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Sermon August 25, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1409

August 25, 2019 Acts 28.17-31

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“All About Jesus”

 

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.”

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.

 

 

  • Paul Before the Jews 28:17-21
     

I want to begin this morning by backing up a little bit to see how Paul got to this point in his journey of faith and physical location. If we back up to Acts 27 we see that Paul was placed in custody and they decided to send him to Rome to give a defense for his actions in Jerusalem and the accusations made of him by the Jewish leadership. That journey to Rome may be one of the most frightening sea journeys ever written. Days on the water, strong winds, storms, a shipwreck, go back to Acts 27, the entire chapter is about Paul’s difficult journey.

 

It got me to thinking about how this story is also a metaphor for life and the difficulties everyone faces. In the Bible the sea is often reflective of chaos and if you think about the ocean or a sea it certainly has the capacity to turn ships in every which way. Having grown up on the coast of South Carolina, I’ve had my own experiences of being out at sea, no land in sight, and storms can quickly appear darkening the skies. Sometimes we see those videos of people along the shore who get knocked down or worse, washed away by a rogue wave. West Virginians know better than most the power of flood waters and the chaos that ensues.

Think about the water stories of Scripture. At the beginning of Genesis we may have a sense of chaotic waters yet to be created into some order, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Darkness over the face of the deep could easily be understood as chaos. Darkness is certainly equated with evil and sin and we know that most of the bad that can happen in this world happens in the dark. It’s why we don’t want our children out too late in the dark of night. It’s why we have lights on the outside of our homes, to chase away the darkness. It’s why we don’t turn down a dark alley.

Or consider the storm faced by the disciples while Jesus slept in the boat. They feared for their lives while Jesus, the non-anxious presence, slept.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?(Matthew 8.23-27)

 

When we think about the chaotic waters Paul and his companions faced on this journey, it also might be considered as a metaphor for the chaos that surrounded Paul’s life and journeys as he traveled around sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was often arrested, beaten, chained, opposed by the very people he hoped would receive the message.

The storm stories of Acts 27 are our stories as well. We may not literally be on the ship, but we know the sense of shipwreck when a loved one dies. We know the sense of chaos when financial crisis threatens. We know the darkness of despair when overwhelmed by tragedies of life. We know the storms of life that may lead us to call out to Jesus, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”

 

So Paul comes through all these difficulties and finally makes it to Rome where he will make a defense to the Jewish council. We might ask what keeps Paul going through all these storms. What gives Paul the desire to press forward as, at the end of the book of Acts, he is in custody, with a guard, preparing to defend his actions to the Jewish council? We will get to that answer shortly.

 

 

  • Open to Hear 28:22

 

 

Paul is under house arrest and has to send word for the Jewish leaders to come to him. Most often we criticize the Jews in the New Testament more than we praise any of them. Certainly there were many Jews who opposes Jesus and who opposed those who professed Jesus as Lord. Paul gives a brief history of his situation and his reasons for bringing them to hear what he had to say. The response of the council is that they know nothing of what charges have been brought against Paul. What they do know is that Paul has been part of this growing sect, as they call it, the growth of Christianity. But notice what they say to Paul in verse 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.”

 

What they know is that other Jews have spoken against the Christians. But, and this is crucial to how we view the Jewish council here, they were open to hear what Paul had to say. They desired to hear his views. If nothing else, it at least shows a willingness to listen. We tend to have a poor view of Jewish leadership in the Bible, and that’s not without some warrant, but there were also some who wanted to hear about this Jesus movement.

 

 

 

  • All About Jesus – The Hope of Israel 28:23

 

Some time later, on the agreed day, Paul, in verse 23, expounds his views on what he calls the hope of Israel. This is what pushes Paul through all the storms. The hope of Israel. This is Paul’s life, seeking to convince people about Jesus Christ.

 

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.

 

 

Paul makes no apologies. He is preaching the hope of Israel, which is Jesus Christ who died and was raised from the dead to bring salvation to people. In his understanding, Jesus is the Messiah the Jews have been waiting on for centuries. Jesus is the one who fulfills all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is their hope. I would encourage you to look back at Acts 13.16-41 to see what Paul might have been telling the Jews. He would preach the Old Testament story of deliverance from Egypt and the history of God’s people set free. He would speak of the lineage of kings and the final king Jesus who came to save Israel. Paul would use Old Testament scripture after scripture to show Jesus to the Jews.

 

26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers...”

 

Paul does everything he can to convince them that Jesus is the appointed savior the Jews had been waiting for. Luke, the author of the gospel and Acts, uses this phrase over and over as Jesus in Luke and Paul in Acts seeks to teach the Jews, teaching both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, Recall the times when Jesus spoke to the disciples from the Law and the Prophets. In Luke 24 while on the road to Emmaus, 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Then later in that same chapter with the disciples in Luke 24.44, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Peter preached from the prophets as well, Acts 3.18, But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. The point is that Paul and Jesus and Peter kept telling the Jews that the hope of Israel had come.

Paul makes it through his storms because he has hope. That’s one of many reasons, but the main one in our passage for today. Hope is a powerful force in our lives and when all hope is lost we often think that there is no point in going on.

 

 

  • Dullness of Heart 28:24-28

 

Some of the Jews believe in what Paul have presented. But others do not. Paul’s accusation against those who do not believe is a quote from Isaiah. They hear, but don’t get it. Their hearts have grown dull. It is a quote that has been as relevant in every generation as it was when first uttered by Isaiah. Jews and Gentiles alike have some who have listened and some who will not. Those who do not have a dullness of heart. They are not truly hearing the gospel. From a Jewish perspective it is important for us to understand that to hear, to really hear in the sense that you understand and accept what you hear, is to be obedient to what is heard. The Great Shema, “Hear, O Israel” (Deut 6.4) is not just a call to the ear, but to the heart, the heart of obedience and devotion. To hear that call is to do what it says, to worship this God alone and to love Him with our whole heart, mind, and strength. But there is still a group that will listen.

 

  • Those Who Will Listen – The Hope of the Gentiles 28:28-31

 

Even though they knew nothing about the Law and the Prophets, the Gentiles will listen. But we might also see that the Gentiles have nowhere else to go for salvation. One reason the Jews might have been hard of hearing when it came to Jesus is they believed they had a way of salvation, by keeping the law. Maybe that was a fallback plan in their minds, even if they did not believe in Jesus, they were still right with God. But Paul knew better, so he tried to convince them of their need for Jesus apart from the Law. The Gentiles had nothing like this Law. At best they might have thought like many people do today, they might have thought, “if I live a good life and do good things and don’t do anything really bad, I will go to heaven.” Salvation is all about Jesus. Hope is all about Jesus. Paul preached and taught about the hope of Israel and the hope of the Gentiles, that hope is Jesus.

 

The Book of Acts, like all of the Bible, is all about Jesus. Paul was all about Jesus. The One he once persecuted was now the One he loved and proclaimed to any who would listen. After all the storms, after all the shipwrecks in his life, Paul continued through it all to proclaim Jesus. He was ever faithful to the Lord and to the message of the gospel. Through our trials and tribulations, through our storms and shipwrecks, we are called to remain faithful to the Lord, to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior and to love God and love what God loves. It’s all about Jesus. May that good news guide us through this life and forever. Amen.