The Story Continues-sermon text version

The End of the Story.jpgWow, can you believe it? It’s the last of our sermon series on the Book of Acts, but the end is actually a beginning. It’s going to prove to us that the story continues. It continues with you and it continues with me.

That’s actually a great thing about stories. Until there’s the two word page stating “The End”…it goes on.   Chapter by chapter or in the case of Star Wars, it goes to a trilogy or an expanded series or like James Bond, it never goes away or even ages (!), just different people to play the same role.

The story continues.

Well, last week we left off with setting the record straight about Paul’s time on Malta and learned about the kindness of those barbarians. Also we heard about the good will that Paul and Luke and the others had engendered by the healing ministry they had and the demonstration of a servant’s heart. Let’s continue our story:

Acts 28:11 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 who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome.

I love that. It’s so understated and yet in an economy of words, something that’s a foreign concept to explainers by nature like I am…Luke simply states “And so we came to Rome.” There’s a simplicity to it that makes it even more profound. Like Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit.” It was a culmination of the Gospel going forth to the whole world! The Apostle Paul had been commissioned to do the larger work of getting the Gospel throughout the known world as Jesus’ missionary to the Gentiles. Rome was the crowning location of the Gentile ministry. Remember God encouraging Paul?

Acts 23:11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

It’s how Paul knew the shipwreck wouldn’t be the end of his story or the end of his life. He’d actually been building to this point ever since the Jews back in Jerusalem felt Paul shouldn’t live because of his preaching the Gospel. Everything pointed to an end of the story which likely happened in Rome. But I get ahead of myself because for now, the story continues:

15 The brothers 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 men 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.

Paul’s situation as a prisoner wasn’t like how things were at Alcatraz or at Folsom prison. Paul wasn’t in a cell—he was under house arrest. His being allowed to live by himself basically meaning that he paid for his own rented apartment but he had a government-supplied guard chained to him. The palace guard took 4 hour shifts with Paul. I have to laugh thinking about how some prison guards might view it that their punishment was greater than the prisoner’s … being chained to a pastor preaching at you for 4 hours every day. And some of you may even get bored after the first 20 minutes of my preaching. Imagine 4 hours…every day!

Philippians 1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

In Paul’s case, the palace guard is having an unintentional, unplanned small group Bible study and the Gospel story? It continues…even with Paul in chains, the Gospel is not chained. It’s going out through Paul, through the palace guard, and through the brothers who are free and courageously and fearlessly proclaiming the Gospel. So the story continues.

17 Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews.

This guy just never quits. He’s in prison because of the Jews back in Jerusalem…and now he is inviting visitors to the house prison…not just any visitors though. The leaders of the Roman Jews who don’t even know that Paul was public enemy #1 back with the Jerusalem Jews.

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 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar– not that I had any charge to bring 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 the brothers 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.”

They obviously have no clue that if you open the door for Paul, he’s coming in. Paul is more than happy to share his “views” and to preach the Gospel at them full strength! Everyone is talking against this sect? Well, maybe not everyone. Maybe among their Jewish buddies there in Rome, but even that’s not necessarily the case. Remember Aquila and Priscilla? Acts 18:1 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Aquila and Priscilla were Jews and they’d been in Rome. Moreover, they were “completed Jews”…Messianic Jews…Jewish believers. Anyway, back to the Jewish leaders who say everyone is talking against this sect. Whatever…

23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 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 forefathers 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!”

That Gentile thing is always the last straw with the Jewish leaders who liked their exclusive little “God’s chosen people club” and didn’t want any Gentiles getting in and spoiling their good deal.

29 30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

And then boom! Unceremoniously, the Book of Acts ends.

The simplicity and directness with which Luke tells us “And so we came to Rome” is not followed by an equally simple or direct ending. There is no “And Paul died.” No words “the end.” It’s all past tense: not stays, welcomes, preaches or teaches. He stayed. He welcomed. He preached. And He taught. Past tense, the only indication we have of an enduring message is that Luke tells us the story continued for Paul for at least 2 whole years, preaching, teaching… and the story goes on. Furthermore, you and I can read our Bibles, and study Acts and it’s hard to believe we’ve finished this chapter, this whole book of the Bible. But it’s not the end. The story goes on.The Gospel Story Continues

I love to tell the story. What about you?

You see, while this is the last chapter of the Book of Acts and my last week among you, I didn’t want for you to be left on a note of a downer.

It’s not the end.

It’s just a new chapter getting ready to start.

For you and for me. 

The story continues.  And it’s a story of hope.

For 2 years Paul shared it in Rome. No one really knows what happened after that. Some people think he did eventually get his heart’s desire and go to Spain. Others get really creative and un-biblical as they pop out of Scripture to map out what was his 4th missionary journey that we don’t have any details about in our Bibles. They’re making it up. Some think he died as a martyr at the conclusion of that time in prison just as the statute of limitations was about to expire on punishment. We can have a good deal of confidence that Paul did eventually appear before “Caesar” which means the higher court of Rome. How can we have that confidence? Remember the storm at sea? And God’s reassurance?

Acts 27:23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’

God is faithful even when we are not. If God said it, then I think we can be confident that exactly as that angel said, it actually happened to Paul whether the outcome was that he was released or executed.

Our story continues, why? Because all the way back at the very beginning of Acts, what did Jesus say?

Acts 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The story of the Gospel, that Good News of Jesus Christ that began in the mind of God, continued in His Advent in which He was born as the Christ Child, would suffer and die for our sins and yet be raised from the dead with an empty tomb at Easter to tell us He is Risen…that Good News will go on until He returns…that 2nd Advent.

Christmas, the first Advent, prepares us to receive His return.

What can we say about the future? It’s uncertain for all of us. It’s not for us to know the dates or times, but the confidence we have is the story will go on…the story continues…until His return. The story goes on for you and the story goes on for me. Let’s commit ourselves to be faithful as our story, the Gospel story continues…Let’s pray.

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