The Unresolved Tension
After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier that guarded him. 17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, 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. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar–though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” 23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: 26 “‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 27 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 29 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:11-31 ESV)
This concludes the book of Acts. This concludes our series on the book. 28 chapters. We have been in it since April 11. Four months. And this ending may leave you disappointed. We like endings where everything gets wrapped up nice and neat. The good guy wins. Gets the girl and rides off into the sunset. Paul is still in chains. No mention of miraculous deliverance or conversions. There is no finality or resolution.
For chapters we have been hearing about Paul being falsely accused and his need to testify to Jesus in Rome. Chapters ago Jesus appeared to him telling him this. Now the book ends without hearing about how these things turn out. There is no vindication of Paul. No game changing oration in Rome. No bad guys being put down. It ends in a lull!
When I think of great movie endings one of my all time favorites is Back to the Future. I remember seeing it in the theatre as a young boy. Marty McFly accidentally travels back in time has some challenges but in the end he restores his parents relationship, takes out Biff the family’s rival, saves Doc Browns life. And in the end when he returns and finds things better than ever and his brand new 1985 black 4×4 pick up truck sparkling in the garage. Doc Brown crashes into the trash cans on the driveway and tells Marty and Jennifer they have to come with him. It concerns his future. Doc then puts a banana peel, beer and can, and some other trash into the delorean and proceeds to go to the future. When Marty tells Doc there is not enough room to get to 88 Doc says, “Roads. Where we are going we don’t need roads.” The delorean then takes off into the air, the huey Lewis music breaks out, and to be continued soars across the screen. Everything is wrapped up perfectly and yet there is a sense that more is yet to come.
The ending of Acts certainly says there is more to come. But there is also very little resolution. Luke would have failed literature! In many ways this is a disappointing ending. It isn’t even really an ending. But I also think it is the only way it could possibly end.
Prop: The believer’s ultimate hope is in the return of Jesus, and until he comes we continue in the ongoing work of making him known. There is a tension in what we hope for and what we have now.
Lets look at some unresolved tensions.
- Tension in what we have and what we hope for.
If I could pick an old TV show to describe the end of Acts I might pick Quantum Leap. Remember the show where Dr. Sam Beckett (Bakula) theorized that time-travel within one’s own lifetime is possible, and obtains government support to build his project “Quantum Leap”. He is accompanied by his friend Al who appears as a hologram and seeks to help guide him to make up for past mistakes. Sam is stuck between worlds. He belongs to another world but he is present in the past to make things better. And each episode ends with him beginning another work.
Paul is stuck between worlds. It is not the end. Every day is another day to do the work God calls us to. You are stuck between worlds. This is what theologians call the already and the not yet.
Have you been saved? Are you fully saved?
Has the savior come? Will he come again?
Jesus has secured our salvation. He came, he lived, he suffered, died, he was raised again and now is seating at the right hand of God the father. If we believe in him we can be saved. Saved from our sin. SAved from a fallen world. Saved from our hardships. SAved from our mistakes. SAved from the oppression of others.
And yet we are here. We are not in heaven. There is more to come. Jesus promises to return again. He promises to judge the world in righteousness. He promises to deliver you fully and completely.
But not yet.
We live in this time that we are between the promise and the fulfillment. It’s like an engagement. The joy of knowing who you will marry, knowing they are present and here, and they want to marry you, but it is not yet. She is not yours. She is not your wife. She is your sister.
We know what is to come, but we have to wait. We know the full power of God, but we know we don’t always see it in this world.
You need to be anchored in God’s promise. You need to be anchored in who he is.
Paul sat writing in a prison cell. Fully away of God’s power to send an angel to break him out, to strike his enemies dead like Herod, to heal miraculously, to bring tongues of fire. But he also knew God’s hidden hand that allowed him to undergo 14 days in the open sea with no food or water. To endure two years in jail for no crime. To be stoned and beaten and flogged and ridiculed. Paul is living in the world but he is not of the world.
Paul felt the tension of what he wanted and what he had. He kept serving God. Thats called faith! We live in the time that we need faith. We need boldness. I think our community needs to see a bold faith.
Paul said it is better to die and be with Jesus. Do you believe that? I want to be wise. I look both ways before crossing the street.
Are we going to be a silent and absent church?
In mountains over the weekend. Massive rocks in the creek bed. Amanda praying the kids would be like those rocks. They are going to be opposed, pressed, but praying their faith would be strong.
- Tension between Gospel to preach and people to reach.
Stuck between Kingdom of God and the world. This is really the same as the first, but it gets at what pulls at us. You cannot serve God and the world. If you feel nothing pulling at you, nothing pulling you away from God, then you might just be swept up in the current of the world. It is pulling and only going to pull harder.
Paul is trying to reach Jews and Gentiles for Jesus. He is not trying to convert Jews to Gentiles or Gentiles to Jews. He is try to get each of them to see their need for Jesus.
Jews were the chosen people of God, but as we have seen in this book they largely turned from trusting in God’s promise. Their walk with God became about rules, observances, and not about a relationship. Same things as what happens to Christians today. Check some boxes and then go live their life how they want.
Paul has been attacked by the Jewish people. Some believed in Jesus. But some also opposed him. They have attacked him, stoned him, tried him in court. Paul continues to try to reach them.
There are also the gentiles (everyone else). They are on the opposite side of the spectrum as the Jews. They are not religious, they are immoral. Paul has been supported by gentiles and oppressed by them too. One gentile leader saved his life. Others have abandoned him. When on trial gentile leaders could have set Paul free, but Felix, festus, King Agrippa were more interested in political favors than justice.
Paul’s commitment to God puts him right in the middle of these two peoples. If anyone had a reason to just go buy a plot of land in the country and say forget these people and this mission from God it would be Paul. And yet he continued sharing the goodnews with these people.
Paul was different around each and yet he was the same. He met them where they were at. Sought to reason with them. Could not agree with them on everything. He simply wanted them to see their need for Jesus. He probably felt some alienation. He is in jail.
You probably feel this alienation too. Maybe you don’t feel like you fit in at school. Don’t feel like you fit in at work. Parents, you may be working overtime anxiously trying to ensure your kids fit, and maybe you need to work harder at helping them know who they are in God so they are OK when they don’t fit in.
God could resolve this tension and he never does. Paul feels it all his life. I believe we as believers are going to feel this more and more.
Cost of Discipleship. It may alienate you from others. Scary. You may not be in with the majority of people. May feel like a minority in a majority culture. Paul was not a part of the majority. What he had in Jesus was more than enough!
Following Jesus is not popular. Never has been. Never will be.
We stand in the middle because it is in Jesus that we find true deliverance. We find healing.
[For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Act 28:27 ESV)
This is the language of idolatry. In the OT (psalm 115) that those who worship idols of stone, silver, gold become as cold and heartless as the things they worship. The people have turned from God, the one they are to look to for meaning and purpose in the world, the source of life, and they are broken in their ears, eys, and hearts. Jesus is the savior. Only he can heal this. He may do it now. He may do it later. But he will do it.
People have a God-sized whole in their heart, and they will be seeking to fill it with something. Turn to money, people to fill it. But those things will let us down in this life, and most certainly in the next. Jesus is the savior of the world, there is no other. If we do not look to him we have no salvation. This is why Paul gave everything else up to tell others about Jesus.
People are frantic for security!
Heart and House Wide Open to these people. He welcomed anyone anytime. I think part of the reason conversions have slowed in the US is because people dont really want to be a part of God’s mission. Want to do church, get it out of the way and go on with life. Church was one part of Paul’s life. Church should equip you. Mission is about sharing your life, not just the gospel. People knowing you and seeing you, and vice versa.
We have no problem with evangelism as long as it stays in the streets.
Believers will find resolution for life’s problems when Jesus returns, and so now we give ourselves to the unfinished work of telling others of salvation in Jesus.
Paul suffered more than anyone at the hands of the church. Anyone except Jesus.
Followers and believers. Risk in the gospel. Anchored in the promise.
Are you doing the things God calls you to do ? Are you helping others. One anothering. Is CNN or God’s word defining your life.
- Tension between a Great Commission and Average Success
How would you describe Paul’s success here? We have mentioned how the miracles that began this movement have faded. Paul is in jail, he is not delivered. And yet people are coming to him. It is hard, nonmiraculous, slow progress. And God is in that as much as he is in the miracles.
Paul knows God can show up. He has seen JEsus in a blinding light, seen JEsus in dreams, seen angels, been delivered from viper bites, shipwrecks and so much more. He went without food for 14 days on the open seas, been shipwrecked, been arrested, flogged. He knows the power of God to deliver and he knows the power of God to sustain him in hardship. Everybody wants to see a miracle but nobody wants to be in the position to need a miracle.
Trying to persuade to believe. Many came to hear. Some believed and some didn’t. Fairly unspectacular.
The book ends with paul proclaiming and teaching about Jesus. He is following Jesus’ Great commission. In his home, reading the Bible and telling others about it. When the master returns he should find the servants doing what he commanded.
Paul never gave up. He never quit.
In following Jesus he felt the tension of hardship,
but he didn’t assume a contradiction.
We are bombarded by books and ideology that say follow Jesus and get your best life now. Follow him and get rich, famous. Jesus is just the means to our idols.
[But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:8 CSB)
Ready and praying for miracles, for tongues of fire to fall down, for a powerful move of the spirit, masses to come to faith, immediacy of change. But also willing to go at it one at a time, labor faithfully for long stretches, slow growth.
One day Jesus will return. He will judge the living and the dead. We will give an accounting of our lives. Well done good and faithful servant. Or will we hear depart from me you wicked and lazy servant.
Until Jesus returns you will feel this tension. You cannot remove it. You cannot remove it for your kids. And when Covid passes something else will come. The only one who can remove it is Jesus.
The ending of Acts is mediocre. I searched for a movie ending that would conclude our series but none would do. None could adequately capture the hope we have in Christ return, so I wanted to share the best ending to any story ever written. The end of the Bible. Where all tension is resolved. All loose ends tied up. All
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:1-8 ESV)