Well, we're glad you're here and if you brought a Bible today, we want you to open it to Acts chapter 16. You know, I heard on the news this week that this past summer, 2002, was the third hottest summer on record in Washington, D.C. And I thought, you know, maybe this global warming thing, I mean, maybe there's something to it. And everybody, when you hear about, talk about global warming, it's so bad and it's so awful. But I got to thinking, you know what, there are some upsides to global warming.
And so, I have a top 10 list for you today and these are the upsides of global warming. Okay, you ready? Now you have to kind of get into this a little bit.
All right, here we go. Number 10, number 10, ready, here we go, surfs up in Phoenix. Well, they get better, that's why that's number 10. Number 9, Mexican sombreros are suddenly hip again. Number 8, winter Olympics cancel curling. All right, number 7, winter Olympics cancel everything. Number 6, the lost city of Atlantis is replaced by the lost city of Baltimore.
Yeah. Number 5, number 5, upside of global warming, coconuts in Chicago. Number 4, here we go, increased humidity makes ironing pointless.
I like that one. Number 3, yeah, number 3, upside of global warming is year round baseball season. Number 2, number 2, upside of global warming, the Green Bay Packers renamed the Lambeau Field the Orange Bowl. And number 1 upside of global warming is that Frosty the Snowman retires and takes that annoying song with him. Yeah.
All right, those are my top 10. Now, the point of all that is that sometimes there's an upside to what looks like a bad situation, and that's not true sometimes for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. This is true all the time because we have a promise from God.
Our promise from God says, Romans 8, 28, that God causes all things, all things to work together for good to those who love Him. And so today we're going to talk about this subject. We're going to look at the Apostle Paul. We're going to see how this works out as the truth in his life. Then we're going to bring it forward and we're going to talk about how it applies to your life and my life today. We're going to talk about the fact that God never wastes an experience, but that rather even the most painful and puzzling circumstances that come into our life, that they're all part of God's perfect plan and that what we need to do is just trust Him. So here we go, Acts Chapter 16.
Now let's give you a little background. Remember the Apostle Paul is on his second missionary journey. Let's show you where he was.
He's gone to northwestern Turkey of today to the city of Troas, and then he's crossed the Aegean Sea to the country of Greece, to the northern Greek town of Philippi. Here in Philippi, he's been thrown into jail. He's been beaten with rods that rip the very flesh right off his back, and God sends an earthquake at midnight. The chains fall off everybody.
The doors swing open. The jailer is totally traumatized, and he runs in and Paul leads him and his whole family to faith in Christ. They go out and the jailer and his family get baptized at like four o'clock in the morning. And then verse 34 says that after all of this, the jailer brought them, Paul and Silas, back to his house and set a meal before them. And he, the jailer, was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God, he and his whole household.
Now that's where we stopped last week, so let's pick up the story. Verse 35, and when it was daylight, the magistrates, there in Philippi, sent their officers to the jailer with the order, release these men. Well, verse 36, the jailer told Paul, the magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released, so you're free to leave now, go in peace. But Paul said to these officers that had come, he said, now listen, the magistrates had us beaten publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens. And then they threw us into prison. And now they want us to leave secretly. No way, Paul says.
You tell them to come down here personally and escort us out of prison. Well, the officers reported back to the magistrates what Paul had said. And when the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were afraid. Now let's stop here for a minute and ask the question, why did finding out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, why did that scare these magistrates the way it did? Well, in order to understand the answer to that, we've got to understand a little bit about Roman citizenship in the time of the Apostle Paul. At the time of the Apostle Paul, the Roman Empire had millions of subjects. But just because you were a subject of the Roman Empire did not mean you were a citizen of Rome. As a matter of fact, Roman citizenship was a privilege that was a jealously guarded commodity. And if you weren't born in Italy, there were very few people born outside of Italy that ever became Roman citizens.
Now in the providence of God, the Apostle Paul was one of them. And you say, well, I don't understand what is the big deal about being a Roman citizen? Well, the big deal is that you had enormous rights and enormous privileges that the other people in the Empire didn't have.
You say, oh, yeah, like what? Well, like number one, a Roman citizen was entitled to a formal trial before any kind of punishment could be inflicted upon him. Now my question, were Paul and Silas given a public trial?
No, they didn't even have their Miranda rights read to them before they threw them in jail. Number two, second privilege is that even if a Roman citizen was convicted of a crime, that person could not be punished in a way that publicly humiliated him. And yet what did they do to Paul? Well, verse 22 says the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten in the marketplace in front of that whole crowd.
They were publicly humiliated. Number three, and finally, a right of a Roman citizen is that unless regardless of his crime, a Roman citizen was never allowed to be beaten with those brutal rods that we talked about those lictor rods, the ones that had the claws and rip the flesh off the bone. And yet what did they beat Paul and Silas with? Well, they beat him with those rods. Folks, there were very severe penalties for anyone, even a Roman official who violated the rights of a Roman citizen. And these magistrates knew they were in big trouble. Acts chapter 22.
Let me show you what happens here. Paul was in Jerusalem a few years later, and it says in verse 23, as they the Jewish people in the street were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust in the air. The commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He the commander directed Roman officer that Paul be flogged, beaten and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. Well, as they stretch Paul out to flog him, Paul said to the Roman centurion, the officer standing there, Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?
Well, when the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and he said, What are you doing? Do you know this man is a Roman citizen? The commander hurried to Paul and said, Tell me, are you a Roman citizen? Paul said, Yes, I am.
The commander said, Well, I had to pay a big price to get my citizenship. Paul said, Well, I was born a Roman citizen. And then those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. And the commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul a Roman citizen into chains. Now, friends, these magistrates in Philippi had done a lot more than put Paul into chains. They'd stripped him publicly. They had beaten him publicly.
They had humiliated him publicly and imprisoned him without any kind of trial at all. Verse 39. So the magistrates came to appease Paul and Silas, literally to apologize to Paul and Silas. And they escorted them from the prison, imploring them, begging them, Please leave the city.
Now, another right of a Roman citizen number four is that a Roman citizen could not be forcibly expelled from any city in the Roman Empire unless he was convicted of a crime. And so rather than ordering Paul and Silas to leave here, these guys are reduced to go at Paul. Pretty please, would you please get out of town? Hey, does God have a sense of humor or what? Now y'all don't get it because it's Bible humor. But this is funny. This is funny.
What happened here? Well, verse 40. Paul and Silas, after they left the prison, went to Lydia's house.
Remember Lydia, the first lady here in Philippi to give her life to Christ in Europe. And after meeting with the brothers there and encouraging them, then they left town. Now, Paul and Silas are going to head on to Thessalonica. We're going to pick the story up next week.
But just before we ask the most important question, let's look at this issue. And that is, why didn't Paul tell these magistrates he was a Roman citizen before they beat him? Why didn't he tell them before they threw him in jail? Well, the answer is he probably tried.
The answer is out there in that uproar in the riot that was going on in the street when they beat him. Paul was probably trying to tell these guys he was a Roman citizen. They weren't listening.
They weren't interested and there was too much noise. But you know, it's interesting how God in his very special providence still use this for the benefit of the church in Philippi. Think about it now. If you're a magistrate in Philippi and you know that the apostle Paul can come back to town, file formal charges against you anytime he wants and get you thrown in jail for abusing his rights as a citizen. If you're a magistrate, are you going to let anybody mess with his friends in town? Are you going to let anybody mess with that church he started in town?
I don't think so. I think God used this to put a hedge of protection around that church where the magistrate said, hey, don't anybody mess with those people. We have our reasons. We don't need to tell you, but you keep your hands off of that church. Now that's the end of our passage, but it leads us to the most important question and we all know what that is. So here we go. Ready?
One, two, three. So what? Right. Say, Lon, so what? Say, I'm really happy to hear this.
I think this is neat, yada, yada, yada. What difference does this make to me? Well, I want to try to make that connect for you. You know, I want us to go back to the comment that the apostle Paul made to that Roman officer. Remember Acts 22, the Roman officer said, hey, I had to pay a big price in order to buy my Roman citizenship. And you remember what the apostle Paul said? The apostle Paul said, yeah, but I was born a Roman citizen. Now I got to thinking about that this week. How did this nice little Jewish boy named Paul raised in a city that really wasn't all that important, a city in the Roman Empire, Tarsus, how in the world did this guy get born with something as precious a commodity as Roman citizenship, which we know we've already learned was not given out very often, how in the world did he end up being born a Roman citizen? What that question intrigued me this week. And so I decided to go find the answer.
And in finding the answer also discovered an incredibly encouraging spiritual truth that I want to share with. First of all, how did Paul become born a Roman citizen? Well, do you guys, any of you guys here remember Brutus? Remember Brutus?
Say, yeah, I remember him. He was a guy who used to beat up Popeye all the time. No, that's Blue Toe.
No, that's Blue Toe. This is Brutus. Brutus was a Roman aristocrat who knifed and killed Julius Caesar in 44 BC. And Brutus, as a matter of fact, in Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, Brutus was the person to whom Julius Caesar spoke his last words.
You remember what they were? Et tu, Brute? I am impressed. My Latin teacher, Miss Vincent, you would have made her day if she were here today.
I am impressed. It means you too, Brutus, after Brutus stabbed him. But Brutus figures significantly in how the Apostle Paul ended up as a Roman citizen. You say, really, did the Apostle Paul and Brutus know each other?
No. The Apostle Paul wasn't going to be born for another 50 years in 44 BC. But let me tell you how the connection worked. Right after the death of Julius Caesar, Brutus and another Roman aristocrat named Cassius entered into a civil war for control of Rome, the Roman Empire, with Caesar's son, a fellow named Augustus Caesar. And while they were gathering their army to do battle in 43 BC, the next year, Brutus and Cassius came to the town of Tarsus, took over the town, commandeered the town and made it into their military headquarters. Now let's show you where Tarsus is so you can get an idea. Here's Jerusalem down here.
Here is the underbelly of Turkey, the Mediterranean Sea and here is Tarsus. As you can see, Tarsus is not a very significant city militarily. It's not on the middle of some crossroads. It's not a port city.
I mean, it's just in the middle of nowhere. But they came here, Brutus and Cassius did, and made it their military headquarters. Well, the battle was fought the next year, 42 BC. Actually, it was fought, you'll never guess where, in Philippi.
I told some of you that months ago, but it doesn't surprise me you don't remember. But anyway, it was fought in Philippi and Augustus Caesar won. He killed Brutus.
He killed Cassius. But the important point for our discussion is that the town of Tarsus had remained loyal to Augustus Caesar, even though it had been commandeered and taken over by the forces of Brutus and Cassius. So Augustus Caesar, in appreciation for the loyalty the town had showed him, declared after his victory that every citizen of Tarsus automatically was being rewarded with Roman citizenship. Now the apostle Paul wasn't alive, but his parents were and they were living in the city of Tarsus as citizens of Tarsus.
And so by edict of Augustus Caesar, they all of a sudden became Roman citizens. You say, but wait a minute, this was a Gentile city, right? Right. And they were Jewish people, right? Right. Well, was it normal for a Gentile city to make Jewish people citizens? No.
As a matter of fact, it hardly ever happened. So you say, well, then how in the world did Paul's parents become citizens of Tarsus so they could become Roman citizens? Ah, very good question. So I went back and tried to figure that out.
Let me tell you what I found. 140 years earlier, there was the kingdom that ruled both Tarsus and Jerusalem was the kingdom of Syria, ruled by a fellow in 171 BC named Antiochus. Antiochus decided that he wanted to make Tarsus his garrison city, one of his military cities.
But to do that, he had to swell the population. So what he did is he went all through his kingdom and began taking people, ripping them out from wherever they live and forcibly moving them to Tarsus to swell the population of the city. Now, for reasons unknown, he decided, King Antiochus did, that he wanted some Jewish people in the city.
So since he controlled Jerusalem, he went to Jerusalem and he had his soldiers walk around and just say, you, you, you, you, you, you and you get your stuff. We're moving you to Tarsus several hundred miles away and the apostle Paul's great, great grandparents were part of that movement. They got moved to Tarsus against their will.
They didn't want to go. They got forcibly moved. But you know what King Antiochus did as a way of softening the blow for all of these people that he was moving. He granted every single one of them full citizenship, including the Jewish people in Tarsus.
So you get what happened now? All of a sudden, 171 BC, the apostle Paul's great, great grandparents get ripped out of Jerusalem, taken to Tarsus. But King Antiochus says, hey, as a way of softening the blow, I'll make you a citizen of Tarsus. Then in 40 or about actually about 35 BC, Caesar Augustus says, well, now all you citizens of Tarsus, including Paul's parents, I'm going to make you citizens of Rome. And then the apostle Paul was born. And guess what? He was born a Roman citizen. Now is everybody asleep? Or did you guys follow all of that?
All right. Now, Sir William Ramsey, professor at Oxford University and writer of the book, The Cities of St. Paul said this, and I quote, it is indeed probable that there were already some Jews in Tarsus before King Antiochus. But Antiochus greatly increased their numbers by bringing in many more Jewish families and bestowing upon them all the rights of Tarsian citizenship. Thus from 171 BC onwards, there was in Tarsus a significant body of Jewish citizens. We must regard St. Paul as having sprung from one of these families, which got Tarsian citizenship in 171 BC. Now you say, well, Lon, where is this great encouraging spiritual lesson here?
Because for the life of us, we don't see it. I don't know what you saw in all this, but where do you get some great spiritual lesson out of this? Well, listen, folks, how do you think the apostle Paul's great great grandparents felt when all of a sudden King Antiochus said, guess what, folks?
Y'all are moving. How do you think they felt when they were ripped away from their friends, their family, their homes, their job, their beloved city of Jerusalem and carted off hundreds of miles to this Gentile city of Tarsus where they knew nobody or nothing? How do you think they felt?
Do you think they were devastated? I do. Do you think that they wondered why in the world God would let this happen to them? I do. Do you think they ever turned to God and said, God, why would you do this to us?
I do. But friends, here's what I want us to see in uprooting these people and moving them to Tarsus. Can't we see that God knew exactly what he was doing all the time? Hey friends, God looked down the corridors of time, 175 years and said, you know what? You don't know it yet, but 175 years from now you're going to have a great great grandson. His name's going to be Paul and I'm going to use him as my missionary to reach the entire Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, I'm going to use him as my instrument to change all of Western civilization.
Now to do this, he needs to be a Roman citizen and to get him to be a Roman citizen, I got to get his parents to be Tarsian citizens and to get them to be Tarsian citizens, I got to move you and there you go. Now, do you think God explained all that to them? No. Do you think they had any clue what was going on? No. Did God know what he was doing the whole time? Yeah. God knew what he was doing.
They died and didn't have any clue what God was up to, but God knew what he was doing. Did he waste this experience of moving them? Not on your life. Folks, you know, every Tuesday I take appointments in my office and without a doubt the most commonly asked question over the last 22 years in my office is this question.
I don't know what you think it would be, but here's the question. Why in the world would God do this to me? Why is God letting this happen to me? And my answer is, I don't know. You say, well Lon, remind me to come to you for counseling.
Well, I don't know. And I tell them, friend, how am I supposed to know what God's doing to you? I got stuff in my life. I don't even understand what God's doing to me. How am I supposed to know what God's doing to you? But let me tell you what I do say to these people. What I do say to them is, let me tell you where I am on the things in my life I don't understand. I believe there is a living God who has a plan for my life and that even the most puzzling things that happen, even the most painful things that happen are all part of God working out his plan for my life. And it doesn't matter whether I understand or not.
Jeremiah 29-11, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. You say, but I don't know them. Well, so what?
What difference does that make? You don't need to know them. As long as the almighty God of the universe knows them, that's the most important point. I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good, not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. And I tell these people in my office, and I'm going to tell you today, friends, God makes no mistakes.
Doesn't matter whether you and I understand. God doesn't waste experiences. He didn't waste this experience in the apostle Paul's great, great grandparents.
And he's not going to waste an experience in your life. God knows what he's doing and we need to trust him. If you're here today and you've never trusted Jesus as your real and personal savior, may I say to you that one of the wonderful things that come when we trust Christ is not just a place in heaven and not just eternal life.
I mean, you do get those things. But another wonderful thing that comes is that we get almighty God of the universe suddenly as the one that's running and planning our lives. We get the assurance that we're not the victims of random circumstances or random tragedies, but that there is a sovereign God running the program of our lives and we can relax as long as he knows the plan he has for us and he's working it out, we're fine. Friends, there is a peace that comes into our lives. There is a joy and a tranquility that comes into life when you know God is running your life that you can't get any other way. And if you're here and you don't know Christ, we want you to have that peace. It all comes as part of the package deal when you trust Christ.
I hope you'll do that. Well, you know, the year was 1873. Chicago had burned to the ground and there was a man living in Chicago who decided that this would be a good moment for he and his family to go on a little vacation. And so he decided they'd go to England. And so he and his wife and their children went to New York and they booked passage on a steamer going to England. But at the last minute, some business affairs came up and he said to his wife, you know, I'm going to be detained for a couple of days, but what I want you to do is I want you to go ahead with the girls. He had four daughters and I want you to get on the boat and go to England and I'll meet you in a couple of days.
I'll only be a couple of days behind you. She said, okay. So she got on the ship and as they sailed across the North Atlantic one night, they were rammed by another vessel and their ship sank in less than an hour. His wife survived, but all four of his daughters drowned in the North Atlantic. His wife was taken to England and she cabled back to him two words, saved alone. The man's name was Horatio G. Spafford. Mr. Spafford immediately got on board a ship and headed off to meet his wife in England and he told the captain, he said, now captain, when we get to the spot, longitude and latitude where that accident happened, you call me.
I don't care whether it's daytime, nighttime. I want to know when we get there. It was 2 a.m. and the knock came on his door. The steward said to him, Mr. Spafford, the captain wants you to know in 10 minutes we'll be at your spot. He went up on deck and as the ship sailed over the watery graves of his daughters, he reached inside of his pocket and he found he had an old envelope in there and a pencil. And so in the dim light on the bow of that ship at 2 a.m. he began writing down some words as they came to him. He was up there praying and talking to God and he started writing words and here's what he began to write, when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Lord, you have taught me to say it is well. It is well with my soul. Now that envelope went on to become the great hymn that we sang earlier and I want to show you a picture of that envelope. It still exists today.
It's in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem on display and this is the actual envelope on which Horatio G. Spafford in 1873 wrote down those words. But you know when things were as bad as they were going to get with my wife and me and my little girl Jill, we'd be up in the middle of the night, she'd be having seizures, we'd be waiting for the rescue squad, we'd be on our way to the hospital, we'd be going into pediatric ICU. You know the song that got me through? I would hum to myself, Lord, whatever my lot, you've taught me to say it is well with my soul. I can't tell you how many funerals I've done in 22 years, but I can tell you without a doubt the most commonly sung song that brings hope and encouragement to families at that moment in these services is it is well with my soul. Lisa Beamer in her book said that the one song she wanted sung at Todd Beamer's memorial service, it is well with my soul. And that when she stepped off onto the ground in Pennsylvania for the very first time to visit the crash site, that the only way she could hold it together was by humming the words to herself, it is well with my soul.
Folks, this song has brought more comfort and hope and encouragement to the lives of followers of Christ and possibly any other hymn that's ever been written. But do you understand it never would have been written if it hadn't have been for what we call a tragedy in the life of this man Horatio G. Spafford. Now, did God waste that experience in the life of Mr. Spafford? No, he didn't. He knew that song was inside this man.
But God also knew what it was going to take to get that song out of that man to bless millions of people in the century and a half that followed. And I'm sure there was many a day when Horatio G. Spafford turned to God and said, Why? Why, God? Why would you do this?
Why would you take my girls? Why would you allow this to happen to us? But can't we see now that with Mr. Spafford and his girls together in heaven, with this hymn still bringing hope to millions of people around the world every single day, can't we see that God knew what he was doing all the time? Friends, listen, the message of it is well with my soul and the message of Paul's Roman citizenship because I'm sure his great grandparents many times said, Why are you doing this? The message of both is the same that God never waste an experience. God knows what he's doing.
So we need to trust him. And you may be here today with things going on in your life that you don't understand why they're happening. Things going on in your life where you say God, why, why, why? And you know what, friends, God's answer is always the same. I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Now, can you just trust me? And my goal today is to try to convince all of us to rise above the level of our emotions, to rise above the level of our feelings, to rise to a different level, a level of faith, where we like Horatio G. Spafford can say, whatever my lot, Lord, you have taught me to say, you've taught me to walk by faith and say, it is well, it is well with my soul. May God help us do that.
Let's pray. Lord Jesus, thanks for reminding us today that we're not in this thing called life by ourselves, that you're here with us, walking hand in hand with us, and that you are the sovereign God of the universe who has a plan for our lives that's bigger and grander than we could ever imagine. Lord, so many times things happen we don't understand. They puzzle us, they hurt us. But my prayer is that you would use the example of Paul's citizenship and his great, great grandparents, the example of Horatio G. Spafford to remind us today that that if we'll just trust you, you're going to work all these things out for your perfect plan for our welfare, the welfare of people around us and the advancement of the kingdom of God.
So we just need to trust you. Now, Lord, there are a lot of people here today who are hurting. There are a lot of people here today who are followers of Christ and yet there's stuff happening in our lives that seem to make no sense at all. My prayer is that you would lift us today above those questions, that you would lift us today above those feelings and above the pain and bring us to the Lord, the level where we can say by faith, whatever my lot, Lord, you've taught me to say it is well with my soul. Give us that peace that passes all understanding, Lord, that comes when we walk by faith and we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen. Amen.
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