The Life & Message of the Apostle Paul: “Called to be Faithful”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
June 12, 2016
Today marks the last day in our series on the Apostle Paul, his life and message. I think we can all agree that Paul was a remarkable apostle. No one besides Jesus did as much to share the message of the Messiah than Paul did. Paul’s contribution to our faith is undeniable.
He began his career as adamantly against The Way, the new sect within his Jewish faith that proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. He sought out and killed those who taught about Jesus and did so with vehemence. Then one day, on his way to Damascus, he came face to face with Jesus and his life was never the same. It is my prayer that we might all have a Damascus road experience, that we might all be face to face with Jesus, not at the end of our life, but today, now, and that we would be forever transformed into the people that Christ calls us to be.
How can we accomplish this? How can we be called to be as faithful as Paul? I mean, we have jobs to do, we have plans in our retirement, we have health issues and we have families to look after. The list goes on and on. We can’t devote our entire life to sharing the Gospel as Paul did. You’re right and that is probably not what God is calling any of us to do: leave behind our worldly possessions and devote 100% of our time, talents and tithes to the work of our Lord. But, he does call us to be faithful to our calls, each of us, each day.
Paul demonstrates to us what faithfulness looks like. From the time on the road to Damascus, Paul listened and did the things that God called him to do. After his third missionary journey Paul returned to Jerusalem amid the protests of his followers. They knew that he was likely to be arrested and killed if he went back to the temple. But Paul, like Jesus knew his destiny and didn’t back down from the plan that God had for him. All along the way Paul continued to share the story of Christ and invited those who listened to believe in the Messiah.
Arriving in Jerusalem things went well at first, but he was criticized by his own fellow believers for not teaching that the gentiles had to become Jews before they would be accepted. This issue had been settled seven years before, but people were still upset about it. They even asked Paul to demonstrate that he was himself still a “faithful” Jew, and “having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.”
It was Jews from Asia who then confronted Paul and stirred up the crowd again. The people seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple with intention to kill him. The military officer in charge took a detail of soldiers and rescued Paul. Under arrest Paul asked to speak to the people. He addressed them in Hebrew and they quieted down and paid attention to him. He outlined for them his conversion experience, how he had met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He shared his personal testimony and tried to demonstrate to them why he was in Jerusalem. He continued to do the work God called him to do, even though he was under arrest. His testimony wasn’t well received and so he was taken into the barracks and tied up with thongs in preparation for flogging. When Paul mentioned that he was born a Roman citizen, the officers were afraid and immediately untied him. Still wanting to find out what the crowd had against him Paul was brought before the high priests and the entire council and was questioned. Paul did his best to defend himself, reminding them that he was also a Pharisee but that did no good and he was returned to the barracks. God appeared to Paul that night and was told, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.”
A group of Jews joined forces against Paul. They vowed to not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. They approached the Chief Priests and conspired with them to have Paul brought before them again and while enroute the group would ambush Paul and kill him. Paul’s nephew got wind of the plan and warned his jailors. They responded by sending Paul to Felix the Governor in Caesarea, heavily guarded scripture says, by “two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.”
So Paul was taken in the night to Caesarea and presented to the Governor. Felix requested that his accusers be present so waited until they arrived five days later to begin the interrogation. High priest Ananias came with a few elders and an attorney to present the case. Both sides made their case but Felix would not determine the fate of Paul. Instead he kept Paul incarcerated for two years although it was more like a house arrest, as Paul was given a certain amount of leeway to move about the compound and was cared for by his friends. After two years Felix was replaced by Porcius Festus who was pressed to transfer Paul back to Jerusalem again for proper trial. Festus was about to make this happen when Paul reminded him of his Roman citizenship and asked to be tried by the Emperor in Rome instead. Festus agreed and held Paul until he could be transferred to Rome.
Shortly after, King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus to his new position and while there asked to meet Paul. In an amazing sequence of events, Paul was brought before Festus and King Agrippa and shared his testimony, the transformation he experienced when he met Jesus on the Damascus road. Although scripture doesn’t say that they came to believe, they did express their appreciation for Paul and even said that had Paul not asked to be transferred to Rome they would have set him free. Of course, had that happened he would likely have been murdered in Jerusalem.
Finally Paul set sail to Rome and endured a horrific voyage by sea. They left late in the season and encountered a terrible storm that caused them to be shipwrecked. They arrived on the Island of Malta and were warmly welcomed by the natives who lived there. Paul was helping to start a fire and was bitten by a venomous snake. The natives immediately thought he must be a murderer since he had escaped from the sea but was then to be struck dead by a viper. Instead Paul shook the snake off and it fell into the fire. Paul suffered no ill effects from the bite and they decided he must be a god. Paul preached to the island people and cured the father of their leader. They brought the rest of the people on the island who were ill for Paul to heal and he did. So thankful for Paul and his companions they outfitted them to continue their journey and three months later they set sail again for Rome.
Arriving in Rome Paul was allowed to live by himself, guarded by the soldier who had traveled with him. Again Paul called the Jewish leaders together and preached to them, telling of his arrest and the charges levied against him. The local Jews had not received any letters from Judea so there were no official charges against Paul. Instead of releasing him however they kept him on house arrest waiting for the news to come. Paul never gave up his call to be faithful. He repeatedly preached to those who were around him, whether they were friends, fellow Jews, soldiers, priests or kings. He held court daily and spoke to anyone who would listen. He remained faithful to his calling to the end.
Paul testified to the news that Jesus came and lived among us to share the new covenant. The old covenant was broken, it wasn’t working, and the Jews continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. They put more faith in the Law than in loving one another. The prophet Jeremiah relayed this message from God, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
That covenant is part of our call. Jesus calls us to a new commandment, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” In those seventeen words the law was replaced. Paul states in his letter to the Romans that loving your neighbor has replaced the other commandments. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
I think it’s curious that often we think we aren’t prepared to answer the call God has placed on our lives. We all are called to be faithful and that likely means something different for each of us. However as Jesus people we are all called to the great commission found in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” These were Jesus’ final words to his disciples and are our marching orders today.
If we are waiting for a perfect time, a perfect place or a perfect audience to share our story we are missing the call of God and the example give to us by the Apostle Paul. Even incarcerated Paul took every opportunity to share his story, to tell how God had transformed his life. He knew how powerful personal testimony was and he wasn’t waiting for the right time, he knew the time was now. He responded to the call by his faithfulness.
God has called all of us to answer the call. We must take the time to listen and discern what it is that God wants from us individually and collectively as a church community. We must understand that a calling is not a once and for all thing. Calls are fluid, they change and expand as the job is done well. We all long to hear the words, “’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!‘”
Let us pray: Gracious God, shake us up. Get our attention. Demand that we be your faithful servants and answer your call. Give us each a Damascus road experience that we will not only hear the call of Jesus, but that we would be faithful like Paul and respond as you desire us. Transform us and open our eyes to the opportunities that await us to be your hands and feet right here in Boulder City. We pray this all in Jesus name. Amen.