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The Way of Transformation

This morning I am very excited to start us off on a new journey! Over the last 13 months, we have worked our way through the book of Acts – studying the early church and the first disciples as they began to carry out their Jesus-given mission of being His witnesses and bringing the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. And I trust that you’d agree with me in saying that it’s just been a real encouragement to us to watch how Jesus transformed those early disciples. I mean, they were just regular men and women like you and I, but God did some amazing things in and through them that totally transformed their lives and at the same time, also transformed the world around them.

Of course Paul is the poster-boy for people who were radically transformed for Christ – being a murder transformed into a missionary – but I think for a lot of us, he’s a little hard to relate to. Most of us don’t have such radical stories of transformation – nor do we really want to! I’m glad that I didn’t have to get saved from a life of crime or some other sensational life-disaster! While that is some people’s story, for the majority of us, we’re a lot more run-of-the-mill!

We probably relate more to guys like Peter and John – just regular, average folks who weren’t murderers or extortionists or anything like that. I mean, maybe they were a little rough around the edges – I can imagine Peter having a bit of a temper and maybe some self-control issues. But on the whole, I imagine they were both probably pretty decent fellows even before they met Jesus. They were hard-working fisherman – good jewish boys who tried to live good, decent lives… Much like all of us!

But you know, even these good, decent, Jewish boys still required a radical transformation. And as we follow their stories through the pages of the Scriptures, we see that this is exactly what happened.

We won’t trace their whole story this morning, but I just want to point out one little verse that kinda captures their transformation.

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Acts 28: The Extended Edition

This morning we have reached the end of year-long journey through the book of the Bible known as the Acts of the Apostles. Now if you were with us when we began this series way back in May of 2022, you’ll recall that right from the beginning, we noted that, instead of being called the Acts of the Apostles, this book really could more accurately be called “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or perhaps even “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” – since that’s really what the story is all about!

The author Luke, wrote this book as a sequel to his first work, the Gospel of Luke, for a man named Theophilus – and Luke begins the book of Acts by saying:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach…

Acts 1:1

The key here being – “everything Jesus began to do and teach”. The work of Jesus didn’t stop when he rose from the grave and ascended into heaven – but rather it continued as Jesus led and directed his Apostles through the Holy Spirit to spread the message of the Gospel throughout the world.

In fact, the final words of Jesus as he returned to heaven were as follows:

8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

That’s really what this book has been all about! In the first chapters, we read how the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon those first disciples and totally transformed them from a small band of timid and fearful men, into a rapidly growing church, filled with the boldness and power of the Holy Spirit!

Then, under tremendous persecution, the believers scattered from Jerusalem and traveled throughout Judea and Samaria, proclaiming the Gospel message all along the way and people everywhere put their trust in Jesus for salvation. We read about God’s work through men like Peter, John, James, Philip, and Stephan – all of whom boldly shared the Gospel even under the threat of imprisonment or even death. 

And then, in an amazing turn of events, one of their greatest persecutors, Saul – soon to be Paul, had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus and was miraculously transformed into one of the church’s greatest evangelists. And it’s been his story that we’ve most recently been following as he traveled throughout the known Roman world on three different missionary journeys – planting churches and sharing the Gospel everywhere!

The last few chapters of Acts has been the story of Paul’s journey to Rome – under arrest and on his way to stand trial before Caesar. And today, as we read the final chapter of Acts, we see… not really a conclusion to Paul’s story, but rather the conclusion to the beginning of the story of the Gospel. It’s like the closing scene of the first act in a play – the rest of which would continue to play out over the next two thousand plus years – a story that includes both you and I today – as God continues the story of transforming lives through the Gospel!

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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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