Thursday, September 17, 2020

Peace if Possible, Truth at all Costs

"Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” After [Paul] said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves" (Acts 28:28–29)

Yesterday we saw the Roman centurion and his people learn to put their trust in Paul. In Acts 28, we find Paul and his shipmates wrecked on the shores of Malta. While there, Paul healed many of the sick, and the natives of the island came to him in droves. We can be sure that Paul preached the Good News to them and left a church behind (Acts 28:1–10).

Then Paul arrived in Rome, and according to God’s pattern, he went “to the Jew first.” Calling them together, he explained the Gospel to them. While some believed, most refused the Gospel. Citing the words God gave to Isaiah, Paul condemned those who turned away God’s offer: “This people’s heart has become calloused” (Acts 28:26–27; Isaiah 6:9–10). Leaving the Jews to argue among themselves, Paul announced he was going to the Gentiles, and that they would listen.

So ends the book of Acts, which recounts how God gave a second chance to the Jews, how some of the Jews received the Gospel, how most of them rejected it, and how the Gospel went to the Gentiles.

Theologically, the book of Acts brings us down to the final destruction of the Jewish nation in A.D. 70, an event predicted by Jesus and frequently alluded to in the Epistles. By A.D. 70, the remnant of God-fearing Jews had transferred their membership to the church, and there was nothing left in the old church of Israel but apostates.

The New Testament does not tell us anything more about Paul than that he taught for two years in Rome. Did Paul leave Rome for one more trip? Early church tradition says he did, and there are hints in the Pastoral Epistles that he may have done so. Tradition has it also that Paul returned to Rome and there was put to death.

The book of Acts has an important lesson for church politics. Martin Luther did not immediately leave the papal church when he saw the light of the Gospel, but instead went “to the Jew first” in seeking to reform the old church. Only when many years had gone by, and the old church establishment had refused to hear, did the Protestant Reformers set up new churches. Luther, in fact, did nothing to create a new church until he was expelled from the old.

Our church is fragmented yet sadly uncommitted to truth. It is a difficult balance to keep in the church between truth and peace. Both ideals are important and worthy of our deep commitment. Strive, however, to mirror the view of Luther who said, “Peace if possible, truth at all cost.”