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To Be Continued…

Date: 26 November 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Acts 28:16-31 CLICK HERE to join in our Livestream service on Youtube

26Nov23 Herald
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Growing up, I was a big fan of legal dramas. I would watch every legal drama series there was on TV.

Now these were the days before Netflix, so you had to wait till it came on the TV. I had to stay up late to watch them. And then you had to sit there and pay attention to what’s on screen. Because you can’t rewind it if you missed a piece of dialogue, which for legal dramas, was everything. The legal defense, the cross-examinations, the closing arguments. And you couldn’t simply press a button for subtitles either. So more than once I had tell my family, guys please, I need to hear what they’re saying.

I was hooked. It was great. I love legal dramas. I still do. And isn’t it fortunate for me that the closing chapters of Acts are turning out to be exactly that – a legal drama.

In Acts 21, we see Paul arrested in Jerusalem and we hear him giving his first defense before the Jewish mob.

Then in Acts 22, we hear him employ his legal knowledge to avoid flogging by asserting his Roman citizenship.

And in Acts 23, we see him stand trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court.

In Acts 24, his case was heard before Felix the governor, where Paul once again defends his innocence, but that does not acquit him. Rather he is kept in prison for two years.

In Acts 25, he stands trial before the new governor, Festus. After giving his defense and realizing that Festus had a mind to hand him over the Jews for judgment, as a political favour, Paul appeals to Caesar, who is in Rome.

In Acts 26, His case is heard again with Festus present, but this time, it is before King Agrippa. He once again makes his defense, and once again, the authorities, Governor Festus and King Agrippa acknowledges that Paul is innocent of wrongdoing.

But Paul has appealed to Caesar, so to Caesar he shall go. And so, in Acts 27, we read about his stormy voyage en-route to Rome.

Which brings us to our passage today, which opens with this line:

ACTS 28:16 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

See, a legal drama – the defendant arriving at the city of Caesar’s court, the story arriving at its final episode. And what do we expect to see in the final episode of a legal drama? The verdict of the court. The emperor Caesar’s judgment at Paul’s trial. That’s the scene which the last 7 chapters have been progressing towards.

That’s the way all the legal dramas that I have watched concludes - with the judgement of the court.

Our text today, the closing chapter book of Acts, however, does not conclude that way. It does not conclude with a court scene. It does not conclude with the fate of the apostle Paul.

How does it conclude?

ACTS 28:30-31 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.

The book of Acts concludes with the fate of the gospel. Which progresses with all boldness and without hindrance.

Why does Luke end it this way? Because the book of Acts was never about the story of Paul.

It was always about the story of the gospel. More precisely it’s the story of Acts. Whose acts?

The acts of the apostles, duh. Really? How many apostles did you recall seeing in action?

Let’s recall the introduction.

ACTS 1:1-2 1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

Did you see that? The first book was about all that Jesus began to do and teach until his ascension. All that Jesus began to do. Not all that Jesus has finished doing. The first book was about the acts of Jesus Christ. Luke gives no indication that the second book will shift its focus to a different protagonist.

The Gospel of Luke is about the Acts of Christ from the day he began ministry until his Ascension. The book of Acts is about the Acts of Christ after his ascension.

But you may be asking, how does Jesus act in this world when he has ascended from it and into heaven?

Well, how does the Prime Minister act on behalf of the Singaporeans when he is in Singapore and there are Singaporeans living all over the world? He appoints ambassadors.

Ambassadors who represent the government of Singapore. Representatives who, when they speak, speak on behalf of the state. Who when they act, act not on their own authority, but with the authority conferred on them by the state of Singapore, so much so that it is not inaccurate to say that when they act, Singapore acts.

A local government appoints ambassadors to act in the rest of the world.

Which is what we see Jesus doing in the opening chapter of Acts. The choosing, the reconstituting of the Twelve apostles.

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

Ambassadorial. Such is the role of the Spirit-filled believers in the book of Acts. They are identified with Jesus and act on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus asks Paul “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” How can Saul persecute someone who isn’t there? But Jesus is there. Jesus is here! He is present in the world through his body the church, whom Paul was persecuting.

Acts 1:6-8 sets the blueprint for Acts. This is the real storyline of Acts. Not of Paul, but of the spread of the Gospel.

ACTS 1:6-8 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

Hear the question: “Lord, will you at this time, restore the kingdom?” In other words, will you be doing it? Will be acting to restore and to redeem the world?

Jesus did not reply, “What do you mean, will I? I’m done here guys, I’m shooting off. Don’t look at me.”

He simply says, “8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In other words, God will be present in us, and working to restore his kingdom through us.

So, is Jesus active in the world today, or not? Is Jesus acting to restore his kingdom, to redeem his people, to repair the world today, or is he not? If he is, how is he doing it?

He is doing it in and through his Spirit-filled people, such as Mt Hermonites.

So then, The book of Acts

is the story of the acts of Jesus

of restoring his upside-down, inside-out, kingdom

through the proclamation of the Gospel

by his Spirit-filled church

to the ends of the earth.

This is the storyline of Acts, which is reason why it is most appropriate not to have it conclude with the verdict at Paul’s trial, but with a picture of the gospel proclaimed in Rome.

And if this is the storyline, then the story has not ended, because the gospel still needs to be preached, there remains lands to reach and hearts to teach. And friends, you and I, we are part of this continuing story, because we are the spirit-filled church called to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth until the kingdom of Christ is perfectly restored at his return.

So what do we do, as Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses in the world today?

There are four things our final sermon in Acts is calling us to do:

  1. Defend the Gospel

  2. Proclaim the Gospel

  3. Believe the Gospel

  4. Continue the Gospel

First. Defend the gospel.

ACTS 28:17-19 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.

The first thing Paul does when he arrives in Rome is to gather an audience together and to… preach the gospel, obviously. Not really. He gathers an audience and the first thing he does is to explain his chains and make to it known to them that he is not a criminal, he is not a law-breaker – in other words, his conscience is clear. He is innocent.

ACTS 28:20 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.”

For this reason, not first and foremost to preach to you, but to explain to you the reason I’m in chains. It is not because of a crime, but because of the hope of Israel, that Paul was in chains, he wants to make that clear at the onset.

Why is this important? Because the gospel we proclaim, as Paul makes clear to governor Felix, is that of “righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment”.

And what does it mean for us today? It means that we have to watch our walk in this world. To be sober-minded and self-controlled and righteous. To be light in the darkness, to reflect love in the midst of hatred, to allow our goodness to overcome the evil that we endure.

There is that saying, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What You Do Speaks So Loudly I Cannot Hear What You Are Saying”. In other words, actions speak louder than words.

And friends, our lives, our actions, our walk, are often the first things that people notice and hear, before our talk.

So walk your talk. Walk in the Spirit who indwells you, walk in love as Christ did on earth, and in so doing, defend the gospel against any accusations that is it devoid of life-changing power, that is mere talk that does not make a difference to the Christian’s walk.

Friends, defend the reputation of the gospel. By living in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Second. Proclaim the gospel. That’s our bread and butter as ambassadors of Christ. So get to it.

ACTS 28:23 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.

How do we proclaim the gospel? Paul demonstrates how.

  1. We expound to them with patience.

  2. We testify to them about the kingdom.

  3. We try to convince them about Jesus.

And we use the bible to do it all of it.

From morning till evening he expounded to them.

Gospel proclamation requires an investment of time. It might mean meeting up with a non-believer week after week to read through a book, or to answer their many questions, or to accompany to the Christianity Explored course that we run.

It requires effort, and it requires time, to open up the bible, and to expound the gospel to others. Make no mistake about it. Evangelism requires time.

For Singaporeans, this is like drawing blood from stone. Asking for your time is perhaps even harder than asking for your money. “Luwin, I thought we pay you to be a pastor to evangelise for us? I still got to do ah?” Well, it’s my job, but it’s also your job. It’s the job of everyone to whom the Spirit is given. And we are stewards of our time and of the gospel, and we are all accountable to our Master who is in heaven. We must be prepared to make time to proclaim the gospel.

testifying to the kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is the summary of the message. The gospel that Jesus and Apostles proclaimed is described as the Gospel of the Kingdom. In other words, never lose sight of the big idea. We are proclaiming the good news of a kingdom.

It’s not exclusively the good news that your sins are forgiven. Yes, your sins are forgiven. But the reason that forgiveness is good news is because your sins were keeping you out of the kingdom.

It’s not exclusively the good news that your life will be better when you believe. No, the good news is of the kingdom, which is not yet consummated, and will not be until the Lord Jesus returns to establish the New Creation. No Christian lives his best life now. No Christian experiences the full blessings of the gospel this side of New Creation. Our hope is future-oriented. It is bound with the kingdom that is now, but not-yet, inaugurated, but not consummated, a kingdom being restored now, but not perfectly until the fullness of time. Which is why our daily prayer is “Thy kingdom come” – that is our good news.

The gospel of the kingdom also means we have a king. And we are in submission. We are not in charge of our own lives, free to do as we please. We have a king. We have commands to obey, a throne to kneel before, a sovereign to honor. Everywhere else, good news is described in terms of the freedom to live our lives our own way. The Christian, believes in and proclaims the good news of the kingdom.

and trying to convince them about Jesus

Third, the gospel is ultimately about a person. It’s not about a set of laws to obey, it’s not about a system of doctrines to discover, it’s not about a book of verses to recite. It’s about a person. And what do you do with a person? With laws, you obey, with doctrines, you believe, but with a person, you relate. You form a relationship with a person.

And that’s what the gospel about the king of the kingdom. The Lord Jesus Christ. We convince them about Jesus. About who he is, what he has done, how much he loves us, how he died on the cross, how he rose from the dead, how he is coming back again as Lord and judge.

both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

And the basis of our teaching is the Scriptures. Which means the edifice of evangelism is best build on the foundation of the bible. Not primarily on the strength of testimony, nor on the wisdom of philosophy, nor on the power of apologetics. But on the Spirit working through the word. Hold up, open up, the bible in gospel proclamation.

  1. Expound the scriptures with patience.

  2. Testify about the kingdom.

  3. Convincing them about Jesus.

That’s how we proclaim the gospel.

Third thing we do, we call on others to repent and believe the gospel.

ACTS 28:24 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.

There was a mixed response from the Jewish leaders to Paul’s gospel proclamation. And what does do? He goes, “Well, some will believe, some will not believe. Always the case. What to do? Can’t be helped. Can’t win them all.”

No. Paul does not resign to the mixed response to the gospel. He demands the right response to the gospel.

ACTS 28:25 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:

ACTS 28:26-27 26 “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27a For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed;

Paul wasn’t stoic about the disbelieving Jews. He actually rebukes them. He quotes Isaiah in judgment of their unbelief.

The problem doesn’t lie with the gospel, the fault lies with them – their organs of reception are faulty.

Their hearts have grown dull, their ears can barely hear, their eyes have closed. They’re not seeing straight, they’re not hearing rightly, their hearts, the control center of their being, is faulty.

What does Paul propose they do? He continues quoting Isaiah.

ACTS 28:26-27 27b “lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

Within the condemnation, there is a prescription, a solution for salvation. “Turn and be healed”. How?

See with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Understand with your heart.

In other words, Paul is urging the disbelieving Jews to humble themselves, recognize their problem, accept the gospel, repent and be healed.

And that our expectation too, as gospel proclaimers. We are not simply sharing the gospel and hoping for the best, and accepting come what may. No, we are aiming for repentance, without which there is no healing. We are calling for people to repent and believe in the gospel. It is not optional. It is not a matter of personal preference. The right response to the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ is to believe in him.

So in our gospel proclamation, urge repentance and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek for it, pray for it. That they may turn and be healed.

Finally, Continue the gospel.

ACTS 28:28 28 “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

This means that the gospel has been taken from Jerusalem and Judea into the entire world. The gospel is not a Jewish gospel, but global gospel. And we see this to be true today. Christianity is a global religion, not a Jewish, Israel-centric religion.

Broadly speaking, what the Jews have rejected, the Gentiles have received. A gospel for the whole world, a gospel to be preached to the ends of the earth.

And that is how the book of Acts concludes.

ACTS 28:30-31 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.

There are two things I want us to note about these closing verses.

First, we need the Holy Spirit in our task of gospel proclamation.

The gospel of the Kingdom of God, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is preached to all who came with all boldness and without hindrance.

That the nature of the gospel. It is a powerful gospel. Paul may be bound, but the word of God is not bound. The Gospel remains unhindered, for it remains proclaimed. It remains boldly proclaimed.

But boldness in proclamation is not affect of Paul’s personality, nor can boldness be derived from his chains. It is obtained in spite of them. It is external to Paul and his circumstance. This boldness is spiritual boldness. It comes from the Spirit.

EPHESIANS 6:18-20 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Pray in the Spirit, for me, Paul tells the church at Ephesus. For what? That I may open my mouth to bold proclaim the gospel, that I may declare boldly, as I ought to speak.

In other words, evangelism must be done in boldness, not in fear or timidity, as Paul would remind Timothy. For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of boldness.

Are you shy to share the gospel with others? Are you afraid you do not have the words to speak? Are you worried that you are not bold enough to speak? Well, Paul is afraid that he does not have the words either. Paul is not naturally bold to speak either.

So he asks for prayer, for words and for boldness. Because that is the way the gospel must be proclaimed. So if you don’t have the words, ask for it. If you don’t have boldness, ask for it. The Spirit is given you for this very reason. The gift of prayer and community are given you for this very reason. Make use of it, that we may fulfill our mission to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ, with all boldness.

That’s the first thing to note we as continue the gospel – we need the Holy Spirit in us to work through us.

Second, we continue the storyline of acts in this generation by our lives. What we witness Paul doing, we continue today. The book of Acts is to be continued. There is, in a sense, an Acts 29, and it is the story of our lives and witness.

Why do I say this, because the agenda of Acts is given at the onset of the book, remember?

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

And where the story ends, where we find Paul proclaiming at the end, is in Rome. Rome may be the heart of the Gentile world, but it is not its end.

There lands yet to reach, there are hearts yet to teach, the task began by Jesus Christ was continued by his apostles and remains unfinished today. We hold the baton now, we carry the torch today, we are entrusted with the gospel in our generation.

The book of Acts is

the story of the acts of Jesus

of restoring his upside-down, inside-out, kingdom

through the proclamation of the Gospel

by his Spirit-filled church

to the ends of the earth.

So this book of Acts, concludes in our passage today, but the story continues. Spirit-filled Christians in every generation are written into the ongoing story of global redemption; of kingdom restoration! Our church, Mt Hermon is part of this story, you and I are included in the mission. The messengers come and go, but the message and the mission carries on until the return of the king of kings on that glorious day.

And friends, this is where the entire story of humanity is heading towards, the hope of the kingdom to come. And as we invest our lives into the mission, we can be certain that our labour in the Lord will not be in vain. Our work of proclamation and discipleship, our mission to be and to make disciples of Christ will stand the test of time. In fact, when all is said and done, and the end of days, it would be the only thing in our lives work that would have been worth doing – because in the fullness of time, all things will be united in Christ and Christ will fill all things.

We get to be a part of it then, and we get to play a part in it today. So do it wholeheartedly, do it with all boldness. Use Christmas to do it, use the Musical to do it, whatever the means, do it. It good news for all the world, now and forevermore.

So people of God, in the power of the Spirit of God, proclaim the gospel of the Son of God, for the sake of the world loved by God, to the everlasting glory of God.

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