Unit: Acts (Part 2)
Theme: The Church Goes Global
Lesson Text: Acts 28:11-31
Supplemental Text: Acts 27:1—28:10; Romans 1:8-17
Aim: Pray that the gospel continues to go forward “unhindered.”
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the study by Mark Scott, the Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Doug Redford): LOOKOUT_Nov26_2023.
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By Mark Scott
There is a romance with the city of Rome. From the current Vatican, Saint Peter’s Square, artifacts, and cathedrals to the ancient Colosseum, Titus’s arch, Paul’s prison, and the ancient city built on seven hills, Rome draws people to herself. This city of almost 3 million people today attracts millions of visitors each year. It also attracted the apostle Paul. He longed to go there (Romans 1:11).
Luke was very interested in telling the story of the gospel going to Rome. He recorded Jesus telling the apostles that the good news would go to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Even on the Day of Pentecost there were visitors from Rome present (2:10). God promised Paul he would one day get there (23:11), and Paul leveraged his citizenship to ensure it (25:11-12). Paul even made his way to Rome via an all-expenses-paid trip (courtesy of the Roman government) by way of a wild ship ride (Acts 27). The shipwreck and survival at Malta delayed the arrival in Rome, but not one soul on the ship was lost; and Paul made it to Rome safely.
After winter ended, Paul was put on a ship that was traveling from Alexandria, Egypt, to Rome (with a stopover at Malta). The ship’s “hood ornament” (or “ornaments”) were the twin gods of Castor and Pollux (twin sons of Zeus, according to Greek mythology). The route took them to Syracuse (on the eastern edge of Sicily) and then up the western coast of Italy passing Rhegium (on the southernmost tip of Italy) and stopping at Puteoli. Paul was under guard but was given some freedom to spend time with fellow Christians along the way.
Then Luke simply stated, “And so we came to Rome.” This is the climax of the book? Perhaps this was as far as Luke could take the story. Did he intend a third volume? Or perhaps Luke was making a theological point. Despite the persistent efforts of Paul’s enemies to stifle his impact and silence his voice, God’s sovereign purpose for Paul was being fulfilled. His ministry would continue, and the gospel would make further progress, as we will see. In Rome, Paul was grateful to see more believers and felt encouraged, even while under a Roman house arrest situation.
Paul followed his typical missionary strategy and met with the Jewish leaders first. He shared his testimony with them by stating that he had been above reproach in his dealings with his people. He had not violated their customs, nor had he committed any crime deserving death. The Jewish leaders had handed him over to the Romans, who basically forgot about him until he appealed to Caesar. Paul believed in the hope of Israel and that was why he was chained.
Strangely enough, the Jews in Rome seemed clueless about both Paul and his message. They had heard about what they called this new sect (most of what they heard had been negative), but they had not received any word about Paul. Did the charges against Paul slip through the cracks? Both sides probably sensed some angst, which set up the meeting to follow.
A meeting was arranged, and a large crowd gathered to hear Paul. Five terms are used to describe Paul’s preaching—explaining, witnessed, persuade, proclaimed, and taught. The message of the gospel is always verbal. Paul spoke with them from morning till evening. His content concerned the government of God (his kingdom), and his sources were drawn from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. But Paul didn’t simply relate facts. He worked to persuade his audience about Jesus’ identity.
As is usually the case when the gospel seed is spread, some responded positively and some responded negatively. They could not even agree among themselves about Paul’s teaching. Paul decided to quote Isaiah 6:9-10. When Isaiah was called into prophetic service, God warned him that not all would really “hear” him. In both Isaiah’s day and Paul’s day, the Jewish heart was calloused. Even though God pleaded with them to repent, they refused. Isaiah’s prophecy was being relived. Paul took this as a crucial turning point. Jewish rejection allowed for Gentile inclusion.
Similar to his two years in a Caesarean jail (Acts 24:27), Paul spent two more years under house arrest in Rome. He experienced just enough freedom to preach the reign of God and the identity of Jesus. He did so with all boldness and without hindrance.
Thus this great book of Acts ends with two words: without hindrance. It is also the story of how Acts continues: the church moves forward through the world without hindrance while quietly converting the hearts of people.