David Guzik’s weekly devotional, based on a verse or two from the Bible.

Standing on Our Rights

Standing on Our Rights

So Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged… I appeal to Caesar.” (Acts 25:10-11)

It was a complicated situation.

Paul was held in Roman custody in the coastal city of Caesarea, waiting for a trial over a crime he didn’t commit, based on false accusations from those who hated Paul and the gospel of Jesus he preached.

When Paul was first put in custody, the Roman governor was Felix, who was eventually replaced by Festus. Felix was happy to delay the proceedings, hoping for bribes. When Festus came, he wanted to have a trial and resolve the matter regarding Paul.

Standing on Our Rights

When it was time for the trial, Paul faced powerful and corrupt adversaries. They wanted to have the trial in Jerusalem instead of Caesarea, knowing there was a secret plot to assassinate Paul on the way to Jerusalem.

Acts 25 doesn’t make it clear if Paul knew about this plot against his life. Whether he knew or not, God guided Paul to appeal to his right as a Roman citizen to be tried by Caesar in Rome. When Paul said, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged…I appeal to Caesar” perhaps it was through supernatural knowledge, or perhaps through God-given common sense and deduction. One way or another, Paul demanded to stand trial before Caesar.

Rightly and wisely, Paul wanted to avoid martyrdom if he could. He wasn’t afraid to face the lions, but he didn’t want to put his head in a lion’s mouth if he could avoid it.

It was the right of every Roman citizen to have his case heard by Caesar himself, after initial trials and appeals failed to reach a satisfactory decision. This was in effect an appeal to the supreme court of the Roman Empire.

Paul’s appeal made sense. He was convinced that the evidence was on his side and that he could win in a fair trial. Paul appealed specifically to Caesar Nero, who was later a notorious enemy of Christians. But the first five years of his reign, under the influence of good men around him, Nero was regarded as a wise and just ruler. Paul had no reason at this time to believe that Nero would be anti-Christian.

I am fascinated by the fact that there were times when Paul refused to appeal to his rights. In Philippi, Paul could have stated his Roman citizenship much sooner and saved a lot of suffering (Acts 16:19-24). Paul had the right to be supported by the churches he served, but often gave up that right (1 Corinthians 9:3-7).

Yet there were times when Paul stood on his rights, such as here and in Acts 22:25-26.

We should be grateful for the rights given to us by God, and even more grateful if our government recognizes some of those rights. We should also pray for the Spirit-led discernment to know when to stand on our rights, and when to give them up.

A Sermon With Three Points

A Sermon With Three Points

Now as he [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now, when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” (Acts 24:25)

Antonius Felix began life as a slave. His brother Pallas was a friend of the emperor Claudius; through such influence, he rose in status – first as a child gaining freedom, and then through political skill and intrigue he became the first former slave to become a governor of a Roman province.

According to some, his slave mentality stayed with him. Tacitus, the Roman historian, described Felix as “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king with the spirit of a slave.” Felix gained his third wife (Drusilla) by seducing her away from her husband.

A Sermon With Three Points

In Acts 24, Paul stood trial before Governor Felix. Most everyone else would see this as a trial for their life but Paul saw it as an opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

When Paul preached to this high and mighty man, he had a three-point sermon. Acts 24:25 says that he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.

These were the three points Paul used when he spoke to Felix and Drusilla. These are three points many modern preachers would avoid speaking about, especially in speaking to a prestigious man like Felix.

We don’t know exactly how Paul developed these three points, but we can speculate on something like this.

– He told Felix about the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ.
– Paul spoke to Felix about the need for Christian ethics (self-control), something that was evidently lacking in the life of both Felix and his wife Drusilla.
– Paul explained to Felix about eternal accountability before God (the judgment to come).

We admire Paul’s bold preaching, directed right to the issues of Felix’s life. Preachers today should show the same boldness, willing to proclaim God’s truth even when it might confront or offend those who hear.

Did you notice the response of Felix? We read Felix was afraid. Hearing this message made Felix afraid. Knowing something about his life, at least we can say that he probably understood it. The gospel should make those who are intent on rejecting Jesus afraid.

Acts 24:25 ends on a sad note. Paul faithfully preached and Felix was afraid – perhaps in a good sense! The tragedy was that Felix heard what Paul said, and the Roman governor was impressed by the message of the gospel. He knew that he had to get his life right with Jesus Christ. Yet he avoided doing anything, and he excused it by telling Paul that he must wait for a convenient time.

The excuse of Felix is repeated in the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. When you hear God’s message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, respond in continuing repentance and faith. There will never be a more convenient time.

Comfort In the Night

Comfort In the Night

But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” (Acts 23:11)

This must have been a difficult night for Paul. His greatest desire was to see the salvation of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:1-4), and two great opportunities to present the gospel to large and influential groups among the Jews had come to nothing.

It was in the darkness of that night when the fears came upon Paul; when his trust in God seemed to falter; when he worried about what God was going to do and if he was going to make it. It was in the darkness of that night that Jesus came to Paul and stood by him.

Comfort In the Night

Paul was alone, but he wasn’t alone; if everyone else forsook him, Jesus was enough. Better to be in jail with the Lord than to be in heaven without him. Paul had been miraculously delivered from jail cells before; but this time, the Lord met him right in the jail cell.

We often demand that Jesus deliver us out of our circumstances when He wants to meet us right in them. We sometimes think we are surrendering to Jesus when we are only demanding an escape. God wants to meet us in whatever we face now.

Jesus was not only with Paul; He gave him words of comfort. The words be of good cheer tell us that the night brought with it an emotional and perhaps spiritual darkness upon Paul. Jesus was there to cheer His faithful servant after he had spent himself for Jesus’ sake.

Anyone can be of good cheer when everything is great; but the Christian can be of good cheer when everything is rotten, knowing that God is mighty and wonderful no matter what the crisis of the moment.

Paul could have been discouraged about the lack of results from the sermon in Jerusalem. But the results were not his responsibility. His responsibility was to bring the Word of God and to testify of Jesus; the results were God’s responsibility. You have testified for Me in Jerusalem means that Jesus complimented Paul on a job well done.

Yet, though Paul had done a good job, there was more to do. Rome was Paul’s next assignment. The greatest words a faithful child of God can hear are “There is more for you to do.” Those words grieve the lazy servant but bring joy to a faithful servant.

It can be said to every child of God: There is more for you to do. More people to bring to Christ, more ways for you to glorify Him, more people to pray with, more humble ways to serve His people, more hungry people to feed, more needy people to clothe, more weary saints for you to encourage.

Today, receive the encouragement Jesus has for you – then continue with His ongoing purpose for you.


An Amazing Jesus Experience

An Amazing Jesus Experience

Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” (Acts 22:17-18)

Most of Acts 22 is Paul’s impassioned sermon to a mob that had just tried to beat him to death on the temple mount in Jerusalem. These two verses are just one part of that sermon, but I think they give a fascinating insight into the life of the Apostle Paul.

Paul mentioned an occasion when he returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple. Paul told them about something that happened about 20 years before, when he had been a follower of Jesus for 2 or 3 years. Even though he had been a Christian for a few years, yet he still came to Jerusalem to pray in the temple.

An Amazing Jesus Experience

By this, Paul wanted the violent crowd that just tried to kill him to know that even though he trusted in Jesus, he was not against all Jewish ceremonies and rituals.

But it wasn’t just that Paul was praying in the temple – while at the temple, Paul soon was in a trance. He both saw and heard Jesus. One thing I find remarkable about this impressive spiritual experience is that Paul never referred to this vision in his letters, and it seems that he only mentioned it here out of necessity.

Paul didn’t like to talk a lot about his spiritual experiences. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul also reluctantly mentioned a heavenly vision he had but he was careful to not boast about it. Paul wasn’t interested in promoting himself as the man who had visions of Jesus or of heaven. He would, when necessary, mention such experience, but he never dwelt on them or boasted of them.

In this vision, Paul – even though he had only been a Christian for a few years – heard a surprising word from Jesus. The Lord told Paul, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” This word from Jesus probably was a surprise to Paul. With good reason, he probably thought of himself as the perfect one to bring the gospel to his fellow Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus gave him this warning, even telling him to make haste.

This word from Jesus was helpful to Paul, and I’m sure the apostle was grateful for it. Yet for Paul it seemed to be nothing to focus on. I imagine that if I had such an experience with God, I would probably never stop talking about it! But for Paul, his focus on Jesus and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) – something every Christian can know and enjoy.

If God grants you impressive spiritual experiences, thank Him for them – but don’t make them the focus or goal of your Christian life. Remember that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).


Ready for Travel

Ready for Travel

And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:15)

Paul and his companions were on their way to Jerusalem. They had traveled a long way, mostly across the Mediterranean Sea. Now they were on the last part of their journey, going from Caesarea on the coast inland toward Jerusalem.

Luke traveled with Paul, indicated by using we in this sentence. In writing about this part of the trip, Luke said something small, yet in my mind, significant. He noted, we packed. This is noticeable because this was the end of a long journey, yet Luke never before stated that they packed. They sailed from Miletus to Cos, from Cos to Rhodes, from Rhodes to Patara, from Patara to Tyre, Tyre to Ptolemais, and then finally from Ptolemais to Caesarea. They packed and unpacked at each step along the way, but Luke never mentioned it. Only here he did, as they prepared to leave Caesarea and go to Jerusalem.

Ready for Travel

This makes me think that this was the first time Luke visited Jerusalem, and like any follower of Jesus, he was excited. He knew this was the famous City of David, the location of the great temple, and the place where Jesus taught, did miracles, died, rose again, and ascended to heaven. Luke thought that every detail of this last part of their long journey was exciting, and like an excited tourist, he even mentioned, we packed.

There are a few other things to consider about we packed and went.

It shows us that God loves order and packing merely is ordering what we have in preparation for travel. God is a God of order and planning, and our desire to have things in order reflects His image in us. We should never make idols of order and organization, but it is essential to be mindful of them because God is full of order and organization.

It shows us that it is wise to prepare for where we are going. Paul, Luke, and the others traveling with them knew that packing would help them be ready for their travel to Jerusalem and their time there. Therefore, they took the foresight to get prepared by carefully packing. The same principle is true for us. We all have an appointment with the future. This is true for the near future, and it is wise for us to prepare for what lies ahead in this life.

It is even more valid for our eternal future. Each of us has an appointment with eternity, one that no one escapes. It would be best if you did your packing for that journey. Give your attention to eternal things right now.

That means:

– Attention to God’s word, which is eternal.
– Attention to people, who are eternal.
– Attention to giving, the sending of treasure ahead to heaven.

Before you go up to the New Jerusalem, make sure you’ve packed and prepared for the trip. Are you ready for travel?


Aristarchus and Secundus

Aristarchus and Secundus

And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. (Acts 20:4-5)

It’s one of those little sections of the Bible that we sometimes dread, or even skip over – just another list of names, and most of them hard to pronounce. Yet we believe that every line of God’s word is a gift from Him, and there is treasure on each page if we look for it.

Aristarchus and Secundus

Perhaps one gold nugget is found in the names of the two men from Thessalonica who accompanied Paul. Their names were Aristarchus and Secundus. They were among this larger group traveling with Paul to Jerusalem. Paul had collected a generous offering from these mainly Gentile churches and was happy to bring it to the needy Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. This was a wonderful gesture of true unity – the mostly Gentile-background Christians from the west loving and caring for the mostly Jewish-background Christians from the east. This team waited for Paul and Luke to arrive and continue their journey towards Jerusalem.

The names of these traveling companions of Paul tell a little story; and what follows isn’t certain from the text, but simply a logical inference from their names. Aristarchus and Secundus both came from Thessalonica, but they were probably two very different kinds of men.

The name Aristarchus related to aristocracy, the ruling class. It’s likely that he came from a wealthy and powerful family – it is just the kind of name that would be given to a nobleman. We can suppose that he was a man of high status.

Secundus was a common name for a slave. It meant “Second.” Slaves were often not called by their true names, and the first-ranking slave in a household would often be called Primus. The second-ranking slave was often called Secundus.

So, there they were – Aristarchus and Secundus, one probably a nobleman and the other probably a slave. Yet side by side they served the Lord and the Apostle Paul. This true fellowship between noblemen and slaves was a scandal to many in the Roman world; they found it hard to believe that they sat together and served together in church. Yet they did, because they each thought who they were in Jesus Christ was more important than who they were thought to be in this world.

It has rightly been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross of Jesus. There is no one from such a high station of life that they don’t need Jesus. There is no one from such a low station of life that Jesus can’t lift them up. Everyone – both high and low – must humble themselves and come through the same gate of faith to Jesus. It doesn’t matter if you are an Aristarchus or a Secundus – Jesus is your only way, and He is the same way for all.

Unusual Miracles

Unusual Miracles

Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:11-12)

Acts 19 tells the story of the amazing work God did in Ephesus, and in the whole region that surrounded that great city. It was a remarkable work of the Holy Spirit, deeply rooted in the word of God, and through the hands of God’s willing servants.

Unusual Miracles

Another part of the amazing work done in Ephesus is described in Acts 19:11: God worked unusual miracles. I suppose that every miracle is unusual, but Luke explained that even for miracles, these were unusual. Luke then gave an example: that Paul’s handkerchiefs (literally, “sweat-bands”) or aprons could be laid on a person even without Paul present, and that person was healed or delivered from demonic possession.

It was unusual for God to use handkerchiefs or aprons in such a way. These were probably part of what Paul wore when he did his leatherworking as he provided for himself and others in Ephesus. These handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick. We don’t really know how this worked, other than the same way that the shadow of Peter (Acts 5:15) or the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 14:36) might heal – these items became a point of contact by which a person released faith in Jesus as their healer.

We can imagine this happening at first almost by accident – perhaps a person in need of healing took a handkerchief from Paul in a superstitious manner and was healed. But it became a pattern that other people imitated. As we will see, the superstitious practice of magic and sorcery was prevalent in Ephesus. So, it should not surprise us that some took a quite superstitious view of the miracles done through Paul.

God will stoop down to meet us even in our crude superstitions. This never means that God is pleased with our superstition, but that in His mercy He may overlook them to meet a need. Many years ago, I remember seeing what looked to be loosely rolled up newspapers on a pulpit in Bulgaria. I was told they were pieces of fabric (wrapped in newspapers) that the pastor prayed over, and they were taken home to sick people. This was a common practice in these Bulgarian churches.

To take the phrase literally, these were miracles not of the ordinary kind. This means that we should not expect that God would regularly use methods like this to bring healing. And, it’s not like Paul possessed some power to do these things. It does not say that Paul did these unusual miracles, but that God worked them by the hands of Paul.

Here is a glorious truth: God works both in the ordinary and the unusual. Test all things, but don’t despise the ordinary, and don’t reject the unusual. Jesus is big enough to work in both!

Special Encouragement

Special Encouragement

Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:9-11)

Paul was in the city of Corinth, one of the major cities of the Roman Empire. Corinth was set at an important crossroads of trade and travel, and it was a city notorious for its hedonism and immorality.

To this great and challenging city, Paul came humbly. Later he wrote to the Christians in Corinth and reminded them of how he first came: And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God…. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:1, 3)

Special Encouragement

Paul felt his weakness so severely that Jesus came with some special encouragement. The Lord spoke to Paul in the night and told him, do not be afraid. The implication was that Paul was afraid, fearing that in Corinth his work would be cut short by either opposing Jews (as in Thessalonica and Berea) or by the highly-charged worldliness around him.

Paul was to put away fear – but he was also to boldly continue. Jesus told him to speak, and do not keep silent. The solution to Paul’s fear was to obey Jesus’ command to not be afraid; and to speak and not keep silent – that is, to keep getting the word of God out. Jesus didn’t tell Paul that his opponents wouldn’t try to stop him, only that they would not be successful (no one will attack you to hurt you).

There was a basis for the command to keep preaching – Jesus promised, for I am with you. When we understand what this means, and Who says it, this is enough. If Jesus is for us and with us, then what can possibly be against us?

Then Jesus spoke an additional word of encouragement: for I have many people in this city. This was a constant assurance to Paul, who must have often had doubts about the survival and health of the Corinthian church.

Because Paul received the encouragement Jesus gave, he continued there a year and six months. This seems to be longer than in any other city where Paul founded a church. His work at Corinth is described simply: teaching the word of God among them.

Do you need some special encouragement? You can find it in what Jesus promised Paul and Jesus promises all who love Him and seek to serve Him.

– You have the promise of Jesus’ presence.
– You have the command to keep honoring Jesus and His message.
– You have the promise that you aren’t the only believer in your community.

Receive this special encouragement from Jesus today!

Search the Scriptures Daily

Search the Scriptures Daily

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. (Acts 17:11-12)

As Paul traveled through the area that we know today as Greece, he went from city to city, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. In Berea, he followed his familiar strategy, and found that the audience was more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica.

Two things earned this compliment for the Bereans: first, they received the word with all readiness. Second, they searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

Search the Scriptures Daily

The Bereans heard the teaching of the most famous apostle and theologian of the early church, and the human author of at least 13 New Testament books. Yet, they searched the Scriptures when Paul taught, to see if his teaching was truly Biblical. They would not accept Paul’s teaching without checking for themselves, so they could know if these things were so.

When the Bereans heard Paul teach, their settled reaction wasn’t “My, he’s a fine speaker.” It wasn’t “I don’t like the way he talks.” It wasn’t “What a funny preacher.” Instead, the Bereans wanted to know, “Are these things…so? Does this man teach the truth? We must search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things are so.”

Their research was not casual; it had a certain character.

– They searched the Scriptures. It was worth it to them to work hard at it, and investigate what the word of God said, and how Paul’s teaching matched up with it.

– They also searched the Scriptures daily to find out. It wasn’t a one-time, quick look. They made it a point of diligent, extended study.

– Also, they searched the Scriptures daily to find out. They believed they could understand and find out truth from the Bible. For them, the Bible was not just a pretty book of poetry or mystery or nice spiritual inspiration for thoughts-for-the-day. It was a book of truth, and that truth was there to find out.

But with all their diligent searching and concern for the truth, the Bereans did not become skeptics. They also received the word with all readiness. When Paul preached, they had open hearts; but also clear heads. Many people have clear heads but closed hearts, and never receive the word with all readiness. It was bothof these things that made the Bereans more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica.

Paul had nothing to fear by the diligent searching of the Scriptures by the Bereans. If they were really seeking God and His word, they would find out that what Paul preached was true. This is exactly what happened among the Bereans, and therefore many of them believed.

Be like the Bereans. Search the Bible. Search it daily. Search it to find out God’s truth.

We and They, Saved the Same Way

We and They, Saved the Same Way

Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they. (Acts 15:10-11)

The apostles and leading men of the church gathered at Jerusalem to decide a controversial issue. Many Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus, but some insisted that these Gentiles had to become Jews first, and then they could become followers of Jesus.

Peter, Paul, and other apostles argued strongly against this. Peter said they would test God if they brought the Gentiles under the law of Moses. It would be putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither their Jewish ancestors nor the Jewish people of his day were able to bear.

We and They, Saved the Same Way

This is demonstrated by a survey of Israel’s history. At the birth of the nation at Mount Sinai, they broke the law by worshipping the golden calf. At the end of Old Testament history, they also broke the law by disregarding the Sabbath and marrying pagan women (Nehemiah 13). From beginning to end, Israel could not bear the yoke of the law.

This controversy was with some from the sect of the Pharisees who believed (Acts 15:5), and they made a critical mistake. They looked at Israel’s history under the law with eyes of nostalgia, not truth. If they had carefully and truthfully considered Israel’s failure under the law, they would not have been so quick to also put Gentiles under the law.

Paul made the same argument in Galatians 3:2-3. If the law does not save us, why would we return to it as the principle by which we live? Considering the finished work of Jesus, it offends God to go back to the law. So, Peter asked, “why do you test God?”

Peter concluded with the observation that it is through grace that all are saved – both Jew and Gentile – and not by obedience to the law. If we are made right with God by grace, then we are not saved by grace and law-keeping. In this, Peter also insisted there is only one way of salvation: We [Jews] shall be saved in the same manner as they [Gentiles]. Jewish Christians were not saved, even in part, by their law-keeping; they were made right with God the same way Gentiles were: Through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We would think that Peter would have said it the opposite way – that the Gentiles could find salvation just like the Jewish people. Yet Peter turned it around and noted that all are saved by grace alone through faith alone, Gentiles and Jews. Peter realized that the good news of salvation in Jesus – and not in ourselves and our obedience – is good news for everyone. We and they are saved the same way.

Have you received and trusted in this good news?