We have been exploring the book of Acts which was written by a man named Luke as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Acts began with Jesus telling his followers to spread the good news about his kingdom. They would start in Jerusalem then go out to the neighboring regions, and from there, to the ends of the earth. In Jerusalem, their message was received by many . . . and opposed by many, especially by the leaders of the temple. They were scandalized by this new claim that the whole story of Israel had been fulfilled by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. One of these leaders was a man named Saul of Tarsus who worked tirelessly to stop the movement. That is, until he met the risen Jesus himself. This encounter transforms Saul from an enemy of Jesus into a herald of his kingdom. For years he traveled about the Roman Empire using his Roman name, Paul, starting Jesus communities all over. One of Paul’s greatest desires was that all of these diverse communities would see themselves as one unified people, regardless of their differences: Jew or non-Jew, male or female, slave or free. Jesus was creating one unified family
of equals living together under his rule. This brings us to the final section of Acts. Back in Jerusalem, where the movement began, the Jewish followers of Jesus were suffering from a drought and food shortage. Paul was so passionate about the church’s unity that he began a major fundraising project among the diverse churches he had started. They would pool their money together so he and a group of representatives could take it as a relief gift to Jerusalem. But it is not safe for Paul in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders there dislike him so much, they want him dead. Paul knew he was walking into a trap. His friends all begged him not to go. But no one could stop him. Why would Paul risk his life to bring this gift? Couldn’t he have sent someone else? Well, for Paul, this was personal. Jerusalem was where he used to participate in the murder Jesus’ followers. Now he gets to serve them. It is also where Jesus himself was executed. So, for Paul, it would be an honor to
suffer there alongside his king. Paul goes to Jerusalem and, as expected, he is found by his enemies. A mob forms and they try to kill him. But Roman soldiers save his life by taking him into custody. The Jewish leaders are accusing Paul of starting a revolt against Rome. But they cannot prove it. The Romans don’t know what to do with him. Yeah, they can see Paul’s not a criminal. But his claim that a crucified Jewish man is the risen
king of the world keeps getting him into trouble. So Paul gets transferred from one court to another… Until he demands that his case be tried before the court of Caesar in Rome. So they happily ship him off. Throughout this section of Acts, Luke, the writer of the story, has portrayed Paul’s trials and imprisonments so that they resemble his previous stories of Jesus’ trials and imprisonment. Luke is making an important point. When the people of Jesus follow the way of Jesus, their stories will begin to look like his story which is beautiful, but it also comes with a cost. On the way to Rome, the boat carrying Paul is hit by a violent storm and everyone freaks out. Except for Paul. He is below deck hosting a meal, just like Jesus did the night before his trial. Paul blesses and then breaks the bread, promising that God is with them through the storm. The next day the ship hits and then breaks apart on the rocks. But everyone is washed safely ashore. Which is amazing. But Paul is not out of trouble. He is taken to Rome and put under house arrest. But it ‘s not so bad. In his house, he can host groups of Jews and non-Jews, sharing with them the good news about Jesus, the risen king. This is a bold move. In Rome, the center of power where
Caesar rules the world as king. Yes. You have Jesus’ alternative, upside-down kingdom now growing in the very heart of the
world’s most powerful empire, all through the suffering of a prisoner. With this contrast between kingdoms, Luke ends his story. That is a great image. But the story is supposed to be about this message spreading to the ends of the earth. So, shouldn’t it continue? Of course! Luke has left the story open-ended on purpose so that his readers would know that the story isn’t over and that they can participate in Jesus’ kingdom
that is still spreading to this day.