The Nations Will Listen
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Acts 28:17–28:31
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. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it’s because of the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We’ve received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” 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. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 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: 26 “Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’ 27 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” 28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 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.
Many of us are familiar with books, movies, stories that leave you hanging. They leave you wanting more. The loose ends weren’t tied up. The questions raised weren’t answered. Certain characters fade into the background without knowing where they end up. “Where’s that line,” you ask, “…and so they lived happily ever after.”
Not all stories end the way we expect. But sometimes the way we expect a story to end clouds our understanding of the author’s primary focus. We want the story to focus on what we want, when in fact the author’s focus was elsewhere all along. Many people come to the end of Acts with a similar dilemma. For many, Luke ends the book in an unsatisfying way. Questions remain unanswered: Does Paul testify before Caesar? Did Paul ever get out of prison? If so, then what happened? What about Peter and the others? Does the church live happily ever after? Did Luke run out of sources? Run out of time?
Such questions send people searching all over the place to fill in the details that Luke didn’t tell us. In the process, though, perhaps they’re overlooking Luke’s primary focus. More importantly, perhaps the way they want it to end keeps them from seeing the Spirit’s primary focus, which is Christ. I’ll attempt to present the full picture under four headings: our pattern, our message, our goal, our confidence.
1. Our pattern is suffering to bring others hope.
First, let’s look at our pattern. Our pattern is suffering to bring others hope. Paul wastes no time. Three days after his arrival, he gathers the local Jewish leaders. The words he shares become a fitting summary of the last eight chapters. He was delivered into the hands of Rome. Rome found him innocent. Yet the Jews continued accusing him falsely. So, to preserve the public integrity of the gospel, Paul appeals to Caesar.
But notice Paul’s approach in verse 19: “though I had no charge to bring against my nation.” Paul didn’t appeal to Caesar to get even with the Jews. Paul wasn’t utilizing the state to attack Israel. Paul’s not out for political revenge. Rather, verse 20, “it’s because of the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.”
Since he encountered Jesus, Paul has been spreading the hope of Israel. We’ll explain that hope in just a moment. For now, simply observe that Paul willingly wears the chain to bring others hope. He wishes he didn’t have the chains (Acts 26:29). But if he must wear them to spread hope, if it’s part of God’s purpose in the path of obedience, then he willingly embraces the suffering.
In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Notice a few parallels here between the portrait of Paul in Acts 28 and the portrait of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was “delivered” into the hands of sinful men; Paul was “delivered” into the hands of sinful men.[i] Rome didn’t find Jesus guilty; Rome didn’t find Paul guilty.[ii] Rome wished to release Jesus; Rome wished to release Paul.[iii] The Jews objected to Jesus’ release; the Jews objected to Paul’s release.[iv] What’s the point? Followers of Jesus have lives that reflect Jesus, that reflect his sufferings. They emulate the way of his cross.
But there’s more. There’s one further parallel we cannot miss, though it has a crucial difference. In and through his sufferings, Jesus purchases the hope of Israel; in and through his sufferings, Paul proclaims the hope of Israel. Meaning, the Lord’s mission triumphs through the suffering of Jesus and Jesus’ people.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord has designed his mission to triumph through a suffering church. I don’t mean suffering for suffering’s sake. But suffering for Jesus’ sake. How does Jesus put it in John 12:24? “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Do you want fruit? Do you want conversions? Do you want a vibrant, growing church? Do you want deeper joy? Then we have to die. How does John put it in Revelation 12:11, “[the church conquers the Dragon] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Paul is living that triumph over the Dragon right here.
That’s how the church conquers. That’s how we spread the hope of Israel—through suffering in the path of obedience. America will feed you a different message: “Avoid suffering at all costs!” That’s our culture: “Fill your life with as many comforts as possible. If it’s not safe, don’t do it or make sure you’ve got a gun.” That’s not the New Testament pattern. If bringing others hope means suffering, treated like the scum of the earth; if it means looking like a fool to your boss and to your fellow employees and to your friends—we embrace that suffering to spread the hope.
That’s our pattern. It’s the way of the cross. It’s suffering in the path of love to see others gain real hope. Some of you are discouraged right now. You pour yourself out for others, you sacrifice for their joy, for their holiness. You support and you spend and you pray for others. But you get little to nothing in return. In some cases, the return is more hurt, more ridicule, more betrayal. Beloved, the Spirit of Christ rests on you. You are following the pattern set forward by Jesus. It’s not meaningless suffering; God’s mission triumphs through our Christ-like sacrifices to bring others hope.
2. Our message is Jesus Christ and his kingdom.
But what is the hope we bring? What is this “hope of Israel”? That brings us to our second heading: our message. Our message is Jesus Christ and his kingdom. These leaders haven’t heard about Paul—verse 21. But they have heard about Christianity—verse 22. They’re skeptical but open. So a great number gather, and Paul teaches them all day, “testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23).
Note that Paul follows Jesus in this too. In 1:3, Jesus appears to his disciples for forty days, speaking about the kingdom of God. At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus taught the disciples about himself from the Law of Moses and the Prophets… (Luke 24:43-45). In a nutshell, that’s what the Old Testament is about: Jesus and the kingdom of God. That’s the hope of Israel. It’s your hope too as we’ll see soon enough.
Numerous places in the Old Testament refer to God’s kingship. Because he created all things, God is King over everything and everyone. In the beginning, Adam and Eve acknowledged God’s rule. God even created them to image his rule.[v] Their lives pointed to his glory as the true King. But when tempted to rule their own lives, Adam and Eve gave in; and sin entered the world.[vi] Sin is rebellion against God’s rule. Since that day, the nations have raged against God’s kingship (Ps 2:1).
Never does this mean God lost control as King. Quite the opposite. God proves his kingship by judging sin. God banishes humanity from his presence.[vii] God curses the world with disease and death.[viii] Confusion and chaos wreck our relationships.[ix] God even promises to judge and exclude all evil from his creation one day.[x]
But there’s also a complementary way God proves his kingship in the Old Testament; and that’s by redemption. God aims to establish his heavenly rule on earth, to bring peace to the chaos, to heal all that’s broken, to replace the evil with good. A new reality on earth. But even more amazing—he’d also redeem a people to live in it. He wouldn’t wipe out all rebels, though he had the right to do so. In mercy, he would save some and make them citizens of his new world order.
Shadows of this kingdom exist throughout the Old Testament. God prefigures this kingdom with Noah, then Abraham, then Israel, then David. But all these eras point forward to another. The ultimate kingdom hope was tied to only One who would reign on David’s throne forever (Isa 9:7). With this King would come wisdom and might (Isa 11:2). With this King would come righteousness (Isa 11:4). With this King would come a divine reversal of the curse—the lame leaping like the deer. To encounter this King, is to encounter the rule of God itself setting all things right in the world.
That is Israel’s hope. That is their confident expectation. Jesus then enters the picture. The angel tells Mary that Jesus would be the one to take David’s throne. “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). Jesus preaches the kingdom of God.[xi] He starts healing people, casting out demons, and raising the dead to prove that his kingdom restores all that sin has ruined. The kingdom comes near because the King has arrived.[xii]
But the way Jesus establishes his kingdom isn’t through military power and royal pageantry. As the Gospels reveal, Jesus establishes God’s kingdom by dying on a cross and rising from the dead. His death and resurrection are how he defeats the power of sin and death that dominate those he loves. Jesus’ death and resurrection are how he makes the rebels into citizens of his kingdom.
Many Jews don’t know it, but Jesus and his forever kingdom breaking into the present order is the hope of Israel. It’s also the hope of the world. That was Paul’s message; it’s also our message. God builds his church on this message—and no other message. All throughout Acts, this message creates the church. It sustains the church. It shapes the church’s attitudes and generosity. It produces the church’s joy. It keeps the church persevering through suffering and loss. It offers hope in the face of death. It even ensures the church will make it to the end. Thus, we cannot shift away from this hope.
The culture tells us to put our hope in things besides Jesus and his kingdom: hope in your own ability, in your works, in your goodness, wisdom, and strength; hope in human progress, in political leaders, in self-actualization; hope in America, in new health programs, in your 401K; hope in science to solve all problems; hope in social empowerment; hope in your spouse.
Not all these are evil in and of themselves, of course. When rightly ordered under Jesus’ lordship, some of them may even be used to advance his kingdom. The problem is when any of them become substitutes for our hope in Jesus and his kingdom. How can you tell if you’re trading Jesus and his kingdom for another hope? Whatever it is, if you were to lose that thing, you feel like your whole world would come crashing down. To lose your job, your reputation, your retirement, your spouse, your child, even your own intellect would mean all hope is lost. That’s how you know.
Listen, there are no substitutes to Jesus and his kingdom. Outside of Jesus and his kingdom, there is no other person or authority or position or wisdom or wealth or “love” that turns rebels into children of God and makes the world right again. Nothing else lasts forever. Nothing else has an enduring, increasing joy that won’t fade. Nothing else promises a new creation without tears. Nothing else brings justice. Our message is Jesus Christ and his kingdom—and may we never get over it.
3. Our goal is to reach all peoples with the gospel.
Third, our goal. Our goal is to reach all peoples with the gospel—with this message of hope. Repeatedly, we’ve encountered a pattern in Paul’s mission. He offers the kingdom to Jews first. When they largely reject it, he turns to the Gentiles—not exclusively but primarily.[xiii] That happens again here. He tries to convince the Jews about Jesus. Some believe. Others don’t. For those that don’t, he proclaims a word of judgment. Then in verse 28 he turns to the Gentiles—“they will listen.”
We already know why he does this from 13:47. He’s following the mission of the Servant in Isaiah. In Isaiah 49 the Jews hold a privileged place in God’s redemption story. But that same story includes God extending his salvation beyond Israel to the nations. He does this through a unique Servant, Jesus Christ. But that extension happens in the face of Israel rejecting the Servant. In other words, God’s saving purpose wouldn’t be hindered by Jewish unbelief. How? “I’ve made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
That pattern of the Servant facing Israel’s unbelief and then extending God’s salvation to the nations plays out here in Paul. Or better, it plays out here in the risen Jesus acting through Paul. Only this time, Paul quotes another portion of Isaiah, Isaiah 6:10. God commissions Isaiah to preach his word. But the preaching will actually have a hardening effect. He will speak but Israel at large won’t listen. The elect, remnant will listen. But besides them, Isaiah’s words become God’s instrument of hardening the rest.
Now, the New Testament uses this passage often to explain Jewish unbelief. In Matthew 13:10-17, Jesus uses it to explain why he speaks in parables. They’re not for all to understand. Understanding in the heart only comes by a gracious act of God. Unless such grace is given, the heart remains dull, unable to respond to God’s word the way it ought to. For some Jews in Jesus’ day, they didn’t receive this grace. So rather than believing, they hardened themselves against Jesus. The human heart will always react that way to Jesus apart from his gracious initiative.
The same was happening here with Paul: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: “Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’” Why? “Because this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they’ve closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”
If they turned to the Lord, God would heal them. The kingdom would be theirs. But many of them couldn’t. Do you see how this is a word of judgment? Your heart is too dull. You’re too thick-headed, just like your fathers. Left to yourself, you’re morally unable to love what God loves. Unless you cry to God for mercy, you won’t be healed. God’s word stands against you and will harden you further.
But once again, this Jewish unbelief doesn’t thwart God’s purpose. It becomes the occasion whereby God extends the hope of Israel to all nations. Why? They will listen. Not every single individual, of course. But multitudes beyond Israel will listen. By grace, they will listen. That’s the whole thrust of Scripture, is it not?
The Law: “in you [Abraham] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). The Prophets: people who’ve never seen will see and those who’ve never heard will understand (Isa 52:15). The Psalms: “Let the peoples praise you, O God…Let the nations be glad and sing for joy…” (Ps 67:3-4). Revelation: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, crying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10).
God has a people beyond Israel, and he wants them reconciled to Jesus and enjoying his kingdom. They will listen! Just as his grace enables the elect remnant within Israel to believe; so also his grace will enable the elect Gentiles to believe. He will receive glory in saving them. They will listen! How does that compel you? How does that affect you, brothers and sisters? Don’t you see that the nations will listen? People in White Settlement will listen. People on your street will listen. People at your school will listen. People in your family gatherings will listen. People down Las Vegas Trail will listen. Why do you live where you do? Why do you work where you do? Why has God placed you where he has? To bring the hope of Jesus and his kingdom to all who will listen. The nations will listen. Let’s deliver the message.
I’m thankful for the example a number of you set in this. Erik Neilson sharing through his company, Vos Lighting. Gary Moore sharing with folks till midnight at a local Taco Cabana. Nate and Abbey showing hospitality to those on their street. A couple of you sisters touching base with old college friends, praying for opportunities to share the hope of Christ. You’re examples to us. The risen Jesus is advancing his gospel through you to fulfill the mission of Isaiah’s Servant. Let’s follow them.
You’re not living where you are by accident. God has you here to bring people the hope of Jesus and his kingdom. One way you can participate in that is by showing up next Sunday morning at 9:15, and help us write notes to encourage the teachers at West Elementary; and seek to build more avenues where the gospel can advance.
4. Our confidence is in the risen Lord Jesus to complete the mission.
Last heading, our confidence. Our confidence is in the risen Lord Jesus to complete the mission. Notice the way Acts finishes: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
This is the part that leaves people hanging. What happens to Paul, Luke? Why didn’t you tell us about Caesar? How does he die? What happens to the church? Does it live happily ever after? Or, do these questions miss his primary focus? I think they do. His aim from the outset wasn’t a biography of Paul. It also wasn’t a history of the church. Rather, his focus is Jesus. Acts is an account of the risen Lord Jesus advancing his unstoppable kingdom. That’s the primary focus, which he began for Theophilus in 1:1.
It’s no accident that Acts begins with Jesus’ promise of the gospel spreading in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then to the end of the earth; and then Acts ends with the gospel of the kingdom advancing “without hindrance.” That’s his primary focus: the progress of the gospel without hindrance; the unstoppable kingdom of the risen Lord Jesus. Paul may be chained to a soldier; but the gospel isn’t bound. The risen Jesus isn’t bound. Kings may lock us up, but the King of kings can’t be stopped.
Therefore, give yourself to the gospel’s progress; and put all your confidence in the risen Lord Jesus to finish the mission. You can’t do this work on your own. You don’t have the capacity to love as others should be loved. You don’t have the strength to persevere. It’s easy to grow weary when care isn’t reciprocated. The fallen world often brings dark days and hard relationships. Various futilities will weaken us and cripple us and cause grief. We will all likely die before the mission is complete. But our confidence rests in Jesus to finish the work. His kingdom will advance without hindrance.
[i]Luke 9:44; 18:32; 24:7; Acts 28:17.
[ii]Luke 23:14; Acts 28:18.
[iii]Luke 23:16; Acts 28:18.
[iv]Luke 23:18; Acts 28:19.
[v]Gen 1:26-31; Ps 8.
[vi]Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12ff.
[viii]Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8:20-21.
[ix]Rom 1:18-32; Tit 3:3; Jas 4:1-2.
[x]Rev 20:11-15; 21:8.
[xi]Luke 4:38; 8:1; 9:11.
[xii]Luke 10:9, 11; 17:20-21.
[xiii]Acts 13:44-51; 18:5-8.
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