We are finishing up a sermon series on Acts. It’s a book in the Bible that focuses on the work of the Early Christian Church. This summer, we’ve been focused on the final eight chapters of Acts which are all about a missionary named Paul.
If I had to use one word to describe Paul in these last chapters of ACTS, I’d use bold.
Think about it:
While facing a riotous crowd chanting for his death, Paul took the opportunity to preach a sermon.
On trial before hundreds of men that hated his guts, Paul spoke about the resurrection.
Standing before, not one, not two, but three government figures with the ability to have him put to death, Paul talked about how Jesus defeated death.
After a hurricane, a shipwreck, and a snakebite, Paul simply shook it off and boldly kept serving Jesus.
Paul was definitely bold.
Do you ever wish you were like him?
Do you ever wish you could boldly walk up to a stranger and tell them about Jesus?
Or maybe a coworker?
Or a friend?
How about a spouse?
Today is the culmination of Paul’s journeys. He arrives in the biggest, most influential, most powerful, and most intimidating city in the Ancient world: Rome. As we study Paul’s bold actions in Rome, we’ll discuss how we might be just a bold as Paul. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
Last we left Paul, he made an unexpected stop. A wind called the Northeaster shipwrecked him on the island of Malta. There he survived a snake bite, healed the father of the chief island executive named Publius, and shared the Gospel.
But three months later, it’s again safe to sail. So…
After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. (v.11-14)
Scripture references “Brothers and sisters”. This isn’t a reference to Paul’s biological brothers and sisters. (Although, trivia fact: Paul had a least one sibling. If you remember, his nephew had saved him from a death plot back in Jerusalem.)
These words refer to fellow believers.
A people who shared a deeper bond than genealogical blood.
People who share the bond of Jesus’ own blood.
Here’s how deep it is: though they’ve never met Paul, they invite him to spend a week with their fellowship.
They hug him.
They high-five him.
They give him a hearty handshake, look him in the eyes and remind him that God has his back.
They hand him a coffee.
They hold a potluck for him.
They let him try 13 different kinds of JELL-O casseroles – including the green kind with the little carrot bits inside.
They worship together.
They study God’s Word together.
They join hands and pray God’s blessing on Paul’s work together.
When the week is up, Paul’s voyage to Rome continues.
We came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. (v.15)
Back to the map. From Puteoli, Paul sets out on foot towards Rome. The Forum of Appius is about 40 miles from Rome, but a group of believers know that Paul is on his way and they travel that 40 miles to meet Paul and walk with him. A second group leaves Rome, travels 30 miles by foot and meets Paul at the Three Taverns.
Now, this is important
Because I’m sure that these people had jobs.
I’m sure that these people had responsibilities.
I’m sure that these people had the 1st century equivalent of ZOOM meetings. (I think they call those “meetings.”)
They did not hesitate to ask off work, use up vacation time, and walk for days just to get to this stranger named Paul and walk with him.
Is it any wonder Paul’s reaction?
At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. (v15b)
Because Paul was a foreigner.
Paul was in a strange land.
Paul set to meet with the highest authority in the ancient world.
He was probably feeling a bit intimidated.
But seeing friendly faces?
It encouraged him.
Keys to a Bold Faith #1: The ENCOURAGEMENT of Fellow BELIEVERS
Can I speak candidly on this?
COVID has been difficult for me. I think I thrive on interaction.
I get pumped when I see a smiling face nodding along to a sermon point.
My heart beats faster when I see fellow believers join me for worship.
I feel happy when someone gives me a hearty handshake.
During the initial phases of COVID – all of that went away.
Honestly, I started thinking – this is too much.
I’m spending all this time getting online worship figured out and for what?
Is anybody even listening?
The text messages.
The phone calls.
The in-person, socially-distanced, mask-covered visits.
The encouragement of other believers.
If it wasn’t for the encouragement that some of you gave me, I wouldn’t have made it through this.
Friends, it’s works the same for you too. The Early Christian church knew how important encouragement was to boldly sharing the Gospel. The group in our text knew it so well that they went the extra mile; no, they went the extra 40 miles just to get some encouragement to each other.
I think that’s important.
The devil is tricky.
And in the modern world.
Rather than ask ourselves, “How many ways can I stay connected?”
I fear the temptation is to say, “What’s the bare minimum?”
Show up once a month?
Like a post on Facebook?
Read an Instagram post?
Friends, if you’re asking what the bare minimum is, you’re asking the wrong question.
Bold faith needs the encouragement of others.
Proverbs 27:17 says this, “As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Like two knives sharpening one another; time with another believer sharpens the two believers.
Bible study? Sharpening.
ZOOM study? Sharpening.
Scripture text message? Sharpening.
Phone call to catch up and see what you can pray for? Sharpening.
Pay attention: This is not a mandate to “get to in person worship.” Not at all. If you’re watching this service online, you are getting the encouragement of others. That’s a sharpening.
But I am challenging you to look at your life and consider:
How might I get more connected to God’s people than I am currently?
How might I get my faith sharpened?
The lesson continues, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders.” (v.16-17)
Now hold up!?!
Paul getting together with other believers made sense.
But three days after being in Rome, he calls together the “local Jewish leaders”.
Do you recognize who those guys are? It’s…
The same group that threw stones at him in Thessalonica.
The same group that rioted against him in Jerusalem.
The same group that plotted to kill him.
Granted, the group in Rome is a different group of human beings, but they still belong to the same group.
Why would Paul seek them out?
The answer is in verse 23: “They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” (v.23)
Do you see it?
He wanted to tell them about Jesus.
Keys to a BOLD Faith #2: Stay Focused on SHARING JESUS
The same thing can happen to Christians.
We get excited to share our faith in Jesus but then…
We lose focus.
“What will they think about me?”
“Do I know the right thing to say?”
“I think I have bad breath and I don’t have gum on me so some other time.”
“I left my favorite pair of Gospel sharing jeans at home. I can’t share Jesus without my Gospel sharing jeans!”
But a funny thing happens when we focus on sharing Jesus.
We end up also focusing on Jesus.
We focus on how Jesus is God himself.
We focus on his love so great that he died for us!
We focus on a power so great that he rose from the dead.
We focus on his promise so permanent that we know he will be with us.
And with the focus on Jesus?
Suddenly it isn’t so scary.
If Jesus makes us bold enough to face our Righteous God,
He can also make us bold enough to face a mere human.
After Paul does the work of sharing Jesus, look at how the people respond:
Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave… (v.25)
On the positive side, no one is throwing rocks at him.
On the negative side, most aren’t throwing “Amens” at him either.
But Paul isn’t bothered. In fact, he quotes this passage from Isaiah 6:
“The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘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.’ (v.26-28)
This section always makes me think of little kids.
Sometimes they don’t want to hear what you have to say.
Sometimes they don’t want to see what you want to show them.
Sometimes they don’t want to understand what you want them to do.
They throw a fit:
What did you say? Clean up the toys? I can’t hear you mom. I have a toy in my ear.
Oh, no! I’m blind. I can’t see the homework assignment anymore.
Sorry mom. I don’t understand. What do you mean by “stop watching Netflix and go outside?”
Jesus says that’s the way human hearts are towards the Gospel.
The see who Jesus is and immediately close their eyes.
The hear what Jesus says and immediately plug their ears.
They understand what Jesus tells them about their sin and immediately use their sinful reason to rationalize their sin.
Isaiah wrote this about the people of Israel hundreds of years before the Gospel of Jesus made it to them.
Paul knew it.
Paul expected it.
It didn’t stop him when it happened.
Keys to a BOLD Faith #3: Expect REJECTION
Because knowing what to expect makes it easier.
For example, if you plant three to four radish seeds in a 1-inch hole about 2 inches apart and the instructions tell you that some of these radishes will make it while most some will not that will prevent you from angrily pulling out all the radishes during week three because “I’m the worst radish grower of all time.”
If someone doesn’t listen to the message of Jesus, it’s to be expected. Jesus said it this way: “ ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)
The message is all about Jesus.
And people have been rejecting Jesus since the time of Jesus.
They’ll reject you too.
But it won’t be you their rejecting.
They’ll be rejecting their Savior.
Shake it off.
And keep sharing Jesus boldly.
IV. Celebrate the Next Opportunity
In fact, speaking of rejection, we often talk about all the people who believed the Apostle Paul. We discuss all the people who he preached too. But do you know what we don’t discuss?
How many people didn’t listen to him.
I’d say it’s a lot.
In the hundreds of thousands.
But Paul wasn’t disappointed. Look at how he concludes his conversation with the Jewish leaders:
“I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (v.29)
Did you see it?
Paul is motivated here in the same way he has been motivated throughout his ministry.
Instead of focusing on the people that rejected the message.
He looked at the next opportunity.
Keys to a BOLD Faith #4: The Next OPPORTUNITY
Because while Jesus says some will reject his message,
he also promises others will believe it.
When someone rejects our message of the Gospel.
We simply look forward to the next opportunity.
The next friend in need of being uplifted.
The next relative asking questions about Christianity.
The next neighbor looking for a church.
The next time your kids sit down for Bible story.
Because you don’t have to look at the far for these opportunities.
In fact, look at Paul:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (v.30-31)
Did you catch that? Paul’s final two years of his missionary journey involve a lot less mileage than the first years.
After years of travelling hundreds of miles to get to his next stop on a missionary journey,
Paul’s next stop?
Was his front door.
Just close to home.
Friends, do the same.
Preach the Gospel far away and preach it close to home.