Growing Compassion for the Religious
Acts 28b–The end of Acts and beginning of the Gospel story
I recently officiated a memorial service for my sweet, saved sister-in-law, Cyndi. My brother asked only one thing of me–that I would boldly proclaim the Gospel . . . something Mark and Cyndi both wanted and I would do anyway. By God’s grace, there was wonderful affirmation of the service, and not surprisingly, there was a little negative reaction.
People have a hard time with the Gospel’s exclusivity–that Christ is the only way. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Many of you know the pain of having family members reject the truth of salvation, and it is often over this one issue, there is only one way. Even the apostles faced this.
After being put in jail to shut them up—Peter, filled with the Spirit, boldly tells the Jewish leaders they crucified Christ, but God raised Him from the dead. Then he makes this pointed statement in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” People get upset because Christ is the only way.
They also get upset because secondly, they know in their hearts, they have an internal awareness, that God must judge sin. Jesus teaches that the Spirit of God will convict every living person on this planet in three truths. “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). People intrinsically know they deserve judgment for sin.
They know all rejecters will be judged for their sinful nature and sinful actions, falling short of a righteous God, violating God’s Law, therefore cast into Hell forever with no hope, no second chance, no possible escape. Every single Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew and Catholic who does not surrender their life to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone will burn in Hell forever.
And it won’t merely be those who embrace a false religion who’ll suffer in the Lake of Fire. Every nice grandma, every sweet parent, every gentle relative, and every kind friend who dies without Christ as their Lord . . . every great guy or gal who refuses to turn to Christ for salvation by grace through faith will also find themselves judged, condemned, and punished forever in eternal torment if they are not in Christ. Plus, every churchgoing tare, every person who has made up their own form of Christianity instead of the one God revealed in His Word will also be judged for sin.
You might think that seems unfair—until you realize what God did in order to solve the problem of your sin . . . until you to begin to understand the lengths your Creator took to provide a way of escape from righteous judgment. You and I could do nothing to save ourselves. You and I could accomplish nothing to escape judgment. But the Triune God could and did–not because He had to, but because he loved you.
From pure mercy, grace and love, the Father sent His perfect Son to take your place. Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity, and chose to be born a man. He lived a perfect life, then offered Himself as your substitute. The Lord took the punishment of eternal Hell for you. On the cross, Jesus bore all of God’s righteous wrath for your sins–all your sins of lust, lying, anger and selfishness. Christ took the eternity of torment you deserved.
His substitutionary sacrifice was accepted because He was truly man. Jesus suffered and died as a man in your place. The Lord’s sacrifice was acceptable to a righteous Father, because Christ was truly God and perfectly righteous. The one true God did that for you. He revealed Himself in His Son and reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible, and now calls us to proclaim that same message so men and women would depend on Him by faith and turn from their sins in repentance.
There is salvation in no one else except Christ–Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Christ. Yet there is even more grace because we’re so lost, so dead in our sins, so corrupt with sin–God must lovingly choose us, then forcibly drag us to Himself in order for us to be saved. And Christ determined to do so. And though God is sovereign in salvation but we are responsible to respond to that message–once we do, because we’ve been so lavishly loved upon, we desire to declare this message, even when others reject it, even when others get angry over it, even when a race or nation or people despise it.
And such was the case with the Apostle Paul–he despised the message of salvation by grace in Christ alone, and sought to destroy that message and those who declared it. Until in Acts 9 Christ threw Paul to the ground, blinded him with His holiness, and showed Paul that He, Jesus, was the promised Messiah and the only way of salvation. God dragged Paul to Himself and gave Paul new life.
Paul quickly learned this salvation was not meant just for His Jewish people, but for all mankind–Jews and everyone else; Jews and Gentiles. And since that day, Paul has been proclaiming Christ as the only way of salvation, the only way to Heaven, the only way of forgiveness–to the Jew first and then the Gentile. Many Jews responded to the Gospel message and turned to Christ alone, but many rejected. Others became hard, resistant, even hateful to those in the faith. But this did not stop Paul from loving his Jewish people.
The apostle to the Gentiles wanted His people, the Jews, to know their Savior, know forgiveness for sins, to be freed from eternal religion and know the joy of internal relationship with Christ. Paul had compassion for his peeps. Under the witness of the Spirit of God, Paul even declared to the Roman Christians in the letter he wrote them just three years previous, that if it were possible, Paul would willingly suffer torment in Hell forever, if it meant his Jewish brothers and sisters could all turn to Christ, in Romans chapter 9.
Olympic athletes were once surveyed and asked this question–if you were given a pill which guaranteed you would win a gold medal, but shortly thereafter it would take your life, would you take it? And 60% said yes. Paul takes it a step further–if you could guarantee the salvation of my Jewish nation, I would be willing not only to die, but suffer in Hell forever if that were possible. Friends, it is right that we agonize over our lost family and friends. It is best that we passionately pray for their salvation and it is good that we grow in compassion for the religious–those who reject Christ and reject us because of Christ.
So now in Acts 28, as Paul arrives in Rome, the first thing Paul does is reach out to the Jewish leaders in order to share the truth of the Gospel to his religious, unsaved brethren. As he does, he shows us how to grow in compassion for the religious who are blinded by a false faith. Paul, the beggar who has found bread, wants to share the Bread of Life with his fellow starving Jews. Look at point #1 . . .
1 Explain your MOTIVES Verses 17-20
Read verses 17 to 20, “After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, ‘Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. 19But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. 20For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.’”
This final chapter of Acts is ending the book, but just the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit in establishing the Church worldwide until Christ comes. The entire book of Acts has covered the spread of the Gospel and the birth of assemblies of Christians, from Jerusalem to the entire Roman world. Paul was a tireless servant and effective tool in churches being birthed everywhere. His uncompromising preaching about the only way of salvation in Christ produced great fruit and local church families, but also earned him some powerful enemies.
The opposition finally got Paul arrested and imprisoned. After three trials before great men failed to resolve his case, Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar. Surviving a violent sea voyage, shipwreck and snake bite, Paul finally reached the imperial capital and this. Today is where Luke concludes this history. Paul would later be released, minister around the world, possibly even Spain, while he writes Titus and 1 Timothy.
After a few years, Paul is arrested again–this time he is placed in a Roman dungeon. He writes 2 Timothy and tradition tells us he is then beheaded for his faith. But even with that, the story of the faithful who are filled with the Spirit of God, using the Word of God to transform rebellious sinners into submissive saints, is not over. The Gospel continues to rescue drowning rebels from their ocean of sin, and gathering the saints into churches around the world. So in the truest sense, the book of Acts is still being written today.
John MacArthur writes, “Although Acts ends abruptly, it is not incomplete. It reveals the church’s source of power—the Holy Spirit; the pattern of blessing for the church—walking in the Spirit; the church’s message—the saving gospel of Jesus Christ; the perils to the church—sin from within, false teachers from without; and the church’s priorities—teach the Word to those who know Christ, and preach the gospel to those who do not.”
So now, as Paul is under house arrest in Rome–he is in his own apartment in the capital city. In verse 20, Paul is wearing a single chain (singular)–probably attached to his wrist, a long chain attached to the wall or to a member of the praetorian guard who is with him. But that would not stop Paul–he didn’t waste any time–there was no delay, put it off, wait till manana. Three days after arriving, Paul called the leading men of the Jews, verse 17, to his new digs. Paul’s pattern in every city had been to evangelize the Jewish community first.
Historians tell us there were 40 thousand Jews in Rome, and ten synagogues. And the leaders of these synagogues would be meeting with Paul three days after he arrives in Rome. Paul had been accused of being anti-Semitic–most of the resistance to his ministry had been from Jewish leaders. Yet in spite of that, Paul had no animosity and only great love for His Jewish brethren and wanted them to know Christ.
This was not an easy task, since Paul had to explain why he was a prisoner, defend his innocence—and at the same time, not blame the Jews in Jerusalem or alienate the Roman Jews. So in verses 17b-20, Paul declares he is not a rebel against Rome, nor a heretical leader of a sect, nor did he violate the Temple. On the other hand, Paul affirms he was found innocent by Roman governors. But because the Jerusalem leaders objected to Paul being set free, Paul was (verse 19) “forced” (passive tense—he had no choice) to appeal to Caesar.
Because Paul was such a prominent Jew and now a prisoner, Paul wanted to explain his situation to the Jewish leaders in Rome. Now Paul ends with a statement explaining the real reason why he was arrested and the real reason he wanted to talk with these men. Paul explains his motives. Verse 20, “For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.”
The “hope of Israel” is the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection from the dead and the Kingdom where Messiah and Israel will rule. I want to talk to you about the Gospel. With great affection and respect, Paul tells them why he wants to talk to them. He wants them to know the answer Israel has longed for for over 2,000 years.
Listen friends, tell your religious family and friends why you want to tell them about Christ–that you love them, and the hole in their heart will never be filled by anyone but Christ. Forgiveness of sins is only found in Christ and Heaven is only gained by being in Christ. Tell them why you plead with them–explain your motives.
How do the Jewish leaders respond? Verse 21 and 22, “They said to him, ‘We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.’” Verses 21 to 22 show to . . .
2 Look for INTEREST in the Gospel Verses 21-22
Ten years earlier, there were riots between the non-Christian Jews and Christian Jews in Rome. And as a result, the Emperor Claudius kicked both groups out of the city for a season. As a result, both believing and non-believing Jews would now be much more careful in how they responded to each other–careful to avoid being kicked out again. But in Paul’s case, the Jewish leaders in Rome say they have heard no formal declaration from the Jews in Jerusalem about Paul, nor anything negative about Paul from the Jews who travel about. Maybe that’s true.
Since Paul was on the last boat out, it’s probable no news had beaten Paul to Rome. And since Paul had been exonerated by two Roman governors, the Jewish leaders in Rome or Jerusalem would not want to look foolish in front of Nero by taking up a case against Paul a third time. Diplomatically, the Roman Jews assured Paul of their desire to hear his views (verse 22). In a non-committal manner, they cautiously acknowledge the obvious concerning this sect—”it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” The truth is, these men were not completely ignorant of Christianity, which had been established in Rome for many years. Most Jews at this time viewed Christianity as a sect of Judaism and not as a separate faith. Whether politically driven, or because Paul was a Pharisee—Paul is looking to see if there is any interest to hear of Christ.
3 INSTRUCT from the WORD on the Gospel Verses 23-24
Verses 23 and 24 are awesome. “When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.”
On an appointed day, the Roman Jews returned in large numbers to hear Paul–and Paul went for the throat. When he was (verse 23) “testifying about the kingdom”–that means Paul was preaching the Gospel, the good news that God sovereignly calls sinners hopelessly caught in the realm of Satan, death, and destruction to enter the realm of salvation, life, and glory. The Gospel proves all men are under the slavery to sin and only Christ can free them from sin’s power now and sin’s punishment forever. The Kingdom is the rule of Christ, declaring Satan, sin, nor you yourself are in charge–but Christ alone is sovereign over all.
Paul proclaimed the truths about Christ, the way of salvation, and righteous living. He pointed the way for them to find true salvation and enjoy intimate fellowship with God. You don’t do good to become a Christian, but once you are a Christian you do good. You don’t pray a prayer, walk an aisle, or make a decision–but God opens your heart so you’ll turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ and His Word by faith. Paul sought to persuade them, verse 23, all day long, from the Law and the Prophets, meaning the entire Old Testament.
Friends, it is the Word that transforms lives, not you. Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” For the Spirit of God to change hearts, you must share with them God’s living, active and life transforming Word. Second Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” You gotta love the result in verse 24, “Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.”
The work of salvation on your part is belief in Jesus, a faith dependent upon Christ as God, His sacrifice for your sins on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. You believe His atoning sacrifice is the only acceptable payment for your sins. From a new heart, you will also hate sin, resulting in a turning in repentance from sin and seeking to follow Christ as Lord by obeying His Word. God is sovereign to give you a new heart to believe, but it is your responsibility to cry out for that new heart and to depend on Christ in faith and turn from sin in repentance. To refuse to do so is to disobey God. When you share the Gospel, verse 24–some will be persuaded and some will not believe. So what do you do?
4 Expose the rejecting HEART Verses 25-29
This is a step too many believers leave out. Make certain they understand what caused their rejection. They think they are making a sound decision. They think they are wise, in control, and you are foolish. But like Paul, let them know what is really causing their rejection. Verse 25, “And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, ‘The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26saying, “Go to this people and say, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; 27For the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.’” 28Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.’ 29When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.”
Some of the Jews in Rome refused to believe Paul, nor embrace the Gospel. They were continuing in their nation’s sad history of rejecting God’s true messengers, culminating in their ultimate rejection by killing God’s own Son. As Paul taught God’s Word, the argument between the new believers and the old rejecters escalated. The Roman Jewish leaders began leaving, verse 25, after Paul shared God’s warning to His Jewish people, found originally in Isaiah 6:9-10.
The Lord Jesus Himself rebuked the nation of Israel with this same Isaiah passage, when they demonstrated their hard-heartedness to Him in John 12. Through this passage, Paul affirms God’s mission—that the Gospel will now be proclaimed to and received by the Gentiles. Paul had already written the Roman church that the Jews are not permanently rejected in Romans 11. The Gentiles are only grafted into God’s family for now–but one day all of Israel will be saved.
Israel’s rejection will not cancel God’s promises to bless her future believing remnant. The day of Israel’s faith in Jesus Christ is yet to come. Zechariah 12:10, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son.” As they weep over rejecting their Messiah in the future, they’ll turn to Christ in grace and find salvation as His chosen nation.
Yet for now, today, it will only be some Jews who respond to the truth, and submit to Christ as their Messiah—but oh how thankful we are for those few. After this all-day preaching Bible study, verse 29 says the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves. Regardless of their mixed response, regardless of the rejection, Paul proclaims the Gospel. That was His mission and it is yours, leading to . . .
5 Never GIVE UP proclaiming the Gospel Verses 30-31
Verses 30 to 31, “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” Though Paul couldn’t go out to visit people, people could come visit Paul–and they did for two entire years, while Paul waited for his case to be heard.
Did Paul stand before Nero? Yes, he did. Do you remember what the angel said during the storm at sea which led to this last shipwreck? Acts 27:23 and 24, “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.” God arranged for Paul to proclaim the Gospel to Felix, Festus and Herod. God promised Paul he would minister in Rome right after the riot in Jerusalem. And I believe Paul shared the gospel with Nero, because it was a few years later when Nero blamed the fire he set in Rome on Christians–making Paul, as a Christian leader, a target, leading to his second arrest and ultimate execution.
Paul never missed an opportunity to preach the Gospel–verse 30, “all who came to him He taught submission to God as King and depending only on Christ to be saved.” And he did so, verse 31, “with all openness, unhindered.” All confidence–even in the midst of danger Paul was honest, straightforward, and frank. And no one–no soldier Paul was chained to, no secular government restrictions, no one blocked him, slowed him down, interfered with him, hindered him or forbad Paul at all. Never give up sharing the Gospel–even to the hard.
TAKE THIS HOME
A The mission of Acts in proclaiming the Gospel and establishing the Church is not yet COMPLETE
The story is not over–you were born, then born again, in order to be part of this story. Some of your responsibility is to function in a church which passionately teaches God’s Word, proclaims the Gospel and establishes churches. Another part of your responsibility is to personally participate in sharing the Gospel with everyone you know. Another part of your responsibility is to pray, to give, and serve so that all of this work, which is opposed by the world, opposed by those who hate Christ, can move forward in our time.
Make certain you are not a spectator in the work of the Spirit, but a participant. Make certain you are in the game and not watching from the sidelines. Live out Acts.
B Let no one STOP you from proclaiming the Gospel
Paul preached the Gospel whenever and wherever he had opportunity, even under house arrest. Paul’s message was clothed in humility and graciousness. He was tactful, respectful, and gracious to the Jewish leaders at Rome. Paul avoided his own opinion and his own ideas and his own stories and preached biblically and doctrinally. Paul never wasted an opportunity.
He began his evangelistic outreach only three days after arriving in Rome. Paul taught tirelessly and incessantly. Paul shared with everyone–both to Jews and Gentiles. Most important, Paul preached Jesus Christ as Lord.
C Pursue every biblical MEANS of proclaiming Christ
You are not commanded to preach on the street or on the college campus, but you are expected to use every means you have to share Christ, and especially use the means which most fits the way God made you.
Maybe you are like Peter, who was CONFRONTATIONAL–charging listeners at Pentecost in Acts 2 with a frontal assault on who Jesus Christ is.
Maybe you are like Paul, who could lovingly debate the INTELLECTUAL apologetically on Mars Hill in Acts 17.
Maybe you are like the blind beggar in John 9, who shared his TESTIMONY of how Christ had rescued him.
Maybe you are more RELATIONAL, like the man freed from the unclean spirits in Mark 5, who went home and shared with his family and friends what Christ had done for him.
Maybe you are like the Samaritan woman in John 4, who went to town and invited everyone to come hear Christ—INVITATIONAL.
Maybe you’re like Dorcus in Acts 9, who SERVED OTHERS by giving gifts and opening the door for discussions on how Christ had saved her.
No matter how you do it, make certain you share the message of the Gospel with those around you who are lot. And letter D, the Gospel is the good news of what God has done. Salvation is a free gift, but it is not a bumper sticker you put on your car, a pin you stick on your clothing, or a Bible you carry in your hand–it is a sinner whose sin has been placed on Christ and a life covered in Christ’s perfect righteousness. Salvation is a life transformed internally, from wanting to rebel to wanting to obey, from following your will to following Christ’s will, from being a slave of sin to a slave of Christ, from trusting in your wisdom to trusting in God’s Word.
The true faith is not casual but committed. Christ isn’t merely resident in your life, but president of your life. Every aspect of my sister-in-law’s life was connected to and related to Christ–is yours? Are you ready to die, ready to meet your judge face-to-face? Are you ready to give answer for your life? Is there enough evidence/fruit in your life to confirm now that you truly are a genuine, born again Christian?
Read these two verses aloud with me. Second Corinthians 5:15, “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Second Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
D All those who embrace the Gospel will be TRANSFORMED by the Gospel