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ROME AT LAST!

Romans 28:1-28:31
Key Verse: 28:30-31

We have seen Paul’s ardent desire to go to Rome. It was not out of selfish ambition nor for worldly success. It was God’s vision for him to participate in God’s heart for world salvation. He could have the vision to go to Rome, after the powerful gospel work in Ephesus. He said, “After I have been there, I must visit Rome also” (Ac 19:21). Then when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Lord stood near Paul and said, “…As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Ac 23:11). And then on his voyage to Rome, an angel of the God whose he was and whom he served stood beside him and said, “…Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar…” (Ac 27:24). The purpose of going to Rome and ??? what his situation would be like there? were all confirmed. In today’s passage Paul’s long awaited vision came true; he got to Rome. Surprisingly, what Luke wrote here does not seem to be imposing but trivial. However, we believe that what wrote it in a most truthful meaningful way. Let’s think about it (or: take a look at it).

First, Paul and the people of Malta (28:1-10). Look at verses 1 and 2. “Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” There were altogether 276 who survived the storm in the sea. But the natives of Malta welcomed them all, building a fire in the raining and cold weather. Luke noted that it was unusual kindness.

Paul, as a shepherd, wanted to help the environment, doing something even menial tasks to serve others. He gathered a pile of brushwood and put it on the fire. Then a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand and was hanging from the hand. The native people thought that it was a sign of a murderer, according to their belief in the goddess Justice. But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. They expected Paul to swell up or suddenly fall dead. But when no such a thing happened, they changed their minds and said he was a god. This showed their spiritual condition. They were under the power of false gods. Their thought went from one extreme to another, regarding a man as a murderer and then as a god. For they did not know the true God through Jesus Christ.

Look at verse 7. “There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably.” The chief official could be suspicious toward strangers. But Publius was different. His hospitality was beautiful. Most probably, he invited not all of 276 but a select group, including Paul and his companions (for Luke wrote, “us”), to his home. This chief official had his own life problem. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to see him and after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. God’s healing mercy came upon this island and they must have been so thankful and happy. As a result they honoured Paul and his companions in many ways and furnished for their needs when they were ready to sail. This could be the natives’ expression of honouring God who showed his healing mercy through Paul.

The people of Malta were genuinely kind. But without the mercy of God they were pitiful and fatalistic. However, when God’s mercy and love came to them, they were lifted up and took a step toward the true God.

This event was before Paul’s getting to Rome. Such an unknown island on one corner of the earth needed the love of God. In truth all the corners of the world need God’s love through his Son Jesus Christ. This could the reason God was sending Paul to Rome: so that the gospel of God’s love and salvation should be preached to the whole world from Rome through Roman roads.

On October 11, 2013 a ship taking 250 capsized in internal waters near the Italian island of Lampedusa. The beautiful story is that armed forces of Malta coordinated the rescue of the 206 migrants in shipwreck. “We are trying to save as many people as we can,” said Maltese military spokesman Keith Caruana (CBS). It seems that the spirit of unusual kindness of Maltese and their honouring God and people due to God’s mercy through Paul was still there. Now Malta is a nation being independent from UK in 1964 and there is a university, the University of Malta whose motto is, “We should bring forth fruit unto God.” May God’s mercy and love fill this nation through his servants.

Second, Paul in Rome (28:11-31). Look at verse 11. “After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figure-head of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.” Castor and Pollux, in Graeco-Roman mythology, were the sons of Jupiter (Zeus), the gods of navigation and patrons of seafarers. The figure-head of the twin gods on the ship showed that sailing in the sea was beyond human control and they had to depend on a sort of gods, when they did not know the true God.

Paul and his journey team put in at Syracuse, which was the capital of Sicily and stayed there three days. From there they set sail and arrived at Rhegium on the toe of Italy. Then after sailing two hundred miles (320 km), they reached Puteoli, which is on the Gulf of Naples. There they stayed a week with some Christian brothers and sisters, possibly while Julius was awaiting final instructions regarding his prisoners. Luke wrote in verse 14, “And so we came to Rome.” We can consider Puteoli was in the area (or vicinity) of Rome. Then Christians in Rome had heard of their coming, and a delegation set out to meet Paul and his party. Some of them travelled the thirty plus miles to the Three Taverns, while others persevered a further ten miles to the market town called the Forum of Appius. It is written in verse 15, “…At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” He had sent the Roman Christians the epistle of Rome, the manifesto of Christian faith, and in that letter he wrote that he had planned many times to come to them but been prevented from doing so (Ro 1:13), and prayed that at last by God’s will the way might be opened for him to come to them (1:10). But indeed at last he could see these Christians in Rome. He thanked God and was encouraged. Yet, he could not directly join in their Christian fellowship. Verse 16 says, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.” Humanly speaking, living by himself would be a sorrowful thing. However, it was according to God’s will and he would not be treated like other prisoners confined in the prison cells. This was his human circumstances in Rome.

What did Paul do there? Three days later, since he could not go out to them, he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul told them about his arrest in Jerusalem and handover to the Romans, although he had done nothing against his people. The Romans wanted to release him, because according to their examination, he was not be guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Jews objected, Paul had appealed to Caesar. In verse 20 he said, “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.” At his defence in his trials Paul had spoken about this hope repeatedly. This hope of Israel was his hope, the hope of the resurrection of the dead in Jesus Christ God had promised in the Old Testament. The hope of Israel was in truth the hope of all mankind. Wherever he went and whomever he met, Paul shared this hope. Truly, it was because of this hope that he was chained in this world. How ironic! Yet, his faith in Jesus, especially Jesus’ death and resurrection was true. and so his hope was sure and certain. He did not settle in this temporary world, but looked forward to the eternal kingdom of heaven through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

According to the reply of the Jewish leaders, the world situation was that people everywhere were talking against the sect of Jesus. When the leaders of the Jews came to meet Paul, what did he do? He did not talk about world situations that were against Jesus. What he did from morning till evening, was that 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. He had no room to compromise. His faith in Jesus Christ promised and proven from the Scriptures and the kingdom of God was everything to him, although this faith of his was going against the world.

What was their response? Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and left. This was a discouraging situation, humanly hard to understand. But he understood it in the light of the prophecy of Isaiah, the truth the Holy Spirit spoke: “Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding, you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 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.’” This is a paradoxical expression of God’s pained heart toward his obstinate people with deaf ears and blind eyes and calloused heart. He wanted to heal them, but could not because of their rejection. Jesus also quoted these words, when the crowd of people rejected the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 13:13-16). Here Paul made sure to the Jewish leaders that he was in the same line with Isaiah and Jesus. Then he said, “Therefore, I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” “To the Gentiles”, Paul got this direction in Pisidian Antioch when the Jews rejected the word of God (13:46), and also in Corinth (18:7). Paul had to have this direction in Rome, too.

Look at verses 30-31. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s ministry in Rome did not end with the Jews’ rejection. This was a powerful end. The environment he faced was not favourable at all. People were rejecting Jesus, leaving his servants. He was in his own rented house, paying the rent through his regular work. He was alone there without any coworker. So many things would discourage him and hinder him from doing the work of God. But Luke wrote, “Boldly and without hindrance…” This is a unique expression in Luke. Nothing could hinder him as he served the gospel work in Rome. And when he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, nonetheless to say the Lord Jesus was in him and the kingdom of God occupied his heart. Here we see very clearly that no human condition can be a hindrance in doing the work of God. The most important thing is whether one has Jesus and the kingdom of God in his or her heart. When he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus in his rented house, it seemed so small and insignificant. But it was the most significant in God’s sight. It went through two whole years. We don’t know what happened after the two years. Probably he stood trial before Caesar. In any case, Paul’s rented house where he preached the kingdom of God teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ was more important and precious than Caesar’s palace in Rome. Paul’s rented house would be the place through which God could eventually change the course of history of Roman Empire, not Caesar’s palace. History attests that 250 years later Rome accepted Christianity as the national religion and was transformed from a Christianity-persecuting nation to a Christian one.

Here we learn that anyone who has Jesus and the kingdom of God can do the work of God regardless of the human condition. Sometimes we think that doing the work of God is doing something big and great. But doing the work of God is preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus. It can be very simple and small. Sharing Jesus and the kingdom of God with one person is very meaningful in God’s sight and in the history of any nation.

Acts ends with Paul’s preaching in his own rented house. It is not like the conclusion of any book. So they say that Acts has no conclusion and no end. It means the book of Acts continues. Luke did not close the book, but left it open so that anyone could write continually before God. When we serve one soul with the message of Jesus and the kingdom of God in the place where we are, we are doing the work of God in Acts, and you and I are writing the book of Acts.

In this passage we thought of God’s mercy to the islanders of Malta through Paul and Paul’s ministry in Rome. It was good to see that the natives of Malta tasted the kingdom of God. In Rome, Paul’s human condition was so discouraging and greatly hindering. But his ministry in Rome was distinguished with the words, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” We believe that this was the essence and the principle of God’s work which would bring the might gospel work in the future. May we follow this wonderful example.

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