Last week we left Paul and his travelling companions on the shore of an island. Their ship had run aground on sand-bar and the stern had been broken into pieces by the pounding of the sea. Those who could, swam ashore. The remainder, clung to planks of timber and made their way as best they could to dry land. In the end, everyone reached land in safety. Not one of them perished.
Verses 1 to 15
Chapter 28 opens with the castaways discovering that they had landed on the island of Malta. Brian told me last week that he’s been on St Paul’s Bay in Malta. So you can go today and sunbathe where the Apostle Paul may have washed ashore. Luke — and remember he’s travelling with Paul — tells us that the islanders treated them kindly: they built a fire for them, because it was raining and cold, and gave them a warm welcome. Luke then describes this curious incident when a snake fastened itself to Paul’s hand. The locals assume that Paul must have been guilty of some serious crime and now the god Justice is making sure that, even though he escaped the sea, he wasn’t going to get away with his crime. But, when Paul didn’t fall down and die, they changed their minds about him. Instead of being a murderer, or a criminal, he must be a god.
Luke also tells us how the chief official of the island welcomed them into his home. And while they were in his home, Paul was able to heal the official’s father who was seriously ill. And because of this, the rest of the islanders brought their sick to him in order to be healed. We’re reminded of the way the people brought their sick to the Lord Jesus so that he could heal them. The difference, of course, is that the Lord Jesus was able to say the word and heal the sick person directly, but Paul was not able to heal anyone himself or by his own power. Instead he needed to pray to the Lord to bring healing. Paul, you see, was not a god, but the one, true and living God was willing to hear his prayers and answer them in remarkable ways. And then Luke tells us how the islanders honoured them in many ways and gave them all they needed for their onward journey.
We learn from verse 11 that they remained on Malta for three months. And from Malta they set sail, and though they stopped in various places on the way — and at one place were entertained for a week by some Christians — they eventually reached Rome. And according to verse 15, the Christians in Rome knew that Paul was coming; and they came out to meet him. Some travelled to the Forum of Appius in order to meet him. This was a marketplace which was about 43 miles from Rome. Others met him at the Three Taverns which was a collection of shops or huts about 33 miles outside of Rome. We don’t know how they knew Paul was coming, but perhaps they had received word from the Christians Paul and his companions had lodged with on their journey.
And so, the first half of this chapter ends. Paul has just arrived in Rome with the rest of his travelling companions. At this point, it’s interesting to remind ourselves of his letter to the Romans which we have in our Bibles. It was written perhaps three years before the events we’re reading in Acts 28. And in Romans 1 Paul wrote about how he longed to see the believers in Rome. He also said that he was so eager to preach the gospel to them, because he believed the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. So, he was longing to get to Rome to see the Christians there. And then in Romans chapter 15 Paul sketched out his travel plans. He was hoping to travel to Spain to preach the good news there. And on his way, he hoped to visit Rome. That was his plan, but, as you know, our plans don’t always work out the way we thought they would. And though Paul did in fact reach Rome, he didn’t get there in the way he had originally planned. Instead of stopping off in Rome on the way to Spain, he was brought there by the Romans to stand trial before the Emperor. But as we’ll see, though he was a prisoner, he was still able to receive guests. Even though he was chained, he was nevertheless free to make Christ known. And there were many opportunities given to him to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the power of God for salvation to all who will believe.
Verses 16 to 31
Look with me now at the second half of this chapter, verses 16 to 31. And you’ll see in verse 16 that he was allowed to live by himself, but with a Roman soldier to guard him. Later, in verse 30, we’re told that this was a rented house. And in verse 20 he mentions that he was bound by a chain. Probably he was chained to the guard. And, of course, the guard would have to be relieved at the end of his shift. So there was a probably a succession of guards who watched Paul, one after the other.
It seems that the very first people Paul wanted to see were the Jewish leaders in Rome. And when they arrived, Paul explained to them what had happened to him and how he had ended up in Rome. He made clear that he was innocent of all the accusations made against him. And he reports that the Romans were prepared to release him despite what the Jews had been saying about him. However, because the Jews objected to his release, he was compelled to appeal to Caesar. And finally Paul said to these Jewish leaders that he wanted to see them in order to explain that it was because of the hope of Israel that he was now bound in chains. Well, by the hope of Israel he means the resurrection of the dead. We know this because that’s the same point he made to the Sanhedrin when he was first arrested in Rome. He believed in the resurrection of the dead and that the Lord Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. So, here’s Paul doing what he always did whenever he arrived in a new city. He went to the Jews first so that he could tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ who died, but who rose again and who promises eternal life to all who will believe in him.
The Jews reply that they haven’t received any reports from the Jews in Jerusalem concerning Paul. But they want to hear more from Paul about what he and the other Christians in Rome believe. And so, according to verse 23 they arranged to meet Paul on a certain day. And they came in even larger numbers than before. And all day — from morning to evening — he explained to them about the kingdom of God and he tried to convince them about the Lord Jesus using the Law of Moses and the Prophets. In other words, he tried to show them that the Lord Jesus Christ and what happened to him is the fulfilment of God’s promises which appear in the pages of the Old Testament. All those passages in the Old Testament which we’ve seen before about the suffering servant who would rise from the dead refer to the Lord Jesus. And therefore the Jews ought to believe in him because he’s the Promised Messiah.
The reaction among the Jews in Rome is the same kind of reaction we’ve seen before. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. Some hear the gospel and believe, whereas others hear the gospel and their hearts only become harder. And, according to verse 25, they disagreed among themselves. And then they began to leave once Paul had quoted from Isaiah 6 where God the Holy Spirit had announced through the prophet Isaiah that the Jews would be ever hearing, but never understanding; and they would be ever seeing, but never perceiving. They would hear the good news, but they would not believe it because their hearts were hard and they could hardly hear with their ears or see with their eyes.
But if their hearts were not so hard to the gospel message, and if their ears were not so deaf to the word of God, and if their eyes were not so blind to the glory of Jesus Christ, then they might have turned to God in repentance and discovered from him everlasting salvation.
Paul was not surprised by the unbelief he encountered among the Jews in Rome. You see, he knew that God had said through Isaiah the prophet that this is the way it would be. And, of course, it’s the way we all would be, if it were not for the Lord’s mercy towards us. He’s the one who worked in our lives to take away the hardness that is in us by nature. And he’s the one who enabled us to hear the gospel message with faith. He’s the one who caused us to see the glory of Christ for ourselves. We love because he first loved us. We repented because he granted us repentance. We believed because he produced faith in our hearts. God not only sent his Son to die for us, but he sent his Spirit into our lives to enable us to believe. And so, we ought to remember and believe that we owe our salvation from first to last to Almighty God. And we ought therefore to give thanks to him for his mercy towards us; and we ought to plead with him to do to others what he did to us and to enable the lost to seek him and to find him.
In Rome it appeared that the Jews would not listen. And because they would not listen to him, Paul tells them in verse 28 that God’s salvation has therefore been sent to the Gentiles. And we’ve seen that this was true. Wherever Paul went in his earlier travellers, he would preach first of all to the Jews. And, because so many of them would not believe, Paul preached the same message to the Gentiles. Think of what happened in Corinth: the Jews would not believe, and so Paul went out of the synagogue and into the house next door where he continued to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. And he remained there for another 6 months and many of the Corinthians believed and were baptised. The Jews refused to listen, but the Gentiles believed and were saved.
And so, the book of Acts concludes with Luke telling us that for two years, Paul stayed in that rented house and welcomed all who came to him. And boldly, and without hindrance, he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to early Christian tradition Paul was released from his captivity in Rome — presumably because of a lack of evidence against him or else because his persecutors in Jerusalem didn’t come to Rome to accuse him before the Emperor. And so, Paul was allowed to continue his public ministry before being re-arrested and condemned to death a few years later under Nero. But if you think back to the beginning of the book of Acts, the Lord promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would enable them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. And so, the book of Acts ends with Paul, one of the Lord’s Apostles, living in the city of Rome, at the heart of the Roman Empire, bearing witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. From his throne in heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ has sent his preachers out of Jerusalem, and into Judea and Samaria and into all the world. And through the preaching of the gospel, the Lord Jesus was calling men and women into his kingdom and he was building his church on the earth. And so we must pray that the Lord will continue to raise up fearless and faithful preachers like Paul who will go into all the world with the gospel message. And we must pray that the Lord will bless the preaching of his word in our day so that men and women and boys and girls across the world will be convinced and converted to faith in Christ. And we must pray that the Lord will continue to build his church in every nation so that the knowledge of his name will fill the earth.