Today we are finishing up a series of sermons looking at the life and mission of the Apostle Paul. Paul is an important figure for us to learn from because it is his life and teaching that has shaped our faith. Paul not only established churches throughout the Roman Empire, he set forth a missionary zeal that helped spread Christianity around the world. Paul wrote 13 of the 27 books in our New Testament and half of the book of Acts records Paul’s life and ministry so his influence on our faith remains strong to this day. Paul was called by God to take the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles and while he faced opposition all along the way – Paul was faithful to that call and as we will see, he was faithful to the end.
Each of us has also been called by God. We have been called to live for God and to be faithful to following the way of Jesus in our own personal lives and we have been called to use our own unique gifts to serve God in this world. This doesn’t mean we have to work in a church or mission or non-profit and it doesn’t mean travelling around the world talking about Jesus but it does mean we need to figure out how to serve God right where we are in school at home and at work. No matter where we spend our time, we are called to serve God and to take the message and love of Jesus with us and we have learned from Paul how to be faithful to that call.
Last week we heard about the work Paul did on his third missionary journey that took him to Ephesus and how the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in that community changing people’s hearts and lives. After 2 years in Ephesus, Paul left and travelled throughout Macedonia but the rest of this trip wasn’t just to encourage the people, Paul was also collecting an offering for the church in Jerusalem.
Paul had told the churches he established to set aside an offering for those in need in Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3
Paul had heard about a famine that hit Jerusalem and how the Jewish believers were in need, by encouraging the gentile churches to help the church in Jerusalem Paul was not only helping people in need but he was working to form one church. For Paul there was neither Jew nor Gentile because we are all one in Christ and reaching out to serve others is one way to bring people together. Paul asked the people to set aside an offering and told them he would come and pick it up and take it to Jerusalem and when Paul left Ephesus – that was his mission.
Paul made his way to Troas and then journeyed all through Macedonia visiting churches and collecting the offerings. On his way back, Paul didn’t stop in Ephesus but went to a small town called Miletus where he asked the leaders from Ephesus to come and meet with him. Paul knew this would be the last time he would see these people that he had come to know and love. Acts 20:21-24
Paul knew that hardship and persecution was coming. While he didn’t know what it would look like, Paul knew that whatever awaited him would mean that he would never return to Ephesus. After lots of tears and prayers, Paul sailed toward Syria and landed in Tyre where he was urged not to go to Jerusalem because danger awaited him. Paul went anyway and sailed south to Caesarea where he was met by a prophet who again told him not to go to Jerusalem. Acts 21:11-14
This was the second time Paul had been warned not to go to Jerusalem but Paul was not deterred. He was not afraid of what would happen to him in Jerusalem, he was confident of his call and determined to do all that God had asked of him, so instead of running away from danger Paul ran right into it. Paul could do this not because he was brave but because he was faithful. Paul said, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
What gave Paul confidence and strength to face the danger that awaited him was that he had seen the risen Christ and had been called by Jesus. It was Paul’s faith that kept him going forward.
Following Jesus often means we will be called to run toward danger and not from it. Like the best in our military and first responders we are not called to an easy life where we avoid hardships but to a life where we are called to share the good news of Jesus on the front lines. At home, at work, in school and in the community we are the ones who need to run to where we see a problem and get involved. We need to be the ones who run to where people are hurting and feeling hopeless and offer help.
What has always encouraged me about Faith Church is that you are a church willing to run head first, heart first and hands first to meet a need. Last year when money was needed to support the pastors of Sierra Leone, $31,000 was given in a week to make sure pastors could continue their ministry in one of the poorest nations on earth. The year before when Ebola was devastating the nation of Sierra Leone, $15,000 was given to support communities and bring hope.
Close to 15 years ago when there was a need to care for people in Bellefonte this congregation ran head, heart and hands first to create the Faith Centre which continues to meet the needs of hundreds of people every week in our community. I hear from those who manage the food bank that every week people stop in the food bank to quietly give gift cards to help feed the hungry and this is what it looks like to run toward a problem and not from it. Like Paul, we may not know what we are getting into – but because we have heard the call of God – we move forward. As followers of Jesus we need to be running toward the problems of our society and not from them and we need to be faithful in sharing Jesus with a world that wants to turn from him.
Paul went straight to Jerusalem and when he arrived, Jewish leaders accused him of teaching people to turn away from the laws of God and a riot broke out. Paul was beaten by the crowds and it was the Roman Guards who rescued Paul by arresting him and carrying him away in chains. This began a series of trials for Paul that gave him the opportunity to share his testimony and faith in Jesus Christ.
First Paul spoke before the crowds and shared how Jesus called him and then he spoke before the Jewish leadership council called the Sanhedrin. After a plot was discovered to kill Paul, he was transferred to Caesarea where he spent the next several years in prison sharing the good news of Jesus with the Roman Governors Felix and Festus and then finally King Agrippa. I invite you to read these encounters this week, you can find them on the next steps.
Finally Paul realized that he would never have his situation resolved in Caesarea so he appealed to Rome where his case could be considered. What I love about this request is that Paul managed to get himself to Rome, which was a goal of his, but didn’t have to pay for the trip because he was being sent as a prisoner.
Paul was put on a ship and sent to Rome. They would have sailed along the coast to stay in calmer waters and then crossed over the open see. It was just south of Malta that the ship hit a storm and was shipwrecked. What you see here today is not just a glimpse of VBS this week, but also a teaser for next week’s sermon because we will come back to look at the story of Paul’s shipwreck and what we can learn from it, but for now let’s just say that after some time in Malta, Paul continued on and landed at Puteoli and then travelled by land to Rome.
All that the book of Acts tells us about Paul’s time in Rome is that he was held under house arrest but given the freedom to meet with people and share the good news of Jesus with others. Here is how the story of Paul ends in Acts 28:30-31.
But this is not the end of the story for Paul. By the time the book of Acts was written, Paul had already died and everyone reading this would have known the rest of the story which makes us wonder why the author, Luke, didn’t tell that story. Maybe he was going to write another book or maybe he wanted to leave the readers focused on the power of Paul’s life which was being faithful to the call of God to preach to the gentiles.
While Acts doesn’t tell us the end of Paul’s story, we need to hear it and learn from it. Paul did spend time under house arrest but he may have also been released to continue sharing the gospel across the Roman Empire and maybe as far away as Spain. In 64 AD there was a fire in Rome and the Emperor Nero placed the blame for the fire on the Christians. Many were arrested and thrown into prison. Both Paul and Peter were in Rome at this time so both of them were arrested and we believe Paul was kept in the Mamertine prison in Rome before he was beheaded.
|Inside Mamertine Prison in Rome|
From this dark, damp dungeon Paul may have written some of his final letters to the churches, actually he would have dictated them to those who were sitting up above him. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to be in this kind of prison, but I imagine it to be similar to what those young boys are experiencing in a cave in Thailand. Picture yourself in a dark prison waiting to die, would you be able to say this…
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.
Philippians 1:20-21 – I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life of by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
And this may have been some of Paul’s final words…
2 Timothy 4:6-8 – I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
From the time Paul left Ephesus until his final moments in Rome, a span of about 8 years, Paul was faithful to the call of God. He didn’t run from opposition and persecution but straight into it. When the road in front of him was difficult Paul didn’t look for an easier way or more comfortable conditions. Sitting in prison and waiting to die Paul doesn’t say “Why me?” Paul was willing to be poured out in order to be faithful. Paul was willing to be humble and give himself completely in order to be faithful and he did it with boldness and joy. Yes joy, some of his other final words written from prison were these: Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice.
Paul was faithful to the end and his story needs to be our story. When we face disappointments we need to turn from the temptation to ask “why me” and simply pick up and keep going knowing that God goes with us. When we face failure or opposition we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and continue to make sure we are following God’s purpose and plan. Even when tragedy strikes or our health may fail, we need to remain faithful to God and the call of God in our lives. Like Paul, when we face any and all problems we need to remember the power of God, present in our lives, and make this our focus and prayer, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. God has called us – let us be faithful and press on in Christ Jesus our Lord until the very end.
Called to Faithfulness
Paul’s final journey takes him from Jerusalem to Rome.
1. Read about Paul’s legal trials and his defense.
• Acts 22:1-21 – Paul’s testimony before the crowds.
• Acts 24:1-27 – Paul’s testimony before Felix.
• Acts 25:23-26:32 – Paul’s testimony before Festus and King Agrippa.
2. Paul returned to Jerusalem, in part, to bring an offering to help the church.
• What needs do you see, near or far, that can use your help and support?
• Set aside money each pay period to support the work of the local church, global missions and the needs of the poor.
• Our VBS Offering next Sunday will help fill and send the container in our parking lot to Belize. Help support this mission with your gifts next Sunday in worship.
3. Like our Armed Forces and First Responders, Paul didn’t run from danger but straight into it. Take some time to thank our Armed Forces and First Responders with notes of appreciation and prayers for safety. What needs do you see that the church can run towards to offer hope, help and healing?
4. Paul wrote several of his letters while in prison. Pick one of these letters to read this week: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, I & II Timothy or Titus.