In the End, the Beginning (Acts 28:1-32)

Every story has an ending.  But the great stories have end with a new beginning.  In the final chapter of  C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, the characters are invited “further up, further in” as the land of Narnia is restored.

“[T]he things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

The same is true of God’s story, in which we are invited to participate.  So as we see the book of Acts draw to a close, we are reminded that this is not the end, but a new beginning.  The church continued long after Paul, and life with God will continue into eternity.

TIME IN MALTA

Acts 28:1-31  Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.  2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.  3 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.  4 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, Justice has not allowed him to live.”  5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.  6 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.

Some cultures are ruled by superstition.  In the ancient world, men who survived shipwrecks were thought to be righteous.  But men who were bitten by snakes were thought to be unrighteous.  Paul experienced both, so this was quite a pickle.  When God preserved Paul’s life, they thought he was a god.  There will always be those who see God’s work and attribute it to something else.  Thankfully, we can see that it is God working through Paul, as seen in Paul’s praying for the sick in the next section:

7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably.  8 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.  9 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.

FROM MALTA TO ROME

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.  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.

The next section deals with Paul’s journey to Rome.  When he got there, he was basically put under house arrest.  This wasn’t ideal, of course, but all things considered this wasn’t that bad.  He was allowed to have visitors.  He was allowed to write.  The letter to the Philippians was actually a thank-you letter for sending Epaphroditus to Rome with supplies.  While in prison, Paul wrote the letters we call Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

CONFERENCES WITH THE ROMAN JEWS

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

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!”

Each of the above two paragraphs represents a separate conference Paul had with the Jews.  He explained his reasons for being in Rome—clarifying his innocence—but more importantly, he shared the gospel with them.

WHEN IN ROME

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.

Paul invested two years in the city of Rome.  Luke’s story ends here—confirming that Luke ended his writings of Luke-Acts at roughly 62-63.  Luke doesn’t record the end of Paul’s life, but in roughly 110 AD, a writer named Ignatius recorded what the church had apparently believed: Paul was beheaded by the Roman emperor Nero in 65 AD.

The end of the story?  Not for Paul.  And not for us, either.  While under house arrest in Rome, Paul said that his desire was to “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).  Does God’s story move you?  Drive you?  Are you centered in God’s purpose, God’s story?  Does the thought of devoting yourself to God’s mission terrify you?  Thrill you?  Inspire you?  Don’t let what you’ve gained from this series go to waste.  Now, more than ever, we need men and women of conviction and prayer.

Men and women for whom prayer is their first impulse…and never a last resort.

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