After being imprisoned by Felix for two years, Felix is succeeded by Festus, who decides to consult with King Agrippa. Paul is brought in front of Agrippa and starts his defense. He tells of his background – how he grew up in a strict Jewish sect and was a Pharisee. He was so convinced that Jesus was not the Messiah, he persecuted Christians, sending them to prison, and then condemning to death. He was so eager to punish them, he even went chasing them into foreign cities.
He then talked about how he met the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus, who told Paul that he would testify for Him to both Jews and Gentiles, so that they might receive forgiveness. In obedience, Paul preached to those in Damascus, then Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and to the Gentiles. And now, Paul is preaching to King Agrippa.
After this, Agrippa, Festus and Bernice all agree that Paul has done nothing wrong under Roman law, and that Paul could have been released, had he not appealed to the emperor.
Although Paul believed he was doing the right thing by appealing to the emperor, it turns out that had he not done so, he would have been released. Instead, Paul remains a prisoner, and will have to travel to Rome under guard and make an appeal to the emperor.
Sometimes, even if we did things that we thought were the Lord’s will, we end up in situations that are worse than had we not acted. When that happens, we tend to wonder what went wrong and what we should have done differently. When bad things happen to us, we immediately focus on our situation and wonder how we are going to get out of it.
Paul doesn’t seem to think like this. He acts as if the unexpected bad things that happen are opportunities to witness for the Lord. He first thinks of ministry, rather than how to get out of the tough situation.
How would our lives look different if we are able to take the same approach that Paul did? Instead of crying over “spilt milk”, we could be seeking means to use the situation to witness for the Lord.
Sometimes things happen unexpectedly and we’re not sure what to do about it. Our tendency might be to fight the situation if we don’t like the direction. Or go with it if it seems good to us. But if we choose solely based on whether it seems good for us, then we may be passing up an opportunity that the Lord is giving us. It is always good to not lean on our own understanding, but to pray about it and give the Holy Spirit a chance to guide us as to what the Lord would have us do.
Paul ends up sailing for Rome in autumn of 59AD, and reaches Rome in the spring of 60AD, after many adventures. He will stay under house arrest in Rome for 2 years. This means that because he appealed to the emperor, Paul spends at least an additional 2.5 years as a Roman prisoner.
On the surface, this does not sound like a positive outcome for Paul. However, at the same time, Paul accomplished many things for the Kingdom of God through the appeal to Rome. He witnessed and preached to rulers, soldiers, Jews and Gentiles. He healed and witnessed for the Lord through his actions during crisis, as well as saving lives.
During his two years in Rome, he wrote four letters that are part of the New Testament – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These letters would minister to believers for centuries to come.
A few years prior to this, around 57AD, Paul wrote the letters to the Roman church while he was in Corinth. In it, he expressed his desires to visit the Roman church on his way to Spain. This became a reality when he finally reached Rome.
Paul’s main desire for his life was to be a witness for Jesus Christ through words, deeds and behavior. He did the best in trying to have his steps be guided by the Holy Spirit. Whether he took the right steps or not, he ministered as best as he could through all situations and places in which he found himself.
We all make many decisions in our lives that affect our lives. Sometimes we make it for selfish reasons, other times we make it thinking that we are following the Lord’s will. Sometimes things happen in our lives that are unexpected and not under our control, and yet, change greatly the course of our lives. Some of these are large, but many times, it is a series of small changes. Each one of us can look back on our lives and see the cumulative effects of all these course changing events that got us to our present situation. We can anticipate that there will be more of these to direct our paths going forward.
Although we can’t change the past, we can learn from it. Instead of making decisions based just on facts, we can be in prayer and see how the Holy Spirit might guide us. But even when we are not sure at the moment that we are making the right decisions, be confident that the Holy Spirit will help us to witness for the Lord, even if we didn’t make the best choice.
We should take to heart what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:2 – proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.
Whatever situation we find ourselves in, whether the time is good or bad, proclaim the message. This is the attitude that Paul had, and so should we.
(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship on October 30, 2022.)