We have come to the conclusion of the Easter Cycle as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend. All through this period we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Fully the last two-thirds of Acts has focused on the Evangelical Mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and appearance before Roman officials such as Felix and Festus, as well as Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea.
Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on ill fated journey that shipwrecks at Malta. Finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits the trial that will either vindicate him or seal his fate. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion and we, the readers, are ready to see Paul through his final trial. But then something astonishing happens: the story just ends. He is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:
[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)
But Luke! Don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul go on trial? We he acquitted as some traditions assert and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he loose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome? We have seen Paul so far and now the story just ends?!
How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?
The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not about Paul. It is about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Luke has, to be sure, personified this going forth of the Gospel to the nations by focusing on Paul. But once Paul reaches Rome and, though under house arrest, is able to freely preach the Gospel there (for there is chaining the Word of God(2 Tim 2:9)), the story reaches its natural conclusion. It is true, others had preached the Gospel in Rome before Paul, but since Paul has been the way Luke illustrates this going forth of the Word of God, the entry of Paul into Rome means the story has reached its goal. From Rome the Gospel with go forth to every part of the Empire, for every road led to Rome and away from it. Now that the Gospel has reached the center hub and is being freely preached, it will radiate outward in all directions by the grace of God.
But what about Paul and what of his fate? It doesn’t matter. It never WAS about Paul. It was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).
Some of these notions hit hard in the self esteem culture in which we live. But in the end our true glory is not our own glory, but the glory of God radiating in us. If we decrease, the Lord increases. But that does not mean we are swallowed up and lost in Christ. Rather, it means we truly become the man or woman God has always made us to be, one who reflects the very glory of God. Perhaps it is best to let Paul himself end this:
For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. (2 Cor 4:5-6)
This video is of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The scene begins with Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome. The epilogue in the video which shows Luke leaving Rome is not part of the Acts of the Apostles.