Good morning and welcome to Christ Lutheran. We’re glad you’re with us here or listening on the radio. For several months we’ve been studying the book of Acts---also called the Acts of the Apostles. This book traces the events of the early church as the good news of Jesus spread out from Jerusalem through the actions of the Apostles---the ones sent out by the Lord to share his message.
I hope you’ve learned a few things about the work of Christ’s Church amidst the trials and triumphs of those early years. Now we come to chapter 28---the end of the book, but NOT the end of the story.
It follows what Pastor John was talking about last week where Paul is in the midst of a terrible storm and the ship is going down.
A few weeks ago Stephanie and I went to visit her mother, sister and brother-in-law in Naples FL. We were anxious to see them of course, but also interested to see what shape things were in after hurricane Irma.
Irma went right over them. The airport reported winds of 140 mph and there was major destruction. Their home lost a large patch of shingles and a lot of landscaping. But they were very fortunate.
They talked about the sound of the winds outside while they huddled inside. It was like a freight train coming up your front walk, only it kept coming and coming. It was a huge storm. One of the largest on record.
After several hours, the wind stopped, and they hesitantly went outside to assess the damage. It was calm, even some blue sky above.
But the storm wasn’t over. It was the eye of the storm passing right over them. And after about 30 minutes, they were right back in the storm. They said it was an eerie feeling to be outside in the midst of that eye and that calm, knowing more storm was on its way.
I was reminded of that as I thought of all that Paul experienced through the book of Acts. One storm after another---some literal storms, some stormy events of other kinds. But despite the storminess constantly around him, Paul could write things like this in 1 Thessalonians---
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Give thanks in ALL circumstances?
And in the letter to the Philippians---
Philippians 4:4, 6-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! …….Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
How can Paul write that? He was in prison, in chains at the time!
But he can write that because he knew the peace of God which transcends all understanding. His heart and mind were guarded in Christ Jesus! While many storms swirled around Paul, he lived in the eye of the storm where he knew the peace of the Lord always. Did he ever get a little rattled---Seeing the storm all around him? Of course, Paul was human like you and me---but he knew the peace of Christ within him that overcame it all.
We see that in Acts 28. We heard about Paul being washed up on shore after his ship sank, his being bitten by a poisonous snake, Roman soldiers chained to him all the way to Rome, conflict with the synagogue leaders in Rome---and that was just chapter 28!
But he also was encouraged by the support of others.
Acts 28:15 “The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”
They heard Paul was coming and walked about 50 miles to meet Paul.
When they arrived in Rome, Paul was allowed to rent a house to live in, but he was under constant Roman guard.
For two years he lived that way, and then the book of Acts ends. We don’t know why Luke doesn’t tell us what happened afterward. There are lots of possibilities. But we know that Paul continued to preach and teach and write. It seems from other sources that he was set free and may have travelled more, maybe to Spain. And then he was arrested again and put to death by the Roman emperor.
We have called this sermon series “Basic Christianity” because of all the basic lessons that we learn as we study what happened in the book of Acts. Lots could be said just about chapter 28. But I want to focus on just a few of those lessons.
Look at the last verse in the book---the last thing Luke writes us about Paul---
Acts 28:31 “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is the same guy Luke writes about toward the beginning of Acts.
Acts 8:3 “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
Acts 9:1 “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.”
Last week Pastor John talked about the reality of change in our lives. We can’t avoid it. Some changes are bad, some are good. And some are great! Like Paul being transformed from breathing murderous threats against Christians to boldly and without hindrance preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lesson here is that through the power of the Lord, people’s lives can change, often radically for the better. You can’t imagine a more drastic change than happened in Paul. So the lesson is---never stop praying for the people you know who need positive changes in their lives. The Lord is in the business of miracles. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to pray for yourself and the changes needed in your own life.
On a similar note another lesson of Basic Christianity is that God will take bad circumstances and create good from them. We can’t begin to know all the good the Lord brought out of Paul’s 2 years in prison. But think of Paul being chained to Roman soldiers for all that time. What do you think they talked about?
Paul wrote this while in prison---
Philippians 1:12-13 “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”
The palace guard is talking about Christ! Paul also wrote---
Philippians 1:14 “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
While there in prison Paul wrote letters of encouragement to the Philippians, and to the Ephesians, and Colossians, and also the letter to Philemon. We have very important parts of our Bible that came out of Paul’s imprisonment.
That wasn’t wasted time. The Lord used it for the good of his kingdom and you and me. Bad things will happen to us that we don’t understand. And God doesn’t cause them, but he transforms evil into good, like death to resurrection. And he is working in your life to do the same. With God there is no wasted time. But we may waste it by missing what God is trying to teach us.
Look also at what Paul was doing toward the end of his life---another lesson of Basic Christianity. He was passing the torch of Christian leadership to people like Timothy and Titus. He writes to Timothy---
2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
He warns Timothy that his people will be a challenge for him---
2 Timothy 4:4-5 “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
When you read Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, you can see his desire to prepare them to lead Christ’s people by sharing what he knew. Can you think of people who have done the same for you? Shared their faith and their experience so you could grow? It might be a good thing to thank them if they are still around or to thank the Lord for their blessing your life, if they are with the Lord.
And can you think of someone that you should be sharing your faith and your life with? Spouse, child, neighbor, co-worker. Like Paul for Timothy and Titus, passing on the blessing of Basic Christianity.
We also see in chapter 28 that Paul called the Jewish leaders of Rome together to meet with him. They don’t seem to know much about him, but are wary of Paul. When Paul teaches them about Christ and how Jesus is the messiah they are looking for---the one their prophets foretold, some of them believed, but others didn’t.
And Paul concludes that conversation by quoting the Lord’s instructions to the prophet Isaiah, who the Jewish people knew very well.
Acts 28:26-27 “‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
Deaf ears, closed eyes, calloused hearts. The Lord wants to heal those disabilities. So we pray for that healing to happen and a lesson of Basic Christianity is that we should start with ourselves, because all of us are deaf, blind and hardhearted too often. May the Lord heal us and all people so that with sharp hearing, clear vision and soft hearts we may know the gift of the basic Christian message---the good news that the Lord loves all, was willing to give his life for the world, and is still at work to heal hard hearts.
And finally we come to that last verse of Acts---
Acts 28:31 “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Jewish people of Paul’s day were looking for God to establish an earthly kingdom, a political kingdom. But Jesus came to announce a different kingdom---
Mark 1:14-15 “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
It was a kingdom that called for repentance, turning back to the Lord---a spiritual kingdom that would lead ultimately to God’s new earth and heaven.
The God of Abraham, had, in the Messiah, Jesus, claimed his throne as Lord of the world. And God’s kingdom is now in process.
And that is what Paul will use his remaining earthly years to do---to boldly and without hindrance preach the kingdom of God and teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tom Wright says this is all about “Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah and Lord: through his servants, through their journeys and their trials, through their pains and their puzzles and their sufferings and their shipwrecks….. Luke has brought them all before us, in a dazzling display both of writing and of theology, drawing us in, reminding us once more that this is a drama in which we ourselves have been called to belong to the cast. The journey is ours, the trials and vindications are ours, the sovereign presence of Jesus is ours, the story is ours to pick up and carry on. Luke’s writing, like Paul’s journey, has reached its end, but in his end is our beginning.