The Continuing Ministry – Acts 28:15-31

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Sermon Study Sheets

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

December 10, 2006

The Continuing Ministry

Acts 28:15-31

Introduction

History. A word that puts some people to sleep at its very sound. They claim that history is boring and a waste of time. Or as one man put it, “history is now costing us more than the stuff is worth.” One pessimist said that history is “little more than a register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind” (Edward Gibbon). It is said that “a lot of history isn’t fit to repeat itself,” and that is true in more ways than one. Sadly, those who depreciate history and fail to learn it are the ones most likely to repeat it. It is not that history actually repeats itself, for it will be new people that carry out the actions, but those who do not learn the lessons history can teach us will repeat the same folly as previous generations.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.” A child is innately self centered with their understanding limited to their own experiences. As one matures they learn to gain knowledge and understanding from the experiences of others too, both past and present. That is one of the things history should do for us. We should learn from the examples of others. From the negative side we should learn to avoid the folly and errors of those who have gone before us. From the positive side we should learn from the success and wisdom of those who have gone before us. History It also gives us the foundation we need to live wisely in the present for it tells us why things are as they are today.

For the last 16 months we have been studying the New Testament’s one book of history, the Acts of the Apostles. Today we conclude that study with Paul’s arrival and ministry in Rome. We have learned much as we have studied the transition from the Old Covenant of the Mosaic Law to the New Covenant that came with the birth of the church. and then next week I want to talk about what tradition tells us about what happened to the other apostles. The examples of Peter, Philip, Barnabas, Paul and his companions have not only been an inspiration that we also should be telling others about Jesus, but they have also set the example of what to tell people and how to do it.

Background

Last week we examined the first part of chapter 28 and the kindness of the people of Malta to the shipwreck victims. They had survived the storm that had lasted 14 days and then the breakup of the ship when it was stuck in the reef at the mouth of the bay. They had made it to shore either by swimming or floating on the wreckage. The people of Malta then built them a fire to warm them from the cold and the rain. They then went beyond that to provide winter quarters for them.

Paul had gained a hearing from the Maltese in two ways. First, he was bitten by a viper. At first the natives thought Paul must have been a murderer who would now die as a consequence of justice, but when Paul suffered no harmful effects they changed their mind and thought he was a god. Second, Paul had a ministry of healing while he was there. That began with healing the father of the Publius, the leading man on the island, and then expanded to all those that were coming to him. In the course of the three months that they were there they had built a good relationship with the natives. Tradition has it that a church was started then and that Publius became its first pastor. Paul always took advantage of any opportunities to proclaim Jesus Christ to others. When Paul, Luke and Aristarchus left in February, the natives honored them in many ways including providing for their physical needs for the rest of the journey.

Sailing to Italy (11-14)

Acts 28:11 tells us that they sailed from Malta on an Alexandrian ship that had wintered on the island. This would have been similar to the ship that had been wrecked on the reef. Their first stop was Syracuse about 100 miles away on the east coast of the island of Sicily. They stayed there for three either because of weather or business. Tradition has it that Paul was busy during that time and founded a church there.

From Syracuse they traveled to Rhegium located on the southern tip of Italy. They waited a day for a south wind to take them through the straits of Messina. Good weather was important to be able to avoid the dangers there of the whirlpool of Charybdis and the rock of Scylla. After making it through the straits they proceeded 200 miles farther up the coast to the port of Puteoli, which is in the most sheltered part of the bay of Naples. Verse 14 tells us that they came ashore at Puteloi which was the major port for the Alexandrian wheat ships because Rome did not have a harbor. Puteloi, now called Pozzoli, is still a major port today. Passengers would have disembarked there and then traveled overland along the Appian Way to Rome which was about 120 miles northwest. The good relationship that Paul continued to have with Julius, the centurion that was charged with bringing him to Rome, is seen in the fact that he let Paul stay with the brethren for the seven days that they were there instead of with the other prisoners. We pick up the story again in verse 15.

Arrival in Rome (15-16)

15 And 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. 16 And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

News of Paul coming to Italy quickly spread from Puteoli to Rome resulting in some of the brethren coming down to meet him along the way. Some met him at the Forum of Appius which is 43 miles from Rome. It was a marketplace and resting area for travelers along the Appian way.

The Appian Way was the major road connecting Rome to southern Italy and then by ship across the Adriatic Sea to Macedonia and Greece where it continued on east. Paul had traveled on the sections of this road that connected Philippi to Thessalonica and then over near Berea. The road was named for Appius Claudius who began the construction of the road in 312 B.C. It was built of a firm bed with pavement stones set on top in concrete. It was wide enough for two chariots and usually had a walkway on either side. The superb quality of its construction is demonstrated in that parts of it not only still exist but are still used.

The Roman poet Horace said the Forum of Appius, also named for Appius Claudius, was “filled, e’en night to choke, with knavish publicans and boatmen folk.” The former are dishonest merchants and the latter the men that operated the boats that operated in the canals that had been dug through the Pontine marshes in 162 BC by Marcus Cornelius Cathegus and ran parallel to the Appian Way. Additional brethren met Paul about 10 miles closer to Rome at Three Taverns. This was also a market place and resting area for travelers. We know from his writings that Cicero would stay in the lodgings there at times.

While Luke’s comment about fellow Christians meeting Paul along the way to Rome may seem insignificant trivia, it would not have been for Paul. He would not have known what kind of reception he would have received in Rome. Recall in our previous study of Philippians that in 1:15-17 he talks about fellow believers that preached Christ with the twisted motives of envy and strife thinking to cause Paul distress in his imprisonment. Being a humble man centered on God’s glory Paul overlooked the slander being made against him to rejoice that Christ was being proclaimed. This reception by other believers that had traveled 30 or 40 miles on foot just to meet and travel with him would have been a great encouragement to him. It also would have been an unusual circumstance for Julias the Centurion to deal with as well. While you might have a family member or two want to meet with a prisoner on their way to Rome, most people would keep their distance from prisoners. It would be rare to have such a large number of unrelated people come such a long way in order to travel with a prisoner, but come they did and Paul thanked God for them.

When they arrived at Rome special arrangements were made for Paul. Normally prisoners would be kept in prison barracks while they awaited trial. Paul was allowed to stay in his own quarters with a soldier guarding him. We can safely assume that Julias the Centurion would have been involved in allowing such arrangements to be made. The rent for the home and upkeep for Paul would have been provided by friends. We know from Philippians 4:10-18 that they had sent a gift to help Paul. While we do not know exactly where this home was located, we assume it was near the barracks of the praetorian guard, Caesar’s elite military force charged with his personal protection. Paul mentions them in Philippians 1:13 as those who were guarding him. There would have been a rotation of guards every four hours with one chained to him. Those chained to Paul heard the gospel and through them Christ became well known throughout the whole praetorian guard.

Paul’s desire to go to Rome was now being fulfilled. He had stated that desire back in Acts 19:21 while he was in Ephesus. Paul had never been to Rome before but he did have many friends there as noted in list of people in Romans 16 to whom he sent greetings. Included in that number were Prisca and Aquila with whom he had labored in making tents and in ministry while he was in Corinth.

Among those saved on the day of Pentecost were some Jews from Rome (Acts 2:10) and they were probably the ones that founded a church there upon their return. While Paul’s preference was to bring the gospel to those “who had no news of Him” (Rom. 15:20), Paul had a specific reason to want to go to Rome. He had written his epistle to the Romans three or four years earlier saying, “if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established” (Rom. 1:10,11)

In addition to the church already established there it was estimated that there were as many as 40,000 Jews living in Rome in the middle of the first century. Paul desired to preach the gospel to them (Rom. 1:15,16), and though he was confined to a house and chained to a guard, he wasted no time in arranging to meet with the leading men of the Jews.

Paul Introduces Himself to the Jews (17-22)

Paul Explains His Imprisonment (17-20)

17 And it happened that after three days he called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they had come 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 prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 “And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. 19 “But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar; not that I had any accusation against my nation. 20 “For 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.”

These “leading men of the Jews” would have been the leaders of the various synagogues. Various inscriptions in Rome indicate there were at least ten synagogues in Rome at that time, and if there were multiple thousands of Jews then there would have probably been a lot more synagogues. Paul sent messengers to these leaders and asked them to meet with him. When they came Paul explained to them who he was and why he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul would not have known if any news of him had reached the Jewish community there or not and he wanted to make sure that they knew why he was imprisoned so that he could later get a favorable hearing for the gospel. Remember that Paul had been imprisoned in Caesarea for two years which was plenty of time for slander against Paul from the Chief priests in Jerusalem to reach Rome. After Paul had appealed to Caesar they also would have had time to dispatch a messenger to Rome to represent the Chief priests and cause the Jewish community there to turn against Paul even before he arrived.

Paul begins by making an assertion that he had done nothing against the his fellows Jews, here listed as “our people,” nor had he done anything against the customs of the Jewish fathers. In short, Paul was not against the Jews nor had he violated the Mosaic law. Paul is not specific and keeps his statements general in nature. He doesn’t say anything about why he ended up in Roman hands or the mob that tried to kill him. He does state that he was found innocent when examined by the Romans but was not released and was forced to appeal to Caesar because the Jews objected, though he does not say why they objected. Paul is being careful to not make any accusations against the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem because that would sound like he was making charges against the nation of Israel and it would be hard to explain it all in a short time. Paul’s primary purpose in making a defense of himself is to open a door to gain a hearing for the gospel. In addition, the accusations made by the Jewish leaders against Paul were all secondary to the real motive behind it all which was their refusal to acknowledge that Jesus rose from the dead and proved He is the Messiah. Paul does allude to this when he states that he was wearing a “chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” They understood this to be a reference to the coming of Messiah as indicated by their response.

The Response of the Jews (21-22)

21 And they 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. 22 “But 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.”

Their first statement would probably have been a relief to Paul. For whatever reason they had not received any letters from Judea or had anyone come saying anything about Paul one way or the other. This meant that they would be more open to hearing the gospel from Paul since they were not yet biased against him.

In some ways it seems incredible that the Chief priests had not sent some sort of message to Jewish leaders abroad concerning Paul considering how much they hated him. It would seem that they would especially want to send someone to Rome when they found out that Paul would be sent there to stand trial before Caesar. Yet, no word had yet come from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Perhaps they though that as long as Paul was in prison he was no longer an imminent threat and while he remained in Judea they were still optimistic that they could assassinate him. Any messenger they may have sent may also have had trouble reaching Rome just as Paul did due to the weather. If they also had to overwinter somewhere they may not have made it to Rome yet.

There second statement would also have been encouraging though also sobering. They did want to hear what Paul had to say about the hope of Israel. They recognized that he was a part of the sect that believed Messiah had come. The term “sect” (ai{resi” / hairesis) shows that unlike the High Priest in Jerusalem they recognized that followers of Jesus were a division within Judaism and not something outside its bounds. However, they also make it clear that what they have heard about this sect is that Jews everywhere were objecting to it. To their credit they still want to hear and judge for themselves what Paul has to say.

Paul Proclaims Christ to the Jews (23-29)

Testifying & Persuading (23)

23 And when they had set a day for him, 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.

This was a great opportunity for Paul. They had agreed to come on a day when all of them would have ample time to hear and discuss what Paul had to say and a large number of them came to Paul’s lodging. This again shows the great freedom that Paul was given by the Romans even though he was a prisoner confined to the house and chained to a guard. While Luke is brief about what Paul said he does give us the broad overview of the major points of what Paul said. I wonder what the guards that day must have thought as they witnessed Paul present to a house full of serious Jews an explanation of the Old Testament teaching concerning Messiah with the conclusion that it was Jesus.

We have a fair idea of what Paul would have said to them from what is recorded that Paul said in similar situations such as Acts 13. Paul would have laid the foundation with a discourse on what the law and prophets said about the kingdom of God and the promised Messiah before moving on to show that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies and was therefore the Messiah. Our text said that Paul “was explaining by solemnly testifying” and was “trying to persuade them.” Paul was doing his very best to bring them to an accurate knowledge of the truth and convince them by logic to respond accordingly. Our text states that this meeting lasted from “morning until evening. This would not have been just Paul preaching and teaching in lecture format. There would have been lively debate throughout the day as Paul would bring up each point and text in laying out what God had said about His kingdom and then seeking to persuade them that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies culminating in His resurrection from the dead.

A Mixed Response (24)

As had been true throughout all his previous ministries where ever he went, the response was mixed.

24 And some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

The same is still true today for us when we talk to people about Jesus Christ. Some will hear, understand and believe. Others will remain blinded by the god of this age and refuse to believe the truth no matter how well it has been explained to them. How often I have seen it even while preaching that there are those that the Holy Spirit is obviously moving upon as they listen intently and respond positively to each point even while others in the same room show they are confused or defiant or even mocking. We are to be faithful to proclaim the message while it is God that must move upon their hearts.

As the day came to a close and those who came were increasing in their disagreement with each other in either believing Paul or rejecting the gospel message, Paul have one last warning.

Paul’s Warning (25-29)

The Prophecy of Isaiah (25-27)

25 And 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; 27 For the heart of this people has become dull, And with their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes; Lest they should see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I should heal them.”‘

This was the message that God gave to the prophet Isaiah when he had volunteered to be God’s messenger (Isa. 6:9,10). Jesus quoted it when explaining to the disciples why He began to teach in parables (Matt. 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). The apostle John applied it to the multitudes that had heard Jesus’ teaching and seen Him perform many signs yet still refused to believe (Jn. 12:38-40). Paul uses it here to warn those that were turning away that they, like hard hearted people who had went before them, were in danger of having God confirm them in their hardness of heart so that they would not be able to believe.

Paul had consistently lived out his statement in Romans 1:16 that the gospel was to the Jew first. Where ever he went he always tried to find the Jews in the area and proclaim the gospel to them first. Since he fulfilled that obligation he was now going to go to the Gentiles.

 

The Salvation of the Gentiles (28-29)

28 “Let it be known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” 29 [And when he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.]

The dispute among the Jews would continue. It continues to this day with some believing and others rejecting their Messiah. It is a dispute among the Gentiles as well with some believing and others rejecting. Each of us are part of that debate. Every believer is called of God to proclaim what they know to others. We are God’s ambassadors sent to seek to persuade, even beg people, to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).

Paul’s ministry did not end with this presentation.

Paul’s Continuing Ministry (30-31)

30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

We are not told why Paul stayed in this situation of house arrest for another two years. In the midst of the shipwreck it is probable that the letter from Governor Festus had been lost and so it would have taken time to get another one. There also may have been time waiting for representatives from the High Priest to come to Rome to make accusations against Paul. It may have also been simply the backlog of court cases that existed at that time or some combination of all of them. Whatever the reason, Paul was not released for another two years. Next week we will find out what happened to him as I discuss the traditions about what happened to each of the apostles. The final point in the book of Acts is what Paul did during those two years. He “was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”

That is a fitting conclusion to the book because it is a story that does not end. Paul was imprisoned, but the gospel was still unhindered and going forward. The purpose of the book of Acts was to show how the followers of Jesus fulfilled His command to be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). It is a story that continues today with us. We who are the followers of Jesus Christ are still to be proclaiming Him to those around us. We have seen the examples of it throughout the book of Acts. It can be done in your homes as Paul was doing here. It can be done in other peoples homes as the early church did in going from house to house. It can be done in the public square as Peter and the apostles did throughout Jerusalem and Paul did in Gentile cities. It can be done with those you meet while traveling as Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch. All you have to do is take advantage of the opportunities that God gives you. If you get tongue tied, then give the person a tract. I have included one in each of the bulletins today. There are many more to choose from in the racks in the back of the church,.

One final place this can be done are in places were religious meetings take place. Paul did that in every city he went to. I mention this last because if you are too intimidated to talk with someone yourself, then you can invite them to a meeting or activity where someone else can talk with them. I have included both the invitation brochure that includes a list of current church sponsored activities as well as the small business card size invitation. You should always have a couple of those in your wallet or purse so that you can easily invite someone to come here. We keep a supply of them in the back of the church so that you can have as many as you want.

Take advantage of this Christmas season to talk to others about Jesus Christ yourself or at least invite them to meetings and events where they can hear the gospel message.

 

Sermon Study Sheets

 KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times Paul is mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about the continuing ministry of telling others about Jesus.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What is the importance of history? Why do so many say that history “repeats itself” and why does it do so? What have you learned from our study of the book of Acts? What lessons have you been able to apply to your own life? Why was Paul going to Rome? Why did they disembark in Puteoli? How did they get to Rome from there? What happened along the way? Who was responsible for him and what unusual privileges did he grant Paul? Describe Paul’s imprisonment in Rome? What were his restrictions? His freedoms? Why did Paul call for a meeting with the Jewish leaders? How / why did Paul defend himself to them? What was their response? When Paul met with them and additional people later, what did he tell them? How long did the meeting last? What does that tell us about it? What was their response? What was Paul’s warning to those that would not believe? Explain. Why did Paul add in the remarks about salvation also being sent to the Gentiles? How does the book of Acts end? How does it fit with the purpose of the book? What is your responsibility as God’s ambassador? Where / when can you tell people about Jesus? If you are intimidated to talk to people, what can you do? Will you?

Sermon Notes – December 10, 2006

The Continuing Ministry: Acts 28:15-31

Introduction

Background

On Malta (28:1-10)

Sailing to Italy (28:11-14)

Arrival in Rome (15-16)

Getting There (vs. 15)

Staying There (vs. 16)

Paul Introduces Himself to the Jews (17-22)

Explanation of His Imprisonment (vs. 17-20)

Their Response (21-22)

Paul Proclaims Christ to the Jews (23-29)

Testifying and Persuading (vs. 23)

A Mixed Response (vs. 24)

Paul’s Warning (vs. 25-27)

The Gospel and the Gentiles (28-29)

The Continuing Ministry (30-31)


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