Acts

Paul’s Final Destination

After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, 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. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

“‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. Acts 28:17-31.

We fast forward a few months after Paul’s shipwreck on Malta to his final destination in Rome. It would be two years before he would get to stand trial before Caesar, and he would make the best of it. As usual, he went to the Jews first. Once he hit the wall with them, he reached out to the Gentiles, and that they hated him for.

Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” (Romans 11:13-14).

As a Gentile, I can appreciate that God sent Paul as an emissary to the world. As a descendant of Jews on my father’s side, I missed the whole jealousy trip because I was not even aware of it until I was about forty. If I had been raised a religious Jew, I might have seen Christianity as corruption, an imposter. But I also may have seen that it was God’s original plan to make Abraham the father of many nations.

So I salute Paul, as he is headed for trial and execution, for his work and his writings that brought the light of Christ to the whole world.

The Blessed Island

After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. Acts 28:1-10.

When the people of Malta saw that 276 castaways had washed up on their shore, they sprang into action to make them comfortable. They had no idea that one of the prisoners who was among the shipwrecked sailors and soldiers was an emissary of heaven. When the power of God begins to manifest through Paul, he becomes a blessing to all the sick and diseased that are healed during this brief visit.

Almost 2,000 years later, the people of Malta still celebrate the Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck. We are all on a journey, fulfilling a destiny. Let us look for the opportunities that are before us. Let people fondly remember us for the grace we bring with us.

Grace Begets Grace

As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land. Acts 27:33-44.

Paul’s faith, confidence, and kindness toward his captors pays off when the chips are down. The centurion spares not only Paul, but all the other prisoners when it’s common to kill them rather than let them escape. Paul has distinguished himself as a man of God, and when you need to survive a shipwreck, you might want to cling to the friend of God.

We must remember that Rome was an oppressive government that ruled most of the world with an iron fist. We in America bemoan our petty tyrant bureaucrats and our demagogues in elected office, but they are amateurs next to Caesar. Let us find a way to bring grace to our own government now by praying for them, warning them, and even asking God to rescue them from themselves. As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Not all will turn to Christ, but we will have obeyed our commission. That is all Paul wanted to do, whether he was in chains or free.

Prophet On Board

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.”

When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go. Acts 27:21-32.

During perilous times, it is good to have someone along who communicates with Almighty God, and who receives angels with messages from heaven. Even the soldiers who have you in custody will hang on your every word if your faith is keeping you steady. Paul had warned them that this would happen, but that was while they were in port, and the pilot assured them they could set sail.

Our own ship of state seems to be teeming with mutineers who want to disassemble and rebuild while we are at sea. This is understandably terrifying to many of the passengers, and they need to hear from someone who walks with God and is unafraid.

If you are one of those who believe in Christ, and you know you are part of a kingdom that will never perish, this is a good time to act like it. Your fellow passengers in your compartment need to know what you know, and put down the saws and crowbars, and put their trust in God. Whether the ship lives to get to another port, or runs aground and is destroyed, we have a king and country wherever we land. And you will still be on mission to expand the kingdom, with it’s good news of peace with God through Christ, inviting your new neighbors to become a part of it.

He Paid With His Freedom

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Acts 26:19-32.

Since Paul first learned the truth about Jesus, he has been faithful to communicate it. He has confessed Christ wherever he could find an audience, and now he was finally playing the palace. He has allowed himself to remain in custody, even in chains, rather than seek release and safety. He is not interested in a freedom that puts him in bondage to fear of apprehension.

Lord, forgive us for our fear of man, fear of mockery, and love of acceptance by the unbelieving. Even the most lowly among us struggles with pride, not willing to face the sneers of those who are only so much dust. May we learn to esteem the unseen riches of eternity with you above the brittle baubles of reputation and comfort.