This morning we have reached the end of year-long journey through the book of the Bible known as the Acts of the Apostles. Now if you were with us when we began this series way back in May of 2022, you’ll recall that right from the beginning, we noted that, instead of being called the Acts of the Apostles, this book really could more accurately be called “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or perhaps even “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” – since that’s really what the story is all about!
The author Luke, wrote this book as a sequel to his first work, the Gospel of Luke, for a man named Theophilus – and Luke begins the book of Acts by saying:
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach…
The key here being – “everything Jesus began to do and teach”. The work of Jesus didn’t stop when he rose from the grave and ascended into heaven – but rather it continued as Jesus led and directed his Apostles through the Holy Spirit to spread the message of the Gospel throughout the world.
In fact, the final words of Jesus as he returned to heaven were as follows:
8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
That’s really what this book has been all about! In the first chapters, we read how the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon those first disciples and totally transformed them from a small band of timid and fearful men, into a rapidly growing church, filled with the boldness and power of the Holy Spirit!
Then, under tremendous persecution, the believers scattered from Jerusalem and traveled throughout Judea and Samaria, proclaiming the Gospel message all along the way and people everywhere put their trust in Jesus for salvation. We read about God’s work through men like Peter, John, James, Philip, and Stephan – all of whom boldly shared the Gospel even under the threat of imprisonment or even death.
And then, in an amazing turn of events, one of their greatest persecutors, Saul – soon to be Paul, had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus and was miraculously transformed into one of the church’s greatest evangelists. And it’s been his story that we’ve most recently been following as he traveled throughout the known Roman world on three different missionary journeys – planting churches and sharing the Gospel everywhere!
The last few chapters of Acts has been the story of Paul’s journey to Rome – under arrest and on his way to stand trial before Caesar. And today, as we read the final chapter of Acts, we see… not really a conclusion to Paul’s story, but rather the conclusion to the beginning of the story of the Gospel. It’s like the closing scene of the first act in a play – the rest of which would continue to play out over the next two thousand plus years – a story that includes both you and I today – as God continues the story of transforming lives through the Gospel!
Now if you were here last week, you’ll recall that Paul was a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome, but as they sailed, they were caught up in a terrible storm that threatened to sink the ship. In fact, after being ravaged by the storm for several days, there came a point where the sailors had lost all hope of ever making it through the storm alive!
However, God had promised Paul that He must preach the Gospel in Rome, so God reassured Paul that, while the ship would be destroyed, he and everyone else onboard would survive. And this is exactly what happened. The ship ran aground off the coast of an island and was soon smashed to pieces by the waves. But Paul, and everyone else managed to either swim for land or grab hold some floating debris, and everyone made it safely to shore. And that’s where chapter 28 begins – and where we will begin reading today. So Acts chapter 28, starting at verse 1 begins like this:
Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. 2 The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.
3 As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. 4 The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” 5 But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. 6 The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god.
7 Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. 8 As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9 Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. 10 As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.
Now there are lots of little mini-lessons we could learn from these first few verses, but as a whole, I think this is a great example of God working all things together for good.
I mean, just think of all the negative things that God allowed to happen to set this all up. First of all, let’s not forget that Paul was still a prisoner. He had been falsely accused and was on the way to stand trial before Caesar. If convicted, he could be facing the death penalty. Then on the way to Rome, their ship had been caught in a terrible storm that lasted over two weeks – that’s a massive storm! During all this time people could barely eat or sleep! I could hardly imagine such an experience!
Then there was obvious shipwreck! After running aground, the ship was destroyed and everyone on board had the terrifying and life-threatening experience of being shipwrecked and trying to make it to land! I’m sure that wasn’t fun! Then if that wasn’t enough, after being rescued, Paul’s out there being a helpful guy, gathering wood for the fire, and this poisonous snake lashes out and chomps into his hand! It’s just one thing after another – but God was using it all for good.
We’ve listed a bunch of the negative stuff, but let’s also consider the many examples of God’s goodness in this story. First of all, God allowed the ship to wreck close enough to the island so that everyone could be saved – all 276 of them! That’s pretty amazing! God also arranged for the people of the island to treat them very kindly – which was certainly no guarantee. In those days it was not uncommon for shipwreck survivors to be taken captive and sold as slaves. So this extraordinary kindness of the native people truly was a blessing from God.
And then when Paul was bitten by that poisonous snake, God miraculously prevented the snake bite from having any ill effect on Paul – and in fact, through that miracle, it gave Paul (and the Gospel) extra credibility with the people. It may have been this miraculous story that lead Paul to be introduced to Publius in the first place and gave him opportunity to pray for his sick father.
This led to yet another miracle where God healed the sick man as well as all the other sick people on the island – as a result, as verse 10 says… As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.
So it’s pretty amazing that through all that disaster and difficulty, we see that everyone survived, all kinds of people were healed, and Paul and his whole company were supplied with everything they needed to safely continue their journey. What more, we can be sure that during those three months on the island, Paul preached the Gospel to these people who had never heard of Jesus Christ, and many accepted Christ as their Saviour. In fact, tradition tells us that Publius became the first pastor of the church that was started on the island because of Paul’s ministry.
And that never would have happened if it were not for a shipwreck, a snake bite, and Publius’ very sick father!
God’s ways are truly amazing! And what an encouragement that is for us! Often, we can feel overwhelmed by the shipwrecks in our life, the poisonous attacks of others, or physical, emotional, or spiritual sickness in our lives – but God can work miracles in all of those situations and he can use those negative things to bring about much good! What an encouragement that is for us to know that God will use every disaster, every hurt, every disappointment in our lives to bring about His good purposes!?
And for Paul, the encouragement continued; Verse 11.
11 It was three months after the shipwreck that we set sail on another ship that had wintered at the island—an Alexandrian ship with the twin gods as its figurehead. 12 Our first stop was Syracuse, [seer-a-coose] where we stayed three days. 13 From there we sailed across to Rhegium. [Ree-gee-um] A day later a south wind began blowing, so the following day we sailed up the coast to
Puteoli. [Pew-tee-o-lee] 14 There we found some believers, who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome.
15 The brothers and sisters in Rome had heard we were coming, and they came to meet us at the Forum on the Appian Way. Others joined us at The Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God.
Now this is pretty interesting. Paul had never been to Rome before, but he was already well-known by the Roman believers. Paul had actually written a letter to them some time earlier – back when he was still in Corinth on his third missionary journey. This letter is known today as the book of Romans in our Bibles. In that letter, we can see that Paul had a great affection for the Roman Christians and had been eager to meet them for some time. Paul writes in Romans 1:8…
8 Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. 9 God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.
10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.
And of course, that’s exactly what we see happening now as these believers came out to meet Paul on his way to Rome. I think it’s pretty cool to see how faithfully Paul prayed for these believers that he had never even met! He had simply heard about them, but yet, day and night, he prayed for them – and longed to go see them in person to encourage them! And now, after literally years of praying for these fellow Christians in Rome – now, as Paul approached Rome, these believers came out to meet him! And of course, as verse 15 tells us, he was greatly encouraged and thanked God for them!
It’s such a blessing that God puts people in our lives who lift us up in prayer and encourage us when we need it most!
This week Heather & I were visited by Heather’s college roommate and her husband. They have been missionaries in Kazakhstan for the last 18 years. It was amazing to hear some of their stories – and it was such an encouragement to our faith to hear what God was doing through them way over in Kazakhstan! But perhaps what was most amazing to me, was that even though we’ve only visited with them twice in the last 15 years, there was such a sense of connection with them (as you only get with brothers and sisters in the Lord). It was like they were dear friends that we’ve known all our lives!
But that’s how it is in the family of God! We can be such different people – even coming from backgrounds and different cultures and even speaking different languages – but because of our common faith in Christ, we have this automatic affection and unity – as brothers and sister in the family of God.
That’s one of the things I love about our church! We all come from different backgrounds – we have different interests and values – we have different views on politics and whatever the current issues of the day are – but yet, because we are brothers and sisters in Christ – none of that really matters! Despite our differences, we have Christ in common, and because of that, we can share life together, we can encouraging one another and build each other up, we can pray for each other and work together side-by-side for the Kingdom of God! It’s pretty awesome to be in this family called the church.
And that was certainly Paul’s experience with these fellow believers in Rome! What a time of joy and fellowship that must have been for them all as Paul finally met these brothers and sisters that he had been praying for for so long!
But now, after this time of refreshing for Paul, Paul was ready to complete his journey to Rome. It says in verse 16…
16 When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier.
17 Three days after Paul’s arrival, he called together the local Jewish leaders. He said to them, “Brothers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Roman government, even though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. 18 The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, because they found no cause for the death sentence. 19 But when the Jewish leaders protested the decision, I felt it necessary to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no desire to press charges against my own people. 20 I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.”
21 They replied, “We have had no letters from Judea or reports against you from anyone who has come here. 22 But we want to hear what you believe, for the only thing we know about this movement is that it is denounced everywhere.”
Unlike the believers that came out and joyfully met Paul just outside the city, these Jewish leaders in the city of Rome had not even heard of Paul. In fact, they hardly knew anything about Jesus or the Gospel message – the only thing they knew was that Christianity was denounced everywhere!
But to their credit, they still came to listen to this prisoner Paul, to have him tell them what he believed! Remember, Paul is under house arrest at the moment. He’s guarded by a Roman soldier at all times – bound with a chain in some way and not likely allowed to go anywhere – but apparently allowed to have all the visitors that he wanted!
And so, Paul has taken advantage of that! He has invited these Jewish leaders to come to his house (his personal jail cell, as it were) to explain to them about his belief that the Hope of Israel – the Messiah – has already come!
And so we read in verse 23:
23 So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. 24 Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe.
As we have seen many, many times before – Paul’s clear explanation of the Gospel met with mixed reactions. Some were persuaded by what he said, and others did not believe. That seems to be the reoccurring theme of Paul’s life! And really, that’s pretty much what Jesus said would happen for anyone who tries to share the Good News with others. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13…
13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
We should not be surprised when the majority of people around us choose not to follow the narrow way to life. Because truth be told, completely trusting God with your whole life is not easy. I mean, Salvation is a free gift, but there is certainly a price to pay to following Jesus. I mean, just look at the life of Paul and think of all that he went through! In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul recounts some of the things he endured for being a follower of Christ…
24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
2 Corinthians 11:24-27
And by the way, this was all before he even made this last journey to Rome! Paul has had a pretty rough go of it! Now of course, not every believer goes through everything that Paul did, but I don’t think any Christian would say that following Christ is easy.
But we can say that it is always worth it. Following Christ through the narrow gate is the way to life – real life – a life that is life-giving, joy-filling, purpose fulfilling! But as Jesus said in Matthew 7, the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
And by the way, just as a sneak peak, next week, as we start our next message series on discipleship, we’re going to talk more about this. What does it actually look like (and what does it actually take) to follow Jesus and become like him? That’s kinda what we’re looking at for the rest of the summer! So you can look forward to that.
But to get back to our passage, we see that some Jewish leaders were persuaded by the things Paul said, but others did not believe. And so verse 25 continues:
25 And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: “The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,
26 ‘Go and say to this people:
When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
27 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’
What God said through Isaiah to the people of Israel is equally applicable now as it was then. Still today, people harden their hearts. They might hear the Word of God – they might even see the things that God is doing – but because their hearts are hard towards God, they don’t understand, they don’t comprehend – and as a result they cannot turn to Christ and allow Him to bring healing to their lives.
I certainly hope that isn’t the case for you! If you’ve been coming to this church for any length of time now, you’ve heard the Gospel message. You’ve heard that God loves you and that His Son Jesus Christ died for you on a cross for your sins! You’ve heard that God has offered you forgiveness and life and healing – if you would only choose to trust in Him!
And so I would urge you not to harden your hearts to that message! Don’t choose the wide and easier road to destruction, but rather believe that Jesus is worth following and then follow Him on the narrow and sometimes difficult road to life!
And that brings us now to the final verses of Acts. After Paul warns them against hardening their hearts, he says this:
28 So I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.”
30 For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.
If the Jews were going to harden their hearts, then Paul would preach to the Gentiles – and he was confident that they would listen! And so, preach He did! Of course, he couldn’t travel around anywhere – as he was still under house arrest awaiting trail, but anyone who came to visit him, he gladly welcomed them and taught them about Jesus!
And that’s the conclusion to the book of Acts. Now on one hand, it seems that Luke has left us hanging without ever finishing the story of Paul. Sometimes I wish there were another few chapters to tell us what happened next… Did Paul ever stand before Caesar and proclaim the Gospel? Was he released or condemned to death? And if he was released, where did he go next? Did he go on more missionary journeys? Or what happened!? For some reason, Luke never tells us!
But don’t forget, this story was never about Paul! It’s the continuing story of what Jesus began to do and teach – and what He continues to do today!
The book of Acts began with Jesus commanding his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. To be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Well, with Paul’s arrival in Rome – the centre of the known world – boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ to all who visited him with no one trying to stop him – it’s not quite mission accomplished – but it’s certainly mission fully begun!
Christianity was no longer a fringe group of Jews in Jerusalem – but it was a world-wide movement that would continue to shape history and transform lives for the rest of time!
Just two weeks ago we heard 6 testimonies from our young people – testimonies of what God had done in their lives – and all this some 2000 years after Paul proclaimed the Gospel in Rome. But their stories are part of the continuing story of God’s transforming work. What God had begun through Paul and the other disciples way back then – He continues to do through us today! It’s like the book of Acts continues with our story!
We might not relate so much to Paul getting shipwrecked or thrown in prison or standing trial before Kings and Emperors… But I think we can actually relate pretty well with these last two verses. Just put your own name and details in there instead of Paul’s…. It could read something like this:
For the next two years, Greg & Nicole lived in Penhold at their own expense. They welcomed all who visited them, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop them.
Isn’t that cool! And all of us could put our names in there! This is our part of the story! This is our chapter in the extended version of the book of Acts! Like all those disciples that have gone before us, we get to be his witnesses in Penhold, throughout Red Deer County, in the city of Red Deer itself, and to the ends of the earth!
And so this morning I would just encourage you to consider what your story might look like. As God continues to transform people’s lives – how might He work through you to do that?
Perhaps right now, you’re at the decision point – deciding between the broad and the narrow road… Maybe God’s at work in you – softening your heart – urging you to trust in Him and to follow Him for the rest of your days! If that’s the case, I too would urge you to make that decision today. Don’t put it off any longer! Choose the narrow road that leads to life!
Or maybe you’re in one of those storms – maybe even a bit of a shipwreck this morning. Perhaps you feel like you’ve got a poisonous viper hanging form your hand! At this point in your life, you probably can’t see what God is doing. But I assure you, that God is at work! He’s arranging people and circumstances to bring about his good will – and you get to be part of that. In the moment, it’s probably not all that much fun, but I’d just encourage you to trust Him! Believe that He’s still good and that He loves you like crazy and that He’s going to bring you through!
Or maybe you feel a bit like Paul at the end of this chapter – under house arrest, just sitting around waiting for something to change. Maybe you feel stuck in the mundane activities of life. Can I just encourage you – God can still work through you in the mundane! You can still proclaim the Kingdom of God to whomever God brings into your life. I mean, really, unless you’re living in solitary confinement, you can still teach somebody about the Lord Jesus Christ! So in this season of life, I’d encourage you, just be faithful! Keep being his witness where ever you are and know that nothing that we ever do for Him is ever wasted!
Because all of these different seasons of life are part of our story! They’re part of God’s story as He works in and through us. Our job is to trust Him and to follow Him and to give Him the praise and glory for all that He is and all that He does!