Reader: “Some were persuaded by the things he said,”
Response: “but others did not believe.”
Scripture: Acts 28:23-31
So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: “The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,
‘Go and say to this people:
When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’
So I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.”
For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.
A surface reading of this account will miss the context of the situation. Understanding some background of the dynamics of this passage will help. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem had Paul arrested and wanted to have him killed. The Roman government officials found no reason for a death sentence so Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome in chains. The setting for this text is: Paul has just arrived and has called for a meeting with the Jewish leaders living in Rome. Paul asked for the meeting with the leaders to fill them in on the details of why he was there and also so he could get to know them. He wanted to tell them that the Messiah had already come. This is apparently Paul’s first imprisonment (c.60-62 A.D.). He was later released. It appears his appeal to Caesar was dropped by the Roman courts and Paul was released. Later on he was arrested a second time (c.64 A.D.) and beheaded by Nero.
The response of the crowd and the leaders was that they had heard nothing about Paul’s circumstances. What they were interested in was what he believed. Then comes a very interesting sentence―this is the sentence before today’s passage begins.
“The only thing we know about this movement [Christianity] is that it is denounced everywhere.” Now we move to today’s pericope.
Notice in his defense of the gospel, Paul uses their own Old Testament Scriptures. He starts with where his audience is and what they know. He works in the territory with which they are familiar. Using the Torah and the writings of the prophets he shows them Jesus in the First Testament. He spent the whole day working his way through the Scriptures. (I would love to have heard that discourse!)
Some of the crowd believed and others did not. As you might guess, there was a busy “discussion” and interaction with Paul as he taught. Paul expressed some disconsternation when quoting Isaiah. Those who rejected the gospel did so on three accounts: 1) they willfully shut their ears and didn’t really hear what was being said, 2) they closed their eyes to keep from comprehending, and 3) as a result, their hearts were hardened and they had no understanding as to what Paul was saying. In short, they were deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. (There are none so deaf as those who will not hear, none so blind as those who will not see.) With the Jewish rejection of the Messiah, Paul would then take the message to the Gentiles.
The good news was that Paul was allowed to preach in Rome which he did during the next couple of years without hindrance from anyone. (There is some indication that the soldiers who guarded him became believers. It is quite possible that they were chained to him at all times!)
I would like to draw our attention to three things from this passage. First, Paul makes very clear that the Old Testament is filled with Christ from beginning to end. The Jews demonstrated a knowledge of the details yet missed seeing the Messiah. I watched a Yom Kippur service last night (I’m writing this in September) as the people in the synagogue prayed seeking forgiveness with these words. “You have given us this Day of Atonement, that our sins may cease and be forgiven, and that we may turn back to You and do Your will with a perfect heart.” What was glaring was there was no assurance of forgiveness. Their sins have already been atoned for. I wanted to walk into that synagogue and proclaim “Your Messiah has come and forgiven all your sin. Take off your blinders, unstop your ears.” Study the First Testament, it will give you a bigger sense of our Savior.
Second, did you notice that though Paul was in chains, the gospel was not! No matter what happens in the world, the gospel will never be silenced. It has weathered centuries of attack and concerted effort to destroy it, yet nations and kingdoms come and go but the gospel of Jesus Christ marches relentlessly on through millennia after millenia. Never fear that Christianity will be wiped out. The true Church is victorious. Remember, the devil, via king Herod, tried to kill God’s Son. God’s plan will never be thwarted.
Third, talking against Christianity is not new. The good news of salvation in Jesus Christ will always get bad public press. It did in Paul’s day and in ours as well. Today is no different. The phrase just prior to today’s passage read, “the only thing we know about this movement is that it is denounced everywhere.” You surely have noticed how any Judeo-Christian value is generally portrayed negatively in today’s press―marriage, abortion, gender, faith, biblical absolutes. The pejorative attitude toward Christianity was present in Paul’s day and in ours. The encouraging thing from this portion of Luke’s writing is that it didn’t slow down Paul in the least. Encouraging words for us as well. Keep on proclaiming the good news of the gospel in the places God puts you. “My word which goes from my mouth will not return to me empty. It will do what I want it to do, and will carry out my plan well.” Is. 55:11
Music: “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” Luther Nordic Choir
Wake, awake, for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight’s solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
Prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet
Go forth, the Bridegroom meet: Alleluia!
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.
Hear thy praise, O Lord, thy praise
Of tongues of men and angels praise,
Of tongues and lute and psaltery.
By thy pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder
In choral melody. Alleluia!
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught such bliss and joy,
We raise the song, we swell the throng,
To praise thee ages all along. Alleluia!
To praise thee ages all along.
Lord God in heaven, with the ubiquitous commercialism and relentless politicization of Christmas we find this world continues its assault on the truth of the gospel and the never ending attempts to discredit the truth of the Scriptures. In these last days leading up to the Nativity of Jesus, help us to speak the truth in love. Help us to point the deaf and the blind to the reconciling birth of the Savior. Holy Spirit, speak to us daily through the Scriptures and keep our eyes and ears open to your voice. Guide us as we celebrate the birth of the only One who brings hope. Give us courage and the words to say when the opportunities arise. These things we pray through Jesus Christ, lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp