The Acts of the Apostles ends on an ironic note.
Four years elapse between Acts 21 and 28, and Paul experiences, in succession, riot, arrest, attempted flogging, Sanhedrin hearing, attempted assassination, night flight under armed guard, multiple Roman hearings, attempted extortion, extradition to Rome, shipwreck, snakebite, and house arrest.
And yet, the final sentence of Luke’s account of these events states that Paul “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ — with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
It takes a special kind of person to walk a long obedience in the same direction when the road is hard and dangers are on all sides.
Paul was that kind of person, though not because of any qualities within himself. He was well-educated, to be sure — by no less an eminence than Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel. And Paul had zeal in spades, both before and after he began to follow Christ.
But Paul lacked rhetorical eloquence and a powerful mien, and he was frequently sick and poor. No wonder so many Corinthians felt ambivalent about him! The gospel of a crucified Savior was already a tough sell. It didn’t help that its salesman was unimpressive in speech and appearance.
No, what made Paul a special kind of person was a quality that came from outside himself: He had seen the Lord. Acts 9:1–19 records that encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, but it’s not for nothing that Paul retells the story twice in his long Roman custody: Acts 22:2–16 and 26:12–23. That encounter was the key to unlocking Paul’s boldness and without-hindrance ministry in the face of adversity.
This past year, many of us have experienced significant adversity because of COVID, among other things. Has it gotten the best of us, or are we, like Paul, serving God and others boldly and without hindrance in the midst of it?
I cannot help but think how we answer that question depends on whether we, too, have experienced Jesus afresh through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This article appears in the Summer 2021 edition of Influence magazine.