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St Paul

BRUCE C WEARNE brings his series examining Acts to an end…

So they appointed a day for him and arrived in great numbers to see him at his lodging. He took the whole day, morning till evening, to expound his views, explaining the kingdom of God and convincing them of the part played by Jesus from the law of Moses and also from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he said. Others disbelieved. So, when they left they were arguing amongst themselves, but only after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was indeed quite right when, through the prophet Isaiah, he said to your ancestors: ‘Go out to this people and say to them, In hearing you may hear but never understand; in looking you will look but never see. For the heart of this people has become hard, their ears are hard of hearing, their eyes they shut tight. And that is to prevent themselves from seeing with their eyes, from hearing with their ears, from understanding from the heart, [preventing themselves] from turning around so I could heal them.’ But let’s be very clear about this. This salvation of God has been sent by God to the peoples [of the earth] and they will hear.”
     And there he lived, paying his own way, for two entire years. He extended a warm welcome to all who paid him a visit, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, completely open in his approach and without being prevented in any way from doing so. – Acts 28:23-31

St Paul

FINAL SCENE: Another statue of St Paul in Rome (on the Ponte Sant’Angelo) where Luke’s text ends. PICTURE: © Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/Licensed under CC BY 2.5 (image cropped)


Luke concludes by telling how Paul made his appeal to the Jews who visited him. God’s promises are not short-circuited by unbelief. Paul asserts that Gentiles will believe. God has promised it will be so and so it will come to pass. 

Was Paul shouting as the Jewish crowd took their leave from him, arguing among themselves? I don’t think so, although some ancient manuscripts suggest Paul’s Jewish visitors left in disgust after Paul concluded: “But let’s be very clear about this. This salvation of God has been sent by God to the peoples [of the earth] and they will hear!”

This reads as Paul’s plea to them that they heed the Lord’s promise through the prophets that He will be made known to all the peoples of the earth as their Creator, Lord, Redeemer and Saviour. Paul wanted his fellow Jews to reflect upon what the prophet had said and apply it to themselves. Paul wanted them to stay awake when God’s healing word was proclaimed. He knew all are prone to slumber at such times. These comments are Paul’s confession, the raison d’être of his Roman stay.

Luke and Aristarchus were Gentiles after all, living proof of what Isaiah had said. Paul was keen to help these Roman Jews face the fact that Gentiles were receiving Israel’s Messiah, confessing Jesus as Lord. This fact had massive implications for all Jews and Christians, also within the Roman Empire. Paul knew that in recent times Jews been expelled from Rome. How would Rome deal when Jews and Gentiles together believed in Jesus? And what impact would this have upon the Roman legal recognition of Jewish religion?

Luke has told us how Paul emphasised justice, self-control and future judgement. This man commanded respect from Roman administrators as well as King Agrippa when he had visited Caesarea. Paul was committed to cordial relations with his fellow Jews and these Roman Jews had not been led astray by the defamation that had required Paul’s appeal to Caesar.

Paul saw the Jewish community splitting up in a new way; formerly, one major internal religious division had been between his Pharisaic sect and the Sadducees. But now a split had opened between Jews accepting Jesus as the Resurrected Messiah and those who decided to wait for another.

Paul was concerned for these disputing Jews; that is why he reminded them of Isaiah’s call. They needed to factor that word into their considerations. Of course it is important whether or not Jews believe but, says Paul, it is not, and has never been, the entire story. Isaiah’s call to be God’s Oracle came as a command to preach to those who could not help falling asleep when God’s message was proclaimed. The ears of God’s people can become too heavy for God’s kind of “tough love”. They had shut their eyes so tight they could not see His smiling mercy. Their hearts refused to understand. God the Lord commanded Isaiah, “Go ahead, preach my word, send them to sleep”.

Paul knew the command of the Lord to proclaim His favour to all nations, to the Gentiles. That is why Paul could confidently say “They will listen!”.

Isaiah’s message is that when those offered God’s grace ignore His mercy, God will make His promises come true by raising others to hear and proclaim the Good News.

Luke concludes by telling us that Paul lived for two years in Rome doing what he had been sent there to do. And that, as they say, is the end of Luke’s story. 



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