Reading the Book of Acts today, it’s easy to forget that the people who actually experienced these events 2,000 years ago didn’t know how things were going to turn out. Peter didn’t know that God was going to send an angel and deliver him from prison (and a certain death sentence). Paul and Silas didn’t know that God was going to send an earthquake in the middle of the night and set them, and all the other prisoners, free. And Philip didn’t know that upon baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, he was going to be miraculously transported 20 miles away to another preaching engagement.
The men and women of the Book of Acts were living in the moment, by faith. And truth be told, that’s the only way any of us can live. God alone knows the end from the beginning. God alone knows what tomorrow will bring. In fact, one of the heroes of Acts, James, warns us not to be presumptuous about the future: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’ … instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (James 4.13-15).
Though we may not know what the future will bring, I feel the Spirit of the Lord prompting me to say to you: “GOD HAS BIGGER PLANS FOR YOU THAN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES CURRENTLY SUGGEST!”
How can I be sure of this? Because the Lord says,
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29.11)
The Jerusalem Bible puts it this way: “I know the plans I have in mind for you — it is Yahweh who speaks — plans for peace, not disaster, reserving a future full of hope for you.”
God didn’t make this statement when things were going well for His people. He said it when things were bad. Real bad. Their best and brightest had been carried away into captivity. Their cities had been laid waste. Their land had been desolated. Yet God said, “I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” (Jer 29.10).
In other words, “I have bigger plans for you than your circumstances currently suggest!”
“You’re not going to die in Jerusalem; you’re going to preach in Rome!”
The apostle Paul is a case in point. As he journeyed to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), the Holy Spirit kept warning him, through the gift of prophecy, that “chains and tribulations” awaited him (Acts 20.22-23). By his own admission, Paul didn’t know what was going to happen to him. However, he had resolved to go to prison, and even to die, for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21.13). Perhaps he was expecting to die at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders just like his Lord and Saviour, some 30 years earlier.
However, after being arrested in the temple and taken into custody by the Roman commander, as much for his own protection as anything else, Paul had a visitation from the Lord that changed his life.
But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” (Acts 23.11)
It was as though the Lord was saying to Paul: “You think you’re going to die in Jerusalem, but I’ve got news for you: You’re going to preach in Rome! I’ve got bigger plans for you than your circumstances currently suggest. You’re going to bear my name before kings and nations. You’re going to stand before Caesar. You’re going to proclaim My gospel in the highest court in the world.”
Two years later, as Paul sailed to Italy in the charge of a Roman centurion, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and reiterated his mission and his destiny: “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar …” (Acts 27.24).
There was a ‘must’ in Paul’s life that transcended his circumstances. The ‘must’ was the call of God … the destiny that was on his life … the mission to which he was appointed … the purpose for which he was created.
God had something greater in mind for Paul than chains and imprisonment: “You must be brought before Caesar.” Did Paul appear before Caesar (Nero) to argue his case, and indeed, that of the gospel itself? It would seem from the weight of historical testimony that he did, although the only reliable record of such an event is found in the writings of Paul himself.
Writing to Timothy from his prison cell in Rome, Paul said, “At my first defence no one stood with me, but all forsook me … But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also, I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim 4.16-17).
“The mouth of the lion” may be an oblique reference to Nero, who was renowned for his unbridled depravity and malicious violence. For the first, and possibly the only time in his life, the haughty monarch was confronted by a King and a Kingdom that were not of this world. And for one magical moment, Heaven was opened and the hand of grace was extended to this most inveterate of sinners.
God surely had something greater in mind for Paul, and He has something greater in mind for you.
Greater than what you are currently experiencing in your life and ministry.
Greater than what your circumstances would suggest.
Plans for peace and not for disaster — a future that is full of glorious hope!