As a child growing up, my family’s home was on an elevated property just across a country road from the first fairway and hole of an exclusive country club. It was absolutely gorgeous. Sloping down into a valley through which a stream traversed, with another half of the layout ascending a mountain crested by an old-growth forest, the view from our front porch was spectacular.
But there was one big problem. I could never go there, play there, walk there, or anything else. My family did not have a membership; only an elite class of select people could be a part of it. Though totally beautiful, it was forbidden territory. I was an outsider. I could only look into it from beyond the “no trespassing” signs.
Then, during high school, I played on the school’s golf team. And by great fortune, this country club was secured by the school as our home course. I got to play there regularly. Though welcomed on the course and in the clubhouse at certain specific times, I was still not a true member.
Over the course of time, the property was sold and it became a public course that all were welcomed to come and play, and even to join in membership.
This illustration carries a sort of picture of the big idea of what the life ministry of Paul was all about in proclaiming the gospel. Prior to Christ, the way to God was only through the nation of Israel. One had to be a believing Jew who was faithful in trust and observance, or one could become a proselyte. Others were somewhat half in and half out, known as god-fearers. And finally, after the completed work of Christ, the path to a right relationship with God was fully opened to all Gentiles as well.
The story of the book of Acts is largely that of Luke relating how this process evolved, particularly through the specific efforts of the Apostle Paul. The big idea is in central focus in these final paragraphs. Paul meets with the Jewish community in Rome, sharing with them the big picture of the expansive work of God – pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture and the hope not only of Israel, but of the world. Some believe, many more reject it.
The end result is that (as in verse 28) the gospel goes to the Gentiles, who will listen and respond to it with the growth of the church around the world over the next 2,000 years. Is it not a wonderful truth that God’s grace has made all of this possible! Without it, we would indeed all be lost.
This expansive grace of God’s expansive passion for the lost world will be much at the heart of our next sermon series (beginning on 9/17). The major application there will be for us to have a likewise expansive view of reaching intentionally beyond ourselves to people who are different from us, thereby living out God’s heart for all groups and peoples to come to grace and be one together as the church of Jesus Christ.
Until then, we’ll finish this series over the next two weeks and eight devotionals by looking at the letters that Paul wrote in the latter years of his life.
Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard
Acts 28:17 – 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.’ [from Isaiah 6:9,10]
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” [29 – Some manuscripts include here – After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves.]