Paul lived there (in Rome) for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Who could have anticipated where we are now? A recent post on Face Book suggested: “All those people who wrote in 2015 about what they would be doing in 2020 were wrong.” I think the comment was meant to be both funny and true. I, for one, could not have imagined the place where we find ourselves today. I thought zoom was something an airplane did; and I never really gave much thought to my upload speed. The spring of 2020 was something none of us could have imagined.
I am so grateful to the members of our EfM class for taking up the challenge of writing about the Acts of the Apostles in this turbulent Easter-tide. They did this work in addition to all the readings and reflections required by their program. They did this while learning zoom and a whole new way to study together. I hope that you, like me, have found grace and humor and some deep insights into our perilous times. It’s helpful to listen as others sort out the signals that pull us, this way and that.
Acts takes us on an unanticipated journey. We begin with frightened fishermen and worried women huddled in an upper room. God’s transformational Spirit equips them for the road ahead without describing the cost. Stephen and James will die. Peter and Paul will be arrested. Jews will attempt to assassinate them while Greeks will be bemused.
The book ends with Paul in Rome. He seems to be under house arrest, but he is renting his accommodation. As was his pattern, Paul welcomed all, preaching to convert their wills and teaching to shape their minds. Some scholars believe that Luke wanted to write a third book continuing the narrative about the church. Others suggest that Luke may have died, leaving the work unfinished. Tradition has it that Paul and Peter both perished in the persecutions by the Emperor Nero in 64 CE.
No matter why Acts ends as it does, its message is clear, “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Jews and Gentiles, Women and Men, Slaves and Free, all live under God’s sovereign rule. God is faithful both to the divine word of Holy Scripture and to those whom God calls.
Ben Witherington, III concludes his commentary on Acts with these words: “It is the same message and mission that galvanizes the church today, giving it its marching orders and calling us to emulate the behavior of those like Paul who spoke boldly and freely, believing no external obstacle was too great for God who raised Jesus to overcome in saving the world.”
Doubtlessly, our story will proceed. After the events of the past ten weeks, I am confident that I have no idea what will happen next. At the same time, we can be certain of God’s message and mission. We can speak boldly and freely of God’s determination to save us all. In the end, we can hope for God’s powerful Spirit and the embrace of Jesus.