Editor’s Note: This week we welcome Paul Mannino to the blog, and he will be discussing Acts 28. If you want to watch the sermon, it’s posted on Paul’s YouTube Channel here. My wife, Michelle, and I met Paul and his wife, Mary Kate, at the Evangelical Congregational Church’s Pastoral Assessment Center this past January. There they not only got the green light for pastoral ministry, but we began a friendship. After 20 years in local church ministry, the Manninos are pursuing church-planting. I’m excited for you all to hear how Paul communicates God’s Word. If you want to learn more about the Mannino’s ministry, click here to contact them on Facebook.
How do you think God feels about you? Maybe you’ve run away from God, or even turned your back on him. Maybe you haven’t talked with him in a long time. Maybe you’ve done things that you think would make him angry at you. Keep reading, because God loves you anyway.
We’re following the Apostle Paul’s journey, and after many months, he has made it to Rome! Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul tells them about the events of the last few months, and then he says, of his appeal to Caesar that brought him to Rome, “I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
“With this chain.” He’s probably attached to the guard. He’s basically saying, “Look, guys. I didn’t so anything wrong. I don’t know why they had me arrested in the first place. I talked to the Romans. I appealed to them.” The Romans were like, “Yeah, what did he do? He hasn’t done anything wrong.” Remember, a couple chapters ago when Paul said, “Yes, I don’t care though. But I want to talk to Caesar because this is an opportunity to clear the air about what we’re about”?
It’s funny because I think that if Paul were to play his cards “right,” he wouldn’t have had to go through all of this. But, because Paul appealed to Caesar, he’s now in Rome and has an opportunity to communicate with the Jewish leadership in Rome. Rome, the center, the focus of the known world. Paul knows what he’s doing. He’s being strategic. He wants to share the Gospel in the place where, if it got legs, it would spread like wildfire. And why is he doing this? He says it’s because of “the hope of Israel.” What’s the hope of Israel? It’s not “what” is the hope of Israel— it’s WHO is the hope of Israel. It’s Jesus. He wants all Israel to know the truth about Jesus.
And here’s a funny part… They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you.” So the people in Rome have never even heard of Paul. They haven’t heard of Paul, but if they had heard of Paul, they haven’t heard anything bad about Paul. This just makes me laugh because it makes me think of paperwork—maybe the paperwork hasn’t made its way to the Roman Jews yet. How is this possible? There are theories about how the Roman Jews don’t know about what happened back in Jerusalem. For one, you can consider the time of year. Maybe the mail just hasn’t made it. When you think about it, Paul really did risk a lot by going through the storm, taking his many detours. Same goes for the mail. Maybe they just haven’t gotten the mail yet. Or maybe the Jerusalem Jews just decided that once Paul was gone they didn’t have to deal with him anymore—that it would be too much work to bring charges against him. The bottom line is that these guys in Rome are open to hear from Paul.
We know that because this is what they say, “But we want to hear what your views are…” Wow. To a believer, that may be the most golden thing a person can ever hear: “We want to hear what your views are.” Alright Paul, let’s go…let’s talk about Jesus with these guys!
Then the Jews clarify: “But we want to hear what your views are for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.” Do they really want to hear, straight from the horse’s mouth, what is this all about? They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He talked with them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. He talked about the kingdom of God, and he used the Scriptures to try to persuade them of the truth of who Jesus is. Large numbers flock to where Paul is, and he holds court from morning to night. What are the results?
Here’s what it says: “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” I believe that some of them made a decision on that day to follow Jesus. Some didn’t. And there really wasn’t anything that Paul could say. Paul was good at what he did. We know that. Paul had that knowledge. He’s a former Pharisee. He could tell you the Old Testament inside and out, and he could do anything to get you to believe…if your heart was ready. They weren’t. Here’s what it says, “They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement.”
What was Paul’s final statement? It’s not a flattering one. It’s just Paul being honest, using Scripture to explain the state of their hearts. “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
What’s Paul doing here? Paul is sharing a pretty damning prophecy from Isaiah 6. In it, Isaiah prophesies that there are going to be people that, no matter what you tell them, they’re just not going to believe the truth. Now that’s interesting! Paul, in no uncertain terms, then, uses a Jewish prophecy about not being able to hear and not being able to see, against the Jews! And it would be easy to think that maybe the people are deaf to what God is trying to tell them through Paul and that they’re blind to what God is trying to show them through Paul. But it’s very clear in Isaiah that it does they CAN’T hear. And it actually says very blatantly that it’s not that they CAN’T see, it’s that they’ve closed their eyes. And there is a difference between having your eyes closed and having your eyes opened. I have to think that it’s the same idea with the ears.
Remember when Stephen was killed by the religious leaders? Do you remember what they did before they picked up rocks to take him out? They put their hands over their ears because they didn’t WANT to hear the truth. This isn’t a matter of them not being able. It’s a matter of them not wanting to. That’s very similar to what is Paul is suggesting here in Rome. He’s saying, “If you would just take the hands off your ears, and just listen! If you would open your eyes! You’re saying you can’t see. Hey, why don’t you open your eyes? I guarantee it would work. If you did that, I could heal you. If you tried to hear, I’d help you to understand. If you tried to see, I could help you see.” It’s a prophecy from Isaiah, but it’s true in that moment.
So I’ve got to ask the same thing of you. Where are you? Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Have you heard the truth your whole life, but it’s sounded more like the teacher in Peanuts—“Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwaaaaah.” Because if you’re going to be honest, maybe you’ve had your hands over your ears. You don’t want to believe, so you’re not even going to really listen. Or are you like the person who says (with their eyes closed), “I can’t see! I can’t see.” Well, why don’t you open your eyes?
The things of God don’t come naturally as far as understanding goes. I get that. But my question is, “What is your heart posture?” Paul is speaking to these Roman Jews in this specific place, in this specific time—and he’s challenging them. I feel fine challenging you. Where are you? Feel free to comment below or contact me using the info above in the Editor’s Note. We’d love to hear what the hang up is. Where are you just not wanting to give up ground? But, please, for the love of God (literally), don’t be like the Jews in Rome. On that day, they walk away. On that day, this is what Paul tells them, “If you turned, God could heal you.” That’s from Isaiah. And then Paul says this, “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” What Paul is saying is, “If you want to be stubborn, that’s fine. You’re just going to miss out. If you want to be stubborn, that’s fine, but all that’s going to do is hurt you. God’s heart is to save people. God’s heart is to bring people back to Him. And if you’re not going to pick up what God is throwing down, then…at the end of the day…I’ve got news for you…He is going to bring it to people who (according to you guys) have no business knowing about God. Yet He loves them ANYWAY.”
He loves them anyway. Does God love the people on the island of Malta? Yes. Does God love the Roman people who believe in Castor and Pollux? Yes. Does God love the guard who is chained to Paul at that moment? Yes. Is it good news to him? He’s been listening this whole time. Is it good news to him? We don’t know if he believed, but that doesn’t changed that this is amazing news for him! Paul does everything he can to persuade them. Some listen. Some are hard-hearted.
At some point, Paul has to say what people say now: “Bye, Felicia”— and just move on. But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater in this exchange. Paul didn’t give up on his people. He tried to share the truth. He tried to persuade. In this day and age, I sometimes hear people say, “Well, they had their chance.” But that’s misguided. Everyone deserves a chance—and as many chances as it takes—to believe.