Which God is in Charge?
It’s quite obvious that there were no children present during Paul’s journey to Rome.
The narrative would have been interspersed with interjections, “Are we there yet?”
Maybe you’ve been thinking the same thing, “Are we there yet?”
Really it’s a journey that started in Acts 1:8, where Jesus says to his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
It’s taken 27 ½ chapters, 50 sermons (this is the 51st), 21 months and now, finally, we are there.
Look at the second half of v14, And so we came to Rome. Praise the Lord and 1000 hallelujahs!
The Jewish authorities wouldn’t let up and so eventually Paul had to appeal to Caesar.
God promised it would happen, and God keeps his word. God told Paul that the ship would run aground, and it did. God told Paul that no lives would be lost, and they weren’t. God told Paul that he would get to Rome, and he did.
The news about Jesus is too big to be for Jerusalem only, or Judea and Samaria only.
It is also because of who Jesus is, containing him to Israel was not good enough.
What is fitting for who Jesus is, is that the news about him go to the ends of the earth.
Extra-ordinary goal, because it’s an extra-ordinary message and the book of Acts is the story of how it goes from here to here.
As we’ve worked our way through Acts we’ve see that the message of Jesus can’t be contained, or squashed or silenced.
The whole thing just keeps growing and spreading, despite the best efforts of all its enemies. In fact, sometimes their best efforts even serve to spread it more.
It grows from a few people in Jerusalem to thousands of people in the region to millions of people all over the world. Acts tells the story of an unstoppable force spreading over the globe.
If you are a Christian and you do not live in Jerusalem, you are proof of the work of Jesus!
At the end of the day, that’s what Acts is about. It’s about Jesus.
Have a look again at v1, In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.
If you think about all other religious leaders from whatever age, in whatever place, and for whatever duration, all their ministries have at some point been brought to conclusion by the subject’s death. Once they are dead, that’s it. They don’t do anything for anyone for anything.
Stott: Of Jesus alone may it be joyfully affirmed that his ministry actively continues beyond his death, and will do so until the end of the age, thus setting Christianity apart from all other religions. These regard their founder as having completed his ministry during his lifetime; Luke says Jesus only began his.
The Acts of
the Apostles The Acts of Jesus.
It’s Jesus who sends the Holy Spirit to energise and direct the apostles to witness about Jesus.
It’s Jesus who provides the supernatural power to perform miracles as evidence to what they’re saying about Jesus.
It’s Jesus who is the content and focus of their message at every point.
Jesus is the one calling the shots. He’s running the show. He’s the one who’s got them to where they are, in his timing, to fulfil his plans and purposes, to magnify his name.
It’s really quite ironic that the ship which brings them to coast of Italy is a ship of Alexandria, v11, with the twin gods as a figurehead.
You might have a footnote in your Bible at this point stating, that is, the Greek gods Castor and Pollux. They were the mythical twin sons of Zeus who were thought to be the protectors of those who sail upon the seas.
Luke includes it as a joke: these pagan deities leading the way as if they’ve got anything to do with anything that’s been happening.
It’s a joke to those who have been reading the story from the beginning.
Which God is in charge? Hmm, I wonder, but it is not a bad question to keep asking ourselves.
It might be that the question of “Who’s in charge?” has been on our minds in regard to the US election.
Russell Moore: “Even when we don’t know who will sit behind the Resolute Desk in January, we know who stands in heaven and will one day join heaven and earth together under his rule, and it will not be a close call.
The triumphant Jesus is not vulnerable to the upheaval of nations and cultures.”
The triumphant Jesus in not vulnerable to the rioting mobs, or plotting Jews, or treacherous storms, venomous snakes. Why not?
It is because he’s in charge of it all.
Thus, it is no problem for Paul and the others to get on this idolatrous ship and use it and be thankful for it.
Paul needs to get to Rome. This Alexandrian ship is going to Rome. Castor Sugar and other goods are up front, God rules the waves, and off they go.
Filipino ferries and prayers to Mary. (Don’t worry about the fact that there are 200 passengers and only 100 lifejackets. We’ve said our prayers to Mary so we’ll be right.)
Knowing this, what do we do? Close our eyes and block our ears, so we don’t get affected? Pretend like nothing’s happening, or go up the other end of the ferry?
We certainly don’t join in with the prayers or say amen. We certainly don’t worry that something bad is going to happen.
An idol is nothing and there is no God but one (1 Cor 8).
We use the opportunity to springboard into a conversation about Jesus.
“Let me tell you about who God says is really in charge…”
Paul is on the ship. What do you think he said?
We’re reading between the lines a fair bit here, but maybe something like, “Hey, what about your figurehead made from the twin gods?”
“Oh yes,” says the sailor, “they’re fantastic. Once you have them up the front of the ship, no problem. You can go anywhere, through any storm.”
Paul said, “Wow! Man I wish we had them on our last ship because that thing got busted up. In fact, you can see it. You can see the stern of it right there, shredded.”
Then I think he would probably take the opportunity of an Acts 17 moment.
“I’m intrigued that you would put these things up on the front of your ship. I can see you’re a religious kind of person. Do you want to know something? The God who made the world and the sea and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, cannot be constrained and contained up on a mast head like that. I’d love to tell you about the living God who orders the winds and the waves and, in fact, everything.”
Luke says to Paul, “Tell him you about the time...”
Remember that time we were in jail in Philippi. The very person the Jews put in place to guard us, to stop us from preaching about Jesus, the jailer, got converted, he and his whole family.
How many times has the situation been that it seems like Paul is right where his enemies want him to be, only to turn out he’s right where Jesus wants him to be?
Tell him about the time when God used the plots of the Jews, or your nephew, or the surprising kindness of the centurion.
Unexpected means to make clear, ‘Which God is in charge?’ Jesus is in charge.
Extra-ordinary goal, extra-ordinary message, and at times extra-ordinary means.
Do you know what? A lot of the time it was just very ordinary means.
Good doctrine goes a long way. It was this firsthand knowledge of the complete sovereignty of God over all things that enabled Paul to keep going in the midst of awful situations.
Do you know what? Good doctrine has a twin that goes on the front of the ship to help us through storms.
What we also see here is that God uses the very ordinary means of Christian fellowship.
Luke doesn’t paint Paul as a hardened man, unaffected by anything that’s gone on in the past, and unperturbed by anything that he might face in the future.
He’s a man of resolve, sure, but no doubt by the time Paul reached Rome he was physically and emotionally exhausted. In addition to that, there would have been the concern of what being in Rome was actually going to mean, and having to appear before Caesar.
There’s something significant in this final leg, as Paul disembarks the ship and starts to make 150km walk to Rome proper.
The wonderful thing was, they were about to meet the brothers. Paul certainly does not receive any encouragement from the twin brothers on the front of the ship, but he does from his brothers in the faith.
V14, There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days.
In other words, they had a pre-occupation with Christian fellowship.
How they managed to arrange all of this we’re not told, but what we are told is that they seized the opportunity for Christian fellowship.
After one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for a week.
They’re even more generous than Publius from v7 who entertained them for three days and then had to move on.
The gathering of God’s people is a priority.
We see it again in v15, And the brothers there (that is some of the Christians in Rome), when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us.
The Christians have heard that Paul was in Italy, and so they decided, “Let’s go meet him halfway.” The Forum of Appius was 70km from Rome. Apparently some of them only got halfway to that halfway point, The Three Taverns, 35km from Rome, looked around and said, “Ah, I think this actually might be a good spot to wait for Paul. You go on and we’ll wait here a day or two.”
This word meet is an important word. It’s a technical word. There are different words for meet. This one is a peculiar one.
It’s a meeting that has to do with going out to celebrate a dignitary who is coming to your city.
I’ll give you an example. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 25 about a bridegroom who’s coming to receive his bride, and the wedding party goes out to … meet him.
In 1 Thess 4, we’re told that Jesus Christ is coming to claim the world as his city, to create the new Jerusalem. He comes with all his royal dignity and power. In response, what do we do? We go up to … meet him.
The same way you would do if a dignitary was coming to town. The citizens of the town show their respect by going out to meet them.
You see a similar thing on Palm Sunday. Jesus is going into Jerusalem and the children go out to meet the dignitary and celebrate with him.
That’s what they did with Paul.
Paul’s reaction was not, “Excuse me. Don’t you know who I am? I have a very important mission. I don’t have time for this. Just get out of my way. Please.”
I am a rock. I am an island. I have my books and my doctrine to protect me. I am shielded in my armour, hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me.
See Romans 1:11-12.
Paul is not a loner. He knows the importance of Christian fellowship. It’s this precious time Paul has with the believers that God uses to keep him going.
So the result is v15, On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.
If that’s true and necessary for Paul. How much more is that true for us?
If we had asked Paul and Luke and Aristarchus, “So what did you think of the Bay of Naples? What did you think of that harbour in Puteoli?”
I think they’d probably say, “You know, I don’t have much recollection of that.”
If we’d said to them, “What about the three volcanoes you passed on the way into the harbour?”
That’s for your homework – find the three volcanoes. One of them had not yet erupted, not until AD79.
He’d say, “You know, I’d have to think about it, but I’ll tell you what I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget the seven days we spent with the believers there. They were rich. Julius the centurion allowed us the privilege.”
Why was it like this?
It wasn’t because they shared a human friendship, because they didn’t know each other.
It wasn’t because they had natural affection, how could it?
It wasn’t because they all barrack for the same sporting team.
It wasn’t because they had shared concerns about the nature of Roman society.
It was because of the supernatural wonder of being in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom there is no barrier of ethnicity, or education, or finance, or age, or whatever else it might be.
The reality and priority and preciousness of Christian fellowship.
See, it’s all perspective isn’t it?. If your perspective is if belonging to Jesus means belonging to his family, then the gathering takes on a whole different meaning.
If it is not your perspective then the gathering of God’s people, in a big group or small group, at any time of day or night, may be done out of a sense of reluctant duty, maybe be approached legalistically whereby we fulfil our obligation and then get on our way.
What’s your perspective?
Yes we need sound doctrine. A big Jesus who sits on the throne and rules everything, but if that was all then stay home and livestream.
Mark Dever: Except for the rarest of circumstances, a true Christian builds his life into the lives of other believers through the concrete fellowship of a local church. He knows he has not yet “arrived.” He’s still fallen and needs the accountability and instruction of that local body of people called the church, and they need him.
As we gather to worship God and exercise love and good deeds toward one another, we demonstrate in real life, you might say, the fact that God has reconciled us to himself and to one another. We demonstrate to the world that we have been changed, not primarily because we memorize Bible verses, pray before meals, tithe a portion of our income, and listen to Christian radio stations, but because we increasingly show a willingness to put up with, to forgive, and even to love a bunch of fellow sinners.
You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway.
If we are physically able to, yet choose not to seek out the companionship of others who love Jesus, maybe it is a cooling of our affections for Jesus.
Luke’s not talking about the geography. He’s not extolling the unfolding panorama.
He says, “You know, when we really boil it down it was the encouragement from the brothers that kept us going.”
Some of you can testify to the priority and reality of Christian fellowship.
There are individuals in our congregation for whom the companionship of this moment, the instruction of the Bible, the greeting that they have received or are about to receive from you, is not something that they can take or leave, it is breath to them, it is life to them.
For them, Christian fellowship is a priority because in Christ it has become a reality.
When someone’s going through a tough time perhaps they need to be reminded of the fact that Jesus is in charge and God keeps his word.
Maybe what they also need is for someone just to be there.
I say this not to make us feel, “‘Yeah I really wish someone was there for me” , but to ask is there someone who you need to be there with.
It is also to remember the preciousness of what we have here, and not give up on it.
No doubt stories of God’s grace were shared.
Such was the encouragement that after this Paul went straight to the synagogue where he proclaimed Jesus as the only Messiah and as the fulfilment of every promise in the Old Testament and the king in God’s kingdom.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit draw our hearts increasingly to Jesus and to each other we ask in Jesus’ name and for his sake.
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