Sunday School 11 25 2012

“Paul Evangelizes in Rome”

Lesson Text: Acts 28:16, 17, 23-31

Background Scripture: Acts 28:11-31

Devotional Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-40

 

Acts 28:26-31 (KJV)

23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.

24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,

26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:

27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.

30 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,

31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

 

OBJECTIVES

To be encouraged to continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even when some refuse to listen.

To understand the importance of proclaiming the Gospel to the lost.

To watch for opportunities to share the Good News about Jesus! 

 

INTRODUCTION

Learning from Losses

  Some time ago, a high school girls’ basketball team refused to appear for the second half of its game. The reason was that they were already more than 50 points behind and did not want to face further humiliation. Certainly we can all identify with that feeling. No one likes to lose. Even though we identify graciousness in defeat as a sign of good sportsmanship, we all know that winning is more fun than losing.

  In some games, the rules specifically allow a person who is behind to call it quits. A chess player can choose to resign, conceding the game to the opponent. However, chess teachers recommend that young players not resign. The saying is, “No one ever learned anything by resigning.” In athletics, politics, and business, many would give similar advice: it is important to learn as much as we can from losses, so don’t give up. A defeat (or seeming defeat) now may lead to a greater victory later.

  As followers of Jesus, we want nothing more than for everyone to know Him as we do. But the harsh reality is that many who hear the gospel reject it. To us, that seems like defeat—not just ours, but God’s as well. Today’s text is about just such a situation. Paul, the great missionary of first-century Christianity, had arrived in Rome, the capital of the greatest empire of ancient times. He was in chains, which makes the casual observer think of his presence there as a defeat. Our text invites us to look closely at that issue.

 

LESSON BACKGROUND

Time:A.D. 61

Place:Rome 

  Today’s text concludes three key layers of biblical narrative. First, it is the conclusion of the apostle Paul’s story in Acts, especially the story of his imprisonment. Paul’s imprisonment had to have been a shock to early Christians, a scandal that threatened to discredit Christianity. After all, how could God be with Paul if He allowed that apostle to be taken prisoner and tried by Rome?

  Second, this story concludes the account of the first-century church in the book of Acts. The church was opposed by powerful forces, especially Jewish religious leaders. That fact raises a question: Who truly speaks for God—the established religious leaders or the followers of Jesus?

  Third, this story concludes Luke’s account of God’s activity in Jesus and His first-century followers. Luke wrote both the Gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts; these are designed to be a two-volume work (see Acts 1:1, 2). From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He had demonstrated power and authority that belongs to God alone. He was believed by some, but rejected by many. Like Jesus, the church experiences both the acceptance of the message and its rejection. The books of Luke and Acts aim to help readers understand what that rejection means.

 

Arrival in Rome (Acts 28:16)

1. Describe Paul’s living arrangements once He arrived in Rome? (Acts 28:16)

  As today’s text opens, Paul is under house arrest in Rome. There he awaits his hearing before the Roman emperor, for which he had appealed months before (Acts 25:11). A prisoner might have to wait as long as two years for such a hearing, waiting for the accusers to arrive. 

  The Romans treat Paul with a respect not given to the other prisoners who made the voyage with him. Only Paul is suffered to dwell by himself. This arrangement is entirely beneficial to Paul: the word suffered here simply means “allowed” and in no way implies a negative experience for Paul. He is allowed to rent private quarters (Acts 28:30) and live there under guard, receiving as many guests as he chooses. 

  As Paul’s imprisonment in Rome begins, we see that it is no ordinary imprisonment. Although the book of Acts does not mention it, Paul uses this time to write letters to churches he has established. It is likely that he writes Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon while in custody in Rome, about A.D. 63.   

What Do You Think? 

What are some ways a Christian with limited opportunity or means can still help advance the gospel?

Talking Points for Your Discussion 

A shut-in |A person on a fixed or temporary income | A person caring for an elderly parent | Other 

 

Meeting with Jewish Leaders (Acts 28:17) 

2. What audience did Paul target during his imprisonment in Rome? (Acts 28:17) 

  Throughout his missionary journeys, Paul begins his preaching with a Jewish audience wherever one is to be found. He is himself a Jew, so he has a natural connection with his kinsmen. Paul calls the gospel God’s power for salvation “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Paul likely sees his pattern of preaching “to the Jew first” as befitting God’s promise to send Israel a great kinsman-redeemer who will not only bless Israel, but ultimately all the nations. Previously, most likely toward the end of his third missionary journey, Paul stated in Romans 1:14 that he had a great sense of obligation to communicate the Gospel to as many people as possible. Even though the present circumstances were less than ideal, this did not deter Paul from evangelizing the lost in the capital of the empire.  

   Three days after Paul arrived in Rome, he took advantage of his freedom to have visitors by trying to establish relations with the city’s Jewish community. He summarized for a group of their leaders the circumstances that brought him as a prisoner to the capital of the empire. He openly acknowledged his trouble with some Jews in Jerusalem. He insisted, however, he never did anything to hurt the Jewish people. Additionally, he said he never violated the “customs of our fathers” (Acts 28:17).  

   In verses 18-20 (not in today’s text), Paul continues his summary of the reason for his imprisonment. Although judged not guilty by Roman officials, it is his appeal to Caesar that has brought him to this point. The Jewish leaders respond that they want to hear more. They have heard of the Christian movement but know it only from negative reports (vs. 21, 22). So Paul and the Jewish leaders set an appointment for discussion on a later day.

 

Presenting the Truth of the Gospel (Acts 28:23)

3. What message did Paul want to get through to the Jews in Rome about the kingdom of God?  (Acts 28:23)

  The local Jewish leaders return on a certain day. However, the leaders bring with them a larger group of interested Roman Jews. While Acts does not give us Paul’s speech, we can infer from the summary here that it is similar to the testimony in earlier speeches in Acts when Paul interacts with Jews. 

  The Jewish people know their Scriptures well, and they live in anticipation of God’s fulfilling the promise of a Messiah. Thus it is natural for Paul to draw heavily on both... the law of Moses, and... the prophets in his explanation. Paul used the Jewish sacred writings to show how Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies in numerous ways. This is not the approach Paul took in preaching to pagan philosophers of Acts 17:16-34. Paul tailors his approach to his audience. 

  Paul’s message is about the kingdom of God. This is a key phrase in the New Testament. It refers to the fulfillment of God’s promise to rule over the world so that His will is done “in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom, exercising divine power in His miracles, asserting divine authority in His teaching, and finally ascending to rule at God’s right hand. Jesus had fulfilled God’s promise by His death, resurrection, and ascension. 

  These truths, Paul asserts, fulfill everything that God has promised in Israel’s Scriptures. God promised to bless all the nations through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 22:18), to send a prophet who speaks to God face-to-face (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; 34:10-12), and to rule through a king who will build God’s true house (1 Chronicles 17:11-14). The result will be the defeat of evil kingdoms that rule this present age, establishing God’s righteous, eternal rule (Daniel 7:13, 14). 

  These promises, woven throughout Scripture, are now fulfilled in Jesus. He is the seed of Abraham who blesses the nations (Acts 3:25), the prophet like Moses who speaks to God face-to-face (3:22, 23), the great son of David who rules forever (2:29-35), the Son of Man who establishes God’s righteousness (7:56). 

  The debate is vigorous, lasting from morning till evening. Clearly, the message of Jesus is no less controversial in Rome than it is elsewhere. 

What Do You Think?   

   What was the most important factor to you in accepting Christ when you heard the gospel? Do you presume this factor also will be the most important to others? Why, or why not? 

Talking Points for Your Discussion

- Persuasive argument (Acts 17:1-4; Romans 3:5-8)

- Appeal to identification and imagination (Acts 2:36, 37)

- Credibility of the speaker (Acts 20:17-21; 2 Timothy 3:14)

- Other

 

Mixed Response (Acts 28:24)

4.Did the Jewish People in Rome accept the message that Paul gave concerning the Kingdom of God? (Acts 28:24)

  As always, Paul’s aim in his presentation is not so much to defend himself as it is to persuade his listeners to put their faith in Jesus. His aim is fulfilled with some, as part of his audience departs believing the gospel. 

  But another part of the audience does not believe. The audience is divided sharply. Such is the case across the two-volume storyline of Luke and Acts. Meeting Jesus personally, some believe enthusiastically (Luke 5:18-20) while others bitterly reject Him (Luke 5:21). Thousands believe when the apostles preach the gospel message (Acts 4:4), but the Jewish leaders reject the message and persecute the church (Acts 4:1-3). The same is true throughout Paul’s own ministry: in city after city, some believe while others reject the message and persecute the messengers (Acts 17:4, 5).

 

Confronting Calloused Hearts (Acts 28:25-27)

5. How did Paul respond to the reaction of the Jewish people in Rome? (Acts 28:25-27)

  Animated debate continued among the Jews themselves, with some supporting the apostle’s views and others denouncing them (Acts 28:25). The meeting finally broke up when Paul quoted an unflattering prophecy from the Septuagint version (an ancient Greek translation) of Isaiah 6:9-10. In doing so, the apostle declared that his listeners heard but did not understand God’s truth. Likewise, they saw but did not perceive God’s revelation. Their problem was that their hearts were “waxed gross” (calloused, insensitive, and unfeeling). The result was that they did not turn to God for spiritual healing (Acts 28:26-27).

  Just as we have physical senses that enable us to understand and respond to our surroundings, we also have spiritual senses with which we can perceive God. But we must take care that our spiritual senses function better than the spiritual senses of those who rejected Paul’s message. We might be able to see with physical eyes, but still be spiritually blind. We might be able to hear with physical ears, but still be spiritually deaf. We might be able to physically touch, but still be spiritually calloused.

What Do You Think?

  What things in our culture tend to clog people’s ears to the message of the gospel? How do we break through these barriers?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Ezekiel 33:30-32; Matthew 13:22; John 6:60-66; John 11:48; John 12:42, 43

 

Witnessing to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28-29)

6. What did Paul declare to the local Jews who refused to believe God’s salvation through Jesus Christ? (Acts 28:28,29)

  In response to the local Jews’ refusal to believe the Gospel, Paul declared that the Father’s saving message through the Son was also being offered to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28). Furthermore, they would hear and heed the Good News. After the apostle had made this statement, his fellow Jews departed. As they left, they heatedly argued with one another about what Paul had said (v. 29).  

  Paul responded to a divided Jewish audience with a similar warning twice before (Acts 13:46; 18:6). In both cases, he also announced that he was turning to the Gentiles, yet he never stopped preaching to Jews. His words are a provocation—that “outsiders” will be included in God’s salvation while many of those to whom it is first sent will be left out (compare Matthew 21:31). 

  Christians sometimes read these passages as indicating that the Jews as a whole reject the gospel while non-Jews (Gentiles) are inherently more receptive. This is far from the truth. Virtually all the prominent leaders of the first-century church are Jews. Israel as a whole does not reject Jesus. But certainly Israel is divided in its response to Jesus. 

  God’s message always provokes division (Luke 12:51-53). Still, God is taking back His world through the gospel despite the rejection. Even though some reject the gospel, God’s purpose to have a people for Himself is nevertheless fulfilled in those who do believe. 

What Do You Think? 

  What are some things people do that hinder the spread of the gospel today? How do we recognize and counteract these influences?  

Talking Points for Your Discussion 

Intentional hindrances by unbelievers | Unintentional hindrances by believers

 

Preaching to All (Acts 28:30-31)

7. What does Paul do during his two year wait for his court trial in Rome? (Acts 28:30)

  Though lasting two whole years, Paul’s imprisonment is not much of a limitation. He is allowed to receive visitors, with whom he can share the gospel freely (v. 30). Paul’s teaching of everyone who comes to see him results in a gospel witness to “all the palace” (Philippians 1:13) and “Caesar’s household” (4:22). We can imagine that those assigned to guard Paul in his quarters had no idea what they would receive from the one they guarded! 

  Two years may be the legal limit that the Emperor’s court will wait for Paul’s accusers to appear and make their case. Their failure to appear may mean that Paul is released in about A.D. 63. Luke, the author of Acts ended his book before Paul's case had been heard, and does not give us the results of the trial. Nevertheless, we do know that Paul expected to be released (Phil. 1:23-27; 2:24; Phile. 22) and most students agree that he was. During these two years in Rome, Paul wrote Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Also during this time, he had Timothy with him (Phil. 1:1; 2:19; Col. 1:1), as well as John Mark, Luke, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Justus, and Demas (Col. 4:10-14; Phile. 24). He also met Philemon's runaway slave Onesimus and led him to faith in Christ (Phile. 10-21). Epaphroditus brought a gift to him from the Philippian church and almost died ministering to Paul (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:18). Tychicus was Paul's "mailman" who delivered Ephesians (Eph. 6:21), Colossians, and Philemon (Col. 4:7-9).  

What Do You Think? 

   What can we do to make people want to come to us to hear the gospel?  

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In the workplace | At school | Among relatives

 

8. Why do you think Luke concluded the book of Acts as he did (boldly)? (Acts 28:31) 

  Confidence or boldness of gospel preaching appears repeatedly in Acts, emphasizing the courage that the Holy Spirit supplies to believers (see Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 9:27; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8). At the end of the story, Paul the prisoner continues to display this same power. The final expression “No man forbidding him” is also the last word in the book of Acts. We hardly expect a prisoner to be described as unhindered, but that is Paul’s actual condition. His imprisonment is but another means by which he preaches the gospel. 

  Luke did not write his book simply to record ancient history. He wrote to encourage the church in every age to be faithful to the Lord and carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. "What was begun with so much heroism ought to be continued with ardent zeal," said Charles Spurgeon, "since we are assured that the same Lord is mighty still to carry on His heavenly designs." Our work must continue until Jesus returns (Matthew 28:18-20). 

"Lo, I am with you always!"

 

POINTS TO PONDER

1. Do not be discouraged on this Christian journey, God will always provide an opportunity for you to do his work. (Acts 28:16-17)

2.Be prepared to share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone. (Acts 28:23-29; 1 Peter 3:15)

3. You can boldly teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ –even when you face hard times. (Acts 28:30-31)

CONCLUSION

Never Lose Hope 

  There has never been a time when people received God’s Word easily. We should not be surprised when, like Paul, we see the gospel message rejected. But neither should we lose hope. The rejection of the gospel does not surprise God. He warns us to expect it. Despite that rejection, God fulfills His purpose among those who do receive His Word. As with Paul, God’s Spirit empowers each of us to be bold in our testimony despite rejection and hardships. 

PRAYER 

  Lord, help us testify even when Your message is rejected. We know Your will is still accomplished among those who believe. In Jesus’ name; amen. 

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER 

   Rejection doesn’t mean failure.

 


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