I was reading Acts 20 today in the Spurgeon Study Bible (a wonderful Christmas gift last year from my amazing bride) and I noticed a little note that Charles Spurgeon wrote after verse 21. Here are the verses leading up to Acts 20:21:
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:17–21, ESV)
And here is the note that the great Charles Spurgeon wrote after reading these verses:
“A person may go to hell with a blush on his face.” – Charles Spurgeon
I initially struggled to understand exactly what he was trying to say.
Was he referring to the Jews, who had plotted against Paul and tried to destroy him? No doubt it is true about these nefarious Jews who were, in fact, conspiring against God. I’m sure they felt like they were doing the right thing. How wrong they were! You cannot trust your feelings. But surely these non-believing Jews went to hell with a blush on their faces. They thought they were following what God would want. In fact, they were proud of their actions. But their faith was firmly placed in Jesus. And sadly, their eternity will be spent apart from Him.
But that is not the point Charles Spurgeon was trying to make. Taking a deeper look at his notes on the chapter, it becomes clear that he was referring to the “repentance”. Paul testified both to the Jews and the Greeks of repentance towards God and of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a kind of repentance that only focuses on self. It goes like this, “I messed up, but I’m sorry about that mistake. I will do better next time.” This is not repentance towards God. Though the person may be somewhat successful in living a changed life, and they may be proud of their progress, but this is not a saving repentance. It is not a repentance towards God.
Repentance towards God looks like this: “I messed up, but I am sorry about that mistake. Apart from God I will continue to mess up. Holy Spirit, I give myself to you. I believe that through the love of God the Father and because of the shed blood of God the Son, You alone can empower me to live differently.”
I love, love, love Acts 23. The Apostle Paul was an amazing man of God. He is a true example of what a life yielded to God looks like, and what that kind of life can accomplish through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul did not start out well, but we was living the way he thought God wanted him to live. Jesus, the Great Redeemer stepped in to the scene and flipped the script! Paul’s life was redeemed. His passion was redeemed. His countless hours of study were redeemed. The Glorious Savior saved Paul from himself, and the King Forever gave him a new mission.
Paul was confident that he had faithfully followed God to the exact moment he was in… standing on trial before the religious rulers of the day -the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees.
And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” (Acts 23:1, ESV)
That seems like a good opening line, right? Not according to the high priest…
And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. (Acts 23:2, ESV)
Paul, a man after my own heart, does not mince words after being struck for simply telling the truth:
Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” (Acts 23:3, ESV)
I love it. Preach, Paul, preach! Was he out of line here? Maybe.
Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Acts 23:4–5, ESV)
I am not sure if this is Paul offering an apology, or if he was just stating a fact. Either way, the argument quickly became out of control:
And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. (Acts 23:10, ESV)
All of this is crazy. I can only imagine how Paul must have been feeling. Did he do the right thing? Was he on the right path? What would the LORD speak to him in this moment?
Amazingly, he didn’t have to wonder what the LORD would say.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11, ESV)
The LORD stood by him. The LORD stood by him. THE LORD STOOD BY HIM!
The Sovereign LORD stood by Paul and encouraged him with words that had to set his heart ablaze.
You can do this, Paul. The LORD is with you. Regardless of what they say, or how they are offended by it, you have testified to the facts about Jesus in Jerusalem, and you must testify also in Rome. He’s not finished with you, yet.