The apostle Paul was no stranger to trial. Once he obtained a testimony that Jesus is the Christ, he moved forward through all sorts of risk and persecution to witness of the same. He was shipwrecked, endured ill health and imprisonment, and was finally martyred at the hands of Nero, Emperor of Rome. Through it all, he only expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve. We can learn something about God’s dealings with His children from Paul. Although Paul prayed for deliverance from the afflictions that compromised his health, the Lord did not heal him, but offered His grace as a help. Paul’s afflictions served to keep him humble. Humility and gratitude are characteristics we should seek to emulate as we proceed in our walk with Christ.
Paul Continues to Serve in the Midst of Trials
Through the Holy Spirit, Paul felt that he should return to Jerusalem. Always a dangerous place, Jerusalem was not where his friends in Christ felt he should go. On his journey to Jerusalem, he stopped in Tyre (in what is now southern Lebanon) and greeted fellow Christians there, and then in Caesarea. Caesarea is on the coast of the Mediterranean in Israel and was and is a gorgeous resort area. The Romans favored it, but there were also Christians there. One, Agabus, had newly arrived from Jerusalem and prophesied that if Paul were to go there, he would be bound and captured. Paul’s associates wept at this possibility, but Paul said, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem and conferred with the other apostles, he was confronted by the foremost controversy in the Church at that time ¾ the requirements of the Law of Moses. The first Christians had been Jews, and they were still “zealous of the law.” They lived orthodox Jewish lives, but accepted Jesus as the Messiah. The problem in this case was not that the Gentiles were not required to keep the law, but that Jews who dwelt among Gentiles would follow their lead and avoid circumcision. Paul accompanied four Jewish converts to mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath, and followed the orthodox Jewish rituals of purification to make a show for Jerusalem Christians of observing Mosaic Law. But unconverted Jews saw him and began to cause unrest. They accused him of bringing Greeks (gentiles) into the temple. He was bound by Roman soldiers and taken away for his own safety. Paul spoke Greek to the captain, who allowed him to speak to the people; Paul addressed the people in Hebrew.
To the people, Paul recounted his origins, his conversion, and his witness of Christ. The people rejected him, and the Roman soldiers took Paul to be scourged. He claimed Roman citizenship, which was his right. Delivered from this potential calamity, Paul heard the accusations of various Jewish witnesses, who came to testify against him. The high priest Ananias (father in law to Caiaphas) caused Paul to be smitten. Paul called him a “whited wall” hearkening back to Christ’s accusations against the leaders among the Pharisees, who claimed to be set apart in their purity, but who were rotten to the core (Acts 23:2). Taken before the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews, Paul discerned that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees. Knowing they differed in their belief in a resurrection and angels and revelation, Paul turned them upon each other on this and other points of doctrine, so bitterly, that some wanted to honor Paul’s claim to revelation, while others did not. The chief captain had to pull Paul away, thinking the opposing members of the Sanhedrin would tear Paul apart. (See Acts 23:10.) The following night Paul received a revelation that he would testify of Christ in Rome, as he had in Jerusalem.
Paul Testifies of Jesus Christ
Meanwhile, forty men of the Jews conspired and took oaths that they would kill Paul. Paul’s nephew overheard the men conspiring and warned the chief captain. The chief captain recruited two hundred soldiers to guard Paul to Caesarea to come before the Roman governor Felix. The high priest brought witnesses to accuse Paul before Felix of sedition, the same as they had done with Christ. Paul explained that he had peacefully come to Jerusalem and was quietly partaking of Jewish ritual. Paul claimed that for his belief in the resurrection of the dead, he was being persecuted. Felix placed Paul under house arrest, meaning that he was not chained, nor imprisoned, but at that time could not receive visitors. He was summoned to testify of his faith before Felix and Drusilla, Felix’s wife, who was a Jewess. Paul’s preaching made Felix tremble. Although he deigned to bind Paul to satisfy the accusing Jews, he listened to Paul’s preaching repeatedly.
Festus arrived in Israel and went up to Jerusalem. There the Jews petitioned him against Paul. He invited them to go down to Caesarea to witness against Paul, and when he arrived there, he heard their testimonies. Paul then appealed to Caesar, and Festus determined to take him to Rome. Meanwhile, Agrippa and his wife Bernice had an opportunity to hear him preach. They considered the beliefs of the Jews to be superstition and felt the whole affair to be tied up in these silly beliefs. Before Agrippa, Paul again recounted his former beliefs and activities as a Pharisee, his conversion, and his testimony of the gospel of Christ. Agrippa responded, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28).
Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cæsar.
The Power of the Priesthood in Action
Paul was placed on a ship to Rome. The ship started out up the coast of Lebanon, then turned west to head for the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. They found in Lycia an Alexandrian ship headed to Italy and boarded that. They sailed under Crete in dangerous weather, and although Paul prophesied bad going, they ignored him. Paul had told them to moor in Crete, but now they were in trouble. Paul prophesied again to them, that none would be killed. The 276 people on the boat took sacramental bread with Paul and did their best to find an island onto which they could run the ship aground. They ran aground on Melita and were shown kindness by the natives.
In Acts 28, we see Paul making a fire. A viper emerged and bit him.
Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god (v. 6).
There are some interesting scriptures on snake bite and the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood to withstand it:
And these signs shall follow them that believe—In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils; In my name they shall heal the sick; In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; And the tongue of the dumb shall speak; And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them; And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them. But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation (Doctrine and Covenants 84:65-73).
Paul remained in Melita for three months, and during that time performed many miracles, healing the sick. After arriving in Rome, Paul pled his case before the Jews of the city, who desired to hear about this Christian sect. They had received no news from Judea concerning the accusations against Paul, but they had heard plenty about the awful sect that had formed around Jesus of Nazareth. Paul’s words caused controversy among them. They went away arguing among themselves.
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him (Acts 28:30, 31).