They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘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.’
“Therefore, I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (New International Version)
The Apostle Paul took quite a licking throughout his Christian life. Incredibly, Paul not only physically survived whippings, beatings, stoning, arrests, shipwreck, and imprisonment – he also came through it all with a robust spirit and a dogged determination to live his life with purpose and mission.
Acts 28 is the final chapter in the book. Paul is in Rome under house arrest. Even in this situation, he kept finding ways to engage others. Since he couldn’t go to them, he had others come to him – lots of them.
Paul described to the visitors his own experience of encountering the risen Christ. He reasoned with his fellow Jews and vigorously debated with them from the Scriptures. It was always the deep desire and hope of Paul that his own people come to faith in Christ, just as he had. Although some did, most didn’t.
Many decades ago, my grandfather was approached by one of his friends about investing in a new insurance company startup. For a lot of reasons, grandpa ended up not participating in his friend’s venture. So, the friend asked others. Eventually, the startup happened and steadily grew. Today, Nationwide Insurance has over 250 billion dollars of assets. Good old gramps just didn’t know what he was rejecting.
The good news of Jesus Christ, I believe, is worth infinitely more than an insurance company. Christian mission, I believe, is worth investing my life into. I’m glad the gospel was proclaimed to Gentiles because I am a recipient of such grace. And I’m grateful that Paul tenaciously kept interacting with people for the last two years of his life under arrest.
Despite, and even because of, Paul’s sufferings and his house arrest, the message of faith and forgiveness in Christ was confidently and consistently presented to a steady flow of people, including the highest heads of state. Difficulties are no problem for God. The Lord bends all circumstances to divine and good purposes, creating new avenues of faith, hope, and love that wouldn’t be possible under “normal” times.
In fact, Paul endured five years of imprisonment: two in a Caesarea jail; two under house arrest in Rome; and nearly a year in transport between the two cities. For a personality like Paul, we might imagine this would drive him nuts. Yet, several letters to the churches, now contained in the New Testament, were written during that time.
Whether we like it, or not, nothing proves, affirms, and grows our faith quite like our willingness to endure suffering for the gospel. Witness, suffering, and martyrdom are inextricably bundled together in God’s economy. When suffering is viewed as a necessary means to an altruistic and noble end, then, although the pain is no less real, there is the opportunity for both willing endurance and genuine joy.
Paul was willing to labor on behalf of people who were very different from himself. His concern was for all people everywhere – both his own people, the Jews, as well as Gentiles. Paul never gave in and never gave up. He had a magnanimous spirit and even greater spiritual gifts. He willingly and gladly used that spirit and gifts for the benefit of humanity.
In 64 C.E. Paul was condemned and executed. Before his death, he wrote that he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. Now, the next generations of new believers must follow in his footsteps and continue the work
This is precisely why the book of Acts ends so abruptly, with no resolution, no tidy conclusion – because the work is still being done and will carry on until Christ returns.
Gracious and loving God, you work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. In your Son Jesus, and through the power of your Holy Spirit, you invite each of us to join you in your work. We ask you to form us more and more in your image and likeness, through our prayer and worship of you and through the study of Holy Scripture so that our eyes will be fully opened to your mission in the world. Then, God, into our communities, our nation, and the world, send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all of your creation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.. Amen.