Staccato pounding on my door broke my concentration. Sighing, I laid down my pen and rose to cross the small room. Opening the door, I greeted the soldier before me, then stood back to allow him entry.
Marcellus strode into the room, peering around him in the semi-darkness. “For Apollo’s sake, man, put a light on,” he ordered. Suspicion spread across his face as his gaze met mine. “Unless you’re trying to hide something . . .”
“No, no,” I hastened to reassure him as I lit a lamp. “I was caught up in my letters and didn’t notice the setting sun,” I explained, gesturing toward the sheaf of parchments on my small table.
Ambling over to the table, Marcellus picked up the papers and idly glanced through them. One in particular caught his attention, and he read aloud, “Therefore do not be ashamed about the testimony of our Lord, nor of me, His prisoner–”. (2 Timothy 1:8)
Breaking off, he snorted, “Prisoner of the Lord? You ought to know better than anyone that you’re a prisoner of Caesar.” I opened my mouth to reply, but he cut me off. “And big help your God has been to you. I’ve heard all about you. You know how to take a beating . . . I really don’t know how you’re still alive. Where was your God then?”
Tossing the letters on the table and retrieving a pile of chains from a corner of the room, he growled, “Enough nonsense. Let’s get on with it. It’s been a long day and I’m exhausted.”
A short time later, Marcellus’ even snoring filled the room. I shifted on my pallet, taking care not to jostle the chains that connected us. I’d learned the hard way that Marcellus’ sunny disposition grew even sunnier if he was awakened from sleep. Absentmindedly, I rubbed the finger he’d broken the first time I’d made that mistake.
Quietness settled over my body, and my mind drifted back to Marcellus’ derisive critique of my words. This wasn’t the first time the phrase “prisoner of the Lord” begat confusion; I’d used the term in my letters to both the believers in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:1) and brother Philemon (Philemon 8-9), receiving bewildered replies each time.
Recipients of my letters had expressed incredulity that, given my suffering for the gospel, I would willingly bear the title “prisoner” of anyone.
For indeed, I had suffered.
Five times, I had endured the maximum religious punishment of 39 lashes.
Three times, I had been beaten with rods.
Three times, I’d been shipwrecked, spending a long, chilling 24 hours in open water.
In my years of spreading the gospel, I’d been in danger from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, and Gentiles; in the city, in the country, at sea, and from false believers; gone without sleep, without food, and without water; and found myself cold and naked.
I even died.
And that story summed up my joy at finding myself the Lord’s prisoner.
When Barnabas and I first visited the city of Lystra, God used us to bring wholeness to a crippled man. Despite our protestations, the townspeople revered us as gods . . . for a few days. Immature and quixotic, the people were turned against us by Jews from Antioch and Iconium.
Less than a week after attempting to worship at my feet, the people of Lystra stoned me.
God’s plans were much, much bigger, and so He breathed life back into my body. Months later, I stood once again at the gates to Lystra, gathering my courage to enter the city. As I made my way through the bustling main streets, face after face turned from business-as-usual to shock and amazement.
One burly man came to a full stop directly in front of me, giving voice to the thoughts of the crowd: “But . . . but you were dead. I saw you. What power has brought you back? Alive?”
And the gospel spread through Lystra with a potency I couldn’t have imagined.
Far from quelling the word of God, my suffering instead spurred it on.
I came to understand I was never imprisoned by the whim of human rulers.
Rather, I was strategically positioned by God for the furtherance of the good news.
In my greatest moments of human weakness, His supernatural strength was made perfect and His power was displayed for all to see.
And now here I lay, chained to a Roman guard, as I have been every night for some years. To all appearances, I am on a fool’s mission, the result of a seeming misstep in my testimony before Agrippa.
God made a way for His word to reach even Caesar, should my house arrest end with an audience before the Roman ruler. Until then, a new opportunity to share Jesus presents itself at my door every evening at sundown.
I sense that my time grows short. Like Moses, my prayer in these final days is for God to prosper the work I have begun here and abroad, creating His own legacy from my lifetime of ministry. Until the day He calls me home, I remain faithfully and joyfully in service to my Rescuer and Redeemer, yes, as His prisoner.
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