The Power of God’s Word

Basic CMYKHow do you pick out the really important people in a group—the movers and shakers, those whose influence may be felt throughout the world? The man who, during a storm, struggled ashore onto a beach on Malta, possibly suffering from hypothermia along with other castaways from the ship that was breaking up, probably would not have been someone you picked (see Acts. 28:1-10). Yet, he is the messenger, commissioned by God to preach the Word at Rome.

Recognize the Word made visible. God vindicates his Word as Paul suffers no harm from the snakebite. God had graciously given Paul the lives of his shipmates. Now God’s care for his messenger is tied to the Word he represents. In some ways Elijah had held a similar role in the Old Testament. Malta had been named by ancient Phoenician sailors as a place of refuge. Paul and his party find it aptly named. The local inhabitants (barbarians to the Greeks and Romans) provided warm hospitality with a fire for the shivering castaways. Paul once again is Continue reading “The Power of God’s Word”

God’s Gracious Gift in a Storm

wingsc_2323Acts 27 is a magnificent sea story (and it stands in a good tradition of Greek literature), but it is far more than just a sea story. The setting and the event push you to trust God’s gracious gift of life.

God graciously spares lives. God’s protection goes with the one proclaiming his Word. This is not just a good sea story, though it is that, recorded by one who was an experience traveler though not a professional sailor, nor is it simply an account of Paul’s heroics, though his calm advice under pressure was instrumental in saving the lives of all on board. Rather, Luke’s interest is in Paul as the bearer of the good news, journeying towards the capital of the world empire. The howling, hope-sapping storm, the Euraquilo or notheaster, could have been the end of the apostolic mission, much to Satan’s delight, but God is not about to let his Word or his messenger perish in this storm. Luke’s account reminds one of Homer’s classic description of a storm in Book 5 of The Odyssey, but more likely Luke, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him, want you to think in biblical terms focusing on the storms of the Book of Psalms, which reveal the power of the true God, an on the storm in Jonah 1. There God hurled a storm upon the sea to drive a reluctant prophet back to his preaching. Here the storm hinders the willing apostle and threatens the progress of the gospel to the political center of the empire, but God’s protection confirms his care of his servant. Continue reading “God’s Gracious Gift in a Storm”

Proclaim Light!

isaiah_8767cImagine the pomp and circumstance that Luke describes as royalty and officials enter the audience room for, not a trial, but a hearing concerning a prisoner. The the prisoner enters in chains. His “defense,” however, is an evangelistic message calling his royal hearers to turn from darkness to light, Acts 26:22-23.

Come to the light of the promised Messiah. Christ fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of light. Paul, who has been held in prison for more than two years, has appealed to Caesar. The new governor, Festus, takes advantage of a royal visit from Herod Agrippa II. It is also a family affair. This Herod is the son of Herod Agrippa I, who had killed James and arrested Peter. Agrippa’s grand-uncle, Herod Antipas, had executed John the Baptist, and his great grandfather was Herod the Great, who had murdered the children of Bethlehem. Not only was Drusilla, the wife of former governor Felix, Herod Agrippa’s sister, so was his consort, Bernice. Despite the sordid personal lives of the rich and famous, Paul begins his speech with an expression of gratitude that Agrippa is familiar with the Jewish customs and with the Scriptures. Once more Paul tells the story of his conversion, focusing not only on the light he saw on the Damascus road, but also on the light that would shine from Christ, particularly through Paul. He emphasizes the continuity between his apostolic message and the writings of the prophets. The Messiah would be the light, not just for Israel, but for the Gentiles as well, Isaiah 52:6; 49:6. Continue reading “Proclaim Light!”

An Appeal to Caesar

ot28cHow do we as Christians relate to the government? How different is that relationship in North America from some other countries? That issue is not a new one, as you see in Acts 2510-12.

Seek justice. In appealing to Caesar, Paul sought justice. After being rescued from a mob in Jerusalem by the Roman commander, Paul had been spirited away to Governor Felix in Caesarea. Although Felix found no violation of Roman law in the accusations made against Paul, he held him in prison for two years, hoping for a bribe. The next governor, Festus, conducted another hearing. Once again, clearly Paul had done nothing worthy of punishment. But unwilling to antagonize the influential religious leaders of his subjects, Festus talked about having Paul travel to Jerusalem for a hearing there. Against that background of exposure to another assassination attempt, Paul, who had appealed to his Roman citizenship on earlier occasions, exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the emperor. A favorable decision before the emperor could have a positive impact, not just for Paul, but for the Christian church generally. Throughout Acts its author emphasizes that when due consideration was given, the gospel Paul preached was not seen as subversive of the proper administration of Roman law.

What Paul did has implications for you. Seek what is right and just. Paul is showing that that the gospel has nothing to fear from justice, if it is truly justice that is being administered. Neither Paul nor we are above the law. The powers that be are ordained by God, and for the Lord’s sake God’s people are to render obedience and respect (and even taxes). The exception is if Caesar requires disobedience. Paul is not unwilling to face judgment if he is guilty (Acts 25:11). DeGraaf: “The gospel put even a Roman’s sense of justice to shame.” As a Christian work for political process that reflects God’s justice, but remember where your hope is. “Paul’s hope for vindication lay not in Caesar’s judgment seat but in the prospect that ‘we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:10). (Judgment seat is the same Greek word as in [Acts] 25:6, 10, rendered tribunal.) There, life’s injustices, which frustrate and hurt us now, will be set right, and we will rejoice in Christ’s righteousness, given by grace to all who believe (2 Cor. 5:21).” (Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 303).

Behind Paul’s search for justice lies a more basic principle. Submit to the kingship of Jesus Christ. Even the kingdoms of this world are touched by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is on its way to Caesar’s court. God’s promise that Paul would testify about him in Rome (Acts 23:11) will be fulfilled. Paul does not change the church into a political action committee, but the nations cannot ignore the gospel. The commission of Acts 1:8 is being carried out.

Christ’s rule extends over the entire world. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, as Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36-37. He entered the world to be King, and that is what he has become by his death, resurrection, and ascension, Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-19. That kingship is there even when the rulers shake their fists at him. Be careful not to identify the kingdom of God with the USA or any other nation. “Paul showed, by appealing to the emperor, that the gospel did not fear justice in the world. . . . The gospel and justice in the world are not in contrast to each other. The government too has the power to administer justice while remaining subject to Jesus Christ, the King of kings. Each government has the duty to protect the confession of God’s name and the church of the Lord. No longer might government act as though the gospel of Jesus Christ was none of its concern. The entire world, state and government included, would become involved with the Christ. That is why God has directed events in such a way that Paul had to go to Rome.” (S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 4, p. 234).

Our culture is moving increasingly in the direction of idolatrous worship of self. The moral decay is not the heart of the problem, it is a consequence and symptom, Romans 1. Give thanks for the impact the gospel has had, but keep the kingship of Christ central.

There is no escaping the kingship of Christ. The day will come when every knee bows to him. Bow willingly, while there is still time to turn to him as, not only your Savior, but also your Lord and King.

An Uncomfortable Gospel

tulipc_2314Isn’t going to church supposed to make you feel good? Paul’s message to the Roman governor, Felix and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, made them so uncomfortable that Felix dismissed Paul, Acts. 24:24-25. Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander in Jerusalem, had spirited Paul out of the city to save him from an assassination plot and had sent him to Felix in Caesarea. Felix was familiar, not only with Judaism, but also with the Way, but was a notoriously evil and cruel ruler. Drusilla, his wife (whom he had enticed away from her husband), was Jewish, a daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who had executed Peter. Paul gave an eloquent defense, but Felix kept Paul imprisoned. Now Felix and Drusilla take advantage of the presence of a leader of the Christian Way, and summon Paul to explain his teaching.

As Paul explains the good news about Jesus, he makes the point that the gospel has implications, and names three specific areas. The first is righteousness. Paul’s hearers had not only God’s revelation in nature and in their consciences, but both had some knowledge of God’s requirement for holiness. Their lives failed to reflect that. Tertullus’ expression of gratitude for Felix’s benevolent administration had simply been flattery. You, together with all mankind, are made in God’s image and have a responsibility to reflect his righteousness. Sin is not just a violation of some social norm, but contradicts God’s character. Beware of de-emphasizing the need for righteousness, for that also depreciates the depth of Christ’s work. Believers, as well as those who do not know the Lord, need to hear of his righteousness. Continue reading “An Uncomfortable Gospel”