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Proclaiming the Kingdom of God

The book of Acts leaves us hanging. We’ve traveled so far with Paul, shared in so much of his story that we want to know happens to Paul and how things go with Caesar. But the book ends before the trial comes to pass.
Even so, we’ve already seen this storyline play out in Acts time and time again. Because of what we’ve seen in Acts, we are prepared to face along with Paul anything that Caesar might decide. A gag order? That didn’t work in Acts 4. Seizing property? Didn’t stop the Christians in Acts 4-5. Jail? God sprung His messengers from prisons in Acts 5, 12, and 16. Passing muster in the marketplace of ideas? Stephen, Paul, and Apollos have shown that the faith does just that, in Acts 7, 17, and 18. Even if Caesar decrees that proclaiming the gospel is a crime worthy of death, we’ve already seen that too: Stephen died, James died, and many Christians were persecuted by Saul. But a verdict of death is a guarantee of victory for a Church whose great hope is in the resurrection of the dead. We know the end of the story, because Acts has shown us an unstoppable gospel.
It does appear from the text, though, that while external persecution can’t stop the spread of the gospel, hard hearts can. Paul preaches to the Jews from morning until night, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law and the prophets, but the Jews in Rome don’t accept Jesus as their Messiah. The last episode in Acts reads like a defeat.
But we know from many parts of the Bible that even rock-hard, stubborn-willed human hearts cannot overcome God’s plan. So why doesn’t God instantly turn these stubborn hearts? Right before the Jews leave, Paul applies Isaiah 6 to the Jews, and announces God’s plan to take the gospel to the Gentiles. On the surface, it looks like God is giving up and going to Plan B, but something much more wonderful is going on. God is turning the hearts of the Jews, and He is using the ridiculous overflow of His mercy to do it. God is pouring out His covenant blessings on the Gentiles, in order to make the Jews so jealous that they return to Him. This way, in spite of their disobedience, God shows mercy to all men.
Knowing this, and in order to provoke the Jews in Rome to jealousy, Paul sticks this word from Isaiah like a piece of dynamite in their, and then lights the fuse as they walk away. When we last see him, he is preaching the gospel to anyone and everyone, so that Gentile joy in Jesus will bring Israel back to her Messiah. The end of the story is not written in Acts, but you know the end of the story. Nothing in all the world is able to stop the power of the gospel, not even hearts of stone.
The book of Acts ends with Paul’s preaching in Rome, but what God the Holy Spirit is doing through the followers of Jesus is an ongoing story. Throughout Acts, we’ve seen the shape that the life of the Church should take as she worships, as that worship forms a community of believers, and as those believers carry out the mission that Jesus began and then passed on to His followers.
Today, our worship, our shared life, and our efforts to proclaim the gospel all bear witness to the earthshaking truth that God’s promises to redeem a fallen world came true through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why we gather for worship, why we sing and pray and preach and break bread. This is why we lay down our lives for one another, why we love one another, why we bear one another’s burdens. This is why we never stop telling people about Jesus.
By ending the way it does, the book of Acts expects you to write the next chapter in faith, to continue to proclaim the kingdom of God and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ without hindrance and with all boldness, knowing that the story ends with King Jesus on the throne, ruling and reigning here on earth as He does in heaven.

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 by CJ Bowen