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Allowing God to Write Your Story

We are beginning to get very near the end of our journey as we continue working through the book of Acts. We are now in chapter 25 out of 28 chapters, and this morning we plan to cover both chapters 25 & 26.

Now last week, we read how Paul was on trial before the Governor Felix – and even before the trial began, Paul’s chances of being found innocent were pretty slim. Even though the charges against him were fairly weak, Paul was being accused by corrupt Jewish leaders (who were being represented by a corrupt lawyer) and he was being judged by a corrupt Roman Governor. So right from the beginning, the likelyhood of a fair trial was nearly non-existent.

But yet, God was ultimately in control, and in the end, the Governor Felix delayed giving any sort of verdict – hoping both to appease the Jews by keeping Paul in prison, but also hoping for some sort of bribe from Paul. 

Of course, even after keeping Paul in custody for about 2 years, Felix received no such bribe – but instead, often received clear and compelling presentations of the Gospel message.

Unfortunately, it seems that Felix never accepted that message – never put his faith in Christ. He had clearly heard the Gospel on numerous occasions over those two years – but as far as we know, he never accepted Christ, and was soon succeeded as governor by a man named Porcius Festus.

Now, when Fetus took over as governor, he immediately began to deal with the loose ends left behind by Felix – which included, of course, the case of Paul vs. the Jewish leaders. And so that’s what we’re going to look at today.

As I mentioned, we’re hoping to get through two chapters worth of material today, so we are going to be moving fairly quickly, but hopefully through it all, we’ll be able to observe God’s goodness and guidance in the life of Paul. We’ll also see how, even through less-than-ideal circumstances from a human point of view, God’s perfect will comes to pass in ways that no one would ever guess.

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Before Felix

For the last several months we have been following the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul as we have been working through the book of Acts. Most recently, Paul has been on trial – several times actually – for a crime, that up until our passage today, has not even really been defined! He was originally arrested by a Roman Commander named Claudius Lysias after the commander rescued him from a rioting mob that was about to kill Paul. The commander assumed that Paul must have done some terrible crime to stir up such a violent mob – but upon further examination, he realized that Paul had not committed any such crime – certainly nothing worthy of imprisonment or death – at least not by Roman standards!

However, before he could settle the issue, he was informed of a plot where 40 assassins were preparing to ambush and murder Paul and so the commander swiftly sent Paul on to Caesarea where he could safely stand trial before the Governor Felix. And this is where our passage picks up today.

Today, we are going to be observing Paul’s trial before Felix. We will hear the Jews’ formal charge against him as well as Paul’s defence.

Now if you’re one of those folks who love a good court room drama, this passage is going to be right up your alley! But even if you’re not a fan of Judge Judy or Law & Order, there’s some pretty good stuff in here. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

 2 Timothy 3:16-17

And so that’s what we can expect out of this passage today. We can expect God to speak through His Word to teach us, correct us, prepare us, and equip us for every good work that He has called us to do.

So let’s dive right in to it, and see what God has to say to us today!

Our passage today begins in Acts chapter 24 – and we’ll be starting at verse 1.

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An Unexpected Rescue

This morning we are continuing in our study of Acts – specifically today, we’re looking at Acts chapter 23. Now if you happen to have missed the last couple of Sundays, no worries – let me give you a quick recap to catch you up to speed.

In Acts chapter 21, the Apostle Paul arrived in Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey – however, he did not receive a warm welcome from the Jews. They believed, that as Paul had travelled the known world, preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles – that he had become almost anti-Jewish and was teaching people to reject the Jewish traditions and to disregard the laws of Moses! Of course, this was not at all what Paul was teaching, but the Jews were so convinced and so riled up about this that it wasn’t long before an angry mob grabbed him, dragged him out of the temple area, and was about to kill him!

Thankfully, a Roman commander who was stationed nearby heard that a riot was developing and so he and his men rushed down to see what was going on. When he saw the crowd beating Paul, He immediately arrested Paul for whatever crime he had done to cause such an uproar – assuming at first that Paul was an Egyptian terrorist who had done some terrible things some time earlier! Well, it soon came out that Paul was not that Egyptian terrorist – and was in fact a Jew. So the commander then gave Paul the opportunity to address the rioting Jewish crowd (in hopes of calming everyone down), but Paul’s explanation of why he was preaching to the Gentiles just made the Jews even more determined to kill him – and the soldiers had to lift Paul up on their shoulders to keep him away from the angry mob.

Of course, the commander still couldn’t figure out what Paul had done to incite such a violent reaction, so he prepared to have Paul flogged in order to encourage him to confess his crime. But just as they were preparing to flog him, Paul causally mentioned that he was a Roman citizen – and it was quite illegal to flog a Roman citizen without first giving him a fair trial.

This was quite a shock (and quite a concern) for the Roman commander – because he could really be in big trouble for how he had treated a Roman citizen – and so that quickly put an end to the flogging. But the commander still didn’t know what crime Paul had committed, so the next day, he brought Paul before the Jewish High Council for trial.

Well, at that trial, Paul was nearly torn to pieces again – as the Pharisees and the Sadducees violently argued about Paul’s case! So again, the Roman commander rescued Paul from the angry mob and brought him back to the fortress. And this is where, as Mike pointed out last week, that Jesus Himself appeared to Paul and said to Him:

“Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” Acts 23:11

Despite the hardships that Paul was going through – God had a plan for it all. Paul was going to be his witness not only in Jerusalem – but also in the centre of the known universe – Rome! 

And today, we’re going to see just how God arranged to make that all happen! 

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Paul & the Angry Mob

Well, it’s been a few weeks since we were last looking at the book of Acts, but today we are going to jump back into it! Today, we are just at the end of Acts chapter 21 – and the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. Along the way, Paul has been repeatedly warned by the Holy Spirit that imprisonment and suffering await him in Jerusalem.

And when I say “warned by the Holy Spirit” – that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was trying to stop him or to get him to change direction, but rather, the Holy Spirit was preparing Paul (and the other believers) for what was about to happen. Paul was about to face some major persecution, and God wasn’t warning Him so that he could avoid that, but God was warning Him so that He would able to endure and be confident in God’s leading through that persecution.

Understandably, Paul’s friends didn’t want to see any harm come to Paul, and so they urged him not to go on to Jerusalem. But Paul knew that Jerusalem was exactly where God wanted him to be – regardless of any suffering that he might endure. By this point in his life, I think Paul knew that sometimes God allows and even leads us through great suffering so that even greater things can be accomplished in our lives and in the lives of others.

And so, Paul faithfully obeyed the leading of the Lord and finally arrived in Jerusalem. Upon his arrival, he was warmly greeted by all the Apostles and the other leaders in the church, but his reception among the other Jews was a little less than welcoming. 

You see, as Mike shared with us a few weeks ago, the Jews had heard rumours that Paul had completely abandoned and rejected his Jewish heritage and was teaching others to do likewise – which was a pretty major issue for the Jews!

But those rumours simply were not true. Of course, Paul certainly taught that being Jewish wasn’t required for salvation – God’s free gift was available to anyone simply through faith in Jesus Christ. That meant that gentiles didn’t have to follow all the Jewish laws and traditions to be saved, but at the same time, the Jews weren’t forced to abandon all their Jewish practices to be saved either!

And so, to help alleviate the Jew’s concerns that Paul was now anti-Jewish – the church counselled Paul to take part of a Jewish purification ritual – which would show that, while Paul was not counting on his Jewish-ness for salvation, as a Jew, he could still honour God through some of those Jewish practices!

And so Paul did exactly that – and that’s where we’re going to pick up the story today.

So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to start in Acts chapter 21 – verse 26.

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On to Jerusalem

If you are just joining us today for the first time, we have been working our way through the book of Acts for the past several months. Most recently we have been following the missionary journeys of Paul as he travels the known world preaching the Gospel and planting churches. But today in Acts chapter 21, Paul will be traveling the final leg of Missionary Journey #3.

Now in some ways, this will be the last of his missionary journeys – because he will soon be arrested, put on trial, and eventually be taken to Rome to testify before Caesar! But his journey to Rome, while not really intended to be a ‘missionary journey’ per se, in many ways, was! 

All along the way to Rome, Paul preached the Gospel to everyone who would listen – testifying to Kings, governors, soldiers and sailors all along the way. And once he got to Rome, he spent two years under house arrest, not only writing many of the letters that have become part of our New Testament today, but also, according to Acts 28:31…

“…boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.” Acts 28:31

And so it could be that this fourth “missionary” journey that brought him to Rome may well be the most important of all his journeys! But ironically, this was also the journey that many well-intentioned believers tried to prevent!

This morning, as we read through Acts chapter 21, we’re going to see how, when warned by the Holy Spirit that arrest and imprisonment awaited Paul in Jerusalem, almost everyone in Paul’s life tried to persuade him not to go. But of course, Paul insisted on going – ready to be jailed and even to die if necessary for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So this is an interesting passage. Were Paul’s friends wrong to try to persuade him not to go to Jerusalem? Was Paul wrong for ignoring the warnings of the Holy Spirit? And how does all that apply to us today – specifically as we try to discern the Lord’s will for our lives and the lives of the people around us?

Well, let’s read the passage and try to find out!

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Loving Christ’s Church

For the past several weeks, the Apostle Paul has been in Ephesus on his third missionary journey – preaching the Word of God, doing miracles, and as usual, causing riots and uproars!

As we’ve been following Paul on his journeys through the book of Acts, it seems every city he visits ends up absolutely divided in their opinion of him! Either the people love and accept Him as a brother – or they reject and hate him as public enemy #1.

And the city of Ephesus is no exception to that rule. Last week the entire city was in an uproar against Paul – stirred to action by the silversmith Demetrius (who accused Paul of destroying his lucrative idol-making business and undermining the worship and the credibility of their goddess Artemis.)

Thankfully, the mayor of Ephesus didn’t see things quite the same way. He didn’t see Paul or Christianity as a threat to their city and he was able to disperse the mob before things got out of hand.

But now today, in contrast to that angry mob, we’re going to see the opposite side of that spectrum. Today we’re going to see just how dearly loved Paul was to the many who had been transformed by the power of the Gospel! It seems that Paul never had a neutral effect – you either loved him or you hated him!

Paul actually wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 2:15…

15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16a

I really like Paul’s metaphor here of being a fragrance – and it certainly fits his experience!

Now to be sure, Paul was certainly a strong scent. He was kinda like smell of garlic… You either love it or you hate it! There was no middle ground! But one way or another, Paul’s life made an impact on the people around him.

  • To those who wanted nothing to do with God – Paul’s life was a stench and everything about him was repulsive to them.
  • But for those who were seeking a real, authentic relationship with the God of heaven – Paul’s life was a breath of fresh air – like the smell of freshly-baked bread or the country air after a spring rain! For those who would come to Christ, Paul’s life and his message was absolutely refreshing!

And I think that’s really what we are called to be like as well. Jesus describes us as salt and as light – two things that should made a tremendous impact on the environment in which we find ourselves. As salt, we should be packed with flavour – and as light we should be like a million-candle-power flashlight! What a tragedy it would be if our lives were like a 1 watt bulb – or just a single grain salt in a big batch of french fries! NO! We need to be like Paul – packed with flavour – lighting up the darkness like a floodlight! Or to use Paul’s analogy, people should be able to smell us a mile away!

Perhaps that’s not the most attractive analogy, but do you get my point? God didn’t leave us on this planet to be neutral, to be unnoticed, to be inconsequential to the world around us. Like Paul, God has us on this planet to make an impact – one way or the other – for Him.

And today, as we read through Acts chapter 20, Paul is going to tell us exactly how He did that – and how we can do that as well.

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