Paul preaches at Rome under guard
“Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: ‘My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20 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.’
21 They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’ (Acts 28: 17-22)
When Paul reached Rome, he requested a conference with the local Jewish leaders. It seems that he had finally travelled beyond the reach of his accusers in Jerusalem and Asia Minor who had been (literally) out for his blood for some time. The local leaders replied: “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you.”
But they had heard the gossip! “We know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
“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. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.”
It’s a good exercise to talk about Jesus from the Old Testament – to work as if there was no New Testament at all- to learn to do as Paul did, and to consider the principles, themes and truths that proclaim the truth of Christ. Some would put it in a subsidiary position, as of lesser value, but Paul spoke for several hours using the Hebrew Bible as his lecture notes. Jesus did the same in Luke 24 with the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
In Luke’s description of Paul’s style, there’s a wonderful combination of intellect and passion. It comes in the three verbs: “He explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading…” We see exposition, exhortation and personal testimony linked together. It must have been quite a day!
And Paul undoubtedly taught what Jesus taught in Luke 24 -that in Jesus, God brought a spiritual kingdom that would take root in men’s hearts before it took over the governments of this world. Most of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day and of Paul’s day looked for a political kingdom, not a spiritual kingdom.
And at some point in the day, there was a sticking-point. “Some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.” Even the best teaching from the best apostle in the best circumstances could not shift them.
Centuries of tradition and a thousand pieces of honoured culture were at stake. Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind becomes “secure” it becomes unable to budge. The pool becomes stagnant when outlets and inlets become jammed. And also, as Mark Twain put it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.”
And so, one last time, the Jews rejected the Gospel of Christ.
The terrible irony was that time was so short. Even as Paul taught and shared in the gardens of Rome, the lunacy of Nero -just a mile or so away- was gathering momentum and would erupt on to the world in a an orchestrated orgy of violence. The probability is that Paul himself died in this insanity.
And for the Jews, a few short years separated them now from the events of AD 70. In just a few years after Paul’s rebuke of those Jews who rejected Jesus, the Jewish people of Judea were slaughtered wholesale and Jerusalem was destroyed. God’s judgment was coming, and part of Paul’s frustration was that he sensed this.
And so he preached and taught with heart and mind blazing with the power of the resurrected Christ. It’s important to note that. The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model but because they witnessed to Him as the only Lord and Saviour of the world.
The book of Acts finishes at this point, on the point of talking. Isn’t that interesting? The Jews had heard about these Christians. Everyone was talking about them. And then those long sessions with Paul himself, talking and talking. And finally, the text finishes on the same note: “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!”
Paul was a determined talker. He pronounced himself free of guilt before the Ephesian elders (in Acts 20) because he had told the whole business out clearly without fear or favour: “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” The same thing could be said of him at Rome.
Shannon L. Alder said this: “When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.”
This is exactly what Paul did, and it is what we are called to do, too.