The Story: “Paul’s Final Days”
The Story, Chapter 30
Ephesians 3: 14-21; Matthew 19: 28-30
Pearl: Perseverance through adversity.
Function: To encourage and motivate worshippers to persevere through adversity after the example of Paul the Apostle in the knowledge that God is working things out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.
The lives of the Apostle Paul and the Roman Emperor Nero overlapped for a short time? In the seventh decade these two famous men lived in the same city. While Nero’s name was making headlines, Paul’s wasn’t. Every media outlet today would have wanted Nero on their show. Nero would have been invited to state dinners hosted by world leaders. Paul was a stoop-shouldered, balding, crooked nose, cloudy-eyed old man. Paul kept talking about Jesus as if he were God. So, Paul got locked up in prison in Rome. If you asked anyone in Rome in the seventh decade, “Who will make the greatest impact on the world, Nero or Paul?” everyone would pick Nero. Nero was married to Poppaea Sabina, a stunning beauty who bathed in donkey milk. Four hundred donkeys were kept on hand for just that. She would be dried by swan feathers and massaged with crocodile mucous. Nero liked soft skin, and what Nero wanted, Nero got. At age 25, Nero deified himself by erecting a 120 foot tall statue of himself. People looked up to Nero, but looked down on Paul.
Actually, Paul commanded wide respect before he encountered the risen Christ and was a persecutor of Christians. But then he met the living God in Jesus Christ and he was changed.
The New Testament records the dynamic life and deep struggles of Paul.
Paul wrote in II Corinthians 11: 24-29: “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And besides others things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all of the churches.”
Paul was never the same after his experience of the grace of God in Jesus the Christ!
The gospel of Jesus Christ became his life focus and all-consuming passion.
Paul worked as a tent-maker in the mornings and shared the gospel from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM each day except the Sabbath.
Paul wrote books as he traveled and as he sat in prison, and his words are treasured to this day.
Paul was never the same after the living Jesus met him, changed him, and commissioned him as an apostle.
Paul became a spokesman for God’s grace; he was a messenger of God’s grace; it is evident from his writing that his favorite word was “grace.”
Everywhere that Paul went he caused commotion over his enthusiasm for the gospel. “All the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar” (Acts 21: 30-31).
It’s a wonder how, in the face of opposition, Paul was able to endure to the end.
Being rejected and often left for dead, the question is how did Paul face these severe challenges?
Christians are often rejected by their families and friends for following Jesus. Some think you are crazy for believing in Jesus.
i. One of my early mentors was a brilliant, well-known preacher. He had tremendous gifts. He was known as the “preacher’s preacher.” He was the Dean of the Chapel where Nancy and I attended college. He went on to become the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA; a historic, city church with a tradition of great preaching. He could have done anything. He told me more than once that his brother thought that he had wasted his life and talents and potential when he entered the pastoral ministry.
1. He chose the preaching and pastoral ministry because he was simply never the same after he came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
ii. Do you ever feel isolated and cast out because you are devoted to Jesus?
While in the Roman prison Paul wrote to Timothy revealing the secret of his endurance. “Do not be ashamed…of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him” (II Timothy 1: 8-12).
Paul anchored his life to a hope beyond this world.
Paul entrusted his life into the hands of Jesus Christ.
i. There are times in life when you feel great stress of some kind. There are times when you feel buried under and not free.
ii. Place your hope in God.
1. “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel, will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121: 3, 4). God will help you grow from it!
Paul ended his life very well. Nero did not.
Paul wrote “As for me, I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (II Timothy 4: 6-8).
Paul’s new life began on a Damascus road and ended in a prison cell in Rome.
At the age of 29, Nero was lonely and paranoid. His second wife killed his first wife and Nero kicked his pregnant second wife and she died. Four years after Paul’s death, Nero committed suicide. Nero came to nothing. Paul still impacts the world to this day. He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament.
There are no Saint Nero Cathedrals. People do not name their sons Nero. Lots of people are named Paul and Pauline. Who are the real difference-makers in the world? Not the spotlight-seeking, attention-craving celebrities. They are the ordinary Paul’s and Pauline’s who make up the church. You are making a difference for all eternity.
This is because you, the church, possess the story of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Are you facing adversity? Are you in over your head? Do you feel alone and set aside?–Fight the good fight! Finish the course! Run the race!
Labor on! Keep on doing your thing for the glory of God. You’re loving your children; teaching kindergarteners, manning the fire station; showing up at work and providing for your family; fighting disease; battling addiction; suffering with depression; taking it a day at a time. Life presents challenges and storms. You are a living epistle. Through these struggles you are growing and becoming more alive and more useful: living witnesses to the power and the grace of God.
Always remember one of the most famous passages in all scripture: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28, 37-39).
The Book of Acts continues today; it is the story of the church. It is the story of your lives, ever changed and ever changing by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!