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And he stayed two full years in his own rented apartment, welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. Acts 28.30-31
The last word of the book of Acts is “unhindered.” This is no coincidence. The book begins with the ascension of Jesus, and the descent of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of sending forth the gospel. From the beginning Satan uses every weapon in his arsenal to try to slow the advance of the kingdom. He fails. The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome. This two-year period is followed, perhaps immediately, by time in actual prison and then Paul’s execution. Yet, forcing the Kingdom’s most productive missionary off the field in no way slows his work. Removing his head will not silence him either – in the New Testament he still speaks unhindered.
COVID-19 has confined us all at home – to a great extent. Last week we listened as God told us what to do during a time of confinement. We looked at the letter He wrote to the exiles in Babylon concerning how they should spend their time. We listened as he told us to “increase,” not decrease, and to spend our time seeking Him (Jeremiah 29.4-14). We also said that in the New Testament God shows us what we should be doing in such circumstances. This He does through the Apostle Paul during his period of house-arrest in Rome. Paul spends that time unhindered.
Acts 28.23-31 describes what Paul does as he finds himself restricted at home, waiting for his case to be adjudicated before Caesar. The first thing he does is welcome the leaders of the Jewish community to his apartment and share the gospel with them. He continues to welcome others into his quarters, and to share the gospel with them. Also, he writes. The letters to the churches at Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae, the letter to Philemon, and the second letter to Timothy were written from jail. Paul tells us repeatedly in these letters that he spends much time in prayer. Paul was truly unhindered during his time of confinement.
I am frequently reminded of the description Paul gives in II Corinthians 11.21-33 of his life on the road – the beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, criminal violence, starvation, exposure to the elements, and, worst of all – the stress. I wonder what he looked like with his shirt off – how scarred he must have been. Then there is the wear and tear his body suffered from the road itself – he travelled between 18,000 and 25,000 miles on his missionary journeys. During those two years of house-arrest he enjoyed the same bed every night. Every morning he arose knowing that he had a whole day ahead of him free of extraneous and ancillary concerns, a day free for work.
In addition to the challenges facing us – and they are daunting and many – we have been given some blessings. We have been forced to live lives less hectic and harassed. We have been forced to focus on that which is truly important. We are facing our physical isolation at a time when we have so many ways to stay connected to each other. We are unhindered.
And so, let us go forward to live unhindered lives. Let us comply with every directive of those responsible for public safety and let us be obedient to the Golden Rule (Matthew 7.12) – which coincide at this point. Let us stay in touch with each other in every way available to us. Let us find someone we know less well than we should and reach out to them. Let us connect with those in our circle of acquaintance who are lost and encourage them with the Word of God. Let us contribute every way we are challenged to contribute for those in need. Let us stay involved in the life of the family by studying, worshipping, and fellowshipping together despite our confinement.
Let us, as God’s family, spend this time unhindered.
We know what brothers and sisters are in our own families but what do we know about God’s family. I asked my Mother just a few months before her death: why do you think God has looked after you all these years? She simply said – “I’m his child.” In other words she was saying I’m a member of God’s family; a member of the household of faith, which is the church, what else would he do. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:15: “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” We can trace the roots of this household of faith all the way back to the beginning of human history. When God gave the first gospel sermon in Genesis 3:15 he said in part: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” Two families are marked-out in this passage: the Lord’s family and the devil’s family. Both families will produce offspring; both families will be at odds with each other; both families will receive a just reward at the end of time – one will receive death, the wages of sin; the other will receive the gift of eternal life.
From the time of the fall of man onward we see the distinction between the two families. In Genesis 6:5: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” God chose to destroy what he had created with a flood. Noah, on the other hand is presented as blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. The Enmity between the seed of the woman and Satin continued, even after the flood. When will this enmity cease? When will the promised seed of the woman come into the world to unite his family and make their faith real? Consider Abraham! It is the presentation of this man as the patriarchal head of the family of believers that we begin to learn what it means to be a member of the household of faith and how God will bring all believers into this household. The key promise given to Abraham is summed up in Galatians 3:6-9: “Consider Abraham: “He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand then that those who believe are children of Abraham [and thus are members of the household of faith]. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith.”
Paul quotes David in Romans 4:8 when speaking of those whom God credits righteousness apart from works of law – that is apart from perfect obedience to law, which all law covenants require – when he says: “Blessed are they [like Abraham ] whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins the Lord will never count against him.” In verse 11 of that same chapter Paul states: “So then, he [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” Who is Paul talking about here? He is talking about those who have a faith like Abrahams, those who seek to know the will of God and then do it. See Hebrews 6:13-20: “…we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” What hope have we fled to take hold of? The hope that Christ really did buy us off from the curse of the law and that God really will count our faith as righteousness. After all, he promised didn’t he?