How Will it End???

Every great saga has an ending. Think of the series finales of your favorite shows (assuming they don’t get cancelled before they can tie up the loose ends).  Some shows end as if the next day will come, and we just won’t be there to see it. Others end the situation the characters we have come to love move on to other things. Sometimes one of the characters gets a spin-off show. Sometimes the things that confused us all along are brought into a new light as soon as we see the ending.  The Acts of the Apostles ends with all of these things in sight.

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The apparent cliffhanger of chapter 27 and a shipwreck in Malta is soon rectified. The natives show kindness to those stranded on the island, and build a fire so they might warm themselves Things are starting to look like they might turn out alright after all. Yet as any great finale would do, another complication presents itself as we witness Paul bitten by a snake as we go to commercial, not letting him go, and he looks done for.

When we return form the break, the snake has not harmed him, and the natives are impressed. They know he is holy because the snake did not harm him, so they ask for Paul’s help to cure their friend the Father of Publius. Paul visits him, prayers for him and lays his hand upon him, curing him of his ill. As we go to the next commercial the natives have fixed the vessel and given them new provisions as they cast off toward Rome – time for another commercial break.

At the return of the break we see a brief scene as Luke records in his journal the last steps of the journey, to Syracuse and Rhegium and Puteli. Think Indiana Jones. As Luke speaks the voice over we see a map with a red line moving in on their final destination. They land in Rome and Paul is escorted out to meet with the Jewish leaders. Paul presents his case – how he was arrested and handed over to the Romans, how they wanted to release him, but his own people called for his life, and how he appealed to his Roman Citizenship to have a trial in Rome which brought him to this point in the journey. We see the Jewish leaders looking at one another unsure what to do as we head into the final commercial break.

The last scene brings us to the final climax – the Jewish leaders arguing about what to do about this crazed itinerant preacher – who speaks of Jesus as the Messiah, and does signs and wonders, and a few people storming off. But one last speech from Paul, filled with power of the Holy Spirit.

“Go to this people and say, ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn and I will heal them.” (Acts 28:26-27)

We see the rest of the Jews run away, just as we see others start to surround Paul.  Words come on the screen as the cameras pull back detailing that tradition says that Paul was later executed, but for the time being he continues to preach and witness with boldness, as the church now starts to take on its worldwide mission. At the final close we see the city of Rome, the people coming and going amidst the busy day until it fades to black.

But then.

A few more words fade in on the blackened screen…

(Just in case you wanted to know what that bold message was…)

A voice over comes in and it is Paul.

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What’s Your Story?

Remember what Jesus said at the beginning of the book of Acts – right before ascending to heaven? “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). That’s exactly what Paul is doing here. He is a witness, giving testimony to the power of God as seen through his own changed life.

Even before the beginning of time, God has been telling His story. He continues to write His story today in and through the lives of the people who call Him “Lord.” He is telling the greatest story of all through the lives of His people, weaving them into an epic work of art. And although “witnessing” has gotten a bad rap in recent history, all of us as Christ’s followers are witnesses, giving testimony to His grace, power, and peace. We do that with our actions, but we also do that with what we say. Paul demonstrates this in front of Felix and Agrippa.

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It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

I am amazed at the determination Paul shows in his journey to return to Jerusalem. It has been a difficult trip, to say the least. He has already said goodbye to some of his dearest friends in Ephesus (Acts 20:s6-38), confident that he was never going to see their faces again. And now he’s saying goodbye to his friends in Caesarea. And they’re begging him to stay away from Jerusalem. They know bad things will happen to him when he arrives in the city.

But Paul was determined. He knew God had plans for him in Jerusalem. They might not be pleasant, but God was going to achieve His will through him. He knew it would be difficult. He knew it was breaking his friends’ hearts. The whole experience was breaking his own heart. He knew it could cost him his life.

But he also knew that God was going to be glorified. Somehow, some way, Paul’s trials were going to help the good news of Jesus Christ be spread unhindered throughout the world. So he knew he had to say goodbye. In hindsight, we see in these chapters that the light of Christ was shining through Paul when he spoke before the Sanhedrin. We know the light of Christ was shining in the Roman courts.

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Falling Asleep in Church

Admit it – you have falling asleep in church before.  I hope you don’t do it often but maybe one Saturday night you stayed up a little too late, but decided  before you went to bed that you were still going to get up early and go to church.  That Sunday, maybe the air conditioning wasn’t turned on yet, maybe the pastor decided to preach extra long that day and between that and staying up late caused the perfect falling asleep in church storm.

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I am sure you tried to stay away, you really did!!!  But you feel the sleep coming on so you start to doodle on the bulletin to keep moving, but then you feel the pencil start to fall out of your hand.  You realize that you are starting to fall asleep and you quickly wake yourself up.  You look around to if anyone is watching you — you are thankful because no one seemed to notice that you fell asleep for a quick second.  You start to really listen to the sermon and you figure out what your pastor is talking about…..then all of a sudden you fall asleep — the next thing you know the sound of the organ playing the hymn of the day wakes you up.  Embarrassed you look around again and this time Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are looking at you shaking their heads.  You feel like you want to curl up in a ball and just die.  Nothing could be worse.

Well actually,  a young man named Eutychus did die in church from falling asleep.  Eutychus was a young man around 10 years old who falls into a deep sleep during church, and dies…..

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Disagreement, Dissent and Depositions

The book of Acts is exciting on so many levels but mainly because we get a glimpse of the early church trying to figure out what to do when Jesus is no longer physically with them. When Jesus was around, being the church seemed a little easier. Conflict resolution often ended when problems or disagreements were brought to Jesus attention, he would quote scripture or provide divine insight and that was the end of that. But now that Jesus is no longer physically present, the disciples, apostles, and early converts were trying to figure out how to be the church in a new era. They did not always agree. But as we will see, the Holy Spirit works through disagreements as well.

The entire chapter of Acts 15 is about disagreement. First there is disagreement on whether or not gentile converts should be circumcised in order to be saved and late in the chapter, disagreement between Barnabas and Paul on taking John Mark with them on mission.

There are a few things to take note of in this chapter as we see the events unfold. First (as throughout the book of Acts), there is always an account of the work of the Holy Spirit through individuals. Paul and Barnabas have returned to Antioch to find that some believers have been teaching the exact opposite of what they have preached. Paul and Barnabas have gone to great lengths to make sure that the gentiles (non jews) understood that they were accepted as members of the body of Christ because they have received the Holy Spirit. This became an issue for many of the Jewish converts because they still believed that the restoration of Israel was part of the work of the early church and they understood Christianity to be a new sect of Judaism. The disagreement is resolved after going to Jerusalem and meeting with the Apostles and elders. We cannot escape the magnitude of this resolution. If this had been decided differently, what would have happened to the church? Maybe more important though, we get a great glimpse of the church at work in deciding over issues of conflict and how these conflicts are managed. The process for discernment was not left to one individual but rather was discussed and developed through a council of elders and apostles. Brilliant! “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us….”(Acts 15:28) This is an important aspect to how the church went about making decisions.

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Violence and Rest

If you like a nice peaceful story, Acts 12-14 are definitely not for you. Full of murder, and violence, yet still the undertone of Jesus present in our lives.  A brief overview.

First we start with chapter 12 — James is Killed by Herod’s violence, Peter is put in jail, yet God brings Peter to freedom. After going to May’s house, he stood and knocked until someone recognized his voice allowing him access (see voice print isn’t a new invention). We also hear of the soldiers who were guarding Peter were put to death by Herod, so Peter could escape, a parallel to Paul? Shortly after this Herod dies for not giving glory to God.

Chapter 13 turns from the violence to commissioning and the power of God against those who were false prophets. Paul and Barnabas also start traveling to share the history, lineage, and salvific voice of God through Jesus.

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