The Lord is with Paul during his trials

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Acts 24

Paul had been taken under escort to Caesarea and handed over to the custody of the governor, Felix. We have read in Acts 21-23 of how Paul was arrested and would have been lynched by the angry mob, but was saved by the commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. Those who are not Christians can look at the events described in these chapters and state that they were merely coincidence, or that the commander had a duty to prevent bloodshed and no doubt he did. However, the Lord had appeared to Paul in the barracks and had told him: "Take courage! As you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." Acts 23:11

So we have to realise that the Lord had a purpose for Paul and that his life was not to end in a brawl, or being stoned to death by angry Jews. On the contrary, the Lord’s plan for Paul’s life would take him to Rome, where he would preach salvation for everyone in front of the most sophisticated, yet decadent, society of the day. People may think that their purposes are paramount, but God is in control of every situation in the universe. All events, ultimately, are under His control and happen with His authority.

map jerusalem to caesareaWhen we face trials and tribulations, we may be tempted to say that God has not come through for us or delivered us from the situation. He never said that He would. On the contrary, He said that He would be with us in very situation and that it would work for our good. This period of Paul’s life just goes to prove it.

When you or I are in the middle of difficult problems, we can know for certain that God has not left us. Rather, He is right there with us, carrying and supporting us and, above all, strengthening us for the task ahead that we cannot yet see. (Hebrews 13:5)

In Genesis 37 - 41, we read of the trials and tribulations that Joseph went through: being placed in a pit, then sold into slavery by his brothers; being placed in charge of Potiphar’s affairs, then falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife who wanted to have sex with him; being consigned to prison, placed in charge of other prisoners, but finally being forgotten. Joseph believed that he had lost all opportunity of serving the God he loved and trusted. When he had been given the dreams about his brothers and his parents bowing down to him (Genesis 37), he knew that they were from God. He believed that God would bring them to pass. So, when disaster of such magnitude struck his life, humanly speaking, he was entirely justified in thinking that God had left him - that God was simply a cruel prankster who had led him on, then sickeningly left him to sort out the mess! However, the story was not yet complete.

prison barsOn one day, within a period of a few hours, Joseph was elevated from being a prisoner (actually he was a "lifer") to being second-in-command of the entire land of Egypt! When he was "promoted" in this way, he didn’t have to go on a course to learn how to do the job. All the trials and hardship that he had been through had so prepared him that he was capable of stepping into the role of the most powerful person in the land after Pharaoh. To complain about being in prison and forgotten seems, in hindsight, a little inappropriate. It is the same for you and me. The trials we may be going through now are to prepare us for the position God that has for us in the future. You and I have no idea when events are going to bring about the opportunities that we need in order to launch us into our destiny, but we are most certainly in preparation now. Do not neglect the opportunity placed before you to learn more of God’s word and His ways. You are going to need to know one day – and that day may come sooner than you think!

It is very hard for us to see God’s movements when we are gazing so closely at our own circumstances and exclaiming: "Poor me!" Psalm 121 asks: "where does our help come from?" It then declares: "My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth; He will not let your foot slip – He Who watches over you will not slumber; Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:1-4)

Now is the time to look up and see the bigger picture. Let God accomplish His purpose through us and in us so that we will be entirely fitted for the role He has for us in our life. Then when we go to glory – to rule and reign with Christ in the heavens - we will be able to hear the words: "'You have been faithful in handling this small amount,' he told him, ‘so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Begin the joyous tasks I have assigned to you.'" (Matthew 25:21)

Paul had to wait just five days for the plot to unfold! Sure enough, the principal players trooped down from Jerusalem exactly on cue: Ananias, the high priest, some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. All of them, if they had studied the scriptures as they claimed to have done and as their jobs entailed, should have known that Jesus was the Messiah and that those who were His followers were doing what was absolutely right and proper in the circumstances. They fawned on and praised Governor Felix, who could see right through them. (Acts 24:2-3) Tertullus proceeded to outline his case against Paul. In fact it was no case at all, just trumped-up charges,  but the crowd backed him up. (Acts 24:1-9)

Tertullus was a special orator called to present the religious leaders' case before the Roman governor. He made three accusations against Paul:

  1. He was a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews around the world;
  2. He was the ringleader of an unrecognised religious sect, which was against Roman law; and
  3. He had tried to desecrate the temple.

Herods templeThe religious leaders hoped that these accusations would persuade Felix to execute Paul in order to keep the peace in Palestine. What he was really reflecting was the fact that the leaders of the Jews were threatened by the new and living way to God – the one that Jesus had opened for everyone when He died on the cross. The curtain, separating the "Holy of Holies" in the temple from the main body of the building, was as thick as a man’s forearm but was split from top to bottom when Jesus died. This curtain was very high and certainly nobody could have cut it! It signified that God Himself had opened the way of direct access to God. No more did human beings have to go to God through a priest who acted on their behalf. Now anyone could have a direct relationship with God.

Of course, the establishment felt threatened – just as they do today when, instead of adhering to the worn-out traditions of men, ordinary believers begin to understand how God sees them and how He has established a personal relationship of love, friendship and family rather than a culture that they have been taught of God wielding a big stick to punish those who step out of line. (See "How does God see me?" below.)

Paul then made his defence. Firstly, he refuted the charges they had levelled against him. He knew (and they knew) that the charges were trumped-up. He also took the opportunity to explain that being a follower of "the way" (which they called a sect), he believed everything that his accusers did.

True Christianity is never exclusive. That path leads only to sectarianism. Sects come about when the leaders of a church become rather more than servants of the people. They become "shepherds" of the sort described in Ezekiel:

"Woe to the shepherds who feed themselves instead of their flocks. You eat the best food and wear the finest clothes, but you let your flocks starve. (You) haven't taken care of the weak, nor tended the sick... nor gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. So they were scattered, without a shepherd... Therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ...you didn't search for them. You fed yourselves and let them starve... I am against the shepherds and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock... I will save My flock.'' (Ezekiel 34:1-10)

Such leaders begin to believe their own publicity and start to criticise other believers, because the others do not follow their own, exclusive way. One denomination is criticised by another or even by a so-called "free" church. These leaders establish themselves in positions of wealth and authority that they should never have. After all, Jesus said:

"The more lowly your service to others, the greater you are. To be the greatest, be a servant. But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled; and those who humble themselves shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:11-12 - Living Bible translation)

When you see this happening, it is time to take the leaders to task. But it is also time to take ourselves to task. Many of these so-called leaders are only there because we put them there, so we must take some of the responsibility. When we follow a leader, we should know from the Lord that He has appointed that leader and that he or she is not self-appointed. (See James 1:5-8.) As this passage states: "If you ask the Lord, be sure that you really expect Him to tell you." Many Christians ask God for things - including which person to follow - then doubt. The passage in the book of James shows the results.

The high priest and his entourage were forced to listen to Paul’s defence. (Acts 24:10-21)

Paul was honest and truthful – which is more than can be said for the Jewish prosecutors. Furthermore, Felix had judged the Jews for long enough to know that the Christians were not prone to causing riots. On the contrary, it was the other way around. The Jews became so worked up that they were more often than not the ones to cause riots and indeed, near-death to Paul. Paul also pointed out the lack of prosecution witnesses to support the case. He even reminded the court that the Sanhedrin had found nothing wrong with him, although he did acknowledge that the Sanhedrin had descended into chaos when he declared: "I am here before the council to defend myself for believing that the dead will rise again!'' Acts 24:21

Remember that the Sanhedrin was made up of "Pharisees" and "Sadducees". The Pharisees believed in the resurrection from the dead, whereas the Sadducees believed that, when you died, that was it – the end. There are no prizes for guessing to which party Paul belonged!

Felix was a strange man – a man of compromise, a little bit corrupt and a man who liked to be liked. He should have released Paul, but he decided to keep him in prison. He made his life as tolerable as he could by admitting his friends and allowing them to minister to Paul’s comfort in the hell-hole of a Roman prison. It was certainly no five-star hotel. The Jews, meanwhile, had to be content with being told to wait for the arrival of Lysias, the garrison commander, at which point Paul’s case would be decided.

"Felix, who knew Christians didn't go around starting riots, told the Jews to wait for the arrival of Lysias, the garrison commander, and then he would decide the case. He ordered Paul to prison but instructed the guards to treat him gently and not to forbid any of his friends from visiting him or bringing him gifts to make his stay more comfortable." Acts 24:22-23.

Meanwhile, Felix turned up one day with Drusilla (who was a Jewess) and decided to talk with Paul. Paul's talk with Felix became so personal that Felix grew fearful. Felix, like Herod Antipas, had taken another man's wife.

Paul's words were interesting to Felix until they focused on “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come''. Many people will be glad to discuss the gospel with us, as long as it doesn't touch their lives too personally. When it does, some will resist or run. But this is what the gospel is all about: God's power to change lives. The gospel is not effective until it moves from principles and doctrine into a life-changing dynamic. When someone resists or runs from you, you have undoubtedly succeeded in making the gospel personal!

The cross stands as the doorway to eternity with God. Any other way is the doorway to eternity with Satan. Everyone must choose. Nobody can avoid this issue. It will not go away. It can be ignored, but please do not be guilty of ignorance. Too much depends on it. Where will you spend eternity?

Perhaps that was Felix’s last chance. We will not know this side of eternity. What we do know is that, when faced with the opportunity, he avoided the issue. Felix lost his job as governor and was called back to Rome. Porcius Festus took over as governor in late AD 59 or early AD 60. He was more just than Felix, who had kept Paul in prison for two years in hopes that perhaps Paul would bribe him, and knowing that, by detaining Paul, the Jews would be kept happy. When Festus came into office, he immediately ordered Paul's trial to resume. (Acts 24:26-27)

The Jews were in the majority and the Roman political leaders wanted to defer to them to help keep the peace. Paul seemed to incite problems among the Jews everywhere he went. By keeping him in prison, Felix left office on good terms with the Jews. It also left the stage set for Paul to be transported to Rome.

How does God see me?

 His child -  1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:14; Romans 8:16-17
A new creation  -  2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10
Covered in His robe of righteousness  -  1 John 3:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:17
Dead to sin  -  1 Peter 2:24; Romans 8:2; Galatians 2:20
Filled with His resurrection power  -   Philippians 4:13
As beautiful -   Ezekiel 16:14; Ephesians 5:27; 1 Peter 3:3-4
Full of love  -   John 15:9; John 17:23; John 17:26
Full of the power of the Holy Spirit  -  John 17:23
In the image of His Son -  John 17:23
As one who overcomes -  1 John 5:4-5; 1 John 4:4; Luke 10:18; Romans 5:17
As part of His body and as His bride -  Ephesians 4:4; James 4:7; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
As "justified" - Not guilty -  Romans 4:25; Romans 5:18.
Not condemned -  Romans 8:1
Forgiven -  John 3:16
In the kingdom of God -  Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14.
Valuable -  Romans 5:8
Full of authority -  Mark 16:15-18; Romans 8:37; 1 John 4:4.
Healed -  1 Peter 2:2

 


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