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"They took the road south through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, where there was a community of Jews. Paul went to their meeting place, as he usually did when he came to a town, and for three Sabbaths running he preached to them from the Scriptures. He opened up the texts so they understood what they'd been reading all their lives: that the Messiah absolutely had to be put to death and raised from the dead -- there were no other options -- and that 'this Jesus I'm introducing you to is the Messiah.'" Acts 17:1-3 (The Message).
Day two after their release from jail! How could these men, who had just been severely beaten and were covered in welts and raw wounds, travel such long distances on foot without painkillers, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories? What was it that produced such determination in them to proclaim this message all over the empire regardless of the hostility they encountered from their fellow Jews and from the Roman government?
God had called them to press into Europe and to Europe they would go, regardless of the cost, because they knew that He had commissioned them and He would accompany and support them no matter how people responded. He had never promised them immunity from trouble and suffering. He promised them His own presence, with all His resources, so that they would fulfil their mission, no matter what.
Why could they be so sure of what they were doing? They had at least three reasons for sticking to their ministry, no matter how high the price:
1. They had the Scriptures. Centuries before, Hebrew prophets had recorded, in detail, prophecies about the Messiah. Every one of those prophecies had been fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. As Paul preached, he matched prophecies with Jesus and the people recognised the truth that Jesus was their Messiah, just as the Scriptures had predicted.
2. They had personal contact with those who had lived with Jesus for three years, those who had watched and listened to Him; who had been present at His crucifixion and talked with Him after His resurrection over a period of forty days. Paul had had an encounter with Him on his way to Damascus that changed the course of his life.
3. Through the miracle of faith, their own lives had been changed, giving them an inner peace and joy that not even the experience of the past days could erase. How could they pray and sing instead of cursing and complaining when they were treated so cruelly and unfairly by civil authorities? They had a Master who had suffered for them. His grace was enough to see them through adversity until they had completed their assignment.
All these experiences added to Paul's CV, giving him all the testimony he needed to pen the letters that became part of the Scriptures of the New Testament. Paul could never have written words of encouragement and hope to the believers in so many churches had he not had personal experience to which he could testify. Every word he wrote about living the life was first hammered out on the anvil of his own experience. It had to be so otherwise his words would have been nothing but untested theory and useless for his readers.
This life Jesus came to give us is free but costly. Paul found it so, and so shall we if it is our purpose to follow the Master closely and faithfully. It will cost our plans and desires. The Master's way may take us along rough and even dangerous paths but the rewards will far outweigh any price we are called to pay.
Paul could say, at the end of his journey, that there was a crown of righteousness awaiting him and all those who are looking forward to the Master's return.
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