One quarter of the Book of Acts (chapters 21-28) is a detailed account of Paul’s trial and his journey from Jerusalem to Rome. There are so many parallels between the trial where Jesus was questioned by Pilate and the trial of Paul. In Acts 26:32, Agrippa, the Jewish king, said to Festus, the Roman governor, “This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Pilate had similarly told the people that he did not find any fault for which Jesus had to be crucified. Nevertheless, Paul makes the perilous journey to Rome as a condemned prisoner, in chains and guarded by a soldier, where he will wait for two years to be heard by Caesar’s court.
But something happens in Acts chapter 16—the introduction of the word we. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, becomes a traveling companion of Paul. Luke writes in chapter 27 that “Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica was with us.” Why would Luke specifically mention this traveling companion? He does this because traveling with or identifying with the condemned was as dangerous in the past as it is in the present.
Who exactly was Aristarchus? We find him mentioned four other times in the New Testament:
Acts 19:29 – Soon the whole city was in uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia.
Acts 20:4 – Paul was accompanied by Secundus and Aristarchus from Thessalonica. These men went ahead and waited for us at Troas.
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Colossians 4:10 – My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings.
Philemon 1:23 – Epaphras, my fellow prisoner for Jesus Christ sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
We can conclude from these verses that traveling with Paul could result in experiencing the same things that Paul experienced. The people listed in these verses were Paul’s fellow workers who went ahead of him and prepared certain cities for his arrival, but when things turned against Paul, they could end up in prison alongside him and in danger of losing their lives. No matter how difficult the situation, Paul was always aware of the Great Commission to preach the gospel throughout the whole world. He tells us, “I made my life’s goal to preach Christ where he was not preached before.” The conclusion of the book of Acts is a look at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) in action.
When he got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, although a soldier was always guarding him. (Acts 28:16) For two whole years Paul stayed in his rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance, he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)
But in Paul’s letter to Timothy, he admits the loneliness of staying in Rome and writes, “Only Luke is with me.” His other companions have gone to Galatia, Dalmatia, and Ephesus. Then he writes these sad words: “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.”
In talking with some of my colleagues, I find that preaching the full counsel of God, preaching about the Kingdom of God, and preaching the doctrines of the Bible sometimes bring condemnation. There are churches that have decided that certain parts of the Bible are not accepted by the world, and therefore they have asked their pastors not to preach or teach these truths for fear of alienating visitors. We have taken polls and found that certain truths are not palatable. Among these truths are 1) the Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, 2) eternal salvation only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and 3) the creation ordinances such as marriage between a man and woman. These biblical teachings are condemned, along with those people who hold them. In some cultures, in places like Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, preaching certain parts of the Bible has been declared hate speech and preachers (especially those aligned with the national church) were told that such preaching is forbidden.
Jesus and Paul were condemned for proclaiming these same truths. Jude writes, “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints…They are godless men who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 3-4)
One time I attended the Romanian Baptist Convention in Detroit. A local pastor invited the Romanian ambassador to bring greetings to the church. The ambassador was an atheist and did not believe anything that was preached from that pulpit. After the atheist had finished speaking, the pastor asked a young man to pray. I will never forget his prayer: “Lord, we ask you to forgive us, for today we have brought unclean offerings at your holy altars.” The judgment of God starts at the pulpits in God’s churches where instead of proclaiming the truth, proclaiming the God revealed in the Scriptures, proclaiming the Kingdom, and proclaiming holiness in marriage, we are proclaiming what the world wants to hear. We do not want to be persecuted by the world as Jesus and Paul were persecuted, and we do not know who will stand with us when we stand up for the truth. Christians throughout the history of the church have stood alone, just as Athanasius did when he held up the Nicene Creed against heresy. His nickname at that time was Athanasium Contra Mundum, or Athanasius against the world.
Who is standing up for the truth? Who is standing with those who are persecuted by the world? Who is proclaiming the faith that was delivered once for all, and entrusted to the saints? May God give us the courage to stand for him and speak for him even when we have to stand alone. Just as he did with Paul, God will always stand with us when we speak the truth, for He is the truth.