11 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.”
Paul’s prayers are answered. He will go to Rome. The Lord has confirmed it. The Lord has even come to stand by Paul in the midst of prison. Somehow I get the inclination that Paul was singing hymns in the morning.
It’s funny, Ascension Day is coming when we snuff out the Christ candle, at least according to some traditions of the church. This will be the end of the 40 days of which Luke tells us where in Jesus went in and out among the disciples after the resurrection. Not all of those instances are recorded for us in the gospels. But with the ascension there is a note of good bye. No longer will the disciple’s look for Christ in the way they had before. Now the Helper will come, the promised Holy Spirit to clothe them with power from on high. Now the Disciples will turn to the word and the sacraments to find Christ. But this does not mean that Christ will never appear to them again during their earthly ministries, or that he can’t.
With Paul the resurrection occurrences seem to be more frequent and longer lasting than they were for the other disciples. In the Epistles of Paul are numerous references to instructions that he received from the Lord. One gathers that Jesus was guiding his the studies of Paul quite intimately on his three year post conversion sabbatical in the Arabian Desert. But even as Paul is engaged in his ministry is direct contact with Jesus appearing in his resurrected body on earth is not much frequent. But it is here.
“Take courage” he says. Sometimes harder to do than hear. Take courage. We often make this a bit of law. “Oh, you just don’t have enough faith.” Probably right, thanks for pointing that out. We’ve all been in these situations. Jesus promises that this world is going to give us trial and tribulation, and boy does it make good on his promise. And the thing is, we know he has overcome the world. We know that our salvation is intact. We know God has us in his hands. But we still have to live through the trials and tribulations. Jesus knew he was going to be raised after three days, he prophesied it to his disciples, and he still agonized to the point of sweating blood when it came time for him to bear the wrath of God for the sake of sinful man. And ultimately, we don’t know. We don’t know what exactly is God’s plan for our lives. We don’t know when the night of mourning is going to turn into the morning of dance. We don’t know if God will see fit to bless our plans and goals and see them through in some manner or another. And we put our earthly hopes and dreams into a basket. God knows them. They ascend into his presence upon the incense of prayer. But his answer is not always yes, and sometimes his yes is so long denied fulfillment that when that wish is fulfilled we have forgotten that we wanted it. So yes, we agonize. And at times like this God sends encouragement, the mutual consolation of the saints. That is a blessed gift when you can hear the voice of Jesus in the words of a friend, a pastor, perhaps even a stranger that makes you wonder about entertaining angels unawares. It’s not about having enough faith. That sort of talk most often adds to the tentatio, the temptation, the agony. But it is word that adds to faith and gives faith. It’s word that says you aren’t experiencing this in vain. God is directing here, he is in charge, he is going to see you through. And there amidst the trials and tribulations there is joy and encouragement. Whether he appears to us or not, we can take heart and know that he does stand by us.