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Witness Protection

Paul has had a terrible week, filled with false accusations, riots, judicial hearings, personal insults, and several life-or-death moments. So how does God bless His servant for his labors? What encouragement does Jesus offer to Paul? Paul’s reward for his endurance is not comfort, but more opportunities to endure. But while Jesus’ encouragement is not sweet and easy, it is nevertheless good. Paul is a witness, and a witness loves bearing witness. His desire is to bring glory to Jesus, and the good news is that he will get another chance. Verse 11 gives us a profound lesson: godly encouragement does not consist of assuring people that things will get better or easier. Instead, godly encouragement spurs a brother or sister towards godly character for godly purposes, in light of God’s presence. Jesus stood by Paul (presence), told him to take courage (character), for the purpose of testifying in Rome (purpose). And this greatly encouraged Paul.

It’s a good thing, too, because later that morning, the Jews make a plot to kill Paul, binding themselves by a solemn oath to fast from food or drink until he’s dead. Once again, we see just how perverted the law becomes apart from Jesus – fasting and vows were designed to help you draw closer to God by consecrating you for special holiness. But the Jews used oaths and fasting to plan the murder of an innocent man. God gave the law for life, they used it for death.

But these important Jewish leaders and their military-grade spiritual disciplines are completely undone by one of God’s favorite strategies – some kid takes on these giants and brings them down not with weapons, but with words. Paul’s nephew overheard the plot and took the message all the way to the tribune, who immediately acted to protect his Roman prisoner, sending him off the governor under a heavy armed guard. The tribune wrote a letter of introduction to the governor, in which he puts Paul’s innocence in writing, identifying the true issue in question as one of Jewish law, not Roman justice, thereby signaling that he accepts Paul claim to be on trial over the resurrection of the dead.

Here is encouragement: Jesus calls you to bear witness, and He calls you to suffer, but at every step of the way, Jesus remains in charge of your suffering. He does not simply let whatever is going to happen happen. He steps in and acts to spare you from some suffering, which means that any suffering that you do experience has gotten Jesus’ permission to afflict you. Because you know Jesus, you can be sure that He has only allowed this suffering into your life for your good, because He loves you, because He considers you worthy not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for Him. Don’t lose sight of that in the middle of the pain. Don’t think that God has lost control of your sufferings, or that God is against you. Following Paul’s logic in Philippians, God is using suffering to help you win the prize of resurrection.

And this is what the text reveals: God wants the gospel proclaimed all over the world, and so He commissions the followers of Jesus to bear witness to the good news. Wherever those witnesses go, Jesus goes. God watches over His witnesses, and does not permit anyone to harm them apart from His will. When Jesus says to you “Take courage”, it is this protection that stands behind that command. The constant exhortation of the past few weeks has been to embrace suffering and death, but this is far from a suicide mission. God goes with you, and His presence and protection are all that you could ever need to strengthen you so that you can speak boldly about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus has commissioned you to go and disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the Triune name, and teaching them everything that He has commanded. Take courage this week as you go forth as His witnesses, knowing that everywhere you go, you are under the sovereign protection of your God.

Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by CJ Bowen