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Acts  28:16-31

There is an enduring theme, as an artist would understand it, through the Bible. It is this: God redeems his people from their sin and suffering. The point is at least an artistic one; as J. R. R. Tolkien put it: "Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and a deal of telling anyway."[1] We come to the end of such a tale, and it is good to reflect upon it.

(Acts 28:16-31 NIV) When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. {17} Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: "My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. {18} They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. {19} But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar--not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. {20} For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain." {21} They replied, "We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. {22} But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect." {23} They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. {24} Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. {25} They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: {26} "'Go to this people and say, "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." {27} For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' {28} "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" {29} {30} For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. {31} Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Attitude and Altitude

"Your attitude," says a popular slogan, "determines your altitude." In a sense that is true for the Christian facing times of trouble. Just what kind of attitude should we have?

Persecution is inevitable

We seem to think we can avoid it, but the Bible makes it quite clear that where the light of God shines forth the vermin will react with persecution. You cannot change that; you can change your attitude towards it. Perhaps we should revise our attitude in light of the blessings of persecution:

·         First, persecution usually achieves the opposite of its desired effect. One result of persecution is that the Gospel spreads - because Christians, obedient to their Lord, flee persecution.[2]

·         Next, that we might find God's blessing, even in the midst of persecution. Or if not then, when He returns.[3] For it is a badge of honor that Satan thinks you worth persecuting, and God will reward such.

·         Another reason is this: by their fruits you will know them. Persecution is a wonderful instrument for separating out the true Christians from the Sunday attenders.[4]

·         Finally, persecution teaches you to give this life away, so that you might gain in return eternal life.[5]


You want to see an example of the right attitude in persecution? Just look at Paul in this passage. Here's a man who has been railroaded through the justice system of the time - by the Jews. He's been the victim of beatings, floggings and assassination plots - by the Jews. There are people who consider him unfit to live - the Jews. And what does he say about them? "Not that I had any charge to bring against my own people." Note two things here:

·         He brings no charge - despite all they have done. Why? Because he hopes for their salvation, and does not wish to drive them further away.

·         He calls them "my own people." No closer can you get to heartache than this.

The ultimate example, of course, is Jesus Himself. As Isaiah said it many years before the event,

(Isa 53:7 NIV) He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Jars of Clay

We must remember that we hold the treasure of God in jars of clay.[6] It is God who gives victory in this, not us. So what then should be our attitude towards those who persecute us?

·         We must give up all thought of revenge. Vengeance belongs to God,[7] and to take vengeance is to take what belongs to God.

·         We must be diligent in his work. Note (verse 23) that Paul teaches "morning till evening." Being diligent about his work also has the advantage that it give us less time to brood on revenge!

·         Ultimately, however, we must realize that there will be rejection by some. Christ told us that He came to bring a sword, not peace.[8]


Persecution can be painful to the body; rejection can be painful to the soul. We must remember that when we present Christ and are rejected that it is Christ who is being rejected - however we present Him. This is especially painful to parents who live a Christian life only to watch their children reject that life. We come back again and again to "why?"

·         One reason is for our sins. It is instructive to read the story of Samuel's sons. He appointed them judges; they were unjust - so the people rejected God's prophet and demanded a king.[9]

·         Sometimes, as Christ told us in the parable of the Sower and the Seeds, it is the care of this world which drives out that which we have planted.

·         Ultimately, however, rejection of God is rooted in pride. It is by pride that Satan fell

Rejection is punished by God

It is one of the constants of the Old Testament. God warns his people, over and over, of the perils of rejecting Him and following after other gods and other ways. The blessings of keeping his ways are made apparent; the curse of departing is likewise plain. Despite this, the Old Testament is filled with examples of the Jews rejecting God. Not until they return from captivity do we see that idol worship is abolished.

This is also a picture of what is to come. The Old Testament also clearly prophesies that the Christ, the Messiah, would also be rejected.[10] But it is also clear that the Christ would rise to greatness by God's power.[11] Despite this clear vision of what was to happen, God did not vary from his fixed purpose. You will note that in his ministry Christ never left the area of Israel as defined by Moses. Indeed, we have a fine example of his single-mindedness on the subject:

(Mat 15:22-28 NIV) A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." {23} Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." {24} He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." {25} The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. {26} He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." {27} "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." {28} Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

It may seem foolish that Jesus would do this; did he not know the Jews would reject Him? Should he not have taken this rejection as a sign to carry the message elsewhere? To understand why not, we need to understand another of God's themes: the remnant.

The remnant

Another of God's themes is this: after a time of punishment for rejection, or a time of persecution (often the same) God will keep for himself a remnant of his people who are faithful. This is what Paul sees happening to the Jews:

(Rom 11:1-15 NIV) I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. {2} God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: {3} "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? {4} And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." {5} So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. {6} And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. {7} What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, {8} as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day." {9} And David says: "May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. {10} May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever." {11} Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. {12} But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! {13} I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry {14} in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. {15} For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

(A similar thought may be found prophesied in Isaiah 6). We see this idea throughout the Old Testament.

·         Joseph tells his brothers that they are to be saved "as a remnant" out of the famine of the time.[12] This is typical of God.

·         We need to understand that this is not "natural selection." This is the work of God. For as the prophet wrote,

(2 Ki 19:30-31 NIV) Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. {31} For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

It is the work of "the zeal of the Lord of Hosts."

·         It is also an act of grace, the unmerited favor of God. Ezra, returning with the exiles, clearly saw this:

(Ezra 9:10-13 NIV) "But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands {11} you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: 'The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. {12} Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.' {13} "What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this.

Triumph Through Tragedy

How then, does this come about? We must remember that God's instruction is that we are not to overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.[13]

·         We are the imitators of Christ. "What Would Jesus Do?" is a popular slogan and motto for our youth. This is a great principle of the faith.

·         If then God gives us a command, then is it not likely that the command is to do something in imitation of Him?

·         And does not our Father send his rain on the just and the unjust?

God not the author of evil

Do not be misled. God did not create evil so that he might bring good out of it. He did not create evil at all. Evil exists because righteousness exists, like darkness exists only because light exists. Righteousness may exist without evil; evil cannot exist without righteousness. God is the author of righteousness. And as such he is the creator of happy endings.

·         The Jews were enslaved in Egypt; Pharaoh's heart was hard. But God turned this into good, and created the nation of Israel from it.

·         David committed adultery and murder to get Bathsheba - but from this union came Solomon.

·         The supreme example, of course, is our Lord's death on the Cross - from which we have salvation.

God is not finished yet

Many would ask now, "so how come we're still suffering?" Because God is not finished yet. We need to see his mercy and goodness as they really are.

First, we need to see his providence in the world in which we live. As Jesus taught us,

(Mat 6:26-34 NIV) Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? {27} Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? {28} "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. {29} Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. {30} If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? {31} So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' {32} For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. {33} But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. {34} Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Is it not the case that much of what we consider our troubles come through our worries? Should we not have confidence in the one who created all things?

Next, God has a change planned for this world:

(Rev 21:1-7 NIV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. {2} I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. {3} And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. {4} He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." {5} He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." {6} He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. {7} He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

So then, this being the way things will be then, what should we do in the meanwhile? Peter gives us the simple answer:

(2 Pet 3:13-14 NIV) But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. {14} So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Is this life, or is this preparation for true life? Decide well; eternity hangs in the balance.

[1] The Hobbit, Ch 3.

[2] Matthew 10:22-23

[3] Matthew 5:11-12

[4] John 15:18-19

[5] Luke 17:33

[6] 2 Corinthians 4:4-7

[7] Romans 12:19-21

[8] Matthew 10:34-42

[9] 1 Samuel 8:1-9

[10] See Isaiah 53

[11] Isaiah 53:12

[12] Genesis 45:7

[13] Romans 12:21

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