In my last blog (Christianity and Cowboys) I started talking about Cowboy Sunday at Grace Bible Church. The last blog mostly discussed my thoughts and feelings about the 15th anniversary of 9/11. This blog I will talk more about Cowboys and my sermon.
Acts 28 is the end of Paul’s tumultuous turn of events which started in ch. 21 where he was arrested under false pretenses by the Jewish officials. In Chapter 28 Paul is finally about to give his appeal to Caesar, stating that he is on trial for the Hope of Israel. This is what he has told everyone from the getgo. He stands on trial because he believes that Jesus is the Messiah who rose from the grave, henceforth providing a payment for sin and the hope of a life everlasting for those who repent of their sins and follow Jesus Christ.
Acts 27-28 reads like a Western or (in all reality) a Greek epic. The hero, a seasoned veteran of traveling any and all terrains, whether by foot, caravan, or sea vessel, warns that this journey is not going to go well.
“Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring reat loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives.”
But his grizzled advice (allow for some sanctified imagination with adjectives and adverbs) is disregarded due to the immense greed of the Alexandrian sailors who see the immense payoff for delivering their valuable grain cargo.
They pay for their greed. The ship is lost and all cargo. But no life is lost because God of God’s miraculous protection over Paul.
But when they land on the island of Malta hope seems restore. The natives are friendly and a fire is there to warm their weary and sea battered bones.
As comfort was growing and hope was rising, horror struck!
Paul, the apostle of God is bit by a snake. It has latched onto his hand after he has thrown some brush onto the fire, for it was hidden in that brush and was driven out by the flames.
Will our intrepid hero die? Is this a sign of his guilt?
No and no.
Instead, he is unharmed.
Is that a sign? Is he a god?
Maybe, and assuredly no.
Paul is protected by God because he must deliver the Gospel to Rome. He must stand before Caesar and proclaim the resurrected Lord of all the universe. God will not let him die before this is accomplished.
The narrative moves onward to Paul making it to Ostia, the port of Rome, and from there making a 143 mile trek to Rome, and on the way being comforted by Roman Christians, and then having a marathon lecture/ debate with the Roman Jewish community about Jesus.
But it ends in a most peculiar manner.
Paul just stays in “prison” for two years waiting his trial. Luke does not record how the hero fairs in the trial. He also does not record how the hero dies about two years after his release.
Rather, he records this “For two hole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ- with all boldness and hindrance.”
Wait, that’s it?
Isn’t this desperado who can travel thousands of miles and survive numerous beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks going to “win” and conquer the wild opponents?
Is this lone wolf going to stand before the face of death and say “Go ahead, punk, make my day!”?!?!??!
No. Because Paul is not a cowboy.
Paul does not thrive upon individualism or the wild frontier, which is our current romanticized view of the mid 19th century cowboy.
Paul may have encountered hostility, snakes, perilous travel, storms, indigenous people, and wild eyed opponents, but his goal was not financial gain (cowboys traveled from Texas to the north because a head of cattle was $4 in Texas versus $40 in the north). His goal was also not to make a name for himself. Nor was he a restless wanderer. Nor was he a lone wolf.
His frontier was the fact that he was to spread the news of Jesus Christ to all people, following the charge of Acts 1:8 which was to spread the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
His ethos and ability came from the empowering and indwelling Spirit. He was not a jack of all trades who could conquer all things because he was that determined or masterful. He was a man who had courage based upon the victory of Jesus.
So, we can draw all the Cowboy parallels that we like to Paul and the final chapters of Acts, but lets make sure we are talking about it in the proper manner.
Because, most of all, Paul is not the hero of this story. The hero is the message of Jesus Christ– the gospel–which is unconquerable. It will last all trials and tragedies. It will travel all distances. It will win, and we know this because Jesus rose from the grave.
The challenge of the chapter to readers is centered around the gospel– do you believe it? Will you spread it? Will you worship the God of the gospel? Do you trust Jesus? Will you die for Him?
I cannot answer these questions for you. Only you can.