Sunday, November 29, 2020

Paul's Last Sermon

The last chapter of Acts (28:17–28) describes two meetings the apostle Paul had with Jews in Rome. Three days after he arrived, he called the leaders of the various Jewish communities together because he wanted to explain why he was there, what he had been charged with, and why the accusations had been false. He made three points with these leaders: first, He was not guilty of any offense against Israel (v. 17); second, the Romans had been ready to release him (v. 18); third, in spite of having been charged falsely by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, he had not brought a counter charge against them (v. 18).

His listeners were discreet. On the one hand, they denied that they had heard anything about Paul’s case. But they admitted that they had heard about the sect of the Nazarene and that what they heard was not favorable.

“Well,” said Paul, since this is what he was leading up to anyway, “why don’t we all get together sometime, so that I can explain my teaching?” They agreed to do so since they were responsible, distinguished leaders and recognized that it was their duty to hear, examine, and make a judgment about Christianity.

A lot of people came to the second meeting, and Paul used it to preach the Gospel. He did so all day long (v. 23). He began in the morning and went on until evening, declaring the kingdom of God and preaching Jesus. I do not think it could have been a monologue. In the company of these distinguished rabbis, Paul would have been questioned about the Old Testament and would have given his uniquely Christian interpretation of it. I wish we had a recording of that debate.

Still, I think it is not all that difficult to surmise what might have been said, since the very next book in the Bible is Romans, written just three years earlier to explain the Gospel to this very community.

Paul would have begun by speaking of our obligation to know God and worship Him, to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This would have been a point of contact with his Jewish hearers because, of course, these assertions are true. They are what the Scriptures teach.

Paul would also have shown that no one has done that. We have fallen short of God’s standard. He would have explained why, much like he did in the early chapters of Romans. “Gentiles have rejected the knowledge of God,” he would have said. “But we Jews have missed it, too. We have substituted our own self-righteousness for God’s righteousness, forgetting the matters of faith and trust which are so prominent in the Old Testament. We have substituted ceremonies for a heart relationship with God.”

If these were devout men, as we have every right to suppose they were, something in them might have acknowledged that this was true. Which of us, if we have any sensitivity at all, even after we have come to know God through Jesus Christ, is not aware of a coldness of heart toward Almighty God? We know we should love Him, but we find that we do not. We find barriers between ourselves and God. The Jewish leaders may have quietly acknowledged that to themselves.

Paul would have continued, “You see, it is not a question of being a Jew or a Gentile. We are sinners, all of us.” “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Psalm 14:3; 53:3). His hearers knew these texts, and the words would have found an echo in their hearts.

Perhaps Paul then would have talked about Jesus, the hope of Israel. The Messiah has come, he would have argued. This is the point at which he would have faced opposition. “We are expecting the Messiah all right, but not this despised Nazarene,” they would have said. Paul would have gone to the Old Testament and shown how Jesus fulfilled its prophecies. The Jews were looking for a day when God would reestablish Israel as a dominant nation. But Paul would show that before this happened, it was necessary that the Messiah sacrifice Himself to provide salvation for all God’s elect.

At this point the Jews began to disagree among themselves (v. 25). Some of them believed Paul, apparently convinced by his reasoning. Most did not. The negative reaction was so strong that Paul concluded, “I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (v. 28).

Someone has said God never closes one door in our lives without opening another one. This is what happened here. The door to the Jewish community was closing. Not many Jews believed. But the door was opening to the Gentiles. That door is open today, and it is our opportunity. If God opens a door to the Jews for you, walk through it. If God opens a door to the Gentiles, walk through it. Wherever you go, tell them about Jesus, because this is the day of proclamation. It is by the preaching, teaching, and sharing of the Word of God that people are brought to Jesus.