The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.
Literally, what the Lord Jesus says as he appears to Paul is, Be of good cheer. Cheer up, Paul. That is certainly a revelation of the state of Paul’s heart at this time. He is anything but of good cheer. He is defeated and discouraged, wallowing in an awful sense of shame and failure, but he is not abandoned. Isn’t it wonderful that the Lord comes now to restore him to his ministry?
I am sure that Luke does not give us the full account of what transpired between Paul and his Lord on that night. But there is enough here that we can see what our Lord is after. He restores Paul to usefulness. He promises Paul success in the desire of his heart, which was second only to his desire to win his kinsmen, i.e., that he might bear witness for Christ at the heart of the empire, the capital of the Gentile world itself. You remember that Paul had announced that, after he went to Jerusalem, he must go to Rome. And his prayer as he wrote to the Roman Christians was that he might be allowed to come to them. The Lord Jesus now gives that back to him.
And yet the very form which he employs contains a hint of the limitation which Paul had made necessary when he disobeyed the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus puts it this way: As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome. In other words, the emphasis here is upon the manner in which this witness will go forth. In the way that you bore witness to me in Jerusalem, in that same way you must bear witness in Rome. And how had he testified in Jerusalem? It was as a prisoner — chained, bound, limited.
This encounter with the Lord Jesus must have been a wonderful moment in Paul’s experience. The Lord restored him to spiritual health, as he often must do with us. Have you ever been in this circumstance? Have you ever disobeyed God, knowing that you shouldn’t have but wanting something so badly that you’ve gone ahead anyway? How wonderful to have the Lord ready to restore us. I have been there too, so I know how God can tenderly deal with us and bring us back to a place of being yielded.
After this Paul is his usual self again. From here on the things he says and does have that same wonderful infusion of the Spirit’s power which makes unusual things happen. And from Rome he is to write some of his greatest letters — letters filled with power, which are still changing the history of the world. The joy of the Lord is back in his heart. The glory returns to his ministry. The love of Jesus Christ is filling him and flooding him, empowering him and enriching him. That is the glory of being a Christian. You can be forgiven. You do not have to wait. And you do not have to pay for anything. You do not have to go back and try to placate God in some way because of what you have done. You must make it right, as far as you can, with any people you have wronged — but you can be forgiven, and all the glory of your relationship with the Lord restored.
Father, thank you for your restoring love, for the fact that you have never abandoned me, that you keep me and bring me back.
How do we respond to God’s incomparably tenacious, enduring love? Do we receive such love with deepening, humble gratitude? Do we frustrate such love with our futile efforts to repay him — assuming that to be possible? Or do we persist in defying his love by refusing his sovereign and wise authority?