Rev. Erik Veerman
The End of the Beginning
As we come to this last reading in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul had just arrived in Rome after his long journey.
Reading of Acts 28:17-37
I counted and this is our 53rd sermon in the book of Acts. Our final one. We started in September of 2020, and it’s been a journey!
Many of you have commented about your appreciation of this series. It’s been helpful. It’s been one where we’ve learned about the church and we’ve been challenged by the Gospel. The Gospel, as a reminder, is the good news of Jesus – It’s the salvation that God achieved for us through Jesus’s death on the cross, and the hope that we have because of his resurrection. It’s been a main emphasis in Acts.
As we come to the end, I want to take you back to the very beginning of Luke’s words. Luke, through the inspiration of the God’s Spirit, authored both the Gospel according to Luke as well as this book. And he wrote both books to a Theophilus. At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, he said: “it seemed good to me… having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,” and then he wrote, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Luke wrote something similar in Acts chapter 1 verse 1. “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up…” And then Luke immediately began talking about Jesus’s words to his discipline. Both about his kingdom and that they would be his witness. Luke was setting the stage for his book.
In other words, both books focus on Jesus. The first on his life, ministry, and death while on earth, and the second, Acts, on Jesus’s post resurrection ministry. That includes Jesus’ commands to his appointed apostles, and the kingdom of God. So Jesus’s ministry on earth, as the suffering servant, and Jesus’s ongoing ministry in heaven as the king of his kingdom.
And even though we don’t know much about Theophilus, we do know that Luke’s goal is to explain and verify to Theophilus what has happened… Here’s how Christianity started, here’s what it’s all about, the Gospel, and here’s how Christianity exploded in growth over this 60 years period.
And at the center of the entire narrative is God. God the heavenly Father, sending God the son – Jesus, and giving us God the Spirit. That’s what it’s all about, Theophilus. God orchestrated it all. He fulfilled his promise of salvation through Jesus, and now it’s going out to every tribe, tongue, and people. Jesus is reigning in heaven, and he’s given us his Holy Spirit to accomplish his “ends of the earth” ministry.
That’s the big picture. And if you don’t have that in mind, then you are going to be disappointed in this ending. Maybe you’ve already thought that. “Wait, what? What happened next? What happened to Paul? Luke, you’ve left me hanging?” Have you thought those things?
On the other hand, if you get the big picture. That’s it’s God’s work, His salvation, establishing and expanding his church and kingdom, through his Spirit, as the resurrected Lord Jesus reigns in heaven… if you understand those things, then this ending is actually amazing.
My goal is for you to see that today. To be amazed. Amazed at what God has done. And amazed at what he is continuing to do. If you’re thinking, “well, where’s the next chapter of Acts, Acts 29?” Well, the thing is, we ARE the next chapter of Acts. As God’s church and people, as part of his expanding kingdom, we are in Acts 29 now. Many have said over the years that the book of Acts is the “End of the Beginning.” Not the “beginning of the end.” No, Acts has given us the beginnings of the church. And chapter 28 is merely the end of the beginning.
In the very first sermon of Acts, I used the acronym A.C.T.S. And I think I came back to that acronym maybe 5-6 times as a reminder of the main themes of the whole book. Well, I want to end with the same acronym. Let’s analyze these last verses with that same paradigm. And in doing so, I hope that you’ll see how it all connects together and brings to conclusion, or rather, purposeful inconclusion, the book of Acts.
• A for the ascended Christ.
• C for the church
• T which stands for… do you remember, Tucker. We are part of Jesus’s call that the Gospel go “to the ends of the earth”
• And S for Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit at work. The Spirit of Truth and righteousness.
All those things were emphasized in the opening verses of Acts. And they were emphasized throughout the book. And they are here in chapter 28.
Now, before jumping into those themes, let me highlight some of the story here… Paul’s time in Rome.
• First, the Roman Centurion considered Paul trustworthy and faithful. Even though he still had chains, Paul was able to rent a house. We’re told that up in verse 16. That’s incredible. It was the base location of Paul’s ministry. People came to him, there.
• Second, Paul wasted no time once he got to Rome. His first tactic was to call the Jewish leadership to meet him. That was only 3 days after his arrival. And they came to him. And the somewhat surprising thing is they didn’t know anything about Paul. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had yet to inform Rome. Now maybe their communication was still on the way. Don’t forget, the storm at sea pushed Paul 1000 miles closer to Rome. So Paul arrived pretty early in the spring... before the Jews from Jerusalem could either arrive or send a letter warning them about Paul.
• So these Jewish leaders in Rome wanted to hear from Paul. And he had two meetings with them.
• In the first meeting, verses 17-22, he let them know three things. (1) why he was a prisoner. (2) that the Roman authority found him innocent. (3) He, himself, didn’t bring a counter charge against the Jews in Jerusalem. He simply appealed because the Jews objected to the Romans. And notice in this first meeting, Paul’s heart was very much aligned with them. Paul spoke of “our people” and “our fathers.”
• And then, the second meeting happened because the Jewish leaders wanted to hear more. And Paul spent an entire day with them. Look at verse 23. Three words there describe Paul’s words: “Expounded” meaning he explained the Old Testament scriptures. “Testifying” meaning he was revealing what God had done and was doing to fulfill his promises. And the last word, “convince,” meaning Paul was trying to persuade them about Jesus. We’ll get into the details about how the Jews responded in a little bit.
• The last thing I want to highlight is the last two verses. After these two meetings with the Jewish leaders, Paul opened his home, and for two years, he welcomed anyone and everyone – Jews and Gentiles to talk. And think about this, no one could hurt him! The whole time he was chained to a Roman guard. By the way, I was reading Jim Boyce’s commentary on this. Boice was the pastor at 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia. He made an interesting comment. He asked, what if you were one of the many Roman soldiers chained to Paul. You know, taking turns. I mean, you would have been a captive audience for a couple of years. Not just hearing about the Gospel, but experiencing the Lord’s work through Paul. Maybe in eternity, we’ll meet a couple of them.
Ok, hopefully that helps frame out these verses. Let’s now jump into the ACTS acronym and connect this all together.
A – Ascended Christ
The letter “A” – again for the ascended Christ. And we should include resurrected and ascended Christ. As I mentioned earlier, Acts has been about the resurrected and ascended Jesus. It began with the resurrected Jesus. He had risen from the grave. Conquered death and sin. And by doing so, he proved who he was – the promised Savior. He was the one to whom the Old Testament Scriptures pointed.
And at the beginning of Acts chapter 1, Jesus then ascended into heaven. By doing so, he ushered in his Kingdom. Not an earthly kingdom, No, a spiritual kingdom with Jesus as king. We’ll come back to the kingdom in a minute. And all throughout Acts, the apostles emphasized the resurrected and ascended Christ. That’s why it’s seemed like we’ve had 3-4 Easter type messages this last year.
And this emphasis on Jesus is, of course, here at the end! In Paul’s first meeting with the Jewish leaders, he spoke of the “hope of Israel.” You’ll see that in verse 20. Well, they would have known exactly who Paul was referring to. The promised Messiah. The Christ. Those are 2 words that point to God’s promised savior.
That the comment that actually led to that second meeting. It’s there that Paul sought to prove Jesus as the promised one. Do you see that in verse 23? It says Paul was “trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and the Prophets.”
By the way, there’s a parallel here between the end of Acts and the end of the Gospel of Luke. Here, Paul revealed Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises… and at the end of Luke Jesus revealed how he fulfilled all of the Old Testament promises. That was on the road to Emmeus. We’ve seen a lot of parallels, haven’t we, between the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. This parallel help us see Luke’s emphasis in his conclusion – Jesus.
In fact, the final verse of Acts is also about Jesus, did you notice. The proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ continued. The whole book ends with Jesus. That’s because it’s all about him.
Even though the last half of Acts focused on Paul’s ministry, really, it’s not about Paul. It’s never been about him. Paul over and over pointed to Jesus. That’s why Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Paul. Acts is not about him. And think about it, besides Paul, Acts doesn’t tell us what happened to Peter, or Barnabas, or Timothy, or John either. Acts is not a biography about them. No, it’s about Jesus – the ascended Christ.
C – Church
And that brings us to the letter “C” for church. Ecclesia is the word in the Greek. That word is used throughout Acts. All over the place as church after church is planted and worships and grows and sends out people. To be sure, the word for church is not used here. In fact, that word is not used in the first chapter of Acts, either. Yet it has such a prominent place all throughout the book.
However, Acts both begins and ends with an emphasis on “God’s kingdom.” In the beginning of Acts, Jesus was teaching about his kingdom. And here in the last chapter, verses 23 and 31, the very last verse, Luke goes back to that phrase “kingdom of God.” And a big part of God’s kingdom is the church. They are intrinsically connected.
• The kingdom of God is a much broader. It includes the heavens above.
• It includes God’s work through his people and his work throughout his creation.
• It includes God’s common grace as well, what we talked about last week.
• And it includes the church. The church, if you remember refers to God’s people. There’s both a broader use of that word meaning all of God’s people throughout the world, and there’s also a focused use of the word referring to the gathering of people for worship and discipleship. A local church – a congregation of believers like us here.
In other words, the church is a subset of God’s kingdom. It makes sense that Acts begins and ends with the kingdom because it’s broader in scope. And the pages in Acts are about the specifics of what God is doing in his kingdom, with a big emphasis on the church.
And this idea of God’s kingdom was hugely misunderstood by the Jewish people. You see, they were expecting an earthly kingdom. They wanted a messiah that would come and demonstrate his earthly power. They wanted Israel to return to greatness like in the days of King David and Solomon. After all, they were God’s chosen nation. The gentiles, they thought, were not to be God’s people.
This explains what happened in Paul’s second meeting with the Jewish leaders. Verses 23-28. Remember, Paul was “testifying to the kingdom of God” and “trying to convince then about Jesus.” In other words, he was trying to show them that they had gotten it all wrong. And what happened? Well, some believed! Yes! Some did believe. This has happened over and over. Paul went to the Jews. He proclaimed the Gospel and the Kingdom. Both of those things, and some believed. But most of them, just like before, did not believe. And that’s when Paul quoted Isaiah 6. “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear.” His quote of Isaiah 6 was absolutely true. All the promises point to Christ Jesus. It’s all right there in their Scriptures, but they failed to see and hear it.
In fact, Jesus quoted this same exact prophecy. And the context of that was his kingdom parables. What the kingdom of God would be like. And just like here at the ends of Acts, many of the people did not believe. To them, Jesus was not the right kind of savior, and his kingdom was not the right kind of kingdom.
T - Tucker
This is a good transition to the next letter in the acronym. “T” for Tucker which connects to “the ends of the earth” because we, here in Tucker, are part of God’s ends of the earth ministry.
You see, God’s plan of salvation always included the nations. Israel was the means through which salvation came. The covenant promises and the prophecies came through Israel. That’s why Paul was so passionate that the Jews would believe. Because they had a special role in God bringing salvation to us.
One of the points here is that despite the unbelief of many of them, the Gospel will continue to expand to all people. This is why Paul responded the way he did in verse 28. “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” This is right after he quoted Isaiah 6. You are not hearing God’s Word, but the Gentiles will listen. And so the Gospel went forth to all people. All backgrounds. All nationalities.
Let me also add, besides “who” the offer of the Gospel was for (everyone), this ending of Acts also reminds us of “where” the Gospel was to go. Back in chapter 1 verse 8, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witness, yes in Jerusalem, but also beyond. In “Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And all throughout Acts, we experienced the Gospel expanding. The fact that Paul had arrived in Rome, and that there were already Christians in Rome, showed that Jesus’s “ends of the earth” commission was being fulfilled. The Jewish leaders here even confirmed this for us. Back up in verse 22. We don’t know anything about you, Paul, but “with regard to this sect,” meaning Christianity, “we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Everywhere that they know. To be sure, Rome wasn’t the ends of the earth, but it represented the Gospel going forth. And it’s still happening today.
S – Spirit
Ok, the final letter, “S”, for the Spirit. The Holy Spirit.
To be as clear as I can, the Holy Spirit is who we call the third person of the God. third person of the Trinity. God is one, who eternally exists in the unity of three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We’ll be jointly reading the Nicene Creed in a few minutes as we approach the Lord’s table. It’s helps clarify those things.
And much of the book of Acts has been about the Holy Spirit. Who he is. Why he was given. And we know from the Gospel of John and the other book of the Bible that he is the comforter, who brings conviction of sin, who trains us in righteousness, who transforms hearts.
Some have called the book of Acts, the Acts of the Holy Spirit. That’s because he has a central role in the book, expanding God’s kingdom through the conversion of souls, the miracles, and the words given to the believers as the Holy Spirit was given to them. There are 56 direct references to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. That’s like three times more references than any other book in the Bile. And here in the last chapter, again, a direct reference to the Holy Spirit and his work. An interesting reference at that.
Verse 25. “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet.” Paul was attesting to them that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us his Word. Yes, Isaiah penned the words, but it was the Holy Spirit working through him. It’s a great reminder of God’s Spirit working through his Word.
Sometimes we just think of the human author. Isaiah prophesied, or John spoke, or Mark wrote, and we forget that it’s the Holy Spirit who was at work through these faithful men. That’s why it all ties together. As the Holy Spirit says of God’s word… All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The Holy Spirit at work in Acts and beyond.
“A” for the ascended Christ. “C” for the church, a subset of God’s kingdom, “T” for Tucker as part of Jesus’s ends of the earth ministry. And S for the Holy Spirit.
I want to bring our whole study to a close by looking at the last word of Acts, “without hindrance.” That’s one word in the Greek. Unhindered. The Gospel continued to be preached with boldness and unhindered. I mean, what an appropriate word to end the book on! It’s in some ways the summary of Acts. The unhindered proclamation of Christ. That he is the only way for salvation. The call to believe in Jesus, God’s son, for who he is, for what he accomplished on the cross, and for his ongoing ministry as the resurrected king.
One commentator, Darrell Bock, wrote this to close his commentary: “The word will get out. In fact, despite all the obstacles in Acts, the book ends with the Gospel unhindered… God is the hero of Acts, and the plot line is he reveals his word through Jesus and a faithful church. God will make sure it happens...”
Isn’t that what we experienced in Acts over and over?
• That threats and persecution will not stop the Gospel
• Martyrdom will not stop it from going forth. Quite the opposite happened.
• Disagreements over doctrine is not going to stop it.
• A secular kingdom is not going to stop the Gospel, nor corruption within it.
• Empty religion and blind, deaf leaders will not stop it from going forth.
• The devil can not stop
• False Gods and idols will not stop the Gospel.
• A storm at sea and a shipwreck will not stop it.
• Neither will chains!
Nothing will. It will be unhindered.
And when it seems that all hope is lost, that’s when God is at work in ways that we can’t even imagine. Isn’t that the hope of the Gospel, anyway?!
When the Jews plotted against Jesus. When his disciples deserted him, scared. When the Romans gave in and dragged him to the cross. When he hung until he breathed no more. When it seemed hopeless and that it was the end. That’s when God did his most powerful work. And it was only the beginning. It was the very thing that defeated sin, death, and the devil. And it was from that point when the Gospel and Christianity exploded in growth, unhindered. We saw that all through the book of Acts. And Acts was only the beginning. We’re still, to this day, witnessing and participating in the Gospel ministry of Christ through the Holy Spirit, as Jesus builds his church to the ends of the earth.