And They Will Listen!

The end of a chapter in a book may leave you in suspense as the author tries to draw you into what lies ahead. Some have looked at the end of Acts and wondered if the author of the Gospel of Luke, followed by Part 2, the Book of Acts, had a Part 3 in mind. Actually, the end of the last chapter rounds out the book and appropriately concludes it. Acts 28:28 assures you that, although you may live in a world that seems as pagan as the empire in Paul’s day, the kingdom of Jesus Christ prevails.

The gospel results in both rejection and faith. Many of the Jews rejected the gospel Paul preached. Paul had finally arrived at Rome, the capital of the world empire. But he entered the city as a prisoner. While awaiting trial he presented his case to the local Jewish community and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. As had been true on his missionary travels, some responded in faith, others rejected the good news. Paul himself is an example of the remnant of Israel who believed. Particularly the early chapters of Acts describe large numbers coming to faith in Christ (2:41: 3,000; 4:4: to grew to 5,000 men; 5:41: more and more; 6:7: the number increased rapidly and a great number of priests believed). But many rejected the Messiah, and that pattern characterized the response to much of Paul’s evangelistic preaching (13:45 Antioch, 14:2 Iconium, 17:5 Thessalonica, 17:13 Berea, 18:6 Corinth, 19:8–10 Ephesus).

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The Power of God’s Word

How do you pick out the really important people in a group—the movers and shakers, those whose influence may be felt throughout the world? The man who, during a storm, struggled ashore onto a beach on Malta, likely suffering from hypothermia, along with other castaways from the ship that was breaking up, probably would not have been someone you picked (see Acts. 28:1–10). Yet, he is the messenger, commissioned by God to preach the Word at Rome.

Recognize the Word made visible. God vindicates his Word as Paul suffers no harm from the snakebite. God had graciously given Paul the lives of his shipmates. Now God’s care for his messenger is tied to the Word he represents. In some ways Elijah had held a similar role in the Old Testament. Malta had been named by ancient Phoenician sailors as a place of refuge. Paul and his party find it aptly named. The local inhabitants (barbarians to the Greeks and Romans) provided warm hospitality with a fire for the shivering castaways. Paul once again is helpful, this time in gathering wood to feed the fire. When a viper, accidentally gathered with the wood, fastened itself to Paul’s hand, the local inhabitants assumed that the goddess, Justice, having failed to punish him in the storm, was now claiming him. But when Paul remains unharmed after shaking the reptile into the fire, they conclude, as Luke reports humorously, that Paul must be a god! (Contrast this with Paul’s reception at Lystra, Acts 14.)

“It was obvious to the is­landers that divine vengeance was pur­suing Paul: although he had es­caped from the shipwreck, he was now going to die from the bite of a poi­sonous viper. They expect­ed his hand to swell and waited for Paul to drop. And, in­deed, Paul’s life was very much in danger. How­ever, he was the bearer of Word of the Lord and his mission was still to pro­claim that Word in Rome. Therefore he was safe un­der the pro­tection of the Word of the Lord. His life was spared by yet an­other miracle of God.”

S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and De­liverance, Vol. 4, p. 241

Paul is not divine, but he is under special protection as God’s messenger. God had promised that Paul would preach the Word at Rome, and nothing could stop that. As in Isaiah 55, God’s Word cannot return to him empty or void.

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God’s Gracious Gift in a Storm

Acts 27 is a magnificent sea story (and it stands in a good tradition of Greek literature), but it is far more than just a sea story. The setting and the event push you to trust God’s gracious gift of life.

God graciously spares lives. God’s protection goes with the one proclaiming his Word. This is not just a good sea story, though it is that, recorded by one who was an experience traveler though not a professional sailor, nor is it simply an account of Paul’s heroics, though his calm advice under pressure was instrumental in saving the lives of all on board. Rather, Luke’s interest is in Paul as the bearer of the good news, journeying towards the capital of the world empire. The howling, hope-sapping storm, the Euraquilo or northeaster, could have been the end of the apostolic mission, much to Satan’s delight, but God is not about to let his Word or his messenger perish in this storm. Luke’s account reminds one of Homer’s classic description of a storm in Book 5 of The Odyssey, but more likely Luke, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him, want you to think in biblical terms focusing on the storms of the Book of Psalms, which reveal the power of the true God, and on the storm in Jonah 1. There God hurled a storm upon the sea to drive a reluctant prophet back to his preaching. Here the storm hinders the willing apostle and threatens the progress of the gospel to the political center of the empire, but God’s protection confirms his care of his servant.

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Proclaim Light!

Imagine the pomp and circumstance that Luke describes as royalty and officials enter the audience room for, not a trial, but a hearing concerning a prisoner. The the prisoner enters in chains. His “defense,” however, is an evangelistic message calling his royal hearers to turn from darkness to light, Acts 26:22–23.

Come to the light of the promised Messiah. Christ fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of light. Paul, who has been held in prison for more than two years, has appealed to Caesar. The new governor, Festus, takes advantage of a royal visit from Herod Agrippa II. It is also a family affair. This Herod is the son of Herod Agrippa I, who had killed James and arrested Peter. Agrippa’s grand-uncle, Herod Antipas, had executed John the Baptist, and his great grandfather was Herod the Great, who had murdered the children of Bethlehem. Not only was Drusilla, the wife of former governor Felix, Herod Agrippa’s sister, his consort, Bernice was also his sister. Despite the sordid personal lives of the rich and famous, Paul begins his speech with an expression of gratitude that Agrippa is familiar with the Jewish customs and with the Scriptures. Once more Paul tells the story of his conversion, focusing not only on the light he saw on the Damascus road, but also on the light that would shine from Christ, particularly through Paul. He emphasizes the continuity between his apostolic message and the writings of the prophets. The Messiah would be the light, not just for Israel, but for the Gentiles as well, Isaiah 42:6; 49:6.

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An Appeal to Caesar

How do you, as a Christian, relate to the government? How do you conduct yourself, whether you live in a country that values freedom of religion or in one that opposes Christianity? That issue is not a new one, as you see in Acts 25:10–12.

Seek justice. In appealing to Caesar, Paul sought justice. After being rescued from a mob in Jerusalem by the Roman commander, Paul had been spirited away to Governor Felix in Caesarea. Although Felix found no violation of Roman law in the accusations made against Paul, he held him in prison for two years, hoping for a bribe. The next governor, Festus, conducted another hearing. Once again, clearly Paul had done nothing worthy of punishment. But unwilling to antagonize the influential religious leaders of his subjects, Festus talked about having Paul travel to Jerusalem for a hearing there. Against that background of exposure to another assassination attempt, Paul, who had appealed to his Roman citizenship on earlier occasions, exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the emperor. A favorable decision before the emperor could have a positive impact, not just for Paul, but for the Christian church generally. Throughout Acts, its author emphasizes that, when due consideration was given, the gospel Paul preached was not seen as subversive of the proper administration of Roman law.

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