Ours is a day of great confusion and lack of understanding. We are living in a day when false Christianity and false prophets are spoken well of and true Christianity and true prophets are spoken evil of. Evil is called good and good is called evil; darkness is substituted for light and light for darkness; bitter is substituted for sweet and sweet for bitter – but the Word of God says, “Woe to those” who do such a thing (Isaiah 5:20).
But here is the sad truth – it has always been this way and men still haven’t learned the lesson. Not only have we forgotten the example of the prophets who spoke truth in the name of the Lord and suffered because of it; not only have we forgotten the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was truth incarnate and was spoken evil of and suffered; but we have also forgotten the example of the apostles and men of God since who spoke truth and stood for truth and were yet spoken against, mistreated, and persecuted.
Sad to say but most people’s theology is so messed up that they can’t fathom that someone in negative circumstances and in a negative light can possibly be from God. Many wrongly have a type of health, wealth, prosperity, and popularity theology that says in essence that if you are really a man or woman of God then only positive things will mark you. However, just the opposite is true and always will be. A prophet that is well spoken of and is popular is not and cannot be a true prophet. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26). On the other hand Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
So here is a truth we need to grasp: if our Christianity isn’t spoken against because of our stand for and preaching of the truth, especially in this age of apostasy, then can we really say that our Christianity is true and not apostate? True Christianity has always been spoken against and always will be until the end.
Here in Acts 28:16-22 we see that true Christianity is spoken against everywhere and in fact this was the very reason that Paul was in Rome as a prisoner – not because of crimes committed but because of an unflinching and unwavering commitment to the truth.
The negative circumstances (16) – judging by appearance
Paul was under guard and in chains! But not if he were a true apostle, right? Surely God wouldn’t allow such a humiliating experience to happen to one of His own? Rememer Jesus? While being crucified, He was rejected as true and wrongly judged by appearance. Many thought that He couldn't be of God because of His circumstances - "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself, He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matthew 27:40-43).
We had better never judge by appearance! Look at that little Jew that preaches God’s Word and refuses to tickle the ears of the people – he can’t be true or else he wouldn’t have to endure such difficulties. Come on Paul, what do you mean telling us that you are a true apostle and that you will prove it by your difficulties? – “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendents of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? – I speak as if insane – I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked (four counting the one we just read about), a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:22-27). Danger, Danger, Danger! Difficulty, Difficulty, Difficulty! And Paul said that if that wasn’t enough, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
In this age of mega churches and the smooth sailing of apostate Christianity, how many would consider the apostle Paul and his negative experiences as the real deal?
The reasons for the negative circumstances (17-20)
First there were false accusations based on rejecting the truth (17). Paul had been accused of preaching against the people – not true! Paul had been accused of preaching against the customs – not true! And yet - he was delivered as a prisoner.
Second there was a faulty judicial system in spite of the truth (18-19). Paul had been found innocent by Rome. But he was held captive by Rome because the Jews objected (spoke against it). Because the Jews spoke against Paul and his release, Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar – not to bring accusations but to be proven innocent.
The third reason for Paul's circumstances was his faithful commitment to the truth (20) – the hope of Israel - the resurrection from the dead and God verified it by raising Jesus from the dead.
The opportunity because of the negative circumstances (21-22)
Paul was now in Rome, although as a prisoner, and yet he took the opportunity to do what he did everywhere; he would give the gospel to the Jew first and then to the Greek. Having called the leading men of the Jews to come and see him Paul began to explain his circumstances. After explaining his circumstances the Jews in Rome said that they hadn’t received any letters from Judea warning about him and that no one had spoken anything bad about him (21). While they hadn’t heard anything bad about Paul, they did know that Christianity (this sect) was spoken against everywhere (22). As a matter of truth it had only been three or so years earlier that the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of riots and disturbances in the Jewish community sparked by the preaching about Christ – see Acts 18:1-2.
These Jews in Rome were curious as to what Paul’s views were concerning Christianity, this sect that was spoken against everywhere, so they set a day to come and hear Paul (23a). This is the kind of opportunity that God intends our negative circumstances to cause – that we would be able to use the Scriptures to explain, prove, and persuade concerning Jesus and the faith once for all handed down to the saints.
Our battle isn’t over opinion but over truth and we will be hated because of it!“Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).