Acts 28a - Good and Faithful Servant
Good And Faithful Servant
Good And Faithful Servant
I hope you won’t mind me being very personal, but I would like to share something with you tonight. I have a great unfulfilled ambition. It’s something which spurs me on day after day, through thick and thin. I don’t want money or status or prestige or power. It’s quite simply that I want to hear six words addressed to me by the Lord at the end of my life. If I hear those words, then my ambition will be fulfilled and I shall want nothing more. These six words are to be found in Matthew 25:21; they are, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Here is what I wrote in response to these verses in my devotional diary on 6th June 1990: “‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ That, above all, is what I most desire to hear from the Lord’s lips. Father, give me the grace so to follow after Christ and serve Him, that I may bring glory to Your name and hear these words. That will be reward indeed.”
That is my ambition; it’s what keeps me going. I don’t think it’s a bad ambition for a Christian to have - to be found faithful. Indeed, I hope it is one which you have yourself. In fact it was something which the apostle Paul frequently commended to his co-workers. Writing in 1 Corinthians 4:2 he said, Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Later he wrote in 1 Timothy 6:20 to his young colleague, Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. He clearly wanted him to be found faithful, and so right at the end of his life he wrote again to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction.
As we have seen before, Paul practised what he preached. So when he arrived in Rome, he quietly settled into a ministry that was to continue for about two years. During that time Paul was able to preach the gospel while he was under house arrest. His door was open to all enquirers. He took every opportunity to speak of Christ and to minister to men and women. He consistently proclaimed the gospel and preached the kingdom of God and taught them about the Lord Jesus Christ. If he could not go to them, he would not turn away any who came to him. He wanted to be faithful to his calling.
Luke’s account seems to tail off. There is no neat, final, happy ending. The book of Acts ends not with a full stop, but with a dotted line. And this open-endedness is quite deliberate. Luke intended to leave us with what is, essentially, an unfinished story which is unfinished because the work of God remains unfinished. The unfinished task of the Church is to proclaim the gospel of saving grace in Jesus Christ to the ends of the Earth, while the world lasts. The preaching of the gospel has to go on till the Lord returns at the end of the age. The Lord is still saving lost people and calling them to love and serve Him with all their hearts and minds and strength, for all their days.
The book of Acts is the continuing work of God in and through His Church. For that very reason it is also about the unfinished work of faithfulness - faithfulness in reaching out; faithfulness in persevering, when people will not listen, and faithfulness in proclaiming Jesus Christ the only Saviour of mankind. And we see these three aspects of faithfulness operating in these last verses of Acts.
1 Faithful Outreach
First faithfulness in reaching out.
Considering all that had happened between Paul and the Jewish authorities over the years, it is remarkable that the Jewish leaders in Rome should accept an invitation to meet with him. It is also striking that he should approach them as he did. But Paul had a heart for his own people that they might be saved, as he wrote to the Romans in 10:1. Indeed, it was on account of the hope of Israel that he was in chains. Paul was completely honest about the circumstances which brought him to Rome. He did not want the Jews of Rome to hear second-hand about his arrest and his appeal to Caesar. Paul told them that, in spite of all the legal processes, he had done nothing against the Jewish law or his people’s religious customs.
Notice also that Paul did not make any complaints or accusations about his past treatment by the Jews. In effect, Paul was saying that he was a true Jew, a believer in the Messiah, and was assuring the Jews in Rome that, far from representing some weird, new heresy, he was actually faithfully serving God. In all this he was leading his hearers towards considering the truth about Jesus Christ. He forced nothing upon anybody, but he refused to let anyone prevent him from proclaiming Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of sinners. That was his passion. And it has to be the same for every Christian.
Paul wanted to gain a hearing for the gospel. So he identified with his hearers. Here is a lesson that all Christians need to learn and apply today. Preparing for evangelism - getting alongside people - is almost as important as evangelism itself. Like the golf ball hit towards the pin - if you’re never up, you’re never in. We must win a hearing for the gospel, if the gospel itself is to be heard at all.
1 Faithful Perseverance
Mind you, getting a hearing does not guarantee acceptance of the message. The fact is that some people just will not open their eyes to see the wonder of what God has done in Jesus Christ. They will not open their minds to the offer of the gospel. They refuse to bend their wills and heed the warning that there is no other way to be saved than to come to God through faith in Christ.
This is one of the most painful realities for any Christian to face. Friends or family, some of our nearest and dearest may come into this category. Christians cry out to God for their spiritually blind loved ones, but still some of them will not see.
All of us who go on in the Christian life must experience this, and when we do, something in us cries out in a mixture of pain and puzzlement. Why can they not see? Why are they blind to the truth about Jesus Christ and the wonder of what He has done for us? Is it that they see well enough but refuse to surrender to His Lordship and control? What won’t they let go of in order to receive Him? Why, oh why, are they so blind?
It is the common experience of all Christians to be mystified and hurt by the blind, hardhearted rejection of God’s Son by some of those closest to them.
The mystery of unbelief is hardest to understand when we see it in the lives of those who have no excuse; in those who have access to true gospel preaching; who would be welcome in a living fellowship; who do hear the gospel preached and are connected to a church where the Holy Spirit is at work. How can they fail to see and understand? Why are they bored when others are thrilled by the teaching of the Scriptures? Why are they angry when God’s Word challenges them, when others manage to examine themselves and be changed?
1 Faithful Proclamation
We shall never understand! The apparent blind ignorance of those who hear the offer of the gospel only to refuse it will always be a mystery to us. That should not lead us to despair, nor should it bring our witness to a standstill. Quite the opposite! We should surely be more active and outspoken for Christ, when we see the appalling blindness and need of those close to us. If we are to be the light of the world, then we must be light to those poor, blinded and benighted souls closest to us.
Our task is not to open tight-shut eyes and make people see. That is the work of our Sovereign God. Our task is to persevere and to be faithful, as we declare and demonstrate the life-changing gospel. We are called to be faithful; fruitfulness is God’s work.
If the Roman Jews rejected the gospel, it was not for lack of hearing the message. Paul preached Christ from the Old Testament scriptures from morning to evening. The large crowd was evidently very attentive but, as the day advanced, decisions were made in many minds. Some were convinced but others would not believe. It is clear from what follows that the sceptics were in the majority.
Winding up his address, and no doubt keenly aware of the hardening attitudes among his hearers, Paul quoted two verses from Isaiah 6 to them: “Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’” “What you are doing,” Paul was saying to the Roman Jews, “is to put yourself in the same category as your unbelieving ancestors, who repeatedly rejected the prophets and were themselves finally rejected by God for their hardness of heart.”
It was an earnest appeal for them to turn back and not be ever hearing but never understanding ever seeing but never perceiving. Nothing could have been made more clear to these people that they were acting on their own responsibility in rejecting the call of God’s grace. And at the same time Paul sought to point them to Christ as the only name given under Heaven among men whereby they must be saved. They did not listen, but it was not for lack of hearing the gospel.
Paul’s faithful proclamation to an increasingly hardening, hostile people should encourage us not to lose heart, but to keep on, in the face of mounting opposition to our message of salvation for sinners in Christ Jesus alone.
It is important to realise that the Roman Jews’ rejection of the gospel is not just another incident among many similar events. It is a clear warning to the church in the West today. As Charles Simeon said solemnly, “Be it known to you, that if you who call yourself Christians will not value the gospel as you ought, it shall be taken away from you and will be given to others who will bring forth the fruits of it with gladness.”
The message of Acts is that the work goes on. In chapter 1:8 Jesus told his disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. The fulfilment of this commission continues today, as the modern followers of Jesus proclaim Him as the only name given under Heaven amongst men by whom we must be saved. This is the unfinished task - Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the Earth.” Here is a call to us, as His Church, in this place at this time, to be faithful to our calling. It may be our nation’s last opportunity. Will we heed it?