Sunday July 28th
As we come to the end of our study of the Book of Acts, I think of it as crossing the finish line. And that made me think of these quotes about running:
"Life is short. But jogging makes it seem longer."
"The trouble with jogging is that by the time you realize you're not in shape, it's too far to walk back."
"I go running when I have to. Like when the ice cream truck is driving away."
"Running won't solve all your problems. But then again, neither will housework."
And my favorite one from a runner's T-shirt:
"If found on ground, please drag to finish line."
The Apostle Paul near the end of his life, wrote these words to his young apprentice, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
Today, as we look at the final chapter of the book of Acts, we’ll see Paul continuing to fight the good fight and continuing to run the race.
When chapter 27 ended, Paul, along with all of his shipmates, had been washed ashore after a storm had destroyed their ship on the way to Rome.
Now, as chapter 28 begins, they look around to try to figure out where they’ve landed:
1When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.
2The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.
3But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.
4When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live."
5However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm.
6But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
Charismatics are sometimes accused not only of such things as prophesying and speaking in tongues, but also of handling snakes. Of course we don’t do that here at Praise, but there are some churches, mostly in the deep South, that make snake-handling a regular part of their worship services.
They get the idea of handling snakes from Mark 16:17-18 where Jesus said that certain signs would follow those who believe:
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
When this scripture says we will “take up” serpents, it’s not talking about bringing a box of snakes to church or wrapping them around your neck. The Greek words for “take up” actually mean picking them up to “do away” with them or “cast them away”, like we might “Pick up” the trash to take it to the curb!
As Christians we’re called to cast away Satan and his works!
1 John 3:8
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Here in Acts 28 the natives built a fire to warm up the ship-wrecked travelers, and it stirred up a poisonous snake that had been hiding within some old branches. And this snake didn’t just bite Paul, it attached itself to his hand!
The natives thought that Paul was going to die! They had obviously seen this kind of snake bite someone before!
And knowing that he was a prisoner, they assumed that he must’ve been a murderer, and that God was punishing him with death even though he survived that shipwreck.
But Paul doesn’t die; he simply shakes the serpent off into the fire!
Strangely enough, these same islanders who had assumed Paul was a killer now decide that he must be a GOD because he survived the poisonous snake-bite. They’re actually somewhat correct, because the power OF God is what’s operating within Paul. And they continue to see that same power manifested, as Paul becomes a vessel of God’s healing on their island:
7Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days.
8And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.
9After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured.
10They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.
11At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead.
12After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days.
13From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli.
14There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome.
15And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
Since their original ship had been destroyed by the storm, all of the passengers and prisoners go aboard a new ship. They make a few stops along the way then they finally arrive near Rome. When news of Paul’s arrival reaches them, Christians from as far away as 50 miles travel to meet him, greatly encouraging Paul after his many hardships on the journey. This display of support, along with the fact that God had kept every one of Paul traveling companions alive, as prophesied, seems to have impressed the centurion to some extent, because instead of placing Paul into prison he puts him under house arrest. Paul uses this opportunity to witness to his guards, his visitors, and once again to the Jewish community in Rome:
16When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
17After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, "Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
18And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death.
19But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation.
20For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel."
21They said to him, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.
22But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere."
Just as he had done in the past, Paul tries to point out to his fellow Jews that what he’s preaching isn’t contrary to the Jewish faith, it FULFILS God’s promises to Israel! Apparently the people who had been making these false accusations against Paul hadn’t been able to get word to their Roman counterparts about their issues with Paul, because these Roman Jewish leaders said, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.” But they do indicate that they’ve heard bad things about Christianity, and that they’d like to hear Paul’s version of things:
23When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.
24Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
25And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying,
'GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY,
"YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND;
AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE;
27FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL,
AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR,
AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES;
OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES,
AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,
AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN,
AND I WOULD HEAL THEM."'
28"Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen."
29When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.
30And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
31preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
You have to admire Paul for continuing to try to reach out to his fellow Jews. His success rate was pretty low, but he didn’t stop witnessing to the Jewish community in every city that he traveled to. The end result is usually the same, as we saw in verse 24: “Some were persuaded by the things (Paul had) spoken, but others would not believe.” And Paul recognizes that God had already spoken through the prophets that the nation of Israel would for the most part refuse to hear the Gospel; that the gentiles would come to faith in Christ and THEN the Jewish people would receive their messiah.
But as the book of Acts comes to a close, at the very last verse, we find Paul doing the very thing that he’s been called to do since he first encountered Jesus: “…preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.” He’ll continue to tell of God’s love and of forgiveness through faith in Christ until he takes his last breath. And his faithfulness to the message of the gospel will ultimately cost Paul his life, as the Romans would finally execute him in 67 AD, by beheading him. So why does the book of Acts end here, with Paul still preaching, rather than with his death? One reason is that the book isn’t called the Acts of Paul, it’s called the Acts of the Apostles, but it could more accurately be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped ACTING! Long after Paul and Peter died, long after Luke, who wrote the book of Acts died, the Holy Spirit has continued to Act through the lives of others, including us!
The record of Paul’s ministry ends in Chapter 28, but our lives are part of chapter 29 and chapter 30, and chapter 31! And when we’re gone, the Holy Spirit will use our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren yet to come to complete the work.
Paul’s last letter that he wrote from his Roman prison was 2nd Timothy. And in it he tells young Timothy “For this reason, I endure all things; for the sake of those who are chosen, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ, Jesus, and with it eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
Paul understood what it was to leave a legacy.
Another man who understood the value of leaving a legacy was Louis Pasteur, the famous scientist.
He lived at a time when thousands of people died each year from rabies. Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine to prevent these deaths, but he had never tested it. And just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a nine-year-old boy, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a dog that had rabies. The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to try the vaccine on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph with the medicine - and the boy lived.
Ten years later Pasteur himself died at the age of 72. Of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his tombstone, he asked for these three words:
Joseph Meister Lived.
Louis Pasteur understood that the things we do here on earth have eternal consequences. His son-in-law wrote this about Pasteur: “Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life.”
“the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it!” Paul understood that, Louis Pasteur understood that, and we need to understand that. Our greatest legacy will be those who live eternally because we were faithful to use our power for good to change their eternal destiny!
Paul goes from a trial in court to a trial in the Seas. On his way to Rome as a prisoner, Paul is treated with favor by the commander in charge but when he gives warning that they will be shipwrecked and die if they continue, the crew disregards and continues ahead.
Many of the trials we face in life as believers are not our own doing. Some disasters cannot be avoided because the people close to us will not heed our warnings. The one thing we can trust is that no matter what we go through the Lord will be with us. We can stand on the promises God has given us that though they tarry due to the disobedience of others as long as we remain faithful God will make a way to bring them to pass.
As storms hit, and the ship was battered, the crew finally admits that Paul was right but at this point, they are in the middle of the Sea and there is no turning back. Paul tells them that the ship will go under, but none of them will lose their lives. For an angel of the Lord had appeared to Paul telling him to take courage, be not afraid, for he must appear before Caesar. After Paul gave them that word, they were encouraged and ate food so they could gain the strength needed to endure the storm, shipwreck, and survival to reach land.
God gives mercy, though disaster may come, as long as we turn to Him what we go through does not have to be devastating. We can avoid so much if we obey from the beginning but even after we get ourselves in a jam if we can just cry out to God, He will reach out His hand and give mercy. We will still suffer from the consequences of our choice to be independent but the suffering will be reduced when we do finally humble ourselves and seek Him.
It was a custom that prisoners would be killed in a situation like this because if they escaped then the guards would be killed. Yet, Paul had favor with the commander and the prisoners were spared, they all made it to land safely, as Paul had spoken it was done.
As long as we walk with the Lord even when everyone seems to be against us the Lord will grant favor to us with someone that will be used to keep us safe and help us along the way towards the fulfillment of His will. No matter the degree of the storm and the shipwreck that follows as long as we trust in the Lord we will survive it.
Sunday July 14th - Acts 26
I heard a story about two brothers who walked into a Walgreen’s. One of the boys was 7, the other was 5.
They walked around the pharmacy for about twenty minutes, going up and down every aisle very carefully, looking for one specific item. Eventually the boys found what they were looking for and headed for the counter.
The cashier was a bit surprised to see that the boys were buying a box of feminine hygiene products.
"Are you getting those for your mother?" he asked.
"No, they are for my little brother, he's only 5." the 7 year old answered.
"Why would you buy those for your little brother?" the cashier asked.
"Well, we saw a commercial on T.V. yesterday, and it said you could ride a bike or swim if you were wearing these, and my little brother can't do either right now."
I want to tell the story of Acts chapter 26 today by placing it between the stories of two famous brothers. These two stories will be book-ends for the significant truth that we’ll see in chapter 26.
The first story is told by the former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He said this:
“We missed him. Our chance to change things came and passed and we did not know it was there.
A dark-skinned little boy sat through Sunday school classes for three years at our Church, but somehow we missed him. His name was Sirhan Sirhan.”
In case you don’t recognize that name, at age 24 Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy.
That’s a really sad story isn’t it? To know that a Baptist church had the opportunity to reach that infamous assassin with the love of Jesus while he was still a little boy, but somehow he slipped through the cracks. Would Sirhan’s Sunday School teachers have tried harder to reach him if they knew where his future was headed? Would it have changed anything? Why is it that some people hear the Gospel and receive it while others hear it and ignore it?
We’re going to see those same questions facing the Apostle Paul as he tries to make the most of his chance to reach Governor Festus and King Agrippa with the message of salvation through faith in Jesus (verse 1):
Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
2"In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today;
3especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
5since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
6And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;
7the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.
8Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
Paul opens up his presentation with a little flattery toward the king, acknowledging that Agrippa was considered an expert in Jewish laws and customs. Then Paul points out that he too was considered an expert in all things pertaining to the Jewish faith, having been one of the strictest of Pharisees in his younger years. In verses 6-8 he points out to Agrippa that the thing that the Jews keep accusing him of doesn’t really make any sense, because the belief in the resurrection is a central part of the Jewish religion. In the next few verses Paul shows Agrippa how he himself was once confused about this issue, even to the point of hostility toward those who claimed that Jesus had been resurrected:
9"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.
11And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
12While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,
13at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.
14And when we had all fallen to the ground, 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.'
15And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;
17rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
19"So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
21For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
22So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place;
23that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
So Paul repeats his testimony again, having spoken it already to Felix and then to Festus, and probably to many others. He points out one crucial truth; that the only thing that changed his mind about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was having a direct encounter with the risen Lord! Apparently this is too much for Festus to comprehend:
24While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad."
Festus sums up his viewpoint very simply, “Paul…you’re nuts!” Isn’t that the way that some people react to our faith?
One commentary puts it this way: “You know, the world can put up with many church members with no problem at all. If you don’t make waves with your faith the world will tolerate you. You can go to church once in a while. That doesn’t bother anybody. And you can be nice to other people and that doesn’t bother anybody, either. But if you get serious about Christianity - If you start coming to church even on rainy days or Sunday evenings - if you read your Bible and pray regularly - if you begin to change the way you think and speak and live - if you start tithing - if you do a few fanatical things like that, the world really has trouble understanding what that’s all about. They start to say things like, "You’re insane. You’ve let this Christianity thing go too far. All of your Bible learning is driving you mad."
Paul realizes that Festus isn’t listening to the truth, so he turns his attention to Agrippa.
25But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.
26For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
27"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do."
28Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
29And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
30The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them,
31and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment."
32And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."
Paul is sure that Agrippa has already heard of Jesus of Nazareth, heard about his miracles, heard about his crucifixion, AND heard that his tomb was found empty! Then he presses Agrippa even harder with the reality that is right in front of him. He asks, "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets?" Why does he ask that?
Because anyone who is familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament would know that more than 300 prophecies in the OT that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Agrippa would know that hundreds of years before Jesus was born prophets said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin and that He would be crucified on a cross (and this was before the world had ever heard about crucifixion) - that His side would be pierced - that He would be buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day be raised from the dead.
So how does Agrippa react when presented with such overwhelming evidence? He says, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
Agrippa seems to be both drawn to the truth that he’s hearing and resisting it at the same time. He doesn’t say, “Paul, you’re nuts!” because he realizes that what Paul is saying does line up with the facts, and with the scriptures. Agrippa is saying something more like, “Slow down, Paul! I’m not ready to make that kind of decision!”
Festus and Agrippa represent two types of people that you might encounter when you try to explain the gospel to someone. Some will say, “You’re Nuts!” and some will say, “I’m not ready yet”, but we can’t let either of those responses discourage us, because the cost of someone NOT hearing the gospel is an eternal cost.
I told you at the beginning of this message that I was placing this chapter between the bookends of two famous brothers. Since the first brother was Robert Kennedy, I suppose you can guess who the second brother is.
In his autobiography, “Just as I Am”, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election as president of the United States. He says, “On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. ‘Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?’ he asked. ‘I most certainly do.’ Graham replied. ‘Well, does my church believe it?’ (John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic) ‘They have it in their creeds.’ was Billy Graham’s answer. ‘They don’t preach it,’ Kennedy said. ‘They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.’ Then Billy Graham says, “I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. ‘Only then,’ I said, ‘are we going to have permanent world peace.’ ‘Very interesting,’ Kennedy said, looking away. ‘We’ll have to talk more about that someday.’ And he drove on. Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast. “I had the flu,” Graham remembers. “After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me. ‘Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I’d like to see you for a minute.’ ‘Mr. President, I’ve got a fever,’ I protested. ‘Not only am I weak, but I don’t want to give you this thing. Couldn’t we wait and talk some other time?’ Graham said, “It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat”. ‘Of course,’ John Kennedy said graciously.” But the two would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was shot dead. Graham comments, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”
What does it take to bring someone to Christ? How many chances do we get before it’s too late? What will we do when people reject our message?
When King Agrippa told the Apostle Paul that he wasn’t ready to become a Christian in such a short time, Paul replied, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am…”
Whether it takes a short time or a long time, our hearts should wish for that same thing - that everyone who hears us, everyone who knows us, might come to know the same saving grace and endless love that we have found through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I think the pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio Texas wishes that he had a longer time to reach young Sirhan Sirhan. And it sounded like Billy Graham wished that he had been able to spend a little more time sharing the Gospel with President John F Kennedy.
Let’s make good use of the time that we have. You never know when someone’s time is going to run out.
Revelations 12:10 describes Satan as the "accuser of the brethren." The ministry of the Lord is reconciliation the ministry of Satan is accusation. So when we say as Joshua said "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord," we are saying we will not join Satan in speaking judgment and condemnation towards our fellow Christians but rather do everything in our power to reconcile them to God.
Paul was constantly facing accusations by the Chief Priests and Jewish leaders, which is the theme of Acts 25. They brought their case to the newly elected governor Festus, they tried to trick him to send Paul to Jerusalem in which they would set an ambush to kill him. Festus told them no you all can accuse him in Caesarea. Paul defended himself, claiming he had done no wrong. Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor so he asked Paul if he was willing to defend himself in Jerusalem. Paul knew his fate if he did and said, "no, I appeal to Ceasar." So the case would now go to the highest court. King Agrippa and Bernice visited Festus in which he asked them for advice because he found no fault with Paul and didn't know how to even address the appeal to Ceasar. They now wanted to hear from Paul themselves.
When we have discerned the will of God then we now can walk in wisdom regarding the battles we face in between the fulfillment. Being prudent is gaining the grace to know what to say and when to say it. We can trust God that He will grant us favor and protect us from our enemies if we just stay on His path. The enemy will do everything he can to prevent us from reaching our destination so we must assure we do not abort the process, but fearlessly proceed forward, cautiously, but confidently, like Jesus, confessing, "not my will, but yours, Oh Lord!
Paul knew his purpose was to speak before Ceasar and so each governor or king was a stepping stone to the ultimate audience of the highest position in the known world. He spoke whatever was necessary, he wasn't trying to gain his freedom, he was already free within, his focus was God's will, and he knew that no matter what others had planned for him, God would intervene and make a way for him to complete His final assignment.