Sermons on Acts
Rome at Last: The End of the Beginning
Acts 28:1-31 This week we come to the conclusion of Dr. Luke’s two-volume work Luke/Acts. It has been a long, adventuresome journey, especially following Paul’s relentless energy and patient endurance, as he spread the gospel over 10,000 miles, visiting 29 cities, 8 provinces and 2 continents. With great skill, Luke has captured our imagination and held us in suspense through Paul’s countless trials and shipwrecks, wondering how will it all end. Will Paul make it to Rome? Will he get his day in court? Will Paul be vindicated or martyred? On the surface, Luke’s ending seems inconclusive, leaving our questions unanswered. But on closer examination, it fits his purposes perfectly, pulling us into the drama in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Acts 28:1-31
Acts 27:1-44 Have you ever been in a situation when a family member, colleague, or company you worked for was at a potentially dangerous crossroads, and you had the foresight to know the right course of action, but your advice was not heeded and the result was a disaster? It’s even more painful when the consequences impact you and your loved ones, and you can’t do anything about it. That’s the situation Paul finds himself in as he begins his voyage from Caesarea to Rome and ends up shipwrecked. Like Paul, poor choices of others can plunge us into the dark depths beyond our control, making us feel like prisoners to complex social entanglements that put our calling and lives at risk. What do we do? Come Sunday to find out. (Note: Because of the length of the text, it will not be in the worship guide. I encourage everyone to read it before Sunday.)
When Justice is Delayed…Endlessly
Acts 24:1-27 In this week’s text we continue the theme of “Paul and politicians.” Last week we observed how a Roman tribune, who was governed by rules of law, was the instrument God used to rescue Paul from three riots and transport him safely to Caesarea. Having been escorted by half of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem must have encouraged Paul that God was confirming his promise that he would soon testify to God in Rome. But in Caesarea Paul’s hopes are dashed when his case is turned over to Felix, the Roman governor. Felix has no interest in being a servant to the people nor in justice. Rather than giving a ruling on Paul’s case, he vacillates, postpones, manipulates and finally puts his ruling on hold endlessly. What do followers of Jesus do when faced with corrupt officials and the justice due us is delayed with no end in sight?
Paul and Politicians: Before the Sanhedrin
Acts 22:30-23:35 How ought we think about how we relate to structures of power in society? If Jesus is reigning as Lord of the world, what does that imply about how we relate to the authority structures in society? Both Paul and Peter seem to be very clear in their writings that we are to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1-5; 1 Pet 2:13-15). But is it really that simple? What happens when those institutions become corrupt instruments of evil and our submission enables further injustice? In the aftermath of WWII, we condemned those who carried out Hitler’s abominations with the excuse that they were just doing what they were told. So there must be more to our responsibility to governing authorities than mere submission. This Sunday we will get a glimpse at how Paul thought about the structures of power in society, and discover how the kingdom advances in a very imperfect and, in some cases, corrupt world. Acts 22:30-23:35
Riot, Arrest and Defense in the Temple
Acts 21:27-22:29 Having completed our series “Does it Matter,” we will now turn our attention back to the hair-raising drama in the book of Acts, which by divine coincidence puts flesh and blood on many of the themes we explored over the summer. If you were with us in the spring, you may remember Paul’s boundless energy, evangelizing and planting churches throughout most of Asia Minor and Greece. But when Paul arrives in Jerusalem, his whole career abruptly changes. He is assaulted, arrested, brought to trial and endures five trials that transport him from Jerusalem to Caesarea and finally to Rome. Paul the evangelist now becomes Paul the apologist, giving a defense concerning the revelation he has received and the integrity of his character. The fact that Luke devotes six chapters (nearly 200 verses) to these trials is a clue to their theological importance both then and now. Perhaps we should title this section, “Do Apologetics Matter?”
Why is Coming Home So Difficult?
Acts 21:1-26 In our text this week, Paul makes his historic return to Jerusalem. Historic because he has representatives from all the churches he has planted traveling with him, along with a significant amount of money collected from each church for the poor in Jerusalem. The gifts are the first fruits of his ministry among the Gentiles and symbolize the unity of the church. Like a college graduate returning home, not just with a degree, but with money to pay his parent’s back for his or her education, one would think the homecoming would be one of unadulterated joy. But there are disturbing warnings in every port that serious trouble awaits him, but Paul refuses to be deterred. The text addresses some key questions: How do we discern God’s will when both parties believe the Spirit is guiding them? And why is “coming home” often so difficult?
Strengthening Shepherds for Sacrificial Service
Acts 20:17-38 After the riot in Ephesus and return visits to Macedonia and Corinth, Paul was eager to get back to Jerusalem with the offering he had collected from the Gentile churches before the day of Pentecost. On the way he summons the elders in Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, for his farewell speech, where he commissions them to follow his example in life and ministry as the new leaders of the Ephesus church. This text not only sets a high bar for church leaders, it also sets forth what all followers of Jesus should aspire to.
Why Do the Nations Rage?
Acts 19:21-41 Last week we observed how Paul’s tireless preaching unleashed the power of the Spirit bringing life and healing throughout the city of Ephesus and the wider community. The most striking example was public confession and renunciation of former magicians demonstrated by the public burning of their costly magic books worth 50,000 pieces of silver. In our text this week we learn what happens when the gospel begins to have a financial impact on a community and threatens the profits of the powerful. The enemy does not go down without a fight.
Not By Might, Nor By Power
Acts 19:8-20 In our previous study in Acts, we celebrated the gift of the Spirit poured out afresh on twelve disciples, as Paul began his ministry in Ephesus. This week we will witness the power of God’s Spirit as it is unleashed and confronts the magical, political and religious powers that made Ephesus the greatest commercial center west of the Taurus Mountains. This will be the climax of Paul’s public ministry and his most productive time, as he proclaims the gospel in Ephesus for almost three years. Looking back on those days, Luke says, “The word grew and was strong in accordance with the power of the Lord.”
One Spirit, One Baptism
Acts 18:18 – 19:7 This week as we resume our studies in the book of Acts, Luke gives us two incidents where deficient faith is addressed and corrected. The text addresses the questions—What truly defines a “Christian?” Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit a second blessing after conversion? What is the difference between being “baptized” by the Spirit and being “filled” with the Spirit? And more importantly, “how” do we correct others when their faith is deficient?
The Greatest Testimony Ever Told
Acts 26:1-32 This Easter we will have a dramatic presentation of the Apostle Paul’s testimony of the risen Christ before the Roman Procurator Festus and King Agrippa. This is Paul’s fifth and most elaborate defense speech. It is a masterpiece of rhetoric, designed to not only acquit him of the false charges against him, but also to present the living Christ before his hearers in a rational, yet persuasive way. At the conclusion even Agrippa is unable to refute his claims and responds, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” To which Paul responds, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Now that we have heard, we too can no longer remain neutral. How will you respond to his testimony? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
When Our Suffering Is Too Much
Acts 18:1-22 Have you ever felt like you were doing what God had called you to do, but could not understand why it was so hard? When Paul arrived in Corinth, he tells the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness and fear, and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). Though he was directed by a vision to minister in Macedonia, it was more difficult than expected. He was severely beaten in Philippi and forced to flee Thessalonica and Berea before raging mobs. Though he achieved a hearing before the Areopagus in Athens, he was politely dismissed with contempt. Now he arrives in Corinth, dejected and alone in a city whose pride and immorality were doubly intimidating. What happens next is a miracle greater than Corinth’s patron god, Poseidon.