The last time we were in Acts, God, as promised, preserved the lives of all on board. While their ship sank, everyone reached the shores of Malta safely.
In this final chapter of Acts, Luke records some interesting details about how God continued to protect and use Paul. While gathering wood for the fire, a viper fastens on his hands. The natives assumed that Paul was an evil man being punished, since although he just escaped from a sinking ship, he was now bitten by a poisonous snake. They were expecting Paul to swell up and die, but as nothing happened to Paul, they started to think that Paul was a god.
Then Paul healed the father of a village leader through prayer and laying on of hands, and soon, the sick people came to Paul and were healed. By the time they were to leave the island, they were honoring Paul and they provided all the provisions they needed.
After three months in Malta, they set sail and finally reach Rome. Many believers in the area came to greet them. Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier guarding him.
Paul gathers the local Jewish leaders and explains why he is in Rome. The leaders had not heard any reports of Paul from the Jews of Jerusalem, nor heard any negative reports about him. They wanted to hear Paul’s message and set a date to meet.
On that date, many Jews of the areas showed up to Paul’s residence and Paul explained about Jesus from morning to evening. Some were convinced, while others refused to believe. As they were leaving, Paul told them that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles.
And the book of Acts ends on this: 30He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Most scholars believe that Luke wrote this book well after the Romans executed Paul. So we are left to wonder why Luke ended the story here, rather than with Paul’s death.
If we go back to the beginning of the book and reread Luke’s introduction, it becomes a little clearer. Luke reminds us that in his first book (The Gospel According to Luke), he wrote about what Jesus did and taught, as well as his crucifixion and resurrection. About how Jesus told the disciples to not leave Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit, who will empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. And finally, Luke writes about how Jesus was lifted into the sky and the angels telling them that Jesus will come back. Then Luke continues with how Judas’ replacement was chosen, and how the Holy Spirit came to them during Pentecost. The rest of the book is how the Holy Spirit worked with the church and individuals so that the gospel of how Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the Savior of the world could be spread to the ends of the earth.
So, the book is not primarily about Paul. If it were, then the account of Paul’s death would be included. But in the book of Acts, Paul is one of many faithful servants that helped to spread the gospel. The book is more about how the Holy Spirit will help the believers to live and spread the gospel in the time before the return of Jesus.
We might envy Paul that he had such concrete evidence that he was a chosen vessel – The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus; specific instructions and visions that God had given to them concerning Paul’s mission; manifestation of God’s power through Paul (healings, exorcisms, etc.); miraculous healings from being stoned, shipwrecked, snakebites; etc. But not too many of us would change places with Paul.
If we look closely at our lives, we probably can find those times that God had protected us for His purpose.
Even if nothing comes to mind, the fact that we are saved and alive tells us that God has use for us. And even if we are not sure exactly what we are supposed to do until either death or the return of Christ happens, we know that we have been created to do good works that God has planned for us – to be witnesses to the ends of the earth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. To Paul, the ends of the earth was Spain. We are not certain that Paul ever got there, but Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that this was his intent.
Thanks to the internet and air travel, the ends of the earth for us could be anywhere on earth. But whether it ends up being our neighborhood, city, county, state, country, continent, or the world, let us continue to be witnesses for Christ as long as we live here on earth, with the help of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we see the believers in Acts doing, and Paul is one of the best examples on how to live.
(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano with us on Sunday, January 8, 2023.)