Being & Building Followers & Friends of Jesus
At the end of the Apostle Paul’s third missionary journey in Acts 21-23, Paul faces a very strange and difficult time. He had been told over and over “Do not go to Jerusalem” and since the moment he arrived, it has been a total train wreck. Paul first gave the Jerusalem church a large offering, but instead of appreciation they immediately started accusing him of wrong-doing. So Paul tries to make peace by joining a Jewish ritual, but a mob tries to kill him in the process, and the Roman soldiers have to save him from his own people. He then asks to speak to them one last time, which goes terribly bad, and the Roman Commander has to save him again. Then the Roman Commander himself decides to have Paul tortured, from which he barely escapes. Next, he is put in front of the Jewish ruling council, which goes so bad that the Roman Commander throws him in prison just to keep him safe.
Paul’s time in Jerusalem has been a total train wreck of a ministry operation. But there is a critical message in these difficult chapters for us; In the midst of failure after failure, with everything going as wrong as it possibly can, even then, God is at work behind the scenes. If you have given your life to God today, then he is at work behind the scenes, whether it looks like it or not.
After Paul’s string of failures, he is finally carried away by the Roman soldiers and thrown into prison. Alone and in the dark, Paul is physically, emotionally, and spiritually - spent, finished, done. Paul’s love for the Jewish people and his love for Jerusalem, lay in ashes at his feet. Right now Paul needs some serious encouragement. So the Lord himself, who has been at work behind the scenes the entire time, personally delivers the encouragement Paul needs. Acts 23:11 says; “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “take courage . . . (esv).” The Lord Jesus stood by Paul’s side. That alone makes all the difference in the world. Paul was in the fire, and Jesus was there with him. just like the 3 Hebrew boys thrown into the fiery furnace in Daniel Ch 3. The king saw a fourth, divine figure, in the fire with them and the boys walked out not even smelling like smoke. This is the same Lord, in a similar fire with Paul, and the first thing Jesus says is; “Take courage.” I am with you, take courage.
Then Jesus tells Paul; Your ministry is not finished yet. Continuing in Acts 23:11, the Lord says; “ . . . for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Jesus is confirming Paul’s ministry efforts here in Jerusalem. He is letting Paul know; This has all been part of the plan. It doesn’t seem like a very good part, but it has been part of God’s plan. And God is not finished with Paul yet. God is sending Paul to Rome. At this point Paul knows - the Lord is with him and he is at work behind the scenes, right in the midst of all these difficulties. This confidence absolutely carried Paul on a very long and difficult journey to Rome. Through it all Paul knew he was going to make it there, because the Lord was with him, and Paul was headed right where God wanted him to go.
Isaiah 43:1–3 says; ". . . Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . (esv).”
If you have given your life to Jesus Christ today, then he has redeemed you and called you by name. He is with you, and he is at work, maybe behind the scenes. But he has promised to finish the good work that he has started in you (Phil 1:6). Trust him. Meet him, right in the middle of the flood, right in the fire, right in the midst of uncertainty . . . he is there - look for him! All of Paul’s efforts in Jerusalem had failed miserably, but in Acts 23:11 the Lord confirms that he was still right in the middle of God’s will for his life. God was still at work, right on schedule, right in the midst of all those train wreck failures. Isn’t that good news for those of us who are following the Lord in the midst of our own failures? Take courage. God is at work, behind the scenes. The only question is: Will we trust him, and follow him, no matter what? If we will, then we will find that God was at work all along, behind the scenes.
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