|A mural from Sheffield, Tas.|
Pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Colossians 4:3. Paul the apostle of Christ.
When the apostle Paul gave his testimony before Festus and King Agrippa, they heard the greatest offer the heart can hear. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles included the news that God was offering forgiveness for sins committed against Him. The Roman Governor and the Idumean king Agrippa seemed to have found this too much for their mind to handle. Festus said Paul was mad and Agrippa teased Paul by inferring he, Agrippa, was almost persuaded. This seems to sum up two of the three responses to the message of the cross. The cry of Festus still echoes through many lips to-day. Agrippa also has many ‘spiritual’ descendants who, like him, are ‘almost’, and that’s the state in which they die.
Paul, a shackled prisoner without any earthly abode stood before them. Prisoner though he was he spoke as a liberated man. Paul knew he had hope. It included a place and a kingdom with Jesus who was the One promised by Scripture. How preposterous it must have seemed! The Lord’s people are often in situations similar to Paul They are prisoners of faith but have a hope in a better world to come. Festus, Agrippa, Bernice and the others failed to realise they too were prisoners. Dressed in regal attire outwardly they were inwardly shackled by sin, guilt, shame and fear. They wore not the iron chains around their body but far stronger chains imprisoned their souls.
We all are prisoners of something or someone. In speaking to the assembled court Paul testified to the fact he was on trial as a prisoner of hope. Such hope was bound up in the promise God had given to Israel. Later on he repeated this truth to Jewish leaders in Rome: ‘It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ In effect Paul was a prisoner twice over. One was is in the literal sense of being in chains for his faith. The other was in the spiritual sense by which he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. On both occasions his hearers were either prisoners of despair, unbelief or playthings of their unholy desires. Paul held on to a promise, they clung to wishful thinking for better things tomorrow.
As prisoners of Christ we are His ambassadors in chains declaring the freedom we have in Jesus. It sounds incongruous but it is real. True freedom is only found when we live in the environment for which we were created. For a brief moment a fish out of water might imagine it is free from its watery home only to die disillusioned. Those who reject the environment of Christ Jesus live under the same disappointment. Imagining themselves free of the Lord’s perimeters they are actually playthings of fads, fashion and futility. We were created to know, enjoy, serve and worship our Creator. To cast that relationship aside causes the soul’s darkness, self-delusion, meaninglessness and a sense of foreboding about death.
As prisoners of Faith speaking to prisoners of unbelief, what we offer can make it worthwhile for them to exchange ‘chains.’ In Acts 25 and 26 are such words as ‘hope in what God has promised’: ‘God has raised the dead (referring to Jesus) to bring light into their darkness: to deliver from Satan’s power:’ ‘receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Christ.).’ We must always see beyond the taunts prisoners of unbelief throw our way as they flaunt their seemingly unrestricted lifestyle. As Proverbs says of them, there is a way which seems right unto man but the end of it is death. (Proverbs 16:25) For the prisoners of Christ the end is Life eternal and beautiful. Therefore from one prisoner to another heed these words, ‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Colossians 4:1.)
Being the Lord Jesus’ prisoner has its limitations morally and ethically. At times we can feel a little despondent as others advance within the World’s scene, accumulating honours, possessions and money while we are despised and ignored. It can hurt when they look with scorn or pity on you as you live under the direction of the Master. Our spiritual sanity can only be assured as we keep our eyes on Jesus Christ through His word. He must be our life, our hope, our true freedom and our message.
Reflection: What makes being a prisoner of Christ Jesus worthwhile?
Request: May my commitment to you Lord Jesus be something that causes someone somewhere to see it as a magnificent madness. Amen
©Ray Hawkins 31st July 2016.