by Roger McCay
17 January 2021
Sermon Passage: Acts 28
Link to Audio Version
At the Milan Cathedral there are three inscriptions over three respective doorways. Over the right-hand door there is this motto: “All that pleases is but for a moment.” Over the left-hand door the words are: “All that troubles is but for a moment.” But over the central door there is a simple sentence: “Nothing is important save that which is eternal.” 
While there can be a tendency to be “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good,” that is not what the wisdom of the doors to the cathedral is endorsing. Rather, the reminders over the doors reinforce a focus on the eternal, putting earthly pleasures and troubles in their place, as fleeting things (what the writer of Ecclesiastes calls “vanity”). They remind those who pass through to focus on what really matters (the ever-present, irrepressible, task at hand for a Christian), following Jesus, in obedience of faith, to the Lord’s glory (Eccl. 12:13).
The past few weeks have been quite a doozy for us in the U.S. Among many, many concerns, a particular one has been the censorship inflicted by the social media giants this last week. For us Christians, their power play serves as a reminder, whether you agree with their actions or not. If the media powers that be can block the President of the United States and his supporters’ voices on social media (even shutting down a whole social media platform that would not conform), due to a disagreement with the president and his supporters’ politics … If they can do that, they can likewise block Christians and the message we proclaim on every form of media they control, even promote the slandering of us, if they disagree with our religion. The very same rationale they use for one can easily be used for another. All they have to do is classify some portion of the message of God’s Word we preach and teach as being hate speech (if they feel it doesn’t line up with the politically correct message of the day), thus giving them the self-righteous justification to cancel Christians and everything we have to say.
Yet, there is no need to get caught up in worry over this. Giving in to the tendency to focus too much on earthly hindrances (realized or potential), proves only a detrimental state of mind. We need to keep the long view in mind, as Paul urges in Col. 3:2: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” This is because, ultimately, like the writer of Ecclesiastes says, it’s all “vanity.” The gospel does not rely on big media in any form. Modern media is simply a convenient tool. It is not necessary or important. No matter what hindrances the world might put up, the gospel will be proclaimed; God’s chosen will believe (every single one of us, without exception); and the Lord’s purposes will remain unhindered. The Lord is irrepressible.
In our study of Acts over the last two years, we’ve seen this irrepressibility played out over and over and over. The enemy threw every conceivable hindrance in the way of the proclamation of the gospel. Yet, through it all, steadily and surely the fulfillment of Jesus’ vision in Acts 1:8 came to fruition. The gospel was proclaimed in Jerusalem, then to all Judea and Samaria, continuing to the ends of the earth. The gospel exploded throughout the known world, faithfully carried by the Lord’s messengers, gathering the elect to him. Thus, throughout Acts the case was made and proven over and over that there is no way to stop the good news of Jesus Christ—ever. It is irrepressible. God’s people will be saved.
The 28th chapter of Acts provides no exception. It reinforces the irrepressibility of the gospel in actions of mercy, gospel life among believers, and the continuing gospel proclamation to the world from then until the Lord returns in glory—unhindered.
After the shipwreck in Acts 27, Paul and all those with him found themselves on the small island of Malta, unharmed, like the Lord had promised. Paul arrived on the island with nothing, a prisoner among other shipwrecked men. Yet, he found himself the center of attention.
First, this was due to God’s action of mercy upon him when he was bitten by a viper, which occurred as he was placing the firewood he had collected on the fire. Protected by the Lord, Paul just shook the poisonous snake off, unharmed, bringing him very much to the attention of the islanders, who now called him a god. Paul had been there before, when he and Barnabas were called gods in Lystra, and, like then, he surely pointed away from himself, bringing glory to the true God.
Then, Paul found himself at the center of attention due to his actions of mercy upon the people of the island. Motivated by merciful lovingkindness, Paul, by the power of the Lord, healed the governor of the island’s father along with numerous other people. Paul would have surely put the healings in the context of the gospel to those involved in such a mercy, as was the case throughout Acts with the various healings that took place.
In both cases, Paul was following Jesus, and his actions were a picture of the gospel—signs pointing to the truth. Paul was shown mercy, so was therefore enabled to show mercy. In the light of that mercy the gospel was demonstrated: its power and ability to save; its availability to all who call on the Lord for mercy; and its blessing on those who receive it.
Consider the truth of this. Mercy and its blessings are irrepressible. The Lord’s provision and power of mercy cannot be stopped. And when his people, who have received mercy, express mercy in the Lord’s name into the lives of others, the message of the gospel flies forth unhindered. My friends, let us be a people of mercy.
So we come to vv. 11-15. A few months later, after the weather improved, the journey to Rome continued, as the travelers loaded up on another grain ship, stopping first “at Syracuse in Sicily, then Rhegium on the toe of Italy, then Puteoli on the bay of modem Naples.” In Puteoli, they found the selfless hospitality of Christians, who provided for the travelers for seven days, likely giving them a much-needed time to rest, reset, and prepare for the 140-mile walk to Rome.
Then, on the road to Rome, it happened that, while still a prisoner escorted by soldiers, Paul found himself greeted along the way by a host of Christians from Rome, as the word of Paul’s coming had been sent ahead to the church in Rome, likely by those in Puteoli. These brothers and sisters in Christ had come out to meet this apostle of Jesus Christ, who had written and sent to them the marvelous Epistle to the Romans, around three years earlier. The first group met him 43-miles out from Rome at “the Market of Appius.” And then, a group of more Christians met him ten miles closer to Rome, at “the Three Taverns.” Having come out to meet Paul, these joyous Christians then escorted him and his whole entourage to Rome.
The idea of going out to meet a dignitary to then escort him back to his destination, is an old one, and it is a practice that continues today. The term used here, in Acts 28:15, to designate this action (ἀπάντησιν), is used only three times in the New Testament: here, then in Matt. 25:6, and then in 1 Thess. 4:17. In Matt. 25:6, Jesus uses the term in his Parable of the Ten Virgins. When news came of the bridegroom’s arrival, the virgins were called to go out and meet the bridegroom, to then escort him to the marriage banquet. Then, in 1 Thess. 4:16-17, we find it similarly used, referring to the same occasion Jesus mentioned, yet not in parable form:
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Thus is our hope and encouragement. Like the Christians in Rome went out to meet Paul and escort him to the city, like the virgins went out to meet the bridegroom and escort him to the marriage banquet, when the Lord returns, when he comes on that last day (the day of judgment), we will rise-up and meet him and we will escort him back to earth, as he brings the consummation of his Kingdom. And so, here in Acts 28:15, we have a foreshadowing of the Lord’s return, as the Lord’s ambassador, the Apostle Paul, was met with rejoicing, to then be escorted to Rome.
Imagine, in all this, what the soldiers were thinking. They were witnessing gospel life among believers, in their hospitality, in their joy, and in their love. So, even though Paul remained a prisoner, being escorted to whatever prison awaited him in Rome, the gospel was boldly expressed (irrepressible and unhindered) in the loving actions of those brothers and sisters in Christ. You can’t help but think that Julius the centurion and his soldiers were in total awe at that point. And I can’t help but wonder if any of them had become believers themselves. Surely there were some. Paul had had lots of time to proclaim the gospel to them. They had watched him live the life of one who follows Christ under extreme circumstances. They had received mercy from God, being spared at sea. They had witnessed many marvels on their journey, all credited to the Lord. And now, they had witnessed the loving fellowship of believers and their joy. The truth of Paul’s witness to Christ had been verified for them time and again.
In our love for one-another the gospel is irrepressible. It’s a hallmark of believers. It unifies us and testifies to the world the truth of our faith. Let us be a people who love one another, known for our Christ-like love.
Verse 16: “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.” Arriving in Rome, although Paul was still a prisoner, he was not thrown into a dark cell with a bunch of other prisoners. Rather, he was blessed to have his own place, where he was able to converse with all sorts of folks and to write.
We see, first, his inviting the Jews to come to a meeting, where he explained that he was innocent of any wrongdoing against the Jews. Shortly after, he met with the Jews a second time, to explain the gospel to them. Lots of folks came to this second meeting. Some believed; others did not believe, like had happened time and again through Acts. However, most, apparently, refused to believe, so Paul accused them of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of dullness to the spiritual realities of God’s salvation (Isaiah 6:9-10). Jesus had quoted this same verse for the same reason back in Matt. 13:14-15, concerning those Jews who would not accept him. Aptly, like you’ll see in the notes of The ESV Study Bible, “They had eyes to see, ears to hear, but the heart—the organ of thinking, willing, and deciding—failed to respond.” Thus, God’s judgment was upon them.
So, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, turned his focus upon the Gentiles. He was very busy and had a positive attitude towards the whole affair. As he writes in Phil. 1:12-13:
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Apparently, as a result of Paul’s witness, a number of Roman soldiers of the imperial guard, who guarded him, came to know Jesus Christ. His imprisonment also made other Christians even more bold in their gospel proclamations. Remarkably, his message eventually made its way into the very household of Caesar (Phil. 4:22). Even more, reaching all the way through history to us, during his two-year imprisonment in Rome, Paul churned out the New Testament books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (writing 2nd Tim. during his second imprisonment in Rome a few years later).
As James Stalker wrote, in The Life of Saint Paul:
Availing himself of every possibility of the situation, he converted his one room into a center of far-reaching activity and beneficence. On the few square feet of space allowed him he erected a fulcrum with which he moved the world, establishing within the walls of Nero’s capital a sovereignty more extensive than his own.
The gospel was not hindered by Paul’s imprisonment (v. 31). It was not repressed. In Nero’s Rome, Paul steadily and faithfully fulfilled his calling of proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ, the gospel. The Lord worked through him, and many were blessed with the Lord’s salvation.
Ewelina U. Ochab published an article last week for Forbes Magazine titled, “One in Eight Christians Worldwide Live in Countries Where They May Face Persecution.” There, she gave the results posted by Open Doors, an international NGO, in their World Watch List.
During the reporting period between October 2019 and September 2020, more than 340 million Christians were living in countries where they might suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith. Among this number, 309 million Christians were living in countries where they might suffer very high or extreme levels of persecution. As Open Doors emphasizes “That’s one in 8 worldwide, 1 in 6 in Africa, 2 out of 5 in Asia, and 1 in 12 in Latin America.”
She goes on to break it down:
During the reporting period, 4,761 Christians were killed for their faith, 4,488 Churches or Christian buildings were attacked, 4,277 Christians were unjustly arrested, detained or imprisoned, 1,710 Christians were abducted for faith-related reasons. On average, every day, 13 Christians are killed for their faith, 12 churches or Christians buildings are attacked, 12 Christians are unjustly arrested, detained or imprisoned, and 5 Christians are abducted for faith-related reasons. In the 21st century, it is still not possible to practice religion or belief safely.”
Another fact Ochab mentioned is that North Korea is the number-one oppressor of Christians in the world. Yet, even in that totally locked-down, oppressed society, where being a Christian is a death sentence, an estimated 50-70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps, under the heading “political prisoners,” for the crime of being Christians. Even so, think about that. Despite the total oppression of Christians, many tens-of-thousands of people have come to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord under the nose of the North Korean regime, and the gospel continues to bring more to Christ.
The world is actively seeking to oppress the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is that old battle of the Kingdom of the World versus the Kingdom of God. Do not be surprised when we feel the sting even here in America, as the freedoms we have hidden behind come more and more under attack. Yet, whatever happens, take hope. The gospel will not be repressed. The hope of Jesus Christ shines bright despite the world’s efforts. In fact, the more the world rails against the Lord’s gospel, the more its hope and blessings spread. As Tertullian so famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Today, here in the Bible belt, we are not now facing imprisonment for our faith. We don’t have people attacking our church or killing us and our loved ones because we are Christians. Let us use this precious time to be vigilant in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. And if, in our faithfulness, we do encounter the world’s resistance, let us take hope in the power of the gospel. Rom. 1:16: “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Isa. 55:10-11:
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Brothers and Sisters, in this closing chapter of Acts, Luke emphasizes how the message of a people known for mercy and love, who proclaim God’s Word (the light of salvation and hope in a world of darkness) … Luke emphasizes how the gospel message of the Lord’s people cannot be hindered. Darkness does not snuff out light; light pierces the darkness. Darkness cannot repress or hinder the light. Light overcomes. Our Lord has overcome the world. We are called to overcome in the Lord. So, as we follow Christ, let us live for Christ, every moment of every day, as irrepressible gospel testimonies, seen in our mercy, love and hope. Because the Lord is irrepressible, we must boldly follow Jesus.
 Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 291.
 R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 340.
 Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2145.
 James Stalker, The Life of St. Paul (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n.d.), 129.
 Ewelina U. Ochab, “One In Eight Christians Worldwide Live In Countries Where They May Face Persecution,” Forbes, pub. 13 Jan 2021: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2021/01/13/one-in-eight-christians-worldwide-live-in-countries-where-they-would-be-persecuted/?sh=4922b73f5016.