To Rome and Beyond
June 12, 2011 Series: Acts: Mission Unstoppable
Topic: Mission Passage: Acts 21:1–28:31
Today is the last message in our series in the Book of Acts. We named this series Mission Unstoppable because from the very beginning what we have seen is the promise and purpose of God to spread the good news of the gospel to all people being accomplished by the power and Spirit of God through the people of God in the midst of trials, persecution, opposition and seemingly impossible situations. We’ve learned from the example of those who have been empowered by the spirit and boldly proclaimed the gospel in spite of fearful conditions; we’ve seen the example of the early church walking in unity and generosity showing the effects of lives transformed by the gospel and now ruled by their new King-Jesus; we’ve witnessed the gospel breaking down all barriers and going to the gentiles.
And our hearts have been drawn and desirous of the same. We long to follow the examples we see in Acts and experience the power of God and the salvation of souls in our lives. I have good news for us this morning: The same Holy Spirit that empowered Peter and Stephen and Philip and Paul is the same Spirit that resides within you and he is ready to empower us as we follow their example.
You can open your bibles to Acts chapter 21. Today we will finish our series in the book of Acts. We’re going to cover a lot of ground-8 chapters in all-so we’ll be approaching our text from more of a bird’s eye view and reading select portions together. We’re going to learn (once again) from the example of Paul and specifically we’re going to learn 3 characteristic of a witness for Jesus Christ. Paul was fearless, faultless and faithful. As witnesses for Christ we are called to be fearless, faultless and faithful. But before we explore these 3 characteristics let me try to give you a brief summary of what’s taking place here.
We left off last week with Paul saying goodbye to the Ephesians for the last time. In chapter 21, Paul arrives in Jerusalem. The purpose for this visit was to deliver an offering from the gentile churches that he had been visiting to the church in Jerusalem that was suffering and in poverty at this time. This in and of itself was significant because the church in Jerusalem was predominantly Jewish. So Paul’s visit was an opportunity for both the gentile and Jewish branches of the church to join together and display their common bond in the gospel. But while in the temple, Paul’s enemies falsely accuse him of bringing a gentile into the temple and this angry mob begins beating him to death. Ironically, he’s saved from the Jews by a Roman soldier who arrests him and takes him into custody.
The next day (the end of 22) Paul speaks to the council and his words cause such an uproar that Luke tells us he is almost torn into pieces. Then in 23 there is a plot to kill Paul but the plot is found out and Paul is transferred to Caesarea to stand before Felix-the Roman Governor. Again, Paul faces false accusations but even though Felix finds no fault with him, he is a corrupt politician and keeps him in prison for 2 years. Then in chapter 25 Felix is replaced by Festus who tries to send Paul back to Jerusalem to his accusers. But Paul says no way and exercises his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar.
In chapter 27, Paul is finally on his way to Rome-still as a prisoner-with Luke who is writing this account first hand. They encounter a massive storm that leaves them shipwrecked on the island of Malta for 3 months. And finally in 28:14-about 4 years after determining to make this journey, they reach Rome. Paul first mentions his desire to go to Rome in chapter 19 and it was, no doubt, God’s plan to send him there but this is probably not the way that he had hope to make the trip. Now let’s take a look at these 3 traits of a Christian witness.
First, Paul is fearless. We can see this from the very beginning of the trip as he is being warned by those “in the spirit” that there is danger, that he will be bound in Jerusalem. But Listen to Paul’s response in 21:13: “Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul knew what was coming, but he didn’t see this as a reason not to go because he was living for the will of another. He was compelled by the spirit and willing to face the unknown for the sake of the gospel.
Look at 21:27 (read) and then skip to vs. 30-31 (read). Imagine the scene around the temple-total confusion and chaos. Everyone in the mob is bent on killing Paul. He’s completely surrounded with nowhere to go and no one to defend him and they’re beating him to death. And yet right after being saved he begs the soldier to let him speak to the crowd. This would not be my natural response. Common sense says, “these people are not ready to hear the gospel.” These people are trying to kill me-get me out of here. But look at 22:1 and notice the gentleness and love in his tone-“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
Paul doesn’t respond this way because he’s some kind of super human tough guy-we know from his other letters that Paul is a normal man and in many ways, weak; he’s like us. And Paul doesn’t have supernatural willpower to just determine to set aside his fear and do his duty. Paul is able to do this because he’s ruled by a greater passion than a passion for himself; a passion to declare the glory and mystery of God; and he’s ruled by a love for others, the same love that the Savior has for them. He would want nothing more than for all of those who were moments earlier trying to kill him, to experience the love of God through the forgiveness of their sins and for them to believe that Jesus is the Messiah that they have been waiting for.
Paul is not ruled by what he might lose; he’s ruled by what he can gain through his obedience. If you and I want to be like Paul and overcome our fear this is exactly where we have to start. We must stop being aware of all that we might lose if we step out and share the gospel and instead be aware of all there is to be gained through our obedience to declare the life giving message Jesus Christ crucified.
2 Timothy 1:7-“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
One of the larger themes of this passage is that of the innocence of Paul. He’s falsely accused by the Jews 3 times and in every case the Roman authorities find him faultless. What’s interesting is that these were double allegations against both Jewish and Roman law. But Paul maintained his innocence throughout the trials and in every account is found faultless by the Romans. Let’s read 25:7-12.
Paul was a man of integrity. No matter who he dealt with he was upright. He’s not living to please man; he’s living for God. And he’s ready to be rejected by man for the sake of the gospel-but he would not allow the gospel to be rejected because of him. That’s why in 24:16 he says the following: “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” Paul new the gospel would be a stumbling block to many but he did not want anything in his life to be a stumble people away from the gospel.
And so if we are going to be effective witnesses for Jesus, we not only need to be able to fearlessly and clearly communicate the message of the gospel but our lives need to reflect and validate that message. The integrity of your message is only as good as the integrity of your lives. Paul knew that the gospel was at stake; we need to always be aware that that gospel is at stake. Our lives communicate [the way we relate to others; act when challenged; respond when we don’t get what we want]. And as Christians we should strive to live lives that authenticate the gospel, not undermine it.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all acted in ways that have undermined the gospel. Have you ever driven behind someone who appears to be the perfect candidate for an anger management class that has Christian bumper stickers plastered all over the back? When we experience something like this we react, don’t we? We can easily see not only the hypocrisy but also the damage that’s taking place to the witness of the Jesus Christ.
So I ask you are there areas in your life where your message is inconsistent with your actions? How do you act in the work place or in secret? Is the person that we know the same person that your coworkers know or is there another you? Do you live with integrity or do you make allowances for yourself? Or to put it another way, if you were accused and examined like Paul would you be found faultless? Would you have the confidence and the will to follow it up by giving witness to Jesus Christ? That confidence in the face of accusation is the product of a clear conscience.
You may not have been accused by man yet. But I know you have been accused by your conscience and probably by your enemy, the accuser. And these accusations, because they’re true, have destroyed your confidence to be a witness for Christ. Listen, it doesn’t matter how good you are at putting on a happy face and talking about Jesus-if your life is in contrast to the message you proclaim your witness will be ineffective.
Finally, Paul was faithful. Paul was faithful to the mission that he received from Jesus. In 26 Paul is now making his defense before King Agrippa and in verse 19-20 he says this: “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,  but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Paul was faithful to the work that Jesus laid before him-he never let up so that at the end of his life he was able to say in 2 Tim.: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Let’s read on in 26:21-23-“For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.  To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass:  that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” Paul was faithful to the message no matter who he was speaking to. The essentials of the gospel were always on tongue.
And Paul is faithful to trust God with his ways in all that he did. Think about what it took for Paul to get to Rome: beatings, imprisonment, mistreatment, false accusations, shipwreck, snake bite and once in Rome 2 more years of house arrest at his own expense. But Paul never questioned his circumstances but saw them as the providential hand of God. He never complained but rather took every opportunity to speak of his Lord. Paul was a faithful witness of Jesus Christ because he didn’t consider his life his own. He belonged to another and his life proved it.
Let’s turn to 28:28-31 (read). The book of Acts ends in a bit of an anti-climactic way. After everything we’ve read about in this account of the early church and the unstoppable spread of the gospel throughout the known world to all peoples the end finds Paul living in Rome under house arrest simply teaching the gospel to those who came to him. Some have been disappointed with this ending but I’ll tell you why it’s exciting for us. Look at verse 28 again- “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” It has been sent, and now with witnesses everywhere it’s doing is work. 28:31 is not the end of this book. Acts doesn’t end until Revelation; until Jesus cracks the sky and returns on His horse in victory.
On that last day, when the last person has heard the gospel is when this book ends. Until then it is still being written. What is your page going to say? What is this our churches chapter going to say? One day we will know how our part in this story fits in. One day we’re going to meet people that we might not even remember, people that blew us off when we tried to witness to them, and we’re going to find out that we were one of many who were faithful to share the gospel-and after 2 or 10 or 50 years they finally were saved from their sin.
One day we will know but for now we live by faith, filled with the spirit and in His power-and we trust God, like Paul, that in His sovereignty we are exactly where he wants us to be. And in this place we want to be fearless, faultless and faithful. We want to be effective witnesses for Christ.
Remember your mission: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We have a story to be written together and I’m so glad to be in it with you. Let make it count!