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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