Impressive, Yet Offensive.

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. – Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

After completing this series of parables, Jesus left Capernaum and made the 20-mile journey to Nazareth, the place where He had spent His childhood. By all accounts, Jesus would have been returning to familiar territory, where He would have been known and well-received. But things did not turn out that way. In this little section, which ends chapter 13, Matthew provides an important transition that brings his description of Jesus’ rejection by His own to a close.

Upon His return to Nazareth, Jesus made His way to the synagogue. This was not the first time Jesus had visited the synagogue since leaving Nazareth. Luke records that Jesus went back to Nazareth not long after His temptation in the wilderness.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. – Luke 4:16-17 ESV

And Jesus had read the following passage to those in the audience that day:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And Jesus had followed up His reading of this familiar Messianic passage by stating, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This was an unapologetic claim by Jesus to be the Messiah. And Luke records that the people “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). But they had a difficult time reconciling who they knew Jesus to be with what they heard Him saying. They couldn’t help but ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They remembered Jesus growing up in Nazareth, along with his brothers and sister. They viewed Jesus as just another one of the sons of Joseph. They had no concept of the virgin birth or of Jesus’ deity. He was just another son of Joseph the local carpenter.

Luke makes it clear that Jesus knew that, despite their marvel at what He had to say, they would never accept who He claimed to be. In fact, Jesus compared Himself to the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who were also rejected by the people of Israel. During the famine that God had decreed on the nation of Israel, there were many widows in the land, but Elijah had ministered to only one, and she happened to be a Gentile from Zarephath. And while “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27 ESV). Jesus points out that, because of the stubbornness of the people of Israel and their refusal to listen to the words of God’s prophets, the mercy of God was shown to Gentiles.

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. – Luke 4:28-30 ESV

The Jews didn’t like what Jesus had to say. Their marvel turned to violent hatred and they actually attempted to kill Jesus.

So, here was Jesus speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth yet again. And the people are still wrestling with their perception of who they believe Jesus to be with all that they had heard He had done since leaving Nazareth. They respond:

55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. – Matthew 13:55-57 ESV

Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, was a prophet without honor in His own hometown. This was in fulfillment of the words of John, recorded in his Gospel: “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had faced rejection elsewhere in Israel, particularly by the religious leadership. But if there should have been a place where Jesus found receptive ears and a willing acceptance to His message, it should have been Nazareth. But He found the residents of His hometown to be just as resistant to His claims as anyone else in Israel. As a result, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV). They would have loved to have seen Jesus perform some of the miracles for which He had become famous. They weren’t opposed to Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons, but they were not willing to accept His claims to be the Messiah.

John records that even the half-brothers of Jesus struggled with doubt concerning His claims. They were more than happy for Jesus to become famous as a miracle worker, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was their Messiah.

and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

Unbelief. That was the problem. The people of Israel refused to believe who Jesus claimed to be. They could not accept this version of the Messiah because it did not reconcile with their preconceived notions. Jesus did not look like what they were expecting. The kingdom of heaven Jesus preached about was unlike the kingdom on earth they expected the Messiah to bring when He came. And so, they rejected Him.

At one point, they had been impressed with Jesus, but ended up being offended by Him. And it all hinged on their unbelief. They could not accept His claims to be the Messiah. But they also refused to tolerate His claims that they were in need of a Savior. Jesus had come to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they could see their true condition. He had come to preach a message of good news to the spiritually impoverished. He had come to tell those held captive by sin how to be set free. But the Jews did not like hearing that they were poor, blind, enslaved or in need. They were offended by Jesus’ accusations that they were sinners in need of a Savior.

“The world can’t hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil.” – John 77 NLT

So, rather than being redeemed by Him, they simply because offended with Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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King of the Jews.

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12 ESV

Matthew is out to prove that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. He has provided a genealogical record showing that Jesus was a Jew, having descended directly from Abraham, the great patriarch of the Hebrew people. But, not only that, Jesus was a direct descendant of King David, from the tribe of Judah, making Him a legal heir to the throne. But Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was not just an ordinary man who could lay claim to David’s crown, because of His birth-right. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin girl. He was the God-man. And He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies which had long predicted His coming. In chapter one, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14, clearly believing that Jesus was the ultimate subject of the prophecy.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The birth of Jesus had been a miracle, a supernatural work of God that had set Him apart as more than just a man. His birth had God-ordained, Spirit-empowered, and out-of-the-ordinary. And in chapter two, Matthew continues to support his claim that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah by quoting from the book of Micah.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Matthew has established to whom Jesus was born, proving His Hebrew lineage and royal pedigree. Now, he deals with the place of Jesus’ birth. Once again, Matthew utilizes Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah to support his claim that Jesus was the one God had foretold and the Jews had long-awaited. Jesus was born in in Bethlehem of Judea, a small and seemingly insignificant city located in the land of Judah. But Bethlehem, which means, “house of bread,” was far from insignificant. It was the birthplace of David, the king. We know from Luke’s Gospel, that Joseph and Mary had traveled to Bethlehem in order to satisfy a royal decree by Caesar Augustus that each Jew should travel to their ancestral town in order to be registered.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. – Luke 2:4-5 ESV

King David had been born in Bethlehem some 1,000 years earlier and Matthew wants his readers to know that Jesus, the rightful heir to David’s throne was born in the very same place. From this obscure village had come the great king, David. And from this same unexpected spot had come the King of kings and Lord of lords – the Messiah.

But Matthew reveals that when Jesus came, there was another king reigning: Herod. Commonly referred to as Herod the Great, this man was an Idumaean or Edomite, a descendant of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. While Esau had been the first-born and legitimate heir to his father’s inheritance, God had chosen to replace him with Jacob. And God, speaking through the prophet, Malachi, reminded the descendants of Israel that it would be through Jacob, not Esau, that His love would manifest itself.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. – Malachi 1:2-3 ESV

Herod, an Edomite, was not a descendant of Jacob. And the only reason he was on the throne was because the Roman Senate had placed him there in 40 B.C. He was a puppet king, answering to the Romans and despised by the Jews. So, when Jesus was born, there was a usurper to the throne, masquerading as the king of the Jews. And his presence would prove to be dangerous for the newly born Messiah.

The story of the magi or wisemen is meant to support Matthew’s claim of Jesus having been the Messiah. These men were foreigners and most likely astronomers, who had somehow discovered the prophecies concerning the coming king of Jews through their study of the Hebrew Scriptures. We know little about these men, including where they came from. But they had traveled a great distance to find “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV). Naturally, having arrived in Israel, they had made their way to Jerusalem. There, they raised the curiosity of Herod, the ruling king, with their questions about this newly born king of the Jews. Herod did his homework and discovered for himself the prophecies concerning the Messiah. Sending for the Magi, he persuaded them that he too wanted to worship this new king and asked them to send word of his location once they had located him.

“Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” – Matthew 2:8 ESV

Following a “star” – what must have been a supernatural cosmic sign provided by God, the Magi found the child and worshiped Him, showering Him with expensive gifts fit for royalty. These Gentile foreigners bowed down before an obscure, unknown infant located in a nondescript village in the middle nowhere. They had no clue as to the real identity of this Jewish baby boy. They were not worshiping Him as the Son of God or the Savior of the world, but as “he who has been born king of the Jews.” God had revealed to them Jesus’ kingship. These non-Jews were among the first to recognize the royal pedigree of this Jewish baby boy born in relative obscurity to a young virgin girl. And having worshiped Him, they went their way, refusing to reveal to Herod the baby’s location because of a warning they had received from God in a dream.

It’s interesting to note that the Magi did not ask for the location of the one who was to become king of the Jews. They referenced him as “he who has been born king of the Jews.” He was king by right. He had been born a king, not appointed one like Herod. They were declaring this child to be the rightful king of the Jews, a fact that did not escape Herod and which caused him great anxiety.

And it should not escape us that, when Herod wanted to know more about this coming king of the Jews, he assembled “the chief priests and scribes of the people” and “he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4 ESV). It was these religious leaders and experts in the Hebrew Scriptures who referred him to the words of the prophet Micah. The Jewish religious leaders knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but they had no idea that this long-awaited event had just taken place. It was a group of Gentiles from a distant land whom God gave knowledge of the truth concerning the birth of Jesus and the privilege of worshiping the newly born King of the Jews.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This Is Not the End.

23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. 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. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 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.’

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Acts 28:23-31 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome1.png

As we prepare to wrap up this study on the Book of Acts, we come to Luke’s concluding paragraphs covering Paul’s arrival in Rome. In a sense, Luke doesn’t complete the story. He leaves us hanging, with Paul in prison and his final fate left unstated. It’s almost as if he was planning a sequel. The way he ends the book is much like the final episode in the first season of a Netflix TV series. It’s a cliff hanger that leaves us wanting to know more. But the second season of Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles”, if he ever planned one, never aired.

What we do know is that just three days after his arrival in Rome, Paul called for a meeting with the local Jewish leadership. He wanted to explain why he was there and what had happened in Jerusalem to necessitate his arrival as a prisoner of the Roman government. The local Jews had received no news regarding the events leading up to Paul’s initial arrest. There had been no visits from the representatives of the Sanhedrin and, as a result, the Jews in Rome had no idea what Paul was talking about. But they wanted to hear more. And hear more they did. Luke tells us that Paul met with them from morning until evening, “testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23 ESV). Paul may have been a prisoner of Rome, with a Roman guard attached to him at all times, but he never shirked from the commission given to him by Christ. He continued to share the gospel, doing everything in his power to persuade Gentiles and Jews that Jesus was the Savior of the world. And Luke reveals that the crowd was divided over what they heard Paul say that day. Some believed, while others rejected his message. And Paul broke up the meeting when he quoted from the prophet Isaiah:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 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.’ – Acts 28:26-27 ESV

Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, where God spoke to the prophet, providing him with a message concerning the people of Judah. God was warning Isaiah that they would not listen to a word he said. They would hear, but not understand. They would see, but not perceive. Why? Because they had hard hearts and deaf ears. And God inferred to Isaiah that their stubborn resistance to His message of repentance had been His doing. God could have softened their hearts, but He chose not to. He could have opened their eyes to see the reality of their situation and the incredible graciousness of His offer to take them back if they would repent. But He didn’t. And the people of Judah would eventually end up defeated by the Babylonians and taken into captivity.

Paul directly tied this prophecy from the prophet of God to the people of God living in his day. And Paul was not the only one who had used this passage to indict the Jewish people in the first century. Jesus Himself quoted it to His disciples. But right before He did, He told them, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables…” (Matthew 13:11-13 NLT).

Jesus explained His parables to the disciples, but He didn’t do the same thing for the Jews. And the majority of them continued to reject His message regarding the Kingdom of God and His role as Messiah. And the same thing was true in Paul’s day. They were still wrestling with the idea that Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth, who had been crucified by the Romans, had actually been the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. And they most certainly struggled with the concept that Jesus had been raised back to life by God, as proof that He had been who He had claimed to be. Which is what led Paul to break the news to them that he had been sharing with other Jews all throughout his journey to Rome.

“Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” – Acts 28:28 ESV

The majority of the Jews would not listen, but the Gentiles would. And Paul had seen that reality proved out time and time again in place after place. He had repeatedly gone to the Jews in every city he visited, and he had watched them reject his message and respond in anger at his audacity to insinuate that they needed salvation. And even during the two years that Paul remained in Rome, he would continue to preach the gospel to anyone who would listen, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31 ESV).

Luke has brought his book full circle. He began it by talking about the Kingdom of God, and he finished it the same way. In the opening lines of his history of the Christian church, Luke told Theolophilus that the gospel he wrote had been intended to deal “with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2 ESV). The Book of Acts had been written to pick up the story where the gospel had left off, when Jesus had “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 ESV). Jesus had spent His final days with the disciples, telling them about the Kingdom of God. And now, we see Luke closing out his book with Paul speaking about the Kingdom of God. As stated earlier, Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Paul. He was still a prisoner of the Roman government. He had been brought to Rome, at great expense, to stand trial before Emperor Nero. But Luke doesn’t provide us with those details.

According to Clement, the Bishop of Rome from 88-98 A.D., the apostle Paul eventually died, but he also provided no details as to the means of his death.

5 Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience: 6 seven times was he cast into chains; he was banished; he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West, he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; 7 and having preached righteousness to the whole world, and having come to the extremity of the West, and having borne witness before rulers, he departed at length out of the world, and went to the holy place, having become the greatest example of patience. – 1 Clement 5:5-7

Church tradition has long held that Paul was eventually beheaded by Nero, as part of his persecution of the church. But there is no compelling evidence that proves how and when Paul died. It seems that Luke was less interested in ending his story with the death of Paul, than eluding to the fact that the gospel was going to the Gentiles. Jesus had commissioned His disciples to take the gospel to the “ends of the earth.” Rome was not the end of the earth, but it was the center of the world at the time. And through its wide-spread influence and network of roads to virtually all point in in the known world of that day, the gospel would continue to spread, and the church would continue to grow. Paul would eventually die, but the gospel would not. The apostles would all fade from view, passing away and out of the limelight. But the message of salvation, made possible by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone would make its way around the world, completely transforming the landscape of society for generations to come. And God’s message of redemption continues to spread. The world has gotten smaller. Advancements in technology and travel have made the remotest parts of the planet accessible and the transmission of the gospel into every imaginable tongue, possible.

Interestingly enough, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome, where he reminded them that God had plans for the Jews. The very ones whose hearts He had hardened and whose eyes He had blinded to the truth, He will one day restore.

25 I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. 26 And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
27 And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.”Romans 11:25-27 NLT

 

God was not done in Paul’s day. And God is not done in our day. Paul was in prison, but the gospel was not. Our world seems resistant and even hostile to the message of the gospel, but God is not done bringing in the “full number of the Gentiles.” The history of the church did not conclude with the last chapter of Acts. It continues to be written and only God knows when and exactly how it will all end. But Paul gives us an insight into what that day will look like.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Hope of Israel.

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “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. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 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.” 21 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. 22 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.” Acts 28:11-22 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

After their shipwreck on Malta, the Roman centurion and his troops who had been assigned the task of delivering Paul to Rome, determined to spend the winter on the island. In the early spring, when the weather made safe travel possible, the centurion booked passage on a ship headed to Italy. Luke makes an interesting observation, commenting that the ship that would carry Paul on the last leg of his journey has a figurehead on the bow that represented the twin gods. This was a reference to the Greek gods, Castor and Pollux. We can’t be sure why Luke chose to include this information, but it’s almost as if he is trying to convey the irony of the situation. If you recall, back in chapter 14, when Paul and Barnabas had gone to Lystra and had healed a man with crippled feet, they were immediately lauded as gods, with the people shouting, “These men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11 NLT). They claimed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Well, Castor and Pollux were the sons born to Zeus as a result of his relationship with a human, Leda, queen of Sparta. According to Greek mythology, Zeus transformed his two human sons into gods and gave them the responsibility of providing for he safety of sailors. So, perhaps Luke found humor in the fact that the figurehead on the ship to carry Paul (Hermes) to Rome represented the two sons of Barnabas (Zeus). On top of that, these two gods (Castor and Pollux) were supposed to be the ones who protected sailors from the storms at sea. Considering all that Luke and Paul had just endured on their journey to Rome, all of this would have come across as more than a bit ironic.

When the finally set foot on Roman soil at the port of Puteoli, they were greeted by fellow believers. We’re not told how these people came to faith. But we know that, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, there had been individuals from Rome in the crowd that heard them speaking in foreign languages.

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” – Acts 2:9-11 ESV

These visitors from Rome and elsewhere in Italy, were most likely Jews, who had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover and the feast of Pentecost. And we know that more than 3,000 people came to faith as a result of Peter’s impromptu sermon. It’s likely that some of the visitors from Rome and other regions of Italy were among those who came to faith. So, they would have returned to Rome, ready to share the news of the gospel with their friends and family members. Regardless of how these people had come to faith, Paul and Luke found themselves surrounded by fellow believers as soon as they stepped off the ship. And they stayed with them for seven days.

Upon arrival in the capital city of Rome, Paul and Luke were once again greeted by fellow believers. This must have been a tremendous encouragement to these two men, who were far from home and who had just endured a great deal of pain and suffering to make it this far. What a powerful reminder this must have been to Paul of the unstoppable power of God’s sovereign plan. Paul had grown used to arriving in a town and being the lone Christian, responsible for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with people who had never heard His name before. But here he was, in the heart of the Roman empire, where no apostle had been before, and God had already been there. The gospel had already arrived and the Spirit had begun His work.

One of the things we learn about Paul in this passage is his relentless desire to share the gospel with the Jews. Just three days into his stay in Rome, he called the leaders of the local Jewish congregation, desiring to share with them all that had gone on and why he was there. Paul was getting ahead of the game, preempting the Jewish leadership from Jerusalem, who had surely sent a contingent to Rome to represent their case against Paul before Caesar. Paul wanted to make sure that the local Jews heard his side of the story before the opposition had a chance to poison the well. And so, he related all that had happened in Jerusalem, assuring them of his innocence, and clearly presenting the basis for his imprisonment and presence in Rome: “it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain” (Acts 28:20 ESV). Once again, he tied his arrest and imprisonment to the claim that Jesus was the hope of Israel: The Messiah. These Jews would have known that Paul was referring to the Messiah. The arrival of the Messiah was something all Jews hoped, wished and prayed for. Even Jews living as far away as Rome, would have longed for the day when their long-awaited Messiah showed up and returned the people of Israel to their former state of glory. Those Jews living in the capital of Rome would have been in the minority, surrounded by the power and paganism of Rome. They had no temple. Every day they faced reminders of their own oppressed state and the weakened condition of their own nation. They were no longer a force to be reckoned with, as in the days of David and Solomon. The Romans and their gods were the bullies on the block.

It would have been hard for these people to maintain their hope in the Messiah while living so far from Israel. Their sense of anticipation would have been beaten down and driven from them by the daily affairs of life. With each passing day, their hope would have diminished and their resignation would have increased. But Paul came bearing good news, and they desired to hear more. They admitted that they knew nothing of Paul’s confrontations in Jerusalem and had received no visitors bearing news or words of ill will against Paul. But they expressed their desire to hear more, telling Paul, “we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22 ESV). They had heard about Jesus, but to them, he was nothing more than the martyred leader of a religious sect that had a less-than-ideal reputation. And yet, they were interested. Their curiosity had been piqued. Here was Paul, the messenger of the good news to the Gentiles, being invited by the Jews in Rome, to tell them more about Jesus, the hope of Israel. God works in mysterious ways.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Shipwrecked, Snake-bit, and Sovereignly Spared.

39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 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 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.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 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.

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. Acts 27:39-28:10 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Paul was headed to Rome. While it would appear that his journey was the result of a decision made by the Roman governor, Festus, and in keeping with Paul’s own request for a trial before the emperor, Luke repeatedly insinuates that Paul’s trip was due to the sovereign will of God. Yes, the Romans were funding the trip and had provided the soldiers to accompany Paul all the way to Rome. The sailors were piloting the ship on which Paul was a passenger, but as we have already seen, they were far from in control of the situation, and completely unable to deal with the weather conditions hammering their ship. Until Paul had intervened and assured them of God’s sovereign plan to spare all their lives, they had been ready to abandon all hope of survival. The sailors had even tried to escape by using the lifeboat, but were prevented from doing so by the Roman soldiers. Through the words of an angel, God had made it clear to Paul that everyone would be spared, even though the ship would be lost.

Luke wants us to recognize that this entire affair, from Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem to his repeated hearings in Caesarea and his departure for Rome, had all been part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life. None of this had happened by chance. And while everyone from the Jewish high priest, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, the centurion in charge of Paul’s safety, and the ship’s captain, thought they were in control, Luke repeatedly reveals that it was the sovereign God of the universe who was in charge of any and all things – from the wind and the waves to the decisions of men. As the angel had foretold, the ship carrying Paul eventually ran aground and began to break up. Everyone on board was forced to abandon ship and swim for shore. And while they had no idea where they were, God did. Upon reaching shore, waterlogged but safe, they discovered themselves to be on the island of Malta. And as the angel had predicted, not a soul had been lost. Every sailor, soldier, prisoner and passenger had been spared by God. What had appeared to be a hopeless ending to a very difficult and doomed journey, had ended in no loss of life. And the shipwrecked survivors found themselves surrounded by the caring citizens of Malta, who Luke describes as having showed them “unusual kindness.” They had built fires on the beach in an effort to warm the weary men who had washed ashore. So, not only had they survived the shipwreck, but they were greeted and well taken care of by the people of Malta. They hadn’t washed ashore on some deserted island or along an uninhabited section of the Maltese shoreline. Again, the sovereign hand of God had been propelling them along and protecting them every step of the way.

But God was not done. As Paul was adding wood to one of the fires, a venomous snake escaping the flames, sunk its fangs into his hand. The natives of Malta, seeing Paul shake the snake from his hand, assumed the worst. They quickly made the determination that Paul was an ill-fated soul who, while having escaped drowning at sea, was destined to die for his sins.

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” – Acts 28:4 ESV

Yet, once again, Paul survived. He was far from ill-fated, cursed or doomed. He was under the watchful eye of God Almighty. His life was not destined to end as a result of drowning or poisoning. Storms would not take his life, neither would a snake. God was not done with Paul. Paul was under the impenetrable force-field of God’s protective plan. There was nothing anyone or anything could to to him that did not first have to come through God’s hands and with His permission. Paul had a confidence in God that matched that of the author of Hebrews.

5 For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT

In fact, what can the storms of life do to me? Or vindictive Jews? Or all-powerful Romans? Or governors and kings? Or even a deadly venomous snake? For Paul, the answer was nothing. Nothing at all.

When the people of Malta failed to see Paul swell up and drop down dead, they had determined that he must have been some kind of god. How else could they explain such a miraculous scene? They had no concept of God Almighty. And while they believed in the idea of supernatural beings, knew nothing of Yahweh and were completely ignorant of Jesus, the Messiah. But it would not be long before they saw the power of God on display, as Paul was given the opportunity to perform a miracle in their midst, healing the father of a man named Publius. And Luke tells us that when news of this incredible event for out, “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured” (Acts 28:9 ESV). Paul’s presence on Malta was eventful. From surviving a deadly snake bite to healing the sick, Paul was.a walking advertisement for the power of God. And while Luke doesn’t report it, there’ss little doubt that Paul was sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone who would listen. He didn’t waste a single second of his time on Malta. Yes, he performed miracles. He healed the sick. He cured those who came to him with diseases. But based on what we know about Paul, he shared the good news of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And according to verse 11, God would provide Paul with a three-month window of opportunity to do so. He was still headed to Rome. That would be his final destination. But Malta would prove to be a divinely determined detour that had been a part of God’s divine plan all along. Stormy seas, helpless sailors, a shipwreck, and a poisonous serpent were no match for the sovereign will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Take Courage.

21 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. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 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.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

27 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. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 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, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

33 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. 34 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.” 35 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. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. Acts 27:21-38 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Earlier in the voyage. Paul had warned the ship’s officers of a bad premonition he had regarding the outcome of their voyage if they proceeded. And Paul had minced no words, saying, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well” (Acts 27:10 NLT). But the soldier in charge of Paul and the rest of the prisoners on board had listened to the advice of the ship’s captain and crew, who had all agreed to keep sailing, in search of a safer port. Now, they found themselves in a predicament. They had sailed for days in violent seas, their ship battered by the waves and wind. The storm was so intense that it blocked out the sun during the day, thrusting Paul and his 275 shipmates into a perpetual state of darkness. For days on end, the sailors had battled the storm, unable to eat or sleep, and Luke indicates that they finally abandoned all hope. 

But in the heat of the storm, Paul addressed the crew, reminding them that they should have heeded his initial advice. All that he had predicted had come true, and now they were on the brink of disaster. Things were out of their control. They had done all they could do, but the storm had proven too great and their attempts to save themselves, too small. Yet, this wasn’t a case of Paul telling them, “I told you so.” He wasn’t rubbing their noses in their failure to heed his advice. He was letting them know that His God was greater than the storm.

22 “But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” – Acts 27:22-26 NLT

Right in the middle of what was probably the worst storm any of these sea-hardened sailors had ever experienced, Paul stood up and told them to take courage. He encouraged them not to fear. Can you imagine how ludicrous his words must have sounded to those men? Here was some Jewish prisoner and landlubber, attempting to calm their fears and assure them that none of them would die. All would turn out well. And, even more incredibly, this man was basing his words on a dream he had received from his God.

Paul had faith, and his faith would prove contagious. He had heard from God and he believed what he had been told. So, he told the men, “euthymeō” – take courage. They were to be of good cheer. Now think about what Paul was saying. The storm was still raging. The waves were still crashing against the side of the boat. The rain was still pouring down. The noise must have been deafening. But Paul was telling them to take courage and he clearly stated why they should. “For I believe God. It will be just as he said” (Acts 27:25 NLT). Paul trusted God. Even in the midst of the storm. Nothing had changed. Their circumstances had not improved. Paul was telling them to trust a God they didn’t know and couldn’t see, while everything was crashing down around them. Paul had learned not to focus his attention on immediate circumstances. What was happening around them was not proof of what was going to happen to them. While they had abandoned all hope, they had not been abandoned by God, and Paul told them as much. “God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you” (Acts 27:24 NLT).

This story reminds me of a poem written in 1774 by William Cowper.  

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

All the sailors could see was the storm raging around them. They were drenched from the incessant rain and weakened from going for days without food. They had lost all hope. They had probably called out to their various gods, begging for salvation. They had thought about their wives and children at home and the likelihood of never seeing them again. They had exhausted all their mental and physical resources trying to save themselves. And now, Paul was telling them that his God had everything under control. They would be safe. There would be a shipwreck, but not a single man would be lost.

As the storm progressed, the sailors determined that their best hope of salvation was to abandon ship. Under the pretext of setting out additional anchors to keep the ship from running aground on the rocks, these men attempted to lower the ship’s skiff or lifeboat. But Paul warned the guards who were watching he and the other prisoners, that if the sailors did not stay on board, everyone would die. So, the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat, allowing it to drift away in the storm. Now, they had to trust God. There were no other options. For the sailors, the lifeboat had become an idol, a false hope of salvation. But Paul knew that it would have failed them. They would not have survived the storm in a boat so small. Their best hope for salvation was to remain in the ship and under the watchful care of God Almighty. But their actions reflect those of every human being who, when caught in the storms of life, attempts to find a way out. They seek a way of salvation and escape. Rather than place their trust in a God they can’t see, they rely on something more tangible in nature. When the Israelites had been set free from slavery in Egypt and found themselves in the wilderness, they began to wonder about this God of Moses. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the people determined to make their own god, an idol made of precious metal. They sought to create a god of their own making, something they could see. Their leader had disappeared. He had gone to the top of the mountain and they had assumed he was not returning. And the God that had rescued them seemed to have bailed on them. So, they took matters into their own hands and fabricated their own source of salvation.

Paul wanted everyone to know that the best course of action was to remain right where they were. They were to stay on the boat, not to abandon ship. What they believed was going to be the source of their death, would actually play a vital role in their salvation. They were going to have to trust Paul, who had placed his trust in God. And Paul was so confident, that he encouraged the men to eat so that they could regain their strength, assuring them, “For not a hair of your heads will perish” (Acts 27:34 NLT). Then, Luke tells us, “everyone was encouraged and began to eat—all 276 of us who were on board” (Acts 27:36-37 NLT). The faith of Paul had infected the entire ship. When everyone else on board had abandoned hope and the sailors had tried to abandon ship, Paul had remained confident in the faithfulness of God. Instead of fear, he had exhibited faith. When everyone else was panicking, he was trusting. While the crew had grown weak and abandoned all hope, Paul had remained strong. He was exhibiting the very characteristics he had encouraged the Corinthians to have. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). And his courage had made an impact on all those around him.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Abandoned Hope.

1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 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.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

13 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. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 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. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 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. Acts 27:1-20 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Back in chapter 19, Luke reported that Paul had been compelled by the Spirit of God to visit Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. Paul was constantly receiving input from the Spirit, providing him with direction and even preventing him from going to certain places. His ministry was motivated by his desire to obey the commission given to him by Jesus, but it was directed by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 16, Luke records just such an occasion.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. – Acts 16:6-7 NLT

And somewhere along the way, Paul had been given what had to have been a Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome. Acts 19:21 reports Paul’s impassioned statement: “I must go on to Rome!” And now, after his hearing before King Agrippa and Festus, he was on his way. But this journey was not going to be an easy one. He was still a prisoner and he was on his way to stand trial before the emperor of Rome, still facing charges that could result in his death. Nothing about this phase of Paul’s life was easy or trouble-free. It seems that with every step he took, the difficulties increased in number and intensity. And yet, he was innocent of any wrong-doing, a fact with which both the governor and the king concurred.

Luke spends a great deal of time chronicling this portion of Paul’s life. He provides a lot of detail, describing each phase of Paul’s journey to Rome with what appears to be keen interest. But why? It seems that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was trying to show that Paul’s desire to go to Rome, while Spirit-inspired, was not a guarantee of a trouble-free journey. God was sovereign and orchestrating each step of Paul’s trip to Rome, but that did not exempt Paul from difficulties or trials along the way. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews in the temple courtyard and eventual arrest by the Romans, had stretched into more than a two-year delay. He had been moved to Caesarea for a hearing before Governor Felix, but had remained in confinement when Felix found himself unable to arrive at a decision as to Paul’s fate. And Paul had remained there for two years, until Felix had been replaced by Festus. It was to Festus that Paul had demanded a trial before Caesar and now, he was on his way.

The beatings, imprisonment, false accusations, threats, and plots against his life had just been the beginning. His trip to Rome was going to prove equally as intense and full of inexplicable trials and tests. But it is essential that we read this account as Luke intended it to be read: With a knowledge that God is in control. None of the events described in this chapter happened outside the sovereign will of God. And no one understood that better than Paul himself. We must give careful consideration to the attitude and actions displayed by Paul throughout this story. There was no sense of panic or fear. At no time does Paul seem to consider the troubles surrounding his life as an indication that he was somehow out of God’s will for his life. From the moment he stepped foot on the ship to the day he arrived in Rome, Paul was content and at peace with the knowledge that his life was in God’s hands.

In verse four, Luke gives a short, but telling glimpse into what was to come: “…the winds were against us.” The entire journey will appear to be marked by a supernatural, spiritual-based conflict. There is little doubt that much of what Luke describes is meant to convey the battle taking place in the heavenly realms, as Paul himself described it. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was being led by God, but being opposed by Satan every step of the way. Luke does not provide us with a step-by-step description or blow-by-blow account of how this battle unfolded. He does not attribute the storm to Satan. He doesn’t even mention him. But his narrative provides us with a foreboding sense of the spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes.

We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. – Acts 27:7 NLT

Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens… – Acts 27:8 NLT

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous – Acts 27:9 NLT

Paul advised them, 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.” – Acts 27:9-10 NLT

…soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. – Acts 27:14 NLT

we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat – Acts 27:16 NLT

fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. – Acts 27:17 NLT

Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. – Acts 27:18 NLT

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. – Acts 27:20 NLT

All hope was abandoned. Or was it? There was at least one man on the boat who seemed to know that there was still hope, because there was still a God who had all things in His hands and under His control. Nowhere does Paul express fear that he had been abandoned by God. He did not view the storm as a sign that God was punishing him or somehow preventing him from arriving in Rome. His Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome had not diminished. And as we will see in the next section of verses, God will provide Paul with clear confirmation that he will make it to his final destination without the loss of a single life. The storm was going to prove no match for God. And Julius, the Augustan Cohort in charge of delivering Paul to Rome; Aristarchus, the Macedonian traveling with Paul; and all the sailors on the ship, were going to get a first-hand display of the power of God. They may have lost hope, but Paul hadn’t. They may have feared for their lives, but Paul had an assurance from God that not a single life would be lost. Paul was headed to Rome. The winds would blow, the waves would crash, the boat would sink, the sailors would panic, but Paul would rest in the sovereign hand of God. His faith was in his God. His eyes were on the One who had called and commissioned him, not on the storms of life. And this story brings to mind a similar scene from the life of Jesus, when He and His disciples encountered a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:37-40 NLT

Paul experienced the same storm the sailors did, but without fear. Paul had faith. He trusted God. And it seems that Luke is silently asking us whether we will do the same.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Become As I Am.

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 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: 23 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.”

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 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.”

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Acts 26:19-32 ESV

caesarea-map

The governor and the king sat in rapt silence, as Paul continued to make his defense. But whether they realized it or not, Paul was on the offensive, with a single goal in mind: To share the truth regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ with the two powerful men sitting before him.  Up until this point, the resurrection had been the central theme of Paul’s entire talk. In fact, he claimed to have seen Jesus alive, having received a “heavenly vision” directly from Jesus Himself. And all that Paul had done since the day he received that vision, had been in obedience to the command of Jesus, the risen, living Messiah. Jesus had provided Paul with an explanation for His appearance to him and a description of his assignment.

16 “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, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 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.” – Acts 26:16-18 ESV

And Paul claimed to have been obedient to the task given to Him by Jesus. It was the very fact that Paul had done what Jesus had told him to do that he had been arrested and beaten by the Jews. “For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me” (Acts 26:21 ESV). Paul knew full well that the reason for his ill treatment by the Jews had nothing to do with him violating the Mosaic law by bringing Gentiles into the forbidden areas of the temple grounds. That had been a ruse. Their real issue with Paul was the message he had been preaching about Jesus being the Messiah, and the fact that he had been preaching it to Gentiles. Paul’s work had struck a nerve with the Jews because it had struck a chord among the people. Both Jews and Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. But the real stumbling point for the Jewish leadership was that Paul had been propagating the idea that the Jewish rite of circumcision and adherence to the laws of Moses were not necessary for Gentiles to be made right with God. So, in the end, it was Paul’s message regarding the resurrection and the means of attaining righteousness that was at the root of his problem with the Jews.

Paul had an astute awareness of God’s sovereign power and constant presence in his life. In spite of the fact that the Jews had tried to kill him, he knew that it had been God who had rescued him, keeping him alive because there was a greater purpose for him to accomplish. “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great” (Acts 26:22 ESV). God had protected and preserved him because He had unfinished business for him. And here he was, standing in front of Festus and Agrippa, sharing 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” (Acts 26:23 ESV). What an incredible opportunity. Even Paul, in his wildest dreams, could not have imagined or envisioned that he would one day stand before a Roman governor and a king, sharing the message of Christ’s resurrection and the hope of salvation that it made possible.

But to Festus, it all sounded like the ravings of a lunatic. He suddenly interrupted Paul and shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (Acts 26:24 NLT). This had not been the first time Paul had heard a Gentile refer to the gospel as crazy talk. He would later write to the church in Corinth, describing the typical response he encountered from both Jews and Gentiles.

So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT

Festus knew little about the Jews and their religion. And all Paul’s talk about a crucified rabbi miraculously coming back to life sounded like crazy talk to him – much as it does to many today. On the other side of conversion, the message of the cross always sounds ridiculous. Paul put it this way, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT). In other words, it is only after coming to faith in Christ that one can truly understand the remarkable truth of the cross and Christ’s death on it. The description of Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of mankind sounds farfetched and difficult to comprehend. It comes across as little more than some kind of religious fantasy story. But for those who have come to faith in Christ, the cross becomes the hope on which their salvation hangs and their eternal life depends. Again, Paul expressed this sentiment to the church in Corinth.

24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

Festus thought Paul had lost his mind. But Paul insisted that his words were truth, not the crazy thoughts of a madman. And at this point, Paul turned his attention to King Agrippa, appealing to his knowledge of the Jewish people and their ways. Paul somehow knew that Agrippa was aware of all that had happened concerning Jesus. He also knew that Agrippa was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, the man who had been king when Jesus had been born. He was the one who had tried to eliminate the potential threat of Jesus, who the magi had described to him as the newborn king of the Jews. Herod the Great had ordered the executions of all baby boys under two living in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Agrippa had a family heritage that was directly linked to Jesus, the Messiah. And Agrippa, as the official who had jurisdiction over the temple and held the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest, knew the ways of the Jews. He was familiar enough with Jewish history and their beliefs to know that what Paul was saying was based on truth, not fantasy. And Paul boldly asked the king, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27 ESV). What is Paul doing here? Is he claiming that Agrippa was a God-fearer and believed in the Hebrew Scriptures. That’s unlikely. But Paul was putting Agrippa on the spot. He was creating a dilemma for the king, by forcing him to state whether he believed what the Jewish prophets wrote or not. Because of his close connection with the Jewish people as their king, his oversight of the temple and his ties to the high priest, Agrippa had to be very careful how he answered Paul’s question. If he replied that he did not believe what the prophets had written concerning the Messiah, he would risk offending the Jews. So, he chose not to answer the question at all, replying instead, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” (Acts 26:28 NLT). He avoided the question by asserting that Paul had been trying to convert him. And Paul didn’t deny it.

“Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.” – Acts 26:29 NLT

It would have been Paul’s greatest wish to see Agrippa, Festus and every other person in the room that day come to faith in Christ. He wanted them to become as he was. Paul was chained, but a free man. They were free from chains, but imprisoned by their sin and under the curse of death because of their rebellion against God. Paul’s desire was that they might discover the joy of forgiveness for sin and freedom from the penalty of death found in Jesus Christ and made possible by His death and resurrection. But there would be no one saved that day. And Paul would remain a prisoner of the Roman government. In fact, Agrippa replied that, had not Paul made his appeal to go to Caesar, he could have gone free, because he had done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment. So, Paul was destined to go to Rome. His fate was sealed. But it was all part of God’s perfect plan for his life and His overarching plan for the redemption of mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God Raises the Dead!

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 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, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 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.’” Acts 26:2-18 ESV

caesarea-map

Paul is in Caesarea, where is about to give his defense before the governor, Festus, and King Agrippa. He has been provided this unique opportunity because the king happened to be in town and the governor was desperate to find some formal charge he could level against Paul before sending him to Rome for trial before the emperor. Festus had high hopes that King Agrippa, after having listened to Paul’s story, might be able to determine a crime for which to charge Paul. Up until this point, Festus had found Paul innocent of nothing worthy of death, which is what the Jews had been demanding. So, now Paul, with these two powerful men as his audience, began his defense. But what he will have to say to Festus and Agrippa will have little to do with the actual facts of the case against him. Paul was less interested in giving a defense for his actions than he was in providing a well-reasoned defense of the gospel. He was not out to prove his innocence and win his freedom. He wanted to win these two pagan political leaders to Christ.

But he started out by honoring the men before him, expressing his gratitude that he was being given the opportunity to speak before Agrippa, because he had knowledge of Jewish affairs. The emperor had assigned Agrippa the principality of Chalcis, and given him authority over the Temple at Jerusalem, including the responsibility to nominate the Jewish high priest. So, Paul was legitimately pleased to share his story with someone who had a working knowledge of Jewish religious affairs and the ability to discern the truth of what had happened that day in the temple courtyard when Paul had been beaten and arrested.

The next thing Paul did was provide Agrippa with a bit of background. He informed the king that he was a Jew and a former Pharisee. He was not part of some radical religious sect determined to stir up trouble or bring about insurrection against the Jews or Rome. He was a God-fearing Hebrew who happened to be teaching and preaching about the very hope of Israel.

Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me for having this hope! – Acts 26:6-7 NLT

Paul wasted no time, but cut right to the point, clearly articulating that his only “crime” was that of claiming that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of the Hebrew nation. Jesus had been the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Every God-fearing Jews since the time of the Patriarchs had believed in and hoped for the coming of the Messiah, and Paul was simply claiming that his arrest was due to the fact that the Jewish leadership refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. And Paul raised the real stumbling block for the Jews: the resurrection of Jesus. They had gone out of their way to see that Jesus was crucified by the Romans. To them, He was nothing more than a dead man, a former rabbi who had propagated heretical teachings, violated the Mosaic law and had constantly ridiculed them before the common people. But Paul and the apostles had been teaching that Jesus was alive. Yes, He had been killed, but God had raised Him from the dead. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8 ESV).

The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of the Christian faith. Even in Paul’s day, there were those who struggled with the idea of a man being raised back to life. Within the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council, there were the Sadducees, who rejected the whole idea of a bodily resurrection, and the Pharisees, who embraced it. And within the early church, there were those who wrestled over the concept of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul had to address a group of these individuals who were part of the church in Corinth.

12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 NLT

Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christian faith. There is no hope. Forgiveness of sin and any chance of being made right with God evaporate if Jesus was not raised back to life. His payment for mankind’s sin, accomplished by His sacrificial death on the cross, was incomplete if He was only a martyr. It was the fact that God restored Him back to life that proved His death had been sufficient and had fully satisfied the holy and just wrath of God against sin. The resurrection of Jesus was meant to provide us with hope of our own future resurrection from death and with the incontrovertible proof that we have been restored to a right relationship with God. Paul makes that point very clear to the church in Corinth:

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NLT

So, for Paul, the real heart of the issue surrounding his arrest had been his teaching of a resurrected Messiah. And he provided King Agrippa with his own personal story of how he had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. It was at this point in his defense that Paul told of his conversion on the road to Damascus. The point of Paul sharing his testimony was that it revolved around the fact that he had experienced a face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Jesus. The whole reason for his radical transformation from persecutor of the church to a proponent of the gospel, was that he had met Jesus, the very one the Jews had coerced the Romans to crucify. Both Festus and Agrippa would have been aware of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. His trials and crucifixion had not happened in a vacuum. They would even have heard the rumors regarding his resurrection. But this would have been the first time they heard such detailed accounts backing up the claim that He had been raised back to life by God.

The next thing Paul did was bring his testimony to a powerful conclusion, focusing his attention on the one point that would resonate most clearly and personally to the two men in his audience: His calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He related to Festus and Agrippa the words spoken to him on the road to Damascus by the resurrected Jesus: “Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me” (Acts 26:17-18 NLT). Look carefully at what Paul was doing. He was boldly sharing the gospel message with two powerful Roman political figures. They were Gentiles and, whether they recognized it or not, they were living in darkness. Agrippa was having an incestuous affair with his own sister, Bernice. But Paul was offering them forgiveness from sin and a place in the family of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. All they had to do was believe that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah, the Savior of the world. The main issue was going to be their own disbelief in the resurrection of Jesus. Which brings us back to Paul’s question: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

Festus and Agrippa, just like every other person who has ever lived, were faced with the choice of believing the good news regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, or rejecting it as farfetched and unnecessary. Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was alive. His life had been radically transformed by the risen Christ. Now, he was offering the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life to two men who desperately needed it, but would have to make the decision to accept it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

At A Loss For Words.

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus. 14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

1 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: Acts 25:13-26:1 ESV

Paul had made an appeal to have his case transferred to Rome, so that he might stand trial before Caesar himself. Because Paul was a Roman citizen, Festus, the governor, was obligated to fulfill Paul’s wish. But before he could send Paul to the emperor, he was required to include a formal document outlining Paul’s crimes. And that was where Festus was at a loss. He had no clue as to what charges he could file against Paul that would warrant a hearing before the emperor. Festus had listened to the accusations leveled against Paul by the Jewish Sanhedrin, but he had heard nothing that would make Paul a threat against the state. Sure, the Jews had accused Paul of inciting riots and desecrating the temple, but they had been unable to prove anything (Acts 25:7). Their rhetoric was unaccompanied by realistic facts that could be backed up by hard-and-fast evidence.

It just so happened that King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, were visiting Caesarea about that time, so Festus shared his predicament with the king, relating the situation involving Paul and the Jewish religious leadership. Festus explained that it all had to do with “…something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive” (Acts 25:19 NLT). In other words, it all appeared to be nothing more than an internal, religious dispute among the Jews. He expressed his predicament to King Agrippa in no uncertain terms:

25 But in my opinion he has done nothing deserving death. However, since he appealed his case to the emperor, I have decided to send him to Rome.

26 “But what shall I write the emperor? – Acts 25:25-26 NLT

King Agrippa was intrigued and asked for an opportunity to hear Paul for himself. Now, at this point, a little background is necessary. The Agrippa Luke refers to in this passage is Marcus Julius Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-23). His great-grandfather was the Herod who had ordered all the Jewish baby boys under the age of two to be slaughtered – in an attempt to eliminate the “newborn king of the Jews” who the wise men had informed him about (Matthew 2:1-1). So, Agrippa came from wicked stock. And he had not fallen far from the family tree. Luke records that he was accompanied by Bernice. In some translations, she is described as his wife. But she was actually his younger sister. At one point, she had been married to her uncle Herod, the king of Chalcis. But upon his death, she had moved in with her brother and the two of them began an incestuous relationship, a fact that was well-known throughout Palestine and Rome. So, Paul was brought before this notoriously sinful and extremely powerful couple to state his case.

Festus set up the interview by reiterating his belief that Paul was innocent of any crime worthy of his death. The Jews had demanded that Festus condemn Paul (Acts 25:15). In other words, they were looking for a death sentence. They were demanding the right to put Paul to death for desecrating the temple, even though they had provided no definitive proof. But Festus made it perfectly clear that he had heard nothing that warranted the handing down of a death sentence. It was his hope that perhaps, after having heard Paul’s story for himself, Agrippa might be able to shed some light on the matter and help come up with a believable charge against Paul that would make sending him to Caesar worthwhile and not a waste of the emperor’s time.

Now, stop for a moment and consider the gravity of this situation. Paul has been accused of crimes against the state and violations of the Mosaic law that were punishable by death. He has already had to appear before the former governor, Felix, and he had been forced to endure a similar hearing before the new governor, Festus. And now, he was given the opportunity to state his case before King Agrippa. With each one of these encounters, Paul had been given a God-ordained opportunity to speak openly and boldly about the good news concerning Jesus Christ. As Festus had made clear, Paul had spoken to him about the resurrection of Jesus. Now, Paul was going to get the same chance with King Agrippa and sister/mistress. What an incredible occasion. How many people get the opportunity to speak of Jesus before kings? But this was all in keeping with the promise Jesus had made to Ananias, when He had sent him to visit the newly converted Saul.

“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.” – Acts 9:15 NLT

Paul had already spoken to a Roman tribune and two Roman governors. Now, he was being provided with a remarkable opportunity to address a king. And, if all went well, he would soon find himself standing before the most powerful man in the world at that time: The emperor of Rome.

Yet, Paul’s life was on the line. The accusations against him were serious and the Jew’s hatred for him was intense. They wanted him dead. Consider how you would react if you suddenly found yourself in his sandals. What would you do? How would you feel? What would you say? It is so easy to read these stories and to assume that Paul, Peter, John and all the rest of the early founders of the church were just some special breed of super saints. They were especially brave and supernaturally gifted to endure the trials and tribulations they experienced. And they were. But it is essential that we remember what Jesus said to His disciples when He was preparing to send them out on their first ministry excursion on their own. He had warned them:

16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – Matthew 10:16-20 NLT

Paul had already experienced the reality of these verses. He had known what it was like to stand before the Roman tribune and two Roman governors. The Spirit of God had given him not only the courage to stand his ground, but the content to speak. And this situation with King Agrippa would prove to be no different. Jesus had told His disciples not to worry.

26 “But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 27 What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! – Matthew 10:26-27 NLT

And while Paul had not been present when Jesus spoke those words, they undoubtedly had been communicated to him in some form or fashion. Either from the disciples themselves, or by the Holy Spirit. And Paul inherently knew that his life was in God’s hands, a fact that Jesus had tried to convey to His disciples.

28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT

Paul saw the opportunity placed before him as a God-send. He was going to get to speak to a king, a man who had a reputation for promiscuity and for unbridled ambition. Yes, he was powerful. He had the authority to set Paul free or to seal his death sentence. But Paul seemed to know the reality of the words spoken by Jesus to His disciples some years earlier:

38 “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.” – Matthew 10:38 NLT

As we saw earlier in Luke’s text, Paul had already made his intentions known. “I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT). Now, he was in Caesarea. But his attitude remained the same and he articulated it to the believers in Philippi. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 ESV). As long as Paul drew breath, he would speak on behalf of Christ – to kings, governors, tribunes, Gentiles, Jews, and anyone else who would listen. But, in Paul’s mind, death, while always a potential, was never a cause for fear. Which is why he was able to say, “I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT).

Festus was at a loss for words and incapable of knowing what to write to the emperor. But Paul would prove to be anything but tongue-tied or at a loss for what to say. And what he had to say would have little to do with saving his own skin, and everything to do with seeing others experience the saving grace of God made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson