Ananias Jesus had told Paul Acts 9:15 (ESV) “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”  This fifth defence was the last that Paul would make in Israel itself.  

3.  A GRIPPING TESTIMONY TO THE RESURRECTION: Acts 26:1-32

This passage forms Paul’s longest defence speech explaining his ministry and sharing the Gospel.  Paul’s testimony contains two main themes: Jesus Christ’s resurrection proves Him to be the Messiah, and Paul’s transformed life proves the reality of Christ’s resurrection. 

Rather than go through what Paul says verse by verse we’re going to take an overview this morning and learn the principles of how to witness.

1.  Address unbelievers with respect: Acts 26:1-3

Paul’s opening comments to Agrippa show respect for authority a reminder of Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV) “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 

What we say is most important but how we express it has an effect.  We need to speak the truth in love with gentleness, courage and compassion, caring enough to confront. 

2.  Share what it was like not to believe in Jesus: Acts 26:4-11 

Paul explained what his life was like before he met Jesus.  He was devoted to God and to the law and lived out his Jewish heritage as a Pharisee.  He believed God’s promises and thought he was serving God by opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  He believed that God raises the dead but he did not believe the claims of Jesus Christ. 

3.  Tell them how you came to believe in Jesus : Acts 26:12-15

This is the third time that we hear Paul’s Damascus road story which is all about Jesus, not about Paul.  He always made sure that Jesus was the main person in his testimony and He should be in our’s too.  When speaking to people about Jesus we should talk about Jesus more than we talk about ourselves.  Our conversations need to point people to Jesus.  Paul was struggling against Jesus until he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  Paul learned from Jesus Himself that God had a plan and a purpose for his life.  He learned that Jesus is alive.  Christ is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed!  And Paul was to be His witness as Christ appoints him as “a servant,” which recalls Isaiah 42:1–7 (cf. Acts 13:47), from which the imagery of light for the gentiles is drawn. He is sent to turn Jews and Gentiles 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” Jesus (Acts 26:18 ESV). 

4.  Share the Message of the Resurrection and the Call to Repentance: Acts 26:19-23

From the first chapter of Acts onward, Luke continues to emphasize the Messiah who suffered, died, and rose from the dead.  The message of the Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (ESV) “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  

Present in the preaching of the apostles was the promised Messiah of the Scriptures. And also present was the call to repent and believe. Until we see Christ, let’s not get tired of talking about the heart of the gospel. 

5.  Remember that God will help you as you witness to the truth: Acts 26:22-23

Paul’s comment in verse 22 reminds us that our help comes from God.   Jesus promised His followers:  Luke 12:11-12 (ESV) “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

To be faithful servants and witnesses of Jesus, we need to rely on Jesus for power and grace.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem a people unto Himself.  Proclaim light.  Paul told them in Acts 26:23 (ESV) “that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Jesus is the light of the world.  Let your light shine.  Hide it under a bushel, no…

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Paul explains that it was because of his devotion to the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that the religious leaders tried to kill him.  But no matter the reaction, Paul proclaimed Jesus boldly.  He let the light of Jesus shine through him. 

6.  Be prepared to encourage a decision and be ready to face rejection: Acts 26:24-28

The gospel demands a response, and we should be ready to pose some probing questions to those who do not believe. We must give them clear opportunities to accept or to reject Christ. Paul certainly did so with Agrippa. Be respectful but not cowardly.

Festus called Paul insane, and we may expect similar comments to be aimed at us when we follow Paul’s example. We’re simply called to deliver the message about humanity’s need for Jesus. Only God converts. We can thus trust him with the results of our efforts, and we can rest in his presence when attacked.

7.  Pray, pray, pray, (Pray the Three Open Prayer:  “Lord, open the door.  Lord, open their heart.  Lord, open my mouth.” ) Acts 26:29

Paul prayerfully desires everyone there to know Jesus.  He has a heart of compassion for the lost. 

Acts 26:29 (ESV) “And Paul said, “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.”

Festus reacted with ridicule, calling Paul crazy, he could not comprehend the idea of a resurrection but Agrippa knew the message of Jesus and His resurrection and Paul pressed for a decision.  If he believes in the prophets, he should believe in Jesus.  But Agrippa reacts with sarcasm.  Do you think you can persuade me to be a Christian? 

Paul is faithful to his witness to Jesus.  And with these words by Paul the inquiry ended.  They left knowing Paul had done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment  and “Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”  (Acts 26:32 ESV)

Once again, Paul had been found innocent of doing anything wrong.  And he had boldly proclaimed the gospel to some of the most important people in Palestine.  Now, after two years of waiting, it was time for the Lord’s promise to Paul to be fulfilled: Acts 23:11 (ESV) “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” The testimony of the gospel about a crucified and risen Lord will be brought, appropriately, by an apostle in chains.

What Agrippa, Bernice, Festus, and all the dignitaries…failed to understand was the Paul had been the judge and they had been the prisoners on trial.  They had been shown the light and the way to freedom, but they had closed their eyes and returned to their sins.  The trial was over, but their sentence was still to come. 

What a wonderful and amazing thing is the opportunity to trust Jesus Christ and be saved!  What a terrible tragedy is wasting that opportunity and perhaps never having another. 

The inconvenience of indecision.  The absolute agony of almost.  “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson. In this poem Thompson describes the sinner’s attempt to flee God and God’s relentless pursuit. Thompson captures with terrible beauty the futility of rebellion:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways 

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat—and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

The time to embrace the light is now!  Tell me, in this situation, who proved themselves to be crazy?

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November 29, 2020 FCBC Sermon

Acts 24:1-27                          “FELIX ON TRIAL!”

Paul’s third defence. 

Hugh Latimer was one of the early English Reformers along with Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. Latimer advanced the cause of the Reformation in England through his vigorous preaching and ultimately through the inspiration of his martyrdom.  Because of his Protestant views, he was burned at the stake alone with Ridley by the Catholic Queen Mary in 1555.  During his lifetime he was known as the most honest man in England, was revered by the common people, became the Bishop of the high church, and served as chaplain to the King. 

He often preached before King Henry VIII (the king who tried to keep the number of his wives up to the number of His title), and on one occasion he offended the king with his boldness.

So he was commanded to preach the following weekend and to make an apology. On the next Sunday, after reading the text, he addressed himself as he began to preach:

Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease; but then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! who is all-present, and who beholdeth all thy ways, and is able to cast thy soul in hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.

He then gave Henry the same sermon he had preached the week before—with even more energy!

As we will see this morning the Apostle Paul had that kind of boldness.

Paul has been delivered from a plot to kill him by being transported to Caesarea where he now awaits trial.  The Lord Jesus who has guaranteed that he would be His witness in Rome as he has been in Jerusalem has used the Roman army to deliver him twice from the angry mob that would have killed him and from the recent plot against his life.  Having arrived safely in Caesarea, Felix the Governor has decided to hear his trial and decide his fate. 

1.  THE JEWISH LEADERS SHOW UP WITH THEIR LAWYER BUT NO CASE:

Acts 24:1-9

2.  PAUL SHOWS THEM UP AND PRESENTS A FLAWLESS CASE:  Acts 24:10-21

3. FELIX SHOWS NO INTEREST IN PURSUING JUSTICE AND DECIDING PAUL’S CASE: Acts 24:22-27

1.  THE JEWISH LEADERS SHOW UP WITH THEIR LAWYER BUT NO CASE:

Acts 24:1-9

Felix the governor having read the letter from Claudias Lysias had the right to decide Paul’s case without even a hearing.  He could have declared Paul innocent based on Lysias’s testimony in Acts 23:29 (ESV) “I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.”  He simply could have dismissed the case, but wanting to please the Jewish Leaders, Paul’s accusers who are on their way to Caesarea, he holds Paul in custody in the Praetorium awaiting his hearing.  They arrive after five days. 

The high priest himself, Ananias heads up the group and comes along with some of the elders, which is no surprise.  But what is somewhat surprising is that they have hired a lawyer named Tertullus.  All we know about him comes from this passage.  He could have been a Roman, a Hellenistic Jew, or a Greek. Whatever his ethnic or religious persuasion, no one doubted his competence, however, as we will see he really had no case to present. 

As a trained and experienced professional lawyer, Tertullus begins with what was called a captatio benevolentiae, that is, an endeavour to capture the judge’s good will. Traditionally, it was complimentary to the point of hypocrisy and often included a promise of brevity, but on this occasion it descended to “almost nauseating flattery” as Barclay says in his commentary. 

Tertullus expresses thanks for the peace in the land and the foresight of Felix and his reforms to benefit the land.  In truth, Felix had suppressed several insurrections with brutal force and had earned the horror of the general population not its thanks.  So his words in verse 3, “in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude” are disingenuous at best. 

This may not even be all the flattery that Tertullus heaped on Felix.  No doubt, Luke’s record of the proceedings is thankfully abbreviated.  Begging Felix to hear his presentation he begins to set out  three accusations against Paul.

First, this man is a plague literally a pestilent fellow, or a perfect pest, a troublemaker.  Tertullus claims that Paul stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world.  This was a most serious accusation because of its political overtones.  Insurrection was not tolerated by the Roman Empire.  Agitators were put down mercilessly. 

Second, Tertullus says that Paul is the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  The word for sect in the original Greek is hareis from which we get our word heresy.  In Paul’s day it was applied to both the Pharisees and the Sadducees as groups within Judaism but here it is used in definitely a negative sense of followers of Jesus the Nazarene. 

The third charge against Paul was that he tried to profane the temple. This relates back to the accusations of the Asian Jews who had seen Paul in Jerusalem with Trophimus a Gentile from Ephesus and claimed that Paul had defiled the temple by bringing a Gentile into the holy place. 

This was a dangerous accusation because the Romans had given the Jews the right to decide their own religious matters and if that’s what it turned out to be, Paul could be turned over to them.  Tertullus sanitizes and rewrites what happened to Paul saying “we seized him” whereas the truth is they took him, beat him and tried to kill him on the spot.  Some manuscripts add the phrase “and we would have judged him according to our law. But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come before you.”  The effect of this addition is a complete reversal of the facts, attributing the violence to Lysias instead of to the Jewish crowd, as the orderly arrest had been ascribed to the crowd instead of to Lysias.

Tertullus concludes his remarks with a direct appeal to Felix implying that if he does his job and examines Paul well, he will come to the same conclusions and the Jews joined in the chorus saying this was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

If you hear a lie long enough you begin to believe it’s true.  Finally, the pompous oratory and inconclusive evidence is ended and Paul is given the opportunity to speak in his own defence. 

2.  PAUL SHOWS THEM UP AND PRESENTS A FLAWLESS CASE:  Acts 24:10-21

Felix is aware of what he is dealing with and Paul acknowledges that in his opening remarks.  This too is a captatio benevolentiae though his words simply state an important fact.  Tertullus flattered Felix, Paul states the facts of which Felix is aware.  He knows the Jewish context well.  Paul is referring to Felix’s ten-year connection with Israel and familiarity with religious events in and around Jerusalem. Felix had only been in Caesarea for two or three years, but he had previously been stationed in Samaria; therefore, he brought nearly a decade of awareness about “the Jewish problem” to this trial.  Paul invited Felix to check out the true facts. 

Paul’s masterful defence calmly and categorically refuted the charges one by one and presented the basis of his belief. 

First, he was not a troublemaker stirring up rebellion.  It was only about 12 days earlier when he had arrived in Jerusalem and his purpose was to worship not stir up trouble.  He had no time to foment an insurrection and he had no intention of doing so.  He came to worship. 

Since this was the only charge that in any way violated Roman law, Felix should have dismissed the case for lack of evidence.  The two remaining charges were religious in nature and outside the competence of a Roman court to judge. 

Secondly, Paul addressed himself to the charge that he was the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He acknowledges that he was a follower of the Way as Christianity was called at that time, but the members of the council were the ones who called it a sect.  He worshipped the God of their fathers and believed the teaching of the Scriptures. 

The Holman New Testament Commentary summarizes saying: 

Paul admitted to several things quite precisely:

1. He worshipped the God of the Hebrews.

2. He was a follower of the Way.

3. He believed everything in the Law and the Prophets.

4. He had hope in God.

5. He believed in the resurrection of the just and the unjust.

6. He worked hard to keep his conscience clear before God and man.

This was Paul’s public confession of his faith which was their faith.  The faith to which he was loyal.  The Way was in direct continuity with the Old Testament revelation of God and the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the One in whom the promises of God have been fulfilled. 

We need to note that in his testimony Paul presented the truth of the resurrection. Paul accepted the plenary (full) inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures, believing everything that was written in them, unlike the Sadducees.  They were the real heretics.  They did not truly worship God because they rejected His Son.  Anyone who rejects that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, does not know God and does not truly worship God.  Paul was more orthodox than his accusers.  (The real test of fellowship is Biblical Orthodoxy.)  Paul served the God of his fathers, believed in the inspiration of the entire Old Testament and accepted everything it taught. 

Paul’s belief led him to hope in God and to look toward the future, realizing there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.  The resurrection is our hope and the guarantee that we shall be raised is that Christ is Risen!  The resurrection of the just and the unjust reminds us that all will be raised.  As I have said at the end of every interment of which I have ever been a part:  After the words of committal come these words.  According to the promises of God, we look forward to the day of resurrection, the final judgement through Jesus Christ our Lord, at who’s Second Coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead.  The dead shall be raised, both the just and the unjust, the one to eternal glory, changed and made like unto Christ’s own glorious body, the other to eternal loss. 

Paul’s belief directly affected his behaviour causing him to keep a clear conscience before God and man.  The same statement he made before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:1. 

The third accusation against Paul was that he had profaned the Temple.  This he vigorously denied:  Acts 24:17-21 (ESV) “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.  While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia—  they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me.  Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council,  other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”

Paul’s purpose in visiting Jerusalem had been purely religious to bring gifts to the poor and to present offerings. It was Jews from Asia that had started the trouble so why were they not there to  press their charges?  It was a clear princple of Roman Law that the accused had the right to face his accusers.  The fact is the Pharisees had declared him innocent, only the Sadducees thought him guilty and that was because of his believe in the resurrection of the dead. 

Paul ably refuted all charges against him.  The issues were theological in nature and did not belong in a Roman court of law. 

3. FELIX SHOWS NO INTEREST IN PURSUING JUSTICE AND DECIDING PAUL’S CASE: Acts 24:22-27

Felix should have declared Paul not guilty and allowed him to go on his way.  But we need to remember God had other plans in mind as Jesus had told him.  Acts 23:11 (ESV) “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Felix had an accurate knowledge of the Way but he chooses the route of cowardly delay.  He could not convict Paul.  Lysias had found no fault in him.  The Sanhedrin had found no fault in him.  And Tertullus didn’t have a solid case.  However, Felix did not want to release Paul because for several reasons.  He wanted to keep the Jews happy and as we see in verse 26 he was hoping for a bribe.  Probably Paul’s testimony that he brought gifts and offerings to Jerusalem caused Felix to think that he could get some money out of Paul or his friends so he decides to remand Paul in custody with the excuse that he would wait for Lysias to come down to testify.  Lysias had already written out his opinion on the case so that was a lie but Felix did allow Paul some freedom allowing his friends to come and go and tend to his needs.  It was during this two year time period that Luke gathered together his material for the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. 

Paul was being given leniency but he should have been given liberty. 

There was to be no further public hearing for two years but during this time Felix continued to investigate the Way.  Some manuscripts attribute the interest to his Jewish wife Drusilla. 

Drusilla was a sensuously beautiful person, one of the ten descendants of Herod the Great whose

names appear in the New Testament, and, like all the Herod’s, possessed of a character marked by selfishness and profligacy. She was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I; and at this time (57 or 58 A.D.), she was not yet twenty years old. When Drusilla was still a small girl, her father had betrothed her to marry the crown prince of Commagene in Asia Minor. The betrothal was eventually broken off because the groom-to-be was unwilling to become a Jew.  Her brother Agrippa II gave her in marriage to the king of Emesa when she was only fourteen or fifteen years of age.

The young queen was only sixteen when Felix persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him. She was Felix’s third wife, and they had a son named Agrippa. After the recall of Felix, Drusilla and her only son by him perished in the eruption of Vesuvius. She was one of three royal wives taken by Felix. According to the unanimous testimony of the ancients, she was a woman of spectacular beauty.

And she and her husband came to listen to Paul.  And it is here that we come to the most important words in the passage.  Paul’s words.  Paul spoke about faith in Christ Jesus and he reasoned about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgement.  A reminder of the work of the Holy Spirit described by Christ.  John 16:8-11 (ESV) “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;  concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” 

All three topics would have fit well considering Felix and Drusilla’s lifestyle. By highlighting God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and the judgment to come, Paul was showing them why they needed Jesus. The message was not a nice, warm, uplifting talk. It involved confrontation with a call to repentance.

None of these points were popular then, nor are they today. The exclusivity of Jesus Christ offends people.  The fact that Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life.  And submitting one’s whole life under the Lordship of Jesus in holiness continue to offend people. But we must be more concerned about offending Christ than our wicked culture. Our responsibility is the same as Paul’s to speak of faith in Christ and share His Word in humility and love telling men and women there is heaven to be gained and hell to be shunned. 

Neither Felix nor Drusilla have pursued righteousness.  Self-control is foreign to them, indulgence rules their lives.  And the message of judgement caused Felix to react in fear.  The word used is “emphobos” the root of which is phobia, fear.  It means literally he was terrified but not enough to do anything about it.  What does he do about his guilt?  He pushes it away and keeps on pushing it away even as he has further conversations with Paul.  The release of Felix from sin meant more to Paul than his own release from prison. Paul always preached for a decision, and under the conviction of the Holy Spirit Felix knows this message is for him. It fills him with fear. He is startled, terrified, at the prospect of the last day. But this does not lead to humble faith.  He follows the famous last words of so many who are close to the Way but have not trusted in Jesus Christ.  Let’s wait.  “Go away for the present…”  Felix trades the hope of life eternal for the hope of money through a bribe.  And he loses both.  After two years he is removed from office and replaced by Porcius Festus. 

Meanwhile Paul is left in prison but he is still on his way to Rome to witness to Jesus as he did in Jerusalem and now continues to do in Caesarea. Interestingly under Roman law, two years was the maximum duration of preventive custody. 

Paul’s life challenges us in our witness for Jesus.  The Inter Varsity Press Commentary says: 

In an age when the majority view all moral values as relative, the Christian witness needs to find a way to speak of God’s righteousness again in such a way that it raises a standard for all.

In a time when sin is viewed as alternative lifestyles, psychosocial dysfunctions, addictions or even disease, the gospel witness needs to find a way to speak meaningfully of responsible moral self-control. In an age of anxiety when humans know “something is wrong,” though they have rejected the moral categories—absolutes, sin and guilt—that would enable them to know “someone is wrong,” the Christian witness must learn how to declare a judgment to come in terms that make sense.  Unless this happens, repentance will be impossible and the salvation rescue will appear unnecessary and hence irrelevant.

Felix’s life is a reminder that when the Holy Spirit brings conviction to your heart and life of sin and righteousness and judgement, the time to act is now. 2 Corinthians 6:2 (ESV) “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Felix refused to face his guilt and accept God’s forgiveness.  What will you do about yours?  Believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.  Don’t put it off until a tomorrow that may never come. 

Responding to God’s appeal brings new life. Delay may result in eternal death.  I read this week that:  Christian preaching is only Christian when it summons the dead to newness of life.

He was going to be all that a mortal should be Tomorrow

No one would be better than he Tomorrow

Each morning he stacked up the letters he would write Tomorrow

It was too bad indeed he was too busy to see his friend, but he promised to do it Tomorrow

The greatest of workers this man would have been Tomorrow

The world would have known him had he ever seen Tomorrow

But the fact is he died and faded from view, and all that was left when living was through

Was a mountain of things he intended to do Tomorrow.

The time to repent and respond is NOW!

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November 22, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 23:11-35                        “PROVIDENTIAL DELIVERANCE!”

Though travel at this time is quite limited, I am sure that in the past we have had some journeys that take on many legs.  I remember the summer that I was getting married I travelled with the Seminary Quartet as far as Winnipeg and from there my friend Scott and I had decided that we would go and work in a mine in the Yukon for the summer.  As we made the journey by plane, it was a hop and skip with many legs before we arrived in Yellowknife.   Over the next day, as we finally arrived at Keno Hill and made an application at the mine, we were told it would be a two week waiting period.  By this time, I was missing someone acutely and decided to come home to work for the summer.  My friend went on to work in the mine and I came back and worked at Muskoka Bible Center to be near the one I love as our wedding approached.  My many-legged journey ended. 

As we join the Apostle Paul here in Acts 23, his is just beginning.  He has made his appeal as a Roman citizen for trial in Rome and God has guaranteed his arrival.  Jesus told him in Acts 23:11 (ESV)  The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”  So Paul is on his way to Rome, but the trip takes on many legs. 

We’re going to go on a little Scriptural Safari as we get started this morning to learn more about the life of the Apostle Paul before we consider his present circumstances described in this passage in the Book of Acts.   Obviously Paul was no stranger to danger and all too familiar with what it meant to suffer for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He described what he went through in his ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (ESV) “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”

From the very beginning of his ministry when he witnessed for Christ in Damascus Paul faced threats on his life.  Acts 9:22-25 (ESV) “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.  When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.”

During his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion the Hellenistic Jews tried to kill him. 

Acts 9:29 (ESV) “And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him.”  He and Barnabas were driven out of Antioch in Pisidia after sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles who rejoiced and glorified God that salvation was offered to them. 

Acts 13:50-51 (ESV) shows the reaction of the Jews “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.  But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.”

In Iconium they threatened to stone him Acts 14:5-6 (ESV) “When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country.” 

It was in Lystra Paul was stoned and left for dead.  Acts 14:19-20 (ESV) “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of

the city, supposing that he was dead.  But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”

In Corinth the Jews tried to get Paul arrested.  Acts 18:12-17 (ESV) “But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal,  saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”  But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint.  But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.”  And he drove them from the tribunal.  And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.”

Paul spoke to the Ephesian Elders as he was making his way to Jerusalem explaining to them that he knew he would face even more suffering and he told them of the plots of the Jews to kill him and their plan to kill him while at sea which caused him to travel back through Macedonia.  He told the Elders: Acts 20:22-23 (ESV) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

When we read Acts 23:11-35 it is no surprise to encounter another plot against Paul’s life.  After all, suffering was part of what Jesus had promised Paul when He called him to follow Him.  Ananias was sent by Jesus to Paul to lay hands on him that he might regain his sight after his encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus.  Paul was blinded by the bright light and Ananias was told by Jesus. Acts 9:15-16 (ESV) “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

All of this sets the appearance of the Lord Jesus to encourage Paul in Acts 23:11 that we finished with last week in a more intense light.  Jesus was with Paul in all that he suffered and He is with you and me today in whatever we may be going through. 

So let’s consider what we can learn from this passage…

1.  GOD’S PLAN: Acts 23:11

2.  MAN’S PLOTTING: Acts 23:12-15

3.  GOD’S PROVIDENCE: Acts 23:16-35

1.  GOD’S PLAN: Acts 23:11

“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

The Life Application Bible Commentary says:  Look at the richness of the encouragement of the Lord here. Christ told Paul to Be encouraged and then gave him the substance of why he should be.  First, he gave Paul a word of praise for his faithfulness to the ministry—just as you have told the people about me here. Second, he gave Paul a word of promise—you must preach the Good News in Rome. God, in essence, promised Paul safe passage to another field of ministry.

I think there is a third part that goes with the praise and the promise.   Praise – Paul you’ve done a good job witnessing in Jerusalem.  Promise, Paul you will be my witness in Rome.   I would add Protection Paul, I am going to see that you get there.  And the praise, promise and protection set before us God’s Providence.    

I have no doubt that Paul slept well that night.  How have you been sleeping?  You and I need to trust that God is in control, that He is working out all things according to His eternal plan.  He is sovereign and in His providence we can trust that Jesus is standing by us.  So, Take Courage! 

God is in control and as we will see God is at work.  Look at those whom God uses to sovereignly deliver Paul. 

Paul’s nephew.  The only mention of his family in Scripture, but God had him in the right place at the right time. Who knew he had a sister whose son was in Jerusalem?  God did! 

Claudius Lysias the Roman Tribune, whom we have already met used of God to deliver Paul twice already.  You’ll remember he is the chiliarch, the ruler of 1000.  Who knew he would take such good care of Paul?  God did! 

The Roman soldiers, note how many soldiers God deploys and how Paul’s travel plans take shape.  Who could mobilize half of the armed forces in Jerusalem to take Paul to Caesarea?  God could!   And finally Felix, the Governor.  Who could give Paul a hearing in front of the most corrupt official

in the land and his wife?  God could! 

Paul is in the hands of God and so are you and I.  So let’s look at the plot and then see God’s providence. 

2.  MAN’S PLOTTING: Acts 23:12-15

The morning immediately following Christ’s reassuring words to Paul a group of Jews gathered with the express purpose of plotting to murder the apostle.  These may have been the Jews from Asia who had been following Paul, but we are not told.  The chief priests and elders bereft of any morality or decency join with them in their plotting.  The Jewish leaders were openly criminal as they had been throughout the trial of Christ.  But God’s plan is not derailed by man’s plotting. 

John Stott says: “Man’s careful and cunning plans cannot succeed if God opposes them.” 

It was not unusual for the Council to ask for more information about Paul so they were sure their plan would succeed.  They bound themselves with a solemn oath, vowing to go without food or drink until Paul was dead. 

What they did not know was that God had already granted Paul safe passage to Rome.  They would have to go without food for a long time as it would be about 10 years before Paul’s death in Rome.  If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the stomachs growling of the forty men bound by an oath to kill Paul. 

As has been said: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”   God declared through the prophet Isaiah:  Isaiah 43:13 (ESV) “Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work,

and who can turn it back?” 

The forty fasting men and scheming religious leaders had forgotten that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ and that the exalted Lord was watching from heaven. To these leaders, politics and position had become more important than God. They were ready to plan another murder, just as they had done with Jesus. This also revealed the flimsiness of their case against Paul. They knew they had no case, but they so desperately wanted to get rid of him that they were willing to stoop to any means to do so. As always, however, God, not the Council, was in control.

3.  GOD’S PROVIDENCE: Acts 23:16-35

We know nothing of Paul’s sister and nephew except what is recorded here.  We don’t know how it came about, but Paul’s nephew learned of the plot, knew it was wrong and in the providence of God was able to come to Paul with the news.  He knew and relayed all of the pertinent details to Paul and then to the commander. 

Paul immediately sent his nephew to talk to the commander.  It is assumed that Paul’s nephew is quite young as Claudius takes him by the hand and speaks to him privately.  It is here we see the courage and the integrity of Claudius Lysias.  He could have plotted with the Jews, but he was used of God to deliver Paul.  He knew he had to get Paul out of Jerusalem as soon as possible.  So he mobilized almost half his force.  As a chiliarch he was in charge of 1000 soldiers.  Here he sends Paul with a force of 470.  200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and two hundred spearmen.  Paul was now receiving a Roman citizen’s proper treatment.  And he got to ride in style as they were commanded

to provide mounts for Paul.  Why the plural “mounts”?  Paul’s companions also got to ride along.  We don’t know how Luke became aware of the instructions included in the letter but it may have

been presented as  a part of Paul’s trial later on.  One thing to note is that Lysias certainly tried to make himself look good.  It was not quite the whole truth.  He implies that he rescued Paul because

he learned that he was a Roman citizen which we know he did not learn until he was about to unjustly try to beat the truth out of him. 

Leaving at 9 o’clock that night, Paul and his escort went from Jerusalem to Antipatris abut 60 km away. Antipatris was a Roman military post often used as a rest stop for travelers between Jerusalem and Caesarea. It had been built by Herod the Great and named in honor of his father, Antipater.

It would certainly have been a quick march probably lasting most of the night.  The soldiers then returned to Jerusalem and Paul and his companions, carried on the further 40 km to Caesarea. 

Arriving there they delivered Paul and the letter to the Governor, Felix. 

The Bible Exposition Commentary says:  Antonius Felix was governor (procurator) of Judea. He was married to Drusilla, a Jewess who was daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1) and who left her husband to become Felix’s third wife. She was sister of Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13ff). The Roman historian Tacitus said that Felix “exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave.” Felix was called “a vulgar ruffian” and lived up to the name.

Not only did Paul travel in style on horseback with an escort fit for a king he was now put, not in the prison, but in the palace, Herod’s praetorium.  We might wonder why Felix asked where Paul was from.  It was primarily a matter of jurisdiction.  Paul had asked for a Roman trial and with Paul being from Cilicia, Felix could determine that Paul was from an area under the rule of Felix’s superior.  To pass Paul on to him would not sit well.   Tarsus in eastern Cilicia where Paul was from was part of a combined province of Syria-Cilicia, the ruler of that area was also in charge of Judea so Felix answered to him.  Trying to pawn Paul’s case onto his superior would not go well nor would requiring the Jewish officials to travel further to make their accusations against Paul. 

So Felix determines that he will hear the case when Paul’s accusers arrive.  Until then, Paul gets to live in the palace, the governor’s residence.   In the providence of God Paul’s travel was being arranged in miraculous ways. 

Augustine said: “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to His love and the future to His providence.”  Though at times the road of God’s Providence may be rough, we walk it with Him!  In God’s providence.  Paul was assured of God’s presence.  Jesus stood by him. 

Paul was provided God’s protection.  His nephew, Claudius Lysias, the soldiers, Felix. 

God was working out His plan.  Psalm 34:7 (ESV) “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Kenneth Gangel comments, “Sometimes God delivers his children by the simple word of a young relative. Sometimes he has to call in the cavalry. At all times, he is ultimately in charge”

God’s providential protection of His servant demonstrates His faithfulness.  Based on his own experiences, Paul could declare to the Corinthians that “God is faithful.”  The first step occurred the day after God promised to bring Paul to Rome.  He also showed His creative care for Paul by

sovereignly providing a safe and comfortable trip to Caesarea.  And now Paul would enjoy the Herod Hilton for his stay in the seaside city. 

You can almost imagine the description going like this: Paul you have won a trip to Rome.  You and your companions will enjoy all travel expenses paid by the Roman judicial system.  You will bounce your way via Roman steed as far a Caesarea where you will stay for a time in the Herod Hilton, following that your travel plans will include an island stay and then some time later special accommodation has been prepared in Rome for you and your friends. 

God is the Deliverer.  He can deliver us through peril, or He can deliver us from peril.  Like Paul, during the course of our lives, we can probably expect both.  We can’t put God in a box.  We can’t assume that in a certain situation He will act a certain way.  He is far to creative for that.  He does not deliver by the same methods over and over again.  He keeps things interesting!  Deliverance through natural means is no less the work of God than deliverance through supernatural means.  He can shake the foundations of the prison, or He can employ the Roman cavalry to escort His servant out of town. 

It is one of the mysteries of providence that many times we cannot see why things are happening as they are. Yet God is surely at work in ways that we could not have planned for ourselves.

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November 15, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 22:30 – 23:11                  “STANDING BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN”

Paul’s Second Defence!

Paul now stands on trial before the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jewish people, in charge of the Temple and it’s treasuries.  Their way of life was threatened by the followers of the Way as it had been threatened by the Lord Jesus Himself and it doesn’t take long to see their opposition in action as Paul perceiving their own division sets before them the hope of the resurrection. 

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ forms the dividing line for every person in the world.  The message of the Gospel is the Resurrection of Jesus.  What you believe about Jesus determines your destiny for eternity.  As we proclaim every Easter and declare every Sunday as we gather to worship.  Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV) “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  

In his imaginative work “The Great Divorce”, C. S. Lewis. draws a picture of the reality of the resurrection. When the main protagonist enters into the heavenly realms, he is confronted with a new world. He and all the other people who had died and arrived with him were like phantoms or ghosts, but the inhabitants of the new world were “solid people.” Flowers were like diamonds. Leaves were too heavy to pick up. Grass penetrated his feet. This new reality was heaven, and they were experiencing the reality of the resurrection and life after death, a life of profound physicality even as it is suffused with spiritual life.

The best modern work on the Resurrection is “Surprised By Hope” by  N. T.  Wright. In it, Wright seeks to answer two questions: 1. What happens when we die? and 2. What does the answer to that have to do with how we live now? It is one of the most beautiful and inspiring books you can read about the resurrection. 

It draws out the reality that the resurrection is not just hope for the future, it is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that enables us to live in the present knowing the power and the presence of the living Christ because we know that Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  So as we look at Paul’s second defence before the Sanhedrin we’ll consider three important questions that I believe are all answered by living in the sure hope of the resurrection. 

1.  HOW DO YOU LIVE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AND NOT SPEAK EVIL OF RULERS?

Maintain a good conscience before God.  Acts 22:30-23:5

2.  HOW DO YOU BRING THE GOSPEL INTO FOCUS FOR THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT?

Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen.  Acts 23:6-10

3.  HOW CAN YOU GO ON IN THE FACE OF INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS?

When you take your stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand by you!  Acts 23:11

1.  HOW DO YOU LIVE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AND NOT SPEAK EVIL OF RULERS?

Maintain a good conscience before God.  Acts 22:30-23:5

The Roman Tribune who has arrested Paul is still trying to understand why there has been such an outpouring of wrath against him and since allowing Paul to speak didn’t clarify anything and since he could not beat the truth out of him because Paul was a Roman citizen, he determines to bring Paul before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin to try to find out why he was being accused by the Jews. 

It would be safe to assume that this was not a regular session of the council but one called together by the Tribune to enable him to decide what to do with Paul.  If it was simply a religious matter he could then determine how to proceed. Paul knew that he was on trial for his life so he opened his defence with an appeal to God and to a good conscience.  He had been following the will and purpose of God in all that he had done. 

He looked straight into their eyes and said:  Acts 23:1 (ESV) “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”  He turned his plea of not guilty into a personal testimony for the Lord.  Paul consistently used his times of persecution as opportunities to witness.  Paul fixed his eyes on them and addressed them as brothers.   

Paul lived out his convictions and his conscience was clear before God. Welwyn’s Commentary says:  Conscience is the mind functioning in the context of a known standard. Scripture speaks of conscience as a faculty of the human mind—the mind of human beings made in the image of God. It is part of what it means to be human (2 Corinthians 4:2). Paul speaks of the ‘consciences’ of ‘Gentiles, who do not have the law’, nevertheless ‘bearing witness’ to the reality that ‘the requirements of the law’ were ‘written on their hearts’, so that they did ‘by nature the things required by the law’. The conscience, he says, operates through our thoughts, ‘now accusing, now even defending’ our actions in terms of that moral standard (Romans 2:14-15).

The common proverb, ‘Let your conscience be your guide,’ is fundamentally misleading. It is God who must be our guide, through a sanctified conscience because our conscience can be seared.  The conscience can cease to function as it should and any behaviour can be justified.  The seared conscience is evident in those who have no sense of right and wrong like so many we see today, even leaders of countries. 

Almost as soon as he had begun to speak Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth.  Ananias became high priest in A. D. 48,  and he reigned through to A. D. 58 or 59.  Josephus, a respected first-century historian, described Ananias as profane, greedy, and hot-tempered. He was hated by many of his Jewish contemporaries because of his pro-Roman policies.  Eventually he was killed by his own people for siding with the Romans.  So although in this instance he judged Paul worthy of a slap he was soon to be judged by God as was the entire Sanhedrin and the Jewish religious system itself with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. 

Paul speaks very harshly to him in prophetic words.  Acts 23:3 (ESV) “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

The question many ask is “Why did Paul react this way?”  “Are we not to turn the other cheek?” While that is true we are also to speak the truth.  In Matthew 10:19-20, and Mark 13:11, Jesus told His followers that they would be brought before kings and governors for the sake of His name, but that He would give them the words to speak. 

Matthew 10:19-20 (ESV) “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” 

Mark 13:11 (ESV) “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

Some commentators speculate that Paul lost his temper here.  That he was in the wrong and he later apologized for his error. But I don’t believe that to be true. 

To me the real question is: Did the Holy Spirit inspire the words of Paul in this instance.  I believe He did.  His words echoed those of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:27 (ESV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” This amounted to calling Ananias a hypocrite. “Whitewashed wall” may refer to the practice of whitewashing gravestones. This created a clean and positive appearance for what contained death and corruption.

Some make much of Paul’s apology saying Paul was entirely wrong in what he said and he sinned when he spoke, suggesting that when Paul says: “I did not know he was the high priest” he was admitting he was in the wrong.  The speculation runs rampant on this count.  Paul’s poor eyesight meant that he didn’t recognize the high priest.  Since this was a hearing and not a regular meeting of the Sanhedrin the high priest was not clothed in his formal robes.  Paul had been away from Jerusalem for so long he didn’t know who the high priest was. Speculative excuses aside, I think Paul was speaking prophetic words of judgement and was saying that there was no way of recognizing this man as the high priest because of the way he acted.  Ananias’ behaviour makes him unrecognizable as a ruler of the people and unworthy to hold that office. 

So what of the Scripture quotation?  “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”  Paul respected the office of the ruler but he did not respect the man.  I believe he spoke words of prophetic criticism and condemnation.  I believe Paul was pointing out that the high priest was unrecognizable in his actions ordering that Paul be struck.  His conscience was still clear before God. 

He answers the question:  HOW DO YOU LIVE IN GOOD CONSCIENCE AND NOT SPEAK EVIL OF RULERS? Maintain a good conscience before God. 

2.  HOW DO YOU BRING THE GOSPEL INTO FOCUS FOR THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT?

Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen.  Acts 23:6-10

At this point Paul masterfully redirects the proceedings bringing the real issue to light.  Paul recognizes the makeup of his audience. Half are Sadducees, the other half Pharisees (Acts 23:6). These two groups had sharp disagreements about the Jewish religion.

The Pharisees taught a more conservative understanding of the law and held all the books of the Hebrew Scriptures as authoritative. Furthermore, they believed in a resurrection from the dead.

The Sadducees,  held only Genesis to Deuteronomy as authoritative and denied a bodily resurrection. Paul exploits this disparity and declares that he stands trial because he holds to the hope of the resurrection of the dead. His words function like tinder and gasoline on an already smoldering fire. The assembly erupts as the two competing worldviews clash (verses 7-8). The disagreement culminates when the Pharisee party declares Paul’s innocence of all charges (verse 9). The scene ends with the tribune intervening by having Paul taken and removed from the situation (verse 10) by the soldiers standing by.

In turning the discussion to the resurrection Paul focussed all attention on the hope that we have in Christ.  And it is interesting that the Pharisees bring it all to a boiling point saying: “What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?”  Jesus spoke to him and was about to speak to him again! 

Sadly the Sadducees would have argued strongly that such communication was not possible because they didn’t believe in the existence of spirits and angels.

I believe that some of them were getting the message clearly that Paul believed in the resurrection because he had met on the road to Damascus the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  He was telling the Pharisees, “I know you believe in the resurrection, I have a Resurrection you must investigate!”

We must take the opportunities that God brings to us to tell people about our Saviour. 

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Paul answers the question:  HOW DO YOU BRING THE GOSPEL INTO FOCUS FOR THOSE WHO OPPOSE IT? Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen.

The disputing became so fierce that the tribune again feared that Paul would be torn to pieces so he and his soldiers brought him back into the barracks. 

3.  HOW CAN YOU GO ON IN THE FACE OF INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS?

When you take your stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand by you!  Acts 23:11

Paul has just been through two terribly trying days and Jesus comes and speaks words of comfort and encouragement to him.  Jesus stood near to Paul and said:  Acts 23:11 (ESV) “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Charles Spurgeon commented on this passage: One is reminded of the Quaker who came to see John Bunyan in prison and said to him, “Friend, the Lord sent me to you and I have been seeking you in half the prisons in England.” “No, verily,” said John, “that cannot be! For if the Lord had sent you to me, you would have come here at once, for He knows I have been here for years!”

Look carefully at what Jesus is saying?  Paul you have given a good testimony to the facts about me in Jerusalem and you will do the same in Rome.  No questioning of Paul’s words of condemnation of Ananias.  Paul had given a good witness.  He is encouraged by Jesus that he is on the right track.  What God through His Spirit had laid on his heart is unfolding.  Acts 19:21 (ESV) “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” Paul was facing exactly what had been revealed to him as he had expressed to the Ephesian elders:  Acts 20:22-23 (ESV) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”  

His friends had tried to persuade him not to go.  The prophet Agabus had predicted he would become a prisoner.  And now Jesus affirms his actions.  “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Take Courage is a present active imperative in the original.  The three times that Jesus uses this term in the Gospels it is translated “Take heart.” 

The Life Application Bible Commentary says:  Look at the richness of the encouragement of the Lord here. Christ told Paul to Be encouraged and then gave him the substance of why he should be.  First, he gave Paul a word of praise for his faithfulness to the ministry—just as you have told the people about me here. Second, he gave Paul a word of promise—you must preach the Good News in Rome. God, in essence, promised Paul safe passage to another field of ministry.

We might imagine that after this visit, another in a long line of God’s encouragement appearances to Paul, the apostle rolled over and drifted off to the kind of restful sleep that only a child safe within his Father’s strong arms can experience (Psalm 127:2).

“God does not guarantee an easy voyage, but He has promised a safe harbour.” The lessons are clear.  God is with us.  God is for us.  God is not finished with us yet.  And God is still at work.  The Lord is always near His witnessing people!  So Take Courage. 

Maintain a good conscience before God.  Talk about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ who is Risen. Know that, When you take your stand for Jesus, Jesus will stand by you!

As Paul said in Romans 8:31 (ESV) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote this while awaiting execution under the Nazis: 

O God, early in the morning I cry to You.  Help me to pray

And to concentrate my thoughts on You: I cannot do this alone. 

In me there is darkness,  But with You there is light;

I am lonely, but You do not leave me; 

I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;

I am restless, but with You there is peace. 

In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;

I do not understand Your ways,  But you know the way for me…

Restore me to liberty,  And enable me so to live now

That I may answer before You and before me.

Lord, whatever this day may bring Your name be praised.

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November 1, 2020 – FCBC Sermon

Acts 22:1-29        “A CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE! – PAUL’S FIRST DEFENCE”

We come to a major turning point in the life of the Apostle Paul.  Since his conversion on the Road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9, he has shared the Gospel as a free man, except for his brief imprisonment that we know of in Philippi.  However, from this point forward to the end of the Book of Acts, though Paul is a prisoner he continues to witness to the power of the Gospel and to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ. 

His assault and arrest lead him to be an “ambassador in chains” for Jesus Christ as he called himself in Ephesians 6:20.  As a free man he had preached the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and now as a prisoner he would be enabled to preach the gospel to Roman officials, Kings and probably even the Emperor himself.  Like John Bunyan, who wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress” while imprisoned in Bedford jail, Paul wrote four New Testament books (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon) during his imprisonment at Rome. 

As we learned last week, even his chains enable him to keep on telling others about Jesus. Luke describes six defenses Paul makes of the Gospel message while in his chains. His words in his defense are testimonies to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  

The first that we’ll consider today, is before a Jewish crowd at the northwest corner of the temple area as he speaks from the steps of the fortress Antonia.  After that the second is before the supreme Jewish Council in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin.  The third and fourth are in Caesarea before Felix and Festus, who succeeded one another as procurators of Judea, and the fifth, also held in Caesarea is before King Herod Agrippa II.  Paul then made his way to Rome where at the end of the Book of Acts, he shares his final testimony, his sixth defence before the Jewish leaders in Rome. 

These speeches in his defence, together with the circumstances of his arrest that we looked at last week, take up six chapters in our Bibles or nearly 200 verses. 

His masterful defences ably answered the false charges levelled against him–a fact that even the Roman authorities who held him as a prisoner had to acknowledge in Acts 26:30-32.  This passage describes his first defence as it unfolds before us.  After the attack of the mob and the dramatic rescue by the Roman soldiers, Paul is being taken to the barracks so that the commander can find out why the unruly mob had dragged this man out of the temple intent on killing him.  Paul, restrained in two chains is being dragged up the steps carried by the Roman soldiers.  The crowd is shouting one thing and another and crying out “Away with him” and though the commander has asked Paul who he is and what he has done, he cannot hear his answer because of all the noise. 

Reaching the top of the stairs Paul “asked the commander, “May I say something to you?” (Acts 21:37 ESV) Shocked by the language Paul spoke (as he expected him to be an Egyptian), Claudius Lysias (the commander who is identified by Luke in Acts 23:26) asks him incredulously, “Do you speak Greek?”  Greek was the language of the cultured, educated men, not common criminals and certainly not that of the terrorist he assumed Paul to be.  Paul identifies himself and asks for the opportunity to speak to the crowd. 

Hoping to calm the situation and find out what caused it, Lysias consents.  Acts 21:40 (ESV) “And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:”

The crowd is hushed as Paul speaks to them in their own Hebrew dialect, Aramaic the common language among the Jewish people.  He tells them how Christianity’s most violent persecutor became the Gospel’s greatest missionary.  His focus as in the other four New Testament accounts of his testimony is on God’s power and sovereign grace. 

We’ll look at what Paul says, the reaction of the crowd and the response of Claudias Lysias this morning.

1.  PERSECUTOR: Acts 21:1-5 I am a Jew just like you. 

2.  PREACHER: Acts 21:6-21 Jesus met me and He changed my life.

3.  PRISONER: Acts 21:22-29 The crowd reacts, the Tribune responds, Paul appeals to Rome.

1.  PERSECUTOR: Acts 21:1-5 I am a Jew just like you. 

We can barely imagine the scene: Paul probably at least 60 years old at this point, has just been rescued from the mob who were stirred up by the Jews from Asia believing that Paul was acting against everything in which they believed.  They had seized him, dragged him out of the temple area and were seeking to kill him.  Paul had just been severely beaten and now he begins to speak to the crowd in their own language.  Though Roman guards surround him, his mind is set on the Jewish people.  Paul continually evaluates how he can turn a conversation or opportunity to speak toward a presentation of the Gospel.  We should do the same. 

He addresses them in exactly the same way that Stephen did in Acts 7 beginning: “Brothers and fathers, hear.”  And he makes his defence, which translates the word apologia from which we get out English words apology, or apologetics (the defence of the gospel).  Paul was not apologizing, he was making a defence of his conduct, his life.  As he spoke in their language they became even more quiet.  He immediately refutes the charge that he is against the people telling them: “I am a Jew just like you.”  He then sets out his impeccable Jewish credentials.  Born among the Hellenistic Jews of the Diaspora in Tarsus of Cilicia he had been brought up in Jerusalem where he was educated under Gamaliel – the most revered Rabbi of that time and one of the greatest of all time.  Paul said he was strictly trained in “the law of our fathers.”  He had been indoctrinated in Old Testament law and the rabbinic traditions, becoming a Pharisee who could claim to be blameless under the law.  A claim he stated clearly in Philippians 3:5-6 (ESV) “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” The charge that he opposed the law was tacitly false, completely unfounded and utterly ridiculous.  His personal conviction about the law was as stated in Romans 7:12 (ESV) “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

Paul declared to the crowd that he was as “zealous for God as all of you are this day.”  (Acts 22:3)

Paul credited the attack on him as a part of their zeal for God but his zeal had far surpassed theirs

because he persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison. (Acts 22:4) He had been the Christians most feared persecutor overseeing the death of Stephen and then pursuing the believers who fled to other cities.  The high priest and council of the elders empowered him in what he did giving him permission to drag back to Jerusalem for punishment those who had become followers of this Way.  Paul’s conduct before he met Christ refuted the false allegations against him. 

The God’s Word for you commentary says:  If Paul had stopped his speech at this point, the crowd would have applauded. Paul, however, no longer rooted his life in his ethnic identity, education, or work. Something powerful and transformative had gripped Paul as he traveled on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians (verse 5)…. Paul, by sharing about his life before meeting Christ, allowed his story to demonstrate the transformative grace of the gospel.

That is where our stories of salvation need to begin.   Sharing what we were before Christ allows our lives to demonstrate the transformative grace and glory of the Gospel. 

2.  PREACHER: Acts 21:6-21 Jesus met me and He changed my life.

Paul went on to defend his actions explaining that the God of Israel had sovereignly, powerfully intervened in his life and turned him from being the Christians foremost persecutor to being its primary preacher. 

The account of Paul’s dramatic conversion occurs three times in the book of Acts.  Paul adds to the detail concerning the light that shone into his heart and life. He tells us: “About noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.”  The added detail is that this occurred about noon. 

Noon, when the sun is at its brightest was when the Son of God made Himself known to Saul.  The blazing glory of the glorified, exalted Christ far outshone even the brilliant midday Mid-Eastern sun.  Those who were with him saw the light but did not hear the voice speaking to him.  He further describes the fact that as a result of being blinded by the light he could not see.

Speechless with terror, Paul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying: Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”  Lying face down to the ground, stunned and blinded Paul could only cry out: “Who are you, Lord?”  Jesus replied: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” 

What a shock!  The One whom he had despised and rejected.  The One he thought was just another false Messiah was the Lord of glory.  Jesus the Nazarene had spoken directly to him from heaven.  He faced life’s most important question.  Who is Jesus? 

Those with him could corroborate his testimony, they saw the light, they heard the sound, but they did not understand the words.  Overwhelmed by the glorious confrontation with the Lord Jesus Christ the proud Pharisee could only humbly ask, life’s second most important question: “What shall I do, Lord?” 

Have you answered life’s most important questions:  Who is Jesus?  And what are you going to do about Him?  Christ told Paul to “Rise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.”  (Acts 22:10 ESV) So as a blinded man, Paul was led to Damascus by his companions and there Ananias came to meet him.  He too was a keeper of the Law an important detail to Paul’s accusers.  Ananias said: “Brother Saul, receive your sight!”  At that moment Paul was healed and could see him, he then went on: Acts 22:14-16 (ESV) ‘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.  And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Paul declares before the mob what Ananias declared to him years previously: Jesus is God.  God’s sovereignty in salvation is in evidence here.  God has chosen you!  Paul was chosen by God and appointed to be a witness to all men of what he had seen and heard.  God had chosen Paul, but Paul needed to make a response.  The sovereignty of God, the responsibility of man.  Some try to support baptismal regeneration (the false teaching that baptism is required for salvation) from verse 16.  Although baptism is an act of obedience required of all Christians, it does not save.  In the construction of the sentence in the original language, the phrase “wash your sins away,” must be connected with “calling on His name.”  Connecting that phrase with “be baptized” leaves the participle “epikalesamenos” (calling) without an antecedent.  Paul’s sins were washed away not by baptism but by calling on the name of the Lord.  Paul called on the Lord’s name which is the act that saves.  Baptism and the washing away of sins follow. 

Paul in his defence had taken the best offence, turning the tables on those who opposed him.  He had acted only in submission to God; therefore accusing him was to make an accusation against God.  He continues his testimony to reinforce that point! 

Paul’s transformation from persecutor to preacher met with persecution and so the Lord told him to get out of Jerusalem.  Paul must have been somewhat hard to persuade since the Risen Christ had to appear to him to tell him to get out of town.  Even then Paul protested.  Paul must have been somewhat hard to persuade since the Risen Christ had to appear to him to tell him to get out of town.  Acts 22:19-20 (ESV) “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.  And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ Paul thought that the radical transformation of his life would persuade them to see the light and believe but Jesus knew their sin-hardened hearts so He said to Paul: “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:21 ESV)

Paul was commissioned by Christ as the apostle to the Gentiles

3.  PRISONER: Acts 21:22-29 The crowd reacts, the Tribune responds, Paul appeals to Rome.

When they heard that God had sent Paul to the Gentiles they reacted furiously saying: “Away with such a fellow from the earth!  For he should not be allowed to live!”  (Acts 22:22 ESV) Racial prejudice pushed their outraged passions beyond the bounds of reason.

In his last sentence, Paul, in effect, announces that the grace and goodness of God has been extended to the Gentiles. The crowd can listen no longer. They have heard enough. Paul is declaring that even Gentiles are part of God’s family. The Jews cannot stomach this thought because they hate the Gentiles.  Paul did not in any way soften or lessen the message of God’s grace for all peoples to try to win the Jews over.  He spoke the truth of God which offended the people and challenged the culture of the day.  We are called to do the same.  We must not water down the message of the Gospel to make it more palatable.  Luke puts it succinctly. “Up to this word they listened to him.” 

The riot was breaking out all over again and the Tribune was no nearer to understanding its cause so he ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks to be beaten to find out what was really going on.  The Romans had perfected the art of persuasion and extended cruelty to unsurpassed bounds.  Scourging by the Romans was done with a flagellum (a wooden handle to which were attached leather thongs tipped with bits of metal and bone) it would literally tear the flesh from a victims back.  This is what Jesus endured before His crucifixion probably bound in exactly the same place as Paul.  In preparation the guards would stretch the victims back tightly by tying the hands to a post, to maximize the effect of the flogging. 

The beating by flagellum was so cruel as was death by crucifixion, Roman citizens were exempted from both by Roman law.  Paul asked a very timely question of the centurion in charge: “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”  (Acts 22:25 ESV)  The centurion supervising the beating immediately responded.  “When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”  (Acts 22:26 ESV) 

Gravely concerned the commander came to Paul.  Lysias stood to lose not only his military commission but possibly even his life for violation of Roman law. Acts 22:27-28 (ESV) “So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.”  The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.”

Claims of Roman citizenship were generally accepted at face value since the penalty for a false claim was death. 

Lysias’s explanation of how he gained his citizenship at great cost underlines its value.  Roman citizenship was officially not for sale.  But corrupt officials could be bribed especially during the reign of the Emperor Claudius which may account for Lysias chosen name of Claudius Lysias. 

Citizenship could also be granted as a reward for service to Rome. Paul did not obtain his citizenship by bribery or by grant, but by birth.  Paul was immediately released from his chains as another breach of Roman law was to put a citizen in chains without a preliminary hearing.  Lysias, thoroughly perplexed decided to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin the next day to try to find out what was going on. 

John Bunyan,  lay in Bedford jail twelve years for preaching without a license in England. Many times Bunyan was offered his liberty if he would quit preaching.  But every time he would say,  “Let me out today and I will preach tomorrow.”

John Bunyan points out in his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, “Mr. Pliable does not go to prison to be martyred for the truth.” 

In his book “THE HOLY WAR,” John Bunyan provides a dramatic closing scene between Emmanuel (Christ) and residents of the town of Mansoul (you and me).  Emmanuel has helped them beat off the Diabolonians (Satan’s army), and now he stands in the town square telling them how to stay free from Satan’s clutches.  Emmanuel says: “I have loved you, Mansoul.  I bought you for a price; a price not of corruptible things, as of silver and gold, but a price of blood, my own blood, which I spilled freely to make you mine, and to reconcile you to my father.  And I stood by you in your backsliding, when you were unfaithful, though you did not know I was there.  It was I who made your way dark and bitter.  It was I who put Mr. Godly-Fear to work.  It was I who stirred up

Conscience and Understanding and Will.  It was I who made you seek me, and in finding me, find your own health and happiness.  Nothing can hurt you but sin; nothing can grieve me but sin; nothing can make you fall before your foes but sin; beware of sin, my Mansoul.  I have taught you to watch, to fight, to pray, and to make war against your foes; so now I command you to believe that my love is constant to you.  O my Mansoul, how I have set my heart, my love upon you!  Show me your love – and hold fast – until I take you to my father’s kingdom where there is no more sorrow, no grief, no pain….where you shall never be afraid again….”

As Emmanuel rides away in his chariot, Conscience, Understanding and Will discuss the future and how they will have to be alert to keep the Diabolonians at bay.  Unless they depend completely on King Shaddai (the Father), Emmanuel (the Son), and the Lord High Secretary (the Holy Spirit) they will fail and fall into enemy hands.  “Is this way better than the freedom you had before?” asks Understanding, referring back to days before Emmanuel had come into their lives. 

“The freedom we had before was like–” Will struggled for words, “like birds flying through broken windows in and out of a deserted house – flying aimlessly, going nowhere.” “Do you love him because you have to?” Understanding’s probing was gentle; their talk was to reiterate their faith, and in their talking, they strengthened each other. 

“I do not have to love him,” said Will.  “I am free.  He has always left me free to do as I please.” “Then?” questions Understanding. It ends this way…I love him because I want to.” Will said simply.  “And I can never love him enough,”

That was what Paul learned on the road to Damascus and it saw him through his journeys in freedom, his suffering for the Gospel and it would see him through as a prisoner of Rome. 

What about you?  Who is Jesus?  What are you going to do about Him?  Will you trust Him or will you turn away?  Believe on Him today!  He loves you.  Open your eyes and see His infinite love! 

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October 25, 2020 – FCBC Sermon  

Acts 21:17-36                      “A FLAWED PLAN OR A GOD PLAN?”

When I was in school every year there were speech contests.  I was thinking about that because one speech I did in Grade Six I got to participate in the city final and that speech was about running a race. It came to mind because in the life of Paul he talks about finishing well in  2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

That fits what unfolds in these chapters as Paul is arrested, imprisoned and faces five different trials as he makes his way to Rome. 

For my speech in Grade six I shared the story of the breaking of the four minute mile barrier.  When it finally happened a goal was reached that sportsmen and athletes alike had dreamed of for many years.  It is one of my favourite sports stories.   

In 1954 the Englishman Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile.  Three months later, the great Australian runner John Landy ran 1.4 seconds faster – they met in a race that was greatly anticipated and that would make history at the Empire Games being held in Vancouver, British Colombia.    Bannister was known for his strong finish, and Landy for setting a strong pace. Landy led from the beginning.  As they neared the finish, Landy took a split second glance in the last turn to see where Bannister was, just as Bannister was making his final kick and Landy lost the race in that instant as Bannister sped past him. 

What made that speech particularly memorable to me was that the finals were held shortly after I had my tonsils out and in the middle of the speech I lost my voice.  It did finally come back and I managed to finish.   I didn’t win anything but I did get an honourable mention.  I think they were just trying to be nice. 

I was reminded that in running the race you have to keep your eyes on the goal and that is exactly what the Apostle Paul been doing.  As far back as in Acts 19:21 (ESV) “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”  And we learned in Acts 20:16 that he wanted to be there before Pentecost Acts 20:16 (ESV) “He was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”  

Finally after many weeks of travel and in spite of many pleas from his friends to not go to Jerusalem as well as the message from the prophet Agabus that he would be arrested, Paul arrives at his destination.  In light of what we studied last week, it is interesting to note that had Paul not gone to Jerusalem, the prophecy of Agabus would not have been fulfilled. 

Remember Paul’s friends saw the prophecy as a warning of prohibition.  But Paul saw it as a warning of preparation.  He knew what awaited him in Jerusalem as he told the Ephesian Elders.  Acts 20:22-23 (ESV) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”  

As Luke develops the storyline you can see several parallels to the Lord Jesus Christ in His resolve to go to Jerusalem and His perseverance despite divine predictions of suffering.  Like Jesus, Paul would not be deterred. 

His arrival in Jerusalem marks the end of his third missionary journey and through the rest of the Book of Acts, Luke describes the life of Paul the prisoner.  His assault and arrest lead to five trials that Paul had to endure as his life is suddenly changed from travelling as a free man and proclaiming the Gospel, evangelizing most of Asia Minor and Greece to being a prisoner of Rome in chains.  But even his chains enable him to keep on telling others about Jesus. 

Luke describes the five trials Paul had to endure and the opportunities it afforded him to proclaim the message of the gospel.  His words in his defence are testimonies to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  

As we will see next week the first was before a Jewish crowd at the northwest corner of the temple area.  After that the second was before the supreme Jewish Council in Jerusalem, the third and fourth  were in Caesarea before Felix and Festus, who succeeded one another as procurators of Judea, and the fifth, also held in Caesarea was before King Herod Agrippa II. 

These five trials, including in each case, Paul’s speeches in his defence, together with the circumstances of his arrest that we will look at today, take up six chapters in our Bibles or nearly 200 verses.  Why did Luke go into such detail?  Luke was present throughout these events.  He arrived in Jerusalem with Paul and the next “we” section in Acts 27:1 and following, shows that he sailed with Paul to Rome.  During the two years of Paul’s custody in Caesarea, Luke was a free man, and we can rightly assume that as he remained in the area, he was a help to Paul at every opportunity and this season also afforded him the time and contacts to gather the information he needed to write his two volume work of Luke and Acts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he would be able to interview some of the principle players in the drama of the Life of Christ and he knew first hand and through long conversations with Paul the adventures of the Apostle on his three missionary journeys.  Luke was not only an historian recounting the life of Christ in the book of Luke and the history of the church in the Book of Acts, he was also a theologian showing the development of the church and the spread of the Gospel in the known world, fulfilling the key verse of this book: Acts 1:8 (ESV)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

This verse forms a geographical outline of the book of Acts.  Jerusalem, chapters 1–7; Judea and Samaria, chapters 8–12; ends of the earth (i.e. Rome), chapters 13–28. This outline may denote the author’s literary structure and purpose. Christianity is not a sect of Judaism, but a worldwide movement of the one true God fulfilling His Old Testament promises to restore rebellious mankind to fellowship with Himself.  The message of the Gospel continues to challenge believers to go into

all the world.  Literally, we are to be His witnesses to the end (eschatos) of the earth fulfilling the mandate to proclaim the gospel message until time is no more.  So let’s see today how Paul begins his journey toward Rome where he would finish the race. 

1.  PRAISE TO GOD AND P. R. PROBLEMS: Acts 21:17-26

2.  STRATEGIC FAILURE – PAUL IS ATTACKED: Acts 21:27-31a

3.  RESCUED BY THE ROMANS – ARRESTED AND  BOUND, A CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE:

Acts 21:31b-40

1.  PRAISE TO GOD AND P. R. PROBLEMS: Acts 21:17-26

Paul and his companions were given a warm welcome by the brothers in Jerusalem but overall things were about to heat up considerably.  The next day Paul goes to share with the church at Jerusalem what has happened during his third missionary journey.  No doubt at this point he also entrusted to them the offering received for the church.  Interestingly his meeting is with James the brother of Jesus, author of the book of James and the leader of the church at Jerusalem and all of the elders of the church.  Why not the whole church?  Two reasons:  It was too large to gather in one place and they were dealing with a volatile situation in the church.  We might ask: Where are the apostles?  Some were dead by now and the others were fulfilling the mission to go out with the gospel. 

Paul reported in detail on his work (the Greek has the sense of recounting every single thing) so they probably met for quite some time.  The one golden thread that holds it all together that God Himself had done the work.  It was not what Paul had done, it was what God had done among the Gentiles and those with Paul from the Gentile congregations were living proof. 

The response to the news was very positive as it should be, they glorified God.  “Doxazo” in the Greek means to glorify, to honour.  But sadly, they immediately try to deal with their P. R. Problem.

This is where we need to discern if the plan they come up with is a flawed plan or a God plan. Look at what is missing.  Tellingly, there is no mention of prayer.  There is no mention of the Holy Spirit. There is the good news that many Jews have believed, literally myriads upon myriads, thousands upon thousands had believed.  Some estimate at this time there were 50, to 60,000 believers in Jerusalem.  But what they say next, I believe, is of great concern.  “They are all zealous for the law.” 

They had been released from the bonds of their sin by belief in the Lord Jesus but they were still holding on to their legalism and pride in the Jewish religion. They had listened to the rumours about Paul and now prior to discussing it with Paul the leaders of the Jerusalem church had come up with a solution to the P. R. Problem they wanted to propose.  No mention of praying about it, no mention

of the Holy Spirit, I may be somewhat harsh but personally, I think it was a flawed plan.  They are reacting to rumours about Paul that are false.  He did not preach against the law.  In every instance where is was appropriate he kept the law. 

However, on the other hand, I have to see that this was a God plan because the Holy Spirit had already told Paul he would be delivered to the Gentiles.  So let’s see how it comes about.  They address Paul as brother and tell him to join four others in keeping a vow of purification that would be completed in 7 days.  Note that Paul willingly submitted himself to the leadership of the Jerusalem church. Paul acts with a spirit of accommodation in order to preserve the unity of the church.  He is a loyal Jew.  

In their instructions, the leaders repeat the guidelines for Gentile believers decided by the Jerusalem council. Why did Luke include that and why did the leaders repeat it here?  That decision meant that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews to follow Jesus.  Gentile Christians could continue to live as Gentiles.  And Jewish Christians could continue to live as Jews.  But I believe that here the situation had gotten out of hand, they were holding on to Judaism and mixing it with Christianity and that caused confusion.  The book of Hebrews was written to show the need for the observance of the law was past.  Paul Himself told the Galatians the law was our guardian or schoolmaster to bring us to Christ and there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:21-29) In point of fact God Himself would soon, bring about the end of Judaism with the destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70.  

2.  STRATEGIC FAILURE – PAUL IS ATTACKED: Acts 21:27-31a

And the plan failed miserably, or did it?  The Holy Spirit had said Paul would be bound and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles and that’s exactly what happened. 

The stratagem of Paul publicly participating in redeeming the Nazirite vows of four men in order to show his faithfulness as a Jew backfires. While preparing for the purification ceremony, Paul is grabbed and beaten by a crowd of angry worshippers on a false charge that he deliberately defiled the temple’s purity.

The Jews from Asia, unbelievers probably from Ephesus since they recognized Trophimus, show up and condemn Paul.  They lie and claim that Paul had brought a Gentile into the temple.  Paul is seized and dragged out of the temple by the mob of people.  They were stirred up, they seized Paul, they dragged him out, they were seeking to kill him.  Paul is in great danger. 

And the gates of the temple are shut meaning that it is no longer serving it’s purpose.  It no longer functions as the place where God’s grace is mediated to all.  Jesus alone has become the place of grace.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  

F. F. Bruce concludes, “This was the moment when, in Luke’s eyes, the temple ceased to fill the role allotted to it in his history up to this point. The exclusion of God’s message and his messenger from the house formerly called by his name sealed its doom.”  The temple cannot have any further significance for God or for the Christian church.

For Luke, the focus of divine forgiveness and salvation has shifted from the temple’s altar to the cross of Christ. Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of anyone who would come to Jesus in faith to receive God’s grace.

3.  RESCUED BY THE ROMANS – ARRESTED AND BOUND, A CAPTIVE’S AUDIENCE: Acts 21:31b-40

In the providential plan of God the news reaches the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem.  They were on high alert during the time of the Jewish festival season.  That the Roman soldiers “ran down” implies that they descended the stairs of the palatial fortress Antonia, named by King Herod to honour his friend Marc Anthony. It adjoined the northwest corner of the temple complex and served as a garrison for Roman troops. Josephus reports that soldiers patrolled on the wall above the temple courts and were stationed around the porticoes during festival times, when crowds, easily incited to insurrection, jammed into the temple.

The Roman tribune of the cohort is the “chiliarch” in the Greek, the commander of a thousand.  He responded to the situation immediately with soldiers and centurions.  A centurion was in charge of 100 men.  So the plural centurions means that at least 200 came charging down from the fortress.  The crowd immediately stops beating Paul and they arrest him and bind him with two chains. 

The word translated arrested in verse 33, is the same word used for the crowd that seized Paul in verse 30, “epilambanomai.”  The commander tries to get the story straight but there is so much yelling by the crowd they literally have to carry Paul away to safety in the barracks.  Just as with Jesus, the crowd is crying out, “Away with him.” 

As they arrive at the top of the stairs Paul asks to speak to the people.  Claudias Lysias the Roman Commander assumed Paul was an Egyptian terrorist but he immediately changed his mind when he heard the facts.  The revolutionary to whom Lysias was referring was described by Josephus as ‘an Egyptian false prophet’ who, about three years previously, had brought together 30,000 men (Josephus the Jewish historian was prone to exaggeration, according to the Roman official it was 4,000 men!).  He had led them to the Mount of Olives, and promised them that, when the walls of

Jerusalem fell flat at his command, they would be able to break into the city and overpower the Romans. But the procurator Felix and his troops intervened, and the assassins were killed, captured or scattered.  The Egyptian had disappeared, and the commander at first thought that he had now come to light again.  But he was surprised as Paul began to speak to him in Greek. 

Paul enlightened him about his identity. He spoke proudly of his citizenship of Tarsus, which was ‘the first city of Cilicia, not merely in material wealth but in intellectual distinction, as one of the great university cities of the Roman world’. He then asked permission to be able to address the crowd, which was granted.

So, as we will see next week, Paul makes the first of his defences to the Jewish mob that had just tried to kill him.  You might say they were a captive’s audience.  Paul began his witness to the end of the earth to people he would never have met, had he not become a Roman prisoner.  God’s missionary did get to Rome, and the Romans paid for the passage. 

That is what happens when God’s people trust Him!  Are you trusting Him today?