#MOVEMENTCHURCH - ROME
Read Acts 28:17-31
Acts 28 shows us that what began with a band of 13 men, Jesus and his 12 disciples, had in a matter of decades, expanded from small town Galilee to the very center of the Roman Empire and the world at that time – the great city of Rome. The book of Acts was written to tell us the story of how all this happened. As Michael Green wrote, “Three crucial decades in world history. That is all it took. In the years between AD 33 and 64 a new movement was born.”
Acts wasn’t just written to tell us the story of the birth of a movement but to invite us to join the movement in our time. If you want to start a movement with a speech, a book or a movie – the story’s ending is crucial. You need to end with a bang. Think of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech or Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”. But Acts’ ending leaves us scratching our heads. Is that it? What happened to Paul? What about the church at Rome? Understanding Acts’ ending is critical for us to see how the whole book continues to fuel the movement of the gospel today.
Happy Ending? - Is Acts 28 a “happy” ending? It’s a question that forces us to remember the what story Acts is telling. The story is about how a small group of people huddled together in an “upper room” in Jerusalem somehow accomplished what Jesus said they would. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells this small group of His followers that they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Acts ends with Paul in the heart of the empire, in its capital city, just one step away from Caesar himself.
Luke is showing us that against all odds, God’s purpose, plan, mission will always prevail. This should give us great comfort, faith and hope. No matter how things look, no matter what’s happening in our world, whether we are encouraged or discouraged; no matter who’s in leadership, the odds are always on God’s side.
The end of Acts also forces us to remember who the story is about. Though Paul, Peter and the other apostles are foundational figures, the story isn’t first and foremost about them. It’s about Jesus. Paul wrote about his Acts 28 experience in prison chained to a guard in the letter to the Philippian church – his most happy letter. There he said, “I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul’s happiness and joy was found in Jesus (“to live is Christ to die is gain” 1:21) and pointing others to find and progress in this joy (Phil. 1:25). Acts 28 is a true “happy ending” because Jesus is being made known with boldness and without hindrance.
Spoiler Ending - The end of Acts also shows us how God starts and sustains His movement of redemption to ends of the earth. If we’ve been paying attention, we should’ve seen this end coming. It’s a spoiler ending - because God always works through suffering, trials and obstacles. Not despite all these things - but in and through them. He turns the tables on suffering and evil to bring life, healing & hope. These obstacles don’t stop his mission, in these the movement is strengthened.
Acts ends with Paul under house arrest and in chains. At first, we think “that’s a downer”. But Paul’s house arrest caused him to slow down and write three of his epistles (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians). His house arrest also, gave him a safe place to proclaim the gospel free from public rioting and over reaction (like happened in so many other cities). Having Caesar’s personal guards chained to him (a new one every 4 hours) gave Paul a “captive” audience and a way to even reach Caesar himself (see Phil 1:13!). Paul’s chains weren’t a hindrance; they were an opportunity. God turned the tables on Paul’s suffering and obstacles to advance the gospel in and through Paul.
It’s a spoiler ending that we should have seen coming. The gospel – that God brings our redemption, new life and hope out of the suffering and death of Jesus – shows us that the God who turned the tables on sin and death continues to move in this way today.
Open Ending - Acts purposefully closes with a very open ending because there is a “to be continued…” Once we see what the story is about, who the story is about & how the story advances forward thru obstacles then we are ready to ask, “What’s my place in the story?”. The ending to Acts is left purposefully open as an invitation for us to be a part of the movement of the gospel.
There is a famous line from W. Shakespeare’s play Tempest ,“What’s past is prologue” ie. all that is gone before is preparation for what lies ahead. The gospel shows that us nothing in our lives is a foregone conclusion; there are no closed endings. Acts invites us to see our stories as a part of the Grand Story that God is writing and to join the movement of His Spirit in bringing healing to the world.
1. What about the sermon stood out to you or impacted you most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
2. Does the end of Acts puzzle you? What questions are you left with? How does remembering what the story is about as a whole help to see the resolution (happy ending)? How does knowing God’s story moves forward “against all odds” provide us with comfort, faith and hope?
3. What’s the happy ending you wish for in the hardest thing you are facing right now? If you could write the ending, what would you write? How might remembering who the “big” story is about (and where true happiness and joy is found) change the ending you’d write?
4. It was said in the sermon, “What seem like our greatest obstacles, hindrances & chains, can be the places God turns the tables to bring healing/life to you and through you.” Have you found this to be true? Share your story. Do you struggle to believe this? Share your struggles.
5. What does it mean for us to take our place in movement of the gospel today, in the “to be continued…” of Acts? What might this look like for you?