Delivered to Die

1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Mark 15:1-15 ESV

It proved to be a long night for everyone involved. Jesus had been arrested late Thursday night and taken to the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest. His interrogation by Caiaphas and the other members of the Sanhedrin had lasted well into the early morning hours of the next day. During that time, Peter had denied Jesus and fled the scene in tears. And even Judas, the disciple who had chosen to betray Jesus, had stuck around to see what happened next. When he saw that Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin, he had a change of heart. Matthew records that “when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (Matthew 27:3-4 ESV).

But his feelings of regret and remorse, while probably sincere, were of no benefit to Jesus. Judas’ decision to betray his Master had helped seal His fate. And while Judas returned the blood money he had been paid for his dastardly deed, it did nothing to assuage his guilt. In a final act of contrition, Judas took his own life (Matthew 27:5).

Meanwhile, having convicted Jesus of blasphemy, the high priest and the council convened an early morning meeting to determine their next steps. They knew that the Roman authorities would find the charge of blasphemy to be insufficient cause for authorizing the death of Jesus. So, they met one last time to deliberate on what additional charge they could bring against Jesus that would warrant His death and force the Roman governor to give his seal of approval. And it seems that they chose to accuse Jesus of high treason. If they could convince Pilate that Jesus was a dangerous revolutionary who was fomenting insurrection against the Roman government, they would achieve their goal of eliminating Jesus once and for all.

Having determined their strategy, the members of the high council had Jesus bound, and they moved en masse to the palace of the Roman governor. And Luke tells us that, once they had the ear of Pilate, these men wasted no time in pressing their charges against Jesus.

“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” – Luke 23:2 ESV

If there was one thing the Roman government would not tolerate, it was any form of sedition. They knew from experience that the key to maintaining order in any of their vassal states was to deal with rebels quickly and harshly. And as the local representative of the Roman Empire, Pilate was responsible for maintaining law and order in his region. So, when the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of being a would-be king of Israel, it got the attention of the Roman governor.

But as Pilate looked at the unimpressive figure standing before him, it is likely that he found the charges to sound a bit far-fetched. Jesus did not have the look of an insurrectionist. There was nothing about Jesus’ appearance or demeanor that would give the impression He was a threat to the Roman government. In fact, the prophet Isaiah described the Messiah in less-than-flattering terms:

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. – Isaiah 53:2-3 NLT

So, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2 ESV). There was probably a tinge of sarcasm in Pilate’s words. In a sense, he was asking Jesus, “Are YOU the king of the Jews?” Was this disheveled looking man the reason Pilate had been forced to have this early morning meeting? Was He really the cause of all the turmoil taking place?

But all Jesus said in response was, “You have said so” (Mark 15:2 ESV). He didn’t deny the charges or attempt to defend Himself. He didn’t proclaim His innocence or expose the hypocrisy of His accusers. But while Jesus remained passive and quiet, HIs enemies barraged Pilate with a litany of additional charges against Jesus. And Pilate was amazed that this prisoner was able to maintain His composure and refrain from answering the growing list of charges against him. At one point, he even asked Jesus, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” (Matthew 27:13 ESV). But Jesus refused to respond.

Amazingly, despite all the charges leveled against Jesus, Pilate reached the conclusion that He was innocent. He told the members of the Sanhedrin, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4 ESV). But refusing to accept Pilate”s verdict, they intensified their efforts, shouting, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place”  (Luke 23:5 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as a dangerous radical who was inciting trouble all throughout the region, from Judea all the way to Galilee in the north.

But again, Pilate seemed to sense that their problem with Jesus was religious in nature and had nothing to do with Rome. This man was no threat to the empire. Pilate seems to have been intrigued by Jesus. In his gospel account, John reports that Pilate questioned Jesus further about His supposed kingship.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:33 ESV

And Jesus responded by asking Pilate whether his question was motivated by personal interest or simply based on the accusations of the Sanhedrin. Pilate, taken aback by Jesus’ words, demanded to know what was really going on.

“Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

And Jesus responded with a clarification of the nature of His kingdom.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

To Pilate, this sounded like an admission of guilt, so he asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The issue was not so much whether Jesus was a king. It had more to do with the nature of His kingdom. The truth was that Jesus was a king, but not like Caesar. And He was not interested in overthrowing Rome and dethroning the emperor. His kingdom was not of this world. It was spiritual in nature. And this discussion led Pilate to conclude that this was nothing more than an internecine squabble among the Jews. So, he attempted to extricate himself from the situation by offering a compromise solution.

Over his years as prefect, Pilate had established a custom of releasing a single Jewish prisoner in honor of Passover. It made sense to Pilate that Jesus would be the obvious choice on this particular occasion. But he was surprised to hear the Jews demand the release of Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer. They specifically requested that Pilate keep Jesus under lock and key, while setting free a dangerous criminal who was a real threat to the Roman empire.

Evidently, all the commotion that morning had attracted a crowd. So, Pilate, in an attempt to pacify the crowd, had offered to release Jesus “the King of the Jews” (Mark 15:9 ESV). But the Jewish religious leaders had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, inciting them to reject Pilate’s offer and demand the release of Barabbas. When Pilate asked what He should do with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Confused by the intensity of their anger, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Mark 15:14 ESV), and the people simply shouted, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23 ESV).

And sadly, Mark records that Pilate acquiesced to the demands of the people. While he felt certain that Jesus was innocent, having done nothing worthy of death, Pilate feared the growing anger of the mob.

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. – Mark 15:15 ESV

And everything was happening just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years earlier.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

The King of the Jews “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV). And in just a few hours, the Son of God would become “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

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

Grace and Peace

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

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

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 ESV

As is obvious from the book’s title, this is a second letter written by Paul to the congregation of the church in Thessalonica. There may have been other letters written as well, but they were not included in the Canon of Scripture. There is no indication as to how much time had passed since Paul had written his first letter, but it is clear that he had received new information regarding the spiritual state of affairs in Thessalonica and he felt compelled to pen his response.

Paul was still in Corinth, some 358 miles away, when he heard the latest report concerning affairs in Thessalonica. Driven by his pastor’s heart, but hindered by the distance between them, Paul immediately put pen to paper in an effort to clarify the confusion that had entered the church through false teachers. This was a constant problem for Paul and the other apostles. As soon as they proclaimed the good news regarding salvation alone through Christ alone, others would appear on the scene, declare themselves to be teachers, and begin offering what Paul elsewhere refers to as “different gospel.”

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV

These “false” teachers were propagating their own version of the truth, adding to or taking away from the message concerning Jesus that Paul and the rest of the apostles had been divinely commissioned to preach. But as Paul told the churches in Galatia, these individuals were to be treated as enemies of God and as threats to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:8 ESV

But before broaching the subject of the doctrinal controversy going on in Thessalonica, Paul addressed his audience in his usual gracious manner, expressing his strong affection for them and complimenting them for their “steadfastness and faith” in the face of all the persecutions and afflictions they were having to endure. The members of the Thessalonian church were still relatively new converts to Christianity and they were living in a predominantly pagan culture heavily influenced by both Greek and Roman culture. Located on a major trade route, Thessalonica was a cultural melting pot and enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. As the capital of the Roman province of Macedon, it also benefited from the protection provided by Caesar’s powerful legions.

But all of these factors made Thessalonica a particularly hostile environment for those who had chosen to place their faith in Christ. While considered a rather pluralistic society, there was strong resistance to Christianity from the Greeks as well as the small contingent of Jews who called Thessalonica home. The small but growing band of Christ-followers were feeling intense pressure from all sides as they attempted to live out their new faith under less-than-ideal conditions.

But Paul, writing on behalf of his ministry companions, Silvanus and Timothy, compliments the Thessalonians for their steadfastness and perseverance under fire.

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4 NLT

While the circumstances around them were difficult, these faithful few were not giving in or choosing to give up. In fact, Paul emphasizes that they were handling the pressure with remarkable poise and persistence.

…your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV

Paul opens his letter with his usual salutation, declaring his desire that they enjoy the ongoing benefit of God’s grace and peace. While Paul used this same phrasing in many of his letters, it should not be seen as some rote and therefore, meaningless line. He meant what he said. His desire that they experience God’s grace or unmerited favor was real. For Paul, the grace of God played an indispensable role in every believer’s salvation, but also in their ongoing sanctification. Without the benefit of God’s grace, no one could come to faith in Christ.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:24 NLT

And God’s grace continues to play a vital role in the believer’s transformation into the likeness of Christ. He graciously provides each and every believer with His indwelling Holy Spirit, who provides the power required to live the Christian life. And Paul warned the believers in Galatia just how futile and foolish it is to try achieve spiritual maturity without God’s grace, as demonstrated by the Spirit’s enabling power.

After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? – Galatians 3:3 NLT

Paul knew that without the ongoing benefit of God’s unmerited favor, the Thessalonian believers would never experience the fulness of joy and the abundant life Christ promised to give them.

But he also knew that the peace of God was another essential resource in their ongoing spiritual transformation. In his letter to the churches in Philippi, Paul described this peace as that which “exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7 NLT). And he assured them that God’s “peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

When Paul commended the Thessalonians for their faith and love, and complimented them for their steadfastness and faith, he knew that it was all attributable to the grace and peace of God. He was at work in their midst. He had saved them and He was also sustaining and supporting them as their spiritual journey continued. Paul was fully convinced in the reality of God’s ongoing participation in the life of every believer, a belief he expressed boldly and often.

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 NLT

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

The Thessalonians were in good hands. They had everything they needed for living the godly life because of the grace of God the Father. And as Peter reveals, Paul was not alone in this confident assertion.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

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

Free to Love One Another

12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:12-16 ESV

Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon. And Paul makes it clear that this had not been an easy decision. In a sense, Paul was sending his very heart. He loved Onesimus as if he was his own son. This young man had come to mean a great deal to the apostle and it must have grieved him deeply to think of him leaving his side. But Paul wanted to do the right thing. He knew that the rift between Onesimus and Philemon needed to be healed.

But as difficult as it was for Paul, stop and consider the feelings of Onesimus. They say there are two sides to every story, and in the case of Onesimus, we know next to nothing about how he came to be a slave, why he ran away, or what kind of conditions he had lived under while serving in Philemon’s house. But it seems likely that his decision to escape his condition as a slave was motivated by something. Perhaps it was nothing more than the natural human desire to be free.

It is fascinating to speculate on the back story of Onesimus. Perhaps he had sold himself into servitude in order to pay back a debt he owed to Philemon. Or he could have been born into his condition, the unfortunate son of slave parents. Then there’s the very real possibility that Onesimus had been a prisoner of war who Philemon purchased from the slave market.

But regardless of how Onesimus had come to be a slave or why he had decided to run away, Paul had somehow convinced him to return. What a fascinating conversation that must have been. Just imagine how long Paul must have wrestled with the idea before he ever brought it up with Onesimus. And then, consider how Onesimus must have received Paul’s counsel that he go back to Philemon and make things right.

There were great risks involved. And yet, Onesimus had agreed to follow Paul’s advice, despite knowing that his return could result in his re-enslavement. Not only that, but he could also face severe legal repercussions for his actions. As a runaway slave, he could be beaten, sold, or even put to death. His fate would be in the hands of Philemon. But this young man had willingly chosen to take the risks in order to do what he believed to be the right thing.

In an attempt to prepare Philemon for the arrival of his former slave and newfound brother in Christ, Paul uses an interesting tactic. He implies that all the while Onesimus had been ministering to him during his imprisonment in Rome, he had done so on Philemon’s behalf. And Paul states that he had been tempted to maintain this arrangement, but had not wanted to make that decision for Philemon.

I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. – Philemon 1:13-14 ESV

Interestingly enough, Paul seemed to view Onesimus as a gift from Philemon. And yet, the only way Paul could have known about the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was because Onesimus had divulged it to him. At some point in their relationship, Onesimus had revealed his status as a runaway slave. And when Paul had heard the name of Onesimus’ master, Paul had recognized the hand of God in it all. Philemon was a dear friend of Paul’s. And Philemon had a slave who had run away and ended up in Rome, where he had met Paul and come to faith in Christ. Paul knew that none of this had been the result of happenstance, luck, kismet, or karma. It was the handiwork of God.

And Paul tried to get Philemon to view these events from a divine perspective, stating, “It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever” (Philemon 1:15 NLT). For Philemon, the loss of his slave had been nothing more than a financial setback. He had lost his property. But Paul reminded Philemon that his loss had actually resulted in great gain. He had lost a slave but was receiving back a brother in Christ.

He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:16 NLT

The young man who was about to walk through Philemon’s door was no longer his property, but a fellow member of the family of God. Onesimus was no longer Philemon’s personal possession. His life had been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

At one point, early in his earthly ministry, Jesus had returned to Nazareth, where he had entered the synagogue and read from the book of Isaiah.

“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

And having read this Messianic passage, Jesus handed the scroll back to the attendant and said, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Jesus had come to proclaim liberty to the captives and to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Of course, He was speaking in terms of spiritual captivity to sin and death, and freedom from the oppression that comes with trying to earn favor with God through human effort. And that is exactly what Onesimus had experienced. He had been set free and, as Jesus had said, “if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT). 

That verse is found in the middle of a discourse by Jesus in which he was discussing the ability of the truth to set men free. And he describes all those who sin as slaves.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” – Philemon 8:35-36 NLT

Prior to coming to faith in Christ, Philemon had been a slave to sin. But he had been set free and now enjoyed status as a son of God. But the same thing was true of Onesimus. He had also been set free from slavery to sin and death, and he had become Philemon’s spiritual brother. So, why would Philemon continue to treat his brother as a slave?

Paul was asking both of these men to make difficult decisions. Onesimus had made his choice and was returning home. But Philemon still had a choice to make. How would he respond? What would he do when he saw Onesimus?

Jesus came to change the condition of the human heart. He died so that men might experience the life-transformative power of God, that could not only restore fallen men to a right relationship with Himself but with one another.

“The supreme work of Christianity is to transform men, so that out of their transformed lives shall come the transformation of all social conditions, and the victories of righteousness and of love.” – G. Campbell Morgan, Living Messages of the Books of the Bible

Paul greatly desired that these two men, who both meant a great deal to him, would allow their faith in Christ to transform the relationship between them. Paul knew that their choice to live as brothers rather than as slave and master would be a testimony to the Gospel’s power. And it would spread throughout the local congregation and into the community.

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

From the Pen of a Prisoner

This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.

I am writing to Philemon, our beloved co-worker, and to our sister Apphia, and to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church that meets in your house.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. – Philemon 1:1-3 ESV

Paul’s letter to Philemon provides a fascinating glimpse into the culture of the 1st-Century. It is a somewhat uncomfortable read for 21st-Century Christians because it deals with a topic that most of us find reprehensible and off-putting – that of slavery. Yet, slavery was an everyday and unavoidable reality for those living in that part of the world at the beginning of the new millennium.

Slavery was ubiquitous throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, the inhabitants of the empire were comprised of two basic groups: Those who were free and those who were slaves. And an individual’s status as a slave usually had nothing to do with their race or ethnicity. Yes, many slaves were members of conquered people groups who represented a particular race, but they had not been enslaved for that reason. Their slavery had been the result of war. Roman slaves included prisoners of war as well as those captured and sold by pirates. But it was not uncommon for Roman citizens to end up as slaves due to economic hard times. If someone was unable to pay a debt, indentured servitude was their most likely fate. They would work for their lender until their debt was paid in full.

Sadly, there were also cases where financially strapped families would raise money by selling their own children into slavery. It is estimated that 1 out of every 5 people living in the Roman Empire were slaves, and by the 1st-Century, the primary source of slaves were the children born to slaves. A child born to a female slave was also a slave, regardless of the status of the father.

With all that as background, Paul’s letter to Philemon should come into greater clarity for us. When reading the apostle’s comments concerning Onesimus, a runaway slave belonging to Philemon, it would be easy to question why Paul fails to condemn the practice of slavery outright. Why doesn’t he demand that Philemon set this young man free? What is preventing Paul from attacking the institution of slavery and exposing his friend’s obvious injustice toward his fellow man?

But we have to understand that Paul was not out to revolutionize the culture of his day through the radical overturn of the social fabric. He, like Jesus, was a revolutionary, but with an agenda that focused on change within the human heart, not within the political and civil structures of society. You get a glimpse of Paul’s perspective on all of this in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. – 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 NLT

Paul was not encouraging insurrection on the part of the slaves. He was not fomenting a spirit of revolution or sedition. But he was calling for Christians, regardless of their social status, to have a radically different outlook on their identity. You get a sense of his agenda from reading his letter to the believers in Galatia, another Roman province.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT

Paul encouraged the Colossian believers to focus on their unity in Christ, not on their social status or ethnic identity.

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. – Colossians 3:10-12 NLT

So, as we begin our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, it is essential that we consider the social conditions of the day alongside the spiritual concerns that drove the apostle’s heart. Paul had no love affair for the institution of slavery. And the content of his letter contains neither a stinging condemnation or a subtle condoning of it. Slavery will not be the subject of this letter. But freedom in Christ and a love for our brothers and sisters in Christ will be. So, it is best if we read it from a 1st-Century perspective and with our ear tuned to hear Paul’s heart for the life-transformative power of the Gospel.

As Paul opens up his letter, he identifies himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:1 ESV). He is desmios, one in bonds. Paul was writing from Rome, where he was being held under house arrest while awaiting his trial before the emperor. It is no coincidence that Paul uses this terminology to introduce himself to his friend, Philemon. The rest of the letter will deal with another “prisoner” or bondslave by the name of Onesimus. Interestingly enough, Paul and Onesimus were experiencing a somewhat ironic change in circumstances. Onesimus, the slave, was enjoying the life of a free man, while Paul, the Roman citizen, was experiencing the life of a captive.

But Paul was a prisoner for Christ Jesus. He had been confined for his ministry on behalf of the gospel. He was not a prisoner of war or a captive as a result of an unpaid debt. No, his imprisonment was on behalf, and because of his faith in Jesus Christ. And Paul was perfectly content with his situation. In fact, he told the church in Philippi that he had learned to live with any circumstance that came his way, knowing that Christ would use it for his good and God’s glory.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Paul’s letter, while addressed primarily to Philemon, is intended for a much broader audience, including Apphia, Archippus, and the rest of the members of the church that met in Philemon’s house. It is clear that Philemon was a well-respected member of the local congregation in Colosse. And he played a major part in the church by providing his home as a meeting place for their worship services.

Christian congregations were dependent upon the hospitality of wealthy members who could furnish their own houses for this purpose. This note then contains an indication of the social status of Philemon. In a large city there would be several such assemblies. Whether the church at Colossae had more than one place of assembly is not known. Probably they did. – Hiebert, D. Edmond. Titus and Philemon

So, Philemon was a leader in the local fellowship and a person of influence. That’s probably why Paul was addressing his letter directly to him. Paul knew that if he could help enlighten Philemon, it would spread throughout the congregation. While this particular issue involved Philemon and his runaway slave, Paul realized that it had far greater implications that would impact the entire faith community.

Each of their relationships with one another were to be influenced by the Gospel. Their new natures, provided by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, were to alter their conduct and attitudes. In another letter, written to the entire membership of the church in Colosse, Paul reminded them that they had been raised to new life with Christ, and their behavior was to reflect that new life.

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. – Colossians 3:10-15 NLT

As members of one body, whether slave or free, they were called to live in peace. And Paul wraps up the salutation of his letter to Philemon with his heartfelt prayer for his friend and the members of the local fellowship in Colosse.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. – Philemon 1:3 ESV

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

Reason to Rejoice

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about Paul is his attitude of selflessness and total lack of self-obsessiveness. While he held the title of apostle and had been hand-picked by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul never saw himself as better than those to whom he ministered. He knew he was a leader and took seriously the responsibilities that came with his position. It was as if he lived by the counsel given to elders in the church by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. – 1 Peter 5:2-3 NLT

But unlike the average elder, Paul had responsibility for a much larger and geographically dispersed flock. He had helped plant churches throughout Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia. And even though he was writing this letter while under house arrest in Rome, he didn’t make it all about himself. In fact, his focus is clearly on those to whom he is writing. And he seems to be aware that they were upset over news of his imprisonment and pending trial in Rome. But rather than milk their sympathy and make it all about his less-than-ideal circumstances, he assured them that everything was okay. He attempted to assuage their concerns over his well-being by giving them a rather up-beat appraisal of his situation.

“…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” – Philippians 1:12 ESV

Basically, Paul assured them that “it’s all good!” There was nothing for them to worry about because God had His hands all over Paul’s circumstances. And Paul even seems to brag that everybody in the Emperor’s Imperial Guard was now aware that Paul was in prison because of His faith in Christ. It’s important to remember that the whole reason Paul was in Rome was because he had been accused of bringing a Gentile into the restricted area of the temple, and in doing so, violating Jewish religious laws. This was a crime worthy of death. And Paul had appealed for a hearing before Caesar because he knew he would never get a fair trial in Jerusalem, where the Jewish religious leaders were out to get him.

So, when Paul states that even the Roman guards had figured out that his imprisonment was due to Jesus Christ, it was because he had been busy sharing Christ with each and every guard he met. In the book of Acts, Luke records, “When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier” (Acts 28:16 NLT). In other words, Paul was under 24-hour watch, with a litany of Roman soldiers taking turns to guard him. And you can only imagine how Paul took advantage of this captive audience to relate the good news of Jesus Christ. As a result, the gospel was spreading throughout the Imperial Guard and the court of Nero.

From Paul’s perspective, as long as Jesus Christ was lifted up, that was all that mattered. And he was stoked that his imprisonment had actually emboldened the believers in Rome to step up their game and increase their influence over the pagan culture in Philippi. He joyfully related that, “because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear” (Philippians 1:14 NLT).

And Paul revealed that he was unconcerned and unaffected by the news that there were others preaching the gospel in his absence. In fact, he was glad to hear it. Yes, he realized that there were some who were doing it for the wrong reasons. He describes them as being motivated by envy and rivalry. These individuals were jealous of Paul and his notoriety. They saw him as competition and were taking advantage of his incarceration to elevate themselves to positions of power and prominence. But, as long as the gospel was being shared, Paul was joyous, not jealous. He also knew that there were others who preached the gospel with pure motives, and he rejoiced in their work as well.

“…the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” – Philippians 1:18 NLT

Remember the context. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He is under 24-hour guard and facing a trial before Nero, the Roman Emperor and a notorious enemy of the followers of the Way, or Christians. It had been several years since Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his hearings before the local authorities on trumped up charges.

He had no idea what the future held for him. But he will later allude to the only two options that seemed possible: Acquital or death.

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that 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. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

And Paul was willing to accept either outcome. If God chose to release Paul, the apostle would simply return to his work of sharing the gospel just as he had been doing. But if the divine decision required Paul to die, he would do so gladly, fully believing that “to die is gain.” But Paul’s main concern seems to be for the Philippian believers. He wants them to be encouraged, not discouraged. He doesn’t want them to worry about him or to lose sleep over the possible failure of the gospel. Paul’s imprisonment was not going to bring the spread of the good news to a screeching halt. There were other messengers.

And Paul wanted the believers in Philippi to know that they too had a job to do. His forced absence should motivate and mobilize them, not lead to despair and defeat.

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

Paul gave a similar charge to the believers living in Colossae.

“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” – Colossians 1:9-10 NLT

Imprisonment was not an impediment for Paul. He saw it as just one more way to spread the gospel to those who desperately needed to hear it, including Roman guards. And Paul didn’t want the Philippian believers to let his incarceration to cause them consternation. As far as Paul was concerned, it was all part of God’s will and part of the divine plan to spread the gospel around the world. And, as long as Jesus Christ was being proclaimed, Paul had more than enough reason to rejoice – even while under house arrest.

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

A Call to Holiness

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

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

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2 ESV

As we begin our study of Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi, it’s essential that we establish the historical context behind this document. Obviously, the opening line, which serves as the salutation to the letter, establishes Paul as its author. But we also find the name of Timothy, his young protégé and spiritual son in the faith. Timothy was alongside Paul as he penned this letter while under house arrest in Rome.

Paul had ended up in Rome by virtue of a series of complicated and, obviously, God-ordained events that had begun with a plot on his life. Paul had returned to Jerusalem in order to meet with James and the other leaders of the Jerusalem church. He made a report regarding his work among the Gentiles, and this news was met with great joy. But, while James and his associates were excited about what was obviously a sign of God’s hand upon Paul and his missionary efforts, they reported that the believing Jews in Jerusalem were less-than-enthusiastic about Paul’s work because of some disturbing rumors they had heard. It seems that Paul had been accused of teaching Jews that, once they came to Christ, they no longer had to keep the law of Moses. James presented Paul with the basic gist of the rumor.

“…they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:21 ESV

James was concerned that once these Jews heard that Paul was in town, they would stir up trouble for him. So, he recommended that Paul go through a period of purification, signaling to his critics that he was still a faithful Jew. Paul had agreed to the recommendation and, as the seven days of purification were coming to a close, he had made his way to the temple to complete the process. But Paul ended up being accused of bringing a Gentile into the restricted area of the temple reserved solely for Jews. A mob descended upon Paul and they had every intention of putting him to death. But Paul was rescued by Roman soldiers and put under arrest. A small faction of the Jews swore an oath among themselves that the would fast from food or drink until they had put Paul to death.

When the plot was exposed, Paul was shipped to Caesarea where he appeared before the Roman governor, Felix. Paul would remain in Caesarea for two years, under house arrest. Eventually Felix was replaced by Festus, who decided to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial. But Paul, knowing that he would not receive a fair trial in Jerusalem, appealed to his right as a Roman citizen to appear before Caesar in Rome. He was granted his request and was shipped to Rome, where he remained for two years under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar.

It was from Rome that Paul wrote this letter. But why is any of this background information relevant? It is because the entire letter to the Philippian believers is filled with words of encouragement. Here was a man who had spent years facing trumped-up charges that had left him imprisoned for a crime he had not committed. He was still facing a plot on his life and the prospect of appearing before Caesar with no guarantee that his trial would end in either his acquital or release.  In fact, he would tell his brothers and sisters in Philippi:

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that 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 1:21 NLT

Long before Paul ever arrived in Rome, he made a similar statement to the believers living there.

“If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” – Romans 14:8 NLT

So, here was Paul, writing to the believers in Philippi and attempting to encourage them in their faith. And the words that Paul writes to these people carry far more significance and weight where you consider the circumstances under which he wrote them. Consider this well-known declaration by Paul found later on in his letter.

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” – Philipiians 4:11-12 NLT

And he follows this expression of contentment in the face of adversity with the confident assertion: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). This was a man who knew what he was talking about. He was not offering pious-sounding platitudes, but well-tested counself based on his own personal experience.

Paul had a strong attachment to the believers in Philippi because he had played a major role in their coming to faith. Early on, in the book of Acts, Luke records Paul’s arrival in Philippi, a Roman colony. Paul had the privilege of leading to Christ a woman named Lydia, along with her entire household. Her home had become the meeting place for the fledgling congregation. It was in Philippi that Paul and Silas were imprisoned for casting a demon out of a young slave girl whose masters profited from their use of her as a fortune teller. Once freed from her demon, she was of no use to these men and they turned their anger against Paul and Silas. After having been severely beaten, Paul and his companions were imprisoned. But Paul was not someone who let obstacles stand in his way, even the bars of a prison cell. It was while they were in prison that Paul and Silas led to Christ the jailer in charge of their care.

Once released from jail, Paul and Silas eventually made their way to Thessalonica, but it seems that Paul made at least one return trip to Philippi some time before the penning of his letter to them. His letter was in direct response to a gift he had received from them that had been delivered by a man named Epaphroditus. Paul would use this young man to deliver his letter, allowing him to return home and put to rest any concern they had over his well-being. It seems that Ephaphroditus had become deathly sick during his time in Rome, but had recovered.

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,  for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” – Philippians 2:25-26 ESV

Paul was happy to send him home and included a word of commendation, praising Ephaphroditus for risking his life in order to minister to Paul’s needs.

But back to Paul’s salutation or greeting. He describes himself and Timothy as servants. The Greek word he used is doulos, and it refers to a bondservant or slave. It literally meant, “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.”

So, Paul doesn’t set himself as some kind of superior leader who deserves respect and honor, but describes himself as a lowly slave. This is the same designation Paul used when writing to the church in Rome.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. – Romans 1:1 ESV

Little did he know that, when he wrote these words, they would be prophetic. He would later become like a slave, living under the auhtority of the Roman government and completely subservient to their will. But he would see be serving Christ even while subject to the power and control of Rome.

And Paul addresses his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” They are saints or hagios, a Hebrew word that carries a depth of meaning. It is often used to refer to holiness. But it can also mean “to be set apart.” According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, hagios was used “of things which on account of some connection with God possess a certain distinction and claim to reverence.” Like the temple itself and the items found within it, believers have been set apart by God for His use. They belong to Him. Which is what led Paul to tell the believers in Rome:

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 ESV

Paul had a deep desire to see his brothers and sisters in Christ live up to their calling as children of God. And he will plead with them to live lives that are set apart, reflecting their unique status as saints of God.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel… – Philippians 1:27 ESV

Here was a man well-acquainted with what it means to suffer for his faith. He had first-hand experience with what it looks like to live as hagios in a world that stood in direct opposition to all he believed in and stood for. At the core of his message to the Philippian church will be Paul’s call to spiritual maturity in the face of adversity. They were a relatively healthy congregation, but they were surrounded by darkness and faced with the constant temptation to compromise their faith. And he will use his own walk with Christ as an example of what holiness looks like in real life.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

And Paul knew well, that this determination to press on and strive for the goal of Christ-likeness would require the grace and peace of God. But as Paul also knew, he could do all things through Christ who provided all the strength he needed.

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

Render Unto God.

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. –  Matthew 22:15-22 ESV

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It’s probably safe to say that none of us actually enjoy filing our taxes. We see it as a necessary evil and a burdensome obligation. And we do it because it’s required by law and that law carries some pretty stiff penalties for those who choose to ignore it. Taxation has had a long and less-than-popular reputation throughout history. And, as bad as we think our taxes may seem, they were far worse in Jesus’ day.

The Romans levied heavy taxes on the Jews. On top of that, the Jewish tax collectors added their own exorbitant fees. And then there was the Temple tax that every Jew had to pay, which in actuality, was used to support the lavish lifestyles of the priests themselves. These men lived in luxury while the average Jew struggled to make ends meet.

In his book, The Message and the Kingdom, Richard Horsley describes the elegant lifestyles enjoyed by these government-appointed tax collectors.

“…impressive archeological remains of their Jerusalem residences show how elegant their lifestyle had become. In spacious structures unhesitantly dubbed ‘mansions’ by the archeologists who uncovered them in the 1970’s, we can get a glimpse of a lavish life in mosaic floored reception rooms and dining rooms with elaborate painted and carved stucco wall decorations and with a wealth of fine tableware, glassware, carved stone table tops, and other interior furnishings and elegant peristyles.”

This staggering combination of tax obligations was overwhelming to the Jewish people, making everyday life practically unbearable and the very mention of taxes intolerable. Palestine was a veritable powder keg waiting to ignite and, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the refusal of the Romans to lessen the tax burdens was the eventual cause of the Jewish War and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

By now, we know that the Jewish religious leaders were looking for any and all opportunities to trick and trap Jesus in order that they might have Him arrested and eliminated. They were certain that it was just a matter of time before He said something that got Him into trouble with the people or with the Roman authorities. If they could get Him to say something the people would disagree with, He would lose His popularity and His growing following. If they could trick Him into saying something that could be taken as divisive or revolutionary by the Romans, then they could enlist the aid of the government in getting rid of Him. So they sent some “spies pretending to be honest men” (Luke 20:20 NLT).

In other words, they didn’t come dressed as priests, Pharisees, or religious leaders. They disguised themselves as average Jews, hoping to blend in with the crowd and catch Jesus off-guard and unprepared. Their question was well-planned and had a clear motivation behind it. “They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). After attempting to butter Him up with false flattery, they asked their question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17 ESV).

Render-Unto-CaesarBut Matthew makes it clear that Jesus saw through their ruse. He knew they were trying to trick Him and even accused them of hypocrisy. But in spite of His awareness of their less-than-sincere motives, He chose to answer their question. He asked for a Roman coin, which would have carried the image of Caesar, a fact that He got them to verify. Then He told them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21 ESV).

The simple interpretation of this passage would be that Jesus was simply encouraging civil obedience. The people of God must be good citizens. They must set a good example, even in the case of a corrupt and oppressive government. But there appears to be a much more significant point to Jesus’ statement.

It’s interesting that He emphasized the image of Caesar on the coin. The Roman emperor was considered a god by his own people. So, Jesus told them to give the coin bearing Caesar’s image back to Caesar. It was stamped with his image and, therefore, belonged to him. But Jesus also stated that they were to give to God what belonged to God. Don’t miss Jesus’ logic.

What is stamped with God’s image? Back in the book of Genesis, we read, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NLT). Every good Jew would have known this story and would have understood what Jesus was saying. Men and women are made in the image of God. In a sense, they are stamped with His image. Therefore, they belong to Him.

Jesus was teaching that, instead of worrying about the temporal things of this world, like money and taxes, the people needed to give themselves to God and His Kingdom.

All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT).

Those in Jesus’ audience that day had been made in the image of God. But as Jews, they also enjoyed the distinction of being God’s chosen people. They had been handpicked by God and then redeemed out of slavery in Egypt. They were His people – His prized possession. He had told them, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT).

These people had been oppressed and burdened before, and God had rescued them. And while, in Jesus’ day, they were suffering oppression under Roman rule, it had far less to do with taxes than it did with sin. God wanted to rescue and redeem them from slavery to sin and death, which is why He had sent His Son. But their minds were elsewhere. They saw their burdens as earthly, not spiritual. They wanted a Messiah to rescue them from the taxes and tyranny of the Romans. But Jesus had come to rescue them from a life enslaved to sin and the death sentence that came with it.

Jesus wanted these people to give God what was rightfully His – their lives. He wanted them to turn over their lives to the very one who could save them. Jesus stood before them as the Son of God and their Messiah. He was the answer to their problem, but they failed to recognize Him. Jesus had not come to foment insurrection, but to provide salvation. He had not come to lead a revolt against Rome, but to provide restoration with God. His was a spiritual revolution, not an earthly one. And He was subtly reminding His listeners that God, in whose image they were made, required what was due Him. And just as Caesar would punish any and all who refused to pay his mandatory tax, God would punish all those who refused to give Him what rightfully belonged to Him.

God had warned the people of Israel what would happen if they failed to render unto Him what was rightfully His. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10 NLT).

As believers, we have a spiritual obligation to God. He has made us, and He has redeemed through the precious and priceless blood of His own Son. Our lives are not our own. We belong to Him because He has paid for us at a great price. He has redeemed us from slavery to sin and made us His own. We are stamped with His image, and so we should “give to God what belongs to God” – our very lives.

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

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

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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