“I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” (Romans 15:29–32, NASB95)
Paul had been careful to follow God’s leading and to submit his personal desires to the desires of Christ. In this he had his direction altered. He suffered persecution and even fled for his life. He encountered open doors and even closed ones, and he was to encounter so much more before being called home to be with his Lord, including more imprisonment and even eventually being put to death. In all of this it was Paul’s objective to be where God wanted him to be for as long as God wanted him there in order to do what God wanted him to do, knowing that all of these choices belonged to God, and that God was the One who would ultimately recognize what was accomplished. In 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 Paul expressed that desire this way,
“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:6–10, NASB95)
As such, when it came to the time that he would get to Rome he had every confidence that he would be fully where God wanted him, coming with the full blessing of Christ. But in the meantime there was still much to be done, and there were some concerns in relation to those things for which he desired that they join with him in prayer, both for protection and profit. The last chapters of Acts, starting with chapter 20 shed some historical light on this.
Paul knew he had many enemies awaiting his return. In Acts 20:22-24 we read, “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:22–24, NASB95)
We clearly see that the Holy Spirit had prepared Paul for some very difficult days ahead, days which included being imprisoned and persecuted for his work in proclaiming the gospel. But Paul affirmed here in Acts chapter 20 that these trials really didn’t measure to anything on the scale of finishing the work to which he was called by Jesus His Lord. Paul was being readied for what lay ahead and he asked for prayer from the Roman believers as he endured it and even that he might be rescued from it to the point of ultimately coming to visit and find refreshing rest in their presence.
But Paul’s only reason for returning to Jerusalem was not just to be persecuted. He also had that gift of help to deliver and service to offer. “After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” … “After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;”” (Acts 21:17, 19–20, NASB95)
After arriving in Jerusalem and spending some time with the believers who received him, Paul went through the process of becoming ceremonially cleaned after having spent considerable time in Gentile land so that he might according to the customs enter the Jewish temple and worship. Upon nearing the end of this week long period of cleansing Paul was spotted by some Jews from Asia who were aware of his ministry to the Gentiles, and they brought a charge against him. The people hearing this seized Paul and drug him out of the temple to kill him. Hearing about the unrest soldiers stepped in and arrested Paul, which actually resulted in him being rescued from the hands of the disobedient. But even in his being arrested Paul made a request to speak before the people, which was granted, and Acts 22 up through verse 21 records the testimony which he shared with them concerning his call to minister to the Gentiles. But verse 22 records that this testimony was not received, and again they demanded that he be taken away. The verses which follow share how his Roman citizenship by virtue of birth saved him from a flogging. Beyond that Paul even was given the opportunity to sit before his accusers and find out the true nature of their complaint, which led to his accusers becoming divided with a strong disagreement. For fear that Paul might be torn apart in their fighting Paul was removed from their presence as we read in Acts 23:10.
In Acts 23:11 we read, “But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”” (Acts 23:11, NASB95) God reaffirmed that Paul would indeed make it to Rome, where he would have opportunity to witness. But how this was to come about and who would be witnessed to was still unfolding.
What followed was a plot to kill Paul by his accusers, which upon hearing about it the commander of the guard over Paul arranged to have Paul moved to Caesarea (a Roman political colony) by two hundred soldiers in order to go before the governor. Once his accusers arrived at Caesarea, Paul’s case was heard (Acts 24). Both sides presented their cases, and Felix the governor was not caught off guard being familiar with this new growth in believers known the as the Way (24:22). In order to judge this properly he decided to wait on some additional input. But even in his imprisonment, Paul was granted freedom for his friends to minister to him (24:23). Paul remained in prison for two years with repeated meetings with Felix, while Felix was hoping that he might be bought off. Imagine that by giving Paul freedom to be visited and possibly bring money for his deliverance, Paul continued to rest under the protection of the Roman government while also being free to minister to those who he had contact with.
In Acts chapter 25 Felix was succeeded by Festus, and again his accusers tried to refresh their case and gain final satisfaction. As a Roman citizen Paul claimed that the proper place to plead his case was before Caesar, and as the chapter progresses we find that King Agrippa agreed to consider his request. Chapter 26 records what follows before King Agrippa, his accusers, and other officials. Before them Paul was given an opportunity to respond to the charges, and his response again included his testimony. Paul concluded his response with these words, “And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”” (Acts 26:29, NASB95)
The conclusion of this hearing is recorded in verses 30-32 where we read, “The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”” (Acts 26:30–32, NASB95)
Paul had asked to present his case before Caesar and after having a hearing on his request by King Agrippa, Paul’s request was about to be granted and he was going to be sent to Rome not as a freeman but as a prisoner.
“When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.” (Acts 27:1–3, NASB95)
The trip was not without its own events, including a several month long stay at Malta after a shipwreck. But Paul did eventually make it to Rome, and Acts 28 describes his reception. “There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.” (Acts 28:14–16, NASB95)
Paul got his hearing and again presented his testimony in presenting his defense. This resulted in his Jewish accusers again leaving, fighting among themselves in disagreement over the real charges. The next words close the book of Acts, “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” (Acts 28:30–31, NASB95)
The next book in our Bible is Romans, the very people Paul had a desire to visit and the ones who he had asked to pray for him both in his imprisonment and in his coming to join them for refreshing rest. It is an amazing thing to see how God works in and through His Spirit’s leading on our hearts and the prayers of fellow believers who share in bringing these requests to Him. There is great cause for us to pray and to request prayer, knowing that our God knows what lies in store and He is the One who is fully able to bring all things to pass.
“and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:19–20, NASB95)