“You Can’t Stop the Gospel!”
Series: The Church on Fire
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Acts, chapter 28.
We’re in the last chapter of the book of Acts. What a joy it has been to be studying through this book, verse-by-verse, and here we are now in the last half of chapter 28. Our text this morning is verses 17 to the end of the chapter. A quick reminder: The Apostle Paul had been taken prisoner back in Caesarea, having been charged with crimes he did not commit. He appealed to Caesar and so was literally shipped off to Rome to stand trial there. After going through a storm and a shipwreck, he finally makes it to Rome and is placed on something of a “house arrest,” chained to a Roman soldier while he waits for his case to be called up.
So we pick up the story here, learning what happens immediately after Paul arrives in Rome. And it doesn’t surprise us to find that Paul spares no time in getting to work, sharing the Gospel there in Rome. He calls for Jewish leaders from the local synagogues to come see him and, with chains shackled to his body; he shares the saving message of the Gospel, the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ with them. Let’s study it together in Acts 28 and beginning in verse 17.
- Stand in honor of the reading of the Word of God.
17 And it came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren, though I have 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 “who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death.
19 “But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation.
20 “For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”
As I was studying the text this past week, I was looking for the one main theme that runs through all the verses and I kept coming back to this theme that “you can’t stop the Gospel.” That’s what seemed to come up again and again as I was reading these verses: no matter what, come what may, God will see that the Gospel will advance, it will continue, it will move forward. The very end of the book, the very last verse, conveys this truth: verse 31 tells us that Paul is teaching the things of the Lord Jesus Christ…“no one forbidding him.” You can’t stop the Gospel.
History tells us that people have tried to stop the Gospel. In his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell relays how some men have tried to stop the forward advance of the Gospel. In the AD 300, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered that every Bible should be burned. He thought that by destroying the Scriptures he could destroy Christianity. Anyone caught with a Bible would be executed. But you can’t stop the Gospel. Just 25 years after Diocletian’s edict, a new Roman emperor named Constantine became a Christian and ordered that 50 perfect copies of the Bible be made at the government’s expense. You can’t stop the Gospel.
Then there’s the story of the French philosopher Voltaire. Voltaire did his best to destroy Christianity by arguing against it and writing against it during the days of the so-called Enlightenment of the 18th century. Voltaire boasted that within 100 years of his death, the Bible would disappear from the face of the earth. Well, what happened? Voltaire died in 1728 and the Bible lives on. And the delightful irony of history is that 50 years after Voltaire’s death, the Geneva Bible Society moved into his former house and used his own printing presses to print…thousands of Bibles! You can’t stop the Gospel.
God will see to it that His word will advance. God will see to it that the Gospel will move forward. God will see to it that the wonderful story of Jesus Christ will continue because Christ’s rule and reign continues. So there are a few actions for us to take in response to our study. Let me speak to you about how we are to respond in light of the Gospel’s inexorable advance. Let me give you some actions to take in light of the fact that nothing will stop the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. We must let Christ reign in our Hardships (17-22)
What I mean by that is this: God is working-out His perfect plan of getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth and God does this through the church, not a building but a body. God moves the Gospel forward through His people, people like the Apostle Paul. So while Paul endured a number of hardships, he knew that God was moving the Gospel forward and that the Lord Jesus Christ was on the throne in every single one of those cases. He trusted that our sovereign and providential Lord was ruling and reigning even in the most trying of times. He speaks of some of the trying times in 2 Corinthians 11. He write of being beaten with rods on five different occasions, how people tried to stone him to death, of his being shipwrecked three times, of being in hunger and thirst, and being cold and naked (2 Corinthians 11:24-28) and yet Paul knew that God was sovereign and that He was there and that He was working in the midst of his hardships.
I thought of that as I was reviewing the first few verses of our text this morning, verses 17-22. The Bible says that Paul calls for these local Jewish leaders from the synagogues in Rome to come to him and they come and then he gives this short summary of what’s been going on. He says in verse 17, “Though I have 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.”
Then he says in verse 18 that the Romans examined him and wanted to let him go, because there was no cause for putting him to death. Verse 19: “But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar.” So Paul’s telling the Jews there in Rome the events we’ve been studying the past few weeks. Verse 20, Paul says, “This is why I’ve called for you, “because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” And I suppose at this point, Paul holds up his chains as he says this. “It’s because of the hope of Israel that I am handcuffed like this.”
The “hope of Israel” was something with which every Jew could identify. The hope of Israel was the promise of the coming Messiah. In some sense Paul is saying to the Jews, “Whether you accept or reject the message I am about to preach to you, you need to understand that I am chained because of the belief that you also have which the Old Testament teaches, the belief that a promised redeemer will come to save us.”
21 Then they said to him, “We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you.
22 “But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
The Jews there in Rome tell Paul that they had not heard much about his legal ordeals, but they say that they had been hearing about this new thing called Christianity and that they are curious about exactly what it is. They’d like to hear more about this faith they refer to negatively as a “sect,” the original Greek word, “Hairessis,” is the word from which we get “Heresy.” They add in the last part of verse 22 that they “know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
So it struck me as I was studying this past week that Paul continues to battle these hardships as he’s sharing the Gospel but it never once slows him down. He never seems to have tired from telling the story. I mean he gives a pretty brief summary here about how he appeals to Caesar and how he’s there now and he wastes no time in calling for the Jewish leaders to come hear him share about the “Hope of Israel.” The Bible says in verse 17 that he gets right to work after only 3 days. And this after months at sea, a storm, a shipwreck, and a 125-mile journey on foot! How many of us would have gotten to Rome and just collapsed for two weeks?! How many of us would have resigned to the belief that this thing just wasn’t working out like it was supposed to? Paul gets to Rome and they chain him to a prison guard and it just takes him 72 hours to regroup and prepare the place for a home Bible study.
You can live that way when you let Christ reign in your hardships. That is, trust that God is sovereign and that He is working in your life according to His perfect plan. Hardships come with the territory. Things will not always go smoothly, but God is with you always and Christ is ruling and reigning even through your difficult days. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ the Prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 9:6 that “the government will rest upon His shoulders.” That’s a reminder that God is guiding everything, even the leaders of the world, to work in accordance with His perfect plan. Let Christ rule in your hardships. Secondly:
II. We must let Christ reign in our Hearts (23-29)
It has often been said that Christianity is not so much a religion as it is a what?—a relationship. Jesus Christ wants to reign not only in our heads but in our hearts. Paul’s going to preach the Gospel message to the Jews. Let’s listen to him preach. He’s got the place in order for a Bible study and here come the Jews on a certain day to listen.
23 So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.
Paul preached about the Lord Jesus Christ from “both the Law of Moses and the Prophets.” That’s a way of saying, “Paul used the entire Old Testament to show them how it points to Jesus Christ.” It’s a bit like what we read at the end of Luke’s Gospel in Luke 24. Two men are on their way to the town of Emmaus and they’re sad because Jesus has been crucified. They say, “We had hoped he would be the one who redeemed Israel.” That is, “We thought he was the hope of Israel.” Do you remember the story? The Bible says that Jesus Christ appeared to them and “beginning at Moses and the Prophets, expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
That’s what Paul is doing here. He’s preaching to them from cover to cover of the Bible. We don’t know specifically which passages from the Old Testament Paul used, but surely he mentioned Isaiah 53. If you haven’t read Isaiah 53 lately, read it this afternoon. A former Old Testament professor at Southern Seminary calls Isaiah 53, “The Mount Everest of Old Testament prophecy (Kyle Yates).” Isaiah 53 is written over 700 years before Christ and yet you read it and you read about a coming Messiah who was “wounded for our transgressions,” a suffering Servant who bore “the iniquity of us all.” For this reason one scholar (F. Delitzsch) says Isaiah 53 “looks as if it had been written beneath the cross upon Golgotha.” Paul preaches this message to the Jews.
And not only is he preaching from cover to cover, but he’s preaching from sunrise to sundown. Verse 23 says he preached “from morning till evening.” What an incredible Bible study this must have been! The interest of these Jews shames us a bit, doesn’t it? How many of us have that kind of hunger for truth? Imagine if I said, “Okay, we’ll break here in a few minutes for sandwiches in the fellowship hall then we’re back here again for six or so hours and then we’ll have some fried chicken and apple pie then it’s back in the sanctuary till nine! What is the response of Paul’s hearers? Paul gets the same kind of response you and I get when we share the Gospel:
24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.
25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers,
26 “saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive;
27 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” ‘
28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”
When Paul mentioned the Gentiles, most of the Jews got really upset. Paul is like, “You won’t listen, so I’ll preach to the Gentiles who will listen, Gentiles like this Roman guard chained to me!” The guard’s like, “I have to listen to you!” Holding up the chain that binds them together he says, “Not much choice here!” Not all translations have verse 29 because it’s not in the oldest Greek manuscripts, but it is true nonetheless. It’s just a restatement of what Luke wrote earlier:
29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.
Look again at what Paul says to the disbelieving Jews among them. In verses 26-27 Paul cites the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah. He says, “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”
A couple of months ago I boarded a plane in Memphis and watched as the Northwest Airlines stewardess went through her safety instructions. If you’ve flown at all then you know something of this. She stands there at the front of the plane and says things like, “Please take a moment now to make sure your seat belts are fastened low and tight about your waist. To fasten the belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle. Pull the metal buckle to release.” And she tells you where the exits are located and how your seat cushion may be used as a floatation device and all of that. But what’s so funny about all of this is that while she’s talking, nobody is listening! People are reading magazines, books, and papers. Some are sneaking in a few more emails on their cell phones. Others are talking to one another. I’m sure they heard the noise of the stewardess speaking. I’m sure they saw her there in a peripheral sense, but they weren’t really listening and they weren’t really seeing.
Paul says this is how some people treat the preaching of the Gospel. He says, “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive.” And what preacher hasn’t felt, at times, like the Northwest Airlines stewardess? He stands to speak the safety instructions from the very Word of God to a people disengaged, hearing, but not understanding, seeing, but not perceiving.
So I. Howard Marshall writes that the Jews to whom Paul is preaching, “have made their hearts impervious to the Word of God; they have allowed themselves to become deaf and blind.” Then, Marshall adds, “Once a person deliberately refuses the Word, there comes a point when he is depraved of the capacity to receive it. It is a stern warning to those who trifle with the Gospel.”
We must let Christ reign in our hearts. This is the whole point of the Book of Acts. The church takes the saving message of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth. This is the message you and I must receive: Jesus Christ died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins. We deserved it, but He took it upon Himself that we might be saved by grace through faith in Him. We must receive Jesus Christ into our lives. Sir, madam, young lady, young man, you must receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
III. We must let Christ reign in our Homes (30-31)
30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him,
31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
Paul let Christ reign in his home! Luke writes that Paul dwelt for 2 years there in Rome. He dwelt 2 years in his own rented house, receiving all who came to him, doing what? “Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” He let Christ reign in and through his home.
We, too, should let Christ reign in our homes. People who come to us ought to recognize our home as distinctively Christian. The things we talk about, how we live, how we go about our business, all tell others that Jesus Christ is the most important aspect of our lives. We share our faith with others (By the way, FAITH Evangelism Training is beginning again next month!). We must let Christ reign in our homes.
It’s kind of strange that the book ends so abruptly, isn’t it? We never learn what happens to Paul. It just ends with his being in house arrest awaiting his trial. For this reason, many scholars have speculated as to what happened.
I like these DVDs you rent of movies today. You watch a movie and then you can go back to the features section of the DVD and pick alternate endings. Well there’s no alternate ending here in the book of Acts. It just ends with Paul in house arrest for a couple of years. Most scholars believe that Paul was eventually released and continues the missionary work and is then re-arrested in Rome a couple of years later, but we just don’t know.
I just like the way the book ends—because it doesn’t really end. The last four words in the text are a translation of one word in the Greek, an adverb that is perhaps best translated as, “Unhinderedly.” Nothing can hinder the Gospel. Nothing can stop the Gospel!
- Stand for prayer.