Sunday, 25 April 2021

The Story Continues - Acts 28

We now jump to the end of the Acts story to conclude this series. We skip alot, but the result is that Paul ends up in Rome. This is good - he wanted to get there! What is not so good is that he is under house-arrest - literally bound with a chain. Yet even under house-arrest he continues to tell people about Jesus - they just have to come to his house!

That has been the point of this whole series: "Gospel Living in a Restricted Age". Despite restriction, persecution, set-back the witness has still continued. People have come to faith, and the Kingdom of God has been proclaimed (see verse 31). We too have been living under restrictions, but we have still been able to tell of Jesus. We have had to be creative, but it has been possible. The church (i.e. us) has never been shut. We have reached out, and we have seen people move closer to God.

Paul had people come to him to hear his thoughts on the 'good news'. We can assume that because they came they already had some degree of interest. That is what we can call 'Level 2' - where we provoke and stretch their interest in matters of faith. In the past our Imagine events have had this same purpose. The level below ('Level 1') is where people just get to know us and we get to know them (2x2 and Dads n Kidz activities are good examples that work at level 1).

Now some clearly weren't convinced by Paul - they got up and left! Others however wanted more. We can describe that as 'Level 3' - where people actively want to explore the claims of Jesus. At some point they accept Jesus into their life and so continue into discipleship (we could call that 'Level 4'). We can surmise that Paul, even under house-arrest, was able to work with people at levels 2, 3 and 4 over a period of at least 2 years.

Now, for us at Countess Free Church, we can do the same! We have talked about 'life boats', small new format groups operating on zoom, in the park or (soon) in someone's house. Here we can do discipleship together, sharing our life, being accessible to newcomers. Those guests maybe just enquiring (level 2), or actively exploring (level 3), or with recent commitment to Jesus growing in discipleship (level 4). All that can be done in a context of say a couple of families, or a few believers, sharing their discipleship together but in a way that is open to newcomers being welcomed in.

In fact there is no reason why these life boats shouldn't be the primary invite point for people we know. In fact it may well be better to invite them to first such a friendly group, because we know that for someone to walk into a church service is culturally such a huge step.

The other thing we see at the end of Acts 28 is that the story never finishes. Luke leads us in the exciting story of Paul, with dramas of arrest, plots to kill him, trials, and being shipped off to Rome (including shipwreck!). Yet we never get to hear what actually happened to him in the end. What we do get is v31 that ways the Kingdom of God was proclaimed and Jesus taught without hindrance. That is the punchline, and has been the punchline throughout Acts. How many times in this series have we remarked on a phrase like 'and the word of God spread'.

The details of what happens to Paul doesn't actually matter, just as the details of what happens to me (or any of us) are not the most important thing in the big picture. You absolutely matter to God, just as the neighbour, the colleague, or the person seemingly left behind. That why it matters that the word of God spreads and the Kingdom of God is proclaimed!

So Acts 28 s not the ed of the story. The story in fact continues ... and it continues through us! We get to take part, somehow contributing to a fresh chapter adding to the story.

There is however an alternative, if somehow you don't want to be part of this amazing story. We see it in Paul talking with the Jewish leaders. He quotes Isaiah 6 - 'this people ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving'. This prophecy is about people who effectively put God in a box, boxing Him in with their own understanding. Even with God at work in front of them they can't see it or get it. Even with the 'hope of Israel' fulfilled in Jesus, and the invitation to follow and be part of the wonderful mission story in the power of the Spirit, they couldn't see it. They just kept God in a box, creating a dead end.

That is the alternative. Yet we are called to be people who come out of the box, to see, to follow, and to join in with God working in all kinds of wonderful ways, not tied down by restrictions or limitations. We see the Spirit of God at work, bringing people freedom, healing, release - and faith in Jesus.

We invite you too to join ... in continuing the story.

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