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To the End of the Earth (59): Preaching from Prison

Series: To the End of the Earth

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Sep 26, 2007

Acts 28:17-31

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Wednesday Evening

September 26, 2007

Acts 28:17-31

“Preaching from Prison”

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas

Now turn with me if you would to the final chapter of The Acts of The Apostles, chapter 28. As you’re doing that, let me just remind you this is the final lesson in The Acts of The Apostles. I always feel, when I come to the end of a study, I want to go back and try it again because I think I now understand the book a little better.

Anyway, next week we begin another series, and we begin our series that will run through October and November, in the second part of Bunyan's famous allegory Pilgrim's Progress, the story of Christiana and her family. We begin the journey next week. And then there will be a two-week hiatus, and then we’ll rejoin the story and run, I think, almost every week then until the end of November. But next week will be a kind of introduction and a beginning of the journey as we pick up this extraordinary story of Christiana, Christian's wife, and her four sons. Do read ahead! If you’re intending to get your book of Pilgrim's Progress down from the shelf, you've got a week. You don't have to read very far the first week; you just have to read a few pages by next Wednesday evening.

Now turn with me to God's word. We’re going to pick it up in chapter 28 at verse 17. Paul has now made it to Rome, following this three-month period on the island of Malta and demonstrations of miracles and signs and mighty works there on the island of Malta. He has been met along the famous Appian Way, the straight road that leads all the way into the city of Rome, that's still there to this day. Paul has been met by some brothers who have come — some thirty, some forty or more miles from the city — to meet and greet him. And eventually in the sixteenth verse, “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier that guarded him.”

Now before we read the rest of the chapter, let's look to God in prayer. Let's pray.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures. Thank You for this book, The Acts of The Apostles. We pray now once again as we read it as Your holy, infallible, inerrant word, come, Holy Spirit, and grant illumination in our minds and hearts and affections, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Verse 17:

“After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, ‘Brothers, 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. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.’ And they said to him, ‘We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for with regard to this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.’
“When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning to evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus, both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: ‘The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet,

‘Go to this people and say, ‘You will indeed hear, but never understand; and you will indeed see, but never perceive; for this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’’

“Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen.”

[And then, in some of your versions there is another verse here to the effect that Paul, having said these words, and the Jews departed, having much dispute among themselves. And then we pick it up again at verse 30.]

“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, and without hindrance.”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy, inerrant word.

Paul, having come to Rome at last — by a way that he could never have thought or planned, or even desired — is now allowed to live by himself, with a soldier chained at all times to him. Probably sixteen or so soldiers, taking it in turns of four-hour watches, something of that nature, over a period of a couple of days rotate, and spend this 24/7 chained to the Apostle Paul. At the end of the passage we learn that this will be Paul's condition for two years. He is there at his own expense. He rents a house for this purpose. He has a measure of freedom…freedom with chains, you understand. Ligon has been reminding us in the first chapter of Philippians, he writes to Philippi from this period in his life…and you remember you hear the clanking of those chains in the opening chapter of Philippians. Julian, the soldier who had come with him from Caesarea, no doubt reported that Paul was no threat and was no flight risk; he wasn't a violent man, and he's given this minimum security detail.

Three days pass. It's a short time, three days, in Jewish reckoning; perhaps in our reckoning less than a day and two nights. You might think Paul would need a month off now, having been shipwrecked at sea, having spent two years in prison in Caesarea, having spent three months on the island of Malta, having perhaps walked the journey from his landing point in Italy all the way up the Appian Way to the city of Rome–but that of course would not be the Apostle Paul. Three days…he calls the delegation of the leaders of the Jews.

Now two things to which we have no answer, and to which Luke does not give us any help: There's no mention of the church in Rome.

Where are the brothers? They came to meet him, to be sure, along the way, but that's all that we know — that there were brothers in the city of Rome. Three years earlier, of course, Paul had written the magisterial Epistle to the Romans. (Where would we be without Romans?) But Luke doesn't mention the church in Rome at all. We know from his pastoral epistles (I and II Timothy and Titus) that Onesiphorus found it difficult to find the Apostle Paul. He's probably thinking of a different period in Paul's life. After his release from this house arrest, which presumably takes place at the end of verse 31, Paul engages in further missionary endeavors. Perhaps he went to Spain; more likely, he went to Macedonia and Achaia, visiting the churches in Thessalonica and Berea and Corinth and so on. He certainly went to Crete. We know from Titus that he left Crete…he left Titus behind in Crete. He must then have been re-arrested, and following the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, under the Neronian persecution that broke out three, four, possibly five years down the line from where we are now, Paul would be re-arrested, taken to the Muratorian Prison in Rome — a difficult prison to find — and from there would be taken out, and somewhere along the Appian Way would be, according to tradition, beheaded.

It's understandable, perhaps, that the church even at this stage was aware of the growing tensions of outwardly confessing to be Christian in the city of Rome. Perhaps that's why Paul can say in II Timothy 4:17–it's a poignant moment, it's a tragic moment–“Everyone has deserted me,” he says. Paul at the end of his life will be abandoned almost by everyone, except for Onesiphorus there in the city of Rome. It's a sad, tragic end to the Apostle Paul. But Luke doesn't end there.

And secondly, what of his defense before Caesar? He’d appealed to Caesar. He was now going to make his case before Caesar–or before one of Caesar's delegates, more than likely, since Nero refused to hear any of these cases himself personally. Luke doesn't tell us because, as we shall see in a moment, that's not where he wants us to focus.

Three days pass by, and he calls this Jewish delegation. There was a big Jewish population in Rome. Some estimate it to be in the region of 50,000 Jews. They lived in a certain section of the city, Travestere, in Rome. They were blue-collar Jews, somewhat unusual at this period in history. They were socially regarded by other Jews as on the bottom of the social ladder. This may explain why there's no pursuit by the Jews in Jerusalem of Paul's case. The Jews in Rome haven't even had letters from Judea about Paul. The merchants who have been coming back and fore into the city of Rome have not spoken ill of the Apostle Paul. Perhaps the Jews, knowing that they had a very weak case to begin with…Festus, Agrippa, had given their verdict that he had done nothing wrong. Forgive me…lawyers in Rome were noted as being expensive then, and perhaps these Jews couldn't afford a trial, and they dropped it. But Paul has appealed to Caesar, and evidently the appeal was a long procrastinated event…knowing at least this much, that it took two years of Paul's life.

Now Luke draws attention in these closing verses to three things.

I. Paul's preaching.

First, he describes Paul's preaching, in verse 33. It's an astonishing and magnificent summary of The Acts of The Apostles. It gets to the heart of what The Acts of The Apostles has been about. He says that

“When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers, from morning till evening.”

No thirty-minute sermons here, you understand! This was a whole-day sermon from the Apostle Paul. “From morning to evening, he expounded to them…” [notice the verbs] “…he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God, and trying to convince…” [or, in some of your versions, persuading] “…them about Jesus, both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”

Now that's a whole lot in one verse, and at least four things come to the surface, and I want to draw attention to all four of them if I may.

First of all, just take note of the variety of preaching/teaching methods that the Apostle Paul employs. Luke has to employ at least three verbs here. He testifies, he expounds, and he convinces. And the verb to convince — or perhaps in some of your versions, to persuade — involves an emotional activity. It involves an energy. Paul was concerned about his brothers according to the flesh, these Jews. You remember in his Epistle to the Romans, in the ninth chapter of that epistle…three years previously he’d written it from Corinth, and he’d said that “I would wish that I myself were accursed, cut off…” (using loaded covenantal language of the curse of God falling upon himself) “…for the sake of [his] brothers according to the flesh, because to them [had] been given the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the Law,” and the testimony and the promises, and at least according to the flesh, Jesus Christ himself had been given to them. And he longs for their conversion. He endeavors now to persuade them to embrace this gospel message that has so transformed his heart.

And then notice, secondly, the ordinary means that he employs. You know, he doesn't employ miracles. He doesn't speak in tongues. He doesn't utter a word of prophecy. He quotes a prophecy, but he doesn't utter a prophecy. He doesn't do what he did on the island of Malta during that three-month period. All he does is take the Bible…he takes the Old Testament Scriptures, the Bible of the Jews…and all he does is expound and open up and comment upon, and draw out from what is in the word of God. The only thing that is necessary — I mean, ultimately of course the efficient cause of our regeneration is the Holy Spirit — but the instrumental means that the Spirit employs is the word of God: the living and abiding word of God. Because Paul will write about that word, about the Old Testament Scriptures, that “all Scripture” [and he's referring to the Old Testament]… “All Scripture is given by the out-breathing of God.” It's the product of God's breath. It's ordinary means that he employs.

And, thirdly, notice the language that he has used in verse 20, and now focuses upon it in verse 21, that Jesus is the hope of Israel. And what is it that he tries to persuade them about as he opens up the Old Testament Scriptures? In Moses and in the Prophets he's trying to persuade them, to convince them, about Jesus. This man who spent two years in prison in Caesarea, who's been almost killed in a shipwreck at sea, who's spent three months on the island of Malta, and is now facing another incarceration in Rome, and possibly a death sentence…and the one thing on his mind is Jesus. It's Jesus.

Doesn't this remind you, by the way…? You know, Luke is playing with you? You understand that. Because it should remind you of the way he ended Part I of his book. You know we're going to do Part I and Part II of Pilgrim's Progress...well, Luke has a Part I and Part II. His Part I of course is the gospel…The Gospel of Luke. How did Luke end his gospel, in Luke 24? With a statement very similar to this one. Jesus, on the road to Emmaus with those two forlorn disciples…and what does He do with those two disciples? Beginning with Moses and in all the Prophets, He expounded to them the things concerning himself; that the Bible, the Old Testament, is all about Jesus. And out of the Old Testament Scriptures, the promises, the prophecy, He draws that gospel plan and intention of God to save His people through sending a Savior, who is Jesus Christ. And that's what Paul is doing.

Luke is also saying how like Jesus Paul is. He's not only doing the same thing that Jesus did, but he's also of course pointing to Jesus Christ.

And then, fourthly, notice the expression — and it's an unusual expression — the kingdom of God.

What did Paul preach? The kingdom of God. And that's odd for at least a couple of reasons. One, that that phrase, the kingdom of God, only occurs three times in the Old Testament. He's expounding the Old Testament, and it's about the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is about Jesus. But actually the phrase kingdom of God only occurs in the Old Testament three times. It doesn't occur that many times in The Acts of The Apostles. It does about Paul's preaching in Ephesus, and it does about Paul's preaching in Corinth; but actually Luke had begun The Acts of The Apostles in chapter one and verse four…that's exactly how Luke had begun, by saying, “And while staying with them, He ordered them not to depart [this is Jesus] from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which He said, ‘you heard from Me, for John baptized…” …[No, the wrong verse! Wrong verse! Wherever that verse is. It's at the beginning of Acts somewhere.]

Next verse, verse six: “So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” “Will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” because in verse 3 [I've found it now!],

“To them He presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking about…” [What?] “…the kingdom of God.”

So he begins The Acts and he ends The Acts with the kingdom of God.

You see, even though the expression the kingdom of God only occurs three times in the Old Testament, the Old Testament is all about the King. It's all about the rule and reign of God. It's all about God's determinate council and foreknowledge to save a people for Himself, through the gift of the seed of the woman that will crush the head of Satan. That's the message of the Old Testament Scriptures. It's about the King. It's about God's rule. It's about God's reign. “Ask of Me, and I will give you the uttermost parts of the world for your inheritance…” and “He must rule until [Psalm 110] He puts all His enemies at his feet as a footstool.” …Upon all His enemies. It's about the kingdom of God.

II. The response to Paul's preaching.

Well, secondly, Luke describes not only the preaching of the apostle, but he describes the response to that preaching. And he tells us that some were persuaded. He tries to persuade them. And using the same verb, Luke says “And some were persuaded.” They believed. They heard the message about Jesus Christ as the only Savior of sinners, the center and core of the Old Testament Scriptures, and they believed. God the Spirit regenerated them, quickened them. They came to faith and trusted in Jesus Christ.

And some others disbelieved [verse 24]. Some believed, and some disbelieved. It's always the way, isn't it? It's been the story throughout The Acts of The Apostles that some believed and some disbelieved. And Paul is here addressing the Jews, and he quotes now this word from Isaiah 6, where Isaiah, remember, was in the temple; and he saw the glory of God, and he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am undone! And I'm a man of unclean lips, and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips.” And God commissions him: “Who will go for Me?” And Isaiah says that he will go. And then…and then…God says to him that he will go to a people and speak to those people, but they will not hear him. Their eyes will be blind, and their ears will be stopped up, and their mouths won't open with praise to God, because God is coming in judgment. It's a word of judicial covenantal judgment that Isaiah will preach. In the context, of course, it's a warning of the coming of the Assyrians, and it's a warning about the coming of the Babylonians, and the captivity, and the destruction of Israel and Judah and Samaria and Jerusalem. God is coming in judgment. And here is the fulfillment of it yet again; Paul sees that the Jews, those who had the covenants, those who had the adoption, those who had the glory, those who had the Prophets, those who, according to the flesh, had Jesus Christ; but they've rejected Him. And a judicial hardening has come upon them. They reject, but it's a judicial hardening at the same time.

And He turns to the Gentiles, and He says they will listen. They will listen.

III. Paul continues to preach with boldness.

And then, in the third place, this postscript…this curious way of ending The Acts of The Apostles. There's nothing about his appeal to Caesar; nothing about what happened next; nothing about his release; nothing about further missionary journeys; nothing about his re-arrest; nothing about his death and execution. But a little picture, a little cameo of a man under arrest, chained to a Roman soldier. And what is he doing? Preaching with boldness. Preaching with boldness the kingdom of God. It's a picture of a man evangelizing with a heart for the lost, and a heart for the glory of God, and a heart that beats for Jesus Christ.

You know, in the Greek text, the last word is an adverb: without hindrance. He preaches without hindrance. It's as though Luke is saying “To be continued….” Don't you hate that when you’re watching something on TV, and it says… [I hate that!]… “To be continued.” You've got to wait another week, or sometimes you've got to wait all summer long to find out what happened next. Well, there's a sort of “to be continued” here, because there's yet more for the gospel to conquer. There are yet more for God to gather in.

You know, if Luke had ended The Acts of The Apostles with Paul being executed, our focus would be upon the Apostle Paul. But Paul wouldn't want that. The focus must be upon the gospel! The focus must be upon the purpose of God. The focus must be upon God's rule and reign.

“Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also.

The body they may kill;

God's truth abideth still;

His kingdom is forever!

His kingdom is forever. You see, it's as though at the end Luke is saying, “Now pray The Lord's Prayer with me: “Thy kingdom come….” and we're focused heavenwards, and upwards, and to Jesus and to glory, and, yes, to First Presbyterian Church — because these folks here, our brothers and sisters, need also to be called until all are gathered in, and

“Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Doth his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wain no more.”

It's a beautiful way to end The Acts of The Apostles, because he's saying, ‘Well, there's more; and there's more than just the death of the Apostle Paul. It's about the glory of God. It's about the power of the gospel. It's about the purposes of God, which are sure, and yea and amen in Jesus Christ.’

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for the gospel: that it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. We thank You for this glimpse that we've seen in The Acts of The Apostles of the almighty purpose and plan. Help us tonight to rejoice in it, to glory in it, that we too might see none but Jesus only. Hasten that day, O Lord, when You will “come again on the clouds of heaven with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise, and those who are alive shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” So keep us as pilgrims, marching toward that eternal city which has foundations, and whose builder and maker is God. And hear us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.