Last week as we finished the Easter Cycle and crowned it with Pentecost. We also finished the lengthy reading of the Acts of the Apostles. There are two parts of the Acts of the Apostles: The Acts of Peter and those of Paul. But to be honest, the book has an unfinished quality to it. Let’s consider that.
First, a quick summary: The second part of Acts is 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 (e.g., Felix and Festus, Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea).
Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on an ill-fated journey that ends in shipwreck at Malta). After finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits trial. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion, but then the story just ends! Here 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).
And that’s it. Acts just ends. But Luke, don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul ever go on trial? Was he acquitted (as some traditions assert) and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he lose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome of the trial?
How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?
The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not really about Paul. It’s about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations. Luke chose to recount this going forth of the Gospel by focusing first on Peter and then on Paul.
Once Paul reaches Rome (and though under house arrest is able to freely preach the Gospel there) the story reaches its natural conclusion. While others had preached the Gospel in Rome before, Luke chose to illustrate the going forth of the Word of God through Paul’s activities, and so once Paul arrives there the goal has been accomplished. From the central hub of Rome, the Gospel would now radiate outward, by the grace of God, to every part of the Roman Empire.
But what about Paul’s fate? The answer is that 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 in so doing lose track of what is most important. Frankly, the person we are most focused on is often our own self. 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, we are not all that important. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).
Some of these notions hit hard in today’s culture that is so focused on bolstering self-esteem. But in the end, our true glory is not our own; it is the glory of God radiating in us. If we decrease, the Lord increases. That does not mean that we are swallowed up and lost in Christ. Rather, it means that 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 have the final word:
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 a depiction of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The scene begins with Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome. (Note that the epilogue, which shows Luke leaving Rome, is not part of the Acts of the Apostles.)