Editor’s Note: This week we welcome Paul Mannino to the blog, and he will be discussing Acts 28. If you want to watch the sermon, it’s posted on Paul’s YouTube Channel here. My wife, Michelle, and I met Paul and his wife, Mary Kate, at the Evangelical Congregational Church’s Pastoral Assessment Center this past January. There they not only got the green light for pastoral ministry, but we began a friendship. After 20 years in local church ministry, the Manninos are pursuing church-planting. I’m excited for you all to hear how Paul communicates God’s Word. If you want to learn more about the Mannino’s ministry, click here to contact them on Facebook.
It’s easy to start focusing on the wrong things, isn’t it? Especially when life is tough. We can be like a deer in headlights, sucked into the drama, the bad news, and before we know it, we think life is horrible, awful and impossible. How do we refocus in these moments? In Acts 28, Paul is a great example for us.
As we saw in the previous post, after the Maltans mistakenly believe Paul is a god because he isn’t affected by a snake bite, Paul, rather than take advantage of them, chose to serve them. Now Paul’s journey to Rome resumes. Luke tells us, “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.” Castor and Pollux? Luke is referring to carvings on the bulkhead of the ship itself. These gods would be carved on the wood as a very Roman attempt to bring good luck.
This is the culture that Paul is in. He doesn’t shrink away and say, “Well, I’m not going to get on that ship because they’ve got them idols on the front of the boat.” No, he’s on a mission and single-minded in his focus. He’s ready to engage, not withdraw.
Luke continues, “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.” Puteoli? I don’t know. I’m Italian, and I don’t even know how that’s pronounced.
As we keep reading, Luke tells us that, “There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome.” They had a couple of little stops to get there. It took a long time; but, in the end, they’re getting to Rome, where they meet some Christians! “The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us.” And listen to this… “At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” [Acts 28:11-15]
I want to take a quick timeout before we get to the rest of the Roman account and talk about how our fellow believers can be an encouragement to us. I called Joel sometime in June when everything was really overwhelming to me, and he didn’t even have to say anything—just the fact that he was listening, and I knew that he wanted what was best for me, Mary Kate, and Eevee—that was enough. But then for him to actually say some things that were an encouragement—things that I knew. I knew some of the stuff that he was saying. I’m not trying to say that I’m a know-it-all, but it sometimes takes someone reminding you of things that you already know but somehow you forget in the moment. I don’t know what Paul needed in that moment. But Paul, Luke, and the people that were with them, were rejoicing at the fact that they finally got to be “home” with brothers and sisters who were encouraging to them. You don’t have to be physically together to be the church for one another. We can be that encouragement just by the way that we check in on each other, encourage one another. It’s a reminder that we need each other and that we should be thankful to God for each other. We should pursue each other and not leave one another to fend for ourselves. It’s a good reminder.
So what happens in Rome? “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.” [Acts 28:16] That’s not really “by yourself.” People believe that the way that he was under house arrest was that Paul was allowed to live on his own and had his own place but also was shackled. He would have had a shackle on one arm, and he would be shackled to the guard on duty at all times. Paul was essentially a political prisoner. And I’d be calling Gregory Peck, complaining, “Hey, this isn’t a ‘Roman Holiday’! What’s going on?” But you know— Paul worked with what he had. Was this a less-than-ideal situation? Sure. If you want to look at it that way. Paul took advantage of the opportunities that he had because he was in Rome, and he had the opportunity to talk to the people that he really wanted to talk to—(not to mention, the guards who were close-by to him).
So that’s my question for you right now: In this moment, are you so focused on the less-than-ideal circumstances of your life that you’re not thinking of the opportunities that you have within the less-than-ideal circumstances that you have in your life? Opportunities abound. God can work with very little. We see that throughout the Bible. Maybe instead of focusing on what we’re not right now— what we don’t have right now—maybe we should take a play out of the Paul playbook; and, instead, just go with what we got.