Trials And The Trust Fall
Two weeks ago in our study over Acts 24, we found Paul on trial before the Roman governor, Felix. At the end of the chapter, we learned that Paul remained imprisoned for another two years after these events. Now, this week in Chapter 25, we see that Paul is once again being tried (again, more than two years after his first trial) before the new governor, Festus. Can you imagine how Paul must have felt? He's been held captive all this time. Two years have gone by and the Jewish leaders have not relented from making false claims about him and seeking to have him killed!
Have you ever found yourself in a prolonged season of trial or suffering? Of course, no one enjoys suffering...even for a little while. But when the trials and tribulations extend into weeks, months, and even years, eventually, even the most faithful believers can find their trust in God wavering. Maybe we feel as though God has forgotten or forsaken us. Maybe we question if he really is in control, or if his purposes truly are meant for our good. Regardless of what types of fears and doubts creep in, the results are the same. It is just hard to press on in hope when things seem to feel completely hopeless.
I think sometimes when we study the scriptures, we can often forget that the "characters" in the stories are real people. They aren't spiritual superheroes. They struggled with fear and doubt and unbelief at times, just like you and I. If this is true, then the wise question for us to ask ourselves as we read and study is, "How does Paul remain faithful and hopeful in the midst of persecution, trials, and suffering? What lessons can we learn from his example?"
No one is more uniquely qualified to answer that question than Paul himself. The astute student of scripture will find key themes running through his letters to the churches for which he labored that provide insight into the mindset that fueled his long-suffering. Paul wrote extensively on the subject of suffering because it was a subject that he knew well and accepted as a fundamental part of his apostolic ministry (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 15:30-32; 16:8-9; 2 Corinthians 1:3-10; 2:14-17; 4:7-12; 6:4-10; 11:22-28; Galatians 6:17; Philippians 1:14, 27-30; 3:10; Colossians 1:24-25; 4:3; 2 Timothy 1:8, 11-12; 2:8-11; 3:10-15). Likewise, he viewed suffering as a normative part of his audience's Christian existence (see Romans 8:16-17; Galatians 6:12; Philippians 1:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 3:3-4; 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3; 3:12).
The "red thread" that ties all of these passages together is the gospel. In other words, the key to Paul's ability to suffer well was his hope in the gospel. In turn, his instruction and encouragement to others who were experiencing suffering was to hope in the gospel. But none of this is probably groundbreaking new information for most of us.
The question that we want answered is, how do we tap into that same power ourselves? How do I find hope in the gospel in a dead-end job that is sucking the life out of me? How do I find hope in the gospel in a broken marriage? How do I find hope in the gospel when I am afflicted with sickness and disease? How do I find hope in the gospel when I am dealing with a child who is constantly in trouble? These, and many others, are real life problems that many of us have already experienced, or will someday find ourselves caught up in. In the midst of these struggles, I'm sure we'd love to experience the power of faith that we see exemplified in Paul, but how often is that the reality for most people? Were Paul and the other "heroes of the faith" that we find in scripture simply just better at "faithing it" than we are?
Here's the crazy thing about faith like Paul's. It is conceived, birthed, developed, and brought to maturity in the midst of the suffering and the trials (see James 1:2-4)...much like metals being refined, worked, and strengthened in fire. The reason we don't often experience the fruit of that refining process is because when we find ourselves in the midst of trials, we are so focused on trying to find our own way out of it that we miss the lessons God has for us. Or am I the only one who is guilty in that regard?
We may start out strong in our faith, but like Job, the longer our suffering persists, the more we become like whiny little children demanding, "How much longer!?!?!" It takes a mature believer to be able to wait patiently upon the Lord when everything in our lives feels like it is on fire! It takes an even more mature believer to accept that it may be part of God's plan that we never make it out of "the valley" on this side of eternity. That can be a tough pill to swallow. However, the more we allow ourselves to trust God, the more we resist our urge to "kick against the goads," and the more we can place our hope in the eternal over and above the temporal...the more we will experience the gospel-fueled growth that begets more growth.
At it's core, the gospel is the story of God's kingdom. Jesus regularly used kingdom language in his teaching ministry. Jesus is the king, all of creation is his kingdom, and we are his people. In a kingdom, the king is sovereign. That means that he has all of the authority and calls all of the shots. So one could say that the gospel is the story of God's sovereign reign and rule over all things. From creation, through the fall of man into sin, to the redemptive fulfillment of the cross, and the final restoration of all things, God alone stands as the good, wise, and sovereign head of all things. Everything that has ever happened, or will ever happen, happens only according to his wise counsel and authority, for his glory and our ultimate good (since all that he does is wise and good). If we recognize that reality, then it unlocks and provides for us an unquenchable power to sustain us in the face of any adversity.
Paul had unlocked and tapped into that power source and it fueled everything in his life. That same power that rose Jesus from the dead is at work in all of us who believe (Romans 8:11). The Apostle wrote that in his own letter to the church in Rome. So how do we, like Paul and others, experience this power? It's just a matter of trust. Do you trust? Do you believe? Sometimes life is like that trust-fall exercise where you just fall backwards and trust your team to catch you. In the midst of trials you may find yourself standing on the edge with you arms crossed. The question you have to answer is, do you trust that the hands of Jesus are capable and strong enough to catch you if you fall?
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Part 54 - Two Years In Jail
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. Who is Festus?
2. Who are Agrippa & Bernice?
3. Are we entitled to what is fair in life?