Last we left the Apostle Paul, his ship had crashed into a sandbar. But God protected him. He and his shipmates swam and floated on wood to the shores of an unknown island.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Island
This true story picks up Acts 28:1
Once we were safely on shore, we learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us extraordinary kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all, because it had started to rain and was cold. (Acts 28:1-2)
A few notes:
Malta is a small island about 60 miles to the south of Sicily and about 150 miles southwest of the “toe” in Italy’s boot. That means it is about 400 miles off course of Paul’s final destination in Rome.
And the Maltans?
…People of Malta…
They show extraordinary kindness. (v.1)
They built a fire.
They welcomed everyone.
They probably provided some food and drink:
Maybe even a nice beer from a local microbrewery.
All to welcome their visitors to the island.
It’s like the 1st century version of a Visitor’s center.
“Welcome to Malta!”
“Here’s a fresh coffee.”
“Did you want some to buy our best-selling t-shirt? It says:
“I’ve visited MALTA-ple times.”
But did you notice something?
This was all brand new to Paul.
He and the crew needed to “learn” the island was called Malta.
I think that’s important.
Malta wasn’t familiar to Paul.
He hadn’t been there before.
It wasn’t even on his radar.
Why would God, who controls the winds, send through a storm to crash land Paul on the island of Malta?
Especially because God had already told Paul that he wanted him to preach the Gospel in Rome.
Why blow Paul 450 miles off course?
There wasn’t a church on Malta.
These people, nice as they were, didn’t know anything about their Savior Jesus.
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the GOSPEL.
I remember a few years back I was serving a senior group at a retirement home. Since this was a very specific group of 80 plus year-olds, I could tailor the sermon specifically to them. I would leave out references to Pokémon and iPhone updates and instead focus on particular struggles they might have like loneliness, pain, and a lifetime of guilt.
But on this particular session one of the employees came into the living area to help a resident with some medicine. She was a much younger woman about 25 years old. As she helped the other woman, she listened.
She sat down.
She began to tear up.
Afterwards I talked to her and she discussed how her boyfriends had abandoned her, how she was pregnant without any clue if she had the money to raise the baby, and about how she was considering having the child aborted….
She heard the sermon.
She heard that God would be with all these residents even in their old age.
Would God be with her in single parenting?
I told her YES.
Because that’s what God promises in Scripture.
Something God promises because he removed her sin when he died on the cross.
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the Gospel.
Again, like COVID-19!
Here’s an objective fact about ministry at Gethsemane.
We had broadcasted online before COVID.
But we did so with a much smaller webcam. It’s the one we moved up front and now refer to as the “pew” cam.
At that time, our worship would average 5-6 watches on a weekend.
And at least 3 of those were my mom.
But since COVID-19 hit and were forced to revamp our online presence?
We averaged 110 unique watches.
That’s a number that’s gone up – even though people are attending in person.
That number involves…
A family on our block who didn’t know we existed till we popped up on Instagram.
A guy from another state who said the service helped him deal with loneliness.
A woman from the Caribbean who has now followed our social media feed and has even encouraged with me a well-timed “Amen!”
Here’s the point:
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the Gospel.
But…God ALWAYS EXPECTS us to share the Gospel.
Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all nations, except for that nation of people that you didn’t know existed.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt. 28:19)
Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel… as long as your plans work out the way you want them to.”
He said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel...” (Mark 16:15)
2 Timothy doesn’t say, “Preach the Word to the people that you’d like to preach to.”
It says, “Preach the Word.”
This means God is calling.
Not to ignore that acquaintance at work who’s feeling glum.
Not to scroll past the friend from high school who’s broadcasting her challenges on Social media.
Not to turn to the people who show up for your Bible study and say, “I was actually hoping to share Jesus with someone else today.”
God is calling us…
God is expecting us to take advantage of the unexpected opportunities he presents before us.
II. When the Unexpected Isn’t so Good
Later that evening, Paul went searching for firewood.
A stick here.
Another stick there.
A pile of brush over there.
Maybe even a piece of broken ship from the shipwreck.
Paul gathered all the wood.
He asked if the fire needed it right now.
The fire tender said, “Sure! Throw your pile of wood on the flame.”
So Paul laid his sticks on the fire and…
…a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.
This portion of the Bible is written in Greek.
And the Greek word for translated “viper” is “echidna”.
It sounds intimidating.
It’s important because it’s a word used to indicate that the snake was poisonous.
And notice this snake doesn’t just bite Paul.
It fastened itself to his hands.
It plunges his fangs into his skin…
Into his veins.
Into his bones…
And lets the poison seep in.
When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” (v.4)
Justice was their name for the god of, get this, justice. The thought process was simple.
Paul must have been very guilty to go through a shipwreck, survive that shipwreck and still get bit by a snake.
They grabbed some popcorn.
They poured a large Coke.
They waited for Paul to die.
Paul shook the snake off into the fire and was not harmed. (v.5)
It’d be really easy to think the main point of this sermon is don’t pet a snake.
But it’s worth saying:
Don’t pet a poisonous snake.
But the reality is that the worst kind of poison doesn’t come from reptiles.
It doesn’t come from fangs.
It comes from the human tongue.
The worst kind of poison comes from the HUMAN TONGUE. ‘
James 3:7-8 says this, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Think about that.
Snake charmers exist.
They play a little flute called a pungi and weave back and forth, back and forth, back and forth – until they seemingly hypnotize these poisonous snakes into being calm and not harming anyone.
You can’t pungi flute a human tongue.
The human tongue inflicts poison in so many ways.
The human tongue can tell a lie that ruins a marriage.
The human tongue can tell a gossip that ruins a friendship.
The human tongue can tell a joke that ruins a promotion.
The human tongue can say racist things that drive wedges between people of different cultures.
The human tongue can say a complaint that drives someone from ever examining Christianity again.
The human tongue can tell a false teaching that ruins someone’s faith.
The tongue contains the most impressive of evils.
And to avoid it, you might think: I’ll just avoid the tongues most ruthless with evil.
You stay away from your friend known for gossip.
You avoid the angry guy at work.
You refuse to befriend the guy with pictures of Satan on his Facebook profile.
Because in Paul’s case, he didn’t go out to collect venomous snakes.
He went to collect firewood.
Once he had it in his arms, he did not expect a snake to be in the wood pile.
But it was.
VERBAL POISON can come from UNEXPECTED places…
It can come from a friendly coworker.
It can come from a long time Facebook friend.
It can come from your sister.
The things people say can absolutely be poison.
And they hurt more, because these people are close to you.
I can’t share Jesus with anyone.
I’m too big a sinner.
My friend is right.
I can’t keep raising my children as godly.
I messed up too much.
That meme is accurate.
I can’t help anyone.
I’m a helpless mess just like that angry text message from my spouse said.
You stop serving God.
You stop following God’s plan.
You stop letting your light shine.
You retreat to your room.
And keep to yourself.
Have you ever heard of CroFab? They are the leading producers of antivenom in the United States. They milk the venom from spiders and snakes. (How’d you like to be a snake milker?) Then, they inject animals with a tiny, non-lethal amount. They then harvest the antibodies those animals produce and create antivenom that helps humans fight off the venom of a snake. It’s not cheap. The average list price for antivenom is about $3000 per vial.
According to an article from NPR.com, a young summer camper named Oakley was bitten by a poisonous snake on her big toe. She was rushed to the hospital, was given antivenom and cured. Then, the bill.
Do you know what the antivenom for the poisonous words of others is?
The antivenom for unexpected SPIRITUAL poison is GOD’S WORD.
Because God’s Word speaks to you and says:
You. Are. Loved.
You. Are. Forgiven.
You. Are. Mine.
This Word pushes out those venomous thoughts in your head.
It pushes them out with the truth.
It pushes out the poison with truth specifically tailored to YOU.
And how much does it cost?
Just God’s own blood.
But don’t worry.
That price has already been paid.
You have a free, unlimited supply of spiritual antivenom from God’s Word.
Once you’ve been injected with God’s Word?
Shake if off…
When you get BIT by an unexpected enemy, SHAKE IT OFF…
Because what did Paul do when bitten by the snake?
He simply shook it off and immediately went back to working for Jesus.
In fact, Scripture says that, “The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited for a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (v.5-6)
Based on Paul’s track record, I think we can assume that Paul corrected them.
And explained that the true God was Jesus.
A God, that lived for them, died for them, rose for them, and offered full salvation to all who trusted in him.
And what does God want you to do when the words of others BITE you?
Shake it off.
Use the antivenom of God’s Word.
Go to work for God.
III. Working for God
After word got out that he had survived the snake bite, people wanted to listen to him.
In fact, nearby…was an estate that belonged to a man named Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and entertained us hospitably as his guests for three days.
There’s another trivia name for you to memorize. Publius is a Roman name. He was apparently the Roman official in charge of the island. And he takes care of Paul, a prisoner, as a guest in his home for three days.
Undoubtedly, Paul spoke the Gospel to him.
Undoubtedly, Paul told him about the Savior.
Undoubtedly, Paul called him to repentance.
The father of Publius happened to be sick in bed, suffering from a fever and dysentery. (v.8)
There isn’t any record of a doctor in the house.
There isn’t any record of medicine working.
There isn’t any record of any drugs being offered to him.
They’d tried everything.
Healing was impossible.
But do you know what else was impossible?
Surviving that viper bite.
Paul went to him, prayed, laid his hands on him, and healed him. After that happened, others on the island who were sick also came and were healed. They honored us in many ways, and when we were going to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. (v.8-10)
Now Paul was not a doctor.
Paul didn’t have a bottle of medicine with him.
Paul didn’t have the ability to identify island herbs for the purpose of healing.
But Paul had God.
Paul went to work.
Expect GOD to work through YOUR work for him.
Because you aren’t called to work alone.
God isn’t asking you share the Gospel on your own.
He is there with his incredible strength.
Strength to send a storm.
Strength to keep a crew safe from a storm.
Strength to cure the poison of the viper.
Strength to cure the fever of an old man.
Strength to drive out fear.
Strength to drive out doubt.
Strength to drive out unbelief.
Strength to do God’s work!
Whether it’s sharing Gospel with a friend.
Sharing the Gospel with a spouse.
Passing on a message to a friend on social media.
Do God’s work and God will work through you. Amen.
Last we left the Apostle Paul he was in Caesarea where it was decided he would be sent for trial in the capital city of Rome, Italy. Today we’ll see what happens as he travels. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Trip
The action for this week’s sermon is found in Acts 27. It’s a travel log written by Luke who went on the journey with Paul:
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment. After boarding a ship…which was going to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, we put out to sea. (27:1-2)
Julius is a new name for your Bible trivia knowledge. He is a Roman centurion in the Imperial Regiment. (Of course, whenever I hear the word “imperial”, I think of Star Wars. And here I begin to imagine Julius dressed in full storm trooper garb.
Unfortunately, this is only a long time ago and not in a galaxy far, far away.
Julius is dressed in full Roman soldier garb because he is put in charge of getting Paul and some other prisoners to Rome.
Next is some mapwork.
They start in Caesarea where Paul was located.
From there, they sail north to Sidon where Paul is visited by some friends.
Next, they head up the eastern side of Cyprus. This is because the wind is coming from the West and preventing them from skating across underneath the island.
They travelled west along the cost and finally landed at Myra.
There, they switched to an Alexandrian ship that was sailing for Italy. Alexandria was a part of Egypt, so this was very likely a trade ship on the midst of its trade route. The Roman centurion paid the traders some money and was able to buy passage on the ship for Paul and all the prisoners.
Then, the wind slowed their trip. It took them several days to travel to a place called Cnidus that was only about 100 miles from Myra.
Since the wind did not permit them to go father, they went south and sailed on the eastern, sheltered side of Crete.
Eventually they came to a place called Fair Havens, which sounds like some kind of Disney resort. (Although I doubt they played “It’s a Small World” as Paul stepped off the boat.)
It was at this point that Paul spoke up to warn the men about going any farther. He said, “It looks to me as if the voyage is going to end with disaster and great loss, not only for the cargo and the ship but also our lives’ (v.10)
Paul had previously been involved in 3 other shipwrecks. This is according to his own words in 2 Corinthians 11:25. Perhaps his past experience led Paul to be conservative here.
But Julius doesn’t listen to Paul, the prisoner.
Instead, he listens to the pilot and the owner of the ship, both who suggested they go on – at least to the next harbor about 50 miles down the coast called Phoenix.
When they received a gentle south wind, they cast off, thinking it would allow them the boost needed to go north around Crete.
They never made it.
Before long, a hurricane-like wind, called the “northeaster,” rushed down from the island. Since the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. (v.14-15)
You know a wind is impressive when it has its own name.
Just like hurricane Irene.
Or hurricane Hazel.
Or hurricane Ione.
The ship was caught in the storm and there’s nothing they could do about it.
They lost control.
Some things in life are beyond your CONTROL but nothing is beyond GOD’S.
Because, did you notice in that travel log how often the wind affected the boat’s travel plans?
In verse 4, they sailed south around Cyprus, because the winds were against us.
In verse 7, they sailed on the sheltered side of Crete since the wind did not permit us to go farther.
In verse 13, they took off from Fair Haven because a gentle wind began to blow.
In verse 14, they lost control because a hurricane-like wind…rushed down from the island.
There were so many things that were out of the sailors’ control.
More specifically, so many things that were out of Paul’s control.
Those same things were not out of God’s control.
Because God controls the winds.
God invented the winds.
If weather itself isn’t beyond God’s control, then nothing is beyond his control.
Just like right now. In 2020, a lot of things might be out of your control.
How much income you receive.
Whether you keep your job.
How schools reopen.
Whether the guy down the street wears a mask or not.
The Coronavirus itself.
Not even the internet speed you’re using to watch this sermon.
Lots of things are out of our control.
Nothing is beyond God’s control.
II. The Panic
But the sailors could do some things. They immediately began doing all the things they learned about back in Sailing School to keep the boat afloat.
First, they secured the skiff, a tiny little lifeboat that was dragged behind their bigger vessel. (v.15)
Next, they ran ropes around the ship to reinforce it. The hope was that the ropes would absorb the blows from the waves and hold the stern together. (v.16)
Then, fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor. They might be bobbing up and down violently, but at least they wouldn’t be smashing into land. (v.17)
But it didn’t work.
The wind was harsh enough that they still were driven along.
The soldiers began to throw the cargo overboard. (v.18)
Gone are the suitcases.
Gone are the blankets.
Gone are the personal hygiene kits.
Gone is the iPad mini.
Still in trouble.
Next, they threw the ship’s gear overboard. (v.19)
The boom vangs.
All things that I don’t even know what they do.
But they were somewhat important.
But the sailors thought they were worthy tossing overboard in order to slow down the speed of the boat.
It didn’t work.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the violent storm kept pressing down on us, finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing. (v.20)
Because they couldn’t move.
And they couldn’t navigate.
And they couldn’t do anything to save themselves.
They didn’t have any reason for hope.
But Paul did:
“I urge you to keep up your courage, because there will be no loss of life among you. Only the ship will be lost. In fact, last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And surely God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’.” (v.22-24)
Appears to tell Paul don’t worry.
Don’t you wish you had that kind of promise from God?
Don’t you wish you had that kind of encouragement from God?
Don’t you wish God would speak to you to tell you not to worry?
In the Bible.
When all hope is LOST, there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
Because God had promised to Paul that he would make it to Rome.
Since he wasn’t in Rome yet, Paul figured he would survive the storm.
God might not have promised Rome to you.
God did make promises to you. He said:
He promised: “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:21)
He promised: “I will give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
He promised: “Whoever believes in me will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He promised: “I will come back and take you to be with me where I am.” (John 14:3)
He promised: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15)
If you feel like all hope is LOST, may I remind you…there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
III. Time to Abandon Ship?
When the fourteenth night came, while we were being driven back and forth in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be one hundred twenty feet deep. After sailing a little farther, they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. (v.27-28)
Sounding was originally done by hand with a sounding pole or a weighted lead line. The pole or weighted lead line would be dropped into the water and when retrieved you could estimate the depth of the ocean by the length of wetness on your line. Usually the devices would be marked up every couple of meters in order to allow a quick approximation of depth.
The depth for these sailors was shrinking quickly.
Fearing that we would run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daybreak. The sailors tried to escape from the ship and had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending they were going to put out anchors from the bow. (v.29-30)
Because the lifeboat only had room for so many people.
Since the sailors knew that…
And since they knew that they would crash…
They tried to sneak off when no one was looking:
“Hey look isn’t that the Little Mermaid over there!?!”
Paul knew what they were doing.
And he reminded them what God had told them:
“If these men do not stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (v.31)
Because God had said that Paul would survive.
And he had said that all who were sailing with Paul would survive. (v.24)
If these men weren’t going to sail with Paul…
They wouldn’t survive.
If you ABANDON God, you will be LOST.
Because you might think now is the time to stop worrying so much about God.
You might think now is the time to stop worrying about your church.
You might think now is the time to stop spending time in the Bible.
You might think now is the time to worry about you and stop worrying about your believing friends.
If you abandon God, you will be lost.
In fact, look at this passage from 1 Timothy. It was written by the Paul in this story to a fellow believer. He wrote:
My son, I am giving you this command… so that…you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. (1 Tim. 1:18-19)
Now is time of job loss.
Of a slumping economy.
Of an unprecedented pandemic.
Of social distancing.
Or blatant racism…
Those things are all rough!
If you think now is the time to abandon God?
If you think now is the time to abandon God,
Then you can add “SHIPWRECKING YOUR FAITH” to the list of the sad things to happen during 2020.
Don’t abandon God.
Don’t abandon God’s Word.
Don’t abandon your church family.
IV. A Strange time to Worship…
Instead of abandoning ship, Paul had a different idea for the crew:
Just before daybreak, Paul urged them all to eat some food. (v.33)
I like that.
In the midst of a storm, just eat some food.
Grab some beef jerky.
Fix up some Spaghetti-Os.
Slam a bag of Doritos.
You’ve gotta keep your strength up.
But seriously, it is important to be physically well during a storm.
It’s important to be physically well…
But also spiritually well.
It’s why Paul continues to feed them.
“This is the fourteenth day you have waited in suspense and have gone without food. You have eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food because this is important for your rescue. In fact, not a hair from any of your heads will be lost.” After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in front of them all. (v.34-35)
Did you catch it?
All the gear is lost.
Things look bleak.
Paul has them eat food.
Here’s the TRUTH:
In a storm, WORSHIP God.
Understand what I’m saying:
I’m not demanding that you attend in person worship.
You might not feel safe to be at in person worship- and that’s ok.
Maybe you feel safer in outside worship.
Maybe you feel safest at home doing online worship.
It’s OK to worship in a different way.
But…It’s not ok to NOT worship.
Because in worship we connect with God.
In worship, we sing his praises.
In worship, we give him thanks.
In worship, we connect with God.
In worship, we hear his promises.
In worship, God gives us HOPE.
Rather than spend less time with God over these next COVID months.
Spend more time with him.
V. Safe at Last
Suddenly, the sailors noticed there was some land up ahead.
They didn’t know what kind of land it was, but they were thrilled for a chance to get to shore.
It’s kinda like finding a rest stop after hours of driving on a highway without a rest stop.
You don’t recognize it.
But your kid needs the bathroom, so you stop.
Before they can run the boat aground, it hits a hidden sandbar and the boat stars tearing to pieces.
Immediately, people figure they won’t make it.
And the soldiers came up with an idea.
The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one would swim away and escape. (v.41)
As opposed to today, in the Roman world you are guilty until proven innocent. If word reached Caesar they had let the prisoners escape, the guards themselves would be killed.
But the Centurion remembered Paul’s warning.
They all had to stay together.
He ordered those who could swim to get out and swim.
And he ordered the rest to grab a plank of wood to float to land.
And so they did.
Some began the front crawl.
Some started the butterfly.
Others did the doggie paddle.
And some floated to shore.
In the end. Look at this:
All of them were brought safely onto land. (v.44)
All of them.
All the sailors.
All the soldiers.
All the prisoners.
All made it to shore.
Because God promised they would all make it to shore.
God FULFILLS his promises.
You’ll get through this pandemic.
You’ll get through that job loss.
You’ll get through that loss of money.
You’ll get through that relationship struggle.
You’ll get through whatever 2020 is throwing at you.
God promises to give you strength.
God promises to be with you.
God promises to take you home to heaven.
He will hold you his arms until you safely reach the shore.
That’s God’s promise.
Even when life’s like a shipwreck.
We’re in the middle of our sermon series on the book of ACTS. Last week, a new Roman governor named Festus had come to power. Less than ten days into his reign, he restarted Paul’s trial that had been on hiatus for two years. He listened to Paul’s opponents bring charges against him. Their goal was to get Paul to Jerusalem in order mug him and to kill him.
To which Festus turned to Paul and asked:
“Do you want go? It’s not necessary. It’s illegal. In fact, they might try to kill you. But…it’d sure help me improve my approval rating if you did.”
In turn, Paul very spoke boldly, “I do not refuse to die. But I do want what is right. Since you won’t give it to me, I appeal to Caesar.”
Legally, Festus had no other option but to send Paul to Caesar, but it would look bad to Caesar if he sent Paul to trial without any kind of explanation of what Paul had done wrong.
Since Festus didn’t understand why the Jewish leaders were so upset with Paul, he needed help.
We’re picking up the story there. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. All About Goads
Acts 25:13 says, “A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.”
King Agrippa was the King of Judea. He wasn’t over Governor Felix. He oversaw the Jewish temples within his region, advocated for Jewish principles in front of the Roman government and appeased the Jews by giving them a “figurehead” monarch.
Agrippa was a cross between Prince William and a church maintenance chairman.
Felix and Agrippa were friends.
And Felix knew that Agrippa was more aware of Jewish thinking than he was.
So, when he got together with Agrippa to have a drink and talk shop, he told the story about how he didn’t understand Paul’s trial and strongly implied that he could use help.
Another trial was set up for Paul.
This time King Agrippa would hear the case.
That’s what happens.
The next day Agrippa…came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. (Acts 26:23)
Big impressive-looking king.
Long flowing robes.
Probably a teacup he held with his pinky up.
Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense. “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that I am going to make my defense before you today.” (Acts 26:1-2)
The truth is that…
This isn’t about a riot.
This isn’t about a cult.
This isn’t about desecrating the temple.
They just don’t like me teaching about Jesus.
And I get it. I hated Jesus too.
In fact, I was “convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus the Nazarene.” (v.9)
That’s what I did.
I threw them in prison.
I voted for them to get the death penalty.
I had them punished.
Because I was so insanely angry with them, I even pursued them to foreign cities. (v.10-11)
That’s what I was going to do.
I went to Damascus to kill believers.
“At noon along the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“The Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ ” (v.14-15)
We’ve heard this account before.
Paul’s conversion is written about in Acts 9.
A second time in Acts 22.
This third time in Acts 26.
Each time Paul adds a little bit more information about his conversion.
This account includes Jesus using the phrase:
“It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
How many of you thought that the sermon title was just a misspelling of the word “goats”?
By the way…
It is foolish to kick a bunch of goats.
A goad is a SPIKED STICK used for driving cattle.
It may not be the most humane thing. But it was certainly effective in ancient times. Positioned on the plow behind the animals, the spiked sticks would poke the animal in the haunches whenever he backed up. This usually caused the animal to move forward – and keep moving forward – as to not be poked in the haunches again.
Every once in a while…
An animal might try to fight back.
They might try to back up.
The end result?
The animal gets injured.
It didn’t pay for an animal to kick back at the goads, because…
When an ANIMAL kicked at the goad, the animal got INJURED.
Do you get it?
Paul was kicking back at the message of Jesus.
It wasn’t working.
The Gospel was still spreading.
Christianity was still growing.
Paul thought he was harming the message of a false god.
But in reality?
He was only HARMING himself.
REPETITIVE SIN results in continuous HARM to yourself.
You might think it doesn’t.
You might think it’s getting you ahead.
But it’s harming you.
You’re kicking against the goads.
Repetitive lying results in harm to your relationships.
Repetitive gossiping results in harm to your friendships.
Repetitive slacking results in harm to your place at work.
Repetitive drunkenness results in harm to your liver.
Repetitive sleeping around results in harm to your esteem.
Repetitive porn viewing results in harm to your ability to be intimate.
Repetitive anger outbursts result in harm to your kids’ trust of you.
Repetitive sin ALWAYS results in HARM to your relationship with God.
Because God hates sin.
And God punishes sin.
God punishes sin with death.
And try as you might to stop God from punishing your sins.
By screaming at him.
By calling him a liar.
By telling him he’s wrong about this being a sin.
You’ll only be racking up more sins.
You’ll only be racking up more punishments of death.
You’ll only be harming yourself.
Here’s a truth –
I don’t know what your repetitive sin is.
I don’t know what sin you struggle with.
But I do know what God’s Word is saying to you today:
Stop kicking against the goads.
Stop harming yourself.
II. When You Stop Kicking Goads
Take a look at what Jesus called Paul to do instead of kicking at the goads:
“Jesus said, ‘Now get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things you have seen and to the things I will reveal to you.’ ” (v.16)
This is the reason that Paul left his life of persecuting believers.
He saw Jesus.
He saw that Jesus was real.
He was that the resurrection was real.
He saw that he was only harming himself by what he was doing.
Paul does a turn-around.
He begins preaching Jesus.
He beings telling others to stop kicking the goads.
He begins telling others to “turn around”.
In Bible language, that “turn around” is called “repentance.”
Repentance is what God is calling each of us to do right now!
God is calling you to turn from sin to your Savior.
This repentance results in a variety of blessings.
(1) Life in the LIGHT
I once spent the night at a family member’s house and the sleeping arrangements meant that I would be crashing in an area where the kids played.
No big deal.
I fell asleep.
I started dreaming.
Until I woke up thirsty around 2 am.
So, I sat up and started walking over towards the door. When…UGH! The sharp pain of LEGO corner jutted into the bottoms of my feet.
I took another step…YOW! Another toy to the other foot.
After limping to the water, I came back into the room and OW!!! One more painfilled step.
The next morning, I woke up around 7 am with light streaming into the window.
I didn’t step on any Legos.
Cause I could see where I was going.
The light is better.
Jesus said that repentance needed to be preached, “…to open people’s eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light…” (v.18)
Jesus is that light.
In Jesus, we see things clearly.
I see it now: This thing that I’m doing is sin.
This sin is what I keep stepping in to harm my relationship with God.
But over here, LOOK! It’s the Savior.
Over here is Jesus.
Jesus is the way to restoration with God.
(2) A New AUTHORITY
Have you ever had a bad boss?
When that boss moves on and you get a new one?
You realize that they’re a sinner too.
Acts 26 says that the message of Jesus turns people “…from the power of Satan to God.” (v.18)
You get a new boss!
Because the boss when you’re living in sin is Satan.
And he’s a jerk!
Satan doesn’t care about you.
Satan wants you to harm yourself.
Satan sends you emails in the morning that say:
I need you to sabotage your esteem by 11 am today.
Don’t forget our quarterly goal of weakening your faith by 25%.
Oh…and how’s it coming on utterly destroying your relationship with your spouse?
Jesus on the other hand?
I saw the mistake that you made on that report, don’t worry. I fixed it.
I stopped on the way to work and bought you some PEACE. It’s in the workroom. Have as much as you want.
Have I ever told you how important you are to me? I’ll pay whatever it takes to keep you on staff.
If it costs…
My own blood.
Which leads directly into the third blessing of turning to Jesus.
Jesus says that is another reason for Paul to preach repentance. “…so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins…”
Earlier we said that sin deserves punishment from God.
If you’ve been doing repetitive sins you’ve been earning repetitive punishment from God.
You might call it…
Jesus didn’t do any repetitive sins.
He never repeated a sin even once.
Do you know how I know?
Because Jesus never did a sin the first time even once.
Yet Jesus was punished.
Not for his sins.
But for yours.
That means in Jesus you are forgiven.
For that sin you’ve done hundreds of times, you are forgiven.
For that sin you struggled with earlier this week, you are forgiven.
For that sin you’ve been hiding from others in your family, you are forgiven.
You are forgiven because of Jesus.
And that forgiveness is yours through turning to him.
(4) A Place among the HOLY
Jesus says that’s the result of repentance. Believers have “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (19)
“Sanctified” is a fancy word.
It means “to make holy.”
Do you think you belong among “the holy?”
Because that doesn’t sound like a place for me.
It sounds like a place for impressive believers.
It sounds like a place for heroes of faith.
It sounds like a place for those people who can quote Bible verses for every situation.
Not for me.
Not for a repetitive sinner like me.
But through faith in Jesus,
That’s exactly where you belong.
You belong with the holy.
You belong with the sanctified.
You belong with God’s people, because you are God’s person.
III. Short Time or Long
At the end of Paul’s confession of faith, Governor Festus had seen enough: Festus shouted, “Paul, you are out of your mind!” (v.24)
But Paul replied, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus, but I am clearly speaking words that are true and sensible. Certainly the king to whom I am freely speaking knows about these things. Indeed, I cannot believe that any of these things has escaped his notice, because this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (v.25-27)
Can I tell you something about King Agrippa’s family?
His dad was the king that killed the Apostle James.
His grandpa was the king that beheaded a prophet named John the Baptist.
His great grandpa was the king that slaughtered innocent young boys in the hopes of killing Jesus.
Herod Agrippa came from a long line of goad-kickers.
Maybe this is why he can’t believe Paul’s questions!
Agrippa said to Paul, “In such a short time are you going to persuade me to become a Christian?” (v.28)
Look at Paul’s response: “I pray God, that whether in a short time or a long time, not only you, but also all those who are listening to me today would become what I am...” (v29)
That you would stop kicking the goads.
That you would repent.
That you would walk in the light.
That you would serve Jesus.
That you would find forgiveness.
That you would belong among God’s people.
The same is true for you.
Whether it’s been a short time or a long time, God’s not interested in that.
He’s interested in the right now.
Stop kicking against the goads.
Turn to Jesus.
We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Paul on Death Row
Last week, we studied the account of Paul on trial before the Roman Governor named Felix. There the Jewish leaders brought a large number of charges against him. One of those charges against him was that he had started a riot. Granted, a riot had happened. But all Paul did was attend the temple. The reality was that his accusers were the culprits behind the riot. Since the Governor didn’t know which side was telling the truth, he had called for a recess until he could get the local law enforcement as a credible witness.
But that guy never came.
So, the trial remained in recess…
For two years!
That means for two years Paul was in Roman custody.
For two years he didn’t have freedom.
For two years he couldn’t do as he wanted.
If you thought quarantining during Coronavirus was difficult, can you imagine what Paul was going through?
(He probably would have watched everything he could on Netflix!)
Finally, a new governor is appointed. His name is Festus. That’s where the account picks up in chapter 25:
Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. (v.2-3)
Notice the word “Province.” That’s the Roman empire’s version of a state. Festus’ rule, then, stretched a decent amount of territory. One of the first cities he visits to after arriving in his headquarter of Caesarea is Jerusalem.
What does he find there?
The same angry religious leaders.
Leading the same group of angry people.
That wanted to press the same angry charges against Paul.
In fact, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way (v.3)
Do you remember that vow? Back in chapter 23, it’s recorded that a group of 40 men had vowed not to eat or drink until they murdered Paul.
Now it’s two years later…
And Paul’s still alive so…
If they had kept their vow, that would mean two years without eating or drinking!
Since they are still alive, that means some of them started to eat.
Can you imagine how that went down?
Jebediah? What’s that on your fingers? Is that Cheetos dust?
Nah. Man. I promise. I didn’t eat anything. It’s just my son’s art project! I’m still cool with the vow. Let’s (licks fingers) kill Paul!
Two years later, they had another chance.
The plot gets resurrected.
But Festus had other plans: “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.” (v.4-5)
I like that response from Festus.
He isn’t bullied.
He isn’t convinced.
He isn’t tricked.
Festus basically says:
You want him dead,
You do the work.
You travel up to where he is legally being held.
There we will legally have his trial.
So that’s what happens.
About 8 days later, Paul’s trial is restarted in Caesarea.
And it restarts the same way it did last time.
With false charges made against them:
He starts riots.
He leads a cult.
He tried to desecrate the temple.
But since they’d had two years to think about it…
And since those three charges alone hadn’t been enough to convict Paul last time…
And since verse 7 says that they brought “many serious charges against him”…
I imagine there were quite a few more made up charges:
He embezzles money from the temple.
I saw him canoodling with one of the widows.
I heard he puts BUTTER on his Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!
He didn’t use hand sanitizer after touching his face!
After all the violent outbursts and angry shouting, it was finally time for Paul’s simple defense:
“I have done nothing wrong.” (v8)
Festus didn’t like that answer.
Because it didn’t give him a reason to kill Paul,
To be fair, Festus didn’t think Paul was guilty, but…
He didn’t really care if he killed Paul.
Because then the Jewish leaders would be happy with him.
And they wouldn’t rebel – and possibly kill him.
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” (v.9)
Notice Festus’ phraseology.
It isn’t a command.
But a question.
That’s because Festus didn’t have a right to bring Paul to Jerusalem.
The Roman Law stated that he must be tried in Caesarea, on neutral ground.
Especially so because Paul was a Roman citizen.
Festus knows that.
…Unfortunately for Festus.
…So does Paul:
Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Festus was shocked.
He didn’t know what to say.
He, the Roman legal system’s representative had been out ‘legal-procedured’ by this prisoner.
He conferred with his officials.
He looked for a loophole.
He tried to figure out a way to appease the Jews, but…
Since Paul had appealed to Caesar, it was technically out of his hands:
Festus declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (v.11)
II. Not Afraid to Die
There you have it.
Paul is not convicted.
Paul is not condemned.
Paul is not going to die.
Instead, his trial goes to the highest courtroom in the Roman land.
But did you notice something about Paul’s reasoning for wanting to get his case moved to Rome?
He wanted his case moved because it was right and so that he could bring the Gospel to Italy for the very first time.
But it was not because he was afraid to die.
In fact, Paul says, “I am willing to die…”
Why did Paul say that?
Why are YOU able to say the same thing?
(1) He Knew a Guy that DEFEATED Death
During this pandemic, it’s been helpful to hear stories of people that have conquered the illness, especially when they were so very sick that they had to make use of a breathing machine.
Like Jennie Stejna. Have you heard about her? She is 103 years old when she contracted COVID. As a result, she spent two weeks isolated in her Massachusetts nursing home battling the virus. A lot of people, her family included, thought that this was probably it.
And celebrated by drinking a Bud Light.
Knowing someone has defeated COVID-19 gives us hope.
And hope makes COVID-19 less scary.
But do you know what I’ve noticed?
On those charts that detail the rise in COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths from COVID-19, and even how many people have been healed…
Do you know what stat is missing?
The number of people that died, but then came back to life.
It’s missing, because the answer is obvious.
It’s a big, fat ZERO.
But not for Paul.
Paul know someone who did defeat death.
Paul knew someone who conquered death.
Paul knew someone who had died, but then came back to life.
Christ Jesus died—more than that, he was raised to life! (Romans 8:34)
Look at that first part – Jesus died! That means his body stopped working.
His fingers stopped twiddling.
His toes stopped fidgeting.
His head stopped swaying.
His nostrils stopped flaring.
His eyelids stopped batting.
His skin stopped feeling that tickle that he had down at his ankle.
His brain stopped functioning.
His lungs stopped breathing.
His heart stopped beating.
And everyone thought it was over.
Everyone thought there was no reason for hope.
Everyone thought that death had won again.
Three days later…
Three days later…
Three days later, Jesus was raised to life.
And Paul got to see Jesus!
And when he saw Jesus.
Jesus’ heart was beating.
Jesus’ lungs were breathing.
Jesus’ brain was functioning.
Paul probably even saw his nostrils flaring, his eyelids batting and his fingers twiddling!
Paul Knew a Jesus that DEFEATED Death
And…YOU do too.
Even if you’ve never heard of this Jesus before this very moment.
Now you do know him.
I just introduced you to him.
So now you know someone who defeated death.
(2) In JESUS, We have HOPE of Defeating Death
But this is more than earthly hope.
Do you understand what I mean by earthly hope?
On earth I hope I don’t catch COVID.
On earth I hope my bank account doesn’t run out of money.
On earth I hope that we’re having steak and potatoes for dinner.
On earth I hope no one notices the ketchup stain on my trousers.
That’s earthly hope.
Maybe those things happen.
Maybe they don’t.
Earthly hope, at best, means there is a chance something might happen.
But that’s not the kind of hope that Jesus gives us.
Jesus doesn’t deal in earthly hope.
Jesus deals in heavenly hope.
Paul describes that hope that we have this way. He says that we have…
…The hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised us. (Titus 1:2)
Did you follow that?
Heavenly hope isn’t a probably.
Heavenly hope isn’t a maybe.
Heavenly hope isn’t a possibly.
Heavenly hope is a certainty.
(If you wrote that note down earlier, can you add that to your notes? This hope is CERTAIN.)
With Jesus, your chances of defeating death are at 100%.
Right now, there’s a lot of scientific study on how to defeat the Coronavirus.
Study about how your chance of defeating it increases…
If we wear masks.
If we social distance.
If we use hand sanitizer.
And to be fair – doing those things may make it so that you don’t contract COVID!
And a lot of people are doing whatever they can to ensure that they don’t get COVID.
Even if you don’t catch COVID…
One day, you are still going to die.
Are you doing whatever you can to defeat death?
Cause the only way you will is through faith in Jesus?
Society wants to know if you’re doing everything you can to defeat COVID.
Today, God wants to know if you’re doing everything you can to defeat death.
And since Jesus alone gives us victory over death.
The question is --
Are you doing whatever you can to hold to faith in Jesus?
Without Jesus, your chances of defeating death are ZERO.
But with Jesus, your chances of losing to death are ZERO.
This might be one of the reasons that we suffering so much fear from COVID.
Perhaps (myself included) we aren’t clinging to Jesus enough.
Because if we are clinging to Jesus, he speaks to us and says:
I beat death.
I promise you will too.
In me, you win.
Why be scared of death, if death doesn’t win?
In fact, that’s our final point.
(3) Jesus has Transformed Earthly Death into ETERNAL VICTORY
Because that’s what death is for a believer.
It’s not the end of the good times on earth.
It’s the beginning of the divinely incredible times in heaven.
In heaven, there is no COVID.
In heaven, there aren’t any masks.
In heaven, there aren’t those little sanitizer stations.
In heaven, the economy doesn’t tank.
In heaven, it’s not a struggle to pay bills.
In heaven, there isn’t job loss.
In heaven, there’s no racism.
In heaven, there’s no prejudice.
In heaven, there’s no hatred.
In heaven, there’s no death.
In heaven, there’s no danger.
In heaven, there’s no fear.
Heaven means victory.
God’s endgame for your life is victory.
Why be afraid when you know the ending?
It’s like a PeeWee baseball game.
Jim’s Auto Supply Sprockets were up by 17 over the Rotary Club Rotaries. It was the 6th inning.
They only play 6 innings.
So, the coach of the Sprockets decided to go to the bullpen for his pitcher. A young man who had never pitched in a game before.
He faced the first batter.
He faced the second batter.
Hit by Pitch.
He faced the third batter.
A double scoring two runs.
The coach looked at his player.
He was visibly shaken.
He hadn’t even thrown a strike.
The coach called timeout to listen to the player.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Put someone else in. I’m gonna lose the game for us.’
The coach told him to calm down.
“Son, we can’t lose the game. Literally. Our league only allows each team to bat through the order once in an inning. It is impossible for them to beat us. The end result of this game is that we win.”
And the young player stopped crying.
The fear went away.
He took a breath.
He struck the next player out.
The second popped out to the third baseman.
The third hit a grounder to the first baseman to end the inning.
When you know the end result, there’s no reason to fear losing.
Friends, we know the end result.
We know that we get the win.
We know that we get the eternal victory.
Come what may in the meantime:
A loss of job.
A spoiled relationship.
Even death itself.
In Jesus, we win.
And there’s no reason to fear. Amen.
Our world is real “judgy” right now.
Of course, I recognize that calling our world “judgy” is in and of itself a “judgy” thing to say, but…
The other day I stepped outside of my car at Harris Teeter. I forgot to put on my mask. Of course, there was a woman who politely reminding me by very gruffly telling me, “you need a mask.”
I thanked her.
Went back into the car.
Put on my mask.
And walked out just in time to see a man walk by my car without a mask giving me a look of complete disdain.
As if to say, “You shouldn’t have listened, fool.”
I settled on wearing my shirt over my face.
That way people don’t judge me for not wearing one.
And others don’t judge me for wearing one.
Everybody just judges me as “weird.”
Our world is real “judgy” right now.
And it can cause it to alter our actions.
Whose judgment really matter?
We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. Our goal is to identify the only judgment that really matters. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Trial before Felix
Last week, we learned about how Paul’s nephew discovered a plot against his Uncle Paul. God worked through him to expose that plot to the Roman commander and as a result, God saves Paul’s life. Because in response to the conspiracy plot, the Roman Centurion, whose name we now know as Lysias, developed a plan to keep Paul safe:
Lysias called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”. (Acts 23:23-34)
A couple of notes:
Lysias decided to transport Paul to Caesarea. It’s about 70 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. Caesarea was the administrative headquarters of this particular Roman region. By bringing Paul to Caesarea, Lysias would ensure his safety and that he received a fair trial.
Lysias didn’t take any precautions. He ordered a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to guard Paul as he was transported. That’s 470 people keeping Paul safe! They left under the cover of night to lessen the chances of an attack.
The goal was to get Paul to Governor Felix. Felix held the official position that was held by Pontius Pilate, the governor who had presided over Jesus’ death. Judging how that trial had gone for Jesus, I’d imagine Paul hoped for a different outcome.
The trial begins five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea. Acts 24:1 introduces us to the Prosecution:
…the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. (24:1)
Ananias is the same high priest that presided over Paul’s trial in Jerusalem. If you remember, he didn’t like Paul very much. He had abused his power and demanded that Paul be slapped before he even made began his defense statements.
In Caesarea, Ananias didn’t have the same power.
This was a trial by the Roman government.
Not a trial by Jewish religious leaders.
So, Ananias brough backup, a member of the Sanhedrin named Tertullus who was also a lawyer. Because of all my opinions of lawyers stemming from television, I picture Tertullus…
…in a fancy a 3-piece suit.
…hair slicked to the side.
…drinking his 4th cup of joe…
…and speaking with a fast paced, thick New York accent.
The trial begins with Tertullus’ buttering up of Judge Felix.
“We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.” (v.3-4)
Then, Tertullus presented three specific accusations against Paul.
(1) Paul Stirs up Riots
There had been a riot in Jerusalem. We talked about it a couple of sermons ago. But do you remember why that riot happened? Paul had been in the temple, minding his own business, completing his vow when some of his enemies started screaming for the crowd to kill him.
How dare Paul start a riot by minding his own business!
That’d be like me starting a riot because you came to church this morning.
In fact, the word Tertullus uses to describe Paul, the one translated as “troublemaker” really means “pestilence” or “infectious disease.”
In a COVID-19 world, understand that Tertullus is comparing the Gospel to COVID-19. In his mind, “We need to permanently social distance this Paul guy so others don’t get infected by the diseased news that Jesus is their Savior.
(2) Paul Leads a Sect
The word for sect doesn’t have any positive connotations.
Not in English.
Not in the written Greek.
Nor in the Latin that the Roman spoke.
A “sect” is the kind of inclusive organization that only allows certain people into their secret ranks after they have completed some kind of startling initiation.
Now, remember, Tertullus was a part of the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was an exclusive organization in Jewish culture which only allows people into its rank after paying their dues and cutting off of a portion of their genitalia.
That group is claiming that…
Christianity, an inclusive non-organization which welcomes people into their ranks for free without any kind of price or mutilation is the sect.
(3) Paul Tried to Desecrate the Temple
Because it was their sect-like opinion, that it was a desecration to allow anyone into the temple who wasn’t Jewish. They claimed that Paul had done that.
But he hadn’t.
He understood their stance on the issue and, while he didn’t agree with it, he was willing to follow that custom just so he could peacefully be in Jerusalem.
That means their final accusation was just like the other three accusations:
A bald-faced lie.
Finally, it was the defense’s turn. Since Paul represented himself, he spoke.
He spoke about how these accusations were lies.
He spoke about how he didn’t start a riot.
He spoke about how he didn’t lead a sect.
He spoke about how he didn’t desecrate the temple.
He admitted to something.
I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors… It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today. (v.14,21)
Which was the ultimate truth.
All the Jewish leaders hated Paul.
Because he convicted them of their sin
And told them they needed a Savior.
Which was not wrong.
Here’s the truth:
If you serve GOD, expect the WORLD to judge you as EVIL.
Because good is against evil.
And evil is against good.
But here’s the thing about evil:
It doesn’t admit that it’s evil.
Evil is the hero of its own story.
Like the devil in the garden of Eden. He convinced Adam and Eve to eat from the fruit that they shouldn’t eat NOT because “It’s evil.” But because “It’ll be good. In fact, it’s evil of God not to let you eat from the tree.”
Evil thinks of itself as the hero of the story.
If you’re doing good.
The world will judge you as evil.
Rather than admitting its own sinfulness is the cause of that trouble...
The sinful world will view YOU as the cause of the trouble.
It’ll put you on trial.
It’ll convict you as wrong.
It’ll judge you as uncool.
It’ll repeatedly prosecute you as long as you keep doing the thing that exposes its own evil.
II. The Only Trial that Matters
Meanwhile, Governor Felix calls for a recess. He needs to know from Lysias’ witness to determine who truly started the riot. So, he’ll send word for Lysias to come to Caesarea and the trial will resume when he arrives.
Even though the trial was suspended.
Felix couldn’t suspend his own thoughts about the trial.
The thoughts weren’t so much about whether Paul’s guilt was real.
But whether this resurrection was real.
Is there more than just this life?
Something inside me tells me that there is.
If so, how do we gain it?
Have I done what’s necessary to live after death?
I mean, probably. I am a Roman governor after all.
Just to be sure.
Paul met with the governor and they began a Bible study. He told the governor all about Jesus and what Jesus taught:
About Righteousness. That God demanded perfection in actions, in words, and deeds in order to enter into the bliss of eternal life.
About Self Control. That therefore we needed to control our actions, our words, and thoughts, not once letting a single sin slip, lest we no longer be judged as righteous.
About Judgment. That one day everyone, including, you, Felix, will stand on trial before God.
A God you can’t lie to.
A God you can’t distract.
A God you can’t butter up.
A God, who, does not accept, “Well, I wasn’t that bad God,” as a defense.
A God, who, if you’re guilty, and we all are, will judge you as sinner.
And that judgment?
It isn’t a week in the slammer.
It isn’t a hefty fine.
It isn’t life in prison.
It’s the eternal fires of hell.
At which point, Felix got real uncomfortable,
“We can be done for today.”
“When it’s convenient, we’ll resume the conversation.”
As far as we know…
It was never “convenient.”
Don’t be like Felix.
Don’t wait to examine your heart “until it’s convenient.”
Your personal judgment day could be any moment.
Here’s the truth:
The only JUDGMENT that really matters is GOD’S.
We said earlier that our world is really judgy.
Maybe you’ve experienced that.
If you wear a mask, people judge you as foolish.
If you don’t wear a mask, others judge you as uncaring.
If you come to worship, people judge you as unsafe.
If you worship from home, people judge you as unchristian.
If you support the black community, people judge you as anti-police.
If you support the police, people judge you as racist.
If you post something from a Democrat, some judge you as anti-American.
If you post something from a Republican, others judge you as anti-American.
If you avoid posting about politics at all, both judge you as anti-American.
With all these judgments, it can become really difficult to get everyone to judge you as approved.
But you don’t need to.
The only judgment that really matters is God’s.
Because at the end of the world, he will be on the judge’s seat.
Not your family member.
Not your friends.
Not some politician.
God sits on the judge’s seat.
Then, the question is:
How will God judge you?
That’s what you need to examine.
Not how the world will judge you.
But how God will judge you.
That’s a difficult question.
In fact, it’s what was upsetting Felix.
Because when he was confronted with a holy God, he realized something.
Since he hadn’t served God, God would have no choice but to judge him as evil.
If you serve the WORLD, expect the GOD to judge you as EVIL.
He isn’t a God you can lie to.
He isn’t distracted by angry tweets about others.
He isn’t buttered up by Instagramming the “godly things” you do and not Instagramming the not-so-godly things.
Saying to God, “Yes, but my uncle is racist.”
Or, “At least, I wear a mask.”
Or even, “I went to in-person church during the pandemic.”
None of that will alter your case.
If you serve the sinful world, it isn’t a matter of IF, but WHEN God will judge you as evil.
III. The Greatest Lawyer of All Time
Have you ever noticed how awful lawyers are at advertising?
I know that’s a stereotype, but with good reason. Check out these real billboard ads:
There’s one for MyBaldLawyer.com that says, “Injured? Don’t pull your hair out.”
Or this one that simply says, “Call me. I’m a lawyer. I’m on a billboard.”
Or this one that involves a lawyer posing with his two hound dogs, “Trust me. My dogs do.”
Or my personal favorite featuring a lawyer in a pirate outfit that says, “ARRRGHrested?”
We need better lawyers.
And we certainly need better lawyers for our trial against God.
A lawyer that understands God’s justice system.
A lawyer that cares deeply for our eternal fate.
A lawyer that works for free.
A lawyer that can truthfully proclaim us as righteous.
We have one:
But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)
Do you know Jesus’ defense?
It goes something like this:
I see there’s a laundry list of sins against my client.
There’s a long list of sins.
Each one of them deserves the punishment of death.
But Judge, they didn’t do those things:
I did and I suffered the punishment of death on the cross.
This one is innocent.
I was punished.
They don’t need to be.
And God slams his gavel.
With JESUS as your lawyer, expect God to judge you as RIGHTEOUS.
Do you get that?
With Jesus as your lawyer, you will be judged RIGHTEOUS.
That means you are forgiven.
It means that God declared you innocent.
It means that you will rise to heaven.
It means you won’t be imprisoned with guilt, but FREE!
This is a strange year to celebrate FREEDOM.
Because of COVID, we haven’t been had the FREEDOM that we’d like to have.
Because of the economy, we haven’t had the FREEDOM to spend money as we’d like.
After George Floyd’s murder and the aftermath, we are more keenly aware of how July 4th, 1776 did not mean FREEDOM for every person in America and we recognize that there are some who don’t feel fully FREE even today.
But in Jesus, there is FREEDOM.
FREEDOM for all.
FREEDOM that can’t be taken away.
FREEDOM that will last.
Thank God for our innocent verdict.
Thank God for freedom.
We are continuing our study of the book of Acts. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eternally Important Work of Paul’s Nephew
This section of Acts has been detailing the mission work of a pastor named Paul. Recently, things have been rough:
He had to escape downtown Jerusalem where an angry mob tried to kill him.
He was narrowly able to avoid a seven-stranded flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
He had to turn a nerve-wracking trial on its head allowing him to escape with his life.
Unfortunately, the trouble was only beginning.
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. (23:13-14)
Take note of a few things:
Some men were involved in a CONSPIRACY. That’s a word used in usually reserved for politics and spy movies.
Kill a pastor.
They are so serious about killing Paul that they take an oath NOT to eat or drink.
Have you ever tried that before? There’s this fast called the GAPs diet. It starts with a three day fast where you only drink water and eat chicken broth. I tried it once. The book told me that it would have the excellent benefits of restoring my gut health, reigniting my metabolism, and possibly resetting my seasonal allergies.
But one thing the book didn’t tell me was that I would get hungry! As a result, the diet lasted a total of about 11 hours.
You must be serious to go on a fast.
These men go on a fast, because they are that serious about their conspiracy to commit murder.
There are more than 40 men involved in the conspiracy. With that many people a part of the scandal it would be easier to cover up.
Easier to execute.
Easier to develop a foolproof plan.
Here’s what they came up with:
They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”
Did you follow that?
The religious leaders of the area would ask the Roman commander for a retrial with Paul. But there wouldn’t be a retrial. Instead, the conspirators would be hiding in the dark stairwells as Paul approached the courtroom where they’d jump him and kill him.
The religious leaders like this plan. Because they wouldn’t even have to get their hands dirty.
Political corruption at its finest.
As the conspirators brought this idea to the Pharisees, a young man took note.
I like to imagine he worked there as a page.
Shuffling quietly past the tables.
Handing out papers.
Getting paper clips.
Tossing out coffee cups.
On this day, he was at work in the courtroom,
And no one gave him attention.
But maybe they should have.
Because had they looked closely, they would have noticed that he looked kind like the target of their conspiracy.
His eyes matched Paul’s eyes.
His forehead matched Paul’s forehead.
His jaw structure matched Paul’s jaw structure.
He was Paul’s nephew.
And he liked his Uncle Paul.
Not only did he remember family meals with Uncle Paul where Uncle Paul sat him on his knee, tweaked his nose, and pretended that he stole it from his face.
But he also like the message of his uncle.
He liked the Gospel about Jesus.
And he couldn’t keep what he was hearing to himself.
When the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. (v.16)
Paul, there’s a plot.
Paul, they’re trying to kill you.
Paul, when they take you into the Sanhedrin tomorrow, they’re going to jump you.
Paul’s eyes got big.
But nephew, what am I supposed to do? I’m on lockdown.
I can’t leave the barracks.
I can’t tell the commander not to have the trial until it’s too late.
Nephew, would you be willing to speak on my behalf?
Would you be willing to go to the Roman commander?
Could you save me?
Paul’s nephew paused.
He wasn’t bold like Uncle Paul.
He couldn’t preach like Uncle Paul
He couldn’t write beautiful letters like Uncle Paul.
He didn’t have the courage to go on the missionary journeys like his Uncle Paul.
Maybe he didn’t have to do those things to do eternally important work.
Paul’s nephew nodded.
Paul called to the guards.
Paul asked the guards to take his nephew to see the Roman commander.
As they entered, Paul’s nephew saw an impressive room.
Decorative Roman designs on the walls.
Fancy gold adorning the columns.
It was an important looking place.
And at the focal point of the room?
The Roman commander.
Seated on his important-looking chair.
Talking to important-looking people.
While signing important-looking documents.
The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?” (v.19)
Paul’s nephew took a deep breath.
He closed his eyes.
He swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.” (v.20-21)
I’m out of here.
Please don’t hurt me!
But before he could leave, the commander gave the order for the soldiers to close the door.
He called the young man back to his desk.
He looked him directly in the eyes and said.
You probably saved his life.
“Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.” In the meantime, we’ll develop a way to keep our Uncle safe.
II. The Eternally Important Work of You
They do keep Paul safe.
For many more chapters in Acts.
For many more years.
And because Paul is kept safe…
He gets to preach the Gospel in even more places that didn’t have the saving message of Jesus.
Paul writes the letter to the Romans which has been sharing the saving message of Jesus to millions of people for millennia.
Paul also writes three “pastoral letters” which specifically uplift and encourage two young pastors who share the Gospel of Jesus and that have been preserved in Scripture for young pastors to read and be encouraged about Gospel ministry years later.
None of this would have been possible without Paul’s nephew.
A guy that didn’t have a preaching degree.
A guy that didn’t write any books of the Bible.
A guy that whose name we don’t even know!
Yet a guy that God knew.
A guy that God died for.
A guy that God worked through to do eternally important work.
What does all of this mean for you?
(1) You are Eternally Important to God no Matter how Insignificant You Feel
The other day Julianna gave me a grocery list. I drove 5 minutes to Food Lion, spent 10 minutes in store buying the groceries, spent 5 minutes looking longingly at the Dorito display, spent 5 minutes checking out and 5 minutes driving back to the house.
As we were unpacking the groceries, Julianna noticed that I had bought non-Organic, non-farm raised, cheap eggs.
She had really hoped that I would have read the list closer and seen that she wanted the Organic, farm raised kind.
I shrugged. “We’ll just use these. It’ll be ok. We don’t need to spend 15 minutes going back to get the right kind.”
She suggested, “But…we could.”
Guess which thing we chose to do….
The more important someone is to you;
The more you are willing to do for them.
What was God willing to do for you?
He left his perfect, amazing heavenly throne room…for you.
He came to this sin-infested, hate-filled earth…for you.
He suffered backstabbing, violence, and hatred…for you.
He had three nails pierce his body…for you.
He died on the cross…for you.
And yes, I do mean you.
He didn’t just do it for kings.
He didn’t just do it for celebrities.
He didn’t just do it for people with over 10,000 Twitter followers.
Jesus died for non-famous, non-royal, non-Twitter powerful, you.
When faced with the choice of saving you or saving his life, God chose saving you.
That’s how important you were to God.
And how important you still are to God.
In fact, check out this passage:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Because if ever there’s a time to feel insignificant to God, it’s after sin.
When you’ve had too much to drink for the 277th time.
When you’ve cheated on your spouse.
When you’ve gossiped about your friends.
When you’ve said something racist.
When you’ve slept with someone you aren’t married to.
When you’ve been caught in the sin of porn again.
The guilt of sin can make you feel about as significant as a slug.
Despite whatever sins you have.
Despite whatever flaws you have.
Despite whatever failures are in your past
Despite whatever seeming insignificance you feel.
God died for you.
You are that eternally important to the Divine Ruler of the Universe.
(2) God has an Eternally Important Purpose for You
Have you ever noticed how some body parts get more attention than others?
The heart is important. We try to take care of it.
The lungs are important. We try to take care of them.
Our muscles are important. We try to take care of them.
What about those lesser body parts?
Like nose hairs. When’s the last time you ate a breakfast cereal that was good for your nose hairs?
Or the chin? When’s the last time you did an exercise aimed at improving your chin fitness?
Or your pinky toe! When’s the last time you grabbed Instagram photos about how impressive your pinky toe is?
But without your nose hairs, your immune system would be shot.
Without your chin, you wouldn’t be able to talk.
Without your pinky toe, walking gets a lot more difficult.
The Bible says that even the pinky toes of God’s kingdom are important to his eternal purposes:
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Cor. 12:15-17)
If these seemingly unimportant body parts are not a part of the body, the body suffers.
Because these seemingly unimportant body parts are not actually unimportant.
They are essential.
During COVID, there’s been a lot of talk about essential workers.
Essential workers are ones that we have deemed so important to society that if they stopped working, society would collapse.
But maybe you aren’t an essential worker.
Maybe you aren’t a doctor working with COVID patients to keep them alive.
Maybe you’re not a scientist working for a vaccine to COVID.
Maybe you’re not a member of congress working legislation to remove racial injustices.
Maybe you aren’t a pastor with a wide reach of 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Maybe you feel insignificant.
Maybe you feel like your influence isn’t that great.
Maybe you feel like there’s nothing you can do for God’s kingdom.
You have a purpose.
There’s a reason God placed you in his kingdom.
In his mind, he has labeled you: essential.
(3) Often God Works through Seemingly Insignificant Moments
I don’t know that Paul’s nephew woke up that day thinking: “I’m going to do something amazing today.”
He went about his work in and around the Sanhedrin as planned.
While there, he heard about the plot and acted to save Paul’s life.
God did eternally important work at a seemingly insignificant moment.
But God has always been working through seemingly insignificant moments.
Like the prepping of an insignificant, dirty stable as a bed and breakfast for a family in need, that God used to bring the Savior into the world.
Like the insignificant grunt work of lugging around some big jugs of water through which God worked to transform the liquid into wine and announce Jesus’ presence in the world.
Like a young boy sharing his lunch to his disciples, allowing Jesus to prove his divinity through an incredible miracle feeding over 5,000 people by miraculous multiplication would never have happened and Jesus wouldn’t have proven his divinity to all in attendance.
Like a dirty, bloodstained, insignificant piece of wood. With a guy hanging on it just like many guys had hung on them before. As insignificant looking as any other criminal. But…through whom your eternal salvation was won. You have forgiveness with God. Through which, the most eternally significant moment of history was accomplished.
The truth is then:
God has always done eternally important work through seemingly insignificant moments.
God has done, is doing, and will continue to do important work through your seemingly insignificant moments…
That coffee shop Bible reading with your friends.
That encouraging Scripture text to your spouse.
That Bible story with your kids.
That sharing of a YouTube sermon.
That moment where you tell your child it’s wrong to judge someone based on the shade of their skin.
That five-dollar bill in the offering plate.
That insignificant looking water poured over someone’s head in God’s saving name.
That insignificant looking cup of wine given in connection with God’s own blood.
That mowing of your neighbor’s lawn that helps him come one step closer to the realization that maybe, “this Jesus guy isn’t so bad.”
You are ESSENTIAL.
You are of eternal significance to God.
Pay attention. Find the eternal significance in what you do this week. Amen.
Today we’re studying Acts 22 & 23. It’s the next part in Paul’s unexpected missionary journey. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Paul’s Story
Last we left Paul he had reignited the Jerusalem mob’s hatred of him.
They were thinking violent thoughts…
Shouting violent things…
And shaking their fists in a violent motion...
All because Paul told about how Jesus was his Savior.
When they started shouting and throwing off their cloaks and throwing dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks. (v.23)
The commander had already tried asking the crowd what the problem was.
He had let Paul speak for himself.
But he still didn’t understand why they were so violent towards Paul.
He decided to try the most common method for getting to the truth in the Roman empire.
He directed that Paul be interrogated by whipping, in order to learn why the people were shouting at him like this. (v.24)
The whip that the Romans government commonly used was called a scourge. It was seven leather straps braided together at the end so that you could hold onto it. That means the 7 straps could hit you at various places on the back and maximize the pain that was inflicted.
At the end of each of those seven leather straps were scraps of metal and/or pieces of bone. The theory was that the sharper the pieces were, the more pain it would inflict, and the quicker you’d get the truth…
…Or a lie…
…just so you’d stop the whipping.
As they stretched Paul for the whipping, Paul asked the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to whip a man who is a Roman citizen and who has not been found guilty by a proper trial?” (v.240
Roman citizenship was deeply desirable. You could obtain it through payment, by bribery, by submitting to a complicated legal agreement, or by birth. Citizenship meant you would receive better treatment by the Roman government and a legal right to due process of the law.
In Paul’s case, it meant he shouldn’t be whipped.
Immediately, those who were about to interrogate him moved away from him. The commander was also alarmed when he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen, because he had tied him up. (v.29)
This was good news for Paul, because his back remains intact.
But for the Roman commander it was bad news. He still didn’t know why people were so angry at Paul.
The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he untied him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to meet. (v.30)
The Sanhedrin was a powerful group in ancient Israelite society.
It was like a community watch group.
Only instead of watching for suspicious activity.
They were watching for anti-traditional Judaism activity.
The commander had Paul stand in front of the group and give his defense.
Paul spoke, “Gentlemen, brothers, I have lived my life before God with a completely clear conscience to this very day.” (23:1)
Paul didn’t get any farther in his speech before the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. (v.2)
Paul replied, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there judging me according to the law, and then you order them to strike me contrary to the law!” (v.3)
Because that Law that you love so much?
Don’t you know the 5th commandment in that law?
Thou shalt not murder.
God doesn’t support violence.
Like ordering someone to smack me on the mouth.
Those who were standing nearby said, “Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?”
Paul replied, “I did not know, brothers, that he is the high priest. Indeed, it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil about a ruler of your people.’” (v.4-5)
Paul didn’t defend himself.
He didn’t launch into a sermon.
He didn’t show them an angry meme showing how they were “wronger” than he.
But as he apologized, Paul noticed some of the group glaring angrily at him, while a few others were smirking. He remembered – the Sanhedrin consisted of two entirely different group. One group called the Pharisees and the other group called the Sadducees.
They were like Ancient Israelite versions of a political party.
And there some differences.
Pharisees believed in eternal life.
Sadducees did not.
Pharisees believed in angels and demons.
Sadducees did not.
If only, he could get them to discuss those differences…
“Gentlemen, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope for the resurrection of the dead!” (v.6)
It was a very true statement.
The actual complaint was about Paul’s preaching resurrection in Jesus.
Not that any Pharisees believed in Jesus.
But they certainly believed in a resurrection.
And they weren’t going to miss an opportunity to argue.
“Is that all it is? Then, the issue is the Sadducees.”
“What are you talking about? You Pharisees are the fools who believe in eternal life.”
“Of course, there’s a resurrection God grants it to all good Pharisees.”
“There is not. There is no resurrection.”
“OK. I agree. There is no resurrection... for Sadducees.”
“Well, you’re a stupid head.”
“And you have mush for brains.”
The uproar became so great that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He commanded the soldiers to go down, take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. (v.10)
Not that it says this in the text…
But then, I imagine the commander went out for a drink.
Meanwhile, Paul was taken into the barracks.
He was locked behind bars.
But Paul had to have breathed a sigh of relief.
He would live to fight another day.
He would live to share the Gospel another day.
II. What Now?
There’s a lot going on in this lesson from God’s Word. Before we get too deep into application, take a moment to appreciate this master missionary in action.
It’s like watching The Last Dance, a documentary all about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ six world championships. As I watched, there’s all kinds of moments where I just started smiling:
His 1988 free throw line dunk that became the inspiration for the air Jordan logo.
Game one of the 1992 NBA finals when he hits six 3 pointers in the first half and after the 6th, he just shrugs.
In 1997, when he had the flu, needed to drink extra fluids on the sideline, but still scored a game high 38.
Reading this part of Acts is similar.
We get watch Paul work as a master of sharing the Gospel.
We get to watch God work through Paul as a master of sharing the Gospel.
We get to watch Paul further the cause of the Gospel when an entire room full of people is ready to kill him.
But our time today should be more than just:
“Wow. Paul’s pretty sweet. What else is popular on Netflix?
As we reflect on his story, we see him put into practice some incredible principles.
Principles that God had already commanded of his people.
Principles that any believer can put into practice.
Principles that will help us better Plant the Message of Jesus in North Raleigh.
(1) Be Shrewd as Snakes
Do you know about the puff adder? It has an interesting way of catching its prey. Upon spotting a frog nearby, “the puff adder begins flicking its tongue unusually slowly, seemingly mimicking a small worm. To frogs, juicy worms are irresistible, and their eagerness to eat them leads them straight into the waiting mouth of the viper. This hunting strategy is known as lingual luring.” (https://theconversation.com/five-ingenious-ways-snakes-manipulate-their-bodies-to-hunt-and-survive-90052)
It’s not just puff adders.
Snakes are sneaky.
Snakes are clever.
Snakes are good at “snaking.”
Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes...” (Matthew 10:16)
What does shrewd mean?
It has nothing to do with morality.
God isn’t calling us to be deceptive
God isn’t calling us to be liars.
God isn’t calling us to be poisonous.
Snakes are animals.
They have no morality.
Besides – this is Jesus talking.
He hates sin.
He’s not encouraging you to sin.
But simply to be clever.
Like Paul. Paul avoided having his back torn to shreds by telling the Roman soldier that he was a Roman citizen. And it was at just the right time to give that revelation, such, that the commander overreacted for fear of his job and immediately demanded Paul’s release.
He acted shrewdly when he mentions the resurrection and drives a wedge between the members of the Sanhedrin. Suddenly, they can’t focus on what Paul was on trial for because they are too concerned with being right.
To put it simply:
God wants us to be clever in sharing the Gospel.
Whenever he does something, he thinks – how will this affect my ability to Plant the Message of Jesus?
And if we want to act shrewdly, the same question has value – how will doing this thing affect my ability to Plant the Message of Jesus?
It means if buying someone a Food Lion gift card gets you an audience for a Gospel, you do it.
It means if organizing two different styles of worship services gets you an audience for the Gospel, you do it.
It means if putting my political alignments all over Facebook immediately turns off half of the people I am friends with and now I’m not able to share the Gospel with them? Pretend you’ve never even heard of politics.
(2) Be Innocent as Doves
Doves are very beautiful.
Doves are very gentle.
Doves are released at weddings and parades and make everyone happy.
What I mean is…
I don’t know the last time a dove has been convicted of any kind of crime.
Jesus said, “Be...as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Because if we’re preaching the message of the innocent Jesus, then being innocent in our day to day dealings is integral!
Paul was innocent among the people.
It’s why he starts his speech by saying, “I have lived my life to God with a clear conscience.”
And then, when he speaks harshly to the high priests, even though what he spoke was truthful, he immediately apologized to the high priest.
He lived in innocently in order to share the Gospel.
God calls us to do the same.
But before we get into it, let’s define innocent here:
To live innocently means to live blamelessly, not sinlessly.
Because if sinless were the case, even Paul failed miserably.
But innocent has to do with a courtroom. It means that if you were put on trial by your peers, by the public, by the people in whom you are trying to plant the message of Jesus, live in such a way that they would judge you as innocent.
Because if they can’t judge you as innocent….
This kills your witness of the Gospel.
A while back there was a pastor that led a fairly large church. He held four worship services on a weekend, preached to thousands of people and was even on local cable access television.
Then, a male prostitute he had visited for the past 10 years explained to everyone what he had been up to in his private time.
Very few people wanted to remain and listen to the pastor who had preached purity in Jesus but lived a life far from it.
Public moral failures ruin your witness of the Gospel.
And it isn’t just a truth that affects pastors.
If you’re at a bar and start telling someone about Jesus, but you’re slurring John 3:16 and smell like booze, you’ve ruined your message.
If you post something on Facebook about how we should listen to God’s Holy Word, but your next post drops 3 f-bombs, you’re ruined your message.
If you tell your kids that you believe the message of the Bible, but they know that the Bible says sex is reserved for marriage and they also know that you aren’t reserving sex for marriage, you’ve ruined your message.
If you want to tell a friend that Jesus loves all, but then your Twitter account repeatedly claims that Black Lives Don’t Matter, you’re ruined your message.
You’re ruined God’s message.
Thankfully, do you know who was really good at this innocent stuff?
Even better than Paul?
In fact, Jesus was so good at it that he wasn’t declared innocent by a human courtroom, but by a heavenly courtroom.
And because Jesus was declared innocent.
But rather than celebrate his innocence, Jesus changed in his verdict.
He became guilty in order that you be declared innocent.
It means that if you haven’t been innocent.
Jesus forgives you.
He lived innocently before God.
He died innocently at the hands of men.
He rose triumphantly to proclaim you as innocent.
This is your identity:
Live out your identity as innocent.
(3) Be Courageous as a Lion
Lions are impressive.
I was at the Greensboro zoo not that long ago and the big old male lion was at the top of the highest rock.
He was laying there with his giant baseball mitt paws folded in front of him.
He literally looked like the king of the zoo.
When he roared – and he did roar – it caused everyone to pay attention.
He was louder than the peacocks.
He as louder than the monkeys.
He was louder than the seals.
The lion was bold.
The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (Proverbs 18:1)
Did you notice what it says first?
It says, “the wicked flee.”
Running away situations where you have the truth of the Gospel because you’re afraid.
But the righteous, God’s people, believers are BOLD.
We speak the truth of God’s Word.
We speak the truth of the Gospel.
We boldly confess that we believe in Jesus.
Just like Paul did.
In front of the angry Sanhedrin.
He wasn’t afraid.
He spoke boldly.
Maybe he didn’t always feel bold.
Especially that evening after being on trial.
He was locked in a jail cell.
He was all by himself.
I’m sure the devil got him to think:
“Is this really worth it?”
But before Paul could pen his letter of resignation,
Jesus showed up, stood next to Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have solemnly testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (v.11)
Paul, you aren’t alone.
Paul, I am with you.
Paul, as I boldly died and rose for you and now boldly claim you as my child, so I will boldly be with you wherever you go.
Friends, that same Jesus is with you. Amen.
When we last left Paul, he had gone to Jerusalem despite warnings that when he went, he would suffer. While there, he met with the Jerusalem church leaders and learned that some Jewish believers were concerned that he was against the Jewish people. To prove this wasn’t true, Paul decided to participate in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
Today’s Scripture picks up as Paul is finishing up the ceremony. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Strange Time
The lesson begins in Acts 21:29 where Paul is completing the temple ceremony.
I picture him sitting in the mikveh pool relaxing with cucumbers over his eyes and soothing chanting in the background.
But then one of the cucumbers falls off.
And before he can put it back on, he notices some people who look familiar.
Opponents from his mission journeys.
People that hated him.
Paul tries to hide his face under the water, but it was too late:
Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the temple. they stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law, and against this place. And now he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:27-28)
The first accusation was an exaggeration of the truth:
Paul did not preach that the Jewish culture was bad.
Paul did preach that the religion the Jewish leaders were teaching was bad.
They taught that you needed to following Hebrew traditions in order to make God love you and possibly, although not probably, earn your way to eternal life
Paul taught that you can’t earn God’s love, but God loved you so much that he suffered on a cross in order to absolutely earn your way to eternal life.
The second accusation was a bald-faced lie.
According to Jewish tradition, it was unlawful for a Gentile to enter the Jewish temple.
Paul knew this and hadn’t brought any Gentiles with him into the temple.
But this group had seen Trophimus, one of Paul’s comrades, in the city. They assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple. (v.29)
Long before Twitter.
Just like on Twitter.
It didn’t take long for others to join in the outrage.
The whole city was stirred up.
The people rushed together as a mob.
They seized Paul.
They dragged him out of the temple.
They had the “the gates…shut.” (v.30)
And Paul was surrounded by his enemies.
Let’s kill him.
Sure! But how?
Does anybody have any stones to throw?
Maybe we could ask one of the priests to borrow the knives they use in sacrifice.
While they were looking for a way to kill him… (v.31a)
The bell rang as the local law enforcement chief stepped out of a nearby coffee shop.
He took a sip of his cup o’ joe
And dunked his Jerusalem jelly donut in his coffee.
He almost spilled as concerned citizens got his attention!
“Sir, there’s a riot!”
“Sir, come quick!”
“Sir, you’d better get some of our best soldiers. It could get ugly.”
He immediately took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. (v.32)
As the crowd heard the sound of Roman chain mail rustling towards them (like the Ancient version of a police siren) and saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (v.33)
Then the commander approached Paul.
He arrested him.
And gave an order that he should be bound with two chains.
The commander turned to the crowd:
What are you doing?
What’s going on?
Who is this guy?
What has he done? (v.33)
Some people shouted one thing.
Some people shouted another.
Some people just shouted.
It reminded the commander of a riot that had taken place in Jerusalem years earlier.
A mob had brought a man to the Governor’s palace in order to crucify him.
What was that guy’s name?
The commander motioned to his soldiers.
They needed to remove this man from the crowd if they wanted answers.
Two soldiers grabbed Paul under his arm pits and helped him climb some nearby stairs, while others cracked their whips to keep the crowd at bay.
II. The Testimony
As they made their way towards the barracks, the noise faded.
The commander began to relax.
He grabbed his donut out of his pocket, Jerusalem jelly all over his fingers, when…
“Sir, may I say something to you?” (v.37)
It was the prisoner.
You know Greek?
I thought you were that Egyptian terrorist who started the revolt?
Aren’t you the leader of almost 4,000 notorious assassins?
Paul smirked and shook his head.
“I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city. I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” (v.39)
The commander looked at him.
“Let me get this straight. You want to speak to the crowd that wants you dead?
The commander gave the soldiers permission to allow him to talk.
Paul went back to the high point of the steps.
Raised his hands towards the crowds. (v.40)
Gentlemen, brothers, and fathers, listen to my defense, which I am now going to make to you.
When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet. (22:1-2)
I am a Jew. (v.3)
I was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, a Jewish city.
I was brought up in this city, Jerusalem. Very Jewish.
I trained at the feet of Gamaliel, a very famous, Jewish rabbi. Perhaps you know him.
I was trained according to the strict ways of the law of our Jewish fathers.
Friends, I don’t hate the Jews,
I am one.
I am just as zealous for God as all of you are today. (v.4)
I persecuted this Way, this teaching of Jesus, to the death.
I tied Christians up.
I threw Christians into prison.
If you don’t believe me, ask your high priest.
Ask your leaders. (v.4)
I think I still hold the record for most arrests in one day!
In fact, that’s what I was doing on my way to Damascus.
I was going to arrest all the Christians who had scattered there and thought they had gotten away from my holy hand of the law. (v.5)
While I was on the way and approaching Damascus, about noon a very bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v.7)
I didn’t recognize the voice.
I didn’t recognize the figure.
I did notice that he appeared to have a hole in each of his hands.
“Who are you, Lord?”
He said to me, “I am Jesus.” (v.8)
As in, the guy who started Christianity.
As in, the guy who was killed on a cross.
As in the guy who people had reported as resurrected.
As in the guy, I was persecuting.
I said, “What shall I do, Lord?”
The Lord said to me, “Get up and go into Damascus. There you will be told about everything you have been assigned to do.” (v.10)
Then, he was gone.
So was my sight.
My comrades had to lead me the rest of the way to Damascus (v.11)
There I sat in darkness.
Finally, I heard a knock at the front door.
A man entered named Ananias.
He said to me: “Brother Saul, receive your sight!”
At that very moment I was able to see him. (v.12-13)
Then he said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear the sound of his voice. For you will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. Now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (v.14-16)
What was I to do?
The guy I thought was dead? Was alive.
The guy I was persecuting? Had somehow decided not to kill me.
The guy I thought was a nobody? Was God himself.
I got up.
I was baptized.
Jesus washed my sins away.
And I have been serving Jesus ever since.
Which is why I returned to Jerusalem.
Not this time, another time.
I returned thinking I could preach to all of you.
As I was praying in the temple.
That very temple.
I fell into a trance and I saw the Lord telling me: “Hurry, get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.” (v.17-18)
Of course, that didn’t make sense to me.
I figured that you all knew me.
That you all trusted me.
That you would at least listen to me.
I thought, “Jesus, you’re wrong. They’ll at least give me a chance.”
Judging by your response to me today?
Jesus was right.
He said, “Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (v.21)
At this, the people shouted for Paul’s death.
The rioting recommenced
Paul was taken away to prison.
III. The Truth
There it is.
Paul’s suffering began exactly as the Holy Spirit said it would.
But as it’s recorded, we get to witness to the incredible changes that have occurred within Paul.
They are changes that happened as a result of witnessing the Risen Lord Jesus with his own eyes.
They are changes that happen to us as we witness the Risen Lord Jesus through the Gospel.
(1) The Witness of Jesus Changes Your ETERNAL FATE
At the end of this pandemic, we are going to have a party.
And at that party, I think we should award Pandemic superlatives.
They’d be just like Senior superlatives only about the Pandemic.
Most creative mask wearer.
Greatest tweets about lack of toilet paper.
Longest run of meals made from food found at the back of the refrigerator.
What superlative would you get?
If you’re anything like me, maybe the one you’d win wouldn’t be all the desirable.
Biggest worrier about money.
Largest lack of faith that God will work things for good.
Most easily angered at being cooped up with kids.
Most effective at making your spouse feel like a failure with your rude comments.
Most impressive at hiding your racist prejudices with defensive words on Facebook.
Can I show you what Paul wrote about himself? He wrote, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
“Worst of sinners.”
Not that we should compare sinfulness, but if you challenged Paul for the big blue 1st place ribbon for most sinful…
He thinks he’d win.
Think about it:
Paul didn’t just not believe in Jesus.
He hunted down people who believed in Jesus, threatened to kill them, and threw them in prison.
His life goal was to rid the earth of the Gospel that brings people to heaven.
What might you imagine would happen when Paul met face to face with the death-defeating, demon-destroying, hell-fire-wielding, Jesus that he was persecuting?
Not what happened.
Because what happened was unexpected.
Jesus gently redirected Paul.
Jesus graciously sent Ananias to speak to him.
Jesus washed him from sin.
Jesus forgave him.
Jesus promised him a place in heaven.
The witness of Jesus changed Paul’s eternal fate.
From the eternal hellfire that an enemy of God deserves to the incredible gift of eternal life.
Dear friend, the witness of Jesus brings the same message for you.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
No matter how much sinful junk you accumulated over your lifetime…
…in Jesus you are forgiven.
From the first of sinners to the worst of sinners and every sinner in between…
In Jesus you are forgiven.
(2) The Witness of Jesus Changes Your WITNESS
As a Pharisee, Paul’s witness had simply been:
Destroying Jesus’ message? Good.
In fact, he believed it so deeply that he dedicated his life to destroying the witness of the Gospel.
When he visually witnessed the Risen Savior?
His verbal witness changed.
From “Jesus is dead,” to “Jesus is alive.”
From “Jesus is bad,” to “Jesus is good.”
From “Jesus is not the way to eternal life,” to “Jesus is the only way to eternal life.”
From “Look at what an amazing person I am, God ought to love me,” to “Look at what a wretched man I am, God ought to hate me. But he didn’t and he doesn’t, because of Jesus.”
Jesus changes the witness for us too.
There’s a newer feature on Social media called “Stories.”
On “story” you can build your own brand.
You can do so without having to deal with comments of “haters.”
You can use your story to show yourself doing a good deed.
You can use your story to show yourself being a good mask wearer.
You can use your story to show yourself doing an impressive job teaching your kids.
But do you know what I’ve noticed?
No one ever uses their story to show their sin.
Here’s a photo of me yelling at my kids.
Here’s a graphic of something racist I once said.
Here’s me cheating on my wife.
No one wants sin to be part of their story.
But since we can’t get rid of sin, we just distract from it.
There’s this underlying tone on social media I must showcase the good that I do so that it will distract from the narrative that I might not be that great of a person.
But Jesus changes that story.
No longer is the story about how impressive you are.
Nor is the story about how unimpressive you are.
The story is about how impressive Jesus is.
About how he loved you.
About how he saved you.
About how he made you a part of his family.
About how you will be with him in heaven.
The story is that in Jesus, you are forgiven.
(3) The Witness of Jesus Changes WHAT YOU SEE
Something happened to Paul when he was blinded by Jesus.
Suddenly, his physical inability to see matched his spiritual inability to see.
But when Ananias showed up, he gave Paul his physical sight and spiritual sight.
A spiritual sight that changed what Paul saw.
For example, when you look at this account in Acts 21, what do you see?
…an angry mob?
…a violent crowd?
…Paul being beaten within an inch of his life?
That’s what I see too.
He didn’t see that.
He saw an opportunity.
An opportunity for a witness.
Jesus changes what we see.
Instead of seeing a never-ending pandemic, Jesus helps us see opportunity to tell others about how Jesus promises an end to all pandemics in heaven.
Instead of seeing insurmountable racial tensions, Jesus helps us see opportunity to tell our black friends that their lives do matter. They matter so much that Jesus died for them!
Instead of seeing tension in my own family, Jesus helps us see an opportunity to ease that tension with the Gospel.
Friends, may Jesus, who changed our eternal fate, empower us to witness for him even during unexpected opportunities. Amen.
Racism is a problem in America.
Maybe you knew that.
Maybe you know that from watching video of the brutal killing of George Floyd.
Maybe you know that from scrolling through your friend’s comments on social media.
Maybe you know that from your own personal experiences with other people.
But even if you didn’t see the video, aren’t on social media, or have a personal experience, you ought to believe it to be a problem.
Because the Bible says so.
The Bible says that this world is sinful.
The Bible says that racism is one of those sins.
The Bible says that everyone in the world is sinful.
Therefore, racism will be a problem in this world.
Since Raleigh is a part of this world, it’s a problem in our community.
How do we do battle racism?
How does the church respond?
Today we’ll examine what the Early Church did to deal with racial tensions. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
At the beginning of Acts 21, it was revealed that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem even though he knew from the Holy Spirit that he would suffer as he went. Many tried to stop him. But Paul went anyways.
In the next verses, Paul and his companions finish the final leg to Jerusalem. Look at what Luke, Paul’s companion, writes:
After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples. (v.15-16)
As you see it on a map, Caesarea is very closed to Jerusalem. In fact, this is the last stop that Paul makes before he gets to Jerusalem. There he finds a guy named Mnason. He was living in Caesarea. Mnason gets to meet up with Paul’s companions.
Who are Paul’s companions?
Luke. A fellow Jew.
Timothy. A biracial son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man.
Aristarchus & Secundus from Thessalonica. Two men with very Roman names.
Gaius from the island city of Derbe.
Sopater from Berea in Macedonia.
Tychichus and Trophimus from Asia.
It’s a large group of people from different cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities.
And how does Mnason react to them?
“You probably want to go downtown. That’s where the people of your race hangout.”
“Ya’ll probably belong at that church over there.”
“Just a second…Hello, police, there are foreigners here and I don’t know what to do?”
He brought them into his home.
But it didn’t stop there. Luke writes this, “We arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly.” (v.18)
Think about this:
Jerusalem was filled with Jews.
That’s one very specific race of people.
One very specific culture.
Paul’s companions are from all over.
But look at how the Jewish believers welcome them:
No cold shoulder.
No lukewarm mistrust.
No hot anger that they dared get near them.
The Jewish believers welcomed them warmly.
With high fives.
With fist bumps.
And it continues -- The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. (v.19-20)
Paul told about his exploits.
He told about preaching in Thessalonica where a large number of Gentiles started a church. (Acts 17:4)
He told about the Gospel-loving Berean church which was filled with Bible believing Jews and Greeks. (Acts 17:14)
He told about his time in Athens preaching in front of a crowd of Greeks! (Acts 17:16-33)
He told about the people of Corinth, a culture completely different from that of the Jerusalem Jews, and how there was a church there now that believed exactly what they believed. (Acts 18)
He told about Acquila and Priscilla, non-Jews, who were Paul’s friends and coworkers in Gospel preaching.
He told about his stop in Troas, a non-Jewish stronghold, where a young man named Eutychus was raised from the dead.
Paul told all about his exploits in sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles.
And the Jews?
They didn’t take to social media to bad mouth the Gentiles.
They didn’t insist that the work in Jerusalem was more important.
They didn’t say, “We don’t care that much about mission work to the Gentiles. Because Paul, all mission work matters.”
They praised God!
Believers have a BOND that penetrates RACIAL differences.
Not to embarrass this duo. But in church we have one set of friends that always gives me hope.
One is a middle-aged, Middle Eastern man who moved from Iraq.
The other is a senior Caucasian woman from Michigan.
At first glance, they don’t seem to have a lot in common.
Every time I’ve called on one of them during COVID-19, that friend has pointed out how they just got done speaking with the other one.
They love each other.
Almost like a mother and son.
Consider this passage:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles…. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
We preach Christ crucified… to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:23-24)
Believers have a BOND that penetrates RACIAL differences.
There isn’t white baptism and black baptism. But baptism in Christ.
There isn’t a Caucasian Spirit and a Hispanic Spirit, but One Holy Spirit.
There isn’t one Savior for this group and another Savior for that group, but one Savior in Jesus.
The bond is JESUS who defeated RACISM on the cross!
Take note that the verb is written in the past tense.
Racism is a sin.
Vocal racism is a sin.
Quiet racism is a sin.
All racism is sin.
Jesus went to the cross to die for all sins.
One of those sins?
The sideways comments you said that ruined a friendship – Jesus died for that.
The insensitive meme that you posted online – Jesus died for that.
The judgment you made of another person because of what shade their skin is? Jesus died for that.
And when he died.
That sin died.
Your racism died.
In Christ, you are forgiven.
In Christ, you get to start fresh.
In Christ, you are called to fight against racism.
II. What Now?
To get to our very applicable what now, I need to finish the rest of the story.
The Jews got done with their impromptu worship service praising God for his work among the Gentiles, when the mature-in-faith Jewish leaders spoke to the mature-in-faith Gentile pastor. They said: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” (v.20-21)
A key truth about the Gospel is that forgiveness in Jesus is free.
A complementary truth is that one doesn’t need to follow certain cultural traditions in order to get to heaven.
Even though the message about Jesus came from the Jewish people (Jesus was Jewish), Paul correctly had been teaching the non-Jewish people that their faith in Jesus did not require them to follow Jewish customs in order to be saved.
But apparently, some of the “less mature in faith” Jewish believers had heard about what Paul was doing and incorrectly came to the conclusion that Paul was telling all of the Jews he came across to give up their Jewish customs completely.
Gossip led to them wrongly interpreting Paul’s actions.
And this was long before Twitter.
So…the leaders of the Jewish church had a suggestion for Paul, the leader of many Gentile churches:
There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. (v.23-24)
The vow that the leaders are referencing is a Nazarite vow.
The Nazarite vow was an Old Testament Jewish custom, but not for the faint of heart.
It was a Jewish tradition on steroids.
Those participating had to:
Abstain from all alcohol.
Refrain from cutting their hair.
Not to become ritually impure by coming into contact of any graves – even their own family members.
After a long period of time, the one who made the vow would mikveh, which is like a fancy, religious bathtub, then they’d shave their head and make three offerings: a lamb, a ewe, and a ram in addition to a basket of unleavened bread, a portion of their grain, and a drink offering.
The Jewish leaders are telling Paul,
Do you know what would calm the concerns of your Jewish brothers?
Even though you don’t have to…
Even though it isn’t required by God…
Even though you haven’t done anything wrong.
Pay for their expenses.
Pay for the mikveh visit for 4 men.
Pay for 4 lambs.
Pay for 4 ewes.
Pay for 4 rams.
Pay for all the grain.
Pay for the haircut.
Pay for it all – and they’ll see that you don’t hate their traditions.
That you love them too.
So, what does Paul do?
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. (v.26)
(1) Listen to Believing Family of Another Race
That’s what Paul did.
He could have said: “This doesn’t apply to me.”
He could have said: “This is their problem.”
He could have said, “I’m going to go back to taking care of myself.”
Because that’s not what Jesus did to him.
And it wasn’t what Jesus would do to them.
God calls us to do the same thing.
Now, I’m a white guy.
I’m going to speak as a white guy.
I haven’t experienced all the challenges people of color in America face.
The only way I’m going to find out?
I need to listen when my Asian brothers tell me about the harmful stereotypes they’ve encountered.
I need to listen when my Hispanic friends tell me about the prejudice they face.
I need to listen when my black brothers and sisters tell me that they feel like their lives don’t matter.
That last one is very serious.
Because their lives do matter.
They matter so much Jesus died for them.
What can I do?
Stop trying to defend myself.
Stop getting on angry Facebook rants.
(2) Act on Behalf of Your Christian Family of Another Race
Again, that’s what Paul did.
He took money of out his own pocket.
He took time of out of his own day.
He took appointments out of his own schedule in order to act on behalf of his Jewish brothers.
It’s the same right now.
Reach out to your Christian brothers and sisters of another race.
Tell them that you love them.
Tell them that you want to understand – then listen to what they’re saying.
Speak up when someone tells a racist joke.
Speak up when someone is acting in a prejudiced manner towards that other person.
Speak up when someone is causing your brother in Christ to feel afraid, endangered, or unvalued because of the color of their skin.
Seek out friendships outside of your race.
Seek out friendships for your children outside of your race.
Pray that God would work to drive out racism in this world.
With the absolute confidence that one day it will happen.
TRUTH: Jesus Promises an END to racism.
Revelation is the last book of the Bible.
It describes the last place we believers will end up –
A place called heaven.
Listen to this passage about heaven:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)
Do you see it?
People from all over the world.
People from all different cultures.
People of all different races.
Not one racist comment.
Not one racist thought.
Not one racist action.
They’re too busy giving glory to the one who defeated racism.
They’re too busy enjoying the glory of heaven.
They’re too busy being united in Jesus.
May God drive out racism from our hearts and our united as a community. Amen.
We are picking up a sermon series that we started way back in 2018. For the past two summers, we have gone through the book of Acts. The thinking was that the book of Acts describes the actions of (1) the Holy Spirit and (2) the Early Christian church. Starting with Pentecost when the Holy Spirit begins the church with fire and strength, Acts shares how that fire kept burning within the Early church as they shared the message of Jesus.
And in the first 20 chapters, the Early Church is deeply engaged in sharing Jesus.
They sent out missionaries to do mission work.
They gave gifts to support mission work.
They prayed for the expansion of mission work.
They started new churches as a result of mission work.
The central figure in that mission work? Jesus.
After Jesus? A guy named Paul.
Paul’s faith was on fire for Jesus.
He had been on three different mission journeys.
He had been to over 20 cities.
He had started churches in at least 11 of them.
He had even written 6 books of the Bible.
Paul was (and is) a missionary legend.
If he would have had a YouTube page, he would have gotten 100 subscribers (a lot faster than we would have).
That’s why the plans that God has for Paul in the last 8 chapters of Acts seem so…
Today we’ll examine what to do when God has other plans. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Chapter 21 picks up where we left Paul last summer.
He had visited with the elders of a church in Ephesus, encouraged them, and said his goodbyes. Then, he had gotten back onto a boat to deliver a sizeable offering that he had collected from all the mission churches for original church in Jerusalem, a church that was struggling with poverty.
The account, written by Paul’s travel buddy Luke, says in Acts 21:1-3:
After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. (v.4a)
Finally, a chance to slow down.
They got to hug fellow believers in Jesus.
They got to sit down and have a meal with them.
Maybe it was even a potluck meal. (“Please Paul, try some of my green Jell-O with pear pieces in it.”)
They studied God’s Word together.
They encouraged each other.
Maybe they even went sight-seeing together.
As they went…
The believers from Tyre also did something else:
Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. (v.4)
Good morning Paul! Would you like a glass of orange juice? You’ll need your vitamins if you plan on going to Jerusalem. I don’t think they serve OJ in jail.
Paul, can we do this Bible study outside? I just wanna show you the sun, before you end up in jail and never see it again.
Paul, before you leave, our kids have a brief song to sing. It’s called “God’s Got the whole world in his hands - except for possibly that jail cell in Jerusalem where Paul is headed.”
But Paul barely knew these people.
The Holy Spirit had told him to go to Jerusalem, so that was where he was going.
His companions agreed.
When it was time to leave, we left and continued our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.
“Lord, thank you for brother Paul. Thank you for his ministry. But Lord, could you change his mind? He’s being a fool, Lord. Amen.”
After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.
Maybe you’ve heard of Philip the Evangelist before. He was one of seven men chosen by the original church in Jerusalem to help expand the mission work of the early church. He had brought the Gospel to quite a few places. He was a long-time servant of Jesus. If anyone could convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem, Philip could!
Philip also had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. (v.9) The Greek word used in this way means they had skills in explaining the teachings of God’s Word. So…maybe they could explain from God’s Word why Paul needed to go somewhere, anywhere else other than Jerusalem.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. (v.10)
Notice the difference.
The daughters of Philip were known for prophesying. That means they could explain God’s revelation of Scripture.
But Agabus was a prophet. That means he was directly given revelation from God.
Agabus took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it (v.11a)
He couldn’t move.
He couldn’t walk.
He was inside a makeshift straight jacket.
“The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” (v.11)
Paul’s companions couldn’t handle it.
Even Luke himself, the guy writing this down confessed, we…pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. (v.12)
“Paul, I don’t want that to be the end of the story.”
“Paul, I can’t imagine that God wants that to be the end of your story.”
“Paul, God must have different plans.
Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (v.13)
Paul didn’t get angry.
But Paul also didn’t stutter.
He was going to Jerusalem.
“When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”” (v.14)
II. The Truth about God’s Plans
Does that ending seem like an empty platitude?
Because if you break apart what they’re saying…
If it was the “Lord’s will”…
If it was God’s plan…
…then that means God’s plan was for Paul to suffer.
That doesn’t seem right. Because when human beings plan things, we plan things specifically to avoid suffering. Otherwise, preparing for a trip to the Outer Banks would sound much different:
Let’s leave the suntan lotion behind. I’d really like to get burnt to a crisp, because I’m hoping to have the pain of burnt skin by the time this is over.
I wonder which AIRBNB on TripAdvisor has the worst review. I could really go for a terrible night’s sleep.
Hey, Honey! I think I found the place we should eat on Friday night. This Google review says that Bob’s Seafood has tasteless appetizers and a rancid fish smell. In fact, there’s a guy here who got food poisoning for 24 hours. Shall I go ahead and book a reservation?
As human beings, who hate suffering, we do everything in our planning to avoid suffering.
For God to plan suffering doesn’t seem right.
But can I show you something?
It’s from the previous chapter in the book of Acts, before Paul left the Ephesians elders to head to Jerusalem.
Look at what it says:
Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. (Acts 20:22-23)
God’s plan for Paul did involve suffering.
SOMETIMES God’s Plans Involve SUFFERING
Because God is different.
God doesn’t try to avoid suffering.
He faces it.
He conquers it.
He knew that because of our sins, we were going to suffer.
Not just sunburn.
Not just inconvenience.
Not just through a salty clam.
He knew we would suffer eternal burning in hell.
God made plans.
God made plans to suffer so that you wouldn’t have to suffer.
And God went through with those plans.
He suffered rejection from his own people.
He suffered betrayal from a trusted friend.
He suffered abandonment from the rest of his friends.
He suffered humiliation as he was arrested.
The suffered through a false trial where lies were hurled against him.
He suffered slap after slap after slap to the face.
He suffered thirty lashes that made his back raw.
He suffered a crown of thorns jammed into his head.
He suffered a wooden rod strike to the body.
He suffered one nail through his right wrist.
He suffered another nail through his left wrist.
He suffered a final nail through his feet.
He suffered as he labored to breathe.
He suffered as he bled out.
He suffered as he died.
And his suffering ensured that you will not suffer eternally.
Since God suffered on earth, you will not suffer in hell.
God’s plan for Jesus involved suffering.
God’s plan for believers involves suffering too.
In fact, Romans 8:17. It was written by Paul, most likely, after he knew what was going to be happening to him in Jerusalem. He said: We share in his sufferings…
Did you notice what Paul said?
He said, “We.”
As in, “I’m not the only one that has suffering in God’s plan for them.”
As in, “You other believers will too.”
Sometimes God’s plans involve suffering.
ALWAYS God’s plans involve ETERNAL LIFE.
Because think back to Jesus.
Jesus suffered until he died on the cross.
But then the suffering was over.
Jesus went down to hell to enjoy proclaiming victory over the devil.
Jesus came out of the grave alive, well, and not suffering at all.
Jesus appeared to his disciples and…
He didn’t have to take a seat because he was out of breath.
He didn’t have to get some Neosporin because the wounds on his hands were causing him pain.
He didn’t have to leave the room because it was too painful to look in the faces of disciples that deserted him.
He was done with suffering.
Because he had conquered suffering.
This means God’s plan involved some suffering.
But it also involved a complete removal of suffering in eternal life.
And this wasn’t just for Jesus.
Can I give you the rest of that Romans passage? It says, “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (v.18)
Paul knew that if God’s plan was for him to suffer on earth, it was because God’s plan was to get him and others into heaven.
Not to give too many spoilers to the rest of our summer series, but as a result of God’s plan for Paul to suffer…
Paul gets opportunities to share Jesus that he never would have gotten.
People hear the Gospel message that never would have heard it.
Paul becomes an example for Christians centuries later to keep the faith in the midst of suffering.
The end result?
People are saved to eternal life that wouldn’t have been saved to eternal life as a result of Paul’s suffering.
And Paul gets eternal life too.
That’s because God’s plan always involves eternal life.
That’s God’s plan for you too.
He wants you in heaven.
He wants you to enter eternal life.
He wants you to go to a place where you won’t suffer.
III. What Now?
(1) Determine God’s Plan by God’s Word
That’s what Paul did. He determined God’s plan based on what God told him about God’s plan.
They had the same Word of God.
From the same Spirit of God.
But they determined it was not God’s plan, because they didn’t like it.
They were determining God’s plan based on how they felt about it.
By that logic, God’s plan would be for us to sin.
Because being a jerk to people that upset you? That can feel pretty good.
Drinking too much alcohol to get over stress? That can feel nice.
Sleeping with your girlfriend before you’re married? That can be exciting.
But God’s plan isn’t for us to sin.
Instead of going to sin-tainted emotions,
We go to God’s Holy Word.
In God’s Word, God reveals God’s plans for us.
Plans for us to love him.
Plans for us to love one another.
Plans for us to share his message.
And if going through with God’s plans means that we also go through some suffering?
The Lord’s will be done.
If standing up for your friends of a different race means you receive angry comments online?
The Lord’s will be done.
If keeping yourself pure sexually means you miss out on a moment of excitement?
The Lord’s will be done.
If keeping your faith in Jesus means that God removes the idol of money by causing you to lose your job?
The Lord’s will be done.
If being able to share the Gospel with people who need the Gospel means that you contract COVID-19 and head to the hospital?
The Lord’s will be done.
If a pandemic happens and we aren’t able to meet for large-group in-person worship for a long period of time, and that’s hard because we enjoy seeing the large groups of people gathered together all at once, but our online efforts reach one soul that we never would have reached otherwise?
The Lord’s will be done.
(2) Keep Jesus as Your Motivation
That’s what Paul did. Remember his reason for suffering?
It wasn’t for the name of Paul.
It wasn’t for the numbers in his IRA account.
It wasn’t even for his family
It was for the name of the Lord Jesus
Because Jesus saves; Paul doesn’t.
Jesus saves; I don’t.
Jesus saves; you don’t.
Making Jesus your motivation means your motivation is love.
And love allows you to follow God’s plan even when the plan involves suffering.
I’ll never forget the conversation.
There was a woman who was very sick.
She was in the hospital.
She was suffering.
A lot of her friends and family couldn’t believe she was sick!
They were upset.
They were angry.
They thought there was no way this could be God’s plan.
I looked up all the comforting Bible passages I could.
Because I was expecting she wouldn’t be in a good mood.
She said, “I’m fine pastor. I’m sick. Sure. It hurts. Yep. But God is good. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to tell some of the nurses about Jesus. One of the nurses revealed that she just had a nasty breakup with her husband who was unfaithful to her. I listened to her. I told her I was sorry that happened. Then, I told her about Jesus. How he has always been faithful to me. How he’s always loved me. How he was loving me and caring for me even in the hospital. And how that same Jesus loved her too! When I was done talking, the nurse didn’t laugh at me. She listened. She nodded. She said what I said affected her.”
And you know what, Pastor?
I think that’s one of the reasons God had me get this sickness.
So I could share the Gospel with her.
That she might be saved.
I couldn’t disagree.
I still don’t.
Friends, follow God’s plans even when there’s suffering.
Because his plans for you also involve eternal life.