Meditations on Acts 28

Acts 28  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Acts 28.
God honors His servant on the island where he and his companions had been cast. He works miracles, and receives no hurt from the viper which fastens itself to his hand. Paul had brought captivity on himself by his appeal to Cesar, but still God was with him. It was necessary that he should bear witness before Cesar. God made use of his journey to Jerusalem (where, it is true, the power of the Spirit was not manifested in Paul) in order to bring him before Caesar himself; and this could not otherwise have been accomplished. Far from abandoning him, He displays His grace and power to him most fully.
I have already mentioned that his public testimony, as far as we learn from the Bible, was now at an end. The last testimony to the Jews had been given, and their judgment sealed; but the Lord’s grace does not fail now; He comforts and sustains His servant in every circumstance in which he is placed. The weakness of man is found, it is true, even in Paul; but also the grace and the wisdom of God. It is remarkable that the church of the city of Rome was not founded by any apostle. Before Paul’s arrival, there were already Christians in Rome; and the gospel in its apostolic power came in captivity.
The voyage, is continued without incident of importance. Brethren, however, are found at Puteoli, and here the apostle remains for seven days. From thence, he goes on to Rome. The brethren there must have heard that Paul was coming, as they come out to meet him. He was probably left at Puteoli, while the centurion made known his arrival in Italy to the authorities. The rumor of this would then reach the brethren. But here we meet once more with the apostle’s experiences. The love of the brethren constrains them to go to meet him. Paul, seeing them, thanks God, and takes courage. He was then cast down—I do not say discouraged—but he needed to take courage. Here we find a difference in the experimental state of Christians, which it is important to remark. On the one side, there is the state of the soul in itself, and on the other, its strength in the presence of difficulties and the power of the enemy, and in the labor required for the gospel in a world the prince of which is the devil; although these two things react on each other. Though we may have a deep sense of feebleness, and be filled with perplexity, yet, if we walk with God, if confidence in His faithfulness and His goodness do not fail us in the work, and before our enemies we lose sight of self, then the power of God will work in us, and act against that of the enemy, and amid the unbelievers among whom we labor.
Thus it happened to Moses. Leaving Pharaoh’s court, he went down among the people of God in slavery. Faithful and blessed, he was owned by God in what he did; but he carried human power with him; and when he had killed the Egyptian, he fled for fear of the king’s anger. Forty years in the desert dissipated this human confidence, though lack of faith in God was mingled with the sense of weakness. He was not eloquent, he said, not fit to appear before Pharaoh. But when sent from God, he presented himself before the king, it was neither in false fleshly energy, nor in the sense of weakness. The power of God was there; and as we read, he represented God to Pharaoh, overcame all obstacles, and delivered the people from his oppression.
Paul himself, when called to labor amid a rich and corrupted populace, said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:33And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:3)). Feeling the difficulties and the power of the evil, he threw himself on the aid of God, and the work was accomplished in demonstration of the Spirit and in power. It is in human weakness that the Lord’s strength works, and is made perfect. How the Lord, perfect in everything, went through all the sufferings of His heart with His Father in Gethsemane, before drinking the cup! He did not then drink the cup, nor make propitiation for our sins: but as man, He contemplated all that lay before Him. The power of Satan was there to hinder Him from persevering till the end in the path of obedience. His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; but He told all to His Father; and when the enemies came, was as calm as in the days of His service. Here our wisdom is to present all to God, in the conflicts that may be before, as in our service. Then He will be with us when the work is over. Though our weakness may be sensible to us, yet the power of God will be with us. Paul, full of this when with others, and in the most difficult circumstances, feels the painfulness of his own situation, and is encouraged by the presence and love of the brethren.
Paul goes then to Rome, where the centurion places him, with the other prisoners, in the hands of the captain of the guard. But the apostle is under the care of, and guarded by the hand of God. He is allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. The conduct of the Jews had not alienated the apostle’s noble heart (I say noble, because he was a chosen vessel; compare Matthew 25:1515And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. (Matthew 25:15)) from his people, the people of God. He sends and calls for them; but only that they may hear for the last time their condemnation foretold. Still, some believe. Here we find the end of the ways of God towards Israel, and that of the labors of Paul, the prisoner at Rome. The threatenings of God, prophesied by the mouth of Isaiah, eight hundred years before (Isa. 6) are now accomplished. His long-suffering, the gift of His Son, the many warnings of the prophets, all had been in vain. And though judgment had been deferred for a time through the intercession of Christ on the cross, yet they were not more willing to recognize Christ glorified, than in humiliation. It was mercy that prolonged the testimony of grace, sending it even to countries at a distance from Jerusalem, among those of the dispersion, after Jerusalem had rejected the divine blessing. But no effect was produced on these; and judgment fell on the unbelieving nation, till the sovereign grace of God shall call them to enter into the privileges of the new covenant, and the Lord Jesus shall come, bringing the better blessing of pure grace. But the history of Israel in its responsibility is over, as well as that of the gospel in its free power. God has never ceased to preserve a testimony on the earth; and has given power and fruit according to the good pleasure of His will; His name be praised! But the work of liberty and apostolic energy is over.
The gospel is captive at Rome! But the providence of God watches over the truth, maintains testimony, and does not allow it to be entirely hidden. There have been evil times, in which iniquity and superstition have prevailed, and truth has been persecuted; and others in which God has held the door open, and given full liberty. Often, however, faith and steadfastness shine more brightly in evil days that in times of peace and tranquility. Elijah, who was caught up to heaven without dying, is not found in the reign of Solomon; and when he himself could find none faithful in Israel, God maintained and guarded His seven thousand in the midst of the unbelieving and apostate people.
Though it pleased God to allow Paul to remain a prisoner, yet He held the door open for souls. For two whole years he dwelt in his own hired house, preaching the kingdom of God, and the things of Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
Such is the touching end of the public career of the apostle of the Gentiles, faithful above all, large of heart, able by grace to understand the wonderful counsels of God as a grand whole, and to feel their perfection and their greatness; and equally capable of entering into the circumstances and relationships of a fugitive slave with his master, with an affection and a delicacy without example. Bound to the Lord with a heart that led him to suffer all for Him, and for souls dear to Him; bold even to fearlessness; tender and affectionate as a mother for her babes; energetic and patient, he suffered all things for the elect’s sake, that they might obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. As truly risen with Christ, he knew no man after the flesh, being separated from both Jews and Gentiles, and united to a glorified Christ, his strength and hope, his all in all.
If he possessed a fault—he was a man, and displayed his manhood fully—it was in loving too much the ancient people of God, his brethren after the flesh. For this fault he was made prisoner, but the ways of God were carried out according to His wisdom. If we would know the effect of his confinement, at least of his being made prisoner, let us read the beginning of the Epistle to the Philippians 1:12-2012But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. 18What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. 19For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. (Philippians 1:12‑20). It is beautiful to see the faith and courage of the apostle after two years imprisonment. He might have reproached himself, and said, “Ah, if you had not gone to Jerusalem, if you had not appealed to Caesar, you might still have been preaching everywhere, have gone to Spain.” But such was the will of God; and He was with him in his trouble. Submitting to this will, he rises above circumstances, renders thanks to God for all, finds that His wisdom is better than liberty, and works where God has placed him. Faith and confidence through grace raise him above his position to be with God, to act on His part, in whose presence he dwells.
We ought to be thankful to God, we and the church, forever, for the fruit of this period, in which the apostle was free from constant labor. The epistles to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, were written at this time. Two are profound dissertations on the privileges of Christians and of the assembly. Another is the expression of the experience of a godly soul led entirely by the Holy Spirit. Then the fourth is the outflow of the apostle’s personal affection for a soul he has won to the Lord and to eternal life—a poor slave, it is true; but he says, a son whom he has begotten in his bonds. Generally speaking, they are letters in which the highest truths of Christianity are unfolded, and in which we learn what is not to be found elsewhere in the New Testament —at least, not fully taught, though the truths themselves are spoken of, but only in part, and introduced by the way. These scriptures complete the circle of the revelation of God.
The career of the apostle Paul was more remarkable than that of any other. His fellow apostles accomplished the work of the Lord within the narrow limits of Judaism. The starting point for him was the Lord in glory, and that all Christians were recognized as being one with Him. “Why persecutest thou me?” the Lord had asked him. This glorified Lord, salvation, and the kingdom that was to come, he preached to every creature under heaven. Then, for the completion of the word of God, he unfolded and taught what the church was.
He developed the truth as to her position, the union of believers with Christ, the presence of the Spirit in believers and in the church, establishing them as the temple of God on earth. The revelation of the church, or assembly, put an end to Judaism, since there were no longer either Jews or Gentiles, but Christians united in one body to Christ. Paul was thus the head, as servant of Christ, and founder of a new economy; and he also presented himself as a model whom converts were to imitate in their walk and ways.
No other apostle held such a position. The twelve followed Jesus Christ while He was in the world; but this Paul did not do. Then they saw Him taken up to heaven, and believed that He was glorified at the right hand of God. Paul, till then an enemy to Christ, but converted through sovereign grace, while acting in the violence of his enmity, began with the vision of the Lord in glory, who had made Himself known to him as Jesus of Nazareth. What he preached, he called his gospel, the gospel of the Lord’s glory. The knowledge and revelation of the counsels of God were confided to him; and he was caught up to the third heaven, and there heard unspeakable things which it was not lawful for a man to utter. His apostleship was to the Gentiles, to the whole world; and to this he was called by the Lord in glory, and sent expressly by the Holy Spirit. He began with the Jews, the people beloved of God, the possessors of the promises; but, according to the prophecy of Isaiah 49, he turned towards the Gentiles, when the former rejected the testimony of God. Of the church, as the body of Christ on earth, and habitation of God through the Spirit, no apostle except Paul speaks. (See Col. 1:23-2923If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:23‑29)).
In the apostle’s character, we find both good and bad features which stamp him a man as we are. None of these things were seen in Christ, entirely and alone perfect in every respect. But as a man of like passions to ours, Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ, had no equal. Although in captivity at Rome, the word of God was not bound. God watched over it, and Paul, dwelling in his own hired house, received all who sought after truth, and taught them with perfect liberty the gospel so dear to him. In all times, God has made it public, more or less, in order to give life through faith; but its history, begun by the marvelous power of the Holy Spirit at Jerusalem, terminated at Rome, where, in the person of Paul, to whom it had been entrusted, it lay a prisoner. Judaism crucified the Lord, and imprisoned the gospel of the glory, but God, in spite of the efforts of Satan, disseminates it, especially in these times—His name be praised! In respect to the church, it remained bound till the present day. But though preachers have little strength, yet the Lord holds the door open, and no man can shut it.
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