Sunday 1st August 2021
We come before God with our curiosity and our questions; we come before Him seeking answers that sometimes only he can provide. We come with feelings of gratitude for our daily bread but we yearn for the bread of eternal life. So as we come and spend this time in the Lord’s presence let us seek to be fed and filled with God’s life and love.
Merciful God, we thank you that you are to be trusted and that you are faithful and provide for all our needs. We know that when we feel alone in the desert, that is where we meet you and in the wilderness of our lives we can turn to you and know that you will support and sustain us. We come to worship you and we thank you that in you there is always hope. Amen
King Agrippa as we heard last time is intrigued by Paul and his situation and in this next part of Paul’s story Paul offers his defence to the charges against him in front of the king.
Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak on your own behalf.” Paul stretched out his hand and defended himself as follows: “King Agrippa! I consider myself fortunate that today I am to defend myself before you from all the things the Jews accuse me of, particularly since you know so well all the Jewish customs and disputes. I ask you, then, to listen to me with patience. All the Jews know how I have lived ever since I was young. They know how I have spent my whole life, at first in my own country and then in Jerusalem. They have always known, if they are willing to testify, that from the very first I have lived as a member of the strictest party of our religion, the Pharisees. And now I stand here to be tried because of the hope I have in the promise that God made to our ancestors – the very thing that the twelve tribes of our people hope to receive, as they worship God day and night. And it is because of this hope, Your Majesty, that I am being accused by the Jews! Why do you who are here find it impossible to believe that God raises the dead? I myself thought that I should do everything I could against the cause of Jesus of Nazareth. That is what I did in Jerusalem. I received authority from the chief priests and put many of God’s people in prison; and when they were sentenced to death, I also voted against them. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues and tried to make them deny their faith. I was so furious with them that I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
It was for this purpose that I went to Damascus with authority and orders from the chief priests. It was on the road at midday, Your Majesty, that I saw a light much brighter than the sun, coming from the sky and shining round me and the men travelling with me. All of us fell to the ground, and I heard a voice say to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by hitting back, like an ox kicking against its owner’s stick.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. And the Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute. But get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant. You are to tell others what you have seen of me today and what I will show you in the future. I will rescue you from the people of Israel and from the Gentiles to whom I will send you. You are to open their eyes and turn them from the darkness to the light and from the power of Satan to God, so that through their faith in me they will have their sins forgiven and receive their place among God’s chosen people.’
“And so, King Agrippa, I did not disobey the vision I had from heaven. First in Damascus and in Jerusalem and then in all Judaea and among the Gentiles, I preached that they must repent of their sins and turn to God and do the things that would show they had repented. It was for this reason that the Jews seized me while I was in the Temple, and they tried to kill me. But to this very day I have been helped by God, and so I stand here giving my witness to all, to small and great alike. What I say is the very same thing which the prophets and Moses said was going to happen: that the Messiah must suffer and be the first one to rise from death, to announce the light of salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles.” As Paul defended himself in this way, Festus shouted at him, “You are mad, Paul! Your great learning is driving you mad!” Paul answered, “I am not mad, Your Excellency! I am speaking the sober truth. King Agrippa! I can speak to you with all boldness, because you know about these things. I am sure that you have taken notice of every one of them, for this thing has not happened hidden away in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do. Agrippa said to Paul, “In this short time do you think you will make me a Christian?” “Whether a short time or a long time,” Paul answered, “my prayer to God is that you and all the rest of you who are listening to me today might become what I am – except, of course, for these chains!” Then the king, the governor, Bernice, and all the others got up, and after leaving they said to each other, “This man has not done anything for which he should die or be put in prison.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to the Emperor.”
So King Agrippa gives Paul permission to speak on his own behalf and Paul begins his defense with a bit of flattery towards the king and then asks that he listens patiently. We know don’t we that sometimes Paul can speak for a very long time, do you remember that night when he spoke for so long that Eutychus went to sleep and fell out of the window (Acts 20:9). Anyway Paul begins his speech by saying how the Jews who are bringing the charges against him actually know his life history, they know where he was born and brought up, who he studied under and that he was a Pharisee. He tells King Agrippa that he is being tried because of the hope he has in the promise that God made to his ancestors – that he will raise the dead.
Paul explains how at first he was very much against the cause of Jesus of Nazareth but how his life was turned around when he encountered the risen Jesus himself. He has told this story many times before to different people but now it is King Agrippa’s turn to hear it. Paul tells of the job Jesus gave him that day – that he was to share with others what happened to him; helping them to open their eyes so that they would turn from darkness to light. To turn from their sin to having faith in Jesus who redeemed them from their sin when he died on the cross. He tells the king that he took the job on and preached wherever he went that folk needed to repent of their sins and turn to God, living a life from then on that showed they meant it and that’s why he was now in the situation Agrippa finds him in.
The Jews had seized him in the temple and hounded him ever since, calling for his execution and he goes on to say that God has protected him and what he tells people is the same thing that Moses and the Prophets said would happen – that the Messiah must suffer and be the first one to rise from death, to announce the light of salvation to the Jews and Gentiles.
At this point Festus interrupts and tells Paul he is mad. Paul however rejects this, saying he is speaking the truth.
Paul then addresses King Agrippa again saying he speaks with boldness because King Agrippa knows these things. Remember I said last week that Agrippa had a lot of power in Jewish affairs and had ultimate responsibility for the temple so he would obviously be very knowledgeable and probably an expert in Jewish law. Paul then gets very bold when he asks King Agrippa if he believes the prophets and then follows the question up with saying, ‘I know you do’ at which point Agrippa asks Paul if he is trying to make a Christian of him. I wonder in what tone of voice he said it, was it in all seriousness or tongue in cheek? The trouble with just reading a conversation is that you miss out on the feeling of it but in whatever tone Agrippa replied Paul boldly continues by saying, ‘my prayer to God is that you and all the rest of you who are listening to me today might become what I am – except of course for these chains.
Well after listening to Paul everyone agreed that he didn’t deserve to be in prison or to be given the death penalty. King Agrippa commented that if Paul hadn’t appealed to Rome he could have been released but we know don’t we that getting Paul to Rome was part of God’s plan. So although deemed innocent of all charges by King Agrippa, Paul will be sent to Rome and the final part of Paul’s story in the book of Acts will be about the journey getting there and what happened on the way but that will be for next week. Thinking about Paul’s impending journey to Rome brought a question to my mind – is it the journey or the ending that’s the most important part? I shall be pondering this maybe you might too.
Lord our whole lives are a journey and the pathway leads this way and that, sometimes we are going the way you want us to and sometimes we go astray but we ask that as we come to the end of our journey we will find you waiting for us, with open arms, welcoming us home just as the father of the prodigal son did. Amen
God bless. Rev Sue
Sunday 8th August 2021
Giver and sustainer of Life, through the power of the cross we are a forgiven people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, chosen by you who has called us out of darkness into your marvellous light and we give you thanks and praise today. Amen
So Paul is on his way to Italy – to Rome and Luke it seems is going with him as well as Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
When it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they handed Paul and some other prisoners over to Julius, an officer in the Roman regiment called “The Emperor’s Regiment.” We went aboard a ship from Adramyttium, which was ready to leave for the seaports of the province of Asia, and we sailed away. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. The next day we arrived at Sidon. Julius was kind to Paul and allowed him to go and see his friends, to be given what he needed. We went on from there, and because the winds were blowing against us, we sailed on the sheltered side of the island of Cyprus. We crossed over the sea off Cilicia and Pamphylia and came to Myra in Lycia. There the officer found a ship from Alexandria that was going to sail for Italy, so he put us aboard.
We sailed slowly for several days and with great difficulty finally arrived off the town of Cnidus. The wind would not let us go any further in that direction, so we sailed down the sheltered side of the island of Crete, passing by Cape Salmone. We kept close to the coast and with great difficulty came to a place called Safe Harbours, not far from the town of Lasea. We spent a long time there, until it became dangerous to continue the voyage, for by now the Day of Atonement was already past. So Paul gave them this advice: “Men, I see that our voyage from here on will be dangerous; there will be great damage to the cargo and to the ship and loss of life as well.” But the army officer was convinced by what the captain and the owner of the ship said, and not by what Paul said. The harbour was not a good one to spend the winter in; so most of the men were in favour of putting out to sea and trying to reach Phoenix, if possible, in order to spend the winder there. Phoenix is a harbour in Crete that faces south-west and north-west.
A soft wind from the south began to blow, and the men thought that they could carry out their plan, so they pulled up the anchor and sailed as close as possible along the coast of Crete. But soon a very strong wind – the one call “North-easter” – blew down from the island. It hit the ship, and since it was impossible to keep the ship headed into the wind, we gave up trying and let it be carried along by the wind. We got some shelter when we passed to the south of the little island of Cauda. There, with some difficulty, we managed to make the ship’s boat secure. They pulled it aboard and then fastened some ropes tight round the ship. They were afraid that they might run into the sandbanks off the coast of Libya, so they lowered the sail and let the ship be carried by the wind. The violent storm continued; so on the next day they began to throw some of the ship’s cargo overboard. For many days we could not see the sun or the stars, and the wind kept on blowing very hard. We finally gave up all hope of being saved.
After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood before them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have sailed from Crete; then we would have avoided all this damage and loss. But now I beg you, take heart! Not one of you will lose his life; only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship came to me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul! You must stand before the Emperor. And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you.’ So take heart, men! For I trust in God that it will be just as I was told. But we will be driven ashore on some island.”
It was the fourteenth night, and we were being driven about in the Mediterranean by the storm. About midnight the sailors suspected that we were getting close to land. So they dropped a line with a weight tied to it and found that the water was forty metres deep; a little later they did the same and found that it was thirty metres deep. They were afraid that the ship would go on the rocks, so they lowered four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight. Then the sailors tried to escape from the ship; they lowered the boat into the water and pretended that they were going to put out some anchors from the front of the ship. But Paul said to the army officer and soldiers, “If the sailors don’t stay on board, you have no hope of being saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the boat and let it go.
Just before dawn, Paul begged them all to eat some food: “You have been waiting for fourteen days now, and all this time you have not eaten anything. I beg you, then, eat some food; you need it in order to survive. Not even a hair of your heads will be lost.” After saying this, Paul took some bread, gave thanks to god before them all, broke it, and began to eat. They took heart, and every one of them also ate some food. There was a total of 276 of us on board. After everyone had eaten enough, they lightened the ship by throwing all the wheat into the sea.
So Paul, Luke and Aristarchus (we met him back in Acts 20 verse 4) are finally on the way to Italy to Rome with some other prisoners. We know nothing about these other prisoners, who they were or what crime they had committed however John Stott in his commentary asks just as I have wondered about them:
Who were the other prisoners who were on board? Ramsey (another writer) suggests that they were in all probability already condemned to death, and were going to supply the perpetual demand which Rome made on the provinces for human victims to amuse the populace by their death in the arena.
It all sounds a bit too gruesome for me, I don’t know about you so I quickly move on to my next question – why were Luke and Aristarchus allowed to travel with Paul? Well apparently they could have been masquerading as his slaves and that may have been the reason that he received more respect from the officer (whose name was Julius and who served in ‘The Emperor’s Regiment), as it would have enhanced his importance.
Anyway they board a ship, probably although we aren’t told, in Caesarea. We do know that it has come from Adramyttium, a port found between Ephesus and Philippi, and is on its way to the seaports of the province of Asia. The day after they went on board and set sail they arrive in Sidon, which is just along the coast from Caesarea. It’s here that we discover a kinder side to the Julius, the officer, as he lets Paul go and see his friends and for them to give him supplies for the journey. They travelled from there to Cyprus and then on to Myra, where the officer found another ship which had come from Alexandria and was bound for Italy. It seems that there was no direct sailing to Italy at that time and so you just had to find the best route you could, so the prisoners, including Paul and his fellow travellers are transferred to this other vessel. After some difficult days of sailing they arrive at the town of Cnidus, and then the wind took them alongside Crete – passing Cape Salmone. It really wasn’t an easy journey but eventually they got to a place called Safe Harbours which was not far from the town of Lasea.
Luke tells us that they spent a long time there and says the weather wasn’t good and Paul who though not a sailor is a seasoned traveller advises against moving on until the weather gets better. However the captain of the ship and the owner didn’t agree with Paul and the officer took his advice from them and they set sail again, hoping to reach Phoenix (a harbour in Crete) and wintering there. As they left a soft wind was blowing which encouraged them however it didn’t last long before they were in trouble. However they did manage to get the ships boat on board and secured when there was a lull in the weather were near the island of Cauda but it didn’t last long and danger still lurked on the sandbanks off the coast of Libya, so they lowered the sail and just went with the flow, carried along by the wind. The storm though just got worse and they had to jettison (throw overboard) some of the ship’s cargo and the next day it was no better so they threw overboard some of the ship’s equipment, which says to me they must have been getting desperate.
For many days the storm raged and when they had given up all hop of being saved Paul springs into action saying, ‘Men you should have listened to me and not sailed from Crete, then we would have avoided all this damage and loss.’ I wonder what they thought when they heard his words, I’m not sure I would have taken too kindly to them in this situation. However he goes on to offer words of encouragement as he says, ‘Take heart, not one of you will lose his life only the ship will be lost.’ I wonder if they like Festus think that he has gone mad from the trauma engulfing them. But Paul continues on to explain that the previous night and angel from the God he loves and worships told him he would stand before the emperor and none of the men on the ship with him would lose their lives in this storm. ‘Take heart’, he says again, ‘for I trust in God and believe what I was told. Well that’s a turn up for the books and as time goes on it seems that they are getting nearer to land and it’s then that the sailors decide to try and save themselves by getting in the ships boat and heading for the shore. However Paul is aware of this and says to the officer that if the sailors go then there would be no hope of the rest of them being saved. This time they take notice of Paul and cut the boat free so that no-one is going anywhere in it, they are all in this together.
It’s been another rough night however Paul the next morning wants them all to eat something to build up their strength and again giving words of encouraging he tells them that not even a hair on their heads will be lost. Then he takes bread and gives thanks to God in front of them all and they eat. These words and actions of Paul’s gave me some thoughts firstly that Paul truly believed that God would keep his promises (he would get Paul safely to Rome). Secondly that Paul had the courage to say grace before eating in the presence of non-believers (something that we as Christians find difficult even with our own non believing families). Thirdly, he knew that he also had to play his part within God’s plan so he did advise caution about setting sail when he knew from experience that it was probably better to stay in port. Also he did advise the officer not to let the sailors jump ship as without them and their skills they would not survive and he did tell all those on the ship to eat especially as they had, had nothing for days because he knew they needed strength to reach the shore. Finally why did they believe him, well I’ve come up with two thoughts, firstly they had no other hope and secondly there was something about Paul and his companions that set them apart, something they probably couldn’t identify but you and I know that it was God’s spirit within them.
There were 276 people on board and we will find out next week whether they were right to trust Paul.
Father God, help us to trust you as Paul did and help us to work with you for the good of those around us. Thank you for loving each and every one of us so much that you sent your son Jesus to set things right, freeing us from our sins and giving us eternal life. Amen
God bless Rev Sue
Sunday 15th August 2021
Prayer: Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit – God the three in one – our Creator – Saviour – Guide, we come before you now in gratitude for our lives and for your unending love for each one of us. We praise you because you are worthy of praise, we thank you for always being nearby – only a prayer away. Help us Lord to continue to worship you and live lives that glorify you. Help us to be your light in this world of darkness – the salt that gives flavour – the yeast that enables the bread to rise. Thank you for your saving grace which cannot be earned but is given freely. Amen
This week as the story continues we are looking to find out if the soldiers and the sailors were right to trust Paul and believe what he said.
When day came, the sailors did not recognise the coast, but they noticed a bay with a beach and decided that, if possible, they would run the ship aground there. So they cut off the anchors and let them sink in the sea, and at the same time they untied the ropes that held the steering oars. Then they raised the sail at the front of the ship so that the wind would blow the ship forward, and we headed for shore. But the ship hit a sandbank and went aground; the front part of the ship got stuck and could not move, while the back part was being broken to pieces by the violence of the waves.
The soldiers made a plan to kill all the prisoners, in order to keep them from swimming ashore and escaping. But the army officer wanted to save Paul, so he stopped them from doing this. Instead, he ordered all the men who could swim to jump overboard first and swim ashore; the rest were to follow, holding on to the planks or to some broken pieces of the ship. And this was how we all got safely ashore.
They had eaten as Paul had suggested they should to keep up their strength, before throwing the rest of the wheat overboard and they have survived the night and it is now morning. They can even see land, although the sailors don’t recognise where they are, they do see a bay with a beach that would be their best option for running the ship aground. So they make preparations to do just that, the cut off the anchors and untie the ropes holding the steering oars (these were used the way we use rudders today) and finally they raise the sail at the front of the ship so the wind would blow the ship forward and they headed for the shore. Everything seemed to be going to plan until they hit an unseen sandbank and the front of the ship became completely stuck, it wasn’t going any further into the shore. Too make matters worse the back of the ship was being broken to pieces by the onslaught of the violent waves.
What do they do now? In those moments of chaos new plans are hastily made separately by the soldiers and the officer. Firstly the soldiers made a plan to kill all the prisoners so they wouldn’t be able to swim to shore and escape. To you and me this may seem a bit drastic as they were likely to die anyway and there was no order given by the officer to do this. However it is possible that this would be the normal practice, why? Well because if the prisoners did escape then the soldiers would be held responsible and possibly executed due to what might have been seen as their incompetence.
Remember the jailer in Philippi in Acts 16:27, he was ready to take his own life because he thought that the prisoners he was responsible for had escaped when the earthquake hit and all the doors to the jail were damaged. Obviously he was thinking that killing himself would be less painful than what he may experience from the authorities when they found out what had happened, anyway because of Paul his life was saved.
Tom Wright suggests that even though the soldiers and prisoners had been on this journey together for probably many months and may have got to know each other a bit more, at the end of the day the soldiers had a job to do and that was killing people. Tom writes ‘That’s how the system worked. No sentimentality, no common sense, no fellow feeling allowed. Rome hadn’t got where it had by allowing people to go soft round the edges at the critical moment.’
The officer however had a different plan, he wanted to save Paul, and so he stopped the soldiers from putting their plan into action. Obviously he saw something special in Paul, otherwise why did he treat him so kindly and allow privileges for him that he appears not to have for the other prisoners. Why has he listened to Paul’s advice? We read that he did ignore it once and instead took the advice of the Captain of the ship and its owners but he soon realised his mistake when the storm hit. So he puts his plan into action, firstly he says to all those that can swim that they should jump ship and make for the land. Those who can’t swim need to find planks or anything that will float and then go overboard, hanging on as the tide takes them towards the shore.
Miraculously they all made it just as Paul had told them they would, all 276 of them. They may have lost the ship and its cargo but they were alive and Paul’s faith in God was seen to be completely valid. Safely ashore they discover they are on the island of Malta and next week we will discover what happened there. Were they warmly welcomed or because they were in effect refugees (escaping the storm) were they seen as a threat.
This question has made me reflect on my own thoughts about refugees and how we should treat them. Jesus said that we should welcome the stranger and in my bible reading notes recently was the story from Genesis 18 about when Abraham welcomed the three strangers into his camp. How he made a fuss over them, making them comfortable and then feeding them before discovering they were messengers from God. Hospitality seems to be a very big item on God’s agenda and therefore I believe it should be on ours too because you never know who that stranger may be, and just maybe they may just be one of God’s angels.
Loving God, help us to show love to all those around us whether family, friend or stranger. Help us to be sensitive to people’s needs and guard our tongues from speaking words that will harm instead giving us words and actions that will raise people up and encourage them. Amen
God bless. Rev Sue
Sunday 22nd August 2021
Prayer: Eternal God, source of all life, today we choose to follow you therefore we ask you to be present in all we think, say and do. Powerful redeemer, please speak to our hearts today as we draw close to you our Holy God. Amen
Last week we discovered that Paul and his fellow travellers have indeed survived the voyage, the storm and the shipwreck and now find themselves on the island of Malta.
When we were safely ashore, we learnt that the island was called Malta. The natives there were very friendly to us. It had started to rain and was cold, so they lit a fire and made us all welcome. Paul gathered us a bundle of sticks and was putting them on the fire when a snake came out on account of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. The natives saw the snake hanging on Paul’s hand and said to one another, “This man must be a murderer, but Fate will not let him live, even though he escaped from the sea.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire without being harmed at all. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after waiting for a long time and not seeing anything unusual happening to him, they changed their minds and said, “He is a god!”
Not far from that place were some fields that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us kindly and for three days we were his guests. Publius’ father was in bed, sick with fever and dysentery. Paul went into his room, prayed, placed his hands on him, and healed him. When this happened, all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. They gave us many gifts, and when we sailed, they put on board what we needed for the voyage.
Safely ashore in Malta they find the natives to be a friendly bunch who saw to their initial needs by getting a fire started to warm them up and dry them out. Paul helps out too by gathering sticks for the fire and while he is doing this a snake pops its head out from among the bundle he’s holding and latches on to his hand. Now, does it actually bite Paul and release its venom, Luke doesn’t make it very clear when he just writes – it fastens itself to Paul’s hand. However I suspect that as Paul shakes it off into the fire he certainly felt something which made him react in this way. Anyway the natives certainly seem to assume that Paul has been bitten and wait for a nasty reaction to occur, they think he’s either going to swell up or drop down dead and even have a reason for this happening. They think that although he has survived the storm and shipwreck he must in fact be a murderer and fate isn’t letting him get away with it but serving justice upon him in the form of a deadly snakebite. John Stott writes:
Certainly the islanders took it for granted that he had been bitten. They jumped to the conclusion that he was a murderer who, having escaped from drowning, was now being pursued and about to be poisoned by the goddess Dike, the personification of justice and revenge.
I don’t know about you but I have never heard of this goddess so I looked her up and apparently in Greek mythology she is the goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order and fair judgement. Hesiod (an ancient Greek poet) writes that she was fathered by Zeus and that her mother was Themis. Dike is depicted as a young slender woman carrying a balance scale and wearing a laurel wreath, a bit like the star sign Libra, which was thought to represent her distinct symbol.
Well, Paul neither swells up nor drops down dead, but just carries on as if nothing has happened which then makes the people change their minds and from being a murderer he now becomes a god in their eyes. Luke doesn’t write that this thought is challenged as it was in Acts 14:14 when Paul and Barnabas are seen as gods because of their healing of the lame man in Lystra so I wonder if Paul got to hear what they were saying.
Anyway Luke moves on in his narrative and introduces us to Publius who was a chief official of the island and by the sound of his name he is probably Roman. This could be why he offers hospitality to the Roman officer and his prisoners especially if the officer has made a subtle request for assistance. However it came about, Luke tells us that Publius welcomes them and they stay as his guests for three days. Luke also tells us that while they were there they discover that Publius’ father is sick with a fever and dysentery. Now apparently this kind of sickness is relatively common in Malta and it also affected folk in Gibraltar, and other places in the Mediterranean, it is thought to have been traced to the milk of the Maltese goats. This is probably a bit of useless information but I find it interesting how when I read the bible it opens up my mind and learning to so much.
Well, Paul steps up and heals Publius’ father through prayer and the laying on of hands and as word got round many other folk came to Paul for healing and through the power of the Holy Spirit he healed them. As a thank you they brought gifts and provided them with everything they needed for the next stage of their journey which would take place on another ship bound for Rome.
Next week we will come to the end of our journey with Paul as he arrives in Rome and I for one will be sorry that the journey will end however there is much more in the Bible to learn and discover. I am thinking and praying about what happens next to this service sheet especially as we are now having our services back in the Chapel every Sunday but I know that many of you who receive this may not be able to join with us there. So my question is would you like to continue receiving something along these lines after next week – taking a look at another book of the Bible, please let know.
Generous God, you always love us, always want the best for us and always inspire us to grow. You offer us life in all its fullness and give us the freedom to choose how we respond to you therefore we gladly and freely offer our lives back to you and pray that you accept our love and praise. Amen
God bless. Rev Sue
Sunday 29th August 2021
Rejoice in the Lord! Come and delight in him who crowns us with steadfast love and mercy.
So we come to our last week of Luke’s narration in Acts, we have journeyed with many of the early Christians throughout this book but most of all with Paul and now we are to find out about the last bit of his journey and what happened to him when he finally arrived in Rome.
After three months we sailed away on a ship from Alexandria, called “The Twin Gods,” which had spent the winter in the island. We arrived in the city of Syracuse and stayed there for three days. From there we sailed on and arrived in the city of Rhegium. The next day a wind began to blow from the south, and in two days we came to the town of Puteoli. We found some believers there who asked us to stay with them a week. And so we came to Rome. The believers in Rome heard about us and came as far as the towns of Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and was greatly encouraged.
When we arrived in Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with a soldier guarding him. After three days Paul called the local Jewish leaders to a meeting. When they had gathered, he said to them, “My fellow Israelites, even though I did nothing against our people or the customs that we received from our ancestors, I was made a prisoner in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. After questioning me, the Romans wanted to release me, because they found that I had done nothing for which I deserved to die. But when the Jews opposed this, I was forced to appeal to the Emperor, even though I had no accusation to make against my own people. That is why I asked to see you and talk with you. As a matter of fact, I am bound in chains like this for the sake of him for whom the people of Israel hope.”
They said to him, “We have not received any letters from Judaea about you, nor have any of our people come from there with any news or anything bad to say about you. But we would like to hear your ideas, because we know that everywhere people speak against this party to which you belong.”
So they fixed a date with Paul, and a large number of them came that day to the place where Paul was staying. From morning till night he explained to them his message about the Kingdom of God, and he tried to convince them about Jesus by quoting from the Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets. Some of them were convinced by his words, but others would not believe. So they left, disagreeing among themselves, after Paul had said this one thing: “How well the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors! For he said, ‘Go and say to this people: You will listen and listen, but not understand; you will look and look, but not see, because this people’s minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them. ‘” And Paul concluded: “You are to know, then, that God’s message of salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!”
For two years Paul lived in a place he rented for himself, and there he welcomed all who came to see him. He preached about the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking with all boldness and freedom.
So Paul and his shipwrecked companions stayed on Malta for three months before a ship, sheltering there for the winter was ready to set sail and continue its journey to Rome. Luke tells us that they stopped at Syracuse and stayed there for three days, then on to Rhegium and Puteoli, where probably to their surprise they found other believers who asked them to stay a week with them. I assume they did stay there before continuing on to Rome where Paul is encouraged when they are met by believers from Rome on the way and thanks God.
In Rome Paul is under arrest with his own personal guard, so I believe that means that he is basically free to live his life each day as he wishes so long as he doesn’t try to leave Rome. It’s from here that Paul asks the local Jewish leaders to meet with him so that he can explain his situation and why he is there, saying; ‘I am bound in chains like this for the sake of him for whom the people of Israel hope.’ Let’s make no mistake he is talking about the Messiah here.
The Jewish leaders reply that they haven’t received any letters from Judea about him (therefore they haven’t been prejudiced against him and are more likely to have open minds) however they have heard people speak against the followers of Jesus, therefore would like to hear a bit more from him on this subject. A date for the meeting is fixed and when it arrived Paul spoke from morning until night (not unusual for Paul) trying to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for.
Well not surprisingly, some believed and some didn’t and after Paul had quoted scripture from Isaiah about listening and not understanding, having their eyes closed and their ears bunged up, and also how the message of salvation had been sent to the Gentiles who were listening they left disagreeing with each other.
To recap, some of the Jews believed what Paul had presented to them and some just couldn’t get their heads around it, this was because Jesus wasn’t the messiah they had been expecting. They had built up their own picture of what he would be like and Jesus was nothing like that, nor did he act like the messiah should, so for them he couldn’t possibly be from God. However others with open minds could understand what Paul was laying before them from the scriptures and they like the Gentiles did receive God’s message of salvation.
The chapter and book finishes with Luke telling us that Paul lived in Rome for two years, welcoming visitors, preaching about the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ boldly and freely. However it does leave us with a bit of a cliff-hanger because I don’t know about you but I would like to know what happened to Paul next and Luke doesn’t tell us. Why not?
Well I asked a former tutor of mine and he said it was because Luke and his readers would have known so there was no need to tell them. Which makes sense but doesn’t help me, however there are possible scenarios and Paul was according to tradition eventually executed but whether it was immediately following these two years of being under arrest or not, we don’t know for sure but it could have been.
However another line of thought is that he regains his freedom and does some more travelling, possibly to Spain or in the East before being recaptured and tried before the Emperor Nero and then being beheaded.
The book of Acts is very much open ended, however I believe what it shows us is the importance of sharing the Good News of Jesus and the hope that he gives. To know that everyone is loved by God whether born a Jew or not, whether a man or a woman or a child, God wants us to come to him and even though he is a Holy God who can’t abide sin, our sin can be washed away in the blood of his son Jesus, if only we believe and put our trust in him.
I have enjoyed journeying through the book of Acts and have been challenged by it to look at my own life and my journey with God, as I hope you have been.
Finally I’d like to finish with the words of the theologian John Stott who wrote:
The Acts of the Apostles have long ago finished. But the acts of the followers of Jesus will continue until the end of the world, and their words will spread to the ends of the earth.
Thank you Lord, that as we walk refreshed into a new week, we go with our head held high, giving you thanks for our freedom to follow and share you with others. Amen
I will be taking a break from writing for a while however you are welcome to join us in church Sunday mornings at 10.30am. If you would like a copy of the Sunday talk/Sermon please let me know and I will get one to you.
Thank you for sharing my journey through the Book of Acts over the last 18 months or so.
God bless. Rev Sue