Nov. 25, 2012
Background Scripture: Acts 28:16-31
Devotional Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-40
Reading the Book of Acts for the first time, one is often shocked by an ending that is not an ending. I remember my reaction to my first reading of 28:17-31: I flipped over the last page, expecting to find something more. But, no – Acts ends with: ¨And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered” (28:30,31).
But what happened to Paul? Did he appear before the emperor? Did he spend the rest of his life in prison? Was he executed, or freed to continue his apostolic mission?
The answer: On this earthly plane at least, nobody knows. Of course, there are theories. Some believe he was freed and continued his mission, perhaps as far west as Spain. Some believe he was executed or lived out his life in house arrest. But why doesn’t the author of Luke and Acts tell us about Paul?
There are multiple answers. Some believe Luke’s purpose was not a life of Paul, but a life of the early Church in which Paul played a substantial, but not the only, role. Some believe Luke assumed his readers already knew what happened to Paul.
Others explain Luke wanted to complete his book and not wait to see what would happen with Paul. History in Rome indicates that both Peter and Paul died there.
Where to begin
What Luke wanted to emphasize is the validity of the Christian mission to the Gentiles. As was his custom everywhere, Paul first presented his gospel to the local Jewish population. In Rome, as in so many other places, some Jews were persuaded to follow Christ, while others basically rejected the Christian message.
We see this in 28:20-29. “Some were convinced” of Paul’s message, but probably, most were not. After this Paul settled down in Rome, where he plied his trade as a tentmaker and continued to preach and teach the Gentiles.
Note that Luke tells us in those two years of house arrest Paul was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered” (28:30,31). It does not appear that in Rome the Jews hindered him in any way.
In other words, Paul’s witness to the Jewish community of Rome did not stir up retribution on the part of Paul’s fellow Jews.
There was good reason for Paul to show to the Roman Jews the links between their faith and that of the new Christians. When you can connect the dots in a person’s religious experience to new concepts, so much the better.
There is, however, an obstacle in Paul’s witness to the Roman Jews: It was almost totally on the level of ideas, and that often becomes a battle between who is “right” and who is “wrong.” Nothing causes emotional and rational resistance more than the accusation or implication that “you are wrong and I am right!”
It is not insignificant that the earliest name for Christianity was “The Way,” not “The Ideas.” This is not a conflict between beliefs and actions, but an interdependence of both.
Because of our beliefs, we are called to live Christ-like lives. Today, too much that passes for “evangelism” is focused on the content of our beliefs, not of our lives. Much of what many consider basic Christianity is cultural rather than divine.
For example, the all-too-prevalent idea and practice in Judaism and Christianity that placed women in a subordinate role was a cultural, not a spiritual, prejudice. Christians may argue or even fight over doctrinal differences, but often the result is the diminishment of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Words and works
Although Paul’s argumentation appears not to have convinced many of Rome’s Jews to follow Christ, perhaps his Christian witness in captivity pronounced the gospel more soundly and convincingly than his arguments.
The world in which we live today is more inclined to be influenced for Christ by Christians living the gospel, than arguing it. Paul used Hebrew scriptures to convince the Jews of Rome because it was the basis of their thinking and living. Today, in the world in which we live and with the people who are in need of the gospel, we must find ways in which we can demonstrate and even be the Good News of Jesus Christ.
My Sunday school class is composed of senior adults. Mostly, our experience as Christians goes back 60 or more years. Our concepts of what the church should be are grounded in long years of experience. Our view of what a church is and what it ought to be doing is grounded in our experience.
Last week, our lesson was taught by a young minister who was commissioned to organize and manage a coffeehouse ministry adjacent to the campus of Southern Methodist University. Back in the 1960s I was involved in the establishment of a coffeehouse ministry in Reading, Pa. This young man’s concept is broader, deeper and more likely to reach more people than the coffeehouse we founded.
Some of our class members had deep reservations about this new concept because it is so unlike what we have long experienced. But if we are to reverse the decline of Christianity in our country, I believe we (and our successors) must be willing to think and work outside the box.
There are many ways to be authentically Christian. I am comfortable with my way – perhaps too comfortable!
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.