Late in his ministry, the apostle Paul had been told by the Lord that he was to go to Jerusalem and that when he got there he would be imprisoned and suffer a variety of trials (cf. Acts 20:23). And Paul received confirmation of his impending suffering from others (cf. 21:4, 11). And while he was willing to endure that suffering (20:24ff), the others implored him not to go to Jerusalem (21:12).
But Paul was insistent and went to Jerusalem. And after arriving in Jerusalem, he was indeed seized and imprisoned and quickly began to wrongly suffer hardships and beatings.
Having made an appeal with his Roman citizenship, Paul was able to make a defense of himself (Acts 23), and in the midst of that defense, a great uproar developed and was apparently on the verge of morphing into a full riot, so Paul was again imprisoned — away from the clutches of the mob, but also away from friends and justice. It was a prime opportunity for Paul to be overwhelmed with discouragement and fear. He had not sinned, yet he was suffering. His suffering was unjust in every way. One could understand had he given into despair and despondency. It would have been a natural response.
But on the first night of that imprisonment, Paul received a divine visitor — the Lord himself “stood at his side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also’” (v. 11). It was affirmation that he would not die at the hands of this mob and that his ministry would continue. It was an emboldening visit for one who might have been tempted to anxiety and fear. As one writer has said,
It would be hard to exaggerate the calm courage which this assurance must have brought to Paul during his three further trials, his two years’ imprisonment and his hazardous voyage to Rome.
We may also face circumstances that seem overwhelmingly fearful. Yet the Lord is also with us. No, there are no guarantees for us that we will have a certain number of months or years more of life and ministry, but there is a similar assurance that the Lord is with us and has given us all we need to be strong in times that are fearful:
- Matt. 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- Matt. 10:31 “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”
- Luke 12:5 “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
- Luke 12:7 “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”
- John 12:15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
- John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
- John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
- Rom. 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Rom. 8:15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
- Rom. 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
- 1 Pet. 3:14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.
- 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
- Rev. 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Like Paul, as believers in Christ we can have courage for the hard things of life, not because we are guaranteed a particular future, but because God is our God.