So how to do you end a book? Remember that the book of Acts began with Luke telling us that the gospel he wrote to Theophilus was “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The implication is that the book of Acts is the continuation of Jesus’ work. The final chapters of the book of Acts are showing pictures of the mission. What the apostle Paul is encountering shows the problem, the solution, and the mission. The problem was declared in Acts 26:18. People are in darkness and under the power of Satan. This is true for every person. Everyone is blinded spiritually and under Satan’s power. The solution comes from the Lord to open people’s eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. The mission is given to us to proclaim Jesus so that people will repent and turn to God. We would have the tendency to think that everyone who sees the light will come to the light. We would think that everyone who hears the message of Jesus would certainly come to him. In fact, we sometimes wonder why so many do not seem to “get it.” The final chapters of the book of Acts look at this problem and show why many will not response to the light shining in the darkness. This will challenge us to see if we have really responded to the light and help us with the mission of proclaiming Jesus.
A Hopeless Journey (27:1-44)
Paul has made his appeal to Caesar because Festus was going to send him back to Jerusalem for trial. But going back to Jerusalem would have sealed his death because the Jews had plotted to kill him on the journey (cf. 25:3). So Paul is placed on a ship in Caesarea for a journey to Rome for trial (27:1). The first eight verses of chapter 27 recorded difficulty sailing for the ship that Paul is on. The poor sailing conditions have caused them travel to be so slow that they were approaching a time when it was not safe to continue the rest of the way to Rome. Verses 9-11 represent the spiritual struggle that is happening between light and darkness. Paul declares act this voyage is headed for disaster and heavy loss. It will not only be a loss of the cargo but also our lives. But look at verse 11. The centurion paid attention to the captain and the owner of the ship rather than Paul. We can wonder why we have a chapter filled with information about Paul’s travels. What is happening to Paul is a picture of the cosmic struggle. Paul proclaims the truth. If we continue on our present path, we are doomed. But people do not want to listen to Paul. They do not want to consider the truth Paul proclaims.
With this lens, we can know what is going to happen. Rejecting the truth is going to lead to destruction. But they press on and set sail in their efforts to continue to Rome. But Paul is shown to be right. In verse 18 they start throwing the cargo overboard. In verse 19 they have to throw the ship’s tackle overboard. In verse 20 we read that all hope of being saved was abandoned. This is why Paul stands up in verse 21 and tells the crew that they should have listened to him. It is not Paul saying, “Nah, nah, I told you so.” This is representative of the cosmic struggle. Will you listen to the one who is proclaiming the truth? The answer is no. But Paul wants them to see that he has God’s truth with him and they should listen to him.
Notice that this is what Paul says next in verses 22-26. An angel of the Lord told Paul to not be afraid because he must appear before Caesar. Not only this, but all who remain with Paul will also have their lives saved. The rest of Acts 27 tells what happened, showing that the word of the Lord spoken through the apostle Paul to be true. His words are trustworthy and you can rest the fate of your life on his words. Some sailors try to use the lifeboat (27:30) but Paul says salvation is not going to happen through your own means but by listening to the words of Paul (27:31-32). So they listen, eat, and give thanks to God. They run aground and the ship tears apart. But look at verse 44. “In this way, everyone safely reached the shore.” Just as Paul said by the word of the Lord, all would be saved if they would just listen to his words. Your life can depend on the word of God spoken through Paul.
Living and Proclaiming the Message (28:1-22)
While shipwrecked on Malta, Paul is still convincing people about the power of God. A viper bites Paul so that the locals think Paul is surely dead and justice has caught up to him. But God keeps Paul alive and now the locals think Paul must be a god (28:1-6). God has reversed their thinking from Paul being a criminal to Paul being a god. Paul heals the father of the leading man of the island. This causes the rest of the island to bring their sick to Paul and he healed them (28:7-10). Paul is replicated the work of Jesus while with these people.
After three months they are able to finally finish their journey and sail to Rome (28:11-16). Verse 16 tells us that for being a prisoner, Paul has a good situation. Paul was allowed to live by himself with a soldier who guarded him. Can you imagine what the soldier heard and saw every day? Do you think Paul had a lot of conversations with this Roman soldier?
Now that Paul is in Rome, he wants to take the opportunity to proclaim the message. Paul does not know what people in Rome think about him and what has happened to him for these last few years after being imprisoned and then shipwrecked. Paul calls for the leaders of the Jews in Rome together (28:17). Listen to what Paul says. He proclaims that he has done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers. You immediately see that Paul is concerned that these Jewish leaders will be like the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and in Asia. So Paul explains why he is here. First, he has done nothing against the teachings of Moses. Second, the Romans have not found any fault or crime in my actions. In fact, he was going to be released but the Jews objected. So he had to make his appeal to Caesar. Third, the reason he is wearing this chain is because of the hope of Israel. We have seen this in Paul for many chapters. He wants to explain his life. He wants to clear up misunderstandings. He wants to make sure he is not an obstacle to the message.
Look at what the Jewish leaders say in verse 21. We have not received letters about you from Judea. We have not received any reports about you and have not heard anything evil spoken about. What a relief that must have been for Paul! Further, they want to hear from Paul about his views because they know that people everywhere are speaking against this sect, the Christians. So they know that Jews are fired up against it but they have not heard anything about Paul. So they would like to hear more about all of this. This is what Paul is living for. Paul lives for the mission. So they arrange a time to do this.
Why the Message Fails (28:23-31)
A day is arranged and many of the Jews came to him at his lodging. What do you think Paul talked about? “From dawn to dusk he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets” (28:23 CSB). Verse 24 tells us that some were persuaded and some were not. I want us to notice something very important. How did Paul try to persuade people? Did he tried to persuade with miracles? No, he did not. Did he try to convince them with secular arguments or human logic? No, he did not. The only means of persuading people is proclaiming Jesus from the scriptures. Paul explained the scriptures and gave his testimony regarding the kingdom of God.
So why do they not listen to the truth? Why are only some persuaded but the rest are not? Did Paul do something wrong? Should he have changed how he taught? Should he have made it easier? Notice what Paul says in verses 25-28. This is what God said would happen, as spoken by Isaiah through the Holy Spirit. In this quotation Paul explains why people do not listen. The problem is not with the word. The problem is not with the message. The problem is not with the delivery. The quotation says that they will keep on hearing but never understand. They will keep on looking but they are not going to grasp it. So what is the problem?
Verse 27 says that the hearts of the people have grown callous. Their ears are hard of hearing and they have shut their eyes. If this were not the case, then they would see, they would heart and they would understand. Then they would turn and the Lord would heal them. Do you see what God says the problem is? The problem is with the person. They do not want to see. They do not want to hear. They have made their hearts hard. This is why Paul says that he will go to the Gentiles just as the Lord instructed him to do. The problem is not that they need more time. The problem is not that the presentation needs to be changed. The problem is that they do not want to see. The heart is hard toward the truth. They are seeing it but do not want to see it. They hear it but do not want to hear it.
This fits what is described earlier in our study. Why did the ship experience shipwreck? Disaster struck because they did not listen to Paul. Did they hear Paul? Yes, but they did not want to listen to him. So they all experienced disaster. This is what the prophet Isaiah proclaimed regarding the message of Jesus.
Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 NASB)
This is exactly what Jesus said about the situation. Listen to what happens in John 6.
41 Therefore the Jews started grumbling about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Stop grumbling among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God. He has seen the Father.” (John 6:41–46 CSB)
They are complaining about what Jesus is proclaiming. Jesus does not try teaching another way because that is not the problem. Jesus identifies the problem. No one can come to him unless the Father draws him. How is the Father drawing people? Keep reading what Jesus says. “And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to me.” Did you hear what Jesus said? Everyone who listens to and learns from the Father comes to Jesus. Everyone does. Everyone. So if a person has not come to Jesus, what happened? They have not listened to and learned from the Father. This is what Isaiah said. This is what Paul said. The reason for rejection is because there are people who choose not to see.
All that we can do is show them Jesus. We need to make sure that we are showing people Jesus and not something else. We need to make sure that we are shining light so that the blind can see. We need to do what we see Paul doing as the book of Acts ends. He was proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (28:31). The sudden stop is implying that we are the ones who continue the mission. The mission of Acts has not ended. Jesus is continuing to do his work from heaven on earth through the proclaiming of his word to the world.
Nothing has gone wrong when the message is rejected. You did not do something wrong with the message is rejected. God can heal if we will listen. Some will be persuaded and some will shut their eyes so that they cannot see. We must give people the word and let them decide if they want it or not. But there is a way for us to do something wrong when the message is rejected. We did not give them the message. We gave them something else. We gave them our ideas, our culture, our way of thinking, but not the gospel. Then we did something wrong. Proclaim Jesus. Explain from the scriptures. Proclaim the kingdom of God with all boldness. Some will see and some will choose not to see.
My neighbor will talk to me about how terrible things are in the world and in our society. Do you know what I always answer? I never answer that the problem is the president, or the schools, or the laws, or anything else. I always say that this is what happens when people reject God and his word. I say it every single time. I have to proclaim Jesus because that is the solution for the world.