We must continue to advance the gospel right where we are. How can we be equipped for such evangelism? In this message on Acts 28:17–31, Bart Box reminds us of the grace, truth, and wonder of the gospel as we consider evangelism. He points out two takeaways about evangelism and the gospel.
- We continue the advance of the gospel with the same concern for others souls, confidence in God’s sovereignty, and passion for Christ’s kingdom.
- The gospel must serve as both the message and motivation in our evangelism.
If you would, take your Bible and turn to Acts 28:17. Acts 28:17. This morning we’re going to finish our journey through the text of Acts. There will be more to come in the series, but we’re going to continue and finish, this morning, our journey through the text of Acts. Last week, we looked mainly at Acts 20, as we saw Paul speaking to the Ephesian elders. You remember, he is there at Miletus, and he calls the elders together, and he gives them one last charge because he is on his way to Jerusalem and, eventually, as the text leads us through, we find that Paul is on his way to Rome and to the ends of the earth. So, that is the text that is before us as Paul completes his journey all the way to Rome.
Read, if you would, in Acts 28:17 all the way to the end of the book, verse 31.
After three days, [Paul] called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I have nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar – though I had no charge to bring against my nation.
For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.
And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement. “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
Verse 30 and 31, Luke gives us the description of Paul’s ministry going forward. “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him,” doing what? “Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
Some of the people here are old enough to remember the hit show Dallas, which aired from 1978 to 1991.
It’s always good to insult your audience right when you open a sermon, but some of us are old enough to remember. Although popular after the first season, the show really began to increase in popularity during the second season…in the 1980 season…and it really rose to popularity at the very end. Some of you are familiar that, as the producers were looking around and seeing the number one ratings of the show and so forth, they determined they wanted to ride the wave as long as they could. So, they decided to have a cliffhanger of sorts at the very end of the season.
So, they…even not knowing how they would really wrap everything up or how they would tie up all the loose ends…they determined to have the main character, J.R. Ewing, shot at the very end of the season. They said, “Well, we’ll figure it out when we come back next year.” So, over the course of the summer of 1980, there was, across America, this hysteria that was captured by the three word slogan, “Who shot J.R.?” T-shirts were printed with references, “Who shot J.R.?” and “I shot J. R.”. During the presidential campaign of 1980, the presidential campaign, in particular of Ronald Reagan, Republicans wore badges saying, “A Democrat shot J.R.”.
Larry Hagman, the person who played J.R. Ewing on the television show, took a vacation in England over the summer, and he was presented to the Queen of England, and he reports that, as they were conversing there, the Queen of England, at one point, leaned over to him and said, “I don’t suppose you could tell the Queen who shot J.R., do you?” An estimated 80 million Americans and 350 million people worldwide tuned in for the opening episode the following season. My favorite fact about this, about the hysteria, is that a session of the Turkish Parliament was suspended to allow legislators a chance to get home in time to view the opening episode the following fall.
Now, what does this tell us, other than the fact that we’re nuts? It tells us, or it reminds us that we desire resolution. We want to know how things turn out. We want to know the end of the story. That truth about us is really the primary reason that so many people have found the ending of Acts that Luke gives us so unsatisfactory.
I mean, you think about it. If you’ve been reading along in the book of Acts, for 20 chapters…from Acts 9 where Paul is converted on Damascus Road…for 20 chapters, we have been following this man named Paul. For the last seven chapters, we’ve journeyed from Jerusalem all the way as we get to Rome, going through shipwrecks and all kinds of distress and danger. We’ve been told of an upcoming trial, that Paul will stand trial before Caesar, who we know as Nero.
Humanly speaking, he’s the hero of the story, yet Luke never tells us how it ends. He never tells us exactly what happens to Paul. There have been all kinds of theories and all kinds of suggestions put forward as to why Luke doesn’t really give us the end of the story. I think, ultimately, the reason that we don’t have the ending, is because the story is not finished.
The story continues in the life of this church, in the life of churches just like this one. The story of Acts continues in our lives all across Birmingham this week. It continues in countless gospel opportunities at the office, at work, at your home, in your neighborhood, in bedtime conversations with yet converted children. Everywhere the Lord gives us an opportunity to share the gospel, which is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and so the story of Acts continues.
It’s that reality that is both a blessing and an unspeakable privilege, that we have to continue the story of Acts, but it is, at the same time, in a sense, a burden because we look at our lives, many of us, look at our lives, and we just don’t see the advance of the gospel like we desire to see it.
If we’re honest, most of us would say, as we talked about last week, as Andrew challenged us, the continuation, the advance of the gospel…and, yes, there’s a lifestyle that we are to live, and there’s a corporate witness, and that absolutely plays into everything that we do…but, there is also, as Andrew challenged us last week, there is also a time when we are called to verbally proclaim the gospel. “To give a reason”, as Peter says, “for the hope that lies within us.” Many of us…and I would include myself in that number…many of us, when it comes to that point, struggle with actually communicating, finding the words, finding the resolve for those words to actually flow from our lips, to speak about Jesus.
Two points in Acts 28:17–31
So, what I want you to see this morning, what I want you to do, is I want to look at Acts 28:17–31, and I want to do two things mainly. I want to encourage you in the advance of the gospel where you’re at. Okay, wherever the Lord has called you, all the opportunities the Lord gives you, I want to encourage you where you’re at. Then, I want also, not only to encourage you, but also to equip you in speaking about Christ, but probably not in the way that you imagine.
So, here’s what I want us to do. If you look at Acts 28:17–31, you’ll notice it kind of falls into two parts. First of all, I want us to see the advance of the gospel in the life of Paul, all right? I want us to look at what it looks like in the life of Paul, and then, by extension, what the advance of the gospel ought to look like in our lives.
Now, having said that, I want you to be, and I want us to be, very careful. I want to be very, very clear when I say that I’m not saying that everything that we see in Paul’s life, we ought to see in ours, all right? The last thing that I want, as we talk about spreading the gospel, as we speak about advancing the gospel, looking at the life of Paul, the last thing that I want for you to walk away with from this sermon is, “Man,
I’m the worst Christian ever. I mean, I don’t go to the ends of the earth, and I’m not being beaten. I’m not being stoned for the gospel, and, you know, I’m not witnessing to ten people every day. I’m not witnessing to ten people every year.” I don’t want you to walk away with, “Man, I’m just not doing enough. I’m just not there,” because we want to keep in mind, as we look at a text like this, that very simply, everybody is not Paul.
Not everyone in this room is called to be an Apostle with a capital “A.” In fact, I would say none of us are. Not every one of us is called to be a preacher of the gospel and, again, the technical term that we see in the Scriptures. Not every one of us is called to be a missionary in the sense that we leave constantly where we are at, and then we move to another culture, another people group. Not everybody is called to do the very same things that Paul is called to do.
As we know, all of us have different callings. We have different gifts. We have different opportunities. We have different levels of influence. So, not every one of us…in fact, few of us are going to be a Paul, but what I would say is we may not replicate the life of Paul, but I do think that Scriptures like this are intended for us to replicate the heart of Paul. We may not replicate the life of Paul, but we are intended, I think, to replicate the heart of Paul.
So, what I want to do is I want you all to read through this passage. I want you to kind of see the heart of Paul, as he engages, particularly, those around him that do not know Christ. So, I want us to see the heart of Paul. Then, the second part…it’s very simple. I want to ask, “How do we get there?” All right, how do we get to where we see the heart of Paul, and we see it in our own lives? So, what do we see and then, how do we get there?
Acts 28:17–31 teaches us to continue to advance the gospel with …
The same concern for others’ souls.
Notice first, if we’re going to continue the advance of the gospel, what do we see? We must have the same concern for others’ souls. First step. If we’re going to see the advance of the gospel, we must have the same concern for other souls. There are a lot of ways that we see this in this text and, really, in the entirety of Acts, and even in the entirety of Paul’s letters, but I want you to think about all that we have seen. We’ve moved over a lot of text in the last week in particular. So, you’ll remember we’ve covered from Acts 20–26 over the last week. So, I want to take you back, just to kind of set the context, to see what brings Paul to this point here in Acts 28.
Turn back, if you would, to Acts 21:27. You remember what we said? That last week we looked at Paul. He calls the elders together, Asia Minor, this place called Miletus, and he speaks to them and then the Spirit tells him, “Hey, you’re going to be persecuted. You’re going to be prosecuted.” So, he says, “Still going.” So, he goes towards Jerusalem, and he lands there and then, in Acts 21:27, look at what we read.
“When the seven days were almost completed,” and notice who it is…“the Jews.” Note that word. “the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple,” seeing Paul there, “stirred up the whole crowd and they laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place.’”
Namely, the temple. “‘Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.”
So, what we see from Acts 21 all the way until we get to Acts 28, is Paul is dogged at every corner, at every step. He is pushed by the Pharisees, by the Sadducees, by the religious leaders, by the rulers. The Jews are oppressing him, seeking to have him persecuted and prosecuted. What we realize is this is really no new thing and that we have seen this all along, that Paul is continually persecuted, not just in general, but persecuted by the Jews over and over. You don’t have to turn to these passages, but I want you to maybe note them and maybe write them out in the side of your Bible.
Listen to these texts in Acts, starting in Acts 13:50. “But the Jews…” Notice who it was. “…the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” So, Acts 13:50, we see Paul being persecuted by the Jews. We see it again in Acts 14:2. Now at Iconicum, “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles…” Notice the language Luke uses. “…and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” So, we see the Jews poisoning the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:2. Again, in Acts 14:19, we read that, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.”
Again, in Acts 17:13, “When the Jews from Thessalonica learned the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.” One last time in Acts 20:3. “There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.” So, the picture that we have is this.
All throughout the book of Acts, Paul is steadfastly opposed and persecuted by the Jewish people. Now, looking to our text, notice the very first line in Acts 28:17–31. The very first line, Paul has arrived in Rome. He’s been brought there because of Jewish opposition, Jewish persecution, Jewish prosecution. “After three days, he called together the local leaders…” What is that line? “…of the Jews.”
Now, I think there are only two options at this point. Either Paul has taken one too many stones upside the head, or Paul has a genuine love for the souls of these people, and it is, obviously…in the context of Acts and even in the context of this passage…it is, obviously, the latter. Paul loves these people and desires for them to come to Christ. Isn’t that what we see? As we read on, we can look at the way he addresses them in verses 18 all the way down through verse 22 as he seeks to have an opportunity…as he seeks not to unnecessarily offend them, and to win for himself and for them, a hearing of the gospel.
We see it supremely in Acts 28:23. Notice what Luke tells us. “When they had appointed a day for him…” For Paul to preach the gospel, “…they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers.” I want you to listen to the way that it’s described. “From morning till evening, he expounded to them…” That word, “expounded”, is another way of thinking of preaching. He just preached the gospel. Certainly, it involved questions and answers, no doubt, but “from morning till evening,” he poured out his heart. He expounded to them the Scriptures.
Then, notice, what it says…two modifiers to how he did that. “Testifying to the kingdom of God”, number one; and number two, “trying to convince them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets.” So, what do we see? Notice how Luke describes it. Notice how he describes the preaching of Paul. He said it includes, first of all, testifying. He says, “Testifying to the kingdom of God.” The word that is used there is a word that means to “declare solemnly” or to “declare emphatically.” It means to charge someone under a solemn oath. It means to warn someone, for example, about the kingdom of God.
So, yes…what I think we can draw from it. Yes, there are facts that we are to present. There is a story that we are to communicate. So, it’s not our story. It’s not anything about us, but in the same way that Paul…he testifies and there’s an object to that. He testifies, not to himself or to anything else, but the kingdom of God in Christ. He testifies to Christ, but I want you to notice, as Luke describes it, it is not a dispassionate testifying. Rather, notice the word he used. He says he is “trying.” He is “trying to convince them.” Trying to persuade them. The word that is used there involves passion, emotion. It is a pleading with people to come to Christ.
It’s interesting that in Greek mythology, there was a Greek goddess named Pathos. Using the same root word that is used here for Paul’s trying to convince them, she was, in Greek mythology, a goddess…and this gives you the picture of what Paul is doing here…a goddess of seduction. A goddess of persuasion. So, I don’t think it’s too much to say that what Luke is communicating here about Paul’s preaching is that Paul, as it were, is begging them. He is pleading with them to come to Christ. He is imploring them to be reconciled to God, as he speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5:20.
He is pleading with them to come to Christ, and when I read that, I am instantly convicted that that is not me. That, more often than not, I lack that kind of passion. That, more often than not, I am content to shut my mouth and know in my heart, as best as the Lord can reveal it, that that person before me is headed for an eternity apart from Christ. Yet, quite often, I find in my heart an indifference to their eternity.
Brother and sisters, when I look at this passage, and I look at Paul seeking them out three days, it’s not three months or three years even. Within three days, just long enough to get the paperwork settled. Within three days, he is calling them to himself. He is appointing another day for them to hear the gospel. He is expounding from morning to evening. He is testifying of the kingdom of God, and he is attempting to persuade them. He is imploring them, begging them to come to Christ.
Brothers and sisters, what this passage reminds me of is that we cannot ignore the lost people around us. The people around us may be religious. They may be leaders in the community, just like these people here in Acts 28. They may appear to have all things together. They may not even be looking for the gospel, but apart from Christ…the Scriptures teach that apart from Christ, every single person is destined for hell. That every person has earned hell. That every person has rebelled against God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and all of us, apart from Christ, will spend an eternity under the eternal wrath of God. We cannot ignore the lost people around us.
Rather, we must plead passionately with the lost people around us. Think about Romans 9. Paul, as he speaks about his countrymen, and he says, “Oh, my heart breaks. My heart longs. It aches for them to come to Christ.” They have all the promises, all the privileges and he says, “Oh, but I would be cut off if only my kinsmen in the flesh would come to Christ.” I wonder: do we have that kind of heart? Not necessarily for the Jewish people, although we ought to, but in particular for the people that God has placed around you. For your “kinsmen in the flesh,” as it were. Do we have that kind of passion?
Listen to what Spurgeon said. Spurgeon is always so challenging. Listen to what he says about evangelism. He said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. Let them go with our arms around their knees. Let no one go there unwarned or unprayed for.” We must have the same concern for others’ souls.
The same confidence in God’s sovereignty.
Number two, we must have the same confidence in God’s sovereignty. Advancing the gospel, concern for others’ souls, and then confidence in God’s sovereignty. Notice what Luke says in verse 24 as we continue. He has just preached. Morning until evening, he expounded them, testified, pleading with them. Then, notice the summary of that, verse 24, the result of it, “Some were convinced.” It’s so plain, isn’t it? It’s so matter of fact. “Some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.”
Imagine if you were Paul. You have spent all day. You have set a date for them to come. No doubt in the interval, between the first section as he meets them initially, and then he sets another date for them to come. No doubt, Paul has spent time praying for them. Praying for their hearts. Praying for their conversion. Praying for the gospel to be clearly explained. He then spends the day, the morning until the evening expounding the Scriptures to them. He answers their questions, testifies and pleads with them and, literally, the text says, “Some of them were beginning to be convinced and others disbelieved.” It’s really a decidedly negative evaluation of what happened. A few were believing, but most did not.
Have you every poured out your heart in the gospel? Prayed for somebody? Longed for somebody to come to Christ? God gives you that opportunity to share the gospel, and they just don’t respond? Sometimes, our preaching and our teaching and our sharing of the gospel just doesn’t go the way that we planned. It doesn’t have the effect that we so desire.
I can think about a sermon that I preached years ago, and it was a sermon at another church. It was after Christmas, but before New Year’s, and so you kind of have to keep that mind. It was sort of a New Year’s Day sermon, all right? So, I was preaching on Philippians 4:8, and I’ll read the text. It’s, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” You know, it’s really kind of an uplifting text. So, I was encouraging the congregation, you know?
I said, “You know, there’s a tendency that we all have that, to kind of run to the negative, and run to criticism, and run to things that are not profitable, and so, let us, this year, set our eyes upon Christ, our affections upon Christ. Let’s lift high Christ and really focus on Him.” I preached the sermon and…now, in that church, we started at 11:00 A.M. and we were supposed to be done by 12:00 P.M., kind of like it is here, you know? I had a fairly regular habit of running over, and so I finished at about 12:10 P.M. that day or so.
As was my custom, I went to the back to shake hands and to greet people as they were walking out, and I’ll never forget, as this one lady was walking out. She didn’t say a thing about the sermon. She just looked at me with the most cold look you can imagine, and she said to me, “I can see that you didn’t get an alarm clock for Christmas,” and walked out. “Happy New Year to you as well.”
It’s the same way in sharing the gospel, preaching the gospel, teaching the gospel, sharing the gospel wherever the Lord gives us opportunity. Sometimes, it’s just not going to have the desired effect. In fact, many times, it’s not going to have the desired effect. There are going to be times, many times in life, when we are going to kind of take the risk.
The Lord’s going to prompt us to share the gospel, to speak about Christ in whatever way and however that looks in your life, we’re going to speak about Christ and, as a result, we are going to be rejected, ridiculed, marginalized, and they are going to reject the gospel. However, here’s what I want you to see. That is going to happen. It happened in the life of Paul, and I want you to notice how Paul responds. I want you to see how Paul responds. There are two things that Paul does.
Look, if you would in verse 26. First of all, as Paul is rejected as he preaches the gospel, he expounds the Scripture, he testifies to Christ, and they reject it, notice first, he rests in the sovereignty of God over salvation. Look at what he says beginning in the middle of 25, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers, through Isaiah the prophet…” We don’t know if he’s saying this after they’ve turned away and so, it’s kind of his conclusion from that, or another way to translate it would be he said this, and that’s kind of what breaks the camel’s back, and they leave. So, we don’t know exactly how that happens, but, in any event, this is Paul’s evaluation of what has happened. Some believed, others did not, and so he quotes Isaiah.
“Go to those people and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand. You will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with they ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I will heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
The truth is this: God will sometimes overcome the hardness of heart. Praise God!
He did it in our case. Sometimes, God will, indeed, overcome the hardness of heart and, indeed, it does take God overcoming that hardness. Really, the mystery of God and, really, the mystery of Scripture, we don’t understand. Can’t put it all into a nice, neat package, but sometimes, for whatever reasons, either now or later, God doesn’t do that. For whatever reason, God doesn’t always overcome the hardness of heart. Our tendency is and our temptation is to despair when God does that, or when God doesn’t do that.
What I want you to see is that Paul doesn’t despair. Paul rests in the sovereignty of God over salvation. He knows that he is not called to convert a single soul. He is called to preach the gospel. So, Paul rests in that, and then look at how that frees him up in verses 30 and 31. As a result of resting in the sovereignty of God, for two years then, he lived at his own expense, and he “welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming…” Notice what he does. He doesn’t despair. He doesn’t quit. He doesn’t stop talking about Christ. Rather, he is emphatically not doing that. He is “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all…” notice this, “…with all boldness and without hindrance.” Which tells us this, brothers and sisters, we don’t need to despair over gospel rejection. Rather, we are to persist faithfully in gospel proclamation. We don’t despair over gospel rejection; we are to persist faithfully in gospel proclamation.
You may want to write this Scripture out beside this note: 1 Corinthians 1:22–24. It really gives us a glimpse into what we see detailed here in Acts, but really, played out in the ministry and the writings of Paul. Listen to what he says in 1 Corinthians 1:22–24. He says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom…” Do you remember that passage? “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,” but notice what Paul says. This is what they were looking for. This is what they were wanting.
This is what they will accept. This is what they are seeking in a preacher. He said, “But we don’t give them signs, and we don’t give them wisdom. We preach Christ crucified.” The verb tense there is…it’s present, and it’s active. That just simply means that it is a continuing, ongoing thing. They seek wisdom. We preach Christ. They demand signs; we preach Christ. They reject; we preach Christ. They ridicule;
we preach Christ. On and on and on, we preach Christ. Then, that leads to what he says, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Some won’t get it. Some will not get it because of the hardness of their own heart. “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
The same passion for Christ’s kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, it is not up to us. We are called not to save anybody, but to preach the gospel and have the same concern for other’s souls and the same confidence in God’s sovereignty. Number three, we must have the same passion for Christ’s kingdom. The same passion for Christ’s kingdom. I want you to see what drives Paul more than, I think, love for others or any kind of earthly reasoning, not that those things are bad. They’re all good. I want you to see what I think drives Paul at the heart.
I want you to look at verse 20. We can see it in verse 20, verse 23 and in verses 30–31. Those are kind of parallel ideas. I want you to see it, beginning in verse 20, where we read. Luke tells us…we can back up to 19. “Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar – though I had no charge to bring against my nation.” Then, notice this connecting word here…underline that. “For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and to speak with you…” Then, another connecting word giving us the fundamental reason why Paul is so driven, why he desires to see them. “Since it is because of…” This is the phrase you want to key into: “because of the hope of Israel…” “It is because of the hope of Israel,” Paul says, “that I’m in these chains.”
It begs the question, what is the hope of Israel? What is the hope of Israel for Paul, and why did it drive him so much, and is that same hope to drive us? I want to suggest to you that it is if we rightly understand what the hope of Israel is. Turn back with me, if you would, to Acts 23:6. This phrase, “the hope of Israel,” and kind of related phrases are used in a number of places.
I’ll go ahead and give them to you if you want to write them down, but all throughout this kind of trial sequence, from Acts 21 all the way to Acts 28, we see it mentioned. For example, first in Acts 23:6. Then, Acts 24:14–15, Acts 24:21, and then again in Acts 26:6–8. Now, I want to read the first two of those to you because I think it gives us a pretty clear glimpse of what is meant by this “hope of Israel.” Acts 23:6: “When Paul perceived that one part…” This is kind of the initial prosecution, all right? “When Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of the Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.’” What you have there, if you look at that phrase, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead.” Those two are tied together grammatically. Those two things go together. So, they really speak to the very same thing. The hope is, essentially, the resurrection of the dead, and it begs the question, “What is the resurrection of the dead?”
Well, initially, if we think in terms of hope, we think of, like, heaven and our resurrection, and that is included, but what is interesting is in this phrase, “the resurrection of the dead,” “dead” is plural. So, it’s really the resurrection of the dead ones, which would include all people. It’s not just the resurrection of the righteous that he’s talking about is what I’m saying. It’s the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
We see that in Acts 24. Turn over now. I want you to see it. Make sure you realize I’m not pulling a fast one on you, all right? Acts 24:14–15: “But this I confess to you,” Paul says, “that according to the Way, which they call a sect [or a heresy], I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having…”
Notice, there it is again, “…having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be…” and here it is again, “…a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” It begs the question, how is that a hopeful thing? How is the resurrection of the wicked, the resurrection of the unjust, a good thing? A hope…the hope of Israel?
As we were going through the Scriptures last year, the entire sweep of Scriptures, particularly, in the Old Testament, really, really benefits us as we look into Acts 23, Acts 24, and then Acts 28 where Paul talks about the hope of Israel. We are reminded that, over and again, that Israel looked forward to a day when the kingdom would come. That’s why it’s not an absurd question.
In Acts 1:6, you remember at the very beginning of the book, they asked, “Jesus, will you, at this time…” do what? “Restore the kingdom to Israel?” It’s not a bad question. It’s just they don’t understand the timing and the means. It’s a good question. They looked forward to the restoration of the kingdom. They looked for a day when God would come, when the Messiah would come, and when He came, what would He do? He would judge the righteous and the unrighteous.
He would raise the dead. It would be a day on which God would call into account all those who had rebelled against Him, and a day in which Isaiah 35 describes “When the lame would leap, when the mute would sing, when the deaf would hear, when the blind would see, when the dead would raise to life.” They looked forward to a day when the Messiah would come. When the kingdom would come. When God would give a new heart. When God would give…when He would pour out His Spirit. When He would deliver the captives and set them free. When He would cast their sins as far as the east is from the west.
So, when we come to this passage in Acts 28, and we hear about the hope of Israel, we are reminded that, for Paul, what we see throughout the book of Acts, this hope of the kingdom, a Messiah coming, is not something that is way out in the future. For Paul, the kingdom has come now. The kingdom is here. The hope of Israel has arrived in and through the person and the work of Jesus Christ. That because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the kingdom of God has come and, as Luke describes it, it has come to tax collectors, and to sinners, and to prostitutes.
In our own day, the kingdom of God has come to sorry husbands and cheating wives, and disobedient children, and losers, and outsiders, and all of them have one thing in common: all of them are forgiven by the blood of the Lamb. The kingdom has come. Those that were far off. Those that were outcast. Those that were prodigal in nature. The kingdom of God has come, and He has brought them in. This is the good news that we have to proclaim. That’s why over and over, Jesus says in the Gospels, He came preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.
In Acts 4, we read that they preached the good news. Acts 8:12, reads they preached the good news of the kingdom of God. It’s a good thing that we have to offer people. The kingdom of God has come. There is no one who is too far off. There is no one whose sin is too great. No sin is too grievous. No past is too checkered.
No reputation too marred. The kingdom of God has come to such as these, and if that is the case, if those things are true, then brothers and sisters, we can’t give our hearts to trivial matters. If things of such profound, eternal impact are true, we cannot give our hearts to the passing world of fashion, and entertainment, and sports, and politics, and power, and money, and sex. We can’t give our hearts to trivial matters.
Rather, we must love deeply the gospel story. This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever have a conversation with anybody unless it is about the cross of Christ. It doesn’t mean that we can’t have pleasant conversation, interaction, relational development with people all around us. We should be doing that, but it is to say that there are some things that matter more than others, and the cross of Christ is supremely that thing.
There is the temptation all across this room to give our hearts to things that just don’t matter. Satan sets before us a menu of options intended to distract. Many of them are good things. Not inherently sinful things, but he sets them before us so that we will not give ourselves to the greatest thing. So, that we will not give ourselves to the life, the death, the resurrection of Christ. We must love the gospel story deeply. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.” Do we have that kind of conviction?
Application of Acts 28:17–31
Now, we’ve said if we’re going to advance the gospel…looking at Acts 28…if we’re going to advance the gospel, we must have the same concern for other’s souls. We must have the same confidence in God’s sovereignty, and we must have the same passion for Christ’s kingdom. Having said that, the last thing that I want to do is to leave you with those bare commands and those bare imperatives and just say, “You know what?” Like the Nike slogan, “Just do it.”
You just need to have more passion for Christ, and you just need to have more confidence. You just need to have more love; more concern for those around you. Even though those commands are sufficient for us for, I think, far too many evangelism sermons, sharing the gospel kind of sermons, they, oftentimes, have the feel of kind of, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and just do it.” I should know because I’ve preached them before, but I don’t want to do that again.
I want to take you to what I think is the root, kind of the fundamental motivation. I want to equip you. I want to equip you at a fundamental level, to leave you with more than a “to do,” but also a “how-to.” That’s why I provided this quote. I want you to read it with me. Mike Horton says, “Precisely because the church is first of all the place…” He doesn’t, obviously, mean the bricks and mortar of the building; he means the gathering.
“Precisely because the church is first of all, the place where God…” Notice that “where God,” notice the prior action: “…God does certain things, it becomes a people who belong to a new society that is being formed in this present evil age.” Then, he talks about evangelism and acts of service. “By their acts of witness and deeds, believers share the gifts they have been given with their neighbors.” Share the gospel. We share the life, death and resurrection of Christ with our neighbors, but notice these last two lines. This is what I want you to key in on. “However, before they can serve, they must be served. Before they can act, they must receive.”
How often we get the order the other way. “I’ll do it, and then, maybe, God will come along with me. Maybe God will help me when I’m outdoing.” However, what Horton is saying is that God does. God feels. God acts. Then, out of the overflow of that, we act as well. We must be served before we can serve. We must receive before we can act.
See, the truth is…I think a good place to see this is in the book of Acts. The truth is, there aren’t a ton…and I want you to hear me very carefully because I’m going to qualify it…that there are not a ton of commands to evangelize in the Scriptures. Have you ever thought about that? I mean, certainly, we have some, so I’m not saying that there are none. We have them. The Great Commission, obviously. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. We have some. Like, we have texts such as 1 Peter 5, but what I would point you to is there are not a ton of commands to evangelize, but there are a ton of examples of evangelizing.
You notice that? There are not a ton of commands to do it, but, rather, there are a ton…especially in the book of Acts…a ton of examples, which, in my mind, suggest this. It goes along with this quote. Sharing the gospel is not intended to be some artificial exercise in the Christian life. Rather, it is intended to be the natural overflow of the gospel in and through our lives. It’s not out here and something that we get to. Rather, it is in here and it’s something that comes out. So, that’s why it’s so important. That’s why it’s so important that we gather every single Lord’s Day. Every single Lord’s Day, to hear the gospel proclaimed to us first before we can proclaim it to anyone else.
That’s why it’s so important that we come together and we sing about the gospel. That’s why it’s so important that we come together, and we see the gospel re-enacted in baptism and in the Lord ’s Supper. That’s why it’s so important that we come together, and we fellowship around and through the gospel. That’s why it’s so important that we meditate, and hear, and we think about, and we pray about the gospel and what God has done on our behalf, in and through the person and work of Christ. God is the actor; we are the receivers. Then, that works its way out in neighborhoods, and homes, and families, and all around the world.
Acts 28:17–31 reminds us the gospel must serve as both the message and the motivation in our evangelism.
So, very quickly, I want to call us back to what is evident in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament, and that is this: that the gospel must serve both as the message and the motivation in our evangelism. So, you want to talk about a how-to? I don’t have “Start this way and end this way.” All I can tell you is this is the message, all right? Holy God; sinful people. Christ has come and paid our penalty in full on the cross.
Raised from the dead, and all who place their faith in Him receive eternal life. That is the gospel, but what I want to make sure that you connect the dots on is that it is not only our message, but it’s also our motivation. It’s what moves us to share the gospel. It’s what we see in the truths that we shared as we studied this morning. Think about it. I want you to connect the dots between what we’re about to say, and what we’ve already said. That we should have the same concern for others’ souls.
As we …
That we should have the same confidence in God’s sovereignty, and the same passion for Christ’s kingdom, but how do we do that? “Well, you just do it.” No, we do it through the gospel because it is, as we remember the grace of the gospel, that we are motivated with genuine love for others. Have anybody in your life you don’t like? Maybe any unbelievers in your life that you don’t like? My encouragement for you is not, “Hey man, you just need to do it.
You just need to have more love for that person. You just need to have more concern.” I mean, that’s true, but I would suggest that the only way that we can get to that point with genuine love, the only way we can get to the point where we see Paul testifying to the kingdom of God and persuading and imploring them to come to Christ…the only way we’re going to see that kind of genuine love is as we remember that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That while we were far off, He died for us, and if the holy and infinite God could send His own Son to do that, surely we could do that for sinners like us. Surely, we could love them with that kind of love and the power of the gospel.
As we remember the grace of the gospel, that we are motivated with genuine love for others. Also, as we embrace the truth of the gospel, we are strengthened in the face of rejection. How do you not despair when others reject you? How do you not just kind of cower back, and how do you not just become discouraged because people reject the gospel?
It is in this way: remembering that our identity is not tied up in how many people we win for Christ; our identity is tied up in who Jesus is, and what He has done on our behalf. It’s by remembering the gospel, going back to the gospel, that, “Yes, they may reject me, but I am accepted in Christ, and that’s all that matters.” We’re accepted in Christ and so, the power of the gospel trumps the opinions of man.
It is, last, as we behold the wonder of the gospel, that we are stirred in our affections for Christ’s kingdom. It is as we are stirred in…as we behold the wonder of the gospel, that we are stirred in our affections for Christ’s kingdom.
A couple of weeks ago, after I had preached on Acts 15, and you remember that’s the Jerusalem Council, and so there’s this emphasis there upon the glorious gospel of grace. So, I preached that morning, 9:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. and then came back that night, of course, and preached the 6:00 P.M. service.
After the sermon…I had gotten through preaching, and we had wrapped up the service, and I was walking across these steps about to head out backstage and go home. I was really, really tired. I was, quite honestly, feeling sorry for myself in an ungodly way, and I could see this person wanted to talk with me. I, in my flesh, wanted to go home, but the Spirit prompted me to speak to him. So, I’m not saying I’m a great pastor. I’m just saying, this is where I was at that night, all right?
So, I did go down, and I asked him his name, and he told me, and he indicated that he was from out of town. It was kind of a random appearance at The Church at Brook Hills. He’s from out of state, actually, and just happened to be here that night. So, we introduced ourselves and, immediately, he said, “I’ve got a problem with something you said.”
I thought, “All right, go ahead.” He said, “You said in your sermon…you said that in Christ, the weakest believer and the strongest saint are equally justified, equally forgiven before God.” He said, “Do you believe that?” I said, “Well, hold on. Let me make sure. Yes, yes, yes. I believe that, yes, indeed.” He said, “Then why have I been doing all these things for all these years? Why have I been told to pray all these kind of formal prayers? Why have I been told that I must receive this sacrament, and I must do this, and I must do that in order to be saved? Why have I been told that? Either what you’re saying is true, or what I’m saying is true, basically.”
So, we set down there for about 40 minutes after the service, and I just was allowed to speak, and he was the most gracious listener. So, I walked him through passage, after passage, after passage of the free grace of God in Christ. I took him to John 10, Ephesians 2, Romans 3, Romans 4. Spoke to him about the cross and the gospel. I’ll never forget, at the very end, he just kind of looked away, and he said, “Do you really believe that all I have to do…are you really saying that all I have to do is believe in Jesus, and I’ll be saved?” It
just kind of hit me at that moment. “Yeah, that’s exactly what we believe.” That’s exactly what we are saying because of Jesus, in spite of my sin, in spite of my shame, in spite of my guilt, and in spite of the wrath of God that I have earned, Jesus Christ has come. He has lived the life I should have lived, died the death I should have died upon the cross, and He is raised in victory over sin, and all who call on the name of the Lord, yes, indeed, they will be saved.
I tell you that to tell you this: as I was going home that night, I was renewed with a real desire to publish the message of the gospel in my own neighborhood, and wherever God takes me. It wasn’t anything that I had done. Anything that I had engendered in my own heart. It was simply being refreshed in the gospel that led me, then, to want to publish the gospel to others. In my opinion, that’s the how to.
There are ways. There are techniques. There are all kinds of things that we can explore, but, fundamentally, if we want to see the gospel, if we want to see the gospel advanced, if we want to have concern for others’ souls, we want to have confidence in the sovereignty of God and a passion for the kingdom of Christ. The kind of passion that we see in Acts 28:17–31. It will come through one means and one means only, and that is the gospel. Let’s give ourselves to it.
We continue the advance of the gospel with…
- The same concern for other’s souls. (vv. 17–23)
- We don’t ignore the lost people around us.
- We plead passionately with the lost people around us.
- The same confidence in God’s sovereignty. (vv. 24–31)
- We don’t despair over gospel rejection.
- We persist faithfully in gospel proclamation.
- The same passion for Christ’s kingdom. (vv. 20, 23, 30–31)
- We don’t give our hearts to trivial matters.
- We love deeply the gospel story.
- “Precisely because the church is first of all the place [i.e. the gathering] where God does certain things, it becomes a people who belong to a new society that is being formed in this present evil age. By their acts of witness and deeds, believers share the gifts they have been given with their neighbors. However, before they can serve they must be served. Before they can act, they must receive.” (Michael Horton)
- The gospel must serve as both the message and motivation in our evangelism.
- As we…
- Remember the grace of the gospel…
- We are motivated with genuine love for others
- Embrace the truth of the gospel….
- We are strengthened in the face of rejection.
- Behold the wonder of the gospel…
- We are stirred in our affections for Christ’s kingdom.
- Remember the grace of the gospel…