Shipwrecked on the Isle of Malta for three months, Paul took advantage of opportunities to be a witness for Jesus. The snakebite, the healing of Publius’ father, the ministry to other sick islanders — Paul recognized them all as opportunities for ministry. There is a lesson here for us: wherever you are, that is your mission field.
Having tracked the ministry of Paul through the book of Acts, we have seen him arrested, beaten, stoned, jailed, mobbed, plotted against, shipwrecked, snakebitten, left for dead, and arrested again — all for the sake of the gospel and the love of the lost. Here in the last chapter of Acts (the end of the beginning of the church) we see the scarred, battered, tenacious apostle on the deck of a ship bound for Rome (v.11-16).
Remember that Paul was a prisoner, but when he arrived in Rome he was really no threat to the Empire. He was allowed to be under house arrest, chained to a Roman guard who was relieved every six hours (but forced to listen as Paul preached and taught and prayed!).
Upon his arrival, Paul “called together the local leaders of the Jews” (v.17). After all the abuse he had taken from his fellow Jews, he still wanted to see his people acknowledge and receive their Messiah, Jesus. Besides, there were dozens of Jewish synagogues in Rome, and Paul must have thought that if he could preach the gospel to the leaders of all those synagogues, and if they would get saved, then they would already be organized to take Rome for Christ! Paul shared the gospel with everyone who came to see him, “from morning till evening” (v.23). Thank God some believed and were saved, but as a whole these Jews in Rome were just as hard-hearted as the Jews in Asia and Jerusalem (v.24-28).
The way Paul spent those two years in Rome is a pretty good outline for what we ought to do as a church (v.30-31): welcoming all who come to us, preaching and teaching Jesus, ministering with boldness, no matter what the circumstances. Paul carried out this ministry in chains. We ought to be able to do it whether or not the situation is ideal, whether or not we feel like it — no matter what!
Why such an abrupt ending to this book? Most scholars believe that Paul’s accusers from Jerusalem never showed up to prosecute him within the two-year time limit, so the Emperor threw out Paul’s case. He was free for a couple of years as he continued to travel and write and preach the gospel. At some point, during the cruel persecution of Christians under Nero, Paul was re-arrested and ultimately beheaded in Rome around 67 AD.
So why didn’t Luke give us a good conclusion to the story? Why such an abrupt ending? Because this is not the story of Paul, it is the story of the spread of the gospel. The gospel had reached Rome, the capital of the world — it could go anywhere from Rome. And it did: the gospel was carried to Western Europe; from there to the New World, America; and from there to Tennessee; and from there to us. Now…what are we going to do with it?