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After six months studying Acts (off and on), I can’t quite believe we are finally at the very last section. I have learnt so many things that I never knew, and God has shown me a lot about myself and the world and ministry. I hope you have been similarly blessed.
We have arrived at last in Rome, and Paul is staying in his own house, with a soldier to guard him. ‘Guard’ is an ambiguous word and it is still not clear whether the soldier’s job is to ensure Paul does not escape, or to protect him against attack. Either way, there is no sense of dark shadow or imprisonment as we usually imagine. Paul is not in jail, although he does mention being bound by a chain. He is in lockdown in his own rented house, people are free to come and go, and he is able to teach and dialogue, as he did in Ephesus (19:9-10) and Corinth (18:7-11).
Paul begins by calling the Jewish leaders to his home, three days after arriving, to tell them of his innocence. However, they have neither read nor heard any bad report about Paul; in fact, they are keen to know what he thinks, especially because they have heard others speaking against this sect he represents. They arrange another day for Paul to speak to a much larger crowd of Jews. Now Paul takes his opportunity to set forth the faith clearly, testifying about the kingdom of God, and persuading them about Jesus from the Jewish scriptures. Listening to Paul for the whole day, some were persuaded, but others did not believe. Luke describes the scene as asymphonic, discordant, and as they left, Luke says Paul uttered one – it’s clearly not one, but Luke specifies it in this way – word:
The Holy Spirit was right. He said through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers: “Go to this people and say: ‘Hearing, you hear, and you do not understand; seeing, you see, and you do not behold’. For the heart of this people is hardened, and with their ears they hardly hear, and their eyes are closed, with the result that they never behold with their eyes, or hear with their ears, or understand with their hearts, and they do not turn so that I heal them.”
It is such a powerful indictment that it is worth repeating in full, as the New Testament itself does five times; it is in each gospel (eg Lk 8:10) plus here in Acts. The strange construction with repeated verbs reflects a particular formation in the original Hebrew. All of us have had this experience at some time in our lives: we hear or see something, but don’t realize its full implications, or don’t act on it. There is a serious sense of finality in this passage. Although there were some, even many, among Israel who believed – we just saw that thousands had believed in Judea, plus men in the very room with Paul in Rome – clearly the idea of Jesus as Messiah was not embraced by Jewish people on the whole. Thus they will miss out, as a people, on the healing and salvation that God offered throughout the scriptures. Paul announces that this salvation will therefore be announced to the Gentiles, and they will listen, even if the Jews do not.
The last two verses form a fitting conclusion, although it is quite abrupt. Paul stays in this house two years – at least – welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness and without hindrance. Luke’s final summary could not be clearer: this gospel is not chained, and it will be proclaimed regardless of the situation.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that the good news about you will continue to be preached, and that nothing can hold back the word of God. Forgive me for the stubbornness of my heart, and loose my inner chains, that I might testify about you and your kingdom with boldness and freedom.