Acts 28: Is that a reason or an excuse?

Application

What does it take for you to stop witnessing and/or ministering in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you ever not told someone about Jesus because it would certainly mean your life? Because it would result in you being physically abused by a mob of angry listeners? Because you would, in all likelihood, be immediately arrested and thrown into some deep, dark dungeon somewhere? If you’re like most American Christians, you probably answered “no” to each of those questions. Frankly, we usually don’t have to deal with that kind of stuff. And to be honest, I suspect that most of us would earnestly proclaim that, even if it meant our lives, we would be faithful to minister and witness, regardless.

But how many times have we given up witnessing and ministering in far less dire circumstances? For instance, we gave up telling someone about Jesus because they had never responded before. We neglected to share the gospel message because our “faith” is a private matter between us and God. We shied away from preaching the Good News because we were afraid someone might laugh at us or not want to be our friend or… The list goes on and on.

Truly, we have all sorts of excuses that keep us from realizing the Great Commission in our own lives. In fact, studies have shown that the vast majority of American Christians have never even tried to share their faith. And we come up with all sorts of reasons to rationalize this failure. My personal favorites are, “People would think I’m weird;” “I didn’t want to lose my job;” “They won’t believe me anyway;” and the ever-popular, “I don’t know how to do that.” I wonder, though, how many of these rationales hold up under Scriptural scrutiny?

As Acts 28 opens, the apostle Paul is in a rather precarious situation. Having been arrested for no reason in Jerusalem, whisked off to Caesarea to stand trial on trumped up charges, and then forced to appeal to Caesar in order to protect his own life from the murderous plot of the Jews, the apostle had been put in Acts 27 on a ship bound for Rome. Somewhere near Crete, a violent autumn storm had prevented the ship from reaching safe harbor and driven it out across the Mediterranean Sea, finally dashing the craft to pieces on a sandbar. Having not seen the stars which were so critical to navigation for two weeks, the passengers and crew learned from the inhabitants of the island that it was called Malta.

Paul and co. had been driven two weeks and 500 miles off course.

To make matters worse, the passengers and crew of the ill-fated boat now found themselves wet and cold on some unfamiliar shore, and even as the inhabitants struggled to build a fire and welcome their new guests, such as they were, Paul stooped to put some more wood on the fire when a poisonous snake lashed out and latched onto his hand. Everyone was certain he was going to die.

Then, after being marooned on Malta for three months, Paul and his companions were finally able to proceed on to Italy, where he was compelled for more than two years to rent the house where he would be held under house arrest. And as the chapter and the book closes, we are given no idea if or when he would finally be granted a trial, much less the outcome of the entire ordeal.

Now, to be fair, tradition tells us that Paul was eventually freed in Rome and may have even gone on to make a fourth missionary journey up into Europe before he was ultimately executed for his faith, but for the moment, he found himself having gone through the storm – literally – and ended up in a terrible lurch of uncertainty.

If I was in his shoes, I know that I would have had a very hard time telling people about Jesus. And yet, look what Paul did. In vss 8-9, he healed the father of the island’s chief official and all the rest of the sick, too. Considering that Jesus wouldn’t do that when no one believed, I think it fair to assume that Paul was successfully sharing the gospel with the people of Malta. When they reached Rome, in vss 17-28, he called together the Jews and told them all about why he was there and “tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (23 (NIV)). And then, in verse 31, the final verse of the book of Acts, we learn that, throughout his two years of captivity there in Rome, Paul “boldly and without hindrance… preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Boldly and without hindrance. All by themselves, they’re no big deal; words on a sheet of paper. But given all that Paul had been through – and was going through even then – they certainly do become profound.

Why do we let all sorts of situations, circumstances, and/or things hinder us from sharing the gospel? Why do we bind ourselves, saying that we’ll minister again when “the time is right”? Why do we not proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ for [insert your reason here]?

Dr. Merne Harris, a dear man of God and friend who attended our church before falling asleep three years ago this past week, used to ask, “Is that a reason or an excuse?”

Most of us have never been in a shipwreck, bitten by a poisonous snake, held under house arrest at our own expense for no reason for more than two years (and remember, he was held in Caesarea for two years before this!). And yet Paul still did his God-enabled best to realize the Great Commission.

To be certain, in the light of Paul’s experiences and resolve to minister here in Acts 28, we must conclude that no, our excuses for not ministering really don’t hold water.

The book of Acts begins with the mandate to be Jesus’ witnesses throughout the whole earth. It ends with Paul resolved to be that witness, regardless of circumstance. But if you read Acts 28, it really doesn’t bring the book to an end. Why? Because the story of the Acts of the Apostles was – and is – supposed be ongoing.

We are Jesus’ modern day apostles, messengers sent as witnesses to the Gospel message. And like Paul, we must get over our excuses and resolve to get that job done.

Notes

  • (1) After being driven along for some 2 weeks by the storm that sank their ship, Paul and co found themselves on Malta, 60 miles from Sicily and better than 500 miles from where they had started. It should also be noted that, because of the wind conditions, most people do not sail directly from Crete to Malta because the prevailing winds in the area are out of the west; you would be sailing almost directly into the wind the entire way. Rather, they sail north to Greece and then to Malta from the northeast so as to cut across the wind.
  • (6) When dealing with miracles, we must be very careful. It is exceedingly easy for witnesses to assume that the credit belongs to us.
  • (14) The fact that there were “brothers” in Puteoli, so close to Rome – and far from Jerusalem – is a clear indicator of the impact of the gospel. It had spread fifteen hundred miles – as the crow flies – without an apostle ever having visited this region before! Talk about a true testimony to God’s desire and ability to use ordinary, no-name people!
  • (21) How ironic it would have been if the letters from Judea had been aboard the same boat as Paul which wrecked on Malta.
  • (22-23) Isn’t it funny how different people respond differently to new ideas. Here in Rome, the Jews were curious to hear what Paul had to say and even came out in large numbers to listen to him.
  • (24) The story of life. Some believed, others didn’t. We have seen this over and over and over again throughout the book of Acts. Now we see it once more as a reminder that we can’t expect 100% success in our evangelistic efforts. But we can expect success. The trick is refusing to get discouraged when our efforts fail, but rather to shake off the dust and keep going!
  • (28) Again, we see Paul’s mission reaffirmed. But notice that, even here, he took the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.
  • (30) Sounds fair: you’re being held prisoner for no good reason, unable to work to make an income, and you’re still expected to pay for your own house, aka your own prison.
  • (31) This is what we should be doing! Notice, though, that it comes after – and even during – a long spell of trials and difficulties. We must be resolved to minister, witnessing “boldly and without hindrance” even when we have every reason to be hindered!
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