Acts 21:37 – Acts 28:31

Sometimes the ways of God just don’t make sense.  One of the first persons I met when I became a Christian was Jack.  Jack was a man whose life was, I thought, fully given over to the Lord doing everything he could in order to serve Christ.  One of my first experiences with him was driving his Ford Fairlane into Seattle where he was going to be taking responsibility as the preacher of a church.

Later, he lived about fifty miles from me in Oregon when we were both in preaching ministries. He became that person to whom I went for sanity.  He was the one who always listened and occasionally took the proverbial “two by four” and hit me with it because I was blaming everybody else for my responsibility.

I remember well when I moved to Illinois to come to school.  It wasn’t long after that, that Jack moved to southern California and then we got word that his teenaged daughter had been kidnapped.  Within about two weeks we learned that she had been tortured, murdered and thrown into the hills outside of San Bernardino.

You would think that when you are doing the things of God, everything would turn out right.

You certainly sense when you read the book of Acts that it becomes one of the dilemmas the apostle Paul faces.  We’ve encountered his conversion in Acts 9.  We’ve seen the gospel spread across the world.  He’s gone on these very specific mission trips on behalf of God.  He has taken the gospel in the places that God has directed him.  He has followed God’s leading.  He has gathered an offering to go back to Jerusalem.  When he delivers it to the temple he’s arrested.  There’s a riot.  He’s about to get beaten when he appeals to the centurion as a Roman citizen and is taken out of the crowd and away from the beating.  Then there’s this rather interesting comment.  In the midst of all this apparent chaos, Paul hears Jesus say to him in Acts 23:11 “Take courage!  As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Strange way to get to Rome.  And yet, reflective of the kinds of things that Paul has been hearing from God in Acts 9, Acts 22.  We’ll hear it again in Acts 26.  He reflects on it in 2 Timothy 4 when he talks about his own relationship with God, that he was destined to be the apostle to kings, to Gentiles; that he would speak in God’s behalf in places that no one else could speak.  And yet, here he is, under arrest.

You’d think if you were doing things for God, everything would turn out right.

There was a young medical student in Great Britain.  Her name was Helen Roseveare.  She sensed a call from God to go to Africa, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (it was called then) as a medical missionary.  She went.  She established a hospital.  She was doing work among the Congolese people when, in 1960, civil war broke out.  It wasn’t long until her particular missionary compound and hospital was overtaken by rebels.  She was held captive for nearly a year, during which she was repeatedly, brutally raped by the soldiers.  After nearly a year, she went back to England.

Sometimes the ways of God don’t make a lot of sense.  You would think that if you were doing the right things, things would turn out right.

But we don’t see that in Acts.  At least not as clearly as we might want to see it.  Here the apostle Paul is under arrest.  There is a group of Jewish dissenters who hate him because he stands for Jesus and the resurrection and the new covenant and they make a vow that they’re not going to eat or drink until they murder him.  His nephew, providentially, overhears this conversation and reports it to Paul who sends him to the centurion.  He’s convinced by the lad’s story and so there is a cohort of soldiers who transport him from Jerusalem to Caesarea.  There, he sits in prison for two full years awaiting trial.  The ruler in charge is Felix.  And Felix takes some delight in hearing the story.  In Acts 24 we hear how Felix responds (Acts 24:24): “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.”

Sometimes the ways of God are hard to understand and yet Felix seems to have understood them pretty clearly.  He knew what he was supposed to do and yet, decided that he would just simply play the game, hoping that he would get something out of it.  He hoped if kept listening Paul would eventually bribe him in order to turn him loose.  Paul was not about to do that.  He simply took every opportunity he had to preach the gospel to him.  This man, apparently, repeatedly said “NO” to the gospel and as far as we know never did respond positively.

You’d think that if you were doing the right things for God, that things would turn out right.

In the late 1700s, another young Brit decided that he ought to go to the mission field.  In fact, he pioneered missionary work in the country of India.  William Carey left for India and some years later his wife suffered from dementia.  In essence, she went mad in the mission field because of the pressure.  After a number of years, she died.  He buried her in India.  A few years later he remarried, and buried here in India as well. He spent twenty years learning the language and translating scripture into a particular Hindu dialect.  After twenty years of storing hand written notes, converting God’s word into the language of the people, there was a fire in the compound.  He lost all twenty years worth of hand written notes.  You realize, of course, in the late 1700s there was no Xerox machine down the street for him to be able to take advantage of getting a copy made.

You would think that if you were doing things for God, things would turn out right.

The apostle Paul spends two years under Felix’ jurisdiction.  Felix listens to him often but doesn’t want anything to do with the message of the gospel and when the transition in power comes from Felix to Festus, there is a new trial.  The Jews in Jerusalem have spent these two years simmering over this hatred they have for Paul.  They use this transition as an opportunity to call for a new trial.  Festus gave him the opportunity to go back to Jerusalem to be tried, at which point Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen, “I appeal to Rome.”  It was his right as a citizen to go to Caesar and so he appealed to go to Rome.

Festus also listened repeatedly to Paul.  In fact, in Acts 26 we get a sense of where Festus is in all of this discussion. In Acts 26 Paul gives the third of his personal testimonies.  He’s before King Agrippa explaining his relationship with Jesus, why he believes what he believes, why he stands where he stands. In Acts 26:24 Festus interrupts Paul’s defense, crying out: “You are out of your mind!  Your great learning is driving you insane!

Sometimes the things of God are hard to understand.  But apparently Festus didn’t have any trouble understanding them.  He only had trouble accepting them.  He saw it as some kind of mental insanity that Paul could believe the kind of ideas that he apparently believed.  And so, he rejected the message.

You would think that if you were doing things for God, everything would turn out right.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to do a wedding for Rick and Chris and then over the next three or four years I had the opportunity to watch them grow as Christians.  I remember the day that I got a call and actually beat the ambulance to their house when their child went into a seizure and ultimately into the hospital.  Soon after that Rick was in Bible College and the next thing I heard, Rick and Chris had joined a team of missionaries and were on their way to Brazil with the gospel.  They had been there about eight or nine months and Chris’ health problems became so significant that they had to turn around and come home.

You would think that if you were doing the right things for God, things would turn out right.

Here the apostle Paul is, trying to live faithfully before God as carefully as he knows how.  He’s been on trial now for two years.  Been in prison.  There’s been the transition from Felix to Festus and now the king of the area, Agrippa, and his wife Bernice, arrive and they want to hear this story too.  Festus invites Paul in one more time to make a defense of his faith in Christ; to basically explain why he’s in prison.

Acts 26 is the speech that Paul makes.  He reminds Agrippa that he’s heard this story before.  This is not new news to him.  He knows about Jesus.  This was not done in a corner. Paul talks about his conversion experience.  He identifies his call to serve God.  After Festus interrupts the speech Agrippa speaks. “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”  Paul replies, “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.”  And then the king gets up and leaves.

Sometimes the things of God are a bit hard to understand.  And yet, Agrippa understood them perfectly.  He knew that in the midst of this testimony Paul was calling for some kind of decision on his part.  His response basically was, “Not now, thanks, I don’t think I want to believe this.  I don’t think that you understand that I have some objections here.  You think that just because you preach one sermon to me that I’m supposed to somehow respond and I’m going become a believer.”

Actually, what happened was, he decided Paul was innocent of the charges.  There was no criminal action on Paul’s part but since Paul had appealed to Rome to see Caesar, to Caesar he must go.

You’d think that if you were doing the right things for God, that everything would turn out right.

Roberta was a high school girl who lived about twenty miles from our church building.  We used to coast and pick up kids along the way.  The last stop on the way was Roberta’s house.  Roberta was faithfully coming to church, getting interested in what it meant to become a Christian.  In fact, she was at the point that she was ready to give her life to the Lord and be baptized.  Her parents decided they didn’t want her to come to church any more.  What to do?  We encouraged her to be faithful to her parents, “to obey her parents in the Lord.”

We never knew from week-to-week whether she’d be allowed to come. . .most of the time she wasn’t allowed.   Again, what to do?  “Be faithful.  Hang in there.  Read your Bible.  Pray.  Study.  Worship.  Wait.”

You’d think that if you were doing the right things for God, things would turn out right.

Paul appeals to Rome.  Agrippa makes arrangements for Paul to leave Caesarea, taking a ship through the Mediterranean to Rome.  It’s the wrong season of the year for sailing.  Paul tries to warn them.  This is not going to be easy.  He has a vision.  This is not going to be successful.  They’re going to lose everything.  They insist on traveling anyway.  They get caught in a major storm in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. After dropping anchor and simply going with the flow of the storm they next throw nearly everything overboard.  Then Paul has a vision; they’re all going to be OK. They will lose the ship and lose the cargo but they’ll not lose any lives.  And so, they have supper together after fourteen days of not eating.  They soon spot Malta, but they never make it.  They shipwreck on a sand bar and the ship breaks up at sea.  The guards are going to kill all the prisoners but the centurion, who’s become a respecter of Paul stops them.  They all manage to get on the beach where the locals help them build a fire to dry themselves out.  Paul is gathering wood when he gets bit by a poisonous snake. Ultimately, as we know, he ends up in Rome, and the last thing we hear is that he is under house arrest for two years in Rome.

He’s now been in prison for four years because of a false accusation in the Jerusalem temple.  Accepting it all, based on this promise, “Paul, be patient, you’re going to go to Rome and preach for me.”  It’s a strange way to get to Rome.

Sometimes the ways of God are a hard to understand although, apparently, the Romans understood.  At the end of Acts 28:23, Luke tells us Paul continued “from morning till evening explain[ing] and declare[ing] to them the kingdom of God and try[ing] to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.  Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.”People understood.  Some accepted; some rejected, just as Isaiah the prophet said they would.

You would think that if you were doing the right things for God, things would turn out right.

For nearly a year I had the privilege of preaching for Second Church of Christ in Danville, IL.  One of the men I got acquainted with was Mike Claypool. Mike and Cindy and their son and daughter ended up coming to school.  He decided he felt a call from the Lord to preach.  Mike ended up going to Newburg, Indiana to preach for a congregation there.  It is a rapidly growing congregation of nearly 2,000.  Some of you recognize his name because you get our prayer email.  Several months ago you prayed for Mike.  He was in the hospital battling leukemia.  His leukemia went into remission and everyone rejoiced.  That lasted for about three months.  He is in the hospital today in Indianapolis in the midst of a nine-day recovery from a bone marrow transplant, waiting to see if it worked.

You would think that if you were doing the right things for God, things would turn out right.

Sometimes, I confess to you, that the ways of God make no sense, at least to me.  And yet, my friend Jack…I forgot to mention to you that about six months after Wendy’s body was found in San Bernardino, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Told to get his life in order; he probably had less than six months to live.  I met him two or three years later for breakfast in Boise, Idaho.  There he told me, “you know, one of the strangest turns of events has just occurred.  I went to the doctor the other day and he said I don’t have cancer any more.’  ‘You need to go get a job.'”   Jack’s response was “it’s really awful when you’ve decided you’re going to die and you don’t have to worry about retirement and then you learn you have to figure out how to make enough money to retire on.”  He’s preaching at a church in northern California.

Helen Roseveare, after spending a year in England recovering from that brutal attack by the rebels, went back to the Congo.  There she established a hospital, trained doctors and nurses, and there are literally hundreds of converts in the Congo because of her efforts.

William Carey, the man who buried two of his wives and lost all of his written material in India, became known in the history of missions as the Father of Modern Missions.   He left translations and schools and literally hundreds of churches in India and a whole world full of missionaries followed in his footsteps.

My friend Rick came back from Brazil.  He and his wife settled back in the Madison County area and he now preaches for one of the fastest growing Christian churches in the area.

Roberta, the high school girl whose parents said, “you can’t go to church; no, you cannot be baptized,” held out faithfully for two years and when she turned eighteen, became a Christian.  We hear from her every Christmas.  She writes about the faithful church involvement of her own children now.

Mike Claypool, I don’t know.  I appeal to you to pray for him.  This I know, whether he recovers from leukemia or not, there is a hospital full of people who have heard the gospel preached at his bedside because of his nature and his character.

And Paul? Well, Paul spent at least two years under Roman house arrest.  Do you know what the book of Philippians says?  The entire palace guard heard the gospel.  The last verse in Acts says, “Paul continued to preach without hindrance.”

You would think that if you were doing the right things for God, everything would turn out right.

You work hard at being a believer and trying to live out your faith at work and you end up getting laid off or fired.  You do your very best to be a Christian husband or wife.  You do your very best to live your home life the way you think it ought to be lived and the next thing you know, there’s nothing but chaos.  Your children rebel or your spouse decides to leave.  You spend your life working in a church doing everything you can to be faithful and do the things that God wants you to do and the next thing you know, you’re battling cancer or somebody you love is.  You go to school and you do the very best you can to be a faithful witness to your friends and it seems like everything around you falls apart and nobody wants to pay any attention to your witness.

You would think that if you did the right things for God, things would turn our right.

They do.  It just depends on how you define right.  Because God in his faithfulness, always, always has things turn out right.  It doesn’t always feel like it, does it?  There are those moments in your life when it feels like all hell has broken loose and you’re wondering what in the world is going on.  I just have one word for you: TRUST! Because that’s all you have.  You simply trust him because he knows things you don’t know.  He knows the future, you don’t.  He knows the heart and you don’t. When the whole world crumbles around you, you don’t have any alternatives except to TRUST him.  Does it make the cancer go away?  NO!  Does it mean that all your friends are going be the kind of people you think they ought to be?  NO!  Does it mean that everything is going go right according to the world standards? NO! What it means is this.  The one person who can make a difference is the one you’re counting on.

Messed up your life?  Think you have made such a mess of it that God can’t do anything with it?  TRUST him!  He can fix it.  Need to be redeemed?  Do you need to have your life turned around, your sin forgiven?  And yet, when you read Scripture and he says, “Believe in me, repent, be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus,” that makes no sense to you?  TRUST him!  He knows what he’s doing.  When things don’t make sense, you have one and only one response. TRUST him!


Chuck Sackett is Preaching Minister at Madison Park Christian Church, Quincy, IL, and Professor of Preaching at Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL.

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