A HOSTAGE FOR HOPE
"Three days later Paul called the Jewish leaders together for a meeting at his house and said, 'The Jews in Jerusalem arrested me on a trumped-up charge, and I was taken into custody by the Romans. I assure you that I did absolutely nothing against Jewish laws or Jewish customs. After the Romans investigated the charges and found there was nothing to them, they wanted to set me free but the Jews objected so fiercely that I was forced to appeal to Caesar. I did this not to accuse them of any wrongdoing or to get people in trouble with Rome. We've had enough trouble through the years that way. I did it for Israel. I asked you to come and listen to me today to make it clear that I'm on Israel's side, not against her. I'm a hostage here for hope, not doom.'" Acts 28:17-20 (The Message).
Paul was finally in Rome. What would be his first step on this tightrope he was walking across an uncharted chasm? He was not out to curry favour or to get the Jews on his side. He was above that sort of thing.
It was always his earnest desire to set before them Jesus as the fulfilment of their Scriptures and the Messiah they were expecting. But from town to town, city to city across Europe and Asia he had been rejected because of one thing -- the cross. No self-respecting Jew was prepared to accept a crucified Messiah. Not all the proof in the world would convince them that the man Jesus, the humble Galilean, was the Son of God and the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.
It was Paul's hope that here in Rome he would be able to communicate this truth to the Jewish leaders by his own mouth before they were contaminated by misinformation from their fellow countrymen. Their eternal destiny was at stake. He wanted to share with them the unadulterated truth that Jesus of Nazareth was sent from God, not to get rid of the Romans and make them rulers of the world, but to get rid of sin and make them kings and priests of God.
Because he was already a dead man as far as his own life was concerned, he did not see his imprisonment as a hopeless situation but as a stepping stone to bringing hope to as many people in Rome as he could influence. It did not matter to him where he was or who was in the company. His circumstances were always an explosion of potential and opportunity.
In his letters Paul tried hard to make his readers understand what had happened to them when they bowed the knee to Jesus. Everything changed. This was not a new religion they were espousing but a new domain they had entered. Their allegiance to their old masters, self, sin and the world, had been broken and they had entered a new realm, the realm of God's rule. They were under the dominion of a new Master, Jesus. He had rescued them from a life of selfishness and self-destruction and set their feet on a new path -- loving service fired by a passionate love for Jesus.
They were dead to all their old slave-drivers and alive to their new Master, motivated by His selfless sacrifice for them, and this message was not confined to the Jews but was for the whole world, regardless of their contempt for the Gentiles. They were no better in their hypocritical attitude, as Paul pointed out in his letter to the Romans. Since Jew and Gentile were both guilty before God, Paul's message was equally applicable to the whole world and he was going to deliver that message, come what may.
It was Paul's hope that, on the threshold of his sojourn in Rome, whatever the outcome, he would be able to win as many of his countrymen to Jesus as he could before the crazy crackpot Caesar, Nero, decided on his fate. Dying was not his problem. He was ready for that. It was the interlude before his death that occupied his attention and he would do everything he could to win his brothers before he left.
Eternity was a long time to enjoy the fruit of his sacrifice!
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