Paul Cheered In Prison By His Lord
“And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle. And the following night the Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as you have testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also at Rome. And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.”
FROM the midnight whisper of the Lord to Paul we may draw forth sweet encouragement. Those of the Lord’s children who have been engaged in His work and are called to suffer in it, have here a special word of consolation!
Paul had been in a great tumult and had been roughly rescued from the wrath of the people by the chief captain who saw that otherwise he would be pulled in pieces. Paul was like the rest of us, made of flesh and blood and, therefore, liable to be cast down. He had kept himself calm at first, but still, the strong excitement of the day had no doubt operated upon his mind and when he was lying in prison all alone, thinking upon the perils that surrounded him, he needed good cheer–and he received it. The bravest man may find his spirit sinking after the battle and so perhaps it was with the Apostle.
- In this passage, we note the good cheer that came to Paul in the dungeon. This consisted, first, in HIS MASTER’S PRESENCE–“the Lord stood by him.”
If all else forsook him, Jesus was company enough! If all others despised him, the smile of Jesus was patronage enough! If the good cause seemed in danger–in the Presence of his Master victory was sure! The Lord, who had stood for him at the Cross, now stood by him in the prison. The Lord, who had called to him out of Heaven, who had washed him in His blood, who had commissioned him to be His servant, who had often sustained him in labors and trials, now visited him in his solitary cell! It was a dungeon, but the Lord was there! It was dark, but the Glory of the Lord lit it up with Heaven’s own splendor! Better to be in a jail with the Lord than to be in Heaven without Him! The harps above could make no heavenly place without Jesus–and Jesus being there, the clanking fetters and the cold floor of the stony cell could not suggest a sorrow.
“The Lord stood by him.” This shall be said of each one who diligently serves God. Dear Friend, if you are a worker for the Lord Jesus, depend upon it, He will not desert you. If, in the course of your endeavors, you are brought into sadness and depression, you shall then find it sweetly true that the Lord stands by you. Did you ever forsake a friend who was spending his strength for you? If you have done so, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, but I think I hear you say indignantly, “No, I have always been faithful to my faithful friend.” Do not, therefore, suspect your Lord of treating you ungenerously, for He is faithful and true. All your former helpers may desert you–Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes may all set themselves to oppose you–but with the Lord at your right hand you shall not be moved! Cheer up, desponding Brothers and Sisters–
“God is near you, therefore cheer up,
He’ll defend you when around you
II. The next comfort for Paul was the reflection that THE LORD’S STANDING BY HIM PROVED THAT HE KNEW WHERE HE WAS AND WAS AWARE OF HIS CONDITION.
The Lord had not lost sight of Paul because he was shut up in the common jail. One is reminded of the Quaker who came to see John Bunyan in prison and said to him, “Friend, the Lord sent me to you and I have been seeking you in half the prisons in England.” “No, verily,” said John, “that cannot be! For if the Lord had sent you to me, you would have come here at once, for He knows I have been here for years!” God has not a single jewel laid by and forgotten. “You see Me” is a great consolation to one who delights himself in the Lord. Many and diverse are the prisons of affliction in which the Lord’s servants are shut up. One may be lying in the prison of pain, chained by the leg or by the hand, through accident or disease. Or perhaps he is shut up in the narrow cell of poverty, or in the dark room of bereavement, or in the dungeon of mental depression–but the Lord knows in what ward His servant is shut up and He will not leave him to pine away forgotten, “as a dead man out of mind.”
The Lord stood by Paul despite doors and locks. He asked no warden’s leave to enter, nor did He stir bolt or bar, but there He was–the Companion of His humble servant! The Lord can visit His chosen when nobody else could be allowed to do so because of contagion, or from fear of exciting the fevered brain. If we come into such a peculiar position that no earthly friend knows our experience–none having been tempted as we are–yet the Lord Jesus can enter into our special trial and sympathize in our peculiar grief. Jesus can stand side by side with us, for He has been afflicted in all our afflictions.
What is more, that part of our circumstances which we do not ourselves know, Jesus knows, and in these He stands by us, for Paul was not aware of the danger to which he was exposed. He did not know that certain Jews, to the number of forty, had banded themselves together to kill him! But He who was his shield and his exceeding great reward had heard the cruel oath and arranged to disappoint the bloodthirsty ones. Dear Friend, the Lord knows all about your troubles before they come to you–He anticipates them by His tender foresight. Before Satan can draw the bow, the Preserver of men will put His Beloved beyond the reach of the arrow. Before the weapon is forged in the furnace and fashioned on the anvil, He knows how to provide us with armor of proof which shall burn the edge of the sword and break the point of the spear. Let us therefore sing with holy boldness, “In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me. He shall set me up upon a rock.” How safe we are, for Jehovah has said, “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment, you shall condemn.” With joy, therefore, let us draw water out of these two wells of salvation–the Lord is present with us and He knows us altogether! Putting the two thoughts together, we may hear Him say to our inmost souls–
“I, the Lord, am with you,
Be you not afraid!
I will help and strengthen,
Be you not dismayed!
Yes, I will uphold you
With My own right hand.
You are called and chosen
In My sight to stand!
Onward then, and fear not,
Children of the day!
For His Word shall never,
Never pass away.”
III. When the Lord Jesus came to Paul, He gave him a third reason for courage. He said, “Be of good cheer, Paul: for you have testified of Me in Jerusalem. THERE WAS MUCH COMFORT IN THIS ASSURANCE THAT HIS WORK WAS ACCEPTED OF HIS MASTER.
We dare not look for much joy in anything that we have done, for our poor works are all imperfect. And yet the Lord sometimes gives His servants honey in the carcasses of lions which they have, themselves, slain, by pouring into their souls a sweet sense of having walked in integrity before Him. Before the Great Day of reward, the Lord whispers into the ear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Or He says openly before all men, “She has done what she could.” Herein is good cheer, for if the Lord accepts, it is a small matter if men condemn! The Lord says to Paul, “You have testified of Me in Jerusalem.” The Apostle had done so, but he was too humble to console himself with that fact till his Lord gave him leave to do so by acknowledging the brave deed!
Perhaps, dear Friend, you also shall be made to remember that you have borne witness for Jesus and that your life has not been altogether in vain. It may be that your conscience makes you more familiar with your faults than with your services, and you rather sigh than sing as you look back upon your Christian career. Yet your loving Lord covers all your failures and commends you for what His Grace has enabled you to do in the way of witness-bearing. It must be sweet to you to hear Him say, “I know your works; for you have a little strength and have kept My Word, and have not denied My name.”
Be faithful to your Lord, dear Friend, if you are now in prosperity, for thus you will be laying up a store of cheering memories for years to come. To look back upon a well-spent life will not cause an atom of legal boasting to an experienced Believer–but it will justly create much holy rejoicing! Paul was able to rejoice that he had not run in vain, neither labored in vain–and happy are we if we can do the same. If it is right for us to chasten our conscience on account of omissions, it must be lawful ground for thankful joy that our heart condemns us not, for then have we confidence towards God. If any of us should fall into straitened circumstances, it will be a comfort to be able to say, “When I was rich, I freely used my wealth for my Lord.” If we are ill, it will be a satisfaction to remember that when we were in health, we used our strength for Jesus. These are reflections which give light in the shade and make music at midnight. It is not out of our own reflections that the joy arises, but out of the witness of the Holy Spirit that the Lord is not unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labor of love.
IV. A fourth comfort remained for Paul in the words, “As you have testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also at Rome.” The Lord would have us take comfort from THE PROSPECT OF FUTURE SERVICE AND USEFULNESS. We are not done with yet–and thrown aside as vessels in which the Lord has no more pleasure. This is the chief point of comfort in our Lord’s word to the Apostle. Be of good courage, there is more for you to do, Paul. Theycannot kill you at Jerusalem, for you must bear witness also at Rome.
Brace yourself up, O weary, working Brother, for your day’s work is not yet over and your sun cannot go down till, like Joshua, you have finished your conflict with Amalek! The old saying is true, “You are immortal till your work is done.” Possibly not one half of your work is even begun and, therefore, you will rise again from sickness, you will soar above depression and you will do more for the Lord than ever! It will yet be said to you, as to the angel of the Church in Thyatira, “I know your works, and the last to be more than the first.” Wycliffe could not die though the malicious monks favored him with their best wishes in that direction. “No,” said the Reformer, “I shall not die, but live, and declare all the evil deeds of the friars.” The sight of rogues to be exposed awakened his flickering life and revived its flame. Disease could not carry off Melancthon because he had eminent service yet to do, side by side with Luther. I have admired the way in which the great Reformer dragged his friend back to life by assuring him that the great work needed him and he must recover. “He devoutly prayed, ‘We implore You, O Lord our God. We cast all our burdens on You and will crytill You hear us, pleading all the promises which can be found in the Holy Scriptures respecting Your hearing prayer, so that You must indeed hear us to preserve at all future periods our entire confidence in Your own promises. After this, heseized hold of Melanchthon’s hand and said, 'Be of good courage, Philip, YOU SHALL NOT DIE.’” He prayed his friend back from the mouth of the grave and sent him on his way comforted with the truthful prediction that he had yet to bear more testimony for the Truth of God! Surely there is no restorative from sickness and no insurance for continued life like the confidence that our task is not done–and our race is not ended!
Godly Whitefield, when smitten with a dangerous illness, rose again to renew his seraphic activities after his death had become matter of daily expectation. It is said, in connection with this event, that shortly after his recovery, a poor Black woman insisted on having an interview with him. On being admitted, she sat down upon the ground and looking earnestly into his face, said to him in broken language, “Massa, you just go to Heaven’s gate, but Jesus Christ said, ‘Get you down; you must not come here yet, but go first and call some more poor Negroes.’” And who would not be willing to tarry here to win more poor Negroes for Jesus? Even the bliss of Heaven may be cheerfully postponed for such a gain!
Come, then, ailing and desponding one, there is no use in lying down in despair, for a life of usefulness is still in reserve for you! Up, Elijah, and no more ask to die, for God has further errands for His servant! Neither the lion nor the bear can kill you, O David, for you have yet to fight a giant and cut off his head! Be not fearful, O Daniel, of the rage of Babylon’s drunken king, for you are yet to outlive the rage of hungry lions! Courage, O you mistrustful spirit–you have only run with the footmen as of yet–you shall yet contend with horses and prove more than a match for them! Therefore lift up the hands that hang down! “You must stand before Caesar.” A Divine decree ordains for you greater and more trying service than as yet you have seen. A future awaits you and no power on the earth or under the earth can rob you of it–therefore be of good cheer!