Unbelievable: The Unfinished Story

Tony Sammut   -  

Day 1: Read Acts 21-22:29

Today, we enter Holy Week – the final week of Lent, leading us up to Good Friday and ultimately, Resurrection Sunday!  And so with that in mind, there may be many things in this account of Paul’s experiences that bring to mind some very similar events recorded about Jesus.

In Jerusalem.

Crowds demanding his death.

False accusations.

Roman soldiers ordered to flog him.

On trial before the chief priests, who already have in mind a plot to kill him.

Sound familiar?

It was no accident that Luke – the author of Acts – included all these uncanny similarities.  He’s making a point for us to pay attention to…

Being a “witness” to Jesus will inevitably mean that we will be called to walk in the Way of Jesus.  For Paul, that meant walking down some of the same streets, perhaps walking before some of the same accusers, and behind some of the same Roman guards.  This is what it meant for him to witness to the crucified and risen Lord.

For you and me, witnessing to Jesus may not require us to walk in these same situations – before angry mobs or military soldiers.  But the Way of Jesus is a Way we are called to walk in every day.  Our lives, in a very real sense, are meant to somehow look like Jesus’ life.  “Christian” actually means, “little Christ”.

  • Take a moment, and reflect on your day and week ahead – this Holy Week. Ask Jesus how He wants your life to witness (speak, demonstrate, point to) His own life?
    • With your words?
    • With your hands?
    • With your feet?
    • With your time?
    • With your sacrifices?

Day 2: Read Acts 22:30-24 

A priest, a soldier, and a politician…  Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

But it was no joke for Paul in this moment.  In this moment, religion, politics, and power were all at work in a dynamic interplay to attempt to shut down the message that Paul was preaching.  You’d think it would be so easy for any one of these groups to end him in a moment.  But for whatever reason, none of them did (or could!).

Paul seems to be able to navigate through all three of these worlds with the skin on his back in tact –literally!

Incredibly, the Good News of Jesus doesn’t operate through religion, politics or power.  It doesn’t spread through any of these means.  It doesn’t speak their language.  And it can’t be stopped by them either.  It is altogether different.  Paul navigates each of these worlds, but not on their own terms.  He has an altogether different King – the Lord Jesus – who oversees and guides him in a new and living way.

  • What “worlds” do you need to navigate through in the day or week ahead? The world of marketplace?  Or politics?  Or ambition?  Or social media?
  • Ask Jesus: “How do you want me to operate (think, live, relate, work, etc.) in this ‘world’?” “What does it look like for me to keep you as Lord even in this setting?”

Day 3: Read Acts 25:1-12

Now Paul’s just getting bounced around.  He’s been under the watch of the governor Felix for the last two years!  And now that his successor, Festus, has come into position, it seems that Paul is getting a Déjà vu.  Another trial.  Another indecision.  And more waiting.

But this time, with one big difference.  In the midst of the trial, Paul appealed to Caesar.  And Festus, happy to rid himself of the problem of Paul, agrees: “You have appealed to Caesar.  To Caesar you will go!” (Acts. 25:12).

So now, Paul was headed for Rome, to the hold court before the highest authority in the Empire – Caesar himself.

This seems to be a significant theme in all the chapters of this week’s readings.  Paul comes before one major authority after another.  And he fears none of them, precisely because of the message he is preaching.  “There is a greater King – one who has conquered death itself – who holds my life in his hands.”

In fact, you can almost sense King Jesus just behind the curtain in all of these scenes, orchestrating the events as they unfold.  Jesus had in fact already promised Paul earlier: “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11).  And that now, was exactly where Paul was headed.

  • Who in your own life (at work, at home, at school, etc.) holds decision-making power or authority over you? A boss?  A client? A teacher? An official?
  • Ask Jesus to empower you to live, work, and relate to those people in light of His ultimate authority.  Pray blessing on this person/people, asking Jesus to accomplish His will through them.

Day 4: Read Acts 25:13-26:32

Aaaaaaand another trial!!

Well, this one not so much a formal trial, as an informal conversation set up to “show off” the curiosities of the new governor.  Festus, still getting acquainted in his new position, invites Herod Agrippa II (the grandson of the King Herod that you may be familiar with from Jesus’ birth story) to his place for a meet and greet.  While they’re together, Festus calls out Paul from the prison cell – perhaps to offer a little intellectual entertainment for his guests.

And Paul knows exactly who he’s talking to.  Agrippa, King over Judea and Jerusalem.  A Roman procurator, really.  But he was also known as a “friend to the Jews”.  He lived in both worlds, and understood – perhaps even practiced – both Roman and Jewish customs.  It was his way of keeping control.  Be friendly to Rome and keep his position of power.  Be friendly to the Jews and keep the peace.

So Paul appeals to Agrippa’s knowledge of Jewish teaching.  What’s more, Paul invites him to believe!  To choose a side, rather than walking with one foot in both worlds.

But Agrippa catches on quickly to Paul’s tactics, and refuses to take the bait.

He’s got a pretty good thing going on for himself.  There would be far too much to lose if he were to choose a side.  Even if he were convinced that what Paul was saying was true.  So despite Paul’s pretty convincing argument, Agrippa remains firm in his precarious posture with one foot in Rome and one foot in Judaism.

As long as this was Agrippa’s stance, he would never be able to say YES to Jesus.  Because in doing so, he would have to choose.  He would have to step out of his current allegiances and step into an altogether new allegiance, to an altogether different King.

  • Take a moment now and reflect on the ways your own loyalties are being drawn (or demanded).
  • Ask Jesus to speak to you about what it looks like for you to give full allegiance to Him. What costs are involved in that?  What does that change for you?  What blessings what might be in store as a result?

Day 5: Read Acts 27-28

These final chapters of Luke’s account seem like a very strange (and incomplete) way to finish his book.  Up till now, Rome has been looming as the final destination and ultimate climax of Paul’s unfolding story.  Jesus has foretold it.  Paul has appealed to Caesar.  And now that he’s on his way, all the places seem to be in place for an ultimate showdown between the two kingdoms – Caesar’s kingdom and Jesus’ Kingdom.

But Paul’s journey to Rome seems to be way more eventful than anything that happens once he arrives there.

The truth is, we don’t know exactly what happened to Paul after he arrived at Rome.

But in the lack of a climax, Luke seems to be making a point.  In fact, he seems to be pointing us to an altogether different climax.  The most important part of this story is not Paul’s confrontation with Caesar.  It was Paul’s proclamation of Jesus!!

And this he continued to do.  While under house arrest, he wrote some letters that would change the world.  And he continued to set in motion a movement that would continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus all over the world.

You and I are part of this movement.  You and I are part of this unfolding story.  And it continues to be written, unfinished, and unfolding, as Jesus continues to work in us and call us to witness to His incredible ACTS, as Savior and Lord of the world!

  • Take a moment and reflect on what you want the story of your own life to look like. What kind of stories do you want people to tell about you after your life on this world is over?
  • Ask Jesus to fill you with His Holy Spirit and empower you to be a person whose life continues to write the stories of His redeeming love and goodness into our world.