These Are The Days (Acts 28:17-31)

Many of you have been in the Valley long enough to have experienced the head-scratching anomaly that was 104.9FM. For over a year in the late ’90s, if you tuned to that station, you would hear Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of I Heard It Through The Grapevine on repeat, day and night. You can find forum posts where people ask about this legendary oddity. Dig a little more and you’ll find reports on it in both the LA Times and the Washington Post. There were “No commercials, no traffic reports, no deejays,” just one song again and again.

At the time the station was owned by Lemoore Wireless Co. and broadcast from Tipton. “Local radio executives speculate(d) that whoever got the license had money for a transmitter but (hadn’t) set up a studio.” After an innumerable number of repeats, whoever was behind the desk at KZZC made “…a shocking change and switched to different music: the Gladys Knight version of the song.”

We’ve come to the last page of Acts. It ends in much the same way that it began: With a Christian proclaiming a message of salvation, founded on the Word of God. You could let Acts fall open at random and find the same thing happening in some place or another. Whether it was Jerusalem or Caesarea, Malta or Rome, prison or palace, a dungeon cell or a city square, this same song was repeated time and time again. Decades had gone by since Jesus ascended into the clouds, and a whole lot of fantastic things had happened, but beneath it all was the same melody, the same lyrics. God had come, was coming again, and was ready to save anyone who would turn to Him.

The last scene is not between Paul and Nero. It’s not between Paul and one of the war-hardened Roman soldiers he’d be tethered to for the next two years. It’s not a meeting of Timothy, Paul, Silas and Luke. No, it’s yet another sermon being given to some Jews who had gathered together. But, of course, it’s more than that. It’s a sermon and example to us as well.

Acts 28:17 – 17 After three days he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them, “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

Despite all he had been through, we see that Paul was ready to get to work in Rome. In the midst of getting a place to live, going through administrative protocol of being handed off to the Praetorian Guard, he found time to write an invitation and have it sent to the leaders of the synagogues in town.

Some commentators feel that Paul had a political motivation for this meeting – that he was trying to feel out the Jewish community and see how they might react at his upcoming trial. But others point out that this was always Paul’s pattern when he came to a new city: To speak first to God’s people, the Jews, and then bring the message to the Gentiles.

William Barclay writes:

“There is something infinitely wonderful in the fact that…wherever he went, Paul began with the Jews. For…more than thirty years now they had been doing everything they could to hinder him, to undo his work, and even to kill him…yet it is to them first he offers his message.”

He opens the conversation by calling them brothers and assuring them that he was not their enemy. This is a reminder that I know I need in my own life. Our enemies are not our enemies. At least, we should learn to see them as lost and helpless, rather than as opponents to be defeated. Our Lord said: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Matthew Poole writes:

“The whole economy of the gospel is a doing good for evil.”

Paul wasn’t their enemy. Look how gracious he was to leave out the murder plot, the illegalities of his arrest, the lies and the politicking. Why? Because he was so concerned that they be saved.

Acts 28:18 – 18 After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.

Politicians are famous for pandering to a certain demographic to get votes and then, once they’re in power, their true colors come out. A few weeks ago an article was being widely shared which said, “Pro-life evangelicals for Biden feel ‘used and betrayed’” by his policies. Now, in that case, President Biden hadn’t misled anyone. He had made many pro-abortion promises. But, Paul wasn’t just saying he wasn’t anti-Jewish. A string of courts and officials had concluded the same thing. Lysias and Felix and Festus and Agrippa all recognized this man didn’t hate the Jews. But then why, after such a long and careful legal process, wasn’t he released? We saw why: The powers that be were unwilling to stand for what was right and true, choosing instead to bow to pressure and pick the routes that were the most advantageous to themselves.

Acts 28:19 – 19 Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar; even though I had no charge to bring against my people.

Paul felt no grudge toward his people, but felt this appeal was necessary for his survival. There were times that Paul used the legal system and claimed his rights. It happened in Philippi and Jerusalem. But there’s a difference between what he feels is necessary here and using the legal system to attack others. That’s not what Paul did. He didn’t countersue anyone. Though he had been maligned and mistreated, he goes out of his way to assure them that he has no quarrel with them.

We live in a time where Christians and ministries are becoming more and more willing to attack opponents with lawsuits. We need to be very careful and, as always, remember that grace is the way forward. There are times to involve courts, but it’s not every time.

Acts 28:20 – 20 For this reason I’ve asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.”

The hope of Israel was a technical term that would’ve grabbed the attention of these Jewish leaders. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of “the hope of Israel” as God Himself who would leave His throne and arrive as a Savior in time of distress.

Paul expresses to the Jews that his wish is to be at peace with them and to notify them about the coming of the Messiah.

When Jesus arrived He reveled that the hope of Israel was so much more than the simple liberation from Rome. The hope included not only a Savior and Sovereign, but resurrection from the dead and the promise of a future state in glory. This was important news that the nation had missed.

Acts 28:21 – 21 Then they said to him, “We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you.

These Roman Jews keep things close to the vest, but it seems true that they hadn’t received any tidings concerning Paul’s case. After all the trouble of the previous years, had the accusers in Jerusalem simply given up? It’s possible that their message hadn’t arrived yet – communication by sea was suspended during winter months. Or, it’s possible that they knew, having lost multiple court cases, there was no point in trying again before Nero.

Acts 28:22 – 22 But we want to hear what your views are, since we know that people everywhere are speaking against this sect.”

Rumors had begun to spread about these Christians – that they did all manner of immorality in their meetings. They would be accused of cannibalism, and detestable, criminal superstition. There’s a piece of ancient graffiti found in Rome, they think maybe from the year 200 AD, which shows a Christian worshipping a man with a donkey’s head being crucified. Though it assuredly wasn’t carved on the wall yet in Paul’s time, it demonstrates that Christians were not held in reverence.

But, to the credit of Paul’s guests, they were willing to hear a presentation about Jesus. Why? We have to speculate a bit, but for one thing, clearly Paul did not fit the caricature of Christianity that they had in mind. This was no mad, licentious cannibal. Here was a man full of grace, with Scripture on his tongue, discussing the Messiah who brings salvation to lost mankind.

What are the caricatures of Christianity today? Let’s not live up to them! Of course, many of them are unfair and wildly inaccurate. We note that Paul didn’t waste time arguing about cannibalism. Rather, his efforts were toward speaking the truth and winning people. And, because of his heart and the way he carried himself, they realized, “This guy has something to say.”

As Christians, there’s no point in us wasting our time with fluff. We’ve got a Messiah to communicate to people who are a few breaths from hell. When churches slip into a style of entertainment and feel-goodery self-help, they miss the point. The Gospel isn’t supposed to be the same as every Wellness YouTuber. It’s the power of God unto salvation. It’s the news that the Messiah has come and He’s coming again. Paul got that idea across and it made these Jews want to hear more.

Acts 28:23 – 23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets.

A larger crowd came this time. Paul talked with them all day. Twelve hours. This is another one of those sermons that we wish was recorded for us, like Jesus’ message on the Road to Emmaus or Philip’s talk with the Ethiopian Eunuch. But, the truth is, we can piece together these sermons. We’re given all the study material! God’s word is here for us, waiting to be discovered bit by bit, day by day, as we dive into it and see God’s heart, His work, His plan, His Kingdom.

We see that Paul used the Torah, he used prophecy, he talked about Christ, he talked about eschatology. This was a very well-balanced approach to Scripture, taking the whole counsel of God and bringing it together in his effort to convince them. He tried to persuade them about Jesus. To Paul, this wasn’t just a casual talk like you have about which restaurant you should choose for lunch. It was like a hostage negotiation. Lives were hanging in the balance.

Acts 28:24 – 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.

You know what this shows us? There is no magic method, verse, series of phrases or questions that will guarantee someone will receive Christ. These people were steeped in the Old Testament – they were faithful Jews – they had voluntarily come to hear Paul that day and they listened for 12 hours and still some did not believe. Sometimes we think, “Well if I was a better preacher or had more knowledge,” or, “If that person heard a great evangelist, then they’d get saved.” Listen: We’re called to grow in our knowledge, but even the great evangelists of history didn’t turn every heart. Because it is a heart issue. In the end, a person must make the choice whether they will taste and see that the Lord is good, whether they will take refuge in Him or face eternity alone.

Acts 28:25 – 25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah

This is an important doctrinal verse. First, we see another reference to the Trinity. Proverbs, speaking of God, says, “Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name and what is the name of His Son?” And here, from Isaiah 6, we are shown the Holy Spirit, who speaks and acts. And that’s a second important doctrine we see here: The doctrine of inspiration. Paul is definitively saying that the Holy Spirit inspired the words written through this man, Isaiah.

Acts 28:26-27 – 26 when he said, Go to these people and say: You will always be listening, but never understanding; and you will always be looking, but never perceiving. 27 For the hearts of these people have grown callous, their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.

Paul had gone to lengths to show he wasn’t against these Jews, but he wasn’t just pandering to them, either. He rebuked the unbelievers and told them the truth. Like Isaiah, he (and we) have been sent to “go to these people and say.” Say what? Say that sin separates them from God and that sin will drag them into hell unless they are born again. That’s not what we want and it’s not what God wants. He’s ready to receive any traitor, heal any wound. But a person must be willing to soften their heart and turn toward Him in faith and surrender.

At the same time, there’s a solemn warning here for those of us listening tonight. It isn’t only the Jews who were able to harden their heart to the word of God. Ours can harden too. Hebrews tells us, “Encourage each other daily…so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” And then, “Do not harden your hearts.” We’re called to guard our hearts in Proverbs. God is still speaking and leading and requiring of us. We don’t want to settle and harden into some sort of traditionalism the way the Jews had. Instead, we should take up the words of Hosea, chapter 10:

Hosea 10:12 – 12 Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground. It is time to seek the Lord until he comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain.

This is why we believe in the regular, systematic teaching of the Bible. It’s why we try to prioritize prayer and being in God’s presence. It’s why we try to avoid traditionalism and legalism. So that our hearts can be plowed up, soft and ready for that planting or growing the Lord wants to accomplish.

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

Stanley Toussaint (and others) call this the climax of the whole book. I wonder what the soliders thought as they sat there? They probably had 6 hour shifts, so there were at least 2 who had listened in that day. Do you think, back at the barracks they talked to each other? They were normal people, like us. “Hey, did you hear what that guy was talking about?” “Yeah. But you didn’t hear the end – he said this has to do with us Gentiles too.” We know that, because of Paul’s two years in chains, the Gospel did spread through the whole Imperial Guard.

Acts 28:29 (NKJV) – 29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.

This verse is probably omitted or bracketed in your Bible. It’s not in many manuscripts. Not to worry, even if it was an addition, the content has already been alluded to up in verses 24 and 25.

Acts 28:30-31 – 30 Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Paul was still open to receive anyone because the Lord is ready to receive anyone. He welcomes all who come to Him. During these years Paul would write Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. And we get a sweet, devotional reminder that your home is a place for ministry of all sorts. Not just in hospitality or by having a Bible study meet there. God works through His people in all sorts of ways. The dinner table and the writing desk, the talk with the kids while you’re putting them to bed and the prayer on the couch with your spouse. There was no Hall of Tyrannus for Paul to lecture in these 2 years. No Mars Hill or temple visits. Yet, we’re told the ministry went on and went out without hindrance.

How can it be that he wasn’t hindered while chained to a guard under house arrest, with a thorn in his flesh? That was his reality, but none of it could stop the work of God. In fact, he never complained about his chains. He wore them like a garment, or a tool belt to do a different kind of work for the Lord.

The circumstances weren’t ideal, but they also weren’t decisive. Because, as we were told at the very beginning, what we’ve been reading for these last 28 chapters is the story of what Jesus began to do and teach. And now, two thousand years later, the story goes on. These are the days of God’s continuing work through His people, who have been sent out further than ever before, to every corner of the world. No longer are we limited to wooden boats sailing the Mediterranean Sea. No longer are we waiting for Luke to finish his books. It’s all been handed on to us.

I can’t help but wonder: Did Theophilus believe? Was he convinced about all these things? More importantly, are we? Seeing what we’ve seen it’s made abundantly clear that God’s work continues. You and I now take up the next chapters of the saga. We’re not called to copy what we’ve seen but continue it. In that sense, here tonight might there be some 21st century Barnabas or Lydia? Some Cornelius or Tabitha or Timothy or Priscilla? Some Apollos or Simon the leather tanner?

These are the days of Christ’s acts through us. The song remains the same. God has spoken through His word. The Messiah has come with salvation in His hand. He’s coming again to establish His Kingdom. We are to spread the word and be full of His glorious life while we wait, watch and welcome others to join in.

A Life In Our Days (Acts 28:11-16)

Last month, Orlando Bloom was asked in an interview about his daily routine. His response turned a lot of heads and led to quite a few parodies on social media and follow-up articles skewering him.

I’ll give you a sample: “I like to earn my breakfast, so I’ll just have some green powders that I mix with brain octane oil, a collagen powder for my hair and nails, and some protein…Then I’ll go for a hike while I listen to some Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots.” He spends 20 minutes chanting then adds some Buddhist writings to his Instagram Stories. He says he spends, “a lot of…time dreaming about roles for [himself].” By then it’s close to lunch, which consists of “vegetables or a stew. [Orlando says] I will cook at times, but otherwise, there’s a team of people.” Just a regular guy, right?

Our studies in Acts are coming to a close. The last half of the book has focused on the Apostle Paul, who has, admittedly, had some pretty outlandish and astounding day-to-day experiences, including the last few passages. The shipwreck and the miracles on Malta and all that came before it. But as Acts ends, things become surprisingly routine. Luke will not conclude his account with a big, climactic showdown between Paul and Nero, as we might expect. The story doesn’t finish with caesar’s conversion or even Paul’s exoneration. There will be no more miracles recorded in the verses that follow. No salvations either. As far as events go, there’s just a talk with some Jews and a day of preaching to them and a few travel nuts and bolts found in our passage tonight.

We don’t see what we might be expecting. But what we can see is the Christian faith in operation in regular days and regular circumstances. Of course, ‘regular’ doesn’t mean unimportant or unspiritual. Paul was where he was because God had a specific and important task for him. But though we won’t see Paul healing anyone or being busted out of prison, no riots or shipwrecks, yet as he inches toward Rome, the Holy Spirit within him continues His good work. We see in Paul the fruit of God operating in the Christian life. We detect patience, endurance, thankfulness, graciousness, determination, courage, and a willingness to receive help.

This last leg of Paul’s trip to Rome isn’t all about the fantastic. It’s more about the regular faithfulness and family-ness of the Christian life. And it once again shows us how God keeps His promises and moves us forward even when progress may feel slow, or our lives feel routine.

We pick back up in verse 11 as Paul sails out from the island of Malta.

Acts 28:11 – 11 After three months we set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island, with the Twin Gods as its figurehead.

After a long wait in Caesarea and after coming through such danger on the high seas, there was still some waiting to do. Now, Paul and company have made it through winter, and the Italian mainland is immediately to the north. Still, there will be a few delays. A few days here, a week there. And, throughout, Paul continues to model patience and contentment.

Make no mistake about it – he was very determined to get to Rome. He had wanted to get there, not only to preach to the lost but also to encourage the believers for years. He had said in his letter to the Romans, “[I am] always asking in my prayers that if it is somehow in God’s will, I may now, at last, succeed in coming to you [in Rome].” He wrote that he had been prevented “many times” from getting to them. Now he’s closer than ever but still makes progress only a little at a time. But, he remains peaceful and patient, knowing that God will accomplish His good work according to His perfect timing.

Luke points out that this new ship had the twin gods of Castor and Gemini as its figurehead. These were said to be patrons of seafarers and that if you were in a storm and could see the constellation Gemini, it was a good omen.

Those who had been on the first Alexandrian ship with Paul knew that no painted image could save a ship from the Euroclydon, but there was a God who could and did save them: Paul’s God. I’m sure they took much more comfort in the fact that he was aboard with them than some mythological characters carved on the prow.

Of course, there are people out there who put some sort of stock in constellations. They check their horoscope every day and define parts of their personality according to the zodiac. In that same article, Orlando Bloom said, “I’m a Capricorn, so I crave routine.” That’s to be expected out in the world. The heart without Christ is desperate for help and guidance and protection. But let’s look within for a moment. Christians today, in some traditions, put some stock in patron saints. Some branches of the Church suggest you pray to saints, that sort of thing. Even in evangelical protestantism we find God’s people effectively making political figures like patron saints. Sometimes we see people putting the hope and guidance of their lives in the hands of these characters. None of that is necessary or helpful. If you’re a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God lives within you. And day and night, you have Jesus Christ as your Advocate, interceding for you. If you needed a job done at your house, would you ask the high school woodshop student to do it if a professional contractor was willing to do it for free? You don’t need a horoscope or a patron saint.

This scene illustrates real-world experiences for us. We’re surrounded by Godless individuals and companies. We have to make choices about our liberties and how to be in the world but not of it. Can you sail on a ship that has idols on it? Paul acts in a gracious way here. He didn’t refuse to board the ship because of its figurehead. Nor did it defile him in some way to sail on it. Christians are called to be holy and winsome. Let’s be thoughtful when the next boycott comes around.

Acts 28:12 – 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed three days.

This first little jog was 80 miles, putting them onto the island of Sicily. It had been founded by a Corinthian and was, at this point, the capital of the island. Cicero had once called Syracuse “the greatest and most beautiful of all the cities of [the Greek Empire].”

Acts 28:13 – 13 From there, after making a circuit along the coast, we reached Rhegium. After one day a south wind sprang up, and the second day we came to Puteoli.

The ship passed between Sicily and the boot of the Italian mainland. They were having a bit of trouble with the wind until a helpful south wind arose.

This wind brings two principles to mind. First, the Bible talks about the importance of not being a person “blown about by the wind.” Meaning we’re not to be driven by circumstances or by various teachings and doctrines, from one breeze to another. These south winds of Acts 27 and 28 give us a picture. One wind led to disaster, the other to the hoped-for destination. Instead, we’re to grow in our knowledge and intimacy with Christ. We’re to be taught by Him and conformed to His image. His word is unchangeable, and so we are to moor our lives to it and navigate by it.

Second, as the breeze started to blow, I wonder if some of the survivors of the last wreck found their anxiety rising. After all, the south wind had started their long disaster back in chapter 27. Just because we weather one storm doesn’t mean there isn’t another one brewing over the horizon. We tend to think (or hope) that once we’ve made it through a trial, then we no longer have to deal with that kind of difficulty again. But, so many of you know that isn’t true. Sometimes cancer comes back. Sometimes relational breaks aren’t mended. The struggles we face as Christians aren’t like achievements in a video game, where once you beat a level, you’re done with that for good. After all, Paul endured four shipwrecks! Life is full of trouble. But the Lord is always present, and we can always trust Him, just as Paul did as he boarded this boat.

From Malta to Rome is about 500 miles. By Puteoli, they’re about 75% of the way there.

Acts 28:14 – 14 There we found brothers and sisters and were invited to stay a week with them. And so we came to Rome.

The way it’s written makes it seem that Paul and his friends went on a hunt to see if there were any Christians in town. There were, and not only were they there, but they were ready to shower love on these newfound brothers who came in from the docks. We don’t know who started the church there, but we admire the readiness to serve. You know, we read about the Bereans, and we are rightly impressed by their devotion to Scripture. We name ministries after them still today. At the same time, we should be stirred up by the faithful brotherly love of the Puteolians. It’s certainly not always easy to be welcoming and warm-hearted to strangers, but what a precious part of the life of the Body that we’re all invited to participate in. To be ready to be in relationship with believers around us.

The verse ends with a momentous sentence: “And so we came to Rome.” So much had led up to this. So much waiting and so much struggle, and now they were finally taking the walk into town. Between Paul and Luke, there must’ve been a lot of excitement and apprehension. Paul had to assume that he might die after his talk with Nero. And yet, despite the danger and the unknown, they could rejoice in the faithfulness of God. God had kept His promise. God had given Paul the desire of his heart. Despite the false charges and being beaten nearly to death, despite being abandoned by the Christians in Jerusalem and the attempted assassinations and the red tape and sitting in a jail cell for two years and the raging sea and almost being killed by the soldiers and then the shipwreck and then being bitten by a viper, despite all that, nothing could stop the will of God from being accomplished. They could not be separated from God’s love or God’s work in and through them.

Acts 28:15 – 15 Now the brothers and sisters from there had heard the news about us and had come to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

We don’t know who exactly came or how many were in the group, but Paul probably knew at least some of these folks. There’s a very probability they had all read Romans (which had been written and sent to them about three years earlier). In Romans 16, Paul sent greetings to 26 friends there, including Priscilla and Aquila, who were living in Rome and had a church meeting in their home.

What a wonderful moment this would have been for Paul, who had been so isolated for multiple years. Yes, on the voyage from Caesarea to Malta, he was joined by Luke and Aristarchus, but now to see his brothers and sisters, who walked some 35 miles, some 45 miles, so that they could turn around and usher him into Rome. What a beautiful act of love and fidelity.

Luke references the Three Taverns. Ancient historians describe that town as being “full of boatmen and cheating innkeepers.” The sleazy shops and idolatrous ships remind us that we Christians have to navigate a pagan world. Sometimes it will come against us. Sometimes it will try to entice us. Sometimes it’s just doing its thing in the background. We get to shine the bright light of God’s love and truth in all the Appi Forums we find ourselves. That includes online forums, by the way.

There’s something important for us here: The Apostle Paul is an amazing figure. Who can we think of that was more mature and more full of God? He’s working miracles and writing Scripture and having face-to-face chats with Jesus Christ. And even he needed Christian fellowship! To be gathered with other believers filled up his heart with courage and motivated him to praise and thank the Lord.

All of us need actual, genuine, Christian fellowship. It’s not just a good thing – it’s a necessary thing. It is one of the gifts God has given us so that we might receive ministry and help and repair. Let’s treasure it, involve ourselves in it, and guard it.

Acts 28:16 – 16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

I almost forgot that Paul had a soldier in tow. In fact, for the last two years and for the next two years, he will spend every day chained to a Roman soldier. Even this dehumanizing inconvenience would have spiritual benefits thanks to the power of God. Paul would later report that the whole imperial guard would hear his testimony for Christ. And, if you’re the kind of person who people often conspire to kill, it was probably nice to have a personal bodyguard.

Paul was shown grace in this first Roman imprisonment. We’ll learn in verse 30 he was allowed to rent his own house rather than be thrown in some dungeon. That’s what would happen the second time. For now, he’s going to live a regular, routine life. But even though it wasn’t fantastic, it was still full of God. There he was able to write Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians. He was able to preach to the people around him – some of them peasants, some of them rulers. Most importantly, he was just as able to draw closer to his Lord. God isn’t only near during the shipwrecks or during the healing miracles. He’s there with you moment by moment. While Orlando Bloom is mixing up his brain octane oil, the Lord is moving around in our hearts, bringing us into specific positions, working all things together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His unstoppable purposes. Embrace His leading and allow His Holy Spirit to cultivate those precious riches of patience, grace, endurance, fellowship, and usefulness in your life.

Snake In The Rain (Acts 28:1-10)

If you’ve booked yourself air travel, you’ve probably had to make some decisions about layovers. Too short and you risk missing your connecting flight. Too long and you’re wasting time in a monotonous airport terminal with strange smelling carpet.

Our first trip to Colombia was out of LAX on the day of the 2013 shooting there. All our flights got screwed up, so we ended up having something like a 13-hour layover in Bogota. We were a little nervous about being in Colombia for the first time, so we decided to wait it out at the gate. With no internet and no shops in that part of the terminal, it was a long wait.

On the other hand, sometimes a layover can be a good opportunity. One site I consulted promises that if you have at least an 8-hour layover in Beijing, you have enough time to go and see the great wall of China. Even then, the best-laid plans will sometimes fail. My wife can tell you the story of when she was studying abroad and planned to stop for less than a day in Venice, but (through a series of events) she and her group ended up scared, confused, and never seeing a single canal.

Speaking of LAX, it’s listed as one of the worst airports to spend a layover. While Time Magazine picks Atlanta’s International Airport as one of the best worldwide, along with the Munich Airport, the Hong Kong International airport, and the Hamad International Airport in Qatar.

Paul’s destination is Rome. He has a Divine appointment there to preach the Gospel to Caesar Nero. What could be more important? Well, it turns out God had some important work for Paul and his friends to accomplish on the tiny island of Malta. And so, the Lord gives them a layover there. During their stay, we see a wide range of experiences. They start off cold and wet on a beach. Later they’re being entertained in the lap of luxury. At first Paul is seen as a murderer and he’s attacked by a snake, later he’s being honored with gifts and thanks for his ministry. It’s quite a stop. Especially when we remember that none of the people on the ship had wanted to stop here. Paul had suggested they stay in Fair Havens. The sailors wanted to go to Phoenix and winter there. All along, God had His own plan, full of opportunities for His people to glorify Him.

We are each en route to a final destination in this life. As we go we will find ourselves at various layovers, some planned, others unexpected. Our experiences won’t always be pleasant, but Paul, Luke and Aristarchus show us how we can always be content, how we can avoid some common pitfalls and how there is always opportunity to do the Lord’s work as we faithfully follow Him.

Acts 28:1 – Once safely ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta.

There had been 276 passengers on the ship. They had spent weeks in a terrible storm before wrecking. But, already we see Luke’s optimism: Safely ashore. Had some of the non-believers been looking over his shoulder as he wrote, they may have said, “safely” is a relative term. After all, they had no ship, no supplies, no shelter and (at first) no idea where they were.

We’ll see the Christians calm and at peace throughout the passage. They weren’t fretting or fussing, but were confident in the Lord’s provision for them. He still had not left them or abandoned them.

Malta is an island just 17 miles long and 9 miles wide that sits beneath Sicily. The fact that they made it to this spot is a testament to God’s precise providence. When God wants something done, nothing can stop Him. Not wind or waves or odds or obstacles. He will have His way. And though we do not know every pitstop or waylay that lies ahead of us, of this we can be sure: Our God will bring us safely to shore.

Acts 28:2 – 2 The local people showed us extraordinary kindness. They lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold.

The islanders showed unusual compassion to these weary castaways. Rather than coming down to loot the wreck, they came to assist any survivors they might find. In fact, throughout this story we’ll find that the people of Malta were kind and generous and had a sense of morality. But they still needed the Gospel. It’s good to remind ourselves that even “good” people need to be saved. This is one of the hazards of the social gospel. Ultimately it suggests the end goal is temporal “goodness,” verified by behavior that is considered virtuous by the popular culture. But the problem is that we all, like sheep, have gone astray. It doesn’t matter if your wool is cleaner than some other sheep. It’s a question of whether you’re in the fold of God and following the Shepherd.

At the same time, it’s easy for Christians to always think the worst of unbelievers when, in reality, there are some “good” people out there. Their need is still urgent and intense, but compare these islanders to the unbelieving Romans. The soldiers had planned to slaughter all the prisoners on the ship rather than chance that they escaped the wreck. In contrast the natives were ready to help sailors and soldiers and criminals alike. God loves compassion like this. Small acts of kindness are important to Him. And He brings us into contact with particular people at particular times so that we can not only preach but also show the love of God to them through tangible acts of grace.

Acts 28:3 – 3 As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.

There are hundreds of people around, but Paul still sees himself as a servant. Drenched to the bone, now on his fourth shipwreck, and though he was the reason they were all alive, yet he put his shoulder to the work. What a great example to us.

But then he’s attacked by a venomous snake. Why would God allow this to happen while Paul was serving Him? Bad things happen to God’s people all the time. While our Lord promised to never leave us, He never said we would be without trouble or suffering. In fact, the opposite is true.

We can become frustrated when we try to honor God or serve Him and encounter some kind of difficulty or trial. It feels unfair. But, the truth is, serving God sometimes flushes out attacks. We’ve seen that many times in the book of Acts. Or think of most of the Old Testament prophets. Think of Jesus Himself. He’s just trying to save people from their sins, heal them of their disease, bring people back from the dead, and the response is the leaders of the nation conspire to kill Him! And that doesn’t even count the times when our Enemy is trying to sabotage the work of God.

Skeptics will say that Malta has no venomous vipers and so the Bible must not be true. Our answer is that there is historical account of snakes like this and the reason we don’t find vipers in Malta today is the same reason we don’t find buffalo on the Great Plains, wolves in Sicily, or tigers in Tasmania. The Sicilian wolf and the Tasmanian tiger went extinct in the last century. Certainly 2,000 years is enough time for a tiny island, packed with people, to eradicate a snake population.

Acts 28:4 – 4 When the local people saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man, no doubt, is a murderer. Even though he has escaped the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”

So, the islanders assumed that Paul must’ve been bad because something bad happened to him. We don’t want to let that kind of thinking grow in our minds. We also don’t want bitterness or resentment toward God to take root when something bad happens to us.

There were a lot of people around. Multiple witnesses saw what wash happening to Paul. I wonder if he had some fun with it. We’ll be told in a moment that he suffered “no harm” whatsoever, so I wonder if, maybe, he took a walk over to Luke and said, “What do you think, Doc?” Maybe he was trying to remember the old rhyme that tells you which snakes are poisonous and which aren’t. We were up in the mountains last week and the boys came across a little red, black and yellow snake. So we were trying to recall how the saying went: “Red on yellow kill a fellow, red on black venom lack.” Or was it yellow on black…

We see here that these natives, pagan though they were, had a moral law written on their hearts. They didn’t know Jesus, but they had an internal sense of right and wrong. And they had an inkling that God was a God of justice – that God will repay evildoers for what they’ve done. They were still wrong about Paul and wrong about God. But in some ways they were a lot closer than our own culture is when it comes to right and wrong, to morality and justice.

We live in a time where even basic, historic understanding of right and wrong are being specifically dismantled. In Isaiah 5, God said, “woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light.” As God’s people we need to pray for our society and hold the line on God’s truth.

Acts 28:5 – 5 But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm.

A 2013 report found there are about 125 snake handling churches in the Appalachian states. Should we be taking up snakes and proving our reliance on the Lord? Snake handlers use this example as well as what Jesus said in Mark 16:17-18 as a basis for their practices. Doesn’t the text say believers “will pick up snakes…[and they] will not harm them?”

The response is simple: Jesus’ words in Mark were not a blanket promise. They were a prophecy which is partly fulfilled in this text. In addition, the Bible specifically commands us to not test the Lord our God and that it is evil to demand miraculous signs. While the issue of snake handling is easily answered, it does confront us with a bigger question of why certain promises found in the Bible aren’t always our experience. For example, didn’t Jesus say in Luke 12 that God would feed us and clothe us and provide everything we need? Doesn’t Proverbs promise that we’ll have long life if we fear the Lord? Why then was Paul so often hungry and Stephen cut down in the prime of life (not to mention our own struggles)?

God’s promises never fail, but we have to be careful when it comes to which have been made to us. In any given promise, there is a specific audience, a specific context and a specific timing in the mind of God. Sometimes as Christians we play fast and loose with Biblical promises that weren’t actually made to us. They were made to Israel or to the Apostles or other individuals. Perhaps those promises reveal principles about God’s dealings that can apply to our lives, but context is key and timing is key. We simply can’t know exactly how God will fulfill His promises to us. What we can be sure of is that He is always true and He can not fail. We can fail and derail God’s work in our lives for a time like the Israelites in the wilderness or God’s people during the time of the Judges or the Jews when Jesus came. We can misunderstand the Lord’s promises, like the disciples so often did. After all, we see now as through a glass dimly. But we can rest in our Lord knowing that He is doing a good work for us. He will complete what He began. In the mean time, we’re not to do something stupid like grab a snake on purpose to show that we’re Christians. You’re not bulletproof. At the same time, sometimes the guns miraculously don’t work.

What did Paul do? Did he go looking for a snake to handle? Did he hand the viper to Luke to have him hold it? No. He shook it off into the fire so it wouldn’t bite anyone else! He was very casual and practical about it. And, I’m sure, he said some prayers for his hand!

Acts 28:6 – 6 They expected that he would begin to swell up or suddenly drop dead. After they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.

So, is he a murderer or a deity? They went from being entirely wrong to being entirely wrong in a new way. Humans aren’t very good at reasoning sometimes. We need truth to be revealed to us – a truth that is fixed to an unchangeable standard.

It says they expected him to drop dead. It seems they were following Paul around, watching with anticipation. Philippians 3:20 tells us that we are to go through life eagerly watching for our Savior.

Acts 28:7 – 7 Now in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days.

The Christian life is certainly unpredictable. It’s always good to see how content and peaceable the Christians are in these stories. They allowed the Lord to transform them into people who weren’t fussy or hypersensitive. They weren’t ill-tempered, but were able to adapt to their situation, whether good or bad, and remain satisfied in the Lord.

Acts 28:8 – 8 Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him.

Dr. Luke no doubt gave a diagnosis. The affliction wouldn’t have, necessarily, been fatal, though dysentery can and does still kill some people. But it’s a comfort to remember that God cares about all our suffering, not just the fatal ones. He has compassion for the person with cancer and the person with the common cold. We need not be shy to cast our cares upon Him, even if they’re relatively small.

Something else we might take from this verse is that you never know what people might be facing at home. Publius is doing a big job, helping these people, administering the island. Meanwhile, his dad is in the house with a serious and, frankly, disgusting illness. The KJV calls it a “bloody flux.” That’s tough when you’ve got no indoor plumbing. We want to be people who are compassionate and understanding and ready to represent Christ whether in a shanty on the beach or in the statehouse with the leading man and acting graciously since we don’t know everything people are dealing with.

Acts 28:9 – 9 After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

Scholars point out that Luke, who is very precise with his word choice, used a different word for “healed” here. Rather than the one usually used for instantaneous healing, he used one that more often means “received medical attention.” As a physician, he was probably able to assist and render that service. And here we see that God uses not only the supernatural gifts that He gives, but also our natural abilities that have been offered to Him. It’s true that God doesn’t need our intellect or ability or talent, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t make use of those things when we give them to Him. He absolutely does! Are you a doctor? Be a Christian doctor. Are you a poet? Be a Christian poet. Are you a builder? Be a Christian builder. What does that mean? I can only write rhyming lines about Jesus or build church buildings? No. It means you place all of yourself at your King’s disposal and you recognize that, whatever you do can be done unto the Lord and profit His Kingdom.

Acts 28:10 – 10 So they heaped many honors on us, and when we sailed, they gave us what we needed.

What an amazing time on this little island. God invaded, in a sense, casting His servants onto the shore and, before long, you have people being healed, God’s love defining relationships, unity and honor among all sorts of people, both free and slave, powerful and incarcerated, rich and poor, barbarian and civilized. We cannot doubt that many were saved as a result of Paul and Luke and Aristarchus.

Looking back using heaven’s calculator, was the difficulty and delay and hardship endured by Paul worth it for what was gained in Malta? Of course, we think it was. On the other hand, it’s not the kind of layover we’d pick for ourselves. But look at what the Lord wanted to do. And look at what He can do, even when so much is stacked against His people. They landed on Malta with no supplies, no immediate plan, a language barrier with the natives, snakes coming out of the woodwork! But, because the Christians were in the will of God and were ready to do His work we see that impossibly wonderful things can happen. This was the most ministry Paul had done in years! That’s inspiring. And, along the way, we see these Christians avoiding pitfalls of frustration, resentment, anger, bitterness, fussiness, jealousy and instead, through humility and contentment are able to bring honor and glory to God in the most far-fetched place as they trust God, speak the truth, show compassion and follow their Shepherd as they make their way home.

Anchors Away (Acts 27:13-44)

Matthew Webb knew what it took to brave the open sea. At age 12, he joined the crew of the HMS Conway. As the second mate on a cruise ship, he once dove into the Atlantic in an attempt to save a man who went overboard. By the age of 27, Matthew was a captain in the merchant navy. In 1875 he sealed his place in history by becoming the first person to swim across the English Channel. It took him 21 hours and 45 minutes. He leveraged his fame and knack for staying afloat, putting on swimming exhibitions and staging feats of endurance. His 21 hours in the Channel seems like child’s play compared to a later stunt: Swimming continually for 74 hours. That daring display netted him a tidy profit for his efforts. As his fame and fortune started to dry up, he entertained other dangerous ideas of how to once more risk the water in hopes of a hefty payday.

In our text tonight, we pick back up in the story of Paul’s fourth shipwreck. He’s being transported to Rome from Caesarea, along with other prisoners and a load of grain from Egypt. The ship is a large one, with nearly 300 men on board and they’re past safe sailing season, but, despite Paul’s warning, the captain and the crew decided to risk the voyage and make for Phoenix, a more enticing harbor.

The trip had already been a struggle, but the sailors had a payday in mind. And so, though it wasn’t Paul’s idea, he and his friends (Luke and Aristarchus) are brought along on this doomed crossing.

What are Christians supposed to do when the unbelieving world ignores us, but we’re still brought along on their ill-fated plans? We find ourselves in a time when God’s ways are ignored, good is called evil, evil is called good, and our society sails on and on toward disaster. Is there anything we can do or should we abandon ship? In this harrowing account, there is a lot we can take to heart since we are now the ones standing in Paul’s place, intervening for a lost and dying world.

Our main goal tonight is to see what the Christians were doing and how that can apply to our own ministry to the unbelievers around us.

Acts 27:13 – 13 When a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they had achieved their purpose. They weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.

The soldiers and sailors should know better, but they were enticed by this gentle breeze which beckoned them like the siren’s song. Just like Eve was tempted by the fruit, even though she had been warned, she thought maybe the danger wouldn’t apply to her.

We see what they were thinking: “They thought they had achieved their purpose.” The soldiers, the sailors, the merchants all had their own, selfish wants. “Let’s get to Phoenix. There’s indulgence there. It’s closer to Rome, closer to our payoff.” Because their purposes were materialistic and self-centered, they made a poor decision and they looked to present circumstances to justify it.

We see a different characteristic among the Christians here. They were careful. I don’t mean they were timid, but they cared about what the Lord wanted and what was really going on. The truth is, Paul probably wanted to get to Rome more than anyone else on board. But, his personal wants and his earthly circumstances weren’t the driving factors in his life. He was willing to wait and submit to the Lord’s leading. Christians should be careful in that way.

Acts 27:14-16 – 14 But before long, a fierce wind called the “northeaster” rushed down from the island. 15 Since the ship was caught and unable to head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 After running under the shelter of a little island called Cauda, we were barely able to get control of the skiff.

They were sailing into a typhoon – one so scary it had a name: The Euroclydon! Over the next two weeks it would beat them, toss them, blind them and taunt them. The gentle breeze, which had promised so many good things, was the bait that drew them into a trap they wouldn’t be able to escape. They were “caught.”

Here we see the first instance of another Christian characteristic in this story: The Christians were helpful. “We were barely able to get control of the skiff.” Throughout, we’ll see Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus joining in the work, trying to physically assist as much as possible.

Acts 27:17-19 – 17 After hoisting it up, they used ropes and tackle and girded the ship. Fearing they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the drift-anchor, and in this way they were driven along. 18 Because we were being severely battered by the storm, they began to jettison the cargo the next day. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.

Luke vividly describes a situation that is becoming increasingly desperate. They are in a fight for their lives. The integrity of the ship is in danger. It’s so serious that they toss out all loose furniture and even as much of the tackle as they could. Meaning, stuff you need to sail or make repairs! But note what they have not thrown out: The grain. When it says “cargo” it doesn’t include those barrels. Though they would’ve been large and heavy, still the crew were hanging onto the hope of profit.

Acts 27:20 – 20 For many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging. Finally all hope was fading that we would be saved.

I remember a few years ago when we were in Colombia we drove from the Bible college out to this other river city like 10 hours away. The final hours of the drive are across a dirt road. No cities, no lights, just a shack here and there. We left at around noon and once we hit the dirt section it was dusk. Then the rain came. That meant the dirt became mud and the mud completely covered our headlights. So, there we were: No signs, no lights, no cell coverage, and our driver clearly wasn’t sure if we had gone the right way. I don’t know about Jacob and Alex, but as the hours passed, I felt my hope seeping away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do a trip like that, not in a Mitsubishi Raider, but in a wooden ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. What Luke is describing is desperate: Little by little each person on board was accepting the fact that they were going to die before they reached land. One commentator suggests that they must’ve sprung a leak by this point, making it only a matter of time before each and every one of them drowned in the dark.

Acts 27:21- 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “You men should have followed my advice not to sail from Crete and sustain this damage and loss.

Yikes, shots fired! Is Paul just sticking a thumb in their eye? No, he’s too compassionate for that. What he is being is truthful. Christians are meant to traffic in the truth. Our message isn’t to be tailored to make people feel a certain way, it’s meant to be an explanation of what is real. And this was the truth. Now, why was Paul speaking this truth to them? Was this some sort of “tell-it-like-it-is” rudeness that is, sadly, prevalent in our culture today? No, he was speaking the truth in love, just as we are called to do. Look at what comes next.

Acts 27:22-26 – 22 Now I urge you to take courage, because there will be no loss of any of your lives, but only of the ship. 23 For last night an angel of the God I belong to and serve stood by me 24 and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. It is necessary for you to appear before Caesar. And indeed, God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage, men, because I believe God that it will be just the way it was told to me. 26 But we have to run aground on some island.”

In addition to being truthful, we see Paul being hopeful. Despite the circumstances, he had full confidence in the Lord’s care and goodness. So, even though the storm of the century was physically breaking up the very deck he was standing on, he didn’t have to live in fear.

We live in a time where fear is the default. It’s being sold to you and thrown at you and it’s laying siege to your heart. But part of your salvation is being saved out of fear. God says in Isaiah 43: “Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you…When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Thanks to God’s love, we are a hopeful people. Paul told the men on that ship to put cheer in their hearts.

The fact that he had been right before, helped his listeners know he was right now. He wasn’t rubbing anything in. He was being honest so that they could know his words were true. But, notice this: He wasn’t just blowing hot wind. There was plenty of wind already. He wasn’t saying, “Everything’s going to be fine. Everything’s going to work out.” As he delivered his message of hope, rooted in the revelation of God, he was honest: “The ship is going down. And the escape is going to be rough.” But, his message was clear, confident and definite, full of real answers and real hope.

So, in these verses we see Paul being truthful and hopeful, but we also see him being useful for this ship. How? Well, on one level, because he became a calm and resolute leader in a time of crisis. But also because he was the one that made it possible for 273 of them to be saved.

You see, God wanted Paul and his two friends in Rome. All these other people we loved by God, but they weren’t following Him. In fact, they were living lives of rebellion toward Him. They ignored the common grace of of God, those warnings put in place in creation that they shouldn’t set sail. But they went anyway. Now they were reaping what they sowed. But Paul had gone below decks and prayed that they would all be saved. The fervent prayer meetings of the Christians probably seemed like a waste of time to the frantic sailors, and yet, the angel tells Paul, “God has given you all those who are sailing with you.” He asked for them. He petitioned God for them.

It’s popular today for unbelievers to rail against the phrase “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” The truth is: Prayer matters! “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” The most useful action on that ship was not moving cargo or girding the ship or lowering anchors, it was 3 Christians praying that God would intervene.

One more thing here: Paul told them to be hopeful and full of cheer even though every material good was going to be lost. That’s not what a merchant wants to hear. But as Paul speaks we discover that it’s life that matters, not merchandise. Your value is not measured by what you transport or store up or even achieve. You are valuable because you belong to God and are held by Him. Understanding that helps us to put our lives in perspective. You may be a soldier or a sailor or a merchant in your day job, but the purpose of your life is to be held by God, to serve Him and enjoy His presence.

Acts 27:27-29 – 27 When the fourteenth night came, we were drifting in the Adriatic Sea, and about midnight the sailors thought they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found it to be a hundred twenty feet deep; when they had sailed a little farther and sounded again, they found it to be ninety feet deep. 29 Then, fearing we might run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight to come.

On that same Colombia trip we took a drive from Bogota to the Bible college up in the mountains. It was a 4 or 5 hour drive. I’ve never been that sick before or since. I felt like a lightweight, but the last half hour or so I was just praying for the dawn. It felt like it was never going to end. That was 5 hours and there was little worry that I was actually going to die. These guys are facing imminent death for two weeks! We can be sure that, day by day, Paul and Luke and Aristarchus were encouraging these guys and helping them. As Christians, we must keep hope alive. Not with platitudes, but with truth. The dawn is coming. There is salvation. We know the way, we know the Person. Keep hope alive.

Acts 27:30-32 – 30 Some sailors tried to escape from the ship; they had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending that they were going to put out anchors from the bow. 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut the ropes holding the skiff and let it drop away.

These sailors didn’t believe. The soldiers did. It’s amazing that, after all that had happened, despite Paul’s truthfulness and all he had done to help, there were still some who wouldn’t believe. And, the truth is, salvation is a choice. As Christians, we lay out God’s word and His plan to people and then they have too choose whether or not to believe.

Now, what we see here is that God had explained some specific parameters to Paul. He said to centurion, “If these guys leave, you all die.” There was a moment of decision. And it was very clear.

We also see an important analogy here: The skiff was their lifeboat. The last, manmade hope. God wanted them to let it all go. Would they trust Him or would they not? Paul was content to ride that ship until it broke apart. He’d rather do that than trust to skiff. Why? Because he believed the Lord’s plan. He knew his Savior could be trusted.

Acts 27:33-38 – When it was about daylight, Paul urged them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been waiting and going without food, having eaten nothing. 34 So I urge you to take some food. For this is for your survival, since none of you will lose a hair from your head.” 35 After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in the presence of all of them, and after he broke it, he began to eat. 36 They all were encouraged and took food themselves. 37 In all there were 276 of us on the ship. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing the grain overboard into the sea.

Careful, truthful, helpful, hopeful. Now we see the Christians were thankful. He gave thanks to God in the presence of them all. We must not forget that he’d still have to shout over the howling of the wind, he’d still have to endure the stinging spray of the waves. And yet he honored God and thanked Him. Christians hearts are meant to be this full. Enough that we sing in the dungeon and give thanks in the storm. How? It’s part of the heart and peace of Christ given to us. We put it on and let it in.

The Christians demonstrate some important things. First, look at what a difference a few Christians can make. Not only are they the agents of rescue, they also bring all these hearts back from the depths of despair. Second, we see that these Christians practiced what they preached. They told the men around them to have hope, trust God, be of good cheer, and that’s what they were doing. Third, these Christians were strong in the Lord. Look at their confidence, not in themselves, but in God and His promises.

For many years it has been fashionable for Christians to embrace and promote “brokenness.” I’m sure it’s rooted in the idea of being poor in spirit and recognizing that none of us are perfect. But, here’s the problem: What it converts to is a celebration of instability. When you see Christians talking about brokenness a lot, it ends up just being an excuse to not progress in our walk with the Lord, to just surrender to the difficulties of life and stay at a low, broken-down level.

Listen: we do come to God spiritually bankrupt. But then He does something: He makes us strong. He makes us stand. He makes us steadfast, like a mighty tree, not blown down by the winds of this world, but firm and resolute, with fear cast out even if the earth gives way beneath us. Be strong in the Lord and of good courage. God does not leave you broken. He transforms you. After all, He’s the kind of God that cares even about the hairs on your head. Did you see that in verse 34? Your hair matters to God. That’s His love for you.

Acts 27:39-44 – 39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land but sighted a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore if they could. 40 After cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and headed for the beach. 41 But they struck a sandbar and ran the ship aground. The bow jammed fast and remained immovable, while the stern began to break up by the pounding of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one could swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion kept them from carrying out their plan because he wanted to save Paul, and so he ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to follow, some on planks and some on debris from the ship. In this way, everyone safely reached the shore.

Don’t ever say, “Things can’t get any worse!” There might be a sandbar in front of you! One more ‘ful’ shown by the Christians. They had been careful, truthful, hopeful, helpful, thankful. Here we see they were faithful. They stuck with the Lord’s plan all the way to the very last. It’s hard to hit the water when you don’t know how to swim. But they did it.

We also see here wonderful demonstrations of God’s providence. He made sure that His servants were saved from execution and that every one of those 276 travelers made it safely to shore. He put vigor in the muscles of the swimmers, and sent flotsam to those who couldn’t. He brought each one away from the carnage of the wreck and delivered them onto land. What a good and gracious God!

At the start of this voyage Paul and the other Christians were, from one vantage point, only ballast. In the end, we see how meaningful their part to play was. At first glance it didn’t seem like there was much they could do. But when we look closer we see that what they could, they did. And what they did made a huge difference. They were careful to go God’s way. They were truthful with the people around them, which ultimately showed them all the way of escape. They were hopeful, even in the darkest dangers, knowing that God’s love never fails. They were helpful in big and small ways. They weren’t content to let the ship go to hell in a hand basket, but put their shoulders to the work. They were thankful and faithful and because of all of that, their presence was powerful as God worked through them in a time of great need.

I wouldn’t be like these Christians if I didn’t take a chance to speak to anyone listening who is not a believer in Jesus Christ. We may not be on the Mediterranean, but you’re in even worse danger. You see, while this story really happened, it’s also a picture for us of life without Christ. You are the soldier, the sailor, the merchant on the ship and it’s headed to the bottom unless you get saved. You can’t avoid the shipwreck, there’s no lifeboat that can save you. It doesn’t matter how many battles you’ve won or how much merchandise you’ve delivered. In the end, you’re going to die. The grave is going to claim you like this storm claimed the ship. There is one way and only one way for you to escape and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. He loves you and knows you and is calling out to you. He’s the only hope for you to escape death and receive everlasting life. But, to receive that gift you must believe and obey. Jettison every other cargo. Cut free every other scheme or plan that you have. Believe what He has said and surrender to Him. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Matthew Webb, the man who swam the Channel, tried one final stunt. He thought he could swim the rapids of Niagara. It was a huge risk, but he had been promised a large sum of money if he succeeded. John McCloy, a veteran ferryman, tried to warn him. He said, “If he goes in he’ll never come out alive.” But Matthew thought he was strong enough to make it through. He went in the water on July 24, 1883. Four minutes later he was gone. His body was recovered on the 28th.

Without Christ, you cannot be saved. You won’t come out of the wreck. With Christ, the wreck can’t hurt you. Because nothing can separate us from His love. To be a Christian makes all the difference, not only in this world, but most importantly, in the next.

Time’s A-Wastin’ (Acts 27:1-12)

Before COVID kept many people working from home, the commute was a regular part of daily life. From 1980 to 2020, commute time increased just about every year. In 2018 research found that the average American would spend a full 9.4 days of their year commuting to work. Interestingly, the same data showed that Americans spend only 7.9 days taking care of their family.

Admittedly, my commute is pretty short, but usually I don’t mind a drive. But, if I find myself on a drive and see the dreaded “flagger ahead” sign, man does my mood deteriorate! There’s nothing that feels, to me, more like wasted time than that.

The closing pages of Acts focus mostly on Paul’s voyage to Rome. From the human perspective, it takes forever, costs too much and nearly claims several hundred lives.

Now, we know that Jesus Christ wants Paul to get to Rome so that he might act as a witness to the people there and to the Emperor himself. The same God, by the way, Who speaks and it is done, the God who commands the wind and the waves, Who can calm any storm and deliver His people instantly to the further shore, He wanted Paul in Italy. Isn’t it interesting, then, that He put the apostle on this trip where so much time seems wasted? Especially after more than 2 years of his life had already been “wasted” sitting in a jail cell.

Of course, as Christians, we know the time is only wasted from the human perspective. We love this story. We are so thankful that we have this incredible record of sailing and shipwreck, of miracles and ministry, which has been read by countless millions for thousands of years. As the saga unfolds we can be sure there were other people who were very happy that God “wasted” Paul’s time on this ship: Like the 273 other passengers who otherwise would’ve been lost in the sea, but for Paul’s presence. Also, the many who would be healed and evangelized on the island of Malta once the apostle washed up on shore. We can’t begin to calculate how many lives and souls have been saved because Paul’s time was “wasted” on this crossing.

As we start out with him, we can see this voyage as an analogy of life. Paul would be sailing to a great city he hadn’t been to, one out further than he had ever gone, where he would stand before the throne of the king. On the ship he was surrounded with all sorts of people, some who were happy to be headed toward Rome, some who would give anything to avoid it. People of every class and background. Some were Christians, most were not. But there they all are, heading toward the horizon, facing troubles, choices and questions together.

In the first part of our text a theme that comes across is the difficulty of life’s voyage. And in the second part we see the defiance of the lost voyagers. And we see how the Christian brings aid throughout, even when we also face dangers, struggles and setbacks.

Acts 27:1 – When it was decided that we were to sail to Italy, they handed over Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment.

“When it was decided.” Decided by who? Not by Paul, but by the Roman officials. At the moment he was at the mercy of the governing authorities around him. He had been waiting for quite some time for what was next in his service to the Lord. Finally he gets some traction, they book him a ticket, but it’s not first class or even coach, he’ll be traveling as a prisoner.

We will not always have the deciding vote on the flow of our lives. Things, both small and great, happen beyond our control. But we can be sure that nothing is outside God’s charge or care. This was, undoubtedly, not the way Paul would’ve chosen to get to Rome, but he wasn’t pouting about it or letting it ruin his attitude or testimony. He persevered even under these much-less-than-ideal circumstances. After generations of autonomy and liberty, it seems like our society is going to start constraining us more than before. I don’t mean this as a prediction, just as we look around we see a loss of some of the freedoms we used to have. And, as Christians, we may be facing a new level of friction than we’ve known before. But, we can still persevere, still be full of joy and keep a hopeful heart, because our faith is not dependent on circumstances, but on the Lord, Who never fails.

On this trip we’ll find he has a bunch of different people around Paul. There’s Julius, a revered and important centurion. The boat will, naturally, have a bunch of sailors on board. Some merchants, too. We’re also told that there were a number of other prisoners being taken along with Paul. We don’t know their particular cases, but it’s probable some or many of them were being transported to their execution in the gladiatorial games. There are a few other people with him, too:

Acts 27:2 – 2 When we had boarded a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, intending to sail to ports along the coast of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.

What a joy to have Dr. Luke back on the scene. He will go through a lot with Paul, ultimately being there with him at the very end about 7 years later when he is beheaded. But it’s not just the dynamic duo, we see another familiar name: Aristarchus. We’ve seen him before in Acts. He had been with Paul in Ephesus and his trip to Jerusalem. A good and faithful man.

These fellows give our first example of how Christians can give aid and support in the journey of life. Neither Luke nor Aristarchus had to take this trip with Paul, they volunteered. Some speculate that the only way they would’ve been allowed to tag along would be to do so as Paul’s slaves, and that they would’ve had to pay their own way on the trip. We’re not sure. But they do demonstrate for us that Christians are meant to support one another, serving one another, out of love and compassion. And, we are not to stingily cling to our material resources, but put them also into the Lord’s service.

They also show that, in ministry, things often get worse before they get better. They’re doing a good thing, a good service to their friend and the Lord, but they’re going to suffer a lot in the mean time.

Acts 27:3 – 3 The next day we put in at Sidon, and Julius treated Paul kindly and allowed him to go to his friends to receive their care.

It’s pretty remarkable that he gave Paul this amount of liberty. Remember: If a Roman lost a prisoner, he’d forfeit his own life. So, maybe Julius had become a Christian. At very least, it’s clear he and Paul had an understanding, respectful relationship. Which shows that Paul wasn’t an antagonist toward him. He wasn’t rude or bitter toward Julius. As always, he was full of grace.

We also see these Sidonian Christians ready to help the apostle in his time of need. Though Paul hadn’t been mistreated in Caesarea, he wouldn’t have changes of clothes, money for the road or some of the other comforts that we might take for granted. Here, on very short notice and with a very short window of opportunity, they were ready to give of themselves so that he could be helped.

While we can’t always count on the world and the powers within it to treat us so kindly, we should be able to count on one another. The Christian church is a family and we want to be ready to take care of one another. In this case, they couldn’t do much but they could do something. Sometimes we feel inadequate to deal with the huge problems that affect our world, but remember: Even a cup of cold water given to a fellow believer moves the needle of eternity.

Acts 27:4 – 4 When we had put out to sea from there, we sailed along the northern coast of Cyprus because the winds were against us.

The voyage is hard. They would have small sections of relative ease, but on the whole it’s going to be a struggle. As an analogy of life we see that, on the one hand, everyone is in it together. But, you’ve got people with very different mindsets on board. Some are there because it’s their duty. Some are there because they’re trying to make a buck in trade. Some are prisoners there, not wanting to go at all. And then there are 3 on board whose goal in life is to honor God and do His work. All of them encounter headwinds and tailwinds. All of them are going to suffer along the way.

If God cares so much for us and gives us jobs to do in His Kingdom, why not just give us smooth sailing all the time? Why not exempt us from the difficulties of life, like He did in the land of Goshen?

Well, for one thing, the Lord wants us among the lost so that they might be saved. He also wants to show His strength through our weakness. And, as I said before, the Christians’ suffering in this passage leads to evangelism and healing and all sort of impact that has shaken the world for the last 2,000 years. One example: The way in which Luke chronicles this story, with all the detail, is a major proof for the authenticity of his work as a historian. We don’t need this account to believe the Doctor’s other chapters, but these verses give a great amount of validity to the book as a whole.

Acts 27:5 – 5 After sailing through the open sea off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we reached Myra in Lycia.

So, at the first they had contrary winds, now they were able to cross the open sea. I imagine the helmsman and the others thought, “Glad we got through that!” Remember on Apollo 13, there’s that moment after liftoff where the center engine switches off for a minute. Tom Hanks says, “Looks like we just had our glitch for this mission.” Having no idea what is really in store for them.

The leg of the trip in verse 4 was tough, the one in verse 5 a bit easier. The Christian life is full of headwinds and tailwinds, discoveries and losses, battles and rests. We can’t predict what tomorrow holds, but we can rest assured that the Lord knows and He is with us and that we can trust Him.

Acts 27:6 – 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.

We’ll be told later that this is a cargo ship bringing grain to Italy. I imagine that the crew were more of the salty sort, like the fellows on The Deadliest Catch. You see, sea travel was already tough, these guys would have to go from Egypt to Rome delivering grain safe and dry. They’re already very late in the season, so much so that a ship like this would be offering extra bonuses and insurance for those willing to take the trip. One source adds:

“It was a sturdy ship, but in high seas it had definite disadvantages. It had no rudder like a modern ship but was steered by two great paddles extending from the stern…Chief among its drawbacks was that it could not sail into the wind.”

Acts 27:7-8 – 7 Sailing slowly for many days, with difficulty we arrived off Cnidus. Since the wind did not allow us to approach it, we sailed along the south side of Crete off Salmone. 8 With still more difficulty we sailed along the coast and came to a place called Fair Havens near the city of Lasea.

It was slow going. To the merchants and soldiers on board this would’ve been more than a setback. For them, time was money. Paul had been in a years long period of slow going in his life. And yet, for the Christian, time isn’t money. We can be content and abound in all situations. Our mood and choices aren’t supposed to be determined by the circumstances of life. Remember: We’re meant to live on a higher level, fulfilling a higher purpose. The old adage is one Christian says to another, “How are you doing?” He replies, “Pretty good, under the circumstances,” and the first says, “What are you doing under there?” Our minds and our hearts are to be set on things above.

So, yes, life is full of difficulties, but we remind ourselves that we are on a very different trip than the grain merchants or the condemned gladiators. The slow sailing simply gave Paul and his friends more time to minister to the hundreds of lost people around them. And it gave the Christians time to be together to sing and pray and talk about the Lord. In fact, some scholars think that during Paul’s 2 years in Caesarea, Luke would’ve been able to do a bunch of research for his Gospel. Think of the wonderful things he would’ve been able to tell Paul that the apostle hadn’t heard before! The slow going of life can be absolutely full of spiritual richness for the Christian.

Acts 27:9 – 9 By now much time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous. Since the Day of Atonement, was already over, Paul gave his advice

In these last 4 verses we’re going to see the defiance of the lost voyagers. Here we’re reminded that with each day that passes, the trip becomes more dangerous for unbelievers. We don’t know if we have 50 years or 50 days left on the earth, but sooner or later, the trip comes to an end. And, for the unsaved, every day spent is one day closer to death. Luke puts the trip on a calendar for us, the Jewish Day of Atonement would’ve been late September. But there’s a good devotional thought for anyone who may be listening who isn’t a Christian: Atonement has been made. John tells us that Jesus “Himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins.” He was sent to take away our sins and give us everlasting life. But He doesn’t save anyone who isn’t willing. And every day you spend, every beat of your heart, brings you that much closer to death, and then comes judgment. Like this ship in Acts, you are headed for a wreck and the only way of escape is through Jesus Christ, the Savior.

Paul was a seasoned traveller. He maybe had the most experience of anyone on board, at least with shipwrecks. By this time he’d already been in 3! Here was his advice:

Acts 27:10 – 10 and told them, “Men, I can see that this voyage is headed toward disaster and heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship but also of our lives.”

Paul hadn’t received a prophecy, he is using common sense here. But I find it very interesting that he seemed to think that it was a real possibility that they might all die. What about Jesus sending him to Rome? I think on the one hand he could rest in that calling, but on the other Paul knew life is unpredictable. In the Bible we have multiple examples of believers dying early. Ananias and Sapphira, some of the Christians in Corinth. We also have examples of believers dying late. King Hezekiah. We have a lot of insight into world history and present happenings and God’s plan for the future, but on the individual level, our lives can be unpredictable. So, we should trust the Lord, investigate and concentrate on what He’s revealed in the Bible, exercise sanctified common sense and make the most of the opportunities before us.

Like this ship, our world is on a collision course with disaster. Even in the unbelieving world we see people talking about climate change wiping us all out, or the next pandemic that has more like a 40% fatality rate, maybe another American civil war or an atomic attack somewhere. Nasa is always trying to scare us with meteors coming into our orbital path. What’s going to happen and who is going to save us?!? Well, Christians have real answers and we can share them and, along the way, like Paul we should be wise. Paul was wise. He had knowledge and experience and compassion and so he tried to give them aid in the form of helpful advice.

Acts 27:11 – 11 But the centurion paid attention to the captain and the owner of the ship rather than to what Paul said.

I can imagine Julius coming below deck and saying to Paul, “Come up with me to a meeting.” Then they’re talking there, Paul gives his suggestion. The captain goes, “…who’s this?” “Oh, this is one of our prisoners. He’s got some ideas about how you should sail your ship.”

Despite Julius’ respect for Paul, in the end he was more persuaded by the experts and entrepreneurs. They thought they could pilot their way out, grit their way out, somehow. They had no plan, they were flying in the face of the facts, but they were unwilling to admit they’d been beaten.

The Christian perspective will often seem foolish and out of place to unbelievers. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. One example: The Christian says, “If you dismantle the family, society will crumble.” Some unbelievers around us scoff at that, they say we’re old fashioned or out of touch. And so they press on into their own plan and what happens? Society starts to crumble. Because they’re sailing into the difficulties of life and their ship doesn’t even have a rudder!

Acts 27:12 – 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided to set sail from there, hoping somehow to reach Phoenix, a harbor on Crete facing the southwest and northwest, and to winter there.

Fair Havens was a sleepy little port. No night life. Phoenix, on the other hand, had much more to offer for a few months shore leave. And the majority voted for that, and as is so often the case, the majority was wrong. They were hoping to somehow make it to that safe harbor, but with no plan and no protection from the storm that was waiting for them. But luckily there were some Christians on board, giving the right perspective. And when that was ignored, the Christians were still there, willing to intercede on their behalf.

John Phillips points out how fortunate they were that they had Paul on the ship, not Jonah. The crew of the ship headed to Tarshish had said, “What are you doing asleep?” Jonah was checked out. Not Paul. He left that meeting and went down below to pray for their salvation and because of it, every life was going to be spared, despite their foolish decision to sail on.

So we see God’s people on the ship, mingling graciously among all these other souls. We see them supporting one another, staying contented even when it seems time is being utterly wasted. We see them acting wisely and patiently. Doubtless Paul and his friends were bringing the Gospel to soldiers and sailors and those facing the lions’ mouths. There was nothing wasted about this time. And no matter what setbacks or difficulties you may be facing, as a Christian, none of it needs be wasted. You’ve got opportunities to minister, people to intercede for, time to grow in your depth of love for the Lord, chances to support your brothers and sisters. Make the most of your trip.

That’s Crazy Talk! (Acts 26)

Picture Manhattan for a moment. I should specify: Manhattan, Montana. Population: 1,500. This tiny town is home to Ernie Wayne terTelgte. Ernie’s looks like a Grizzly Adams impersonator. You can watch video from a 2013 court proceeding against Ernie. He had been stopped for fishing without a license. When confronted, he told police that, under universal law, he had the right to forage for food. The situation escalated and Ernie resisted arrest. When appearing in court, he speaks in his own defense, but it doesn’t go very well. First, he objects to the capitalization of the letters of his name on court documents. He’s convinced to allow that would be to admit that he has been made “the property of Rome.” He also asserts that the proceedings are unconstitutional because the flag on display has gold fringe on the edges, which indicates they are attempting to force admiralty law upon him. When asked how he pled to the charges his answer is: “I never plead, animals plead, sounds like baaaa, oink oink.” Things deteriorate from there. The judge removes herself to confer with her bailiffs, at which point Ernie pronounces the case dismissed and he gets up and walks out. Maybe the most remarkable part of the whole video is that you then see that the room had been filled with his supporters, who go after him outside, murmuring about how they have made history.

Today we find a man defending himself in a different court. Paul has been presented to King Agrippa, Governor Festus, military commanders and the prominent men of Caesarea. But this isn’t an official trial, it was meant to be an afternoon of entertainment for these important people. What follows is nothing less than a jaw-dropping spectacle, as the Pharisee turned turned preacher turned prisoner delivers his defense and proclaims the Good News to them. Before Paul is able to finish, Festus will shout that he has gone mad. But Paul is no Ernie terTelgte. His testimony may be astonishing, but it’s not unreasonable. He shares the remarkable story of how he came to faith in Christ. And, as we listen we should be astonished that God was so gracious as to save a wretch like him, that God was so powerful that He is able to completely transform the worst kind of man, and that God is so generous that He is willing to do that for anyone and everyone who will turn to Him in faith.

Acts 26:1 – Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense:

If you recall, everyone in the audience had come in with pomp and pageantry. All very impressed with themselves. Here, Agrippa says he’s giving Paul “permission” to “speak for himself.” But what will become very clear very quickly was that it was Paul who had authority and he was not interested in seeking anything for himself, he was speaking for their benefit. This scene reminds us that we have been given the authority of heaven. We don’t need to seek the permission of man to do what our King has sent us to do. And, we’re reminded that our speech, our whole life, is not to be lived for ourselves, but in service to our King. Agrippa said, “Speak for yourself.” But what we’ll see is Paul talks all about Jesus. Yes, he will share his personal testimony, but Paul’s ‘self’ was completely wrapped up in the Person and work of Christ, his Savior.

Paul’s message is absolutely – pointedly – directed at Agrippa. More than a dozen times Paul will say his name or say “YOU” to him. As he speaks he doesn’t seek to exonerate himself as much as he seeks to emancipate this lost man, trapped in his sin, falling headlong toward death and judgment.

As he lifted up his hand to speak, the jangle of his chains would be heard, for Paul was shackled to at least one soldier as he addressed them. And here’s how he opens:

Acts 26:2-3 – 2 “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 especially since you are very knowledgeable about all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

“I consider myself fortunate.” That’s an incredible opening line. It reminds us of Lou Gehrig saying “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” How could Paul be pleased by his circumstances? Well, it wasn’t the circumstances he was excited about, but the opportunity to deliver a cure to this dying crowd. Paul recognized that what he was suffering through was part of a greater story, a much greater effort that has been unfolding for many centuries. It wasn’t just that Paul caught a bad break. This was part of the grand work of redemption conceived in the mind of God and accomplished by His power. Along the way there was great opposition against this saving work, not only coming from the Devil but from lost men themselves. And so when Paul suffered he didn’t have to ask “why me?” He knew that it was because of sin that God’s people were resisted.

Paul asks for their patience. Not all questions can be answered quickly. Sometimes the truth cannot be rushed. Not everything we can know about God can fit on a post-it note. After a lifetime of study we will still learn more of Him and what He has done.

Acts 26:4-5 – 4 “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived as a Pharisee.

Paul wants to establish who he was before he surrendered his life to Jesus. And who he was was the best of the best that human religion could offer. There was no man of greater focus, dedication and sincerity than Saul of Tarsus. He was so committed he had become famous for it. Men like Festus only wished to grasp philosophy and knowledge the way Saul had. Men like Agrippa didn’t have the courage or will to go the high road and deny his base desires. But Saul was that rare man who laid hold of those human virtues of brilliance and morality. He was a champion specimen.

So, what happened? How did he go from rising star to public enemy number one?

Acts 26:6-7 – 6 And now I stand on trial because of the hope in what God promised to our ancestors, 7 the promise our twelve tribes hope to reach as they earnestly serve him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope.

The “hope” was the resurrection from the dead. Specifically, that the Messiah had come, He had been killed, and now He was alive again and therefore all who follow Him will be raised to life again.

This wasn’t a new promise, it had always been the hope of Israel. The problem is that the Jews had refused the idea of a suffering Savior. But, it’s right there on the page, isn’t it? What about Isaiah? What about these other references? Had God made some terrible mistake? Had He forgotten to hit ‘send’ on the message? No, it was men who made the mistake. Men who, over time, elevated tradition to the same level as the Scriptures and their understanding became distorted and ruined.

This isn’t a problem unique to the Jewish people. We can look back and see times when the church moved away from the clear revelation of Scripture and instead were teaching things like indulgences, purgatory, the Crusades. Errors like these are made when God’s people stop submitting to the Word of God and instead elevate tradition or custom to the authority that only Scripture should have.

Paul signals here that the resurrection should not only be considered our great hope, but that it should motivate us in our daily service to the Lord and that focusing on it will sustain us through the difficulties we face in this life.

Acts 26:8 – 8 Why do any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

The Romans found the idea of resurrection absurd. As you share the Gospel, eventually someone will scoff at the idea of life after death. But it’s not an illogical claim. If there is a God who created life out of nothing, there’s no reason to think He couldn’t bring someone back to life after death.

Perhaps a person then says, “Well, I don’t believe in God.” That’s common these days. I suppose the question I would like them to answer is: “Can you show me a symphony that wrote itself and then played itself? Just one. It can be as long or short as you like. 1 measure will suffice.” Now that’s an absurd idea. The London symphony orchestra currently has 106 players. It takes immense effort for them to perform a single piece of music together.

Thus far, scientists have discovered 118 elements. These elements work together round the clock in a meticulously fine-tuned orchestra to support life in our ever-expanding universe. And someone would say this cosmic symphony wrote and plays itself? “A fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.’”

Acts 26:9-11 – 9 In fact, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I was in agreement against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to make them blaspheme. Since I was terribly enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.

Paul admits that he had tortured and killed Christians. Now remember: This was the best man had to offer. The finest example of spiritual enlightenment and dedication was a killer, who hunted down innocent people to satiate his own fury.

We need not focus on the horrors of what Paul did. Instead, we marvel at the grace of what Christ did. This man was loved by God, rescued from himself, and completely changed. Not only is that amazing grace, it’s incredible to see that God is able to wash away the guilt of sin. It was over and done with. Paul was made new. It reminds us of the redemption of IG-11 in The Mandalorian.

Knowing who we would become, we read about Saul’s rage and we pity him, right? We know who he will be after the Damascus road. So, when we see him raging at the church, we pardon him. We should also pity the opponents of the Gospel today. It’s easier to hate them, but we don’t want to be like Jonah, who was so consumed with hatred toward the Ninevites that he initially refused to preach to them and later was angry when they received God’s mercy. We want to be like Ananias, ready to embrace even a person as wretched as Saul and welcome him into the family of God.

Acts 26:12 – 12 “I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests.

Saul had been sent out with what looked like a lot of power and a commission to harm. In a moment it was all gone. Because God is really the One in charge. And now, He has sent us out with His own commission, not to destroy but to make disciples. And we go out in the Lord’s authority.

Acts 26:13-15a – 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

A sad but important element in Paul’s story is the revelation that God will allow a person to kick against Him. Paul did. We’ve seen Felix did. Festus will, Agrippa will. Peter even did a bit back in the Cornelius story. Think about it: The Lord could’ve raptured Peter over to Caesarea and mechanically forced him to do what He had commanded, but He didn’t. God does not force Himself on us, either in salvation or to follow His leading. To the unsaved, we would say, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” To the saved, we would say the same and, additionally, “Don’t quench the Holy Spirit.” Don’t kick against God’s leading, His correction or His commands.

Acts 26:15b-18 – “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

There’s that line in The Two Towers as the battle at Helm’s Deep is about to begin where Aragorn says to his soldiers, “Show them no mercy for you shall receive none.” Saul had no mercy for the Christians he was persecuting. And yet, the Lord Jesus met him with grace. And such grace! This man who deserved only to be consumed by the righteous judgment of God instead was given an offer of life. Not just life, but to have his debt wiped out. And an offer to be established and strengthened, to have mysteries revealed to him. He said, “I’ll make you My spokesman. I’ll make you My friend and co-heir.” This is the offer He makes to all of us despite what we deserve. We may have less blood on our hands but we have no less sin in our hearts.

Here, without being disrespectful, Paul points out that all these glittering Gentiles were, actually, lost in darkness. Blind and dying, slowly being crushed by the power of Satan. The Gospel must contain the hard truth that unbelievers are bound in darkness, facing the wrath of God and must be saved from their sin. That they have no future hope for forgiveness or life apart from Jesus Christ.

Acts 26:19-23 – 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have had help from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing other than what the prophets and Moses said would take place—23 that the Messiah would suffer, and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Paul never once elevates himself in this talk. He simply did what he was told. Sure, he was talking to some ‘great’ people today, but he was just as ready to speak to a few poor people down by the riverbank. Because earthly status didn’t mean anything to Paul anymore.

If you’re trapped in a burning building it doesn’t really matter who makes 7 figures and who is broke, does it? Paul could see that all this world was a burning building. His aim was not to climb a ladder of worldly success, but to rescue whoever he could before the whole thing came down.

He says Christ was the first to rise from the dead. We don’t have time for a full blown eschatology study tonight (we’ll get that in our studies in Revelation), but suffice it to say, Christians sometimes argue about the resurrection. There are some who say there is only one general resurrection. However, as we read Scripture we see there are two: The first for believers and the second for the damned. The first is presented as happening in stages. Those who criticize this idea should admit that they, too, believe in at least a two-stage first resurrection: Because Christ is the first to rise.

Acts 26:24 – 24 As he was saying these things in his defense, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad.”

Apparently in the Greek when it says “loud voice” the terms used are ‘mega phone.’ So, Festus is worked up. Perhaps he felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit but instead of surrendering he decided to kick against the Lord. His tactic? Dismiss the messenger and then you can ignore the message.

It is so important that we, as ambassadors and messengers, live out our Christianity with integrity and consistency. We do not want to give the unbelievers around us an excuse to deny the message of the Gospel by bringing shame on the name of Jesus Christ.

Now, Paul wasn’t acting crazy. Impassioned, yes. Not crazy. Hang out online for awhile and you’ll see plenty of video evidence of Christians acting crazy. Don’t be like that. But neither should we be indifferent about our Christian life. We’re to be filled up with joy and zeal and passion to be about our Lord’s business. And, knowing it is a life and death business, we should be energetic in our efforts.

Acts 26:25-27 – 25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters, and I can speak boldly to him. For I am convinced that none of these things has escaped his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”

Our message should be built with Biblical truth and good judgment. When we move off of that into sensationalism, it not only fails to change lives, it makes us seem crazy. When a bunch of Christians get behind their pulpits and proclaim that heaven has guaranteed that Donald Trump will win the 2020 election and then he doesn’t, the unbelieving world says, “Look at those crazy people!”

Here’s what Paul did: He talked about the history of Israel, the prophecies of the Old Testament, the true, reliable testimony of Christ and then how his own life had been radically changed. It doesn’t mean that being born again is all a rational formula that doesn’t require faith. It does. But the truth of God is reasonable and sober and able to be communicated in plain language.

There were a lot of people in the room, but the Spirit focused Paul’s attention on one guy: Agrippa. Festus clearly was reacting very negatively, but Agrippa seemed to be more receptive and so Paul brought him to a moment of decision. Do you believe?

That in itself is important. He did not say: “Will you be baptized?” Or, “Will you clean up all the missteps of your life and prove you’re worthy of being saved?” No, it was, “Do you believe?”

Jesus said, “He who believes has eternal life.” We are not justified by works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Now, when a person believes and God begins that transforming process, they will do the work of righteousness. But we are saved by grace through faith. Do you believe?

Acts 26:28-29 – 28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” 29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.”

We don’t know exactly how Agrippa responded. Some think he was being sarcastic, some think he was right on the brink of repentance. We simply can’t know. What’s clear is that he would not take that step into faith. He wouldn’t trade the robes of Rome for the robe of righteousness.

For his part, Paul didn’t wish imprisonment or martyrdom on any of them. But he did wish that they would become like him in being led by Christ, motivated by the resurrection, free from the burdens of sin, full of love toward others, surrendered to the goodness of God’s charge over their lives. That they would each become people with a true and vibrant relationship with the Living Christ and become part of the long work of redemption. Paul wanted that for them and God wants that for us.

Acts 26:30-32 – 30 The king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is not doing anything to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

In 1940, Winston Churchill delivered what is known as his “Fight them on the beaches” speech. It’s probably his most famous and has been long remembered. When he gave it in the House of Commons, some members (even of the opposing party) were moved to tears. But not everyone was inspired. Many, even in the Tory party, sat “in sullen silence.” And the next day polls showed many Brits were depressed by his oratory. Of course, there was something more important than morale at stake. Churchill was talking about the very survival of millions of people on the earth.

Paul had delivered a powerful, history-making presentation of the Gospel. We have no idea if anyone in the room joined him in the family of God. But the urgency of the situation demanded the message be shared, even if no one would believe.

If you’re a Christian here tonight, you have been brought into the work of God, just as Paul was. Maybe the opportunities you receive are less dramatic than this, but they’re no less important or urgent. God has scattered you into time and place so that you can continue this work. He’s supplied the power to stand strong in every circumstance. He’s provided the special revelation of Scripture so that you can, with authority, proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, and He has invited you to be a living proof of the resurrection, as you live out a life transformed by the Gospel, inviting whoever will listen to join you in this life of grace and fulfillment and certain hope.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know (Acts 25:13-27)

Secretly listening in on the other team has a long history in sports. The Patriots have repeatedly been accused of spying of one sort or another. Sports Illustrated reported that “at least five teams have swept their hotels, locker rooms or coaches’ booths in New England for listening devices.”

Baseball has a long history of trying to tap into the communication of the opposing team. It’s called sign stealing and there was quite a scandal surrounding the Houston Astros a few years ago. But the tradition dates back as far as 1899 when the Phillies utilized “a backup catcher named Morgan Murphy in an ‘observatory’ beyond the centerfield wall, where he stole signs with binoculars. Murphy rigged an underground wire from his perch to the third-base coaching box, where the coach kept his foot above a junction box that would signal the pitch by buzzing once or twice.”

In our passage tonight we get an interesting glimpse into the private communication between two players on the other team. We have Festus, the new governor of Judea and King Agrippa. They’ll receive a powerful presentation of the Gospel, but first we get a look behind closed doors to see some of their discussion and mindset leading up to Paul’s message.

Isn’t it interesting that we’ve had no windows into Paul’s 2 years in Caesarea, none of his meetings or happenings. But now, we’re able to sit at the table with rulers and kings and hear them talk? Why would the Lord preserve this somewhat incidental conversation for us? When sports teams listen in on the other guys it’s so they can gain dominance over them. Not so with the Lord. His desire isn’t to beat them, but to win them for Himself.

That’s still His desire for the lost in our world today. And it can be helpful for us to examine their mindset. We find there’s a wide spectrum of attitudes when it comes to the people we’re sent to share the Gospel with. Having some insider information about the way unbelievers think can help us be ready and to stay warmhearted toward those God loves so much.

Acts 25:13 – 13 Several days later, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and paid a courtesy call on Festus.

King Agrippa is Herod Agrippa. His dad was the one who had the Apostle James killed and was struck dead by God in Acts 12. His great uncle was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded. His great-grandfather was Herod the Great who slaughtered the babies in Bethlehem. He had been appointed by the Emperor and would need to keep friendly relations with as many Roman officials as he could, hence this protocol of coming and giving honor to Festus. You see, he may have been a ‘king,’ but the governor was the one in charge.

Bernice was Agrippa’s sister and, historians say, his mistress. She had been married to her own uncle and would have a string of relationships with powerful men, including the future emperor Titus.

So, right off the bat we can pause and evaluate what we know about these people Paul is going to evangelize: They have a lot going on. They’ve got all these pressures and problems, both personal and professional. Outwardly they have the trappings of wealth and influence, but their lives are a mess. And each of them have these different fears and failures that they have to keep putting off or trying to avoid, yet they just keep dogging them.

Acts 25:14-15 – 14 Since they were staying there several days, Festus presented Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There’s a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews presented their case and asked that he be condemned.

Festus has a problem: When he sends Paul to Nero, he has to send an official report to detail the case and present charges. He’ll admit he has nothing to write, which is not a good position for him to be in. While Agrippa was by no means a religious man, he was an expert in Jewish affairs. He would be a very helpful resource for Festus in this particular issue, not to mention he had a family history with Nero. So, if you have to send this sketchy case to the emperor, why not get some help from a guy like this. And, Agrippa would be happy to do the new governor a favor.

It’s a sad testimony that the Jewish religious leaders’ greatest wish in this section is that Paul would be condemned to death. What a terrible legacy for this group. There’s a devotional thought for us here: Condemnation isn’t our job. Yes, we’re to tell the truth that sin is condemned by God, but the job is for us to go and tell the world that there is an escape from our guilt through the blood of Jesus. Even when it comes to hard-hearted, despicable people, like those on display here, the goal is rescue and redemption. The goal is that people would be saved out of their sin and transformed by the power of God. We may be offended by the way people live their lives, but remember what God can do. Look at Paul! The chief enemy of Jesus Christ. A murderer. Ravager of the Church. Now transformed by God to be the greatest living example of Christianity the world has ever known.

Don’t spend your life doling out condemnation or hoping for the destruction of your enemies. And don’t spend your life becoming more and more wrapped up in temporal goals. That’s what had happened to the Sanhedrin. They were focused on earthly things. Earthly numbers. Earthly success. When that happens to God’s people, they inevitably become antagonistic to others. We’re not called to antagonism but to evangelism. Why? Because salvation solves the problems of the world. Think about it: What would make Agrippa and Bernice “better” people? A law against incest? Those already existed. How about Festus? Would campaign finance reform make him a more impartial governor? No. But take these people and have their hearts washed by the blood of the Lamb and indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God? That solves everything! No more incest. No more pride. No more bribes and back room deals.

Acts 25:16 – 16 I answered them that it is not the Roman custom to give someone up before the accused faces the accusers and has an opportunity for a defense against the charges.

Festus paints himself in the most positive light. It reminds us that the average person we talk to thinks they’re fine. “Sure there are some bad people out there, but I’m a good person. Good-ish.” Festus was, naturally, trying to talk himself up to this new important friend. And, frankly, he was lying to himself. “I would never give up a Roman citizen!” In reality he was willing to give Paul up as a favor to the Jews, he just wasn’t able to get it done.

His mention of the Roman custom gives us a chance for another quick devotional thought: What’s our custom? We have a lot of them, but hopefully we can boil down our behavior to the word grace. We’re saved by grace, enriched by grace and we’re told in 2 Corinthians 6 that we’re to excel in grace. That it’s to overflow us. As we serve, as we speak, as we worship, is it full of God’s grace?

Acts 25:17 – 17 So when they had assembled here, I did not delay. The next day I took my seat at the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in.

“The man.” Festus really had no idea who it was he had access to. At least Felix took a bunch of opportunities to talk to the Apostle. Festus was clueless.

When we share the Gospel with people, they’re often coming into it with no idea who we really are. They may see us as an unwelcome salesman or some sort of downer sent to make them feel bad. In reality, we’re the lifeguards who are swimming out to save them from drowning.

Acts 25:18 – 18 The accusers stood up but brought no charge against him of the evils I was expecting.

Festus had assumptions and none of them were right. He didn’t really know about the case but thought, “Oh it must have to do with this and this.”

What does the world assume about Christians today? No need to ask whether it’s fair or not, but what is the general feeling out in the culture around us when it comes to Christianity? Generally speaking I’d say the assumptions aren’t very good. We can’t control what culture thinks about us. The enemy keeps people deceived in every era. But this is the important part: Paul was not what Festus was expecting. He wasn’t a troublemaker. He wasn’t a maniac. He wasn’t violent.

The Bible says that we’re to be known by our love for other Christians. That we’re to be known not for things like litigation but our ability to solve conflicts together. We’re never told to be known for our anger or our rivalries or politicization but for how we emulate the Savior.

Acts 25:19 – 19 Instead they had some disagreements with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, a dead man Paul claimed to be alive.

Here’s an amazing discovery as we listen in on this conversation: Festus didn’t know who Jesus was! True, it was around 30 years since the cross and the empty grave, but still it surprises us. The truth is, there are a lot of people in the world who haven’t heard the Gospel and don’t actually know who Jesus is. Not just far away in the 10/40 window, but even right here in our own community. And we see here that Festus didn’t realize there was even a difference between Judaism and Christianity. Now, he was particularly uninformed, but so are some people you will encounter.

In addition, we notice that he didn’t seem to care at all about the idea that this Jesus might actually be alive. It didn’t register. Again, this is just giving us a window into the mentality of one type of unbeliever. He’s not a militant atheist, but he also isn’t really thoughtful about spiritual things.

But that disinterest didn’t make Paul change his message. In fact, he’s going to double down and talk about how the resurrection is true and it is the reason why he’s where he is and that it is the hope of mankind. You see, the resurrection was always central and critical to the preaching of the Apostles. They didn’t talk to people about living their best lives now, they always talked about how Messiah is alive now! Because the resurrection not only validates everything Jesus said, it is the basis for our faith AND it changes everything! Because you and I are going to come out of the grave and step into eternity one day, everything about this life is different.

And this is not just one guy’s irrational claim. That’s kind of the way Festus was presenting it in verse 19. There are immense proofs for the resurrection. Paul references some of them in 1 Corinthians 15:6. As believers today we can look at wonderful books like The Case For Christ, or Evidence That Demands A Verdict and see just how reliable and provable the resurrection is. In the notes I’ve footnoted an article giving 23 different proofs. It should be the centerpiece of our evangelism.

Acts 25:20-21 – 20 Since I was at a loss in a dispute over such things, I asked him if he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be held for trial by the Emperor, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I could send him to Caesar.”

Festus was completely uninterested in what Paul might have to say. And yet, God made sure that this man received the Gospel message. Twice. That demonstrates the incredible love of God, even for those who are ignoring Him. As we witness for Jesus, we can’t make people care. But we can remember that God still cares for each of them and is not willing that any should perish.

Here we see Festus is still bending the truth. He didn’t hold onto Paul because he was “at a loss,” but because he had wanted to do the Jews a favor. He could’ve just thrown the case out. That had happened back in Acts 18:14-17 in the city of Corinth.

Acts 25:22 – 22 Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow you will hear him,” he replied.

So, Festus doesn’t really care – he’s involved in all of this by default – but Agrippa is very interested. He had probably heard a lot more about Paul and Jesus of Nazareth. We see him very curious here.

Acts shows us a wide spectrum when it comes to unbelievers. You have on one far end the Sadducees, who are full of hatred and violence toward the Gospel. You have people out in the Gentile world who are prejudiced against Christians. You have people like Festus: they couldn’t care less. You have people like Agrippa: Very curious. Not really searching but interested. Then you have people like the Ethiopian Eunuch. They’re desperately seeking for spiritual truth. And what do we see? The same message for all and God had a desire to save them all. He had a guy for the Ethiopian. He had a guy for Agrippa. He had a guy for Felix and Festus and Cornelius and the synagogue of the freedmen. And God sent these guys out to bring the message to those in need.

A few commentators pointed out that men like Festus and Agrippa would never step foot into a synagogue or upper room meeting of the Church. So the Lord sent the message to them! Because this Savior draws all people to Himself. And you are the magnet He has decided to use to be part of that work of drawing. What grace we see here! God drawing despicable people to give them an opportunity to be saved. Herod was the kind of man who turned his troops on the Jews during the first Jewish-Roman war. And yet God loved him!

Acts 25:23 – 23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the military commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in.

This is a big deal, a huge event. Everyone is all decked out in their regalia and dress uniforms. They were all very impressed with themselves. Because unbelievers live for this world.

Such a flamboyant display reminds us as Christians that our splendor is found in the next world. In Ephesians we’re told that we’re going to be presented to the Lord in splendor. We need not chase this world’s passing pomp. That’s what the enemy offers. He even offered it to Christ Himself. But all the splendor of all the kingdoms of the world cannot compare to what is in store for those who will follow Christ to heaven. Don’t be tricked and robbed of what could be yours.

The comparison in this verse couldn’t be more dramatic. All the crowns and robes and fine attire and there’s the hunched and shackled preacher, in some worn out tunic. But, of all the people in the scene one of them had an address in the New Jerusalem, where the streets are paved with gold.

Acts 25:24-25 – 24 Then Festus said, “King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man. The whole Jewish community has appealed to me concerning him, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 I found that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him.

This isn’t a trial. No, Paul is here on display for their entertainment. He’s like one of PT Barnum’s freaks. You are on display. Paul says as much in his letters to the Corinthians. You’re a Jesus freak and people are looking at you, some with disdain, some with curiosity, some with total misunderstanding. But they’re looking. And when they look you have the chance to reflect the confounding grace of Jesus Christ and reveal His truth to them.

Festus knew Paul was innocent, but he feared the crowd. He didn’t want to make the hard decision. It’s not always easy for those we talk to to forsake their old life, forsake what they thought they knew, maybe even forsake father and mother for Christ. As we preach we want to offer our assistance to help them and walk with them into a life of faith.

Before we move on to the closing verses one thought: They’re essentially admitting here that Paul I s being treated unfairly. The courts had completely let him down, despite his innocence, despite his rights, despite what should’ve been happening. Generally speaking, the Christian community feels that things are becoming more unfair, more unjust toward us. We feel like our rights are being violated and that may be true, but it’s nothing new. We shouldn’t be surprised. Nor should we count on courts to make things right. We can celebrate and be grateful when a case ‘goes our way,’ but we shouldn’t expect it. Because, as Acts shows many times, we can’t expect unsaved men to do what’s right, no matter what the precedent or law on the books is.

Acts 25:26-27 – 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”

Festus had to send a report so now he’s in the uncomfortable position of having to justify his less-than-ethical handling of the case. Unbelievers around us often feel justified for their actions. Festus didn’t want to hurt Paul, but he did want to help himself.

We see something else here: All these important people, all these great rulers, shouldn’t they have been able to solve this little issue of a simple court case? And yet, they were paralyzed. Because everyone was seeking their own benefit. This is why there’s gridlock in the government and never-ending lawsuits in every corner of society. All the might and wisdom of men can’t actually fix the broken parts of the world. But Christ can! And only He can.

As you and I go out into the world where God has scattered us, you may find yourself taking to someone who has a Sadducee mentality, or a Festus mentality, or Agrippa or the Philippian Jailer or the Ethiopian Eunuch. You may find yourself interacting with someone honorable or someone despicable. Someone searching for God or someone who hates God.

Our Lord’s desire for all of them is the same. It’s the same desire He had for you and for me and for Saul of Tarsus. He’s drawing all people to Himself. And so, whoever we encounter, our message is meant to be the same. Not that we never come at the truth from an angle that makes more sense to someone once we understand their perspective, but the message is that sin separates us from God, so God sent Jesus Christ to live, die and (most importantly) rise again. And that all who call on the name of the Lord in faith will be saved.

As we go about preaching some may see you as a curiosity or a complication. Some people will be full of conceit or corruption or they may just be clueless. They may think they’re operating by some custom or code that makes them better than Ted Bundy or some other bogey man in their mind. But we can cut through all of that and present the truth, in love, knowing that God loves them and wants them to be saved.

One final thought as we close: This audience gathered to hear Paul was a big deal. A king. A governor. Military commanders and a bunch of prominent leaders. Quite an opportunity. We aren’t told how many of them, ultimately, gave their lives to Christ. The question is: Was Paul’s 2 year imprisonment worth it? As readers we think so. When we’re called to live sacrifice, it can be harder to accept. But, sometimes, sacrifice puts us into a position to have incredible opportunities. Eric Liddell gave up running in his favored race in the 1924 Olympics because it was his conviction not to run on a Sunday. But that sacrifice led to great opportunity for God to speak through his life. Is his long testimony worth a gold medal? Absolutely! How about Bethany Hamilton? She has had great opportunities to proclaim the name of Jesus. Why? Because a shark bit off her arm. Was it worth her arm? We look and we say, “Yes.”

It’s not that we’re looking for pomp or greatness for ourselves. The end goal isn’t to be in the most impressive room. But, it’s clear that sometimes a special work of God is accomplished after we follow Him through a path of sacrifice.

Welcome To Favor Country (Acts 25:1-12)

There are four words that can strike fear into the stoutest heart, words that can frighten young and old alike. Hear them and your pulse quickens. You brace for the impact of what follows. What are the four words? “I need a favor…” It’s been said that the world runs on little favors. From the airport pickup to rolling out a neighbor’s trashcan, most of us are on both ends of favors all the time. In the halls of government, giving favors can get you into trouble. Right now, some are accusing President Biden’s pick to lead homeland security of “[doing] his best to turn U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services into an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty.” Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (a republican) is being sued for “swapping political favors for a donor’s help with a home remodel and a job for his alleged ‘mistress.’”

Sadly, in this sinful world, many favors are not done out of the kindness of a person’s heart, but as a means to win leverage or accomplish selfish goals.

Giving favors is a theme in our text tonight. The chief priests want one. Festus wants to give them one. But they’re each trying to gain leverage for themselves in the situation.

I’m no language scholar, but there are a couple of interesting words used here that make us think about our faith in Christ and the difference between what He does and what the world does. The first is the word translated here as “favor.” It’s the word charis. You’ve probably heard that Greek word before. We more commonly associate it with the word grace. God’s grace is His charis, His favor toward His people. The Jews will ask Festus for charis and, he, in turn, wants to give them charis, or at least the human equivalent, which is nothing like God’s grace at all. You see, God’s charis is unmerited favor given as a free gift. Not as leverage, not to manipulate, not so He can hold something over us. But out of immeasurable love He freely offers us salvation and satisfaction in abundance. It’s His favor toward us, working all things together for good. Beginning and completing a perfect work in us as He continually sends us His kind, compassionate care. That grace of God is not only for our benefit but is meant to define our lives.

This is not the kind of favor Festus and the priests were talking about. No, they’re elbowing for position in a very deadly game. Their struggle is for power and they find themselves in a tug-of-war concerning Paul, this Christian missionary who has been imprisoned in Caesarea for 2 years.

So where is this astounding grace in his life? It’s there. In fact, even in these hard circumstances we see it at work in and through Paul. No, his life wasn’t full of material wealth or worldly power, but he was defined by God’s grace and wrapped up in it. That joyous lovingkindness, given out of the fullness of God’s love, sent to help in time of need.

Paul was definitely in a time of great need and the Lord did not disappoint. He never does! Let’s see how the Savior gave grace to His humble servant while opposing the proud.

Acts 25:1 – Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea.

Festus was appointed after Felix was recalled. Felix was fired from the job after someone blew the whistle on his murderous corruption against the Jews. In many ways, Festus was a very different man than Felix was. Felix was a procrastinator, but Festus was quick to act and make moves. Though many historians think he was generally a man of higher character, we’ll find he was no more inclined to the Gospel. In fact, he’ll be less interested in hearing about Jesus than Felix was.

At the time, the region of Judea was on the brink of civil war. There was significant unrest. The Roman government had been responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Jews (that’s why Felix was recalled). And so, Festus immediately gets to work. There’s no time to lose if the pax Romana is going to be maintained. While he was busy getting his hands on the job, the leaders of Israel were busy trying to get their hooks into the new governor.

Acts 25:2-3 – 2 The chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, 3 asking for a favor against Paul, that Festus summon him to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, preparing an ambush along the road to kill him.

They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but not in the case of Paul. For two years he had been benched, but his enemies in Jerusalem hadn’t forgotten him or removed him from their hit list. We’re even two high priests removed from Ananias who we saw back in chapter 24. The guy after him had been assassinated by Felix, and now we’ve got another high priest named Ishmael.

As soon as Festus gets to town they were on him. They start hammering Festus, who maybe didn’t know any of the details of Paul’s case yet, to give them this favor and transfer Paul to Jerusalem.

The last time there was a plot on Paul’s life it had been this group of guys who came to the leaders of Israel and said, “Here’s what we want to do…we’re gonna ambush Paul and murder him.” But now the elders and chief priests are going full Thanos and say, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” It’s heartbreaking to see their descent into evil. These priests were meant to reconcile people to God, speaking the word of God and bringing purity not only to Israel, but ultimately to the whole world.

Now we, in the church, have been made priests. Peter explains that we are a royal priesthood. And, in 2 Corinthians 5:18, we read that God has committed the message of reconciliation to us and given us a ministry of reconciliation. Not of destruction or any of the sort of conniving seen demonstrated here. We are sent throughout the world to help the lost be reconciled to God as He makes His appeal through us. We should regularly evaluate if we are fulfilling that purpose as God’s holy priests.

Now, if I had been shackled to Roman guards for two years, I think I would’ve lost heart. But when we see Paul again he’s full of peace. Because, despite his unfair circumstances, he was experiencing the power of God’s grace, which filled him with patience. He was able to trust that this time was not a waste, even though many days it must have felt like it. God’s grace is bigger than difficult circumstances and can help us make sense of senseless times in life. Paul was remaining faithful and Spirit-filled and so, despite the fact he wasn’t doing what he really wanted to do, he could be confident he was still in the will of God.

I was thinking that it must be frustrating for the Devil and his angels to not be able to get to targets like Paul. Satan wanted Paul dead. He kept that malice alive in the hearts of the chief priests. And we see in the Gospels that demons were able to attack people, throw people into fires and things like that. A demon possessed man practically tore apart the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. So why not just possess one of the guards and have him murder Paul? Because God, in His grace, would not allow it. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. The Devil, for all his power and influence could not lay a finger on Paul. We see that in the story of Job. All Satan could do was accuse Job. Otherwise, until God allowed certain things, Job was completely safe from the Devil.

The Lord promises in Psalm 5 that He will surround His people “with favor like a shield.” That was true for Paul and it’s true for us. No weapon formed against us shall stand. These are the benefits enjoyed by the servants of the Lord. Paul was shielded from demonic attack and shielded from human attack because grace is not just a feeling, it is God’s function in our lives.

Acts 25:4-5 – 4 Festus, however, answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he said, “let those of you who have authority go down with me and accuse him, if he has done anything wrong.”

Festus needed to bring stability to the region but he couldn’t start his administration as a pushover. So he’s doing this dance, not wanting to offend the Jewish community, but also not wanting to get mowed over like Pontius Pilate or Felix had been. He gives the impression that he was willing to work with them but that he was going to do everything “by the book.” We’ll see about that.

Acts 25:6 – 6 When he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the tribunal, he commanded Paul to be brought in.

Interesting: At first he deliberately slows their roll, but then after a few days with them, he’s ready to scratch their itch. Notice how it says, “The next day.” He wastes no time getting to this issue once he’s back in Caesarea. It seems like the Jewish leaders had been priming the pump to get that favor.

It would seem like Paul was at a total disadvantage in the situation. He’s got a new judge who is less informed about everything, who’s probably been wined and dined all week by these accusers and Festus is totally incentivized to throw them a Paul-shaped bone. You see, despite Festus acting like everything was going to be on the up-and-up, he was still a political animal. He wasn’t concerned with justice as much as we was concerned with the bargains he would have to make with his new subjects.

Acts 25:7 – 7 When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove.

Scholars say the language indicates that they actually encircled Paul as they accused him, hurling charge after charge in their effort to get him executed.

Sometimes when a defendant is brought in to their trial they break down when the charges are read aloud. In 2013, Oscar Pistorious, the Paralympic superstar, wept openly in court as the charge of premeditated murder was read into the record.

But there’s Paul, standing calm and collected. He’s not happy to be there, but he’s not afraid or broken down. Though his adversaries formed a ring around him, the favor of God was closer still, wrapping him as a shield.

You know, right now there’s a scene not unlike this one playing out in the court of heaven. Day and night Satan stands before God accusing you and I and all our brothers and sisters. But we have an Advocate who will plead our case – Jesus Christ – who will never leave us. He has atoned for us and given us His righteousness so we might enjoy the gracious favor of God.

Our enemies may bring attacks and accusations, but here is what’s true: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand. And I have decided to follow Jesus, though none go with me still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back. These things are true because of what Christ has done for us and won for us by the grace of God, offered freely to all who will believe.

As an aside, it is so good and so important for us to be reminded of truths like these. That’s why we sing them, to keep grace as a life-sustaining melody in our hearts.

Acts 25:8 – 8 Then Paul made his defense: “Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned in any way.”

Paul is very calm, very clear. God’s favor gave him the ability to endure this hardship. The Bible says that God’s grace, His favor, strengthens us for moments like this. Despite how unfair this is, Paul is still a peacemaker. Trouble always followed Paul, but he was a peacemaker not a troublemaker. Our world is already troubled. We’re to live at peace as much as it is possible for us. Here we see that Paul shot straight. He was a man with consistent integrity. No scheming. No maneuvering or manipulating. No flattery or personal attacks on these guys. What a great example to us of how to conduct ourselves in the power of the Spirit.

Acts 25:9 – 9 But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem to be tried before me there on these charges?”

The charis of Festus had nothing to do with kindness or love, but his desire to get on the good side of his subjects and have them in his debt. What a difference between man’s favor and God’s.

On one level it would be embarrassing that in his very first case as governor he was unable to render a verdict. Doubtless by now he had familiarized himself with Paul’s case history. He knew there had already been an attempt on his life. But he’s willing to sacrifice this Roman citizen to buy himself some polling points.

His suggestion is ridiculous. “Hey, we’re all here, all the parties and all the officials and all the data…so why don’t we all pack up and do this same thing 50 miles from here!” The truth is, for all his political acumen, Festus will admit in verse 20 he was “at a loss” to know what to do.

Acts 25:10-11 – 10 Paul replied, “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you yourself know very well. 11 If then I did anything wrong and am deserving of death, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

This was a dead-locked, no-win situation. In World War I there were these enormous, bloody battles that would stretch week after week with only a few feet being won by one side or the other. It’s like that here. Just the same thing again and they find themselves at an impasse. But God’s grace shows Paul a way out. He would explain to us through his epistle to the Ephesians that the Lord has planned good works for us long ago and it is our duty to discover them. But, by God’s grace, He shows us the way. We see it in Paul. He knew that he was to preach in Rome. Meanwhile, everyone’s trying to get him to Jerusalem. “How do I do what God has called me to do?” And then God shows him the way. He appeals to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

While God’s favor was showing Paul a way out of his predicament, it was also empowering him to speak with boldness. Notice the gentle warning he gives this new governor. Essentially he says, “Look, you know what’s right. You know what you should do. Are you going to do it or are you going to be like Felix?” He confronts Festus with his crookedness. Later he will preach the Gospel to him. God’s grace gives strength to the weak and provides the heart and the words for us to do our duty as His witnesses.

Some criticize Paul for appealing to Caesar. They say it was a guaranteed death sentence. The truth is, Paul would be acquitted at his first trial. And though we remember Nero as a world class madman, at this point in his reign he wasn’t crazy. So, it makes a lot of sense that Paul would use this right to move himself toward Rome, which was the assignment Christ Himself had given in chapter 23. Ultimately, Paul will say that he felt “compelled” to make this appeal.

Acts 25:12 – 12 Then after Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go.”

It’s hard to tell Festus’ tone, but it seems to have a sneer on it, or at least some exasperation. But in this we see that nothing can overwhelm the favor of God. In this case, God used the legal system to protect his servant and even have Rome foot the bill for his trip to see (and preach to) the Emperor.

So, in the end, the human favors didn’t work out. But God’s favor was doing a lot. It provided Paul with peace and strength, a way out of death, boldness, perspective, comfort and so much more. That same matchless grace is given to us today. If you’re a Christian, you’re offered the grace of God, given in rich abundance for you so that you might be helped and sustained and prepared for the duties and ministries God planned for you from before the foundations of the earth. We don’t have to curry favor with Him, He’s already extended it to us. We’re to walk in it and allow it to operate in us, whether waiting or moving, fighting or fleeing, resting or serving.

Just one more thing before we go: I said there were a couple of interesting language things in this passage. The first is that use of charis, the second is where we see that Paul was brought before this tribunal seat in verse 6. There’s a technical term used there, it’s bema. In the Roman Empire it was meant to be this imposing place of judgment. But not for Paul. He didn’t cower. You know why? He had seen the Lord’s bema. By this point in his life he had already had his vision of heaven, walking in eternity with his Savior. It wouldn’t be long after this passage that Paul would write to the Philippians, “Man, I can’t wait to get back to heaven.” And he had already written to the Corinthians about the fact that one day all of we Christians are going to be summoned before the bema of Christ. But standing there we have nothing to fear because our guilt has already been decided. We’re dead to sin. There’s no condemnation for we who are in Christ Jesus. He erased the certificate of debt that was against us and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. The bema we look forward to isn’t like Paul before Festus. It is a reward seat, where Christ is going to say, “You’re finally here! I’ve been waiting for you!” And then our work on earth will be judged so that the Lord might reward us for our service to Him. But those things that we’ve done in our lives that are not built on the Lord and for the Lord, they’re like wood, hay and stubble that are going to be burnt up. We’ll suffer the loss of them. But what God wants is to heap reward after reward on us.

Knowing that we have this appointment in heaven, let’s not be like Festus or the Jews, busying ourselves with earthly pursuits, but instead live in and exercise the grace of God, building a life for His glory. Knowing that there is a bema waiting for us, thanks to the amazing charis of God, this magnificent gift, revealed and entrusted to us, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

The Waiting Game (Acts 24:22-27)

On November 11, 1939, the Centenary Gentleman (of Centenary College in Shreveport, LA) squared off against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in what is remembered as “The Craziest Game In College Football History.” The match would go on to set 13 NCAA records, despite the fact that it ended in a scoreless tie. It was the fourth rainiest day of the year and the field became a huge mud patch.

With “traditional offense ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst (due to injuries and turnovers, of which there were many), the best option for gaining field position was to [punt] and hope the returner…fumble[d] the ball. Both teams went all in on [this] strategy, punting a combined total of 77 times, with 67 coming on first down. During one stretch in the 2nd half, there were 22 punts in a row. The game ended with 30 yards of total offense (31 for Centenary, -1 for Texas) and a 0-0 score.”

If Governor Felix had played football, he would’ve been a punter. Throughout his story he is unwilling to make final decisions, not because he’s unable, but because he lived his life playing games. He played games in his career, he played games in his marriage. Often he played games with people’s lives. He was constantly involving himself in schemes to get what he wanted, despite the risks and potential for disaster. All along, the most dangerous game he was playing was with his eternal soul.

This passage has a lot to say about how gracious God is and gives we Christians encouragement about never giving up hope for the lost individuals around us. But most of all it is a message for those who do not believe. This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning for you about the game you’re playing and the judgment you face if you will not accept Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation.

When we left off, Felix the punter had just heard testimony against Paul and then his defense. We pick back up in verse 22.

Acts 24:22 – 22 Since Felix was well informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.”

From the start we see that Felix is playing the waiting game. It becomes very obvious that he doesn’t believe any of the charges against Paul – he didn’t think he was an insurrectionist or that he tried to defile the temple. But Felix wasn’t interested in justice. He was interested in his position. He doesn’t want to agitate the Jewish leaders, so he punts. There’s no need to have Lysias come down to Caesarea, he had already sent an official statement, giving his opinion of Paul’s innocence.

Some scholars believe the text should read like this: “When Lysias…comes down…and I can become more informed about The Way…I will decide your case.” That might be what he said, but it seems hardly believable that he, as governor of the region, did not have some understanding of Christianity. He had been posted in the region for 5 or 6 years. The whole Roman world was being saturated by this teaching. And in Caesarea, not only had there been an established church for 25 years, one of the most prominent Centurions in the city was a devout, Spirit-filled believer.

We also note that there’s no indication Lysias ever came or was even sent for. Felix was just trying to buy himself time.

Acts 24:23 – 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs.

Felix didn’t think Paul was a flight risk and it’s clear he didn’t think he was going to incite violence if his friends were allowed to visit him. As an aside – it seems unlikely that Cornelius would’ve been the centurion referenced here, though I suppose it’s possible. But church historians do record that the second bishop in the church at Caesarea was named Cornelius. Was it the same guy that we read about in Acts 10? We don’t know. But we can be confident that his years of service in the Roman army and in the city would’ve led to other Christians, both in and out of uniform.

We’ve seen before that Paul was usually the one caring for his friends. On his missionary journeys he not only worked to support himself but those who traveled with him. But now, things are different. God has allowed this season in his life where there would be a lot less movement and activity. And now it would be they who would take care of him.

As an application: We want to be growing in our sensitivity to the needs of the Christians around us. In our culture we sometimes have this weird issue where we really need help, but we don’t want to ask for it. And the more we need the less we ask for it. If you need help, come to your spiritual family. And if you see a brother or sister in need, find a way to be a part of meeting that need.

Acts 24:24 – 24 Several days later, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus.

For 20 years there has been an annual auction held on eBay to benefit a San Francisco charity. The item being bid on is a power lunch with Warren Buffet. In 2019 the lunch sold for $4.5 million. If you can afford a lunch like that, I’m not sure you really need The Oracle of Omaha’s advice, but that is neither here nor there.

What an amazing sit down this couple had with the Great Apostle. Just the 3 of them, maybe a soldier hanging around in the background. They come in and say, “Tell us about Jesus.”

Before we get to that, let me tell you about this couple. Drusilla was part of the Herodian family. Her great-grandfather was the one who tried to kill baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Her great uncle was the one who killed John the Baptist. Her father was the one who killed James and then received worship and was struck dead by God (in Caesarea, by the way). Shortly before this passage, she had been married to a foreign king, but Felix had convinced her to leave him and become his third wife.

Felix, if we’ve forgotten, was not just a procrastinator, he was also a deeply corrupt man. He hired assassins to kill the high priest Jonathan. One source described the region during his term of office as being practically anarchy.

Now, what does their meeting with Paul show us? For one thing: Even deeply secular people have an eternal hunger, because God has placed eternity in their hearts. Felix had been a slave early in life and later became what was known as a freedman. From slave to governor. He had power and position and wealth. He got the prettiest girl, stole her from a king. And yet, despite all he had clawed out for himself, there was an itch he couldn’t scratch. There was an emptiness inside of him that he couldn’t avoid. It was deep down, but there all the same. What could this poor preacher, probably still black and blue from the beating he’d received, what could he have to offer? Yet, Paul was so full of hope, so full of peace, so full of God the Holy Spirit that Felix and Drusilla decided they must hear what he had to say.

What did he have to say?

Acts 24:25 – 25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I have an opportunity I’ll call for you.”

Paul didn’t just speak in abstract terms about the Lord. I’m sure he talked to them about who Jesus is and the story of His birth, death and resurrection, but he made it a point to speak to them directly about how the truth of the Gospel was going to impact their lives and futures. He talked to them about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.

You see, Christianity is a comprehensive theology. It deals with the past, the present and the future. It’s not enough for a person to try to be good today, because that cannot make a person truly righteous. “Trying” to be good right now cannot possibly wipe out the guilt of all the sins and all the imperfections of your past. To walk through death and be granted entrance to heaven on the other side requires righteousness. You must be perfectly holy in every way, just as God is holy. You can’t have made one mistake, told one lie, taken one grain of salt that wasn’t yours, had one envious thought. Think of it this way: If you were trying to compete in the Tours de France and they hauled you in for a drug test and found trace amounts of HGH in your system, you’d be thrown out and disqualified. It wouldn’t matter if the guy next to you had more than you. It wouldn’t matter if you said, “Sure, I took a dose of HGH but I wasn’t blood doping!” You’re guilty and ineligible to even put yourself in the race.

Paul looked at this couple, who cheated and killed and lied so often in their personal lives and their public lives and told them the hard truth: If you are not righteous you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He would’ve told them about how, as a Pharisee, he dedicated his entire existence to living a righteous life and he couldn’t do it. Not even close. He would’ve told them there is none righteous, no not one. That they were sinners and the wages of sin is death.

So, their past condemned them. But what about today? What about right now? Paul preached to them about self-control. Perhaps the soldier in the background chuckled to himself as Paul talked to this man and this woman about dying to self and bringing their wicked hearts under dominion. The fact that they had called for this meeting reveals that they felt something was wrong within them. They knew they were lacking. They had everything they wanted, but inside it was never enough. They always craved more. Day after day they found themselves giving in to wicked desires and the worst parts of themselves. Even if they had wanted to do the right thing, they couldn’t do it. Tacitus wrote that Felix “practiced every kind of cruelty and lust.” Drusilla was no better. They might rule a region but they had no control over their own hearts. They were ruled by their cravings and their circumstances. Paul would’ve shared with them about how he had the same struggle before he was born again. But now that he had been saved, everything was different. He was content in any circumstance. He still had temptations to contend with, but now they couldn’t overcome him anymore. Now, instead of being empty, God had filled him with joy and purpose and the ability to do what was good rather than be ruined by his own bad choices.

He preached to them about the judgment to come. A man like Felix had to worry every day that his sins would find him out, that he’d receive that summons to stand before Caesar because of some corrupt thing he’d. Paul explained that Felix didn’t know the half of it. He said, “One day you’re going to stand before the King of kings and you have no defense. You have wronged Him. You have blasphemed Him. You have committed constant acts of treason against Him and you will be judged.” Christian theology isn’t just about some present feeling. It’s not like transcendental meditation where I go through some thoughts and beliefs so that I can have a more restful day with lower blood pressure. The days of this life are a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. Christ came that we might have life everlasting. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross in order to pay the debt we each owed. His work, His substitute, offered to us as a free gift, is able to cleanse us of all our guilt, give us power for living today and the hope of heaven.

They said, “Tell us about Christ,” and Paul responded by explaining how, through faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, all our past dealt with, indwelled by the Spirit of Christ to empower us to live a transformed life and how He finished our judgment at the cross. Now, we look forward not to the judgment seat of Christ, but the reward seat of Christ.

We see that Paul’s message hit its mark in Felix’s heart. He was convicted and realized the trouble he was in. But in that moment of fear, rather than surrender, he rallied his forces and retreated. He took another turn in the waiting game. “Leave for now, when I have an opportunity, I’ll call you.”

Maybe someone listening has been playing this game with God. You feel that tugging in your heart. You feel the weight of your sin. Or you have felt it, but you keep punting and putting it off. “One of these days, I’ll get right with God.” It’s been said, “One of these days is really none of these days.” The truth is, you don’t know if you’re going to make it home tonight. You don’t know if cancer is growing, undetected, in your body right now. God says, in His word, don’t hear this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. NOW is the acceptable time, NOW is the day of salvation!

The Philippian jailer, confronted with his sin, fell on his knees before Paul and said, “What must I do to be saved?” If you’re wondering the same thing today, this is the answer: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Saving faith includes repentance from sin. That means you not only believe God exists and that Christ died to save you, but that you agree with Him that sin is what has separated you from God. And in that belief and agreement you make the choice to turn away from your sin and instead embrace the love of God that is being offered to you.

Felix wouldn’t do it. And he missed out on the biggest, most valuable opportunity of his life. Maybe you heard about the British man who accidentally threw out a hard drive containing $270 million worth of Bitcoin. Talk about a mistake. Felix was making the biggest mistake of his life. Not on accident but because he was unwilling to die to self. So he stuffed those feelings down, drowned them out with the same old earthly things that he always gave in to. Look at verse 26.

Acts 24:26 – 26 At the same time he was also hoping that Paul would offer him money. So he sent for him quite often and conversed with him.

Not only is this immensely sad, it shows us how Felix was trapped in this cycle of sin and bad choices. Though things were more lax out in the provinces, Roman law did not look kindly on this sort of behavior. Taking a bribe was punishable by exile and confiscation of property. But he ran the risk, hoping to get a few extra bucks.

There’s no indication he was ever as effected in his heart as he was that first time he met with Paul in verse 25. Again and again he sat and received personal teaching from the Apostle, but there’s no record or hint that he ever turned to God. In fact, his behavior only became worse and he kept hardening his heart against the grace of God.

Acts 24:27 – 27 After two years had passed, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix, and because Felix wanted to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in prison.

Felix is playing a new game now: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Why did he want to do the Jews a favor? Well, a fight broke out in Caesarea between Jews and Greeks. Felix sent in troops, authorized them to use deadly force and thousands of Jews were slaughtered. Felix then encouraged the soldiers to loot the houses of the wealthiest Jews in the city. Afterward, the Jewish community filed a grievance in Rome. Felix was recalled, barely escaped with his life, thanks to the lobbying of his brother. Though he lived to cheat another day, it was not long after that he stood before a Judge who could not be bought off – the Judge of Heaven. Felix chose to enter the next life without Christ as his atonement. And because of his refusal he has suffering in hell as his forever sentence. That’s not what God wanted for him. Look at all the Lord did to try to save this man!

Think about it: For two years when Paul could’ve been going through Asia or Europe or going to Spain like he wanted to, when he could’ve been planting churches in countless cities, God decided it would be better to have him talk to this guy and his wife. We see God’s grace, not just generally, but that, God, in His grace, truly loves individuals. He loved Felix, just like He loved Paul and just like He loves you. He was willing to stand at the door of Felix’s heart and knock time and time again. But Felix would not open the door. His example shows us some of the lengths God will go to in order to reach out to people. Undeserving people. But we see in Felix that God is not unkind, nor unjust. His grace abounds.

Some of those days must’ve been immensely frustrating for Paul. To think about what he could be doing instead of preaching to a brick wall. But there are lessons there for Christians, too. First of all: There’s no one who is so bad God doesn’t love them. Felix was a terrible man, but God wanted him. He wanted to save him and bring beauty from the ashes of his life. But second, there in verses 24 and 25 when we see that flicker of spiritual activity in his heart, it reminds us that even people who are completely immersed in wickedness still have a shot for salvation. Think of the worst, most corrupt politician in the world today. Maybe they’re too far gone to respond to the Gospel, but maybe not. The Holy Spirit works even in the darkest of hearts.

We are also reminded that the Gospel is authoritative. Felix may have held the keys to Paul’s cell, but Paul held the keys to the Kingdom. We need not fear any man, because we have the Lord with us and He has sent us out with His living Word to shine light in the darkness and cut to the heart of those trapped in their sin. Paul could speak with authority and confidence. He knew the truth. He knew the way to be saved. He didn’t withhold it or try to manipulate or play any games. He offered this truth freely.

In the mean time, as you minster, don’t lose hope and don’t be weighed down by frustration and discouragement. Be led by God and trust that He knows the best use of us as we serve Him.

The Lyin’ Lawyer (Acts 24:1-23)

We find ourselves in another courtroom drama tonight. This section of Paul’s life is full of them, each with its own particularities and characteristics. In this section, a prominent feature is the attorney brought in by the prosecution to build a case against Paul. His name is Tertullus and he’s a ringer.

Joe Jamail was, perhaps, the most successful trial lawyer in history. They called him the “king of Torts.” Before his death, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $1.7 billion, winning hundreds of million dollar rulings for his clients and five verdicts for over $100 million. The crown jewel of his career was winning a $10.5 billion ruling against Texaco. Though Joe was charitable in some ways (he donated hundreds of millions to education, medical research and the performing arts), he also had quite a mean streak. “Salty language” doesn’t begin to describe the way he talked and he once defeated a client so soundly he demanded the opposing attorney give him the suit he was wearing. He said, “I’ve got your money. Now I want your clothes.” Joe hung it on display in his office.

What do you do when Joe Jamail comes through the door? Paul was facing a guy like that in Acts 24. And yet, in his opening statement, Paul will testify that he was “cheerful” to present his defense. He was in good spirits. He knew that characters like Tertullus or Joe Jamail are flashy, well-paid, and often win a lot of temporary victories, but no matter how effective they may seem they cannot compare to our Advocate in heaven. And it is in the eternal courtroom where the case really matters.

Acts 24:1 – Five days later Ananias the high priest came down with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. These men presented their case against Paul to the governor.

Paul appeared alone in this scene. He had been whisked away by hundreds of Roman soldiers when they heard about an assassination plot against him in Jerusalem. In contrast, these enemies of the Gospel show up with pomp and authority. The high priest himself makes the long trip, along with an entourage of Israel’s leadership and this attorney. We don’t know a lot about him. Based off his name it’s possible he was, in fact, a Roman and not a Jew at all. He was a skilled orator and understood the complexities of Roman law. Though he had been hired only a few days before he does a remarkable job putting together a case against Paul. It’s especially remarkable when we remember there was no evidence for any wrong doing. Yet, after hearing him speak you’d have to think Paul was public enemy number one.

Acts 24:2-4 – 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus began to accuse him and said, “We enjoy great peace because of you, and reforms are taking place for the benefit of this nation because of your foresight. 3 We acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with utmost gratitude. 4 But, so that I will not burden you any further, I request that you would be kind enough to give us a brief hearing.

Commentators point out that, in the text, Tertullus spends as much time flattering Felix as he does presenting a case against Paul. Makes sense – win over the judge and you’re much more likely to win the case. But, man is he going overboard! You look at all he’s ascribing to Felix. He’s acting like he’s a god among men! “Because of you we have peace! Because of you the whole nation is benefitted! In every way and everywhere we should be worshipping you with thankfulness!” In fact, where we read ‘foresight,’ Tertullus actually uses the word for providence!

Unfortunately, none of this was true. Felix is remembered by historians as a brutal and deeply corrupt politician. Robert Girard writes:

“Few periods in Judean history were marred by more unrest and terrorism…The years of A.D 52-59 when Felix was procurator were years of unparalleled government corruption!”

So, Tertullis is laying it on thick. Maybe too thick. Some think his quick shift in verse 4 when he says, “so that I will not burden you any further,” may have been due to even Tertullus getting annoyed at how much he’s being buttered up.

Before we move on, a quick reminder for us: Real peace and reform and providence comes from the Lord, not from the world. Right now our culture is obsessed with politics and administrations and figures in government. The good news for us is that, whether we’re talking about a born again, Spirit filled politician like Sergius Paulus (the governor of Cyprus) or a monstrous killer like Felix, the Lord is the One in charge and He is never hamstrung. Our hope is never built upon a certain law or a certain administration or a certain system. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. He is the source of peace and transformation and His providence cannot fail.

Acts 24:5-8 – 5 For we have found this man to be a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to desecrate the temple, and so we apprehended him. By examining him yourself you will be able to discern the truth about these charges we are bringing against him.”

Wiersbe points out that they brought 3 charges against Paul: One personal, one political, one theological. All of which were meant to pressure Felix into promptly executing the apostle.

First, the personal: They said, “This guy is like a deadly virus spreading throughout the entire empire. He causes trouble everywhere he goes!” It’s interesting because you could go back through his travels and see that there was, indeed, trouble and rioting just about everywhere he went. In multiple instances he would arrive somewhere and violence would break out. But we know the whole story. Paul never set out to agitate anyone. His hope was revival in the hearts of one or many. And, in opposition to the Gospel of grace, the enemies of God would rally and riot and try to destroy.

Christians are not meant to agitate. Now, it’s clear that the Gospel will be offensive to people and our message will be the savor of death. But our mentality is always supposed to be rooted in love and compassion. If our mindset is, “I want to go wreck some opponent of God,” well, that’s not the way that the Lord and His disciples behaved. We’re not called to behave like disturbers of the peace, but to be peace makers in a hostile environment.

Tertullus made a political charge against Paul, calling him a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” The term he used was full of connotations. It was a word used of a man who stood before soldiers. He means to paint Paul as a revolutionary who threatened Rome. This argument, perhaps, fell a bit flat since this so-called “ringleader” stood alone in the courtroom that day. No soldiers there to support him. No mob protesting outside.

Now, anyone who listened to Paul would know he didn’t call for political uprising. His message was so much higher than that. And what a good thing that Paul wasn’t constantly political in his message because, not only would that distract people from a much more important issue (the salvation of their souls), it may have led to his ruin in this trial. No, Paul didn’t lower himself to the level of political revolution, but instead, like his Lord, his life was dedicated to personal transformation. And what’s been proven again and again is that it is personal transformation which leads to real and lasting social change.

Third, Tertullus made a theological accusation: Paul had tried to defile the temple. There was absolutely no evidence of this, but the prosecution was trying to heap as much kindling on the fire as they could. Felix had frequently crucified uprisers in his jurisdiction and so their whole point was, “If you don’t get rid of this guy and quick, revolt is going to break out on your watch.

Acts 24:9 – 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, alleging that these things were true.

Reading Acts and the Gospels we quickly learn to not expect good behavior from the Jewish ruling class, but what a sad thing to read here. Remember, these were the people who were supposed to be the closest to God. The ones most acquainted with the Scripture. The ones who claimed to have dedicated their lives to honoring Yahweh. But what do we see? In order to protect their personal status, their traditions and their bigotry, they took money donated to God and paid this greasy, lying attorney to come in and manufacture a case against a man who was simply teaching people that the Messiah had come and was offering them forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven. They knew these things weren’t true, but they had decided to go all in on worldly methods to accomplish what they thought was best.

It is becoming more and more common for Christians to be suing each other in open court in blatant defiance of God’s word. There are prominent cases all the time and more that we hear about through the grapevine. Churches suing each other. Church members suing each other. Usually for money or property or some other worldly thing. It is an affront to the commands of God and His callings.

But, even beyond that direct comparison, the terrible example of these Jewish leaders in verse 9 reminds us of the folly of using worldly methods to try to accomplish spiritual goals. They thought they were honoring God. Or at least some of them did. They weren’t, of course, but part of the reason why they had gone so far off track was because they were willing to take the world’s methods, the world’s way of doing things and try to apply it to their spiritual endeavors. They were using flattery and pressure and manipulation to try to get what they wanted.

If we find ourselves buttering people up so that we can get them to do something for us, that’s Tertullus. If we find ourselves doing things that are un-Christlike in an effort to hang on to our wealth or position or security, that’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees did. These worldly levers ruin our relationship with God and we should avoid them. Which is exactly what Paul does in his defense.

Acts 24:10 – 10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied, “Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me.

On first glance it might look like Paul is trying to compliment Felix, too, but that’s not what’s happening. Unlike what Tertullus said, what Paul says here is true! And he’s exampling for us something that we’re commanded in First Peter:

1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT) – 15You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

Paul demonstrates this in a patient, faithful way as he stands before Felix.

We are to always be ready to give a defense. Hearing that, I often have the connotation in my mind of a courtroom – of persecution. But, even when we live in a free land we’re to keep ourselves ready to explain our hope. And, if we’re ready, it doesn’t really matter if we’re on trial or just in conversation with a loved one. Our conduct can be the same. And, in either situation, we can be full of good cheer, like Paul was, because we know that the Lord is with us and He has filled our lives with hope!

Here’s what Paul testified:

Acts 3:11-13 – 11 You can verify for yourself that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me arguing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they prove the charges they are now making against me.

So, first of all, instead of flattery he’s bringing facts. “Here’s what happened. You can follow up and see these things are true.” Paul didn’t live a secret life. He was an open book, whose pages were full of Godliness. His goal wasn’t to get a crowd around himself or to agitate people. Instead, this is what he was about:

Acts 3:14-21 – 14 But I admit this to you: I worship the God of my ancestors according to the Way, which they call a sect, believing everything that is in accordance with the law and written in the prophets. 15 I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection,, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people. 18 While I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar. 19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Or let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 other than this one statement I shouted while standing among them, ‘Today I am on trial before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’ ”

His defense centered around the truth of the resurrection – that there is a life after this one. He not only proclaims it as a great hope, but uses it evangelistically. He points out that the unrighteous also will rise in the end and they will face judgment.

Now, since the resurrection was the motivating factor in his life, his life was characterized by certain things. I see six in these verses: I worship, I hope, I strive, I came, I stood, I shouted.

He begins in verse 14 saying “I worship God…according to the Way.” Our first goal is worship. We want to have vision for ministry and goals for serving, but our primary objective is to worship God. Because as we draw near to Him He is able to more and more fill us with Himself and then give us His leading for those good works He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.

In verse 15 Paul said, “I have a hope…that there will be a resurrection.” It can only benefit us to fill our thoughts with our future hope. One day, all will be made right, all will be made well, we will be completed. And any present troubles we face are small and momentary when compared with the eternal weight of glory.

In verse 16 Paul said “I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” The Christian life is a life of selflessness and harmony. We don’t accomplish it perfectly, nor are we responsible for how others react to us, but our part is to carry out our duty as much as we can to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To strive indicates effort and exercise. One dictionary describes it this way: “to work up raw material with skill.” We’re to be about the business of Christian living.

In verse 17 Paul said, “I came to bring charitable gifts.” Far from being a trouble-maker, Paul was one who brought help and assistance to those in need. He brought this git to people he had never met. And he did so at considerable expense and danger to himself. While the Jews were taking holy contributions and paying for a slick attorney, Paul was making tents to pay his own way to bring relief to people suffering in Jerusalem.

In verse 20 Paul said, “I stood before the Sanhedrin.” Paul made a stand for his Savior. His job was to testify and he took those opportunities when they came his way. He upheld the truth of the Gospel and didn’t buckle or shrink when the pressure was on.

In verse 21 Paul said, “I shouted.” Even though few were listening, he kept proclaiming the resurrection. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The truth that God is alive and He is coming back. That God is willing to save anyone. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor. He loves them all and wants to give them life more abundantly, everlasting life through Jesus Christ the Messiah.

As Paul dismantled the Jew’s case against him piece by piece, he also revealed what the Christian life is full of. A living faith that operates in all sorts of ways in any sort of climate.

Here was the result:

Acts 24:22-23 – 22 Since Felix was well informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs.

It’s clear Felix didn’t actually believe any of the charges against Paul, but we find out later that he was hoping someone would pay him a bribe. Had the Jews realized this, instead of paying Tertullus his retainer they could’ve just slipped some money to Felix and had Paul dispatched. But the Lord providentially protected His servant. We’ll see more about the games Felix was playing next time.

But we’re told he was “well informed about the Way.” He knew what Christians were about. Thank goodness Paul filled his days with real Christianity. He really was like Jesus. The Jews couldn’t say that about their God. But Paul could. And it showed. And so he was ready to give this defense. Because his life was lived in ongoing preparation. A life overflowing with Godliness and truth and love for others. So it was obvious when Felix looked at Paul what a good life he lived because he belonged to Christ.

That’s what we get, too. Along the way trouble is sure to find us, so let’s not make it for ourselves or others. Instead, let’s glorify God as we worship, hope, strive to keep a clear conscience, stand and proclaim to the world around us that Jesus is alive and He is coming and because He lives, we will live.