"Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him." (Acts 28:31)
If you and I are privileged to still be able to speak in the hours of our death, what will our last words be? It is recorded that the last words of John Wesley were: "The best of all is, God is with us," followed a few hours later with "Farewell."
"God is with us" is perhaps the greatest experience we can ever hope to have. In this last chapter of Acts, we see how God was with Paul and how He can be with us in this life and right into the life to come.
God reminds us that He is with us through the friends He gives us on our journey with Him.
In chapter 27 we saw how the ship bound for Rome was destroyed in the cyclone force storm, but all 276 lives were spared, just as the Lord had promised Paul. We read how some swam and others held onto broken planks off the ship and were washed onto the shore of the island of Malta. This little island, 20 miles long by 12 miles wide was, at the time of Paul, inhabited by the Phoenicians, who established the colony on it and made it their place of refuge when the Phoenicians extended their traffic to the oceans. It had excellent harbours. In chapter 28 we see how the island's citizens showed kindness to all these shipwrecked people. On top of the fact that the survivors had been through 14 days of horrific storms, it was still raining and cold. The Maltese people lit a fire and warmed the survivors. They showed kindness to these strangers. What a welcome relief that must have been to all who escaped with nothing.
Paul, along with the others, joined in to find sticks to burn on the fire, and in the process was bitten by a "viper" (The word could mean a deadly snake, scorpion, or spider.) The superstitious islanders thought at first that this meant that Paul was a murderer. Because he had survived the shipwreck, now this must be punishment for him. Then, when Paul did not drop dead, they turned it around to say he was a god! The islanders were Phoenicians who worshipped false gods, and one of their gods Hercules was said to have fought off 2 vipers while still in his cradle! So, now they thought Paul was a god! (In the margin of my Bible I have written next to these verses: "Fickle finite men!") First, to think Paul a murderer and then a god!
The head man of the island, named Publius offered hospitality to these 276 men and looked after them for 3 months until they were able to sail on to Rome in an Alexandrian ship. Publius also provided things necessary for their journey.
God provided friends for Paul and all the travelers. In return Paul was able to pray with the father of Publius who was ill, and Publius was healed. Others with diseases on the island came and were healed as well. Remember, it was Doctor Luke who wrote these words. Obviously, it was not his medical skills used to help these sick people. Paul called upon God for His miraculous healing for them.
Later, when Paul and the others sailed on to Rome, he was encouraged by some Christian friends. In verse 15 it says some Christian friends traveled from Rome to meet with Paul at Appii Forum and a place called Three Inns. It was 69 km from Rome to Appii Forum and 53 km to Three Inns. That was quite a distance for them to travel, considering it was either walking or riding a horse. These friends went that distance simply to encourage Paul.
God reminds us that He is with us through the friends He gives us along life's way. Even people who do not love the Lord also show us kindness. But, especially should Christian friends be an encouragement to us. Do you show kindness to others? Do you go out of your way to let someone know that you care about them? Those Christians from Rome traveled a long way simply to let Paul know they cared. How many Christian leaders have dropped out of service to the Lord simply because they became discouraged? All of us have a part to play in the work of the gospel. When was the last time you phoned or visited or wrote a note to a fellow Christian leader or lay person just to let them know you care? That is part of spreading the gospel, too. It is not just what you say that matters, but what you do. Faithfulness is one of the greatest ways to encourage your spiritual leaders.
Matthew Henry has said "It is an encouragement to those who are traveling towards Heaven to meet with their fellow travelers." That is another reason for the need to be faithful in attending church, too.
God was with Paul and God can be with us. Does that mean we will not have frustrations? NO! As long as we live in this world, we will face frustrations. Paul certainly had frustrations. Here he was, affected by the poor choice of the captain and owner of the ship who sailed at the time of the year when the storms come. Because of their poor choice, Paul and all 276 on board suffered. Paul faced other frustrations. He spent time in prison for his faith. He faced beatings, stonings, and many other disappointments. Yet, through it all God was with him. Don't be fooled by the Devil's lie that if you are following Jesus then everything will be smooth sailing for you in life. Sometimes Christians think that because they face difficulties, that they don't have faith. Is that true? Where do we read that in the Bible? We are promised that all things work together for good, but it does not say that all things that happen are "good." Certainly we see this in the life of Paul. Yet, in spite of what looked like disaster to Paul, God used these frustrations to work out His plan for Paul. Even during those long years in prison, God used that time for Paul to write much of what is now our New Testament. It tells us in Philippians 1:13 that the whole palace guard of Emperor Nero knew about Jesus because of Paul's imprisonment. Paul said "the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel." (Philippians 1:12).Even some in Caesar's household came to faith in Christ. (Philippians 4:22)
Paul admitted to being frustrated at times. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 he said, "For we do not want you to be ignorant...of our troubles which came to us in Asia; that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life." What was the answer to this? Paul went on to say "God...delivered us from so great a death...you also helping together in prayer for us." Our part is to pray for fellow Christians. Want to know how to help those carrying the gospel at home and overseas? PRAY for them!
Paul was given freedom to live under house arrest at Rome, with a soldier chained to him. Paul called the Jewish leaders together to speak to them. He said he was a prisoner for the "hope of Israel." (Jesus was the hope of Israel - the Messiah, and He is the hope because He is risen from the dead.) Paul spoke to the Jews about Jesus, showing them from the Old Testament Law and Prophets that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
What was the result of Paul's preaching? In verse 24 we read "some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved." People have been given freedom to choose whether they will serve the Lord or not. Right back with Joshua, he challenged the people..."Choose you this day whom you will serve...as for me and my house we will serve the Lord." Paul was a great teacher and preacher, yet not everyone who heard him believed. Even Jesus, the Master Teacher and preacher, the spotless sinless Son of God, had those who turned away and rejected Him. John 12:30-40 says "Therefore they could not believe, because as Isaiah said...'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, lest they should turn, so that I should heal them." Augustine commented on these verses. "If I be asked why they could not believe I immediately answer, because they would not. And, God, having foreseen their bad will, foretold it by the prophet."
Paul spent 2 whole years in his own rented house and under guard. He visited with all who came to see him. He preached and taught "with all confidence." What happened to Paul after this? We do not know for certain. Some believe that the writer of Acts, Dr. Luke, may have been put to death before he could finish writing. (The way the book finishes seems "chopped short.")
According to church tradition, Paul was released from prison allowing further missionary work in Macedonia, and was re-arrested and imprisoned again in Rome and beheaded outside of the city.
The last verse of Acts 28 says Paul was "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no one forbidding him."
Politicians? (I hope not - they change with the wind!) Money? Here today and gone tomorrow. Power? Someone else easily takes over. Family? We should be able to trust family, but even they can let us down. Education? Does that bring peace to your soul? The only One we can have full confidence in is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
There is a song with these words: "I know not what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future..." Is your confidence in the Lord? Do you know that He is with you and in you? How can you know this? How did Paul come to have this confidence, this faith, in Jesus? He met Jesus on the road to Damascus. When Jesus spoke to Paul, his response was "Who are you, Lord?" That is where faith begins. And then Paul asked, "What do you want me to do?" And Paul obeyed, a step at a time. We must do what Paul did.
Then, keep on asking Him, "What do you want me to do?" and He will guide your life a step at a time.
Do you say, as did Felix to Paul "Go away for now, some more convenient time I will call for you." Or, with Agrippa, "You almost persuade me to be a Christian." Or, do you say, with Paul, "Who are you, Lord?" "What do you want me to do?"
Someone has said, "If you shut your eyes and stop your ears - you are in the 'suburb of Hell.'" Don't shut your eyes and stop your ears to the message of Jesus today.
Come to God, through Jesus Christ.
Best of all, God is with us!
Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.
Holiness, godliness, righteousness, and Christ-likeness in personal and church life