6/98 29/3/98 Scripture: Acts 28:11-32
THE award winning Australian film, which swept before it the Australian Film Awards, and now is making such a critical impact in USA, "Shine" is a "must see" film. It features Geoffrey Rush, Lynn Redgrave, Noah Taylor, Googie Withers, Sir John Gielgud in the story of a brilliant Perth pianist who has spent much of his life in a psychiatric hospital.
David Helfgott was a young boy apparently pushed to the edge by an incredibly strong father who had survived the Nazis as a Jew living in Poland. David Helfgott was a child prodigy whose interpretative genius promised a brilliant concert career. He won scholarships to an American Music school and the Royal School of Music, London. His father refused him permission to go, but David rejected his father and went to London. The father-son relationship ended. At the point of brilliant international success as a concert pianist, David suffered a devastating mental and emotional breakdown that threw him into years of mental blackness.
He went from psychiatric hospital and closed wards to obscurity and years of absence from music. But through some amazing co-incidences and some people who cared for him, this hyper-active, babbling, incoherent street person finds hope, love that leads to marriage, a return to music and a concert career that has him playing at the moment throughout USA while his CD's are in the top ten sales in Australia. David Helfgott, with help from his friends, has triumphed over everything. It is one of the most amazing stories of triumph over tragedy and loss. It is an Australian story, and it is still being worked out successfully right at this moment.
The Acts of The Apostles has set the theme: You can triumph over anything! It is the story of a little church, a small band, imprisoned, brutalised, attacked by the Roman army, persecuted in Judea, Jerusalem and Samaria and in the cities of Caesarea, Philippi and Corinth. Yet it ends in the centre of the Empire with citizens acknowledging Christ as Lord. It is triumph over tragedy, a little that became much, the weak that became strong.
We now come to the final scenes. If you have felt insignificant, if you think that you have been dealt hard blows, if you feel handicapped and disabled, if you think that you are limited by your circumstances and prevented from reaching your objective in life, then read this passage carefully. For here Paul demonstrates four basic principles that can assist you in triumphing over anything!
1. PURSUE YOUR GOAL
In the Acts of the Apostles there is always a goal, an objective. It has been before Paul since he began to follow the Lord. We see its fulfilment in 28:14. "And so we came to Rome." Paul wanted to reach Rome and proclaim the gospel in the heart of the Empire. From there the good news would continue to spread. In the beginning, the church had been told, 1:8 "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." The Acts of the Apostles recorded the spread of the faith. By the last chapter the message had run west to Greece, east to Persia, south towards India, north to Turkey, over to Macedonia, to Italy, Rome, and then to Europe. Such was the spread of the gospel in the thirty years of this book.
Paul, in the last chapter, is on the final stage of his journey. After staying on the island of Malta, on March 6, 58 A.D., 28:11 "after three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux" two favourite gods of sailors. They reached the Bay of Naples. Rome was only 140 miles away. "We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. There we found some brothers who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome."
They set off by road under the Roman guard who had been with them ever since Caesarea. The Christians of Rome heard Paul was coming and went to meet him. It was a welcome surprise for Paul and Luke when they reached the Via Appia Forum, forty miles from Rome, to be greeted by some Christians. Another group was waiting ten miles further on, at the Three Inns, near the Gate of Rome itself. Paul's heart was lifted in thankfulness by this meeting with friends. The fulfillment of his dream to go to Rome was achieved. His goal was reached, and he found Christians already there!
There had been Jews from Rome in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and converted, they had taken the gospel back with them. Others had been converted by the preaching of Priscilla and Aquila. Paul himself had written his greatest letter to the church at Rome three years earlier. Now Paul had arrived in person. Although still a prisoner he was permitted to live with guards to watch over him.
He still had two years to wait before his trial, but he was in Rome. He had reached his goal. This is the mark of a successful person. Success in any area depends upon your goal. We often have people come to Wesley Mission whose life is in a mess and who have no goal. Their lives are meaningless. They have no point, no purpose, no direction. One of the first things we do, whatever the need, is to help them discover new goals, new directions, new things they can do. What is your goal? To know and to move towards it is to take the first step to overcoming obstacles in your path.
2. USE YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES
Paul used his circumstances to reach his goal. Once I led the Australian Olympian Betty Cuthbert to the Lord. Betty was a heroine to us at the Melbourne and Rome Olympics and again in Tokyo when she won more medals. But the race she is now running against multiple sclerosis brings from us a wave of admiration. She is using her changed circumstances to win another race and witnessing to her faith.
Some plan that some day, somewhere, when the sun is shining, they will write a poem or compose a song. The best of poetry and music are not made like that. They come out of suffering. John Milton was blind. Beethoven was deaf. Walter Scott was lame. Robert Louis Stevenson had tuberculosis. Joni Errickson Tada is a quadriplegic. David Helfgott was certified as insane. But they all used their circumstances to achieve their goals. Don't let your handicap or limitation or circumstance stop you from achieving what God wants you to accomplish. Paul was a travelling preacher moving from country to country planting churches.
Now he was in prison in Rome. Some said: "That is the end of his work!" Wrong! He would do his greatest work from there! Notice what happened! He was under house arrest with a soldier guarding him by a chain. The guard was on duty for eight hours. Then another guard changed duty with him. After eight hours, another change of guard. Paul could not go to a congregation to preach, but he had a congregation which came to him! A congregation of one that couldn't get away! If Paul was confined, so was the guard - with the possibility of an eight-hour sermon!
When Paul slept, some guards were thankful! But others had found new life in those days spent with Paul. Paul wrote to the Philippian Church from that cell, Phil 1:12-14 "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly."
Some guards became Christian as the message spread through the palace guard. Before long there was a church meeting in the Emperor's palace! The last verse of his letter to Philippi reads, 4:22 "All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household." Paul's goal was to take the gospel to Rome. God allowed him to come in chains, and one guard after another became Christian. These were the guards who protected Caesar himself and in two years there was enough of them to become a church close to the Emperor!
Paul was successful and triumphed over everything because he had a goal and used his circumstances, whatever they were, to achieve it. What are your circumstances? Some of you have been battling for years against some enemy, maybe drugs or alcohol. Some may be disabled physically, some have been scarred by war, physically, mentally, emotionally. Some here are unemployed, some lonely, some in advanced age. Others listening are in hospital. Others listening right now are in prison. But there is nowhere that God cannot see you, hear you and use you, if you use your circumstances. God can use you and you can triumph over anything!
3. SHARE YOUR FAITH
Paul shared his faith. So Paul called the local Jewish leaders to come to let them know why he was in Rome and why the Jerusalem Jews had arrested him and handed him over to the Romans. The Romans wanted to release him. The Jews objected to this and the only course left for Paul was to appeal to the Emperor. He was in chains for the sake of the hope that was held by all Israelites. The Jews in Rome said that they had not heard about these things. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect. "They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." The response was the same as elsewhere: some believed, and some did not. God is not responsible for the way people agree or disagree with the gospel, but we are responsible for sharing what we believe.
4. MAXIMISE YOUR POSSIBILITIES
There are always possibilities. We must find them, use them, and then maximise them. Even in prison Paul made the most of the opportunities presented to him. Previously when he preached to Jews, they often ended his witness by throwing stones at him. One of the few times he preached the gospel without getting beaten up, was in Rome when he was chained to a guard! The very person who was there to make sure that he did not run away was also there to protect him. That is a good thing about the law. It is there to protect us. So Paul preached boldly the Gospel.
Paul could not go to the synagogues or to the few churches in Rome. But what happened? People came to him. They listened and some believed. Paul wrote letters to Philemon and Timothy, the Colossians, Ephesians and Philippians. Much of the rest of the New Testament is taken up with the letters he wrote from Rome's prison. If Paul had been free to visit those churches, we would never have had the riches of those letters.
Paul had discovered a great secret. Your limitations do not matter, or your handicap or disability. You can do all things through Christ. Paul said, Phil 4:12-13, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Do not whinge! Discover Paul's secret and triumph over any situation. No matter what life has dealt you, you can still win - with Christ! Nothing is of greater importance than discovering a new life and a new future with Jesus as your Lord!
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