PAUL PREACHES THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN ROME

 

Acts 28:1-31

Key Verse: 28:31

 

“Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

At the end of October 2003 last year we began our study of the book of Acts. Today by the grace of God we will now hear the Sunday message on the last chapter in Acts. As for me this Bible study journey through the book of Acts has blessed my life in practical ways. I hope it has been a blessing to you too. Acts 1:8 gave the theme, purpose and mission of the book of Acts. The resurrected Jesus told his disciples in Jerusalem “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Twenty eight chapters later we can see this incredible mission Jesus gave to his first Apostles is now complete. The last two verses in Acts 28 read: “For two who years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”  If we lived in Rome when Paul had taught there for those two years we too could have gone up to his rented house and knocked on it.  Apostle Paul would have gladly welcomed us in. Then he would have proceeded to boldly and without hindrance teach us about the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us now do the next best thing. Let us go and knock on that door by way of studying about how the Holy Sprit helped Paul arrive in Rome and teach the Bible to all who came to visit him.

 

Part 1.  Paul a servant on the Island of Malta

 

Last week Shepherd Steve kept us on the edge of our seat with his high adventure message from Acts 27. We saw Paul began his voyage as a prisoner on the ship. By the end of the chapter through the power of the Holy Spirit he had established himself as the undisputed master and commander of the ship. Under Paul’s command the ship’s journey did not end in another Titanic type tragedy. Because the ship crew repented and began to listen to Paul’s guidance all 276 souls aboard the ship were able to reach land safety. Look at verse 1: “Once safely on shore, we find the island landed on was called Malta. Malta was 60 miles south of Sicily, which in effect placed Paul about 100 miles south of Rome. Therefore we see God used this terrible storm Paul and his companions found themselves in for two weeks for their good. Without it they would never have made such good time in their journey to Rome. We are reminded even the worst possible storms we find ourselves in, if we keep our courage and faith in Jesus in the end the storm will work out for our good. Look at verse 2: “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.”   In the King James Version the word islanders is exchanged with the word: “barbarous people.” From our association with the word barbarous we tend to think of hostile cannibals such as found in Daniel Defoe’s classical novel: “Robinson Crusoe.” Taking the word in its proper Bible contexts as its used here we see these islanders give a noble meaning to the description barbarous people. They showed a ship full of prisoners, sailors and soldiers unusual kindness by building a warm fire for them since each one of the men was chilled to the bone.

Paul was the main reason for the good fortune that was falling on all who were on the ship. He was also considered the unofficial captain. It would seem reasonable Paul should sit down and relax while others do the work. Is this what Paul did? Look at verse 3a: “Paul gathered a pile of brushwood.” At Camp Letts they have written above their fire place something that goes like this; “Warm yourself twice cut your own wood.” People who have a distorted view of leadership cannot even pick up one stick to help feed the fire. They think the work is too beneath them. Paul on the other hand had Jesus’ view of leadership which was whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. Paul was not only warming himself by finding wood for the fire. He was serving all 276 passengers and crew members. How is Paul rewarded by helping to warm his very cold passengers? He is attacked by a viper that was driven from the brushwood he was throwing into the fire. The viper fastens itself on Paul’s hand with his venomous fangs. Some people would have become hysterical and started screaming; “Help, help, get this viper off me.” Paul on the other hand kept his cool. He placed his hand that had the viper fasten to it and shook it over the fire until the heat of the fire caused the viper to release itself from Paul. Many of people have stopped doing good for people because something bad has happened to them in the process of them doing good. Paul teaches us we should just shake off the bad things that happen to us when we do good for others. Look at Jesus Christ. He is our best example. He spent his whole messianic ministry on earth serving sinners, lepers, and religious people. In the end they crucified him. Now through his glorious resurrection we learn the path to glory does not come through being glorified on this earth for the good we do. James 1:12 teaches us: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  Paul’s misfortune of being bit by a viper quickly resulted in that normal human reaction connecting one’s misfortune with sin.

           

Look at verses 4-6: “When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.’  But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.” This is a classic example people whose faith is entirely based on situation. Their faith changes 180 degree with every new situation. Paul on the other hand had faith in the unchanging grace of God. He didn’t even miss a beat after getting rid of the viper. He continued to boldly collect more brushwood while everyone else was laying out bets on whether he would swell up or just suddenly die. We see people’s emotional reactions and bad situations around Paul did sway Paul’s faith in the slightest bit. Paul is an example our faith should be entirely base on the unchanging one sided grace of God. One day will be a good day. The next day will be a bad day. On the other hand everyday we have God’s word telling us in Romans 5:8 “While we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

            The next event of significant Luke wrote about was Publius the chief official of the island. He welcomed Paul and his companions. Certainly the centurion Julius had shared with Publius how God used Paul to help save everyone on the ship. For three days Publius entertained Paul and his companions hospitably. While staying in his house Paul learned Publius’ father was extremely ill with a fever and dysentery. According to Missionary Luke Jeong having a fever and dysentery together shows the old man had a bacterial infection. Since this was about 2000 years before the invention of penicillin the man was certainly on his death bed. Paul went to see him. The Bible doesn’t tell what he may have said to this very sick man. We do see he did pray for him, then laid his hands on him and healed him. Word quickly spread Paul had the gift of healing. As a result the rest of the sick were brought to Paul and his companions. All were cured. We see the Holy Spirit through Paul was able to heal every type of illness. Everywhere Paul went he was a channel through which the Holy Spirit could work to heal, save, and share the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul is now long gone but the Holy Spirit that used Paul is still among all who believe in Jesus Christ. Let us pray wherever we go the Holy Spirit may also use our life as his channel to bless, save, heal and share the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Look at verse 10.  Paul and those on his ship three months earlier had been washed up on this island with nothing but few ragged clothes clinging to their wet chilled bodies. On this day the islanders are sending them off with great honor and enough supplies to take care of all their needs till they get to Rome. As for the islanders I am sure Paul and his companions left them with the spiritual riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope of the kingdom of God.

 

Part 2.  “And So We Came to Rome”

 

Look at verse 11.  “After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.” Here again we see the providence of God. At the island Paul found himself shipwrecked on their just happened to be a ship also wintering there.” Julius the centurion in charge was able to gain passage for Paul and his companion to sail to Rome in this ship. Look at verses 12-14.  “And so we reached Rome” our Bible tells us. At last Paul’s vision to go to Rome which first began more than three years ago in Acts 19:21 has come to pass. Looking back hardship after hardship was put in his way to discourage him and stop him. Jews constantly were looking for opportunities to ambush and kill him. He was held as prisoner for two years in a Roman prison. For fourteen days he sailed in a ship that was thrown around in a hurricane like a bottle in a washing machine.  However God helped him overcome every hardship and now finally arrive in Rome. Look at verse 15: “The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” What really brightened Paul’s spirit was the sight of brothers who had come to welcome him to Rome. Paul’s first response was to remember to thank God. How often do we pray to God to help us to overcome hardships to achieve a goal? Once we achieve it we forget to thank God. Paul didn’t forget to thank God. The first words he said when he arrived in Rome were to give thanks to God. Moreover we see the Christian brothers welcoming him encouraged him. Even the greatest servant of God needs encouragement. How much more do we need to be encouraged by others? This is why we cannot be solo Christians. We need the encouragement of other Christians and we also need to encourage the people around us with words and acts of encouragement. Verse 16 reads: “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.” In Rome God provided a comfortable place for Paul to stay. Our Bible says a soldier was with him to guard him. We will later see God used this Roman guard as Paul’s own body guard to help him boldly and without hindrance preach the kingdom of God and teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.

           

Look at verses 16-20.  Paul practiced and taught that the Jews should be the first to hear the gospel. First he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings with Jewish brothers in Rome. Paul told them he was not in chains because of a crime he was found guilty in court for committing. Nor did he go to Rome to bring any charge against his own Jewish people. Paul made it clear to them it was for the hope of Israel that he was bound with a chain. As long as Paul was in chains he would tell all who would listen to him that it was because of the hope of Israel he was in chains. We must ask: “What hope is worth being in chains for?” This was certainly the question of these Jewish leaders were interested in finding out. Verse 22 they tell Paul “But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.” Paul did not think the timing was right to expound the meaning of the hope of Israel in this first meaning. Therefore, both parties in verse 23 arranged to meet another day to talk more together. At the next meeting even a larger number of Jewish brothers showed up to listen to Paul. Maybe they were like most people. They too wanted to have a hope that was so great it made even living in chains bearable. Now in verse 23b Paul begins his day long explanation in the hope of Israel.  “From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the Kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” From morning till evening Paul explained and declared. As a Sunday messenger I found the target time most people want the Sunday message to last is 30 minutes. If it lasts more this I will hear people discretely come up to me and say: “Your message was good even though it was a bit long.”  Fitting in my own estimates on Paul’s message time here, he may have started around 8 am in the morning and ended around 8pm in the evening. About 12 hours of preaching. This shows both Paul’s sincerity to share his hope with his Jewish brothers and his deep knowledge about the subject.

 

The true hope of Israel was the hope of the Messiah coming to establish the kingdom of God. This hope is what has allowed Israel to survive as people when countless other countries have become nothing more than by words in history books. Often people get this hope confused with hope in this world. The Jews hoped a Messiah would come and free them from Roman occupation. In America we have something called the American dream. This is a hope for a materially comfortable life in this world. These are all dead hopes because when they’re achieved they quickly wither and die like all things in this world. Missionary Joseph Chun last week went to visit his dying father. He said his father had a vision of both hell and the kingdom of God. The point is on his death bed the kingdom of God was the only hope he could look forward to after his death. Everything else offered nothing but darkness and suffering. If you want to know more detail about his vision of God’s kingdom Missionary Joseph told us we can find its description in Rev. 21 and 22.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees in Luke 17 the question: “When would the kingdom of God come?" Jesus told them: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here is,’ or There it is" because the kingdom of God is within you.” What a powerful thought!  The greatest kingdom of all, God’s kingdom is within us.  Paul was a prisoner of Rome the greatest kingdom of the world in its day. Nevertheless because he had the hope of the Kingdom of God within him he was not held hostage from God’s kingdom. About four years later under Nero’s authority Paul is beheaded. Nero’s execution did not kill Paul. In this matter Paul shared his firm belief in Philippians 1:21-23: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Paul’s execution allowed him to finally turn his hope into a reality. He went to be with his Lord forever.

 

How then does the Kingdom of God begin to grow and reign within us? Jesus taught how in Mark 1:15: “The time has come.  Jesus said “The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.” We can know God’s kingdom is within us when we repent of our thoughts and practices that do not please God. Then replace them with faith in Jesus Christ. Remember the message Paul gave to King Agrippa in Acts 26: Paul told him Jesus was sending him to the Jews and Gentiles to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Only those who are sanctified will live forever in the holy kingdom of God. This sanctification process is accomplished by faith in Jesus Christ. The way I try to apply this in my own life is to struggle to repent or stop entertaining anti-Bible thoughts. I replace them by focusing my faith in Jesus Christ. Such a struggle is called overcoming this world. By fighting this struggle to the end then like Paul we will eventually leave this world and go and share with Christ his eternal glory.

 

            Secondly Paul labored hard to convince these Jewish leaders about Jesus from the Law of Moses and the Prophets. If you are a Jewish leader anything that was taught that could not be supported by the Law of Moses and the Prophets was a lie and heresy. They were not interested in hearing about such things as: “This is what the Lord said to me or this is what the Lord showed me.” They wanted Paul to show them where in the Law of Moses was Jesus taught and where in the Prophets was he revealed? From Genesis to Malachi he opened up scripture that pointed to the birth, life, death, resurrection and eternal reign of Jesus Christ. The coming of Jesus is first announced in Genesis 3:15 when God said to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heal.” God’s promise to bless all Gentiles of the world through Jesus is found in Genesis 22:18 where God promised Abraham; “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” The prophet Isaiah is filled with prophecies foretelling Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. In speaking of his death for sins, Is 53:5 reads: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” Then in looking forward to his resurrections and the justification he will give to those who have faith in him Is 53:11 says; “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” If it is not Jesus these scriptures speak about who then do they speak about? Jesus Christ life perfectly fulfills all these scripture. It isn’t as if these scriptures are a perfect circle and Jesus is a square. Paul then had to take many scriptures out of context to fit Jesus into them. Jesus life was the perfect peace missing from the puzzle these scriptures were teaching about. Anyone who had a humble and open mind could easily see it for themselves.

What was the result of Paul’s all day and into the evening teaching?  Look at verses 24-27.  Paul loved his Jewish brothers with true love. He could see their hearts had become calloused making them unable to hear. Therefore he gave them God’s word that could surgically cut out the callousness that had built up on their hearts. A calloused heart is what any of us can experience when we become proud and think we know it all. How do we know we have a calloused heart? One sure sign is when we stop listening to God’s word that helps us to live a life of repentance, faith and obedience. Missionary Luke Jeong is a medical doctor. As a doctor he could have a know-it-all attitude. Instead he is full of enthusiasm and freshness when it comes to studying the Bible. Talk to him about the Bible. He will not respond by saying: “Yes, yes I know that already.” Instead he welcomes the opportunity to talk with anyone about the Bible.

Look at verse 30: “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. God provided Paul two whole years to set up a rented house to teach the Bible to anyone who came to see him. Verse 31 shows us what the contents of his teaching would be about.  “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” During Paul’s entire ministry as an Apostle the Jews and Gentiles hindered him from preaching. Finally in Rome because he was constantly under a Roman guard he could preach without hindrance for two whole years.  As a result those two years became one of Paul’s most fruitful years: He wrote the timeless letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. In his Ephesians letter he writes about spiritual warfare and the need to dress in the full armor of God. Certainly this part of his letter was inspired by the Rome guards who were constantly guarding him while being dressed in their full armor.

In concluding our reading on Acts we are not told what happen to Paul. Notice however what the last words are. “…taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the real point of Acts -not to teach us about Paul but to teach about Jesus Christ. Jesus gave his apostles in Acts 1 the mission to go into the whole world and the mission to be his witnesses. That started out with 120 believers. By Acts 28 they could in one sense say “Mission complete.”  It was an awesome miracle of God. It changed the world upside down. The story of the meek man Jesus from Nazareth swept across the world conquering darkness and fear in its path. It opened the eyes of countless people who lived in the shadow of death to the true light of life. The message about Jesus freed people everywhere from countless centuries of living under the power of Satan and death. Finally in Rome the capital of the world Paul is allowed to preach the good news of the kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ without hindrance. Looking at it from the Holy Spirit’s view point Acts does not end abruptly. It ends with a shout of triumph. 

            From this chapter and from the study of Acts we learn the Holy Spirit wants our hope to be anchored in the resurrection and eternal life in God’s kingdom. Now that we have finished studying Acts let us pray we may practice what we have learned. Let us pray Jesus may fill us with his Holy Spirit to empower us to be his witnesses to the ends of the world.