A HOSTAGE FOR HOPE

As we read about the true adventures of Saul, the Persecutor transformed by a blinding encounter on the road by Jesus, Himself, we begin to “see” the depth of Paul’s new Holy Spirit driven understanding of his new mission.  Transformed Paul, who is fully devoted to Jesus with absolutely nothing held back, sees more than the average new believer.  His blinded eyes are now open to see what God sees, to see with understanding the bigger picture of what God has in mind, of what God is doing in and through Paul, to reach not only the Jews but all the “outsiders” who are not Jews.  God created all, is in all and for all.  And Paul is all in!

After the shipwreck, Paul, his associates and the ship’s crew literally are picking up the pieces of their previous transportation and throwing it into the fire to keep warm.  The natives of the island notice that Paul is different almost immediately.  The snake episode caused them to jump to the wrong conclusions about Paul, but he set them straight quickly.  God acted through Paul to heal the sick so that the Message of Redemption would be heard.

Friends, do you realize what God did after the shipwreck?  God provided rest and restoration from that terrifying experience who made that challenging voyage.  Then after a few months of peace, rest with some preaching about Jesus, Paul and company, still prisoners for Christ, were put on a ship for his final destination—Rome.  We tend to think Paul got what HE wanted, but Paul’s mission was to get to Rome to tell the whole story of the Messiah to friends and family in Rome who hadn’t heard.  He preached Jesus, Messiah, who did indeed come and save them from their sins, tying the words of the prophets that the Jews knew well with the Truth of the Messiah who did indeed come.  Some accepted the Truth readily and praised God.  Some did not.  The prophets said some would not.  Paul preached that, too.  God knows who will and who will not for God knows all hearts.  God knows our hearts.

Read what happens next…prayerfully…

ACTS—God’s Actions through His Disciples

Acts 28, The Message

1-2 Once everyone was accounted for and we realized we had all made it, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. The natives went out of their way to be friendly to us. The day was rainy and cold and we were already soaked to the bone, but they built a huge bonfire and gathered us around it.

3-6 Paul pitched in and helped. He had gathered up a bundle of sticks, but when he put it on the fire, a venomous snake, roused from its sleepiness by the heat, struck his hand and held on. Seeing the snake hanging from Paul’s hand like that, the natives jumped to the conclusion that he was a murderer getting what he deserved. Paul shook the snake off into the fire like it was nothing. They kept expecting him to drop dead, but when it was obvious he wasn’t going to, they jumped to the conclusion that he was a god!

7-9 The head man in that part of the island was Publius. He took us into his home as his guests, drying us out and putting us up in fine style for the next three days. Publius’s father was sick at the time, down with a high fever and dysentery. Paul went to the old man’s room, and when he laid hands on him and prayed, the man was healed. Word of the healing got around fast, and soon everyone on the island who was sick came and got healed.

Rome

10-11 We spent a wonderful three months on Malta. They treated us royally, took care of all our needs and outfitted us for the rest of the journey. When an Egyptian ship that had wintered there in the harbor prepared to leave for Italy, we got on board. The ship had a carved Gemini for its figurehead: “the Heavenly Twins.”

12-14 We put in at Syracuse for three days and then went up the coast to Rhegium. Two days later, with the wind out of the south, we sailed into the Bay of Naples. We found Christian friends there and stayed with them for a week.

14-16 And then we came to Rome. Friends in Rome heard we were on the way and came out to meet us. One group got as far as Appian Court; another group met us at Three Taverns—emotion-packed meetings, as you can well imagine. Paul, brimming over with praise, led us in prayers of thanksgiving. When we actually entered Rome, they let Paul live in his own private quarters with a soldier who had been assigned to guard him.

17-20 Three days later, Paul called the Jewish leaders together for a meeting at his house. He said, “The Jews in Jerusalem arrested me on trumped-up charges, and I was taken into custody by the Romans. I assure you that I did absolutely nothing against Jewish laws or Jewish customs. After the Romans investigated the charges and found there was nothing to them, they wanted to set me free, but the Jews objected so fiercely that I was forced to appeal to Caesar. I did this not to accuse them of any wrongdoing or to get our people in trouble with Rome. We’ve had enough trouble through the years that way. I did it for Israel. I asked you to come and listen to me today to make it clear that I’m on Israel’s side, not against her. I’m a hostage here for hope, not doom.”

21-22 They said, “Nobody wrote warning us about you. And no one has shown up saying anything bad about you. But we would like very much to hear more. The only thing we know about this Christian sect is that nobody seems to have anything good to say about it.”

23 They agreed on a time. When the day arrived, they came back to his home with a number of their friends. Paul talked to them all day, from morning to evening, explaining everything involved in the kingdom of God, and trying to persuade them all about Jesus by pointing out what Moses and the prophets had written about him.

24-27 Some of them were persuaded by what he said, but others refused to believe a word of it. When the unbelievers got cantankerous and started bickering with each other, Paul interrupted: “I have just one more thing to say to you. The Holy Spirit sure knew what he was talking about when he addressed our ancestors through Isaiah the prophet:

Go to this people and tell them this:
“You’re going to listen with your ears,
    but you won’t hear a word;
You’re going to stare with your eyes,
    but you won’t see a thing.
These people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.”

28 “You’ve had your chance. The non-Jewish outsiders are next on the list. And believe me, they’re going to receive it with open arms!”

30-31 Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open.

WHAT IS THE REAL, UNDERLYING LESSON FOR US?

God’s Holy Spirit gave Paul the exact, right words to say to persuade His people to accept His Son as their Redeemer, Savior and Lord no matter what his circumstances.  God’s Holy Spirit lives in all believers, you and I, and will give us the right words to say to those God sends us to tell.  No matter what his condition of life, Paul is ready to preach Jesus!  Paul, still in chains, a hostage for hope, writes to the struggling Philippian church about what this means along with rejoicing in all circumstances. 

Read the short, but powerful book of Philippians and you will see what Paul is trying to tell all believers.  Here are excerpts:

When Paul refers to his “circumstances,” we might think of a long list of trials—storm and shipwreck, opposition of godless men against the truth, painful separation from loved ones, and bitter misrepresentation of false friends. As he writes these words to the Philippians, his circumstances have come to include a prolonged imprisonment in which he is constantly chained to a Roman soldier, restricted in his movement, deprived of his privacy, and reduced to poverty. Paul is a prisoner, a hostage of hope however. As he told the Christians in Rome, this was in spite of the fact that he had done no wrong (Acts 28:16).

Such circumstances would surely shake the faith of the strongest, and cause some to doubt the goodness and care of God. How could this have happened? How had Paul come to be in this predicament? How could God allow one so gifted and so burdened for souls to become a prisoner with so little scope for preaching the gospel? Some might say that Paul’s adversities were his own fault—the result of his refusal to heed the the warnings of the church at Caesarea not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-14). But Paul asserted repeatedly that he was going “bound in spirit” to Jerusalem and resigned himself to God’s will (Acts 20:22-24).

How did Paul respond to these circumstances? What was his attitude? Most of us would probably react with feelings of bitterness, blame, and self-pity.  But in his letter to the Philippians, Paul repeatedly expresses his joy and gratitude. He thanks God for his fond memories of the them! He writes about his deep love and affection for them because they have continued to share with him in the preaching of the gospel. He rejoices that they have fellowship with him, even in his imprisonment.

From his imprisonment he offers words of encouragement and assurance. How amazing that Paul is the one who is in prison, yet he wants to console his beloved, believing friends! He does not sink into despondency or dwell on his misfortune. He assures them that the things that have happened to him have contributed to the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12). He is confident that he will be delivered (Phil. 1:19). Through the prayers of the brethren and the good providence of God, he believes that everything will “work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).

Even as a prisoner, Paul is a true hostage of Hope, who is Jesus. Paul lost no opportunity to preach Christ. For two years he “wore a chain” (Acts 28:20). While his freedom of movement was limited, he was still able to receive visitors and to preach and teach “with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:30-31). The Roman soldiers who constantly guarded and accompanied the apostle during those two years undoubtedly heard his testimony. Paul was able to turn his trials into opportunities.  (See also Colossians 4:2-6)

It was soon well known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard that Paul was a preacher in bonds for preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:13). Now there were even believers in Caesar’s household (Phil. 4:22). Word of his courage and dedication spread and stirred up believers everywhere. His example promoted and fostered trust in the Lord and gave other believers courage to boldly preach the word.

Paul’s letter, sent to the Philippian disciples from such trying circumstances, is especially meaningful. How inspiring is the heart of this dedicated servant! His message and his example challenge us to look to Jesus Christ, particularly when we face our own trials.

Paul taught by example knowing that he was not perfect but perfectly forgiven by Christ:  (From Philippians)

Always do what is right, even in suffering (1:27-30). “Conduct yourselves…worthy of the gospel.” Difficult circumstances, or even problems caused by opponents, never give us the right to behave improperly. To do so would mean we’ve already been defeated. Because we “suffer for His sake,” let us always maintain our integrity as His disciples.

Be an unselfish, humble servant (2:3-4). Paul demonstrated the same attitude of selfless service that he saw in Jesus. The Son of God took on the “form of a bond-servant” on behalf of others. “Have this attitude in yourselves…” (vv. 5-8).

Joyously accept your circumstances (2:14-18). Suffering often provokes bitterness. We must rise above circumstances and continue to reflect the Light in this world. Paul rejoiced to sacrifice for others. “You too…rejoice in the same way” (v. 18).

Keep pursuing the goal (3:14-15). In spite of everything, Paul could say, “I press on.” He never allowed circumstances to divert his attention from his work or his goal of going to heaven. Neither should we.

Always trust God (4:6-7). Paul’s closing words to the church are to take everything to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Be assured of the peace that comes from trusting him. Learn the secret of contentment (vv. 11-13).

Friends, troubles will surely come in this life. But by looking to Jesus, like the apostle Paul we can say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!”  This is the message for us today.  This is not just another episode of “Bible Times” but a teachable moment for all of us who believe, worship God alone, believe in Jesus as Savior and live for Jesus as Lord by the power and guidance of His Holy Spirit living in us!

Lord, this is my prayer.  In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen.

About randscallawayffm

Randy and Susan co founded Finding Focus Ministries in 2006. Their goal as former full time pastors, is to serve and provide spiritual encouragement and focus to those on the "front lines" of ministry. Extensive experience being on both sides of ministry, paid and volunteer, on the mission fields of other countries as well as the United States, helps them bring a different perspective to those who need it most. Need a lift? Call us 260 229 2276.
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