Sunday, September 5, 2021

Endurance through Struggles: The Final Victories of Paul's Ministry

“In ancient Rome, crowds by the tens of thousands would gather in the Colosseum to watch as Christians were torn apart by wild animals. Paul Rader, commenting on his visit to this famous landmark, said, "I stood uncovered to the heavens above, where He sits for whom they gladly died, and asked myself, 'Would I, could I, die for Him tonight to get this gospel to the ends of the earth?'" Rader continued, "I prayed most fervently in that Roman arena for the spirit of a martyr, and for the working of the Holy Spirit in my heart, as He worked in Paul's heart when He brought him on his handcuffed way to Rome." Those early Christians "lived on the threshold of heaven, within a heartbeat of home, no possessions to hold them back." -Our Daily Bread.

The Apostle Paul lived on the edge of death, that’s for sure. As he traveled from here to there, throughout his ministry he planted many churches. Some say he planted up to 20 churches in different cities. We know for certain that he planted the church at Ephesus. He faced constant difficulties and persecution. And today we focus in on Paul’s final, grand trial, in which he would glorify God in numerous ways.

The last seven chapters of the book of Acts, about one fourth of the entire book of Acts is dedicated to documenting the great spiritual struggle that Paul faces at the conclusion of his journey in serving Jesus.

He has already faced incredible levels of persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ. More than any of us could dream of. But now he faces his last great struggle, which is a wild and incredible series of events, to say the least.

Each of our lives will one day tell a great story. The ups, the downs, the victories, the defeats, it’s all there. And the Lord whispered to me a few weeks back, that my victories and my defeats, over the last few years, have been shared by more than I know. Heaven’s forces care about our lives and what we go through. That’s comforting I think.

On judgment day, when you stand alone before a loving, holy God who is about to judge your life, what will the pages of your book say? How did you glorify God in your trials and in your journeys? Did you really live for Him or did you live for yourself, with Him tagged on the side? For some of us, judgment day may be the worst day of our lives, when we find out we never really knew Jesus, and that sitting in church just wasn’t enough. And we’ll be sent to hell.

For some of us, that day when we’re judged, will be the best day of our lives, because it will confirm at last that yes, we followed Jesus, yes, we believed in Jesus, and yes we knew Jesus and He knew us. And we will be welcomed into paradise, with the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

That has been on my heart lately. Judgment day, that one day, is the one day we should all be preparing for. It should be on our minds, that we will one day have to give an account. And we should prepare carefully by living close with Jesus, with great faith in Jesus, serving God with fear and trembling.

It’s interesting, as Paul went about his mission year after year, eventually the Holy Spirit began to speak to him about the coming great trial he would face. It says in Acts 20:23, Paul speaking, ““I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” -Acts 20:23

And again in Acts 21, a prophet spoke to Paul, from Acts 21:10-11, “While we were staying there many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into Gentile hands.’”

Sometimes the Holy Spirit will tell us that something is coming our way, whether good or bad, whether trial or victory. Watch for that.

Paul knows he has to return to Jerusalem.

His fellow believers urge him not to go, since he knows that trouble awaits him there. But he knows that it’s God’s will, so he goes.

He returns home. This is his home city, Jerusalem. He grew up there, from what we can tell, and he’s now an outsider, because of the Jesus movement he’s joined. But he’s determined to win as many Jews as he can to Christ.

In Acts chapter 21:27-28 it says, “When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”

It says that the entire city was aroused against Paul, you’ve got serious spiritual warfare going on here. Hundreds and thousands of people are growing into a mob against Paul and the other believers.

Eventually some Roman troops come and arrest Paul. But Paul requests permission to address the mob. And the commander gives permission.

And this gave Paul permission to share his testimony about how Jesus changed his life. And he does. He shares about the Damascus road when he saw the vision of Jesus and how Ananias came and baptized him. Then he gets to the part of his story when God called him to preach the gospel to non-Jews. And this makes the crowd go crazy, remember these are all Jews who think of gentiles as evil and unclean. So the mob goes totally out of control again.

So the Romans take Paul away, and then order the assembly of the leaders of Israel, the Sanhedrin, and bring Paul before them. And once again, this is the Holy Spirit using persecution to bring forward the gospel. So once again, Paul has the opportunity to speak to the Jewish leaders. A great dispute results in the Sanhedrin between the Sadducees and Pharisees, and once again Paul is taken away by the Romans.

It says in Act 22:11, "The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

A plot is formed in Jerusalem to murder Paul, but it’s stopped before it can be carried out. So the Roman commander sends Paul to Caesarea to be examined by governor Felix. This begins two years of Paul being imprisoned by the Romans, and brought before various leaders and kings and judges, where Paul gets the chance to speak for Jesus again and again. Finally after all this mischief, Paul appeals to Caesar himself to get justice in his imprisonment.

So Paul is sent to Rome. On his journey, they are shipwrecked, and all sorts of crazy stuff happens, they end up on the island of Malta, then travel by ship 3 months later, and finally arrive at Rome. In Acts 28, we hear about how Paul is under house arrest in Rome, but is having many opportunities to preach the gospel to the people around the city who are curious about him and his situation.

Now during this time, and the years Paul would spend in prison and house arrest, Paul would write many of the new testament letters, like Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians and so on. And these today are our love letters from the Lord, inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by Paul himself. Many were probably written while he languished in prison, and he might’ve wondered, what good am I able to do locked away in prison? Little did he know he was writing the new testament that we study today to know God! Amazing! He was reaching billions for Christ, but he didn’t even know it at the time. Sometimes our circumstances can be deceiving.

Who knows if Paul knew that his death was near? We don’t really know. But we do know that God guided him safely into the heavenly kingdom. Paul died, he was probably martyred for the faith. But he came safely into paradise. That is our goal as well.