Painting by Taylor Marshall
God wants to use people. He provides everything needed. All God wants is willingness mixed with humility. When He finds that mix there is no limit to what God can do.
God Wants to Use Us
Paul is an example of the limitless ways God can, did, and continues to use Paul. As God already told us in 2 Chronicles 16:9, His eyes are searching today, as they have always been, looking for those who will seek Him wholeheartedly. God found a whole-hearted servant in Paul. Just the fact that we are reading this account is quite a testimony to what God can do if we invite Him to control our lives.
From conversion to martyrdom Paul never ceased to serve God. Though Paul like all of us was born a sinner, when he got saved he never seemed to coast. Instead, in his own words, he “ran the race” and “sought the prize”, and “finished the course”.
As we come to the end of Acts, and look at the final of the 22 salvation accounts, we have the opportunity to look through this scene at the most amazing life recorded in the New Testament and one of the two most amazing humans ever described in the Bible.
Join me in Acts 28:23 as we first read this final Gospel explanation.
Acts 28:23-31 (NKJV) So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.
Acts 28:24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26 saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; 27 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.”’ 28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” 29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves. 30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
First note with me the final Gospel explanation in v. 28-31. We can say that Paul explains that:
Salvation Is: Entering & Living In God’s Kingdom
Message twenty-two (Paul): is the final Gospel Message in Acts where salvation is described as coming into God’s Kingdom. The opening salvation message in Acts was: repent; and the concluding message is: enter God’s Kingdom, both rarely if ever used today.
Acts 28:28-31 (NKJV) “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” 29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves. 30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
Paul’s final proclamation of salvation is so simple (entering & living in God’s Kingdom); and Paul’s final proclamation of salvation is so connected to Christ’s preaching of the Gospel. Jesus often equated salvation to “entering” the Kingdom. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3,5 that unless a person is born again, they cannot see or even enter the kingdom of God.
Here is Acts 28, Paul is at the end of his public ministry. We have no more detailed accounts of his travels after this. We have no more eyewitness accounts of how he preached the Gospel.
Paul’s life in the spotlight of Scriptures is coming to a close. How does God close the curtain on Paul’s public ministry life? Basically we can say that Paul was doing the same thing he had always done:
Paul is sitting inside a house somewhere in Rome: the most powerful city in the world.
Paul is waiting to be brought before Emperor Nero: one of the most depraved and cruel men in history.
Paul is sharing the Gospel with everyone he can: inviting each to enter the Kingdom of God through the only Door, Jesus Christ. That is how the Book of Acts ends. But what had started in Acts 1, and went onward to Acts 28, is still ongoing.
Think about it, we are each connected to Acts 28 in some way through Paul. Nearly every one of us were led to salvation, trained, taught, and encouraged through some part of the New Testament that Paul wrote. So as the curtain closes on Paul in the Book of Acts, pause with me and note the elements God has emphasized for us, about Paul’s life.
Paul: The Man, The Missionary & The Messenger
The best way to summarize Paul’s life, and get some very powerful truths to challenge our lives is to follow the pattern before us in the Bible. Acts introduces us to Paul, and then the next 13 Epistles, (from Romans to Philemon), are written by Paul.
A Snapshot of Paul’s Life
Most of us know a great deal about Paul, but often we don’t have the time to stop and put all of the pieces together. From this book of Acts we can see nearly the entire life of Paul. For a moment, join me in a snapshot of the life of Paul. Paul’s life dominates the second half of Acts.
In Acts 8:1-3 Paul is introduced as the adversary of Christ’s Church. Then in Acts 9:1-22 Paul is saved laying in the dust at Christ’s feet, called personally by Christ to ministry and commissioned; and then trained in secret alone with Christ in the desert.
Paul stands out unique among all of the Biblical servants of God. In fact the Lord calls Paul His “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15) to proclaim the Gospel before Gentiles, kings, and Israel. That means both normal humans, and those in special, powerful positions. Paul was called to share the Gospel with everyone possible; and he did.
Then, from Acts 12:25 onward, Paul dominates the Book of Acts, and the ministry that Jesus Christ left for His Church to do in the world. No one worked more tirelessly, widely, and at such personal cost than Paul, who goes on three missionary journeys, plus a journey to Rome that total 3,590 overland miles, plus 5,560 sea miles. An amazing feat when we consider the timing, the seasons and the sometimes terrible storms that can develop there.
Then he goes to prison for four years, stands trial, and is released for a final journey.
Then Paul is captured, imprisoned, and according to church history, executed as a Roman citizen by beheading, just outside the city of Rome at Nero’s command.
The Dimensions of Paul’s Life
So we can simply say that God reveals three dimensions of Paul’s life that can impact ours today. Note them with me.
- Paul: the Man God Prepared. Acts 8-12.
- Paul: the Missionary God Sent. Acts 13-28.
- Paul: the Messenger God Used. Romans through Philemon.
First, note with me:
Paul the Man God Prepared
When God saved Paul in Acts 9, He was saving the modern day equivalent of an Ivy League scholar, with the personal discipline of a Special Forces Commander. A brilliant teacher/Rabbi/ and Communicator who did speak and write in a way that captured people’s hearts and minds.
Paul was extremely intelligent, gifted, and talented, and God not only used that intelligence, he improved to make Paul the ultimate Christian teacher and leader. And as we might expect, he was resisted because his mind was so quick and advanced he could pull from memory scripture passages to answer any question thrown at him, even from other high Rabbis and Yeshiva students. His early teacher Rabbi commented about him that he could study material and remember it at a first reading. The Rabbi said his own biggest challenge was finding enough manuscripts for this young man to keep him busy!
God seeks for such who can be scholars, teachers, preachers and disciplined communicators, to do HIS will and show the world HIS truths — if even only to a small population. Thus we have had prophets and teachers, gifted people in the arts and sciences who went out of their way to show us HIS truth, and some of those have suffered terrible privation to do God’s Will because they knew teaching God’s Righteous Way was their most important life assignment.
God prepared Paul for this assignment. Paul’s preparation for ministry is actually the longest segment of his life. Jewish boys begin first education in reading Torah around age 6 or 7. By age 17, Saul was already in training to be a Sanhedrin Rabbi.
God followed this with another 14 years to prepare Paul for a nearly non-stop 10 years of public ministry.
If you take the normal conservative dates for Paul’s life and ministry, and map them out across the pages of Acts you can see how much time it took to get Paul ready. We can see the following stages of Paul’s life:
Stage-1: Saved on the Road to Damascus AD 33: Paul is saved on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22). Most date this about AD 33.
Stage-2: Trained in Arabia AD 33-35: Paul was trained for perhaps two years by The Holy Spirit in Arabia (between Acts 9:22 and 23; see Galatians 1:17-18), in the Nabatean region to the south and east of Damascus.
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands onSaul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Stage-3: Home to Tarsus AD 36-43: Paul came back so enthused that his enemies plotted his death (Acts 9:23-30). He was ent home to Tarsus. Paul is off the record for as much as six years while he grows, suffers, studies, and serves in his hometown. Barnabas comes looking for him in Acts 11:25.
Stage-4: Discipled at Antioch AD 43-46: Paul gets to see the greatest days of the church as Barnabas mentors Paul in ministry at Antioch (Acts 11:26-30). It is during this time that God has prepared Paul enough, and in Acts 13:1-3 God signals that it is time. Paul is ready to be launched, and the church sets apart Paul & Barnabas for ministry. This begins the second dimension of Paul’s life.
Paul the Missionary God Sent
Paul never stopped serving God. This journey was just a continued developmental education of all Paul had been trained to do. Paul was a non-stop ambassador for the Gospel, who for 30 years traveled for Christ, lived for Christ, proclaimed Christ, and died for Christ and God’s Way.
Stage-5: 1st Missionary Journey AD 47-49
Stage-6: 2nd Missionary Journey AD 50-52
Stage-7: 3rd Missionary Journey AD 52-56
Stage-8: Caesarean Imprisonment AD 56-58
Stage-9: 1st Roman Imprisonment AD 59-62
Stage-10: Release, Final Journeys & Execution AD 62-67
Lessons From Paul’s Life & Ministry
Study All You Can
Preparation is Vital: Remember Paul’s 3 years in Arabia
Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him”
Wait for God’s Timing
Growth Takes Time: Remember Paul’s 7 years in Tarsus
Philippians 2:5 “let this mind”
Learn from a Great Mentor like Barnabas
Everyone Needs Discipleship: We remember Paul’s 3+ years in Antioch
Run the Race
God Can Do So Much in Short Order: Remember there were 10 years in Missions
Philippians 3:14 “press towards the prize”
God Can Use us Anywhere:
Paul Spent 6+ years in Prison
Philippians 4:11 “learned to be content”
Love Jesus More than Everything
No One is absolutely necessary. Paul could be replaced in God’s time.
Prison, Loneliness & Death My piece Come Before Winter is heart rending. Paul begs Timothy to visit him in prison one last time but we never learn if Timothy was able to get sea passage there. See the home page http://heavensway2022.org/come-before-winter
2 Timothy 4:6-8 “finished the race”
There is one final dimension to Paul’s life, during all the missionary journeys, imprisonments, releases, trails, and uncertainties we see:
Paul the Messenger God Used
Paul never stopped communicating God’s Truth. Paul was an instrument in God’s Hands to his dying days: he spoke and wrote, he preached and taught, he mentored and trained; and by God’s grace, he continues to do so even to this day through his epistles.
As you read these snippets from Paul’s inspired communications, preserved for us by God, consider how many ways God has used Paul in your life.
Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”
Philippians 1:21 “ For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Colossians 1:15-16 “ He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”
1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
2 Thessalonians 1:7 “and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels”
1 Timothy 1:15 “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
2 Timothy 4:6-8 “6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Titus 3:5 “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”
Philemon 1:7 “ For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.”
Paul is still resisted today! Some wish to argue that we don’t have Christianity, we have “Paulineism” and our religion is not what Jesus taught but rather what Paul taught. To believe such rubbish to to accept that the entire story from the event on The Road to Damascus to the last brilliant piece of writing all came from an uninspired man who gave his life, and worked often in exhaustion, hunger and fear for his life to spread a lie — or because he was crazy.
He certainly was not paid well for this. He was not living a luxurious life for this work. As a Sanhedrin Rabbi at the Temple, teaching as a professor everyone in Jerusalem would have recognized him, greeted him with honor, some would have smiled and bowed, and secretly he could have had several young lovers visit to entertain him at home. He could have had it all but never had any of it! Instead he gave his last ounce of strength and courage to the cause for spreading the words of The Christ until a lunatic Roman Emperor had his murdered.
2 Corinthians (read the entire chapter.)
Paul Boasts About His Sufferings
16I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.18Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
My reading friend, let me admonish you this last note. If I myself or you could be even a fraction so brave and willing to give for The Cause of The Christ as Saul/Paul was we would be honored by a few most righteous and intelligent women and men as the greatest of civilized Ladies and Gentlemen.
Notes source for this article: www.DiscoverTheBook.org