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.
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.
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.
The blackness fades as we see a lamp start to illuminate a darkened room, and we see Paul’s back to us writing on a flat surface. A subtitle on the bottom of the screen tell us that he is writing his letter to the Romans years before….
His voice is full of vigor and strength.
“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:7-17)
All goes black on the screen – as these last words fill the screen.
AND THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES CONTINUED…
…AND THEY CONTINUE WITH YOU.
What is your favorite series finale?
Has the ending of a program ever changed you? How?
What might it mean that the Acts of the Apostles Continue with you?
How might that change your understanding of this story?
What book of the Bible do you want to read next?
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