To my surprise, it turns out that history isn’t very clear of what happened to Paul after Luke stops writing. Many contest that he was martyred, a likely and inspiring way to end the story. Some speculate he was released for a short time before dying whether by martyrdom or death in another way. Yet let us not get caught up on the man of Paul and focus more upon the church movement and the continued work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s epistles and the record in Acts aren’t the final parts of the story. As I mentioned when we started this study, it is unfortunate that we call this book the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, if the Apostles were around today, they’d probably be a bit angry that this book gives them more credit than they deserve. This account gives us intimate detail of how the Holy Spirit can and will act through us. In John 16, Jesus foretold his disciples what would happen to them in regards to the Holy Spirit:
[quote]5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. 16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”[/quote]
Jesus exemplified for us on earth the power of the Holy Spirit and how to utilize it in order to live in the Kingdom of God. In Acts, we see the first fruits of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and that yes indeed these things are possible. Maybe we look at Jesus and even though He was fully human, we still don’t fully appreciate that He was an example to follow and that it is possible to do so. In Acts, we get to witness the fullness of God’s Spirit poured out upon us and the beauty and power of what God accomplishes through us. These aren’t mere parlor tricks and these aren’t actions limited to just Jesus and his initial 12 plus Paul. We look at this story and run the danger of thinking that it all ends here, at the end of Acts. Yet it is just the beginning.
Paul’s petition for Caesar and his prolonged ministry in Rome had a political impact on followers of Christ in that Christianity as it became known was finally able to break away from being considered a sect of Judaism and a recognizable religion on its own. This afforded followers of Christ some legal protections and established it as a “real” belief system. This pushed its fame and popularity further than Paul could ever take it and it is now thriving throughout the world.
Two great things that have always struck me profoundly are 1) are you willing to die for what you believe and 2) if you don’t truly believe it, why would you die for it? These two related questions drive at the heart of our faith. Regardless what you believe, the threat of death challenges it. Even if you believe that death is a release from this troubled world and into the next, which is foretold as more glorious, you must believe that with all your heart in order to follow through. In this time, many were given the opportunity of saving themselves simply by renouncing their faith. Would you? Would you speak against your deepest convictions to live a bit longer? We often scoff at “crazy extremists” but fail to recognize the beauty of their commitment to their beliefs. I also believe that this call to renounce one’s faith was a test to see if it was real or not. Those who don’t believe cannot understand our faith because it is more than just a decision to believe in something. Our faith isn’t something we simply do on our own and therefore isn’t comprehendible by those who don’t believe. Actually, it isn’t fully understandable to those who believe, either.
As I continue to question my own beliefs in an attempt to test the core of what it means to believe in Christ, I constantly find that I simply cannot unbelieve what I believe. What about you? Would you renounce your core beliefs to save your physical life? I suppose it depends upon what your beliefs are…but this goes beyond being “honorable.” False honor becomes stupidity when your life is on the line. So, did these Christian men who were martyred simply for believing Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God, really believe that or were they just putting on a show? Was it an elaborate pyramid scheme that their families are still collecting on or was there something more involved? It’s easy for us to doubt and difficult for us to believe. We filter our validation system through our distrust of other humans and that is where we start to lead ourselves astray.
The challenge for us now that we have finished reading this account is, “what are we going to do with it?” We can shrug it off as another crazy story or we can take it for what it says and “seek first the Kingdom of God.” If we believe the bible as truth then this is real. If this is real, then we have a lot of work to do because we are ignoring the purpose of our existence. If we are ignoring the purpose of our existence, then we are probably better off dead anyway because we are just getting in the way of those who are working for the expanse of the Kingdom.