Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Boat Again

Okay, that was a bad Willie Nelson joke.  Moving on, I’ll warn you there’s a lot in these 21 verses (at least it seems so to me)

Now, back to Paul.  After wintering in Malta, he and his associates were indeed aboard ship again.  In a mere five verses they travel from Malta to Rome.  Paul set up housekeeping with one Roman soldier (at least one at a time) as constant companion. After taking a few days to get settled, Paul got down to business.  His regular routine was to preach Jesus in the synagogue, at least until the Jews ran him off.  But he couldn’t do that here, being under house arrest and all. 

If you can’t bring Paul to the synagogue, then bring the synagogue to Paul.  That’s just what he did.  He called all the elders among the Roman Jews to his home.  He told them of the charges brought against him in Jerusalem, and of his appeal to Caesar.  In verse 20, he says, “For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 

The elders assured Paul that they knew nothing of him or the charges against him. No Jews coming from Judea had mentioned him, and none had sent word ahead of his arrival or his mission.  I find it interesting. Did they fail to warn their Roman brothers because they knew they had no case against Paul? Or was it because they didn’t want to make them curious about Paul’s message?  If the latter was the case, made a serious error, as you’ll soon see. 

The Roman Jews were indeed curious enough to listen, “…we desire to hear from you…for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (vs. 22).  So they appointed a time to bring their congregation to Paul, and hear what he had to say.  I find myself admiring their willingness to hear Paul and make informed decisions instead of buying in to the "hype" they had heard.

When the day came, I imagine Paul’s rented quarters simply bursting at the seams with curious listeners.  By the time he finished his testimony, some of his listeners were, no doubt, eager to hear more. Others were disappointed in what they had heard and prepared to disregard it completely.  My guess is that most fell into the latter group.

After scolding them (basically) with scathing words from Isaiah about having dull ears, closed eyes, and hard hearts, Paul makes this pronouncement, “Therefore let it be known to you  that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (vs. 28).

This statement is so powerful to me.  His entire ministry Paul began his work among the Jews, and was always pushed from them into the waiting arms of the Gentiles.  When he says these words to the Roman Jewish congregation, he speaks not only what God has told him to speak (though certainly that), but what he has observed time and again during his many years of ministry throughout the Roman world. In spite of his best efforts, the majority of Jews have always refused Christ.  He knows beyond any doubt that Gentiles will accept Christ because he has seen them do so everywhere he has ever gone. 

In my mind’s eye I see Paul closing the door behind the last Jew, heaving an exhausted sigh.  He is now resigned to the fact that his people, Jesus’s own people, have fully rejected the redemption He brought them. I also sense a spiritual door closing.  The invited wedding guests have all made their excuses, and the master of the house has sent the servants to highways and byways to gather in any who will come.  This passage tells me that the Jews, the original invited guests, have lost their "reserved seats." They are still welcome, and God still wants them to attend, but they no longer hold any special claim to His affections.

I imagine Paul must have felt a profound sadness at the people’s rejection, a sadness akin to (though certainly in no way equal to) God’s own sadness.

Paul is an amazing example to me in this way. His sadness was born of great love for his audience.  Do I love the people to whom I witness deeply enough to feel that kind of sadness over their rejection of my Savior? I am afraid, I get angry instead, and this is not good.

Brandon Heath has a song called “Give Me Your Eyes.” It is a prayer for God to help us see other people the way he does.  It is a good thing to pray.

I believe Paul was very sad, but he didn’t let it stop him.  The last verse of the book of Acts tells us that Paul spent the next two years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (vs. 31).

Again I have an amazing example in Paul.  As a stay at home mom, my daily “mission field” consists of one three-year-old girl. Paul had his guard; I have my daughter.  But Paul didn’t stop there.  He reached out of his four walls, and made continual efforts to further Christ’s kingdom. 

I shouldn't stop there either. I suppose I hope that by telling in this blog what I learn in my personal Bible study, and by writing the stories of God’s love that he has given me, I can reach out in some small way.

For the rest of December and into January, I’ll be studying the Christmas story. It’s pretty scattered out, as you know, and I want to do it in chronological order.  So be prepared for some skipping about.  I’ll start with Gabriel’s visits to Mary (Luke 1:26-39) and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) and possibly (if I don’t wax long-winded) Mary’s visit with Elisabeth (the rest of Luke 1).

Thanks for bearing with me. I hope something I have said resonates with some of you.

God Bless

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