Reading: Acts 28:17-31
How appropriate that as we end our journey through the book of the Acts of the Apostles after fourteen weeks we draw to a close as we celebrate the baptism of the latest member of the family of St Michael’s Church. How fitting also that our reader this morning is called Priscilla. When Paul visited Corinth he met a married couple called Aquila and Priscilla. They shared the same working profession as Paul being tentmakers. They travelled with Paul to Ephesus and he asked the church in Rome to welcome the couple describing them as fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Stating that they risked their lives for him. This final chapter follows on from the shipwrecking on Malta. Paul is first treated with kindness by the people of the island as he joined with them in everyday tasks such as gathering wood for the fire. One day he mistakenly picked up a snake which bit him. The people decided Paul must have been really bad because the gods tried to drown him then when that didn’t work they sent a poisonous snake to bite him. Paul was unharmed by the bite so the people changed again and now thought of him as a god. Oh how quickly we ebb and flow as we encounter things that take us out of our comfort zones. Paul had been in this position before when a crowd turned from worshipping him to plotting to stone him. Jesus faced the very same torturous about turn. From alleluia to crucify, from the crown of lordship to a crown of thorns all in a matter of hours and days. After three months in Malta the final journey lands Paul in Rome where we pick up the story and conclude our own journey with the Apostles and the early church people. As we have discovered at every city along the way Paul seeks out the local Jews. He is not in a position to go and visit them in the synagogue but is free to invite them to visit him. He had spent his time preaching Christ and not committing any crime against those in Jerusalem.
The irony behind this is Paul’s imprisonment occurred in part because of his hope of Israel. He feared bad reports had filtered through but all he had ever done was preach Christ to Jew and Gentile alike. The ill will between Jews and Christians was not founded on anything Paul had done. They concerned a new sect who some ten years earlier had caused the emperor to expel Jews from Rome, and of course among that number was Aquila and Priscilla with whom Paul had become a close friend. They had also heard many good things about this Christian Church and wanted to hear more from Paul. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Paul knows those to whom he addresses so just as he did when talking to the Greeks from a place where they were comfortable, quoting from one of their own well-known poets before taking them out of their comfort zone as he introduced an explanation of their unknown god. Paul begins by talking with the Jews from their own scriptures, their comfort zone. After all they were his own scriptures too and he knew them well. He spoke of the law of Moses. He spoke about the prophets of God. He took them back out of that comfort zone as he told them Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. And whilst some believed, many did not. I hope you have enjoyed our journey looking at the early church. Some would say the closing is a bit of an anti-climax. I’m not so convinced. Of the eighteen speeches delivered throughout the book, three of them are in Rome. The saying, ‘All roads lead to Rome’ is not simply a figure of speech because at this time it was true. Rome was the very heartbeat of trade and commerce, all the world’s leaders and thinkers wanted to be associated with the city. The power it had over the world of the time cannot be underestimated. Political and military power flowed from its walls across many lands. Paul and those of the early church knew that if Christianity was to gather a strong foothold it had to find its way in this city. The capital of the world in its day. In humility and bound in chains, ‘a prisoner for the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Paul brings the message of Christ and this new faith to that very heartbeat. Some scholars reckon Paul was released later and expanded his journeys. We are given no account of any of that. The book does not give an account of any further trials or Paul’s eventual fate. There is this almost frozen moment in time with Paul welcoming those who wanted to know more of Jesus. Anti-climax? I think not. Christianity had made the journey. It had travelled, sometimes not very smoothly, but travelled all the same, from Jerusalem to Rome. The transition had taken place, people were taking note that this was a faith that was open to all people. I kind of like the way it closes after twenty-eight chapters of some really intriguing writing. I repeat that closing verse. ‘Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.’ I have a sense of it being left in such a way that those who follow on, ourselves included, are given this opportunity to write our stories into the story of God journeying with his people, the church on earth, through his only son who is Christ Jesus the Lord. Surely a privilege such as that can never be an anti-climax.