The Call: Journey’s End
Acts 20:22-24 and 20:36-38, 2 Timothy 4:6-13, 16-18
Paul is in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Upon leaving Ephesus after 27 months, Paul travels to back Macedonia to revisit the churches he’d planted there. Then on to Greece to spend three months in Corinth addressing problems in the church there. Then he decides it’s time to go back to Jerusalem, but on the way back, he wanted to see the elders of the church at Ephesus one more time.
By the way, part of Paul’s aim during this journey revisiting the churches in Macedonia, Greece and Asia was to receive an offering from them for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem meant to encourage and assist them in what may have been a time of famine back in the Holy Land. I think Paul hoped that this offering from Gentile Christians would demonstrate the unity of
Gentile and Jewish followers of Jesus.
(You can read about this offering in I Corinthians 16, II Corinthians 8-9, and in Romans 15….)
Our focus today is Paul’s willingness to die for his faith and the final events of his life leading up to his death. First, let me ask you a hypothetical question? What would happen if Ebola or something like it were to spread like the various plagues that spread across Europe with some regularity in the age before we understood diseases? What would you do if you knew that a dreaded plague was at your doorstep? You’d naturally think of stockpiling food and water and supplies, then cutting yourself off from anyone else in order to avoid becoming infected. I would certainly want to do that for my family. But who then cares for the sick and dying?
I’m reminded of what came to be known as the “plague of Cyprian,” when 5,000 people a day died in Rome, and two-thirds of the population of Alexandria were wiped out. While the people of the Empire were struck with fear, Christians devoted themselves to caring for the sick. They not only buried their own, they buried those left on the streets by their families. In Rome they supplied food for 1,500 people a day despite the fact that they were persecuted by the Romans for their faith. In Syrian Antioch the number was 3,000 a day that the Christians fed….It was the faith that Paul had that allowed them to face death in serving Christ and others.
If the plague came, would you flee or help? I would feel like fleeing. I pray that I would have the courage to be the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ to the afflicted. Surprisingly, though Acts was written after Paul’s death, Luke chooses to close his story with Paul very much alive. Here’s how Acts ends: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
So, why doesn’t Luke tell us the story of Paul’s death under Nero in AD 64? He wrote long after this. Perhaps because all who read Acts would know of this story, and he wanted to end the story with Paul in chains proclaiming the gospel of Christ in the largest city in the world, the capital city of the empire, Rome.
It is possible that Paul was released from house arrest at some point. The Jewish leadership may never have come to Rome to testify against him. The charges would likely have been dropped by the Emperor’s court even if they had shown up. Some suggest that he travelled, following this, to Spain, and revisited the churches on the Aegean Sea. Others that he remained in Rome teaching and preaching. We’ll never know.
But here’s what we do know: In mid July, AD 64, a fire broke out in the city of Rome, destroying much of the city and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Some speculated that Emperor Nero himself had hired thugs to start the fire so that he could redesign the city after his liking. Others discounted this idea. Regardless of how it started, it consumed much of the city. Tacitus, the Roman historian, writes: “Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians.”
Among the first arrested were the ring leaders of the Christian faith, and it appears Paul was in Rome at the time; Peter, too. Tradition says that each, presumably at different times that year, were thrown into the Mamertine dungeon, the prison located on Capitoline Hill….
It is there that I imagine Paul writing the closing words of 2 Timothy – a letter which, at face value, would appear to be the last letter Paul wrote: “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, 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.”
Here is the essential being asked; How was it Paul faced death with such confidence? He tells us in his letters. In Philippians 2:21 he writes, “To me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” In I Corinthians 15:54 he notes that because of the Resurrection of Jesus: “Death has been swallowed up in victory!”…
How does Paul’s story connect with our own? Have you ever been in a situation when you asked God “why”? If we are honest we all have been there. Perhaps there was a time when you received devastating news concerning the well being of loved one or friend. Maybe there was a time
when the doctors told us that there isn’t anything more they can do. I remember the horrific time , when as a family, we made the decision to take my youngest brother Eddie off life support. Yes, we all have encountered the dark night of the soul. But that darkness doesn’t have to be the defining word!
Paul did not think, “I’m the Apostle Paul. I have prayed, studied, served, given myself to this mission. Why did you not deliver me, Jesus, from Nero?” He knew that suffering happens. He did not expect God to spare him, but instead to see Jesus the moment he died. He knew that his death was not a defeat of the gospel, but a victory, that death itself had been
swallowed up in victory….
Even in Paul’s darkest times, he believed deeply in the hope of Christ’s resurrection. With the long, dark nights of winter approaching, consider how you will keep Christ’s hope and light alive in your homes and hearts. Maybe you can light candles and remember Christ is the Light of the World. Share the light of Christ by serving a neighbor or a person in need.
Let God’s Word light your path by reading Scripture each day—choose to memorize a verse each week as a family! Light up your home with the hope of Christ by sharing joy, laughter and encouragement with one another. Pray for God to fill you with hope and light even in the darkest of times, and then share that light with the world!.