Reflections on the Book of Acts #28: Paul, Rome, and the Witness of the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit

So we’ve reached the end. This is the last chapter of Acts. I’ve really enjoyed being able to share these thoughts and committing to doing so kept me faithful in reading. There have been a few times when I didn’t post as early as I’d like, but I still haven’t missed a day. Of course, there’s an enormous amount more to the Book of Acts than what I’ve shared. But my plan was always to share one brief thought on each chapter, not to write a thorough essay or point by point sermon. I’m already thinking about what book of the Bible I might read through next, so stay tuned!

Here’s a link to Acts 28.

And now on to the last reflection.

Sometimes it’s the little details in the narrative that grab my attention. Here are a few examples:

Once safely ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people showed us extraordinary kindness. They lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold.

Acts 28:1-2 CSB

I love how the author/narrator includes that detail about the extraordinary kindness of the local residents of Malta towards Paul and his shipmates.

One point here I ought to mention is the use of the first-person plural “we.” Acts has a number of places where the narration switches from third-person to first. Scholars call these the “we” passages, and typically understand this to mean these are times when Luke, the writer of Acts, was accompanying Paul. That also lends much more credibility to the account, since the author was sometimes a direct witness and even participant in the event.

Now in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days.

Acts 28:7 CSB

Again, we see how a warm detail is added. Not only is it a historical detail but it paints a picture of the experience they were having. It conjures up images of conversation, sharing meals, and possibly even new friendships.

There we found brothers and sisters and were invited to stay a week with them. And so we came to Rome. Now the brothers and sisters from there had heard the news about us and had come to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

Acts 28:14-15 CSB

It had been a very long, arduous journey. But Paul finally had finally made it to Rome. He’s greeted and encouraged by fellow believers. We all need encouragement from our fellow Christians along this often difficult path of following Jesus.

When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

Acts 28:16 CSB

We’re not told much here, but I wonder if this guard is the same centurion responsible for Paul and who had already acted on his behalf previously on the trip (see previous chapter). Makes me wonder what kind of impact knowing Paul had on his life. He wouldn’t be the first Roman soldier who came to faith through Paul’s witness.

Paul then made arrangements to meet with the Jewish leaders in Rome, so he could tell them his story:

Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.

Acts 28:24 CSB

This is a mystery. Why are some people responsive to the gospel, while others are not? There is much we do not understand about how God works. Paul knew that but was committed to preaching and evangelizing. He knew his calling and was content to leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Acts ends on an up note:

Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Acts 28:30-31 CSB

Under house arrest, Paul continues to proclaim Christ to everyone who drops by to visit. He lived unafraid of what anyone could do to him. To live is Christ and to die is gain, as he put it himself elsewhere. No wonder he was bold. No one had any power over him. No earthly power or authority could shut him up or keep him from sharing the grace of God in Jesus. This would remain his mission until he was brought before Caesar.

Paul is a preeminent example of a life utterly transformed by the good news and filled to overflowing with the Spirit. Because of the peace he had in Jesus, he lived with a spiritual freedom that left him undeterred by the threat of persecution and death. Paul knew who he was and what his life was about: Jesus Christ and the power of his death and resurrection.

The Book of Acts, both in the earlier chapters and in the ones focusing on Paul, is about how the power of God in the Holy Spirit empowers the church to be a witness to the person of Jesus.

It is an inspiration and a challenge to us in the church today. After over two millennia of church history, we certainly can’t duplicate the life of the first disciples in our context. But as our culture becomes increasingly anti-Christian and not only non-Christian, we would do well to reflect on the bold witness of the early believers.

We need to recover the distinctness of the Christian worldview, the scandal of the gospel of Christ, and find a way of living out our faith with conviction and winsomeness. We need to be bold and unafraid of how strange and perhaps even objectionable we may seem to anyone not sharing our beliefs. And we must do this while living humbly, with the hearts of servants, as we love God and love our neighbours.

And for all this we need the power of God in the Holy Spirit. None of this is possible without the Spirit. We need fresh gospel perspective. We need spiritual awakening, for our Lord in his grace to open our eyes lovingly and graciously.

Thus ends the sermon.

I guess I’m just wondering what a book like Acts would look like if it were being written today about our churches here and now.

Would such a book inspire and encourage later generations of Christians?

Wouldn’t we want it to?

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