(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

This is my 67th exposition on Acts! I doubt very much whether anyone will read them all! No-one has learned more from them than me. I will leave a summary of the fresh insights I acquired while studying this long and thrilling book to the conclusion. Suffice it to say that these last few verses of Luke's account encapsulate several of the main themes of Acts.

(B) The providence of God.

The Lord told Paul when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem: "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." Acts23v11. There were times Paul's safe arrival in Rome seemed very unlikely. He survived assassination plots, 2 years detention in Caesarea, a storm at sea, a violent shipwreck and a close encounter with the Maltese blunt-nosed viper. Notwithstanding the best efforts of his enemies, the elements and the old serpent himself Luke is able to write: And so we came to Rome. v14.

The last stages of the journey were very easy. It is almost as if Satan finally gives up. A south wind blows Paul's ship safely into harbour at Puteoli - the port for Rome. God achieved his purpose for, as Paul himself put it when writing to the Ephesians, he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. Eph1v11.

In 1980 Dr C. Everett Koop, a conservative evangelical and opponent of abortion, was chosen by President Reagan to be Surgeon General. His appointment needed to be approved by Congress because Dr Koop's age exceeded the age limit. Congress took its time because Dr Koop was a controversial figure and for 9 months he was left in limbo. The once busy paediatrician had nothing to do. He faced an empty in-tray, a silent telephone and a blank calendar.

Dr Koop could not understand what was happening and he questioned God's judgment. But God did have a purpose in those months of relative inactivity. The one thing Koop had plenty of, was time - time to listen to the representatives of all the different pressure groups who wanted to see him. In retrospect, the Surgeon General said of this chapter in his life: "I had a chance to look at the health problems of the nation and wonder what I could do about them when I was finally let loose. I decided I would use the office to espouse the cause of the disenfranchised: handicapped children, the elderly, people in need of organ transplantation, women and children who were being battered and abused. During the nine months I developed a detailed agenda, something no Surgeon General has ever had before. In the end, that period of acute frustration made possible every single thing I was able to accomplish in office. Now that's the sovereignty of God at work!" (I am indebted to Philip Yancy for this story in 'Soul Survivor.')

Over and over again through the Acts we have seen the providence of God at work. God provided then, and he provides now, for his purposes to be accomplished.

(C) The Felloship of Saints.

(a) It's practical nature.

    (1) Paul and his fellow Christians were invited to spend a week with some brothers at Puteoli. It is possible that during this time Julius supervised the other prisoners as they unloaded the grain ship. He may have negotiated passage on the Alexandrian craft on these terms.

    So Paul and friends enjoyed Christian hospitality for seven days. A whole week! Not every Christian is hospitable - they find it too disruptive. I will entertain a Japanese visitor after Christmas and I know that for the duration of his stay I will not be able to do exactly as I wish.

    (2) On the journey from Puteoli to Rome, a distance of about 130 miles, Paul met one group of Christians at the Forum Appi (43 miles from the capital) and then a second party at Tres Tabernae (33 miles from Rome). I expect a messenger had been sent from the church at Puteoli to the fellowship in Rome with news of Paul's arrival and travel plans. There were many Christians in Rome so eager to see Paul that they walked out to meet him. This was the response of loving hearts.

    My friend, Mr Clarkson, now 95 years old, told me that in the halcyon days of youth he used to cycle every Saturday afternoon from Moulton to Shimpling to see his girl friend. It was a round trip of 40 miles on very rough tracks. He always says: "Love ul draw ya where gunpowder 'ont blow ya!" The day my nephew, Isaac, returned home from his 6 months in Australia his mother was looking out for him. When Sandra saw her son walking across the playing field she went running with outstretched arms to greet him. She was a bit like that father who while his son was a long way off saw him and ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Lk15v20.

    There is no doubt about it - a warm welcome cheers the heart because it is an expression of love.

(b) Its restorative properties.

    (1) Paul was encouraged. The greatest Christians need encouragement. Paul who responded badly to rejection, who thrived on love, may have been worried about the reception he would get from the brothers in Rome. He wasn't going to enter Rome in triumph but in chains. The apostle to the Gentiles, called and appointed by God, was travelling to the capital under escort with a group of common criminals.

    When people go out of their way to show hospitality and really make you welcome it is hugely encouraging.

    (2) Paul was grateful to God. Whenever I am encouraged I thank God. When we closed the Sunday evening service of the village chapel I attend I thanked God for the warm welcome I received at Garland Street Baptist Church in Bury St Edmunds. Whenever I get an e-mail appreciative of this website I offer God a prayer of thanks. On the few occasions someone makes it clear that I have helped them spiritually my heart goes out to God in gratitude. Just recently we have been able to restart our Sunday evening service as a few new folk have joined with us. We praise the Lord for his mercy-drops.

(D) A magnanimous ministry.

(a)When Paul reached Rome he sends for the Jewish leaders.
Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. v17. They are the last people I would have sent for! Paul rests for just three days before inviting trouble. The Jews have caused Paul one problem after another since the outset of his apostolic ministry to the Gentiles. It amazes me that he is willing to try yet again to win them for Christ. But he does! He teaches us something about forbearance, perseverance and devotion to his own people.

(b) He explains his circumstances to the Jewish leaders.

    (1) Paul's comments are remarkably free from bitterness. He does not show any resentment or rancour. It is a wonderful trait and not one I share. It was a characteristic of Nelson Mandela on being released from years and years of prison in South Africa. It was a feature of Martin Luther King's campaign for civil rights. He managed to protest without hatred and bitterness although it wasn't easy. He was stabbed in New York and punched in Birmingham. Southern sheriffs roughed him up when they arrested him and hauled him off to the cells. Marchers were clubbed, attacked by Alsatians and blasted with water canon. Luther King's movement did overcome primarily through the spirit in which it was conducted.

    (2) Paul explains that he has nothing but goodwill for his fellow Jews. He says, "I have done nothing against our people..." v17. Although he had appealed to Caesar he wasn't going to bring a charge against them. He shared the hope of Israel - a hope that Messiah would come and that Messiah would reign. Paul was bound in chains because of that hope. Once again, for the very last time, the little apostle identifies closely with his people.

    We shall never succeed in evangelism without goodwill towards men. We need to remember the angel's message: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Lk2v14. AV. It is no good preaching to men as though you hated them. I have heard preachers who almost seem to enjoy describing the physical agony of the wicked in hell. I can recall telling a Christian woman that the unrighteous would be destroyed - there would be no everlasting torments. She remarked, "That's too good for them." What about her!!!! She hardly qualified for eternal bliss because she was good enough. Some of the most successful pastors I have known really loved their congregations. They, like George Bird of Bethesda Ipswich, spoke to their people with warmth, earnestness, affection and humour.

(c) Paul tries to dispel the Jewish prejudice against Christianity.
The Roman Jews were prejudiced. They said, "People everywhere are talking against this sect." v22. It is important to note:

    (1) Paul's subject matter. He declared to them the Kingdom of God. v23. This was vitally necessary as the Jews had the wrong idea about the Kingdom. They believed it would be an earthly kingdom rather like the Roman Empire except that it would be centred on Jerusalem with a Jewish Messiah on the throne. Paul needed to explain that Jesus the King reigned in men's hearts. The new Kingdom was a spiritual kingdom whose ruling principles were the Beatitudes. The Kingdom of God was made up of all those who did God's will.

    God's will was to believe on the one that he had sent - Jesus. So Paul tried to convince the Jewish leaders from the Law of Moses and the Prophets that Jesus was the Messiah.

    It remains necessary to convince unbelievers that God's Kingdom is not an earthly institution like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church or the Grace Baptist Association. It does not consist of buildings, rituals, rules, hierarchies, traditions, structures, services or doctrinal statements but of all those who do God's will and believe in Jesus.

    The second thing we must do is emphasise the supremacy of Jesus. People need to hear what he said. We read in John12v44: Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness. If anyone wants to know what God is like they must look to Jesus. If any puzzled and confused soul desires enlightenment he must look to Jesus. The lost are found, the sick are healed, the estranged are reconciled and the dead are made alive again by believing in Jesus.

    (2) Paul's earnestness. He reasoned with the Jews from morning till evening - all day. I took the occasional Religious Education lesson where for an hour I argued with a class about Christian belief. The children always enjoyed it. They found it very stimulating and entertaining. I was drained at the end of the session. There was no way I could keep it up hour after hour - but Paul did. He did everything he could to win the Jewish leaders over. His stamina was phenomenal!

(E) A terrible judgment against the Jews.

Luke tells us: Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves. v24. We can tell from Paul's closing remarks that those who opposed his message were in the majority: For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. vs26and27.

The non-violent protests against racism in the U.S.A did produce a change of heart. Even George Wallace, the former Governor of Alabama, who was a fierce advocate of segregation appeared in his wheelchair before the black leadership of his state and apologised for his past behaviour. He repeated his apology on state wide television.

The apostle Paul did not see a change of heart in his people as a whole. There was no repentance. The Jews were given every opportunity to believe in Jesus but they would not. And so Paul quotes Isaiah6v9and10 in judgment. This passage is used in three different ways in the Bible:

    (1) In the original, Isaiah is made responsible for the Jewish people's unbelief. The people could not reject God's message until it was delivered; by delivering it Isaiah produced disbelief and disobedience. A few years ago I was rubbing along nicely with my form when I was told by senior management to enforce the school rules on uniform. Next day, I instructed the spirited girls with whom I got on quite well that they must stop wearing T-shirts. This caused a rebellion. I could tell from their frowning faces and steely eyes that a battle of wills would ensue. As the days passed hearts hardened. The same is going to happen in Britain when the law outlawing fox hunting comes into effect. Hundreds have threatened to continue hunting and to take the consequences.

    (2) Paul quotes Isaiah9v9and10 in a way that lays the blame fairly and squarely on the Jews who disbelieve. The fault is theirs. He says: "They hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes." I certainly held the little girls who defied me for several days responsible for their action. The English courts will also hold to account all those who defy parliament and continue to hunt foxes. The law of the land assumes that people are answerable for their actions except in unusual circumstances.

    (3) When Jesus quotes this passage he does so in yet another way: "He (God) has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn - and I would heal them... " John12v40. I wonder what you make of this! I think Jesus is stating that the unbelief of the Jewish people was in God's will and purpose. That is not to make God responsible for their hardness of heart.

    Peter expresses the same truth in Acts2v23: "This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

    The different uses made of Isaiah6 provide a key to understanding several difficult Scriptures. It should help us to understand God's words to Moses recorded in Exodus7v3: "But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt he will not listen to you." God is not the author of sin! James tells us: When tempted, no-one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. James1v13. Pharaoh hardened his own heart. He was responsible for his behaviour as were the Jews who engineered the crucifixion of Jesus. However, Pharaoh's intransigence was in the will and purpose of God as was Jewish unbelief in the gospel. Paul closed his encounter with the Jewish leaders by saying: "God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen." v28. Their loss was the Gentile's gain.

    The Jews were given every opportunity to believe in Jesus but they would not. This does not mean that the sacrificial death of Jesus was a waste. The Gentiles were ready for the gospel and responded to it. The Jews have been sidelined; the people of the Law have been left in darkness as the Gentiles have benefited from 2000 years of God's grace. Jesus would and could have redeemed the Jews but instead they have tried to save themselves by their own efforts.

What are the lessons for us?

    (a) The Jews, who were religious, chose to rely on works and were lost. There remains a danger of some Christians trusting to works. I am indebted to Philip Yancy for highlighting the example of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy who decided to take Jesus' ethical teaching seriously. You might think this was a very good thing. Tolstoy freed his serfs, gave away the copyrights to his books and began to dispose of his vast estate. He gave up hunting, tobacco, alcohol and meat. When he was 71 Tolstoy wrote one last novel, 'Resurrection,' and donated the proceeds to finance the emigration to Canada of 12000 Anabaptists who were being persecuted by the Tsar. Yet for all his efforts Tolstoy failed. He could not live up to the high standards Jesus set and it made him despondent and irritable. His wife wrote in her diary: There is little genuine warmth about him; his kindness does not come from his heart, but merely from his principles.

    Tolstoy relied too much on works and not enough on grace. His Christian life was not informed by the spirit of the father who welcomed the prodigal home with warmth, gladness and generosity. The apostle Paul who was not backward in urging good conduct upon converts wrote: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1Cor13v3. Our love for God and our fellow men should grow as we ponder the Grace of God. Let us listen to Paul again: But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Eph2v4to7.

            Grace! 'tis a charming sound
            Harmonious to the ear;
            Heaven with the echo shall resound,
            And all the earth shall hear.

            Saved by grace alone;
            This is all my plea -
            Jesus died for all mankind
            And Jesus died for me.

            Oh, let Thy grace inspire
            My soul with strength divine!
            May all my powers to Thee aspire,
            And all my days be Thine.

    The Christian life is a bit like a rowing with two oars - Grace and Graft. We rely on God's grace but we also have to graft for Jesus. If we row with just one of those oars there is a danger of our boat going round in circles. As I write so often, salvation is both a gift and a prize.

    (b) There comes a point when the hard-hearted are left and the Spirit moves on to others who are willing to receive the truth. Paul tells the Jews: "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen. v28.

    This is still true of nations. The church in most countries of Western Europe has been in decline for 100 years. The inhabitants of Britain, with every opportunity of hearing and responding to the gospel, have for the most part hardened their hearts against the Saviour's love. The Holy Spirit has moved on in revival power to China, Korea, Nigeria and South Africa.

    Tragically it is also true of individuals. There are folk who attend Grace Baptist churches who have resisted the claims of Jesus for years and have at the last become gospel hardened. In the end God abandons them to their unbelief.

            Come to the Saviour, make no delay;
            Here in his word He has shown us the way;
            Here in our midst He's standing to-day,
            Tenderly saying, "Come!"

(F) Paul was faithful to his calling and the work goes on.

Luke concludes his wonderful book: For 2 whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. v30.

(1) Paul did not give up because of his straightened circumstances. He was a prisoner, confined to one house, and chained to a Roman soldier. Paul was probably still earning his living as a leather worker because he lived in his own rented property. He retained his independence to the end! None of this stopped Paul from teaching all who would listen about Jesus Christ. He did not make his predicament an excuse for doing nothing.

My Grandfather Reed was greatly handicapped by his deafness. He found it very difficult to have a conversation with any one. However, his letters were always seasoned by references to his Father in heaven and his loving Saviour. He found a way to witness.

(2) Paul welcomed all those who came to see him and witnessed to them boldly and without hindrance. As Paul conversed with his friends and Christian visitors, soldiers, officials from Caesar's palace and various menials, like household slaves, listened to his wonderful words of life. Paul was not hindered by diffidence, embarrassment or the fear of men. He spoke out boldly for his master.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the last time John writes in his gospel: Yet at the same time they still would not believe in him. ... Many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees, they would not confess their faith for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise from men more than the praise from God. John12v37and42. It is possible that these leaders included the many priests who became Christians after Pentecost. Sadly the fear of offending the Pharisees persisted and the church in Jerusalem never quite broke from Judaism.

English Christians are unlike Paul in being diffident and fearful of rejection and criticism by the opponents of Jesus. We don't witness boldly. This doesn't mean we have to rant in the open air and yell at passers by that they will all suffer in hell if they don't become Christians. It does mean that we should never be ashamed of Jesus or his word and that we should take what opportunities we are given to witness graciously for him. See story of Cambridge visit.

(3) Paul preached about the Kingdom of God and taught about Jesus. We can tell what preoccupied Paul during his two years in Rome by studying the letters he wrote from prison to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. These three epistles exalt Jesus. In the first chapter of Colossians, for example, we have a glorious passage on the supremacy of Christ: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created.... He is before all things and in him all things hold together. .... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things ..... by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. ..... But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - vs15to22.

Luke ends his history of the early church with Paul preaching Christ. The work went on..... . It has been going on for 2000 years and it will go on until that great day when Jesus returns. Praise God for the glorious gospel.

            Oh, the precious gospel story,
            How it tells of love to all!
            How the Saviour in compassion
            Died to save us from the Fall;
            How He came to seek the lost ones,
            And to bring them to His fold:
            Let us hasten to proclaim it,
            For the story must be told.