The Unbound Gospel
Sermon Text: Acts 28:17-31
Sermon Theme: The end of Acts is just the beginning of the mission of the Church. So, let us share the unbound gospel wherever the Lord plants us.
Luke’s account of Paul’s activity in Rome is silent on two of the points that would most interest us: the result of his appeal to Caesar and his relationship with the Christian church that already existed in Rome. All the interest is centered on Paul’s relationship with the non-Christian Jews. He summons their representatives to meet with him and explains briefly how he has come to Rome as a result of Jewish charges brought against him in Judea; this gives him the opportunity to explain the nature of the Christian message to them, but his words had a mixed reception. When they were unable to come to any agreement among themselves, Paul spoke out in condemnation of their blindness and stubbornness in refusing the gospel, and then declared himself free to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles. For the remaining two years which Luke describes Paul accordingly preached and ministered to the Gentiles. Thus the final picture which is presented to the reader is of Paul’s last appeal to the Jews and his acceptance of a call to the Gentiles. The impression conveyed is that Paul felt throughout his ministry the duty to go first to the Jews and that it was when they refused the message that he went to the Gentiles… It gives a climax to the book in that the missionary program of Acts 1:8 is now brought to a decisive point: the gospel has come to the capital city, and it is proclaimed without hindrance to the Gentiles; the church is on the brink of further expansion, with Paul’s hope of reaching Spain (Romans 15:24; Romans 15:28) in the background and indicating the direction for further advance. The church is thus given its marching orders: Rome is a stage on the way, and not the final goal. In principle it is free to ignore the Jews, at least for the time being (Luke 21:24), and to go to the Gentiles.
[From Tyndale New Testament Commentaries]
- Are you willing to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus to the unbelieving world? For Paul’s aim in meeting with the Jews was for their forgiveness and reconciliation with God — Paul had no desire for vengeance again them. God has provided His kaleidoscope of spiritual privileges for believers for one overarching purpose: that they may proclaim the excellencies of Christ. There is no higher privilege than to be a herald for the gospel. Proclaim (exangeilēte) is from a Greek word that means to publish, or advertise and to do so in the sense of telling something otherwise unknown. That which is generally unknown and which Paul encourages believers to publicize is the excellencies of Christ, the Savior. Excellencies (aretas) can imply the ability to perform powerful, heroic deeds. Contrary to what it might indicate in English, the term refers more to those kinds of actions than to some intrinsic royal attributes or qualities. Christians have the distinct privilege of telling the world that Christ has the power to accomplish the extraordinary work of redemption (See Acts 5:31-32; Psalm 66:3-5; John 5:36 regarding God’s amazing acts). For God to choose undeserving sinners as His representatives and use them to gather other sinners to Himself is a privilege beyond all expectation. It caused Paul to write: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:12-17).
- As a believer, are you placing a precious value in Jesus Christ, possessing a genuine affection for Him, which is in itself a spiritual privilege given to you beyond measure? Such is the heavenly benefit in the joy of loving Jesus. For Jesus told the Jews in John 8:42, “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” In the Upper Room Discourse, He told the apostles, “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father” (John 16:27). Believing in Christ and loving Him are inseparable privileges that we can enjoy (1 Corinthians 8:3; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 5:1). But only those who believe manifest a surpassing love for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). In contrast to that, are those who disbelieve ― they do not and will not love Christ. The Jews were the builders who rejected Christ (the stone) and did not accept the One who became the very corner stone (1 Peter 2:4). To them Jesus was worthless as God’s cornerstone because He did not fit their preconceived idea of what the Messiah needed to be like. Such rejection was tragic but not surprising, as indicated in Isaiah 8:14-15, which predicted that Messiah would be considered “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to most of the Jews. A stone of stumbling was any stone that people could trip over as they moved down a road, and a rock of offense was the rock bed they could be crushed against after they fell over the other stone. The symbolism being that the Jews threw away the true cornerstone, then wound up falling over it to be finally crushed in judgment by the same rock (Luke 20:17-18). God does not actively destine people to unbelief; but He does appoint judgment on every unbeliever (John 3:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Hebrews 3:19). God judges unbelievers as a consequence of their lack of love for Him, their disobedience to His Word, and their refusal to believe in Him. Paul told the Corinthians, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
- Why do the Jews not listen to the truth? Why are only some persuaded but the rest are not? Did Paul do something wrong? Should he have changed how he taught? Should he have made it easier? Notice what Paul says in Acts: 28:26-27, “you will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; lest they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I heal them.” In this quotation from Isaiah, Paul explains why people do not listen. The problem is not with the word. The problem is not with the message. The problem is not with the delivery. The quotation says that they will keep on hearing but never understand. They will keep on looking but they are not going to grasp it. So, what is the problem? Acts 28:27 says that the hearts of the people have grown callous. Their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes. If this were not the case, then they would see, they would hear and they would understand. Then they would turn, and the Lord would heal them. Do you see what God says the problem is? The problem is with the person. They do not want to see. They do not want to hear. They have made their hearts hard. This is why Paul says that he will go to the Gentiles just as the Lord instructed him to do. The problem is not that they need more time. The problem is not that the presentation needs to be changed. The problem is that they do not want to see. The heart is hard toward the truth. They are seeing it but do not want to see it. They hear it but do not want to hear it. Nevertheless, all that we can do is show them Jesus. We need to make sure that we are showing people Jesus and not something else. We need to make sure that we are shining light so that the blind can see. We need to do what we see Paul doing as the book of Acts ends. He was proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. The sudden stop is implying that we are the ones who continue the mission. The mission of Acts has not ended. Jesus is continuing to do his work from heaven on earth through the proclaiming of His Word to the world.
- What have we done with our limitations? Have we taken them into a pit of self-pity so we can wallow in hopelessness and impotency? Or have we given them to God so he can do his greatest works through us, not the least of which is building a gloriously indomitable spirit? There were all sorts of hindrances, only from a human point of view, in the church’s history if we look at the situations in Acts and what came after. Persecution is a hindrance, and Paul had experienced plenty of that. He had been beaten, stoned, falsely accused, and arrested. Now he was in prison. He could not move about as he might have wished. There was opposition from Paul’s own people, the Jews. There was indifference on the part of the Roman authorities. But in spite of these external hindrances, which were great, the gospel was not hindered because the Word of God cannot be bound. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? When we talk to people about Jesus Christ we are often conscious of the hindrances in us. We do not seem to have the answers to their questions, at times. We wish we could present the gospel more clearly and wisely. We wish we had more experience to draw from. And there are hindrances in the people too: They are hostile, out of touch, or indifferent. People do not want the gospel today any more than they wanted it in the days of Jesus Christ or Paul. Yet, in spite of these hindrances, the Word of God itself is not hindered. Our task is merely to make it known, knowing that the God for whom all things are possible will bless it, since He has promised to do so. For God says of the Word that goes out from His mouth: “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purposes for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Nothing that men can do can stop the progress and ultimate victory of the gospel. For Luke did not write his book simply to record ancient history. He wrote to encourage the church in every age to be faithful to the Lord and carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. “What was begun with so much heroism ought to be continued with ardent zeal,” said Charles Spurgeon, “since we are assured that the same Lord is mighty still to carry on His heavenly designs.”
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