So our Lord visits Paul in chapter 23, assures him that he will preach the gospel in Rome, and then delivers him in a way that reveals His sovereign control over the affairs of men. What I am referring to is the plot that is formed to kill Paul. Paul’s nephew ‘just happens’ to overhear it, tells Paul, and then informs the Roman commander, who takes extreme measures to protect Paul. What I hope you noticed is how the presence of God and His providential care are dramatically demonstrated—even in a chapter where Paul is at his worst.
Then we come to chapter 24. Paul is in his finest form. His Jewish opponents come to Caesarea, accompanied by the finest legal representation money could buy. Tertullus does a masterful job of making a legal sham appear to have substance and style. Nevertheless, that doesn’t matter, Paul does even better. Paul exposes the emptiness of the charges against him, explains what really happened in Jerusalem, and then shows that this conflict is really about the gospel. Because Paul has done so well, we expect God to bless him by granting him a “not guilty” verdict, and then release from him from prison. Instead, Felix procrastinates, doesn’t pronounce a verdict, and leaves Paul in prison for two years.
When Paul is at his worst, God deals gently and graciously with him, standing with him, and sparing him from almost certain death at the hands of assassins. When Paul is at his best, Felix refuses to do his job, tries to appease the Jews, looks for a bribe from Paul, and leaves him in prison for two years (which would have been longer, it would seem, if Felix wasn’t removed from his position).
Don’t have a mechanical view of the relationship between our faithfulness and God’s blessings. This is something Asaph struggled with in Psalm 73.17: “Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.” Job’s friends struggled with this when they watched him suffer. Sometimes doing what is right, results in suffering and persecution, not immediate blessing. Oh, you don’t believe me., do you? Well, look at what Peter wrote:
“You who are servants, be good servants to your masters—not just to good masters, but also to bad ones. What counts is that you put up with it for God’s sake when you are treated badly for no good reason. There is no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve, but if you are treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God.
“This is the kind of life you have been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
“He never did one thing wrong,
“Not once said anything amiss.
“They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you are named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.
The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—no, it is your inner disposition that makes you beautiful to your husband.
“Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as “my dear husband.” You will be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same thing, unanxious and unintimidated.
“Since Jesus went through everything you are going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you will be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
“You have already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it is time to be rid of it for good. Of course, your old friends won’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They are the ones who will be ‘called on the carpet’ before God himself.
“Listen to the Message. It was preached to those believers who are now dead, and yet even though they died (just as all people must), they will still get in on the life that God has given in Jesus.
“Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!
“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.
“If you are abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It is the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they a’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that is a different matter. However, if it is because you are a Christian, do not give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!
“It is judgment time for God’s own family. We are first in line. If it starts with us, think what it is going to be like for those who refuse God’s Message!
“If good people barely make it, what is in store for the bad? So if you find life difficult because you are doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he is doing, and he’ll keep on doing it” —I Peter 2:18—3:6; 4:1-19.
I used The Message here, for a reason. I want you to read (and re-read) this passage slowly and consider each paragraph prayerfully as see where it is you need to grow stronger. Then, thank Him and ask that His Spirit will help you “walk it out.”
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts