Paul – The Free Prisoner of Love
“Christ's love has moved me … His love has the first and last word in everything we do.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 – The Message
Once again we learn from and are hopefully transformed by the example of Paul, the free prisoner of love, a love-slave of Jesus Christ. In Acts 27 we saw him as a prisoner, captain the ship, give practical help, and encourage all on board and thus God used him to save the lives of all 276 men. Now as we come to chapter 28 we see Paul serving, healing and according to church tradition (though not recorded in Scripture) leading many to Christ and establishing a church on the island of Malta. Paul had a passion to see all men reconciled to God through Christ and it seems almost impossible that he would not have preached the gospel many times over during their three month stay on Malta. Also, the generous response of love demonstrated in verse 10 seems to indicate this. This prisoner of love (2 Cor. 5:14) continues his inspired words in 2 Corinthians by saying: 20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20)
28:1-6 – From a murderer to a god – the fickleness of man’s judgment. Though their judgment was wrong because it was based on Greek mythology, Jesus speaks of how all unbelievers judge wrongly. “When he (Holy Spirit) comes, he'll expose the error of the godless world's view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He'll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.”(John 16:8 – The Message) Before I was saved I (Len) had all three of these wrong: My view of sin before I got saved was – well I make mistakes but nobody’s perfect and I don’t commit the big sins like so and so does. Now I know from Scripture that sin separates us from God now and for all eternity unless we come to salvation. And that sin against God is so serious it required God to pour out his wrath on Jesus (who voluntarily chose to take it out of love for me/us). My view of righteousness before I got saved was – well I might not be as good as Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, but I’m a pretty good guy (not), a decent husband (not), and dad (not), etc. Now I see from Scripture that the only righteousness a holy God can accept is perfect righteousness and the saying nobody is perfect is not true. There was One Who was and is – the spotless Lamb of God and He credited me with His righteousness the day I asked Him to be my Savior. “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”(2 Cor. 5:21) In other words, righteousness has to come from God, it can’t come from man – i.e., self-righteousness (my works, deeds) cannot be accepted by a perfectly holy God. My view of God’s judgment before I got saved was – well basically that God judged on the curve and was full of love and mercy, etc. God wouldn’t send me to hell for my little sins. My view of God’s judgment after I got saved is the truth of eternal hell for all those who reject God’s free but costly payment for their sin. I now explain God’s judgment to others by getting them to see that we all want a Just God. Just imagine a man breaking into your home and cruelly torturing and killing your wife and children and making you watch as he does it. Then he is caught and his day of sentencing has come and the jury has found him guilty. He is asked if he has any last words before he is sentenced and he stands up and begs for the judge’s mercy. And the judge says, Ok, I am feeling very merciful today and I am going to let you off, go, you’re free. How would you feel! ENRAGED! NOT FAIR, UNJUST! You see we do want a God of justice when we are wronged BUT we want a God of mercy when it comes to our countless sins against Him/others. (See the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:23-35)
28:7-11 – The healing ministry of Paul (and possibly Dr. Luke) – “Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.” Throughout the book at Acts we see Paul and others exercising the gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:9) which God often uses to confirm His Reality to unbelievers to lead them to the ultimate healing – eternal life. Some commentators suggest that God used Luke’s natural gifts as a physician as well to bring healing. Both are gifts from God. After three months of ministry they set sail for Rome and are blessed with all the supplies they needed and expressions of respect and honor. Again, this may indicate their coming to Christ and honoring Paul and Luke for their ministry of healing and the gospel. It is possible and maybe even likely that many of the 276 soldiers, sailors, merchants and other prisoners came to Christ at this time. Paul, the prisoner of love, was surely about the Lord’s business.
28:12-16 – The long-awaited dream is realized; ministry in Rome: 7” To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” (Romans 1:7-10) Paul wrote this letter some three years before his arrival. Some of the Jews from Rome who were banished by Claudius (Acts 18:2) had come to Jerusalem and heard the gospel and took it back to Rome when Nero replaced Claudius. He has fellowship with some Christians in Puteoli and then we see this amazing response to Paul as some believers walked 30 to 40 miles to welcome him. Maybe the believers in Puteoli spread the word that their hero was headed their way. This greatly encouraged Paul. Again, maybe this came from the realization of his years of desire to share Christ both with the saved and the lost, both his Jewish brothers and Gentiles. And the welcome of his fellow believers, probably both Jewish and Gentile believers, really blessed him. I am sure he could see and feel their love and thanksgiving for his tireless and selfless ministry for some thirty years. 9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9) The greatest welcome of course will be from our Lord Jesus and we can be encouraged to persevere as we long to see and hear his welcome: Well done my good and faithful servant!
28:17-29 – to the Jew first – 16” I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” In spite of the mistreatment from his Jewish countrymen Paul never lost his love and desire for them to come to know their Messiah – the hope of Israel (v. 20) He would always go to the synagogues first and then go to the Gentiles. Jesus did the same (See Matt. 10:5-6). And a remnant of Jews came to salvation but the nation as a whole rejected Jesus as their King/Messiah and will until the end of the Tribulation (See Matthew 22:1-14, Romans 9-11 and Zechariah 13). Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 regarding the hardness of Israel’s heart toward God in Isaiah’s day and throughout their history. [“You see, willful unbelief is turned into sovereign unbelief. Now what began as willful blindness turned into sovereign blindness. He who will not believe may find some day that he cannot believe.” John MacArthur on Acts 28] This leads us to the next verse:
“30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” From the Fall in Genesis 3 to the last chapter in the Bible, God is calling us to come to Him, and He has made a way for anyone who will to come to salvation. 17 “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev. 22:17)
We also see Paul preaching and teaching, doing evangelism and discipleship. Discipleship is a means of evangelism. The goal is for the maturity of believers so they will reach out to the lost in their network of relationships. Bill Bright, the former president of Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru) said it this way. “If I were on an airplane for a two hour flight seated between two men I didn’t know and one was an immature believer and the other was an unbeliever, where do you think I would invest the two hours I had?” Most would answer, with the unbeliever, knowing Dr. Bright’s heart for the lost. But he said he would invest it in the believer challenging him to grow and reproduce for by doing that he would double his outreach to other lost people. Paul seemed to think this way as we see him telling his disciple Timothy: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:1-2) This is a four-fold reproduction: Paul is the first, Timothy is the second, faithful men are the third, and others are the fourth. (See Dare to Multiply at http://www.gocampus.org/modx/index.php?id=100)
The book of Acts ends with these two sentences, and with the on-going ministry of Paul while in prison (he wrote four epistles and led many to Christ) and afterwards. We can glean from other epistles that he wrote after this imprisonment that he was released after two years and had another two years or more of ministry. He was then imprisoned again by the Romans and this time executed, probably beheaded. And since the book of Acts is to show us the on-going ministry of Jesus through the apostles and the church by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are now a part of the story and will be until the church is taken up (the Rapture) and God turns back to Israel as His primary means of salvation during the Tribulation period. In the meantime we have work to do so like Paul, let’s get about “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
Paul, the free prisoner of love, a love-slave of Jesus Christ – Would you like this to be a description of your life? Free, but voluntarily giving your life as a servant of Jesus to do God’s will for your life? Discuss what it would take to get to that point of love, surrender and service.
“When he (Holy Spirit) comes, he'll expose the error of the godless world's view of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” What were your views of sin, righteousness and judgment before you came to Christ, and now?
The healing ministry of Paul (and possibly Dr. Luke) – How can you use and further develop the gifts God has given you to bring healing, body, soul and spirit, to those around you?
I am sure Paul could see and feel the love and thanksgiving from the Jews and Gentiles there in Rome for his tireless and selfless ministry for some thirty years. 9 “Let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6 :9) The greatest welcome of course will be from our Lord Jesus and we can be encouraged to persevere as we long to see and hear his welcome: Well done my good and faithful servant! Does Paul’s example of 30 plus years of selfless and tireless ministry encourage you to not get weary in doing good? Discuss your answers.
“He who will not believe may find some day that he cannot believe.” (Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9-10) John MacArthur on Acts 28 – How can this truth help our unbelieving friends who continue to procrastinate in receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord?
Discipleship is a means of evangelism – What was Paul’s strategy of reaching the world for Christ seen in 2 Tim. 2:1-2? Who may the Lord be calling you to disciple, your Timothy? (See Dare to Multiply at http://www.gocampus.org/modx/index.php?id=100)
How are you and I a part of “Acts” today?