People’s Hearts are Calloused

Believe it or not, this is the last post on the life of Paul (at lease for this series in the book of Acts). Paul entered Rome and was allowed to stay by himself (Acts 28:16). It’s been a wild ride, from his family upbringing, to the Damascus Road experience, to a dungeon at midnight experiencing authentic worship, to the shipwreck and the miracles at Malta. I’m impressed with Paul, and how God used Paul’s passion and determination. This chapter in Acts provides a fitting conclusion for the book (Acts 28:16, 23, 30-31), but there are about six more years in his life, recorded in writing preserved by the Holy Spirit.

Paul is like that inflatable clown punching bag; like when you were a kid, you punch it and the weighted sand base brings it right back up. Paul came back for more. Nothing could defeat him. His passion for Christ kept him going.

The Jews came together once they knew Paul had arrived (Acts 28:17). He again tried to convince them in the Scripture that Jesus was the unmistakable Promised One. Once Paul realized that they were intentionally closing their hearts and minds to the truth, he responded with a word from Isaiah.

And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people,
When you hear what I say, you will not understand.
When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.” (Acts 28:27-27, Isaiah 6:9-10)

Don’t miss one of the most tragic elements of the Jew’s rejection: Paul was not trying to take anything away from them, God had something more to give them. Paul was not asking them not to be Jews, he just wanted them to receive their promised Messiah. In their religious system, Jesus did not fit their expectation.

How often do we cheat ourselves when we have as much as we want from God? We may have our salvation, but don’t expect me to become a fanatic about this Jesus stuff, or get involved in the church. Remember the words of Felix, “That’s enough” (Acts 24:25). God’s gift of salvation is complete and we can receive it on a daily basis:

  1. A greater filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).
  2. A deeper wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8).
  3. A more obvious experience of God’s activity (John 14:21).
  4. More effectiveness in service (Psalm 127:1).
  5. Character conforming to Christ (Romans 8:29).
  6. A more intimate relationship with Christ (Philippians 3:10).

Whatever the reason for our resistance, we may be just like these Jews in Paul’s day. We must be aware of the outcome when our spiritual ears don’t hear, our spiritual eyes don’t see, and our spiritual hearts become calloused.  How often are we like this:

  1. Ever hearing but never understanding (Acts 28:26): he used the word never hearing which indicates a crippling activity that will not change. The word for understanding is suneimi, meaning assembling facts into a whole, a puzzle coming together. It’s like the mind grasping ideas and see the proper relationship between them. When we continue to resist what God has for us, we may cripple our ability to understand how it all fits together. Life is so much more difficult when we do not understand. Ignorance is not really bliss.
  2. Ever seeing but never perceiving (Acts 28:26): the word for perceiving is eido, which is not actually the ability to see, but the ability to know. People who don’t see with spiritual eyes cannot comprehend how others claim to see God at work (1 Corinthians 2:14). How often to people hear a testimony of God working in their lives and unbelievers are quick to write it off as a coincidence.
  3. Developing calloused hearts (Acts 28:27): the word calloused is translated from pachuno, which really means, “to make fat.” People who continually resist God will develop fat around the heart. The heart needs exercise to be healthy. The Jews ceased to exercise their hearts, and they became calloused.

Application: God has so much to give us, and how often do we tell him, “thanks, but I have enough already?” The old saying is really true, we don’t know what we’re missing. People on the outside honestly believe that they have a good relationship with God, but they have settled for so much less than God has for them. God has a plan for keep our hearts tender toward him (2 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Timothy 1:5). Soften your heart and allow God to make you into something fantastic.

The Bible Regarding the Hearts of the People:

  1. Callousness: Isaiah 6:10, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27
  2. Hardening: Exodus 7:13, 22, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:34, Deuteronomy 15:7, Psalm 95:8, Proverbs 28:14, Mark 6:51-52, John 12:40, Hebrews 3:8, 15, 4:7.
  3. Going Astray: Hebrews 3:10, 12, 15, 4:12, 10:16, 13:9, James 4:8, 5:8.
  4. Unbelief: Matthew 13:58, 17:17, Mark 6:6, 9:19, 9:24, Luke 9:41, John 20:27, 1 John 3:19-20.

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Authentic Christian Community

The final chapter in the book of Acts brings Paul to Rome (Acts 28:14), it was probably the early spring of AD 61. Some brethren heard they were coming (Acts 28:15) and they came to visit Paul from as far away as the Market of Appius (43 miles away) and the Three Inns (or Taverns – 33 miles away). Paul had planned for some time to make it to Rome but with all that had happened to him along the way, he had been prevented (Romans 1:13). It is important to note that these were not old friends of Paul, but just fellow believers in Christ.

Rome was like nothing he had experienced before, likely a million citizens in his day; and the same number of slaves. As he approached the city, he may have been overwhelmed by the vast number of people. I remember the first Memorial Day weekend I spent living at the oceanfront. The beach was literally blanket to blanket with tourists and locals. My heart was overwhelmed at the vast numbers of people, most of whom probably had no relationship with Jesus. I was reminded of Jesus’ words as he looked over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37).

Paul had experience authentic Christian community, sort of a brotherhood. It is not masculine terminology as we use it today, but for those who shared koinonia, true community and the sharing a common life. How important are the brethren to Paul?

The Bible refers to a natural sibling of Paul only once (Acts 23:16) and a few other relatives (Romans 16:7, 11-12) yet there are at least 99 times in his letters that he refers to fellow believers as brothers. He uses the Greek word, adelphos. It came to designate a fellowship of care equivalent to a community of life.

Paul’s need is not unique. People are desperate for a sense of community, a place where “everybody knows your name.” We want to feel like we belong there. As Skip preached this past Sunday, the community of faith is so important in one’s spiritual life; we can’t do it alone (see the video below). Many people may believe in Christ as Savior but never get involved in a community of faith. What’s up with that? As Paul writes to the Romans, there are three things worth noting about Christian fellowship or community: constant prayer, Paul’s sense of obligation to other believers, and his strong commitment to equality.

  1. Paul believed in the power of prayer (Romans 1:9-10): remembering them in his prayers at all times. In many other letters we read the same things. Paul sought their best and asked God for big things, probably because Paul knew God had big things to give.
  2. Paul believed that part of his calling was to share his gifts and faith with other Christians (Romans 1:11-12): He was looking out for others. The church is a unit, a body, made up of many parts (1 Corinthians 12:12), so it is important to recognize how we are connected, and we need each other.
  3. Paul had a desire for all people to come to faith in Christ (Romans 1:14, 15, 16): no matter their background. Sometimes we struggle with equity, because prejudice (by race, gender, status) is an ugly snake that rises within a community. We tend to be selective on who we allow close to us.

Application: How are you when it comes to prayer? Do you regularly pray throughout the day? For decisions? For your witness to others? For integrity? For your marriage? How about praying WITH your wife? Do you intercede for lost people around you? For your children? For your neighbors? Prayer strengthens relationship.

When it comes to being a part of the community of faith, do you tend to ride like the Lone Ranger? Are you more like Superman or Batman? The difference you may ask? Superman is always alone, there was none like him, he had no superhero partner. Batman had a buddy, a partner in fighting crime. What part of the body of Christ are you? How are you serving God and others? What are your gifts and talents that can be used for the kingdom of God? Do you have a sense of obligation when it comes to other people and their spiritual growth?

When it comes to equity, are there hidden prejudices about which you are ashamed? Do you look at race, gender or economic status before you open yourself to people? Do you really believe that people without Christ are lost and in need of a Savior? Seek forgiveness for past attitudes and open yourself to the authentic community that comes from the brothers and sisters in Christ.

Being a part of a Christian community helps us to grow into the people of God he desires for us to become. The believers from the Market at Appius and the Three Inns may not have known Paul personally, but they had a common bound and offered encouragement to a man on a mission. He was encouraged by strangers that were a part of the community of faith. Their faces were unfamiliar but each one had been washed in the blood of Christ.

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An Island in the Storm

The shipwreck story in the life of Paul lands him and the crew on the island of Malta (Acts 28:1).  The men made their way from sinking ship to safety on shore, and perhaps they wondered what they would find. Remember Gilligan’s Island? They encountered head hunters from time to time! But Paul and his buds encountered six discoveries:

  1. Unusual Kindness (Acts 28:2): there could have been unhappy natives, head-hunters or cannibals, instead, God prepared a safe haven for them. Luke tells us they were unusually kind. When was the last time that you were shipwrecked in a storm and found unusual kindness?
  2. Warmth (Acts 28:2): the water was cold and a fire was kindled. The fact is that we cannot really experience and appreciate warmth until we have experience the cold. What I like is that God was meeting their physical needs first. Another fact I like is that Paul gathered a pile of wood. A man who deserved a break after all his hardship was exercising his servant’s heart. This wood gathering brought his third discovery.
  3. Snakes (Acts 28:3): a viper is quite a poisonous snake; generally take three steps and fall down. It sort of looked like one of the sticks, and as Paul placed the pile on the fire, the snake grabbed at his only way out of the fire, Paul’s hand. Read 2 Corinthians 11:24, 25, and Paul might have thought, “and now this.” But God used this creature to reveal the beliefs of the islanders.
  4. Limited Knowledge (Acts 28:4): Paul must have been a murderer and God was not allowing him to live. While their assumption was not correct, they revealed a limited knowledge of the true God. The NIV capitalizes the word, Justice, meaning it is a proper noun. They must have believed in a judge who executes justice. Even though they were unevangelized, they had an awareness of a divine judge. God makes himself known in the most remote parts of the planet and men are without excuse (Romans 1:20). But God does not just want people to be without excuse, he doesn’t want them to be without a Savior.
  5. Spiritual Need (Acts 28:5, 6): they believed in justice and equity but their knowledge was incomplete. Paul shook of the snake and they waited for Paul to drop dead. When he didn’t, they thought he was a god. While they believed in a divine judge, they also believed in other gods. God is light who doesn’t want us to walk in darkness.
  6. Physical Need (Acts 28:8, 9-10): Paul was able to heal their sick.
    1. He prayed for the chief’s father; praying to God redirected their attention from Paul’s “divinity” to the real God, Jesus Christ.
    2. The means of the healing: it was through Paul, not the physician Luke. I think that’s too cool. Our Father wanted the people to recognize God for the miracle, not some well educated professional doctor. There was no room for doubt here.
    3. God was also up to a wholesale healing (Acts 28:9). While God’s servants seem to heal many individuals, seldom in Scripture do we read about a servant bringing healing to entire land. Their attention was drawn to the only one who could bring spiritual healing as well.
    4. Then they supplied Paul and the rest with physical supplies (Acts 28:10).

Application: it is essential that whatever we do, that God is the one who gets the glory for it. If we lead someone to the Lord, it’s all about God. When he works through you, it’s all about God. When you exercise a spiritual gift, it’s all about God. The group was able to spend three months on the island (Acts 28:11), so these people may have heard more preaching of the gospel in three months than most people hear in a lifetime. When Paul told the crew they must run aground on some island (Acts 27:26), little did they know it would be Malta where God had so much cool stuff planned for them.

For you, which discovery above is the most pressing on you right now? How you ever found unusual kindness in the midst of a storm? Or discovering warmth after a cold or chilling experience? What about the snakes in your life that are biting and just might be the death of you? How are you combating your limited spiritual knowledge and growing in the Lord? Do you recognize your spiritual need and have the courage to seek out help to meet that need in Christ? What area of physical need do you have or area in which you need healing?

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An Umbrella in the Storm

Paul is still in the midst of a storm, clinging to life and encouraging those around him to have faith. God spoke to Paul and told him that he would testify of God’s grace before the Roman Emperor (Acts 27:24). Paul did not have an easy life after he become a follower of Jesus. The Bible mentions he was shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25), but this on in Acts 27 is the only one we get any details.

While one man’s foolishness (Acts 27:1, 10, 11) put everyone’s lives in peril, the faithfulness of one man will keep the people alive (Acts 27:24, 25-26). Think of the umbrella effect; when one person holds the umbrella, several others are effected when they are near. One holds the umbrella while others are touched by its influence. Paul had an umbrella of protection because of his obedience in ministry.

There is another umbrella during a storm, a familiar character from the Old Testament, Jonah. You might recall how God called him to speak to the people of Nineveh, but he tucked tail and fled in the other direction. He booked passage on a ship that ran into a different storm. Consider Paul and Jonah:

  1. Both were men.
  2. Both were Hebrew.
  3. Both were preachers.
  4. Both were called to preach unpopular messages in powerful pagan cities.
  5. Both boarded a ship.
  6. Both experience a terrible life-threatening storm.
  7. Both men impacted the rest of the crew.
  8. Both men knew the key to the crew’s survival.

Now we need to see the contrast between these two men:

  1. Paul was compelled by his calling to go to Rome; Jonah was repelled by his calling to Nineveh.
  2. Paul faced obstacles on his way to Rome: prison, beatings, bad weather; while Jonah’s only obstacle was himself.
  3. Paul had to sit and wait for the Lord; Jonah stood and ran from the Lord.
  4. Paul felt the burden of responsibility for the crew (while the storm was not Paul’s fault); Jonah slept while the crew worked hard to survive the hardship that Jonah brought.
  5. Although both men were afraid and probably felt hopeless, Paul received a message form God. Jonah proved to be a coward. Why? Because he said that they needed to pick him up and throw him in the sea (Jonah 1:12). He never offered to jump in by himself. Sadly the pagan crew showed more godly character than God’s prophet (Jonah 1:13) because they still tried to save him and row back to land.

I believe that we all can relate to both men. Sometimes we respond in obedience like Paul; other times we tuck tail and run. The call of Jesus is to obey his commands (John 15:10-11). Notice that Jonah got a second change (Jonah 3:1-2) and although Jonah was ultimately obedient and surprisingly successful (Jonah 3:5), we don’t really see any hint of joy in his life. Paul seemed to suffer at every turn and he had more to say about joy than any other messenger of God.

Application: Under Jonah’s umbrella in the storm many people experienced calamity and hardship. Under Paul’s umbrella man found safety. So, is your sky rumbling? Are dark clouds gathering? Is there a storm on the horizon? If you are a child of God, you are called to hold the umbrella for those around you… your family, wife, kids, co-workers, neighbors. Are you listening to the commands of Christ and seeking ways to be obedient, or are you seeking ways to run? God has given the lives of those around you (Acts 27:24), how will you respond?

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An Anchor in the Storm

Paul is now getting ready to head to Rome. With his history, we cannot expect this to be smooth sailing. Notice in Acts 27:2 that Luke must have joined him, the terminology changes from “they” to “we.” There was this centurion named Julius that appears to show great kindness to Paul during his trip to Rome (Acts 27:3). While we primarily know that Paul was a spiritual man, this story reminds us that he was also a practical man. He spent time on the sea and knew the time was not right for travelling (Acts 27:9, 10).

Like a good disaster movie, the owners put profits before safety. They disregard sound judgment and set sail anyway; we can almost predict that things were not going to progress as planned. There came a tremendous storm, a northeaster that swept down from the island (Acts 27:13, 14, 15).

The spiritual lesson I see is that many times we can suffer because of someone else’s poor decisions. While is it true that we often find difficulty and create storms as a direct result of our own rebellion, or through some form of spiritual warfare, the most difficult storms can be those that result from poor judgment of others. If this happens, we will in all likelihood get stuck in bitterness and unforgiveness.

So what can we do when the storms of life are upon us?

Don’t pull up the anchor (Acts 27:13): the crew was ill advised to set sail but weighed anchor anyway. Christ is our anchor (Hebrews 6:19, 20). When sailing is calm and peaceful, we become less attentive to him. We are not as aware of our need until the storm rage. Don’t let calm breezes and smooth sailing give you a false sense of security; stay anchored in Christ.

Don’t give way to the storm (Acts 27:15): when we are suffering due to the poor decisions of someone else, we tend to feel helpless. Don’t give way to the storm in your life, but give way to our Master.

Do throw some cargo overboard (Acts 27:18): the storm got worse and they threw cargo overboard to keep the ship afloat. Raging storms have a way of identifying a lot of unneeded old stuff we are hanging on to. When upset by someone else, we tend to bring up old hurts and memories of times we were wronged. Storms are complicated enough; get rid of some old cargo.

Do throw the tackle overboard (Acts 27:19): after the cargo the necessary gear was being tossed overboard, stuff like ropes, pulleys, oars, masts and planks. These are all man-made provisions to weather a storm. Storms are not pleasant but they can serve a purpose. They can help us see which provisions we are trusting for our relief.

Never give up hope (Acts 27:20): Luke uses the word “we” identifying those who had lost all hope. He wrote one of the gospels, he witnessed miracles, so how could he give up hope? For me, this is a reminder that even the strongest believer can lose hope when the storm rages. The word “gave up” is the same as “cutting lose” in Acts 27:40. Psalm 62:5 is a word of comfort during these times. God is our ultimate security.

Listen for God to speak (Acts 27:23, 24): listen for the Master during the storm; God will not be silent. When the passengers lost hope, Paul stood to testify to God’s faithfulness. God may not send an angel to speak audibly, but he may send a friend, neighbor, pastor of other believer. Always remember the words of Job 40:6, “then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.”

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Resurrection Investigation

Paul was still in jail in Caesarea, and two full years had passed. Felix would bring Paul from time to time to talk, but there is no evidence that he continued in any conviction of sin; he was hoping for a bribe (Acts 24:26). The time had come for new leadership and Paul had a brand new audience. Festus replaced Felix.

Paul came before Festus and again he pleaded his case, that he had done nothing wrong (Acts 25:8). Festus invited him to Jerusalem for a trial (Acts 25:9) but rather than return to Jerusalem, Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:10, 11) He was destined for Rome (which was God’s design already).

Festus had an interesting statement, he “was at a loss how to investigate” Paul’s claim that a dead man had come to life (Acts 25:20). How would each of us conduct such an investigation?

Our first task is to make it personal; Jesus is not just someone to believe in, he is someone to know. Once you know he is risen, a conviction develops that will not be swayed. We know him since he speaks directly to our hearts, not just our heads. Dead prophets of the Old Testament don’t save, guide, heal, deliver, answer prayer or speak through the ancient text. The first step is to open your heart to the possibility that Jesus is who he said he was. Then ask him if he is real, and be honest and open enough for him to reveal himself to you. A good investigative reporter asks these questions: who? what? where? when? and how?

What? This passage tells us the what; including who is in charge, what is he up to and where he is leading.

When? No one, not even Paul, knew the answer to when God would fulfill his promise. Paul just knew that God had called him to finish the task he had been given. The Jewish patriarchs all died before receiving the promise. They all believed God would send his Messiah, but they did not know when, or who it would be. They knew what he would come to do; bring salvation. They were certain of where; Israel, and then to other parts of the world. But the problem is that they did not know when God would do all of this.

How? Paul knew God was sending him to Rome, but he did not know how. Festus thought he had decided to send him to Rome (Acts 25:25) but it was actually God’s decision. Paul probably never imagined that his arrest would be a tool in God’s hand to give him an all expenses paid trip to Rome. God always fulfills his promises, and we just don’t know how he will do it. God promised to send the Messiah, but no one ever guessed exactly how he would do it.

Application: Each of us at some point in our lives must come to terms with the claims of Christ. C. S. Lewis wrote, in Mere Christianity, about his famous theological trilemma. Jesus claimed to be God (John 10:30, 14:9). That claim is either true or it is false. If it is false and he knew it; it make Jesus a liar. If it is false and he didn’t know it; it makes him a lunatic. Neither option makes Jesus one worth following. The only logical option is that he claimed to be God and it was true; so the choice we have to make is to accept or reject this fact.

The resurrection can be investigated as well (read more). I see it as God’s affirmation of all that Christ stood for and taught during his earthly life. Jesus proved that all he said and taught was true by rising from the dead; just as he said he would (Matthew 12:40, 26:61, 27:63, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, 14:58, John 2:19).

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Paul and the Inconvenient Gospel

Paul is now under arrest, Ananias is the High Priest who brought a lawyer named Tertullus to bring the charges against Paul (Acts 24:1, 2). What we have here is a disgusting political spiel that has no resemblance to the truth; after all, the commander who had Paul under his protection wrote to Felix mentioning Paul had done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment (Acts 23:29, 30).

The first thing Tertullus does is to flatter Felix, the governor (Acts 24:2, 3). When you research Felix, you will find that he was a vile and incompetent leader; Nero had him recalled only two years earlier. According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Felix was known for his violent use of repressive force and corrupt self-aggrandizement.” The lawyer was undoubtedly flattering Felix.

He then said that Paul was a troublemaker who stirred up riots and he tried to desecrate the temple (Acts 24:3-5). Paul responds by recounting his adventure and journey to Jerusalem. Luke adds an interesting detail, that Felix was well acquainted with the Way (Acts 24:22). He was in a no win situation, with a large Jewish population and Paul a Roman citizen, he basically did nothing but leave Paul in jail (Acts 24:22, 23, 27).

God sent the imprisoned preacher to an audience of two, Felix and his wife Drusilla (Acts 24:24). Drusilla was the third wife of Felix, each had left a former spouse to marry. Luke mentions Paul “discoursed” with them, meaning they had discussions back and forth, a conversation rather than a sermon (Acts 24:25, 26). The core of the message was faith in Christ (Acts 24:24).

The discussion was on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25). Felix heard “enough for now” and told Paul he could leave; go away for now, I will call for you when I need you. Felix was afraid. I suspect that was the work of the Holy Spirit. I think it is never convenient to discuss personal sin. Human nature will often resist what is best for us, but if we dare to hear and accept the truth, we can be set free.

It only mentions that Felix was afraid, perhaps Drusilla simply did not humble herself enough to become afraid. Her past indicates a history of pride. Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:19-23) was her father. He claimed glory that only God deserved. Remember his fate? He was eaten by worms and died (the Bible mentions these two in this order, what a horrible way to go – Acts 12:23). She led an adulterous life in spite of all she knew about morality and reverence for God. She apparently resisted Paul’s message.

Application: Have you heard the message and repeatedly resist submitting to Christ? It’s probably the most unnoticed plague on America, we are inoculated just enough with the gospel to be happy with our beliefs but we are far from what the Bible calls a disciple of Christ. We often tell Jesus to go away until a more convenient time, and we will call for him later when we want him or when we need him. The gospel can often be inconvenient when we are not serious about life change and authentic discipleship. When the topic is righteousness, sin, self-control, or judgment, we get uncomfortable more than we get convicted. Don’t allow the world to squeeze you into its mold (Romans 12:1, 2). Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed into the new creation that God desires for you to be.

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Paul Had a Clear Conscience

Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: “Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!” (Acts 23:1). It is this chapter that we see that Paul could stand toe to toe with the religious heavyweights and hold his own. He had a clear conscience, unlike the Jews who were guilty of false testimony, beatings and plots to kill.

Ananias, the high priest, struck Paul in the mouth (Acts 23:2). I guess he was insulted that Paul referred to the council as brothers, or that the leaders could not stand with a clear conscience. Paul fires back, “God will strike you, you hypocrites” (Acts 23:3). How dare he speak to the High Priest that way (Acts 23:4). Don’t miss Paul’s response, “I did not know he was the High Priest” (Acts 23:5). Could it be sarcasm? He wasn’t acting like the High Priest. Paul knows that Jesus is the authentic High Priest (Hebrews 4:14, 6:20). I think Paul was insulting Ananias.

Paul goes on to summarize the reason he is before them that day, because he has a hope in the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6), which then proceeded to divide the audience. Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection while the Pharisees did (Acts 23:7). There was a terrible argument and the commander thought they would tear Paul apart (Acts 23:10). It’s funny that the Pharisees are now on Paul’s side (Acts 23:9). Let’s get back to having a clear conscience.

People without a spotless past may still enjoy a clear conscience: Paul had wronged many people but his conscience was clear because of the forgiveness Jesus offers.

Good deeds cannot provide a clear conscience: It’s hard to worship freely when we don’t have a clear conscience. Two things that will never clear a conscience are gifts and sacrifices (Hebrews 9:9).

The Holy Spirit works with the believer’s conscience: The Holy Spirit confirms our conscience (Romans 9:1). While we might want to ignore our sin, the one thing that does not ignore sin is our conscience. If ignored, conviction will grow.

The conscience is an indicator, not a transformer: The Spirit alone can change us. By itself the conscience can do nothing but condemn. Through the Spirit we are actually able to recognize and do the right thing. Asking God for forgiveness does not always make us feel better, because we feel a load of guilt. The key is to draw near to God.

Application: Although you don’t have a spotless past, aim for the future with confidence, and the mind of Christ can keep your past straight. The writer of Hebrews 10:22 tells us, “Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Allow God to use your past for His glory, that you are a changed person, a new creation with a new purpose in life. When we fail, confess our sin, forsake the old ways, and renew our fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).

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How Paul Shared His Faith

There is a debate about what people call success. In the church, we often look at success as bigger and better; the numbers will determine how successful we are. After reading a book called, Liberating Your Ministry from Success Syndrome, I tend to see success as faithfulness in following God’s call on your life. Paul wanted to bear fruit in Jerusalem more than any place else on earth, but he found greater opposition and struggle than anywhere else on his journeys.

At first the commander thought Paul was a terrorist from Egypt (Acts 21:38), but he was actually an ambassador of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20). These people beat Paul with their fists (Acts 21:32) and all he wanted was to share his testimony (Acts 21:39). Acts 22 has a great model for sharing our faith in Christ.

Paul communicated simply and clearly: He spoke to the commander in Greek (Acts 21:37) and to the Jews he spoke Aramaic (Hebrew dialect, Acts 21:40, 22:2). Few of us are fluent in more than one language, but here Paul demonstrates his ability to communicate in at least two languages. As a Roman citizen, I can imagine he spoke Latin as well. As Christians, we often have our own language (church-speak) that people on the outside just don’t understand: salvation, regeneration, justification, born again, conversion, burden, atonement, walk the aisle, prayed the prayer, was baptized, body of Christ… you get it… but many people don’t.

Paul honestly described his former conduct (Acts 22:3-5): We lose our listeners when they sense an attitude of superiority in us. We must be careful not to magnify the former life with details, so generalizations are best. Let’s have people focus on the Savior rather than the behavior.

Paul related his experience of conversion (Acts 22:6-11): This is where we tell others how we actually came to know Christ. It need not be dramatic because the same blood rescues each of us. Like the Prodigal Son, who was involved in wild living (Luke 15:29-30), the faithful son needed salvation just as much.

Paul shared how he received his commission: He was clear about the purpose God had for him (Acts 22:12-21). Lots of people will not come to Christ believing their is too much to give up, but I submit to you that we need to tell people all that we have gained.

Once Paul mentioned he was appointed to reach the Gentiles, he lost his audience (Acts 22:22). Was he a failure because they rejected him? Was his testimony shared in vain? He did not plant a church, start a small group, or even leave behind any discipling relationships, but they heard his message (otherwise they would not have responded to violently). There is freedom in following Christ. We are to be faithful in our serving and testimony, but must always leave the results up to the Holy Spirit. We are not called to be the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life. The Spirit convicts of sin.

Application: If you are a child of God, you have a story worth telling. Are you exercising your witness? Have you practiced sharing your faith with a brother in Christ? It is only after you practice in private that sharing in public with a lost person becomes easier and more natural. Consider writing out your testimony using these steps:


My life before I met Christ:

 


How I came to know Christ:

 


The difference Christ has made in my life:

 


Planning, preparation, practice and presentation lead to the progress of the gospel. We are called to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and be ready at all times to give an account of the hope we have inside us (1 Peter 3:15). How can the Men of Steel help you become more faithful, and even more successful?

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When Life is Unscripted

Paul was steadfast in his goal; he was going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:13) and when he arrived, he met with mixed reviews.

First they met acceptance (Acts 21:17): the brothers welcomed Paul and his companions warmly. Don’t miss Luke’s terminology, he said when “we” arrived. We might not have faulted his friends if they did not go to Jerusalem with Paul.  He was intent on going to Jerusalem, but his companions could have told him to go on ahead if you want to, but we’re not going! You can throw a rock at that hornets’ nest but I’m not going to stand around here while you do it. But they went with him. It’s almost like Thomas when he said, “Let us go on to Jerusalem that we may die with him” (John 11:16). They knew trouble awaited Jesus and they went anyway, same here with Paul.

When he got there, they might have talked a long time since Paul reported in detail all that God had done (Acts 21:19). Their reaction was to praise God, notice they did not praise Paul (Acts 21:20). Have you been warmed and rejuvenated with passion after hearing stories from the mission field?

Next, they met apprehension; they had a little good news, bad news scenario. First the good news, many Jews had believed (Acts 21:20). The bad news was that they were zealous for the Law and believed that Paul taught people they should not live according to Jewish customs (Acts 21:21). So in this situation, they’re saved, but they’re also mad. James must have been in a tough spot caught in the middle. How many times have you been stuck in the middle with believers you love on both sides of an issue?

In this situation, what they were saying was not even true. If people wanted circumcision, they could practice it, but Paul said it had nothing to do with salvation. We might expect unbelievers to misunderstand our theology, but believers can also be fairly cruel. Remember things like the inquisition? Like Paul, we must also seek common ground between differing parties, and we need to remove any barriers or obstacles to people finding faith in Christ. Let’s build witnessing relationships but still maintain our biblical standards.

Paul also met accusation (Acts 21:27) when the troublemaker Jews from Ephesus arrived; remember the guys who started the riot (Acts 19:8-9)? The entire city is in an uproar and they wanted to beat him to death (Acts 21:30, 31). What’s interesting, is that God used Roman unbelievers to rescue people, and they saved his life!

Application: Life can often send things our way that are not on the scheduled itinerary; I call this life unscripted. It just might come down to faith in the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. We want things to go smoothly with no pain, suffering or hardship, but that is not what is promised. God promises to go through life with us, not necessarily to deliver us from the suffering. Paul even prayed that he would not only know Christ, but to also share in the fellowship in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Are you at the point where you can accept whatever life or the world throws at you? Can you praise God in the midst of suffering? Can you praise him in the storm? Are you willing to worship God because it is the right thing to do and he deserve it, or do you follow him because of what you get out of it (primarily heaven at the end of this life)? Are there people in your life who will stand by you in the midst of suffering and pain rather than run from it in self-preservation?

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