Done, But Just Begun
1. The expository sermons from the Acts of the Apostles began during our worship service on May 5, 1996. Today we are reading the last section of this book. We recall various events which took place among us during this year and a half period, including the happy and the sad ones. During all this and through this book we kept hearing from the word of the Lord. In addition, the Lord who guided the church two thousand years ago has certainly accompanied us also and lead us step by step. Today, as usual and as ever, I would like us to lend our ears to the Lord's address for us.
2. After Paul and his group were cast upon the island of Melita they spent three months there. When the season for sailing resumed, they boarded a ship from Alexandria and sailed out. First, the ship stopped at the port of Syracuse on the island of Sicily and stayed there for three days. Then they went further along the coast and arrived at Rhegium, and as they were blown about two days by a south wind from there they entered the port of Puteoli in Naples Bay. It is recorded here that Paul sought out some Christians and stayed with them for seven days. Paul's stay with them for that time period was not something believed to have come from the good will of the centurion, but perhaps the centurion himself stayed over at Puteoli for some official business. It appears that during this period of Paul's stay over, Paul's arrival was made known to the Roman church. At The Three Taverns persons who were Christians from Rome proceeding southward on the Appian Way greeted Paul, and other persons at The Apii Forum greeted him. Luke has written the following line with a stroke of style packed with deep emotion: "Thus, we came to Rome."
3. I recall various events we have read together so far in this service. In Acts 19:21 Paul's hopes to go to Rome were first definitively put on record. "After these particular things were done, Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem by passing through the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. 'After I go there, I must see Rome,' he said." Five years before while Paul was on his third missionary journey, he was in Ephesus. After that, while he was staying over in Greece for three months (20:3), he sent a letter to the Christians at Rome and in that document he recorded the following: "I kept wanting so many times to go where you are, but I was hindered by circumstances. But now since there is no longer a place to work in this region and as I have been earnestly longing to go to your side for several years, when I go to Spain, I want to visit with you. First, I will meet you on my travels; after I experience the joy of being with you for a good while, I would like to be sent off to Spain with your help," (Romans 15:23-24 [KJV follows a different versification in this quote; go back one verse]). So at last he arrived in Rome. He was able to meet with the Roman Christians. However, it wasn't the way he had initially planned it. He encountered a riot in Jerusalem, had an act of violence inflicted on him, was hauled off to trial, was held in detention undeservedly for two years, was transported as a prisoner, then along the way he encountered a storm, was exposed to endangerment of life, was cast upon an island, spent winter there and finally he continued on to Rome. He took an extreme detour and he went through times where it looked like he had disappeared into uselessness, and now Paul is still dragging along the past undeserved hardship as a prisoner.
4. But it did not matter much to either Paul or Luke, the author of this text, whether things moved according to Paul's plans or things came to pass the way Paul was hoping for. "Thus, we came to Rome." Why did they arrive? They arrived because Christ was with Paul. Why did they arrive? It was because the Lord guided him through his control over events as the Lord who said, "Take courage. You must give witness in Rome as you gave so bold a witness of me in Jerusalem," (23:11). For Paul just that alone had personal meaning and was grounds for his joy.
5. We are made to reaffirm an important point from this picture of Paul. The joy of a Christian is not actualized by human will and wishes, and things do not always move to our own satisfaction. People, who take self-actualization as the greatest task of life, cannot experience personal direct joy in the Lord. Christ accompanies people like us, he gives his guidance through his control, and he gives us all the work we are to do, our eternal significance, and most importantly he gives us our very existence, all this comes through Christ actualizing his will with us as his agents.
The Meeting With The Jews
6. Well, it seems Paul was permitted to live by himself when he came to Rome. However, it seems from what is touched upon by verse twenty that he was bound by chains, guarded, and not allowed to go out freely.
7. Luke touches upon what Paul did at Rome in this closing section of the book of Acts. But, he has not written a record of anything in particular regarding his relationship with the Roman Christians which Paul had been aspiring towards with all his heart. Instead, here he sketches out a description of the meeting with the Jews which stretches over into two meetings. What could he have wanted to transmit through this pointed description? As we reflect on that, let's go on to read the exchange between Paul and the Jews some more.
8. Please look at verses seventeen and following. Even here Paul tried to address the Jews first as he had done already in other places. However, now Paul is in a status of house arrest and cannot address them by proceeding to the synagogues as he used to do on his mission trips. Under house arrest he called the Jewish leaders to assemble together with him. In seeing how they quickly answered his call to assemble, we can deduce that interest in Christianity was remarkably high, whether positive or negative. Later, they themselves said in verse twenty-two that "We would like to hear in person the things you are thinking about."
9. First, Paul must have explained to them why he was a prisoner bound in chains. Then he explained the series of events that lead to his appeal to Caesar, and then he explained that his appeal was in no way whatsoever made with any intention to seek an indictment against his fellow countrymen. He made it clear that he was not standing there in opposition to the Jews. Thereupon, he declares a message we ought to weigh carefully. "I am bound like this with chains for what Israel is hoping for." The same message contents (23:6; 26:6-7) are repeatedly spoken by Paul because we saw how Luke's recording of these words here are the focus of the message that Paul continued to tell the Jews in particular. Both Paul and the Jews who opposed him embraced the same hopes; they held to the hope of last things, the hope of the kingdom of God, and the hope of the resurrection. But, while the Jews were still continuing to wait for the messiah as savior, Paul communicated to them that the messiah had already come and he was Jesus of Nazareth.
10. The messages Paul conveyed never went against or undermined what the Bible teaches or the hopes believed by Jewry. The messiah suffered the passion of the cross and all, and he redeemed our sin. Then God made the glory of the kingdom of God appear by resurrecting the messiah. Through this one's name God gave us repentance which leads to forgiveness of sin and he invites us to the kingdom of God. What's more, Paul communicated to them based on those facts that the salvation, which they had been hoping for, had already begun through this decisive manner [in Christ Jesus]. So, now what Paul desires was neither to keep himself from Jewish hostility nor to find fault with them. Paul was wanting just one thing, that he would be able in a true sense to share hope in common with them.
11. The Jews picked the day and came in a crowd to Paul's rented quarters. Paul continued there from morning to night in his explanations. He gave witness to the kingdom of God, and while quoting the scriptures he continued to relate how Jesus was messiah. Paul did not insist by saying "Just believe" what is inconsistent with reason, rather he delivered a word compatible with reason and took time to convey the truth; the word appears saying "he tried to explain." However, that's all that a human being can do. What was the result of this? The text says in verse twenty-four, "Certain ones received what Paul was saying, but others would not believe." What happened in other places also happened at Rome. Everyone did not receive Paul's messages, and among them a divisive quarrel arose. As we conjecture from Paul's later messages, the ones who received the message of the gospel were an oppressed minority.
12. At that point Paul spoke the following quotation to them from the book of Isaiah. "Truly the Holy Spirit through the prophet Isaiah spoke correctly to your ancestors. 'Go to this people and speak. You hear with your hearing but without ever understanding. You see with your seeing, but you never appreciate. These people's hearts are dull, their ears have become distant, and their eyes are closed shut. Thus, they do not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts, and are not returning [to me]. I will not heal them.' Therefore, I would have you know this fact. This salvation of God has been turned over to the Gentiles. They, yes they, will hear this message in obedience," (vv. twenty-five through twenty-eight). The place from which Paul was quoting was Isaiah 6:9 and following. It was the message given to him when Isaiah was called by God as a prophet. Isaiah the prophet had to begin his prophetic activity with a preparedness for his being rejected by the people from the start. This was not because the messages from Isaiah were hard to understand. In reality we usually cannot help shunning a message that calls for our repentance and turning to God. We are sly. A person, without changing his direction and keeping himself as he is, looks for cheap grace and an easy salvation. Even the people of Israel were like that. However, an invitation based on God's grace requires at the same time for a person to turn to God in repentance. It calls for a change in direction. And the stubborn nature of humanity, even though it has understood all this, is not very receptive to it all.
13. What happened to Isaiah also happened to Paul. The Jews, who should have been nearest to God's grace, were given the promises since ancient times, and they, who were given the savior according to all that's been said and done, did not receive the good news of the gospel. This is what Paul has usually come to experience so far and even here as well it is something that Paul is seeing come to pass. He could not help but sadly recognize the accuracy of those words spoken once through Isaiah. There he relates to them what he has said about this in another place. "Therefore, I would have you know this. This salvation of God has been directed to the Gentiles. They, yes they, will hear this in obedience."
The Story Which He Continues
14. This book of the Acts of the Apostles was recorded as a second book which continues the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke, as you know, begins with the nativity story of the Lord Jesus. Angels appeared to shepherds and announced "Today in the city of David a savior was born for you. This very person is the Lord messiah," (Luke 2:11). And so, we will read that story together again for Christmas this year. However, Luke, who began writing the Gospel in that manner, did not finish the second book by lining out salvation in God's kingdom in a thorough way. Rather, he depicts at the end how the people who were the first to be informed of the messiah's birth had rejected that message of salvation. Writing about the gloomy events at Rome about sixty years from the birth of Christ, he finished up the book of Acts by merely tacking on the following words. "Paul lived in a rented house at his own expense for about two years, he welcomed all kinds of visitors and without any obstacles in complete freedom, he preached the kingdom of God and continued teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ," (vv. thirty and thirty-one).
15. Although today we finish the expository sermons from the Acts of the Apostles, the record of the Acts of the Apostles is not a story with a so-called happy ending as far as we see from here. I suppose we could even say the way it ends is actually on the strange side. However, we must read tightly between the lines of this unnatural way of ending. Luke is clearly writing that this gloomy concluding section is not "the conclusion." The story tentatively ends here. But, this is not its conclusion. The story has a continuation. The ending is also a fresh beginning. While we repeat that ending and beginning again and again, the history of the church keeps continuing on even to this day. The Lord began the work, the Lord worked through apostles, and today the Lord still keeps continuing his work through us.
16. "This salvation from God has been directed to the Gentiles. They, yes they, will hear this in obedience," said Paul. However, not all Gentiles heard it in obedience. The joys and sorrows of Paul are also our joys and sorrows today. The church which has been placed in history will experience ups and downs. In those times of highs or lows, we should not forget that we are always on a journey ourselves. What we see now is not the final conclusion. We should not be captured by the immediate future feeling alternatively happy then sad, blessed then cursed. As long as we are in the Lord, we know that we are heading for the kingdom of God. That is sufficient. With that we can start out taking a brand new step again from one of the "the ends." The church should keep preaching the kingdom of God until it reaches a true ending. As we pray "Thy Kingdom come" we should keep preaching the kingdom of God. In continuing to preach and step out anew from different phases of our church experience, we will add a new page to the continuation of the record of the Acts of the Apostles which will be concluded on the day of the end.