Sermon for Sunday Evening, January 28th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 28:11-31 ESV] 11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him. 17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done 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. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar–though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 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.” 21 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. 22 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.” 23 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. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 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: 26 “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 27 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.’ 28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 29 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Veni, Vidi, Vici. That is the Latin phrase — a well known one — which means I came, I saw, I conquered. It sounds very forceful. You might enter a room and scare people if you say Veni, Vidi, Vici. Some have suggested it was pronounced weenie, weedie, weeky, which would make it sounds pretty wimpy, if you ask me.
Paul is now in Rome. And the Gospel is now in Rome.
He didn’t come there of his own accord, but there he is.
He saw many people, and he preached to the word of God.
And the word of God, where the Lord willed, converted (conquered) the souls of men for the Kingdom of God.
Paul’s time is Rome is a success, the culmination of the Lord’s plan spoken of throughout the book of Acts.
I. The Gospel in Rome.
Paul is now in Rome. He has come there on a ship of Alexandria with the twin gods as figureheads. That’s Gemini, the twins. And the text is saying this is a ship of Gemini, but God controls it. It goes where He wills. And he wills that it goes to Rome.
And the Gospel is now in Rome. The victorious gospel.
But there are two caveats to our understanding here. It is a victorious Gospel, but …
Caveat 1: Not all in Rome believed.
Not all in Rome believed.
Not even all the Jews. And so Paul says “this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” There is victory. Some Jew and some Gentiles come to the faith. This is not much different than other places where Paul went. It is essentially always the case that some believe and some do not. Hardly is there a place where ALL believe or ALL oppose Christ. The success is on God’s terms; and these are his terms: in the Lord’s plan the Gospel always reaches out and gets ahold of some people of every tribe, tongue, and nation, male and female, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free.
Well, this is a fact that should be heard by all preachers: Paul did not convert everyone. Preachers often feel like a failure when people do not come to the faith. But that is not the test of a good preacher. The preacher to preach the Good News of the Gospel. God is to convert the soul. The preacher is neither to be given credit for conversions nor to be blamed when his hearers refuse to come to the Lord in repentance. Not even Paul in all of his preaching could convert those who would disbelieve.
Caveat 2: No talk of Caesar?
This is the real surprise. Where is Caesar? Paul is there for two years. Possibly this is his time of waiting for trial under Caesar. He was in prison in Caesarea Maritima for a long time under governor Festus and then Felix. Now he is in prison, or something more like house arrest here in Rome. Awaiting trial.
And the proclamation, from God, throughout the book of Acts has been “You must preach to Caesar.”
Paul had a desire to go to Rome himself:
[Act 19:21 ESV] 21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Then God made it clear that Paul would go there:
[Act 23:11 ESV] 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Then there was the trial of Paul before Festus. And what were the results?
[Act 25:12 ESV] 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
Paul wants to go to Rome, God wants him to go, Festus wants him to go, even and angel confirms:
[Act 27:24 ESV] 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
So Paul is to go to Rome and stand before Caesar. This confirms the statement of Christ himself all the way back in chapter 9 when Paul is converted.
[Act 9:15 ESV] 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
So we have Paul in Rome. And he’s expounding the Gospel to the people, morning till evening, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. He welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Paul has integrity. Paul runs the race, fights the good fight, is true to the end.
But where is his trial with Caesar? Where is the preaching to the King? Did it not happen? Or was it not recorded? Or was it yet to happen when this book written?
We don’t really know.
But we can be sure that Paul spoke to Caesar at some point. It was a promise of God, and God always fulfills his promises.
Now Luke writes in the past tense when he says of Paul “He lived there two whole years.” So when Acts was written Paul is either dead or gone from Rome, or both.
I tend to think that Acts was written fairly early, sometime in mid 60s AD. The book doesn’t mention the Great Fire in Rome and expulsion of the Jews from there. It doesn’t mention Paul’s death, or Peter’s. It doesn’t mention the Fall of Jerusalem. So there is a good chance that it was written before these big events.
At the same time, we have to remember that this isn’t a book about Paul or about Peter or any other Christian. It is a book about the Acts of the Holy Spirit. And well, the Acts of the Holy Spirit NEVER END. God is active at all times. The point of time of the conclusion in the Book of Acts is one that God chose for His own reasons, which may not be entirely discoverable to us.
II. What next?
It is natural to ask, What happened AFTER Acts?
There is an abrupt ending to the book of Acts. Paul lived there two years. Then what? He left? He died? He went to Spain? We are not told.
We do know that in Rome Paul preached the Gospel, and from Rome Paul wrote New Testament letters. It is believed that from Rome he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy.
And in 2 Timothy he seems to be expecting his own demise. [2Ti 4:6-8 ESV] 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
So based on Scripture information, but also the less sure but at least somewhat reliable traditions from later authors and honestly some speculation, here is what most likely occurred in the final years of Paul:
He spent 2 years in Rome. But this was not the end. Those two years are thought to be 60 – 62 A.D. Then a number of things involving Paul seemed to have occurred after that date.
1. The tradition (from multiple early Christian sources) is that Paul went on a missionary journey to Spain. His desire to do just that is found twice in the Book of Romans. Before getting arrested in Jerusalem, this is what Paul had said to the Church at Rome:
[Rom 15:24-28 ESV] 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.
So the Letter of Clement (after the Bible, perhaps in 96 AD) written by a man who knew Paul, says Paul “went to the extreme limit of the West.” Another source says Paul proceeded from Rome to Spain.
2. Then, Nero persecuted the Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. Around this time Paul may have been back in Rome.
3. Then, from a second imprisonment in Rome Paul wrote 2 Timothy, which is thought be about 66 A.D.
Why was Paul imprisoned a second time in Rome?
He may have been arrested just because he was a Christian. And especially he was a “ringleader” of the Christians. A person Nero would find easy to blame.
Then in 2 Timothy 4:6 we find that Paul is perhaps about to see Caesar.
[2Ti 4:16 ESV] 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!
He has had one trial already. Next perhaps is to go to Caesar. So if Paul didn’t speak to Caesar on his first imprisonment in Rome, he might have on the second. I think maybe both.
4. And there Paul is thought to have died, in a second imprisonment in Rome. About 66 A.D. (or perhaps as late as 68 AD) beheaded by the sword of the Roman’s, and not killed in some more tortuous way (like crucifixion) because he was a Roman citizen.
But Biblical history in the genre of history ends with the Book of Acts. Some of Paul’s letters, and Peter’s Letters and John’s Apocolypse may occur slight after the Book of Acts and help us fill in details.
Then there is much Church history that we can read and study from later periods, but it doesn’t have that same inspiration of God that makes the Bible so definitive and true and trustworthy. Later history is always doubtful to some degree.
III. The Gospel to All Places
So we come to the end of the book of Acts.
But the Gospel does not end in Rome.
And it does not end with the death of Paul.
It did not end with the death of Jesus either.
The Gospel continues to go forth in all places. It continues to bring to belief in the saving truth of Jesus Christ. The power that we see in the Book of Acts continues. God’s power in all times to bring in his people to His Kingdom. This process never ends and his kingdom shall never end.
That phrase veni vidi vici was originally one uttered by Julius Caesar. And like all conquering kings it was a phrase of PHYSICAL dominance over his enemies. But the Gospel of Christ and its victory is something different, something greater. It is a victory over sin and self; it transforms a man into a new creature, winning them over not by the sword but by the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit.