19 July 2019

Acts 28

28 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
11 After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15 The brothers and sisters 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 people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.
17 Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
21 They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
23 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. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 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:
26 “‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27 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.’
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” [29] 
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

This chapter brings us to the end of the book of Acts, and we may think it strange that we never get to see what happened to Paul, and don’t hear anything about his trial and appearance before Caesar. Commentator Darrell Bock gives a good explanation when he says that this book is really about the Acts of God. It isn’t intended to be a biography of the apostles, so we should expect to find loose ends in their individual stories – it isn’t about them. Instead, throughout the book, we see God acting at crucial times in the early church, by the power of the resurrected Jesus, working in and through believers by His spirit that was poured out at Pentecost.

Here in this last chapter, as we’ve seen throughout the book, there is a combination of ministry by word and by deed. By word, Paul challenges those around him with the message of the gospel, leading to an invitation to repent and receive forgiveness from the God who loves them. By deed, he demonstrates the love of God as he heals the sick and ministers to the needs of those outside the church. Many of us find it challenging to share the gospel, to find the right language to connect with people outside the church, to be as bold as the early disciples. But we can show God’s love to people around us who most certainly need it, who are hurting and struggling in all kinds of ways, and as we do so, let us pray that we’ll find the right words to express the hope we have in Christ.

Prayer: Father God, thank You that You are at work in Your church today just as You were in the early church. Help us, Lord, to be a people of words, ready to share the gospel and call on those who hear it to turn from empty lives, and find peace with You. Equally Father, may we be those who are known for our deeds – acts of care for the weak and vulnerable, of generosity to the poor, of kindness to the lonely, of mercy to the sick. As we tell people of Your love for them, help us to be sincere and sacrificial in showing them that love and let us encourage one another to persevere in this for the glory of Your name. Amen.