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The Gospel is Not Bound


Series: Acts

Passage: Acts 28:2-31

Speaker: Jeff Thompson

Paul continues his journey to Rome being used by God mightily along the way and, according to Church tradition, planting churches everywhere he went. And as we wrap up the Book of Acts, we are reminded that most of the time, the glorious truth of the good God is doing in each of us will only be revealed over time.

Transcription (automatically-generated):

And we are going to be wrapping up the book of Acts today after almost two years, as we rejoin our study for the last time, Paul has been miraculously shipwrecked on the island of Malta. And if you want to know why I use the term miraculously, you can just go back and listen to our study on Acts 27. Paul. Paul is on his way to Rome as he has appealed to have his case heard by the emperor, a right afforded every Roman citizen at the time if they felt they could not receive a fair trial in their locale. Paul, of course, is in the Roman justice system because the Jewish religious leaders have it out for him. They want him dead because of the gospel he is preaching, the same gospel that in Jerusalem had seen thousands of people follow Jesus as the Messiah and join his church.

Paul had long desired to visit Rome. In his letter to the church there, he had written, I want very much to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome now. I no longer have any work to do in these regions, and I have strongly desired for many years to come to you.

We're going to pick things up in Acts 28:2, it says, the local people showed us extraordinary kindness. Did they do so of their own free will? You bet. Did God make sure that people who would do so of their own free will were waiting for Paul and his shipmates on the island they just happened to get shipwrecked on? You bet. It says, they lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold, as Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire. Now, this little detail, it testifies to Paul's character, who he truly was. He was a servant of Christ, and as such, he gladly served others as Christ did.

Paul could have said, just a reminder, you're all alive because of me. I'm going to kick back and relax for a little while. Why don't you guys make sure that fire keeps going? But what do we find Paul doing? Gathering wood and putting it on the fire so that others can be warmed.

Jesus said of himself, the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Would you write this down on your outlines? As a disciple of Christ, Paul desired to be like Christ, which led him to serve others even in extraordinary circumstances. As a disciple of Christ, Paul desired to be like Christ, which led him to serve others, even in extraordinary circumstances. And I could do a whole message on this, but I just want to point out, this is an exhortation.

This is a loving slap upside the head for many of us where we just need a paradigm correction. Christians don't have the option of saying, I've just got a lot going on in my life right now and so I really need to be focused on me during this season right now. That's not an option for those who follow Christ.

And the Holy Spirit that he has put in us provides to us the power to continue serving and loving people even when we're going through difficult things. Not that it doesn't matter, but even as we're working it out with the Lord and sharing it with our brothers and sisters and receiving ministry, we have the power through the Holy Spirit to continue ministering to and serving others. And as Christians, we have to get rid of this paradigm that says, I see it in Christians all the time. I'm just dealing with a lot right now. So I'm not going to be serving.

I'm not going to be doing it at church. I'm not going to be doing it anywhere else and in my life. I just really need to be focused on me right now. That's not a thing. That's not a thing for Christians.

And Jesus is our model. Paul is our model. When Paul is in prison, he's writing letters to encourage other churches. He's not sitting there saying, I wonder if there'll be any mail for me today to encourage me. I mean, after all, I'm the one in prison, which would seem to be a valid sentiment, but not for those who belong to Jesus and who desire to be like Jesus, because the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to serve when we are empty, because he gives us his strength.

I'm just going to dramatically pause to find my place in my notes for a moment. So you ponder these deep things. It says, well, as Paul is throwing the wood that he had gathered onto the fire serving others, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. When the local people saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, oh, this man no doubt is a murderer. Even though he has escaped the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.

So when the locals see Paul get bit on the hand by this viper that they know is deadly, they shake their heads and they say to one another, "Can't outrun karma, can't outrun divine justice. This man is clearly cursed because of some evil he has done." And then it says, but he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm. Paul could have said, I won't ask you to raise your hand, but maybe you struggle with sometimes having a martyr complex. And Paul could have said, snake hanging from his hand, "Unbelievable. Here I am just trying to serve others in the name of Jesus, and I get bitten by a snake. Thanks for having my back, God." But what does Paul do? Simply shakes it off and keeps going.

And this is emblematic of Paul's life and ministry as a Christian. Whatever harm came at him, whatever attacks of the enemy launched themselves at him, he would simply shake them off and keep going. Paul had such perseverance as BJ highlighted for us in his message a couple of weeks ago. Paul understood the reality that when your life is dedicated to Christ, you will not die until it's your time. And if God still has work for you to do, he'll keep you around to do it.

More applicable for you and me is the reality that those who serve Christ faithfully will make a difference in the kingdom, and in so doing will attract the attention of the enemy. Those dark spiritual forces opposed to Christ. And such spiritual attacks, which will often manifest in the physical realm, are to be expected. Those who serve Christ do so in a war. Paul told Timothy to share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

And he famously wrote to the Ephesians, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of darkness, against evil spiritual forces in the heavens. Paul understood this reality, and we must as well. We must not be easily discouraged, easily dissuaded, easily deterred. We must grow in Christlikeness and learn to shake off the attacks of the enemy. And surely tucked away in Paul's mind was also the promise of the Lord Jesus that he was going to roam.

Having survived 14 terrifying nights of stormy seas and a shipwreck, I also suspect that Paul's baseline adrenaline levels had been significantly adjusted. So when a snake bit him, he was like, oh, well, that's annoying anyway, and just sort of went about his business. Verse six. They, the locals, expected that he would begin to swell up or suddenly drop dead. The locals are all watching and they're talking among themselves.

Any second now, we're going to see the bites swell up. He's going to be dead soon. They did not understand that Paul was ministering in the strength of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That's how we endure the suffering that often accompanies serving Jesus, not by our own resolve, not by our own willpower. Not by our own discipline, not by putting some meme on Facebook about how we're a warrior, but by the supernatural power and energy of Christ given to us by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

That's how we do it. You try to do it on your own, you're going to crash and burn, but you can do it by the strength provided by Christ. It says, after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a God. Now, wait a minute. When he first got bit, they thought he was cursed.

A few hours later, when the bite had no effect, they decided, now he's blessed, now he's anointed, now he's a God. Isn't it amazing how time can change our perspective? Because some truths, some realities, are only revealed over time? I think of Noah, who spent. Not my son, the Noah from the Bible.

I think of Noah, who spent around 60 years building the ark when it had likely never even rained before for all those decades. He was crazy Noah. Ridiculed by those around him. But, man, did their perspective change when it began to rain and didn't stop. I think of the Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho in silence as its inhabitants looked down at them, laughing, scoffing, likely throwing refuse at them.

They thought the Israelites were fools for six days. But on the 7th day, when they let out a shout and God brought the walls down in an act of supernatural power, nobody was laughing, nobody was scoffing. I think of the brothers of Joseph, who thought they had rid themselves of him when they sold him into slavery, only to encounter him years later as the prime minister of Egypt. And I think of the Lord Jesus, who was beaten, spat upon, scourged, stripped, humiliated, and crucified, his lifeless body laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Satan unquestionably rejoiced, convinced he had murdered the son of God and ruined his earthly mission.

But time revealed the glorious truth. For three days later, the world, and indeed the universe, would be turned upside down when Christ rose from the dead in glory and power and triumph, having defeated death with death and paving the way for the millions who would follow him into eternal life. Some truths, some realities, are only revealed over time. We look at these Maltese locals and think they look pretty stupid for rushing to one conclusion and then changing their opinion so radically just a few hours later. Really?

You thought Paul was cursed 1 minute, then the next minute you think he's a God rushing to judgment. Much. And yet I see in this one of the great challenges of the Christian life is not the battle of faith, the battle to believe that some truths will only be revealed over time. Scripture tells us we have a heavenly father who will provide for all our needs if we prioritize, seeking his kingdom and his righteousness. Scripture tells us that God is working all things together for good in the lives of those who belong to him.

The word tells us God never leaves or forsakes those who belong to him. And the Bible tells us that Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age. And yet, how many times do we fail to believe those promises, only to be proven wrong a week later, a month later, a year later, several years later? Because we look at what is happening here and now, and when it doesn't look good, when it doesn't look like anything positive is happening, we say, I know where this is going. I'm cursed.

I'm doomed. I'm forsaken.

Only for time to inevitably reveal the truth of God's faithfulness. But, Jeff, it's been years. What if it doesn't turn around?

You are going to live forever.

You're not hearing me. You are going to live forever. This earthly life is not the introduction of the book of your life. This earthly life is the first pixel of the first character of the first page of the book of your life. And even by that analogy, I'm making far too much of it.

When you and I are on the other side, in the presence of Jesus, in the glory of eternity, finally able to actually understand what eternity means, we will say, I was so foolish to lose hope so quickly. I was so foolish to give up so easily. I was as dumb as those Maltese locals who thought Paul's story was over when he got bit by that deadly viper. I thought I was cursed. I thought I was forsaken.

But now I see. Oh, now I see. I'm blessed. I'm favored. I'm a child of the king.

He's never forsaken me. Even if it doesn't work out down here, it's all going to come together in eternity to a degree more wonderful than you can possibly imagine. The glorious truth of what God is doing in your life will only be revealed over time.

So take heart. Have faith. Be patient. Do not be afraid. Trust the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. He who calls you is faithful. Would you write this down? The glorious truth of what God is doing in your life will only be revealed over time.

Over time, you're going to see it. Verse seven. Now, in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days. Publius was most likely the Roman governor of the small island, and he graciously fed and housed, and tended to the 276 passengers of the ship for three days before likely distributing them among the native population of the island to be housed for the winter. Publius' father was in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery.

It's a testament to Publius' character that he showed such gracious hospitality. Even as his own father lay dying in his house, Paul went to him and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. Paul heals Pablias's father. Understandably, word of this quickly spreads across the island, and everyone who had a disease came to see Paul, and he healed them all.

Through Paul, God was showing the Maltese locals that in his kingdom, karma and fate, and destiny do not apply. But mercy triumphs over judgment. Those who are sick are made whole in the kingdom of God, those who are broken are restored. We can reasonably assume Paul preached the gospel to them. First, because it's Paul, duh.

Second, because the purpose of such miracles was to authenticate the message of the gospel as divine. Now, according to tradition, Paul's time on Malta led to the establishment of the first church there, and its first pastor was Publius. I imagine Julius, the Roman centurion, and all the other soldiers would have recognized by this point that Paul was their prisoner by choice. For any man serving as the messenger of a God who could work miracles such as these, clearly had access to a source of power that could overwhelm even the strongest chains. It brings to mind when Judas led the soldiers to arrest Jesus, when the Lord identified himself, John's gospel tells us they stepped back and fell to the ground.

Everyone who came to arrest Jesus was involuntarily knocked to the ground by the power of Jesus saying the words, I am just to make it clear to everyone there that he was going with them by choice. They were not seizing him against his will. The Christian man or woman is surrendered to the will of God. We go where he tells us to go, and we do what he tells us to do. If he desires, we be in prison.

We will. If he desires, we be free, we shall be. If he desires, we live, we will live. And if he desires, it be our time to die. So it shall be.

Like all genuine Christians, Paul served at the pleasure of his master, the Lord Jesus. And as Jesus healed many on Malta through his servant Paul, the Roman soldiers must have wondered what on earth he was doing in their custody. Make no mistake about it, the Lord's plans cannot be thwarted by politicians, a corrupt justice system, or any other force at work in the universe. As Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, other than Jesus, observed, many plans are in a person's heart, but the Lord's decree will prevail. Verse ten, it says.

So they, the Maltese, heaped many honors on us, and when we sailed, they gave us what we needed. I'm not surprised after three months. So they stayed on Malta long enough for the worst of the storm season to pass. We set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island with the twin gods as its figurehead. Their ship having been lost, all who were shipwrecked on Malta hitched a ride on an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island, that had a figurehead featuring Castor and Pollox, the twin sons of Zeus, the sons of hell who were thought to protect sailors.

Luke is likely mentioning this little bit of trivia facetiously, as the whole narrative has made it clear over and over again that it was Jesus, not any other gods, who protected the 276 souls aboard that ship. Let's go ahead and put our map up on the screen. It says in verse twelve, putting in at Syracuse, we stayed three days. Now Syracuse is on the island of Sicily, and according to tradition, Paul founded a church there too during his three days in port, because of course, he did. From there, after making a circuit along the coast, we reached Regium, which is right in that little strait between Sicily and the Italian mainland.

Sicily is actually an island. After one day a south wind sprang up, which was exactly what they needed to sail north up the west coast of Italy. And the second day we came to Puteoli, a city of around 100,000 people at the time in the bay of present-day Naples. There we found brothers and sisters and were invited to stay a week with them. So either Julius or the boat's captain had business in Puteoli, or they simply wanted to rest before continuing their journey over land for 130 miles over 200 km on an infamously difficult road.

The brethren of the church there invited Paul and his traveling companions, or possibly all 276 passengers, to stay with them for the week. Remember, Julius had liked and trusted Paul after just a few days with him before the storm and all that stuff. Since that time, Paul had led every person on board safely through a storm and a shipwreck and had survived being bit by a deadly viper, and had healed all those with diseases on Malta. Suffice it to say, Julius would have been in awe of Paul by this point. I would have been.

And then it says, and so we came to Rome, fulfilling the Lord Jesus' promise to Paul. Now the brothers and sisters from there had heard the news about us from the Brethren in Puteoli and had come to meet us as far as the forum of Apias and the three taverns. The forum of Appias was a post station and marketplace on the main Roman road known as the Appian Way. It was about 63 and a half kilometers or 40 miles southeast of Rome. The three taverns was also on the Appian way.

It was a collection of shops and huts about 50 km or 31 miles from Rome. So a little closer to Rome that was used as a rest stop. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. When you've been going through a difficult or exhausting season, the simplest things can be encouraging, like someone just being happy to see you. For pastors, missionaries, and evangelists, there are few things more encouraging than being welcomed by men and women who say, we're so glad you're here.

We're eager to learn, eager to be taught, and eager to be blessed by the Lord. Through you, the Lord ensured. The brethren in Rome received the news that Paul was on his way. And then the Holy Spirit prompted some of them to travel 50 or 60, greet and welcome him. Why?

Because the Lord wanted to encourage Paul and his timing is always perfect. And the Lord made sure these faithful brothers and sisters were blessed too. How so? Well, they got to walk with Paul to Rome over several days, and in so doing take part in hours and hours of small group discussion and teaching with the greatest pastor who ever lived. Church.

I promise you this, when you put forth effort to hear and receive from the Lord, the Lord will always be faithful to speak to you. When I see a man or woman in the congregation on a Sunday evening with their bible open, a pen in hand, a notebook for extra notes, I know they're going to receive from the Lord, not because of me, not because I think what I teach is going to be that good, but because it's clear they came hungry to hear from God. And there is no way, there is no way that the Lord is going to let them leave without satiating their appetite for him. There's no way. When you put forth effort to hear and receive from the Lord, to draw closer to him, to hear from him, to become more like him, the Lord will always, always be faithful to speak to you and meet you.

Can you imagine how amazed Julius and the other soldiers and passengers must have been when these groups of people were waiting to greet Paul as they journeyed to Rome? I mean, just picture it. They had to be thinking once again, who is this man? Like, who is this guy who can steer us through a shipwreck prophesy? We're all making it to land, have it happen.

Get bitten by a deadly snake and shake it off like nothing happened. Heal everyone with a disease on the island of Malta. And then we get to Rome, and this guy's a celebrity. There's people coming out to meet this guy. Who is this man?

Says in verse 16, when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with the soldier who guarded him. Now, in certain situations, if you were deemed to not be a flight risk, the Romans would allow you to live under house arrest at your own expense while awaiting trial. Verse 30 will confirm this was the case, and Paul was staying in a rented house. As BJ mentioned last week, this was the ancient version of an ankle monitor. A soldier would be chained to Paul's wrist for a six-hour shift.

And as you can imagine, Paul would have been thinking, what a perfect opportunity to preach the gospel to a captive audience. I'm sure there were times the Roman prisoner was thinking, Paul's not the one in chains. I'm the one in chains. I'm the one who can't leave. And this really cracked me up, because when you look in the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians during his house arrest, he actually tells them, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and everyone else that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ.

They all knew. Every soldier in the entire imperial guard got to hear the gospel from Paul for hours and hours and hours. While following the pattern of his travels, Paul will first seek to connect with the local Jewish leaders and share the gospel with them. There was a large Jewish community in Rome at this time, somewhere between 20 and 50,000 people, and at least eleven synagogues that we know of. It says in verse 17, after three days, he, that's Paul, called together the leaders of the Jews in Rome.

Now, besides wanting to preach the gospel to them, Paul was concerned that word may have been sent or would soon arrive from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, to the Jewish leaders in Rome. So in an attempt to set the record straight ASAP, Paul invited the Roman Jewish leaders to his home. It says, when they had gathered, he said to them, brothers, although I've done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, now, remember, the Sanhedrin had accused Paul of being the leader of a heretical sect of Judaism and desecrating the temple. So Paul begins by saying, I want you guys to know I've done nothing against the Jews. Nothing against the temple.

I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since there was no reason for the death penalty. In any case, the charges I mentioned would have carried the death penalty. But Paul says, all who examined me found me innocent. And indeed, he had been found innocent by Claudius, Lucius, governors Felix and Festus, as well as King Herod Agrippa.

Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no charge to bring against my people, because the Jewish religious leaders had made him a political pawn in Jerusalem and implied they would stir up trouble if he was released. Paul had to appeal to Caesar to get a fair trial leading to this journey to Rome. And despite all that, Paul tells them, I have no intention, even now, of stirring up any trouble or making any legal counter complaint against my Hebrew brethren. Paul was playing defense, not offense. He was the accused, not the accuser.

As a side note, I just want to point out that Paul uses the term the Jews when speaking to a Jewish audience. Paul is a Jew, and he's speaking to Jews, and he uses the term. He refers to them as the Jews. I point that out to remind us that the term the Jews was not offensive to Jewish people at the time. Everyone understood it to be a reference to the Jewish religious leadership who represented the Jewish people.

Verse 20. For this reason, I've asked to see you and speak to you. He says, I want to clear up any misconceptions and get off on the right foot with the Jewish community here in Rome. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I'm wearing this chain. The hope of Israel had long been the prophesied coming of the Messiah, who would bring with him the gift of resurrection from the dead and the kingdom of God.

And Paul says, I'm actually being persecuted for believing and preaching that God has kept his promises to Israel. I think of Simeon in Luke chapter two, holding the baby Jesus at the temple and praying to God, my eyes have seen your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people, Israel. Paul was a prophet, and sadly, he would take his place in the line of true prophets by being mistreated by Israel. Remember the damning words Stephen spoke to the Sanhedrin back in Acts chapter seven.

Before they stoned him to death, he said, which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the righteous, one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. Verse 21. Then they said to him to Paul, we haven't received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you.

I suspect the Sanhedrin did not stir up trouble against Paul in Rome because they knew he was going to appear before Emperor Nero. And so their veiled threats of stirring up trouble in Judea would not have gone down well with the emperor, and their baseless charges would have been perceived as wasting the time of a Caesar. Additionally, the Jews had been temporarily expelled from Rome just ten years earlier specifically for stirring up trouble against Christians. For all these reasons, it seems pretty clear that what happened is the Sanhedrin thought it best to just drop out at this point. And consequently, the Jewish leaders in Rome had heard nothing about Paul, but they were familiar with Christianity, as we see in verse 22, where they reply, but we want to hear what your views are, since we know that people everywhere are speaking against this sect.

So in Israel, Syria, and modern-day Turkey, then the province of Asia, the Jewish religious leaders had judged Christianity to be a heretical sect of Judaism. And news of this designation had reached the Jewish religious leaders in Rome. But they hadn't heard any specific reasons for it. So they were actually eager to hear from Paul and be able to judge for themselves if these rumors and judgments were true about Christianity. After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging.

Paul's likely renting an apartment in Rome. There were actually many apartments in Rome at this time, and his apartment complex likely had a shared atrium. And so it's likely there that this meeting took place from dawn to dusk. So all day long, he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets.

So as the apostles all did whenever preaching the gospel to Jews, Paul took them into the Old Testament scriptures which they lived by, to show them how the law of Moses and the prophets pointed to Jesus as the messiah, the savior prophesied over 300 times in the Old Testament. Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe, as was often the case when preaching to the Jews. Some were persuaded, praise God for the remnant, but most did not believe. Verse 25. Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement.

The original Greek is better translated, after they began to leave. So, walking out in protest, Paul made one statement. The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors. Paul actually says, our ancestors through the prophet Isaiah. As with all the writers of scripture, the Holy Spirit, Paul tells us, was speaking through the prophet Isaiah when he said, go to these people and say, you will always be listening, but never understanding, and you will always be looking but never perceiving for.

And then underline this the hearts of these people have grown callous, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them. This is a sobering reality we've seen many times in the scriptures and throughout the book of Acts when a person receives revelation from God, illumination when they are given by God spiritual insight to recognize the truth, when they feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But instead of responding, harden their hearts and do this over and over again. The heart can grow callous so that a person ends up always listening but never understanding, always looking but never perceiving.

Because they did not want to see and hear. Because they refused to see and hear, they became unable to see and hear. What was God's desire, what it has always been that all would see and hear and understand and turn to him, that he might heal them. And so I will repeat the plea that I always make when this reality is illuminated by the text. Do not take it lightly when the God of heaven and earth stoops down to open your eyes and heart to see the truth, even for a moment, and to recognize your need for him.

Do not take that lightly. Do not take it lightly that God himself has visited you, and do not assume there will always be another opportunity. The heart can grow callous. So today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart. Turn your life over to Jesus and let him heal you.

You'll be so glad you did. The Lord Jesus also shared that devastating prophecy from Isaiah regarding the hardness of Israel's hearts. In Matthew 13 and John twelve. Paul continues in verse 28 therefore, let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen.

Since you won't listen to the Lord, he sent the gospel to the Gentiles. They are listening, and they will listen. Remember, the Lord's original plan for Israel was that they would serve him and be his missionaries to the Gentiles, a light to the nations. But instead, Israel became insular and came to believe God loved only them because they were uniquely special and superior. The gospel going to the Gentiles is obviously a blessing to us Gentiles, but it is also a judgment and condemnation of the total failure of the Israelites to fulfill their divine purpose.

At this point, some manuscripts add, after he said these things, the Jews departed while engaging in a vigorous debate among themselves. Then it says, Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house, likely between AD 60 and AD 62, making the total length of Paul's imprisonment dating back to Caesarea Maritima, more than four years. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Without hindrance is a legal term meaning the Romans didn't stop or restrain Paul in any way from meeting with anyone in his home who he wanted to to preach and teach the gospel. Paul may have been under house arrest, but the Holy Spirit moved and brought him a steady stream of visitors who came to hear him teach about the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord also provided help for Paul in this ministry during this time, through men like Luke, John, Mark, Justus, Aristarchus, Demas, and Epaphras. God does what he wants for our good and his glory. As Paul would write to Timothy during a later imprisonment, I suffer to the point of being bound like a criminal, but the word of God is not bound. I love that. While under house arrest, Paul wrote several epistles, the letters that appear in the New Testament of your Bibles, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

These four are known as the prison epistles. We know because the Lord promised Paul that he would appear before Caesar, that he appeared before Nero. We know because he was Paul, that he would have preached the gospel to Nero. And we know from history that Nero must have rejected it. And strangely enough, we also know from history that it was less than a year after Paul appeared before Nero that Nero snapped, lost his mind, went insane, and raged for the rest of his life with demonic hatred against the church and any Christians he could get his hands on.

However, we also know that before that time came, Nero dismissed the charges against Paul, likely because the Sanhedrin failed to show up in person to prosecute their frivolous case against him. Paul was released, and it seems, for about a year. He resumed his travels, checking in on the church in Crete, where he had left Titus in charge, and the church in Ephesus, where he had left Timothy in charge. Paul possibly then traveled west, as he had originally planned to preach the gospel. He likely made it to Spain and then possibly the Balkans, around the region of Bosnia.

Some scholars believe he made it as far as Britain. Sentiment in the empire then turned against Christianity, and Paul was arrested once again. He was taken to Rome, where he was thrown in jail, this time where he wrote his final epistle to his protege and son in the faith, Timothy, before being taken to the outskirts of Rome and beheaded. I'll ask the worship team to come up in prison. Sensing the time of his death was fast approaching, Paul wrote these words to Timothy and described his state thusly.

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight. I finished the race. I've kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day.

And not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his appearing or who have longed for his appearing. Only time will reveal the glorious destiny of all who love the Lord Jesus. If you have ever looked at the world or looked at yourself and thought, Lord, please come back soon. We need you so much. Then the crown of righteousness is reserved for you, too, practically.

Paul made this request to Timothy. When you come, bring the cloak I left in Troas with Carpus, as well as the scrolls, especially the parchments. What was written on those scrolls? The scriptures. Why did Paul want them in prison?

Because like all who love the Lord, he was comforted by the words of Jesus. And those words come to life. They fill with power in our trials as in no other season of life. No man has ever loved the church like Paul loved the church.

And no man has ever said with greater integrity, imitate me as I imitate Christ. May the Lord Jesus help us to do so. If you traced back almost all of our lineages, you would at some point come to a pagan gentile descendant who heard the gospel from someone whose spiritual heritage can likely be traced back to Paul. So praise the Lord for keeping his promise to save the Gentiles and all who call on his name. Praise the Lord for our brother Paul.

Would you bow your head and close your eyes? Let's pray together. Lord Jesus, thank you so much for the gift of our brother Paul and for his life and for his message and his writings and his teachings, and his faithfulness to you. And, Lord, we do see you in him, and that's why we love him. We see you in him.

And so, Lord, we pray that you would do that kind of work in us. We know you want to. But, Lord, what we're really asking is that you would help us to not be stubborn and resistant, that you would help us to welcome your work in us, to welcome it so that it can be done expediently so that we're not the same people working on the same issues 30 years later. We just want to become more like you, Lord. We want to be filled with love as you were, filled with peace, as you were connected every day to the source of power that enables us to serve in extraordinary circumstances.

And, Lord, I also pray for the gift of faith, to understand and believe that the most important things about reality in life will only be revealed over time. So help us to have faith. Help us to trust you. Help us to never be afraid. Help us to not defame you by ever acting or speaking as though you are anything less than perfectly faithful.

Because you are perfectly faithful. So, Lord, please be honored in our lives. Be honored in our praises, be honored in our marriages, be honored in our families, be honored in our church. Jesus, we love you. We bless you in your name.

We pray. Amen.

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