Experiencing Christ During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Part 1
What the Apostle Paul Did While in Custody: the Book of Acts
Feeling shut down and isolated? Today's restrictions on life due to the Covid-19 Pandemic have stressed the entire planet. The Bible has an eternal message of hope through Christ, the God who became a man to enter into our human realm of limitations and suffering, which applies to people in every culture and every situation, including today's.
Paul the Apostle, the main herald of the hope of this gospel, was often in bonds by the authorities due to his Christian ministry. What did he do when he found himself shut down and restricted by the authorities of his age? Luke gives a first-hand, eyewitness account of his ministry in the Book of Acts, including chapters on his arrest for announcing the gospel. His experience of Christ while under various forms of restriction convey a lesson for all who want to learn of this mysterious, indwelling, and wonderful life of Christ.
As Paul himself would declare, this life was "not I, but the grace of God with me" (1 Cor 15:10), and more specifically, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Paul was no hero. He realized he was nothing, and just the worst of all sinners (1 Tim 1:15) and less than the least of all believers (Eph 3:8). But his humility and openness to Christ allowed him to experience the supernatural power of Christ. This life is not just historic, but it is available today to whoever wants to surrender their life to Christ. Let's see how this life of Christ in Paul responded.
Praying and Singing
Due to the abounding life of Christ in these apostles of Christ, Paul and Silas were not complaining bitterly about the Roman government while they were in prison. Rather, they spent time rejoicing and serving others through prayer. This is humanly impossible, but for those who can turn away from self and abandoned themselves to Christ and His eternal plan, it is a divinely human reality. Notice that while isolated, Paul was never alone. He was intimately a part of the Body of Christ. It was the assembly at Antioch that he was attached to as a young believer in Christ, as well as to the other assemblies of Christ (Acts 11). It was the assembly at Antioch that sent Paul and Barnabas on their first gospel trip (Acts 13). Now attached to Silas on a second, we find them both in prison:
"The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened" (Acts 16:22-26)
Praying denotes they were transcending their earthly condition of suffering to connect themselves to the God of purpose in heaven. It means they were connecting to the needs of people on earth through the love, power, and compassion of the Spirit of Christ within them.That same life operates now in you, if you are willing to join yourself to God, as well as others you can pray with.
Singing denotes the joy of Christ within them, which permeates the suffering of being in the dungeon at midnight. Christ may not take your suffering limitations away, but He will always, if you are humble and obedient to receive it, fill your being with joy, leading you to sing. Who will be listening while you sing your songs of praise and worship from your isolated porch, balcony, or apartment? Your song will release the prisoners of fear.
Announcing The Wonderful Christ to Others
Much of the rest of the Book of Acts shows Paul, while under Roman custody, announcing Christ to all sorts of people, including:
1) Announcing Christ to his own people: Paul was a Jew, and while in Jerusalem he took advantage of another arrest by the Roman authorities to address his own people in their own language:
"I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 22)
2) Announcing Christ to godless religious authorities : Paul also had the opportunity to announce the resurrected Christ to the religious leaders who opposed this new move of the Lord. It included his own theological tribe called the Pharisees, who were strict adherents to the law, yet did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, as well as to the Sadducees, who rejected even the notion of supernatural life:
"I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" (Acts 23)
3) Announcing Christ to godless political leaders: Paul, due to his arrest, could speak face to face with the Roman Governors Felix and Festus, as well as King Agrippa:
"he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened" (Acts 24)"
“I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.” (Acts 25)
"the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26)
4) Displaying the salvation of Christ to those experiencing a natural disaster
Eventually Paul appealed to Ceasar himself, and was sent by ship to Rome while under custody. The ship hit a tremendous storm, which gave Paul the opportunity to express the indwelling majesty, peacefulness, wisdom and love of Christ to the entire ship:
"For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island." (Acts 27)
5) Announcing Christ to All in Rome: Having reached Rome, Paul was held under arrest at home: shelter in place, in other words. Again, no sign of complaining about his circumstances. Rather we read he was:
"Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." (Acts 28)