Sunday July 28th
As we come to the end of our study of the Book of Acts, I think of it as crossing the finish line. And that made me think of these quotes about running:
"Life is short. But jogging makes it seem longer."
"The trouble with jogging is that by the time you realize you're not in shape, it's too far to walk back."
"I go running when I have to. Like when the ice cream truck is driving away."
"Running won't solve all your problems. But then again, neither will housework."
And my favorite one from a runner's T-shirt:
"If found on ground, please drag to finish line."
The Apostle Paul near the end of his life, wrote these words to his young apprentice, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
Today, as we look at the final chapter of the book of Acts, we’ll see Paul continuing to fight the good fight and continuing to run the race.
When chapter 27 ended, Paul, along with all of his shipmates, had been washed ashore after a storm had destroyed their ship on the way to Rome.
Now, as chapter 28 begins, they look around to try to figure out where they’ve landed:
1When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.
2The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.
3But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.
4When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live."
5However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm.
6But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
Charismatics are sometimes accused not only of such things as prophesying and speaking in tongues, but also of handling snakes. Of course we don’t do that here at Praise, but there are some churches, mostly in the deep South, that make snake-handling a regular part of their worship services.
They get the idea of handling snakes from Mark 16:17-18 where Jesus said that certain signs would follow those who believe:
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
When this scripture says we will “take up” serpents, it’s not talking about bringing a box of snakes to church or wrapping them around your neck. The Greek words for “take up” actually mean picking them up to “do away” with them or “cast them away”, like we might “Pick up” the trash to take it to the curb!
As Christians we’re called to cast away Satan and his works!
1 John 3:8
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Here in Acts 28 the natives built a fire to warm up the ship-wrecked travelers, and it stirred up a poisonous snake that had been hiding within some old branches. And this snake didn’t just bite Paul, it attached itself to his hand!
The natives thought that Paul was going to die! They had obviously seen this kind of snake bite someone before!
And knowing that he was a prisoner, they assumed that he must’ve been a murderer, and that God was punishing him with death even though he survived that shipwreck.
But Paul doesn’t die; he simply shakes the serpent off into the fire!
Strangely enough, these same islanders who had assumed Paul was a killer now decide that he must be a GOD because he survived the poisonous snake-bite. They’re actually somewhat correct, because the power OF God is what’s operating within Paul. And they continue to see that same power manifested, as Paul becomes a vessel of God’s healing on their island:
7Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days.
8And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.
9After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured.
10They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.
11At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead.
12After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days.
13From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli.
14There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome.
15And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
Since their original ship had been destroyed by the storm, all of the passengers and prisoners go aboard a new ship. They make a few stops along the way then they finally arrive near Rome. When news of Paul’s arrival reaches them, Christians from as far away as 50 miles travel to meet him, greatly encouraging Paul after his many hardships on the journey. This display of support, along with the fact that God had kept every one of Paul traveling companions alive, as prophesied, seems to have impressed the centurion to some extent, because instead of placing Paul into prison he puts him under house arrest. Paul uses this opportunity to witness to his guards, his visitors, and once again to the Jewish community in Rome:
16When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
17After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, "Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
18And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death.
19But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation.
20For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel."
21They said to him, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.
22But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere."
Just as he had done in the past, Paul tries to point out to his fellow Jews that what he’s preaching isn’t contrary to the Jewish faith, it FULFILS God’s promises to Israel! Apparently the people who had been making these false accusations against Paul hadn’t been able to get word to their Roman counterparts about their issues with Paul, because these Roman Jewish leaders said, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.” But they do indicate that they’ve heard bad things about Christianity, and that they’d like to hear Paul’s version of things:
23When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.
24Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
25And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying,
'GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY,
"YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND;
AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE;
27FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL,
AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR,
AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES;
OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES,
AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,
AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN,
AND I WOULD HEAL THEM."'
28"Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen."
29When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.
30And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
31preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
You have to admire Paul for continuing to try to reach out to his fellow Jews. His success rate was pretty low, but he didn’t stop witnessing to the Jewish community in every city that he traveled to. The end result is usually the same, as we saw in verse 24: “Some were persuaded by the things (Paul had) spoken, but others would not believe.” And Paul recognizes that God had already spoken through the prophets that the nation of Israel would for the most part refuse to hear the Gospel; that the gentiles would come to faith in Christ and THEN the Jewish people would receive their messiah.
But as the book of Acts comes to a close, at the very last verse, we find Paul doing the very thing that he’s been called to do since he first encountered Jesus: “…preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.” He’ll continue to tell of God’s love and of forgiveness through faith in Christ until he takes his last breath. And his faithfulness to the message of the gospel will ultimately cost Paul his life, as the Romans would finally execute him in 67 AD, by beheading him. So why does the book of Acts end here, with Paul still preaching, rather than with his death? One reason is that the book isn’t called the Acts of Paul, it’s called the Acts of the Apostles, but it could more accurately be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped ACTING! Long after Paul and Peter died, long after Luke, who wrote the book of Acts died, the Holy Spirit has continued to Act through the lives of others, including us!
The record of Paul’s ministry ends in Chapter 28, but our lives are part of chapter 29 and chapter 30, and chapter 31! And when we’re gone, the Holy Spirit will use our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren yet to come to complete the work.
Paul’s last letter that he wrote from his Roman prison was 2nd Timothy. And in it he tells young Timothy “For this reason, I endure all things; for the sake of those who are chosen, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ, Jesus, and with it eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
Paul understood what it was to leave a legacy.
Another man who understood the value of leaving a legacy was Louis Pasteur, the famous scientist.
He lived at a time when thousands of people died each year from rabies. Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine to prevent these deaths, but he had never tested it. And just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a nine-year-old boy, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a dog that had rabies. The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to try the vaccine on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph with the medicine - and the boy lived.
Ten years later Pasteur himself died at the age of 72. Of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his tombstone, he asked for these three words:
Joseph Meister Lived.
Louis Pasteur understood that the things we do here on earth have eternal consequences. His son-in-law wrote this about Pasteur: “Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life.”
“the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it!” Paul understood that, Louis Pasteur understood that, and we need to understand that. Our greatest legacy will be those who live eternally because we were faithful to use our power for good to change their eternal destiny!