This is a phrase that keeps popping up in my head as I read the last chapter of Acts: anticlimactic. The last six chapters, which cover over two years, have led up to Paul finally arriving at Rome in order to face trial. He’s under house arrest but is able to receive any visitors he pleases. Of course he was totally encouraged by the sacrificial support which members of the Body showed him. And as we read today, he certainly wasn’t just sitting around twiddling his thumbs and catching up on his reading while he was awaiting trial. He managed to contact the local Jewish leaders and found—probably to his relief—that his reputation didn’t precede him. He presented the Good News to them, reasoning from the Scriptures that Yeshua was and is the Messiah.
But this of course raises the obvious question: What happened to Paul after this? What was the outcome of his trial? What happened to him after the events recorded here? Well, biblical scholars seem to be totally agreed that Paul was found not guilty of any crime and set free. He wrote several epistles to different churches, went on other mission trips, and continued to tell anyone who listened about his Savior. Church tradition has it—and there’s no reason to dispute it—that he died around the mid 60’s by beheading. He wouldn’t have been crucified, since that wasn't done to Roman citizens.
The rest of the chapter tells us about his conversations with the Jews who visited to him. There’s no indication of the bitter hostility he’s faced before, since his accusers apparently had not been there to poison the well against him. There’s no wholesale acceptance of his message, but there’s no blanket rejection either.
I think that this is a great picture of what happens when the Good News is presented to a group of people, by the way. A few will accept it, and most won’t. Jesus told us that the road to destruction has plenty of followers, while the door that leads to life is pretty lonely at times. We can’t expect that everyone will receive Christ, especially the first time they hear about him, but a certain number of people will. We can usually anticipate a mixed reaction.
Appropriately enough, the last words Paul is recorded to say to the Jews is a warning from their own prophets. During his own earthly ministry, Jesus warned that the majority of his own people wouldn’t receive his message, and he also quoted this same passage from Isaiah. But Paul’s warning ends on what’s bad news for them which is good news for us. If they wouldn’t listen, then God would turn to some people who would.
That’s why over the next few days we’re going to examine the issue of how the Church should approach the issue of the Jewish people. What’s their position before God right now? Are they saved because of being Jews? Is it insensitive to tell them about Jesus? We’re going to tackle those questions straight on, and I hope you’ll stick around for it.
Let me make one last point about the book of Acts. I can’t take credit for it, but I also can’t remember who first pointed it out to me. In very real sense it’s completely appropriate that Acts ends on a “cliff hanger” the way it does. The book of Acts doesn’t tell us what finally happened to Paul, because if it did then we might think the story ended with him. No, the book of Acts continues with you and me! We’re a part of the ongoing story of the acts of Jesus acting through his apostles, then through his Church, and on to today. What part are you playing in that? Are you part of Jesus’ reclamation project?
Yes Lord, I want to be. I know that what you started in the book of Acts continues with me. Whatever you want me to do, the answer’s “yes.”
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