The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Rome Finally

Years ago our young family vacationed at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  It was this N.J. boy’s first trip to the South.  I was fascinated and excited to arrive.  In today’s text, the apostle Paul arrives in Rome–the city he long hoped to visit, albeit not as a prisoner.

Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there for three days; then we weighed anchor and came to Rhegium. After one day there a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli.  There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome (Acts 28:11-14).Three winter months on Malta, when sea travel was treacherous. They embark early February on a grain ship.  After a day’s sail, they reach Syracuse on the east coast of Sicily.  They spend three days there, then set sail again, docking at Rhegium on Italy’s toe.  There they wait one day for a south wind to blow, taking them 180 miles in two days to Puteoloi, the principal port of southern Italy.

Image result for map of paul 4th missionary journey

In Puteolois they find a community of Christians.  While the centurion conducts week-long business, Paul is permitted to visit them.

“And so we came to Rome.”  But, author Luke will backtrack to tell of an important meeting.

The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage (Acts 28:15).

A few miles north of Puteoloi, they reach the Appian Way.  News of Paul’s approach has reached the capital city, so believers from there travel south.  Some walk 33 miles to Three Taverns.  Others travel 10 miles further to meet the apostle at the market town of Appius.  Paul thanks God for their encouraging presence.  Three years have passed since he wrote the Rome church, and he must have wondered how they received it.  Now his long desire to visit Rome (thoughunder different circumstances) is being realized, and their welcome lifts his spirits.

When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.  But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor — even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:16-22).

Paul is allowed a measure of freedom awaiting his trial.  He lives in a private house, lightly chained by his wrist to a Roman soldier.  (Interesting to speculate on Paul’s conversations with these guards, who change every four hours.  They, of course, hear everything Paul teaches his visitors.)

After three days Paul makes contact with the leaders of the Jews, inviting them to come to him.  He insists he did nothing against “our people” or against “the customs of our ancestors”.  Nevertheless, he was arrested and handed over to the Romans who wanted to free him.  But the Jews objected, forcing him to prove his innocence by appealing to Caesar.  He is a prisoner, he says, “for the sake of the hope of Israel”; that is, for the fulfillment of that hope in Messiah Jesus.

The Jews deny knowledge of Paul’s case (they want little to do with Paul and his Christianity).  All they know is Paul’s Christianity is everywhere-opposed by the Jews.  But they’re willing “to hear from you what you think”.

 After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.  Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe.  So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,  ‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.’  Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts28:23-28).

They come together again, this time more Jews than before.  Paul labors long “to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets”.  They  disagree with each other, some convinced, the majority refusing to believe.  The bulk of the Jewish community, then, stands opposed to Messiah Jesus.

Paul pronounces the Holy Spirit’s words through the prophet.  Isaiah 6:9,10 stands in judgment against them, a solemn last word in Acts. If Romans 9-11 is any indication, Paul spoke these words with sorrow.  But Jewish disbelief means riches for the Gentiles.  “ . . . they will listen”. 

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30,31).

W.M Ramsay (19th & 20th century New Testament scholar) suggests the two years was “the statutory period within which the prosecution might state its case”.  If the Romans did or not, we don’t know.  Many scholars argue that Paul was later released and traveled again.  In any case, for those two years, the gospel spread.

There, in a house unknown to us Paul received visitors.  And with courage and without hindrance he preached the fulfillment of God’s saving reign in the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly the Romans knew—and allowed it. So there, in the heart of the empire, Luke shows Acts 1:8 being fulfilled:  the Lord Jesus Christ is made known “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 * * *

Since Acts closes in “unfinished” fashion, I believe Paul’s (crazy) route to Rome is a paradigm for today.  I’m thinking of men and women who cross language and culture lines (missionaries) with the gospel.  I have a friend who ministers in a country officially “closed” to the gospel among a little-known people group.  Families are coming to faith in Christ.  God still gets his servants where he wants them to make his good news known.

One important reason to faithfully support our missionaries in prayer and finances.

 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come
(Jesus, Mat
thew 24:14).







In 2000 “Castaway”, Tom Hanks played a FedEx employee marooned on an island after his plane crashes in the South Pacific.  Hanks has to transform himself physically and emotionally to survive.  In today’s text Paul and 275 other men are castaways on a Mediterranean island with an experience quite different from Hanks’.

After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it.  Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.  When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.”  He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.  They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god (Acts 28:1-6).

Image result for map Paul's ship journey to Rome

Safely on shore, the men learn they are on Malta.  Luke calls the people barbaroi—“barbarians.”  The island, strategically lying at the narrows of the Mediterranean was settled in the 6th century B.C.  In 216 B.C. Rome captured it from Carthage and Augustus settled Roman veterans there.  These “barbarians” are descended from the Carthaginians.

Luke is probably using barbaroi to mean “natives” of the island.  In any case, they show remarkable kindness to the 276 survivors.  It’s a cold, rainy morning and the castaways are wet to the bone.  So the “natives” build a welcoming fire to warm them.

Paul pitches in.  But as he lays sticks on the fire, a viper, cold and stiff in the twigs, grabs his hand.  The islanders see.  To them, it’s a sign.  The man survived the sea, but Justice wins out.  The man must be a murderer.  When they see Paul shake off the snake, they wait for him  “to swell up or suddenly drop dead.”   When he doesn’t, the “sign” changes.  He must be “a god”. 

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him.  After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.  They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed (Acts 28:7-10).

Publius, a land-owner, is island-chief.  He courteously welcomes the shipwrecked men and orders them fed for three days.  When Paul learns Publius’ father is ill, he goes in and prays for him and the man is healed.  Then, in a scene reminiscient of Jesus in Galilee, crowds of sick flocked to Paul “and were cured”.  The “barbarians” treated them royally then.  And when the men were ready to sail, the islanders filled the ship with “all the provisions [they] needed”.

* * *

God provided.  A fire to warmly welcome the castaways.  Food from the chief for three days.  A shipful of provisions for the trip to Rome.

God provides.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”

God provides.

God lavished mercy.  The barbarians could have been indifferent to the castaways, or hostile.  Instead, they were kind.  Publius’ father was a pagan, one single sick old man.  God healed him.  The islanders were pagans.  Yet every sick one who came to Paul was cured.

God lavishes mercy.

You were dead through the trespasses and sins  in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.  All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.  But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:1-9).

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22,23).

God lavishes mercy.

Encouragement for us next time we feel like “castaways”.

















The most famous shipwreck of all time is the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic.  It went down in the Atlantic, tragically claiming 1,514 lives on its maiden voyage April 14, 1910.  Not until 1985 did an expedition find the shipwreck and discover the Titanic split in half–two sections lying in the ocean floor about 1/3 a mile apart, the stern crushed, the bow remarkably intact.

No one made a movie about Paul’s shipwreck.  But hundreds of thousands have read about it.

Image result for map Paul's ship journey to Rome

About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near (Acts 27:27).

Two weeks.  324 hours.  Almost 500 nautical miles.  The storm has blasted its fury on the ship and its crew and passengers.  Suddenly, in midnight’s blackness, the sailors hear waves crashing on rock and sense land is near.

They took soundings and found the water was only 120 feet deep. A little later they sounded again and found only 90 feet. At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight (Acts 27:28,29).

Soundings show water’s depth shrinking fast.  They throw out stern anchors.

Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the prow. But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” So the soldiers cut the ropes and let the boat fall off (Acts 27:30-32).

Sailors try to abandon ship in the lifeboat.  Paul warns everyone will die unless they all stay aboard.  The sailors cut the lifeboat’s ropes and waves catch it away.

As the darkness gave way to the early morning light, Paul begged everyone to eat. “You haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged, and all 276 of us began eating — for that is the number we had aboard (Acts 27:33-37).

Night’s eerie darkness surrenders to pre-dawn light.  Paul, the prisoner, has become a leader.  He urges everyone to eat.  They’ll need strength for the challenge ahead.  With words reminiscent of the Eucharist, he eats.  His confidence encourages them all.  The whole ship—276 of them—start eating.

After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.  When morning dawned, they didn’t recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get between the rocks and get the ship safely to shore. So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore (Acts 27:38-40).

The crew throws overboard the wheat cargo, a final attempt to lighten the ship.  Morning brings clear sight of an unknown coastline—a bay with a beach.  Could they sail between the rocks and reach shore?  They try.

But the ship hit a shoal and ran aground. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart. The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land, and he told the others to try for it on planks and debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely ashore (Acts 27:41-44)!

The ship hits a sandbar, its bow aground while waves smash the stern.  Guards who lose prisoners pay with their lives.  “Kill them!” shout the soldiers.  “Kill them before they escape!”  But the centurion wants to save Paul; he orders the prisoners spared. Everyone is commanded overboard, swim or float on debris.  They all survive the stormy waves and reach the beach.

* * *

Hard to imagine the apostle Paul swimming for his life through rough seas from a shipwreck toward a strange shore.  I find it harder to imagine God’s reason for sending Paul on that ship to Rome.  Surely there were others.  Earlier, when the seas weren’t so treacheerous.  Paul did evangelize on their safe island.  And Lord only knows the effect of his witness on the ship’s crew and the centurion with his soldiers.  But two years of prison in Caesarea and a long near-deadly ship vogage seem an outsized price to pay.  God must have had other reasons, I guess.  But he’s not telling.

What’s even more surprising is that God didn’t save Paul from shipwreck, but through it.  How like Jesus!  God didn’t save Jesus from the cross, but through it.  That’s good news.

So is this:  God saves his suffering people.  Here’s the less-good news:  God saves his people through suffering, but usually not from it.

I’m staggered at how many and how much Christians suffer.  In Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Pastor Timothy Keller writes, “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”  Death, and often its painful precursor, is the ultimate example.  It comes to us all–the most devastating shipwreck.

But God saves us through it.  If we’re believers, we pass through “the valley of the shadow of death”–and meet Jesus on the other side, suffering gone with the “better by far” come.

Still, while surrendering to his will, I pray God save me from “shipwrecks.”




Northeaster & the Angel

“ . . . the sea represents a place of peril, of human vulnerability, the place where would-be sailors are at the mercy of the elements” (William Willimon–American theologian and bishop in the United Methodist Church).  True story today, but especially so in the 1st century.  Paul, now a prisoner at Caesarea, is taken by sea to Rome.

When the time came, we set sail for Italy. Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of an army officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment. And Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was also with us. We left on a boat whose home port was Adramyttium; it was scheduled to make several stops at ports along the coast of the province of Asia (Acts 27:1,2).

Image result for map Paul's ship journey to Rome

“We” implies Luke, as well as Aristarchus, is traveling with Paul, who is under the guard of Julius, a Roman centurion.  Julius chooses a ship which will stop at Asian ports as it makes its way home to Adramyttium. The ship sailed north from Caesarea reaching Sidon in about 24 hours . . .

The next day when we docked at Sidon, Julius was very kind to Paul and let him go ashore to visit with friends so they could provide for his needs (Acts 27:3).

Friends” in Sidon had probably been evangelized in the dispersion after Stephen’s martyrdom.  It’s likely Paul had previously visited the church.  Now the centurion allows Paul to visit them for a meal and maybe some supplies to help on his journey.

Putting out to sea from there, we encountered headwinds that made it difficult to keep the ship on course, so we sailed north of Cyprus between the island and the mainland. We passed along the coast of the provinces of Cilicia and Pamphylia, landing at Myra, in the province of Lycia. There the officer found an Egyptian ship from Alexandria that was bound for Italy, and he put us on board (Acts 27:4-6).

As they set sail on the westward leg of the journey, headwinds hinder their course. They  use the island of Cyrus as a shield and dock at Myra, a regular port-of-call for grain vessels.  The centurion now books passage on another grain ship destined for Italy.  Since it is early fall, some commentators suggest ship  owners were trying to squeeze in one more trip before winter, when seas were especially treacherous.

We had several days of rough sailing, and after great difficulty we finally neared Cnidus. But the wind was against us, so we sailed down to the leeward side of Crete, past the cape of Salmone. We struggled along the coast with great difficulty and finally arrived at Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. We had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for long voyages by then because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it. “Sirs,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on — shipwreck, loss of cargo, injuries, and danger to our lives.” But the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul. And since Fair Havens was an exposed harbor — a poor place to spend the winter — most of the crew wanted to go to Phoenix, farther up the coast of Crete, and spend the winter there. Phoenix was a good harbor with only a southwest and northwest exposure (Acts 27:7-12).

Gale-force winds now make sailing westward impossible.  “The weather was becoming dangerous for long voyages . . . because it was so late in the fall . . . “   Officers and crew hold a council.  Paul, an experienced traveler,is pulled in.  He warns of danger if they go on.  But they decide they can make safer harbor.  They turn south and “struggled . . . with great difficulty” and finally reach Fair Havens. “Winter sailing” meant “scant daylight, long nights, dense cloud cover, poor visibility and the double raging of winds, showers and snow (Military Institutions of the Romans 4.39).  It is now October A.D. 59.  The ship is anchored in a harbor exposed to wind-whipped seas.

So Paul’s warning to the ship’s officers is well-founded—but disregarded.  Most of the crew argue to continue on to Phoenix, where a good harbor for wintering awaits.

When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed along close to shore.  But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (a “northeaster,” they called it) caught the ship and blew it out to sea.  They couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.  We sailed behind a small island named Cauda, where with great difficulty we hoisted aboard the lifeboat that was being towed behind us. Then we banded the ship with ropes to strengthen the hull. The sailors were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor and were thus driven before the wind. The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. The following day they even threw out the ship’s equipment and anything else they could lay their hands on.  The terrible storm raged unabated for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. No one had eaten for a long time (Acts 27:13-21a).

A gentle, summer-like south wind springs up; the sailors think they can make Phoenix.  Soon after pulling up anchor “a wind of typhoon strength” (a “northeaster,” they called it) drives the ship away from the coast and out to sea.  They’re at the storm’s mercy.  To save the dinghy they’re towing from being smashed into the ship they pull it aboard.  To strengthen the ship’s hull from being pounded apart they stretch cables several times around it.  To keep the ship from rising too high in the wave-crests they drop its anchor.  To lighten the ship against the onslaught of waves, they throw “cargo” and some of “the ship’s equipment” overboard.  Extreme measures.  The storm “raged unabated for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.”

Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down.  For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’  So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island” (Acts 21b-26).

After many days fighting the furious storm, the crew gathers around Paul.  Why would they listen?  Probably because Paul’s warning at Fair Havens came true.  Plus they’re desperate for any solution.  Paul’s message is good news-bad news  Good news:  nobody will die.  An angel promises God will keep everyone safe. Bad news:  shipwreck on an island and  the ship will go down.

* * *

We’re called to believe apart from an angel.

It reminds me of Thomas.  When  doubting Thomas saw the resurrected Christ, he finally believed.  Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  I take that to mean special favor, special joy, comes on all of us who believe God, who believe Jesus risen, though we haven’t seen him.

When we sail smooth seas, trusting the Lord’s words doesn’t break a sweat.  But when a “Northeaster” hits, an angel would help, wouldn’t it?  I’m sure one has come to some.  I’ve read several accounts of Christians comforted in suffering by an overwhelming presence of the Lord.  I think most of us, though, are left with promises on a page.  We’re called to believe without an angel.

To make matters worse, the promises confuse.  Some seem to say that if we believe and keep praying, the Lord will deliver us.  Others promise deliverance through death into heaven.  We’re left to trust that God will do what’s best.  And the “worst” is entrance into eternal glory with our Lord.

Sometimes, though, in a raging “Northeaster”, it would be nice to have an angel.








Defining Moment

(This is long.  Paul’s fault, not mine!)

Life has certain “defining moments”.  The birth of a child or the death of a beloved are just two. In human history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the defining moment.  Paul declares this moment in his apologia to King Agrippa.

“A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.  Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: ‘There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner.  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned. I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges.  When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in.  When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected.  Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.  I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges.  When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar’” (Acts 25:13-21).

Agrippa rules for Rome over southern Lebanon and southern Syria.  He is the great-grandson of Herod the Great, Judea’s king during Jesus’ birth. Bernice is his year-younger sister with whom he has an incestuous relationship (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 20.145-46; Juvenal Satires 6.156-60).  The two arrive in Caesarea to pay respects to new Governor Festus.  Over several days, the governor discusses Paul.  Agrippa, probably curious, asks to speak with him.  Felix agrees, hoping this “investigation” will provide an appropriate charge to send with Paul to Rome.

“Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’ He replied, ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’  The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.  Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.  I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.  But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write.  For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him’” (Acts 25:22-25).

Lavish ceremony marks the “investigation”.  The contrast between prisoner Paul and  the “important” leaders is stark.  Festus admits Paul’s done nothing to deserve death; but he’ll send him to Rome because Paul has appealed.  Hopefully he can be sent with a specific charge. King Agrippa invites Paul to speak.

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense:  ‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.  And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me’” (Acts 26:1-7).

The Jews know how I’ve lived, the kind of strict Pharisee I was, begins Paul—then quickly jumps to the heart of his defense.  “ . . . it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today”.  That hope?  Resurrection.

“’Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.  Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them’” (Acts 26:8-11).

Paul admits it:  he once opposed the name of Jesus—violently, obsessively.  But something happened one day that changed everything.

“’On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  “Then I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied.  “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may be sanctified by faith in me”’” (Acts 26:12-18).

“I am Jesus,” the Voice declared.  He was appointing Paul to a mission “as a servant and . . . witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you”.  Jesus.  Jesus is alive!  Risen from the dead! And he is sending Paul “to open [Gentile] eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me”. 

“’So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me’” (Acts 26:19-21).

Paul explains he has been obeying the heavenly vision.  And it was this that agitated the Jews against him.

“’But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles’” (Acts 26:22,23).

Paul claims his preaching is in perfect continuity with Moses and the prophets (see Isaiah 25:6-12).  They said Messiah would rise from the dead.

 “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’  ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’  Paul replied, ‘Short time or long– I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains’” (Acts 26:24-29)

Resurrection is too much for Festus.  Paul must be out of his mind.  Too much learning has led to insanity.  Paul appeals to Agrippa.  Jewish-born, he’s familiar with “these things”.  But, when Paul asks him directly if he believes, he retorts, “Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Agrippa has lost his opportunity and the “investigation” is over.

“The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them.  They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar’” (Acts 26:30-32).

Had Paul been mistaken to appeal to Caesar?  Governor and king both decide Paul is not guilty of any crime against Rome.  Had he not appealed, he could have been set free.  I’ve always read that statement as an “if only”.  Instead, it’s a God-sovereignty statement. The Lord’s night-message to Paul in Jerusalem makes Paul’s appeal as God-ordained . . .

“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem,
so you must also testify in Rome”
(Acts 23:11b).

* * *

Resurrection. The “defining moment”. Jesus was resurrected, and I will be.  When I started preaching, resurrection was a nice, way-far-off hope.  Now, at age 74, resurrection is a way-nearer hope.  Soon I’ll leave to be with Jesus—or even better, Jesus will come.  Either way–ultimately bodily resurrection.

Death is God’s curse for humanity’s sin (“ . . .for dust you are and to dust you will return.”–Genesis 3:19b).  But death is also our enemy (“The last enemy to be destroyed is death”–1 Corinthians 15:26).  Therefore, aging and suffering are too.  God didn’t create us for any of that.  Sin robbed us of life; but God will restore it.  That’s his promise to Old Covenant Israel and to us who believe in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

“ And [the Lord] will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples . . . he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces . . . “ (Isaiah 25:7,8a).  Together with ancient Israel, this is our hope.

Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of ours . . .

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Marriage.  Birth of children.  Career job.  A far-bigger “defining moment” is the moment we trusted our lives to Jesus Christ.

Because that’s the moment we became one “who belongs to him” for resurrection.








“Father, everything is possible for you.
Take this cup from me.”
The words poured from Jesus’ lips,
a plea from the soul-mourning Son.
The dark of Gethsemane’s olive trees
hid him from foes—for a time.
The same black branches
reached to accost him in secret.
The night was dark; evil marched.

He had come, from Passover Supper, to pray,
bringing the Twelve, then three only, to watch.
Soon they slept while he went alone
deeper among the trees, deeper into the night.

His soul grieved unto death.
(Who can grasp his sorrow?  His desolation?)
His mourning became a bodily weight,
crumpling him to the ground in prayer.

He knew the cup that lay ahead.
He could see it, taste it–
the cup of suffering beyond bearing,
the weight of the Father’s wrath
against the world’s sin.
From trembling lips, he prayed.
He didn’t want to bear it.

My cup can’t compare,
as different as day from night.
Yet my suffering persists, years now,
wheelchair- and weakness-bound,
cancer, too, that will surely spread,
unless stayed by the Voice that stopped the sea.
So I pray, “Take this cup from me.”

Apostle James, (against reason?), urges,
“Count it all joy, when you meet trials of any kind,
because you know this tests your faith;
your endurance makes you mature and complete.”
James, I welcome your word;
it reveals God’s good in suffering.
But, I detest the cup;
I grieve at it and long that it be gone.

And, later, James invites the ill:
“Is any one of you sick?
He should call the church elders
to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the faith-prayer will make the sick well;
the Lord will raise him up.”

James would have me welcome trials with joy
and have church elders pray that the Lord remove them.
(Latter done, still working on the former.)

Apostle John adds a condition:
“ . . . if we ask anything according to his will,
he hears us . . . and we know that we have
what we asked of him.”
The Father, then, will give us only what he wants;
his (good) will be done.
But it’s against all in me
to stop pleading,
“Take this cup.”

Surely Jesus fell silent after asking.
Surely he waited for the Father
to hear his cry and carry off the cup.
But heaven stayed still.

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The words came in surrender.
Resolute surrender.
Granite-faced surrender.  Unfaltering.
(I presume to know what lay ahead for him,
what he endured starting that dawn.
I read Gospel reports, try to imagine.
But I can’t comprehend.
Crucifixion.  Sin- and wrath-bearing.
Beyond my grasp.)

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
To drink the cup; it was his Father’s will.
Is it, too, for me?  For my cup?

Shall this be my prayer?
Shall I, too, surrender?
Father, take this cup from me.
In the Resurrection a new body?
Yes, I believe.
In this life healing?
Yes, my heart still pleads.

But this I must pray:
“Yet, not as I will; but your will be done.”

A story is told of two women
Both ill for years, both praying healing prayers.
The first, a missionary.
After eight years she gave up,
surrendered to God’s will.
Shortly after, he made her well.

The second, Catherine Marshall.
Tuberculosis—she prayed long.
Finally: “I handed over to God
every last vestige of self-will,
even my intense desire for whole health.
‘Lord,’ I said, ‘I understand none of this,
but if you want me an invalid—
well, it’s up to you.
I place myself in your hands,
for better or for worse.
I ask only to serve you.’”
That same night,
Jesus appeared and healed her.

This Prayer of Relinquishment
(coined by Catherine)
mustn’t be manipulation,
but full-blown, white-flag surrender,
a laying down of “please, heal me” prayers,
a true, “Thy will be done”.
To resist is mad—he will do as he wills
without my will opposing.
So what’s to be lost by losing control?
No thing.

And what’s to be gained by giving in?
Relief.  Peace.  Intimacy.
If I plead only, “Take this cup”,
do I make him merely means?

I must also pray: “Your will be done”
. . .and fall into his arms.









Felix and  Festus.  Sounds like two characters from Sheriff Andy in Mayberry.  But they were Roman governors of Judea.  The first from 52-58 A.D.  His successor from 59-62 A.D.  They’re important to us, because Paul was tried by both.

When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24:27).

No verdict from Felix after two years.  He was recalled to Rome and was succeeded by Festus.  Paul languished in prison.

 “Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul.  They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.  Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong’” (Acts 25:1-5).

First on the agenda, Festus visits Jerusalem, calling the Sanhedrin and other leaders to present the charges against Paul.  They urgently ask the governor for a favor:  “Might you transfer Paul from Caesarea to Jerusalem?” A change-of-venue request was common.  But author Luke reveals the Jews’ motive:  they want again to ambush Paul.

Festus is unmoved.  The prisoner is in Caesarea.  The governor/judge is going there.  Some of the Jewish leaders should come along to press charges, so a judgment might be made.  Another attempt fails.  Again Providence is protecting the apostle from death.  God wants Paul in Rome.

“After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him.  When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.  Then Paul made his defense: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar’” (Acts 25:6-8).

The next day after returning to Caesarea, Festus “convened the court” (literally, “sat on the judgment seat”).  Paul is brought in and the Jerusalem Jews bring “many serious charges against him”.  They prove unprovable.  According to Luke, Paul’s defense is a simple denial.  He hasn’t transgressed Jewish law or the temple or Caesar.

At this point, then, acquittal should follow.  But . . .

“Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, ‘Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?’  Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well.  If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’  After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: ‘You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!’” (Acts 25:9-12).

Suddenly (to get on the good side of his unruly subjects?), Festus asks Paul.  “Will you stand trial in Jerusalem?” Justice is about to miscarry.  Paul stands firm.  He’s now in Caesar’s court, where his trial should be held.  He’ll die if he deserves it.  But since theJewish charges are untrue, “no one has the right to hand me over to them.”

Paul’s next words are pivotal:  “I appeal to Caesar!”    He’d die in Jerusalem, so he exercised his Roman-citizen-right.  Paul will stand trial in Rome, possibly before Caesar himself.

* * *

I’ve argued that . . .

  • God providentially orchestrated Paul’s rescue by the Romans from the Jews in the temple.
  • God providentially birthed Paul to a Roman citizen father making Paul a Roman citizen and so saving Paul from flogging.
  • God providentially uncovered the Jews’ plot to kill Paul, so a huge contingent of soldiers safely delivered him to Caesarea.
  • God protected Paul from injustice before Governor Felix.
  • Now, God orchestrated events so Paul could appeal to Caesar.

Remember the Lord’s night-appearance to Paul in Jerusalem?  “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11).  Merely foreknowledge?  I say NO:  sovereign providence!  God was using men to his own ends.

But can I apply God’s providence to myself?  Can I say with assurance God is providentially orchestrating events in my life?  Can I be confident he called me to a life of pastoring?  That he now has allowed two diseases to afflict me?  Can you say assuredly that God is providentially orchestrating events in your life?

Consider just these four texts . . .

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Pro. 16:33).

” . . .your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

“No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (Psalm 75:6,7).

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

J.I. Packer (British theologian and Professor of Theology at Regent College) quotes the Westminister Short Catechism, then summarizes divine providence. . .

“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Q.11).

“If Creation was a unique exercise of divine energy causing the world to be, providence is a continued exercise of that same energy whereby the Creator, according to his own will, (a) keeps all creatures in being, (b) involves himself in all events, and (c) directs all things to their appointed end. The model is of purposive personal management with total ‘hands-on’ control: God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute.”

Is that good for us?  Paul assures us  . . .

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him– with those who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28,29).

Felix may leave us in prison.  Festus may capitulate to the Jews.  But only if God orchestrates it.  And only for our good and his glory.




Peter fought to keep his feet
in the wind and wave-whipped boat.
With John and James,
he’d managed to pull down the sail.
But the sudden squall was furious,
venting its temper from all sides,
threatening to swamp the boat,
and swallow them in its water.

Over the sides waves broke,
creating a flood of sea water,
already more than ankle-deep.
Disciples frantically bailed.
James fought the oars.
The wind roared.
The waves attacked.
The men  grasped the mast,
the sides—
anything to stay safe
from the hungry waves.

Storms flared often on this small sea.
Cool, dry air from surrounding mountains
mixed with warm, moist air below,
firing frequent storms.
Fishermen were familiar with them.
But this one, this one was hell-bent
on swamping their boat
and sucking them under.

How could Jesus sleep?
He lay cushioned in the stern.
Drifted off early on,
soon after leaving Capernaum
on calm sea with whispering breeze.
But now day was black,
sea and wind furious.
The fishermen fought for their lives.

“Master, Master!” they screamed him awake.
“Save us!  We’re going to drown!
“Don’t you care?”
Words tumbled from their mouths,
grown men unashamed to beg,
like little children fearing a monster.

“You of little faith,” said Jesus wearily,
shouting above the storm.
“Why are you so afraid?”
Then he  pushed himself up the tossing boat,
struggling against wind and wave.
“Quiet!  Be still!”
A stern rebuke,
as if to noisy, unruly children.

The wind blew less still less,
returning to a gentle breeze.
The sea calmed to tiny ripples.
Then all was still.
The sea glass, the air at peace.
As if a sanctified place.

Amazed, the disciples stood still,
staring into silence.
Then, terrified, they mumbled,
“Who is this man?
Even winds and waves obey him!”

Our family once had a boat.
We clamored aboard.
sped to a nearby sandbar
where we played and sunned.
Not once did a storm strike.
So I can’t imagine this one.

But other storm-forms do.
I bear a 3-inch melanoma square
on my head.
Too weak, I opted out of surgery.
If spreading is to stop,
Jesus must get up
and still my storm.

“Master, don’t you care?”
“Oh, you of little faith.”
Yes, yes, my faith is small,
no more than a mustard seed.
“But little is enough, Master,
so you said.”

I wait for him to speak,
and for my storm to stop.





Hear “Nixon”, and you think “Watergate” (unless you were born after 1975).  Hear “Felix”, and you should think of Paul’s first Roman trial complete with a corrupt, ruthless governor and two years in prison.

“Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. But the commander, Lysias, came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands and ordered his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.’  The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true” (Acts 24:1-9).

The Roman tribune has chosen to transfer Paul to a high authority.  With a huge contingent of Roman military, he takes him sixty miles north to Caesarea and Governor Felix.  Five days after arriving, Paul is brought before the governor.  Ananias, the high priest from Jerusalem, some elders and a lawyer, Tertullus, are present for the prosecution.

Tertullus (prosecutor):  “You’re the empire’s greatest governor! (Oh, puh-lease!)  You’ve wisely created much-needed reforms and ushered in perpetual peace (what about all those uprisings and Felix’s ruthless reactions who only sparked more Jewish violence?).

“But, let me be brief.  This man (finger pointing) has stirred up riots among the Jews all over the world (shattering Roman peace) and is a ringleader of the (notorious) Nazarene sect.  He even tried to desecrate the temple!  We wouldn’t have bothered you with this but Lysias, the Roman commander, forcibly grabbed him from us and ordered we come to you.  Your examination will show all these charges to be true.”

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.  My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.  And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.  However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.  So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.  I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance.  But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin–unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today'” (Acts 24:10-21),

Paul (defendant):  “I didn’t argue in the temple.  I didn’t stir up a riot in the city.  My accusers have no proof of their charges.  It is true that I worship the God of our fathers ‘as a follower of the Way.’  But I believe everything in the Law and Prophets, and, like them, hope in the resurrection of the dead.  For that reason I seek to keep a clear conscience before God.

“I came to Jerusalem to bring gifts for the poor.  I created no trouble.  Asian Jews started it all.  They should stand before you with their charges.  Or Tertullus and these Sadduccees should name the crime they say I committed—unless it was my shout that set them off: “It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today (this is irrelevant theology to the Romans).

 “Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’ He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs” (Acts 24:22,23).

The wheels of government grind slowly.  Felix declares, “We’re adjourned.”  He needed no more information about Christianity, being “well acquainted with the way.”  But he did want to hear from the Roman commander on scene.  Until then, Paul was to be guarded but granted some freedoms.

Lysias was never summoned.

“Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.  As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24:24-27).

Soap Opera:  When Drusilla was six, her father promised her to an Armenian king, if he would be circumcised.  Years later, he refused.  So her brother gave her in marriage to a Syrian king.  At a dinner party (I made that up) Felix saw Drusilla across the room and her beauty sparkled stars in his eyes.  He wooed and won her away from her husband.  Drusilla, divorced and remarried.  So when Luke writes “Jewess”, don’t think “godly.”

Curiosity:  I’m assuming this is why Felix sent for Paul.  But his curiosity turned to terror when Paul told of God’s coming judgment. “No more.  I’ll call you when I’m ready.”

Corruption:  Government’s not only slow: it’s corrupt. Felix talked frequently with Paul hoping he’d bribe him to get out.  Two years later—no bribe from Paul.  But Felix is gone, leaving Paul under guard.

 * * *

What was God doing?  Okay, the Romans did rescue Paul from death by Jews.  And as long as they held him, the Jews couldn’t get him.  And Paul got to deliver the gospel to Governor Felix (who wanted a bribe more than righteousness).  But, two years in prison with Lord knows how many “conversations” with the greedy governor.  Two years!  Couldn’t God just have gotten Paul passage on a ship headed west?

When troubles come, our first response is, “Why?”  Our second is to explain to God why this trouble makes no sense, and he’d be a lot better off getting us out of it.  There’s no changing God’s mind, though.  And let’s face it:  we don’t understand some things God does.  Think there’ll be a long line in heaven?  Folks lining up with all our “why?”  questions.

‘Til then, we’ll just have to accept our ignorance and trust God’s wisdom.





If You Are Willing, You Can

News about him spread all over Syria,
And people brought to him

all who were ill with various diseases,
those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed,
those having seizures, and the paralyzed,
and he healed them (Matthew 4:24).

 Then Jesus said to the centurion,
“Go! It will be done just as you believed it would”.
And his servant was healed
at that very hour (Matthew 8:13).

 When evening came,
many who were demon-possessed were brought to him,
and he drove out the spirits with a word
and healed all the sick (Matthew 8:16).

 Jesus turned and saw her.
“Take heart, daughter,” he said,
“your faith has healed you”.
And the woman was healed
from that moment (Matthew 9:22).

 Aware of [the Pharisees’ plot],
Jesus withdrew from that place.
Many followed him,
and he healed all their sick (Matthew 12:15).

Then they brought him
a demon-possessed man
who was blind and mute,
and Jesus healed him,
so that he could both talk and see
(Matthew 12:22).

 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd,
he had compassion on them
and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

 . . . the people . . . brought all who were sick to him,
And all who touched [the fringe of his cloak]
were healed (Matthew 14:35,36).

 Then Jesus answered,
“Woman, you have great faith!
Your request is granted”.
And her daughter was healed
from that very hour (Matthew 15:28).

 Great crowds came to him,
bringing the lame, the blind,
the crippled, the mute and many others,
and laid them at his feet;
and he healed them (Matthew 15:30).

 Jesus rebuked the demon,
and it came out of the boy,
and he was healed from that moment
(Matthew 17:18).

 Large crowds followed him,
and he healed them there
(Matthew 19:2).

 The blind and the lame
came to him at the temple,
and he healed them
(Matthew 21:14).

 I see Jesus,
walking through Galilee.
In his wake the hopelessly sick
are joyously well.
And, Jesus is the same
yesterday, today and forever.

I know Jesus healed the sick
to reveal his kingdom,
where all the sick will be always well.
But he healed out of compassion, too.
So I plead his compassion now.

A verse from 1 John intrudes:
“And this is the boldness
we have in him,
that if we ask anything
according to his will,
he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us
in whatever we ask,
we know that we have obtained
the request made of him.”

I say “intrudes”,
because his will trumps all.
So, a leper kneeling begged Jesus,
“’If you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Filled with compassion,
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’”

 What, I wonder, made Jesus willing?
Compassion?  Faith?
Either answer, he didn’t heal everyone.
Nor does he today.
Healing is a miracle.
And miracles, by definition, are rare.

Listing those healing verses above,
I want to shout: “Let faith arise!”
–as if he will always give me good health,
as if illness can always be conquered by faith.
All things are possible;
at his command disease must flee.

I must have faith, but I can’t claim what I want,
as if healing were a prize,
and I held the winning ticket.
Healing is a mystery,
wrapped in the hiddenness of Jesus’ will.

So, I must kneel, humbly, like the leper and pray,
“If you are willing,
You can make me well.”


« Older posts

© 2018 The Old Preacher

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)