Laurent de La Hyre's St Paul Shipwrecked on Malta, 1630

Laurent de La Hyre's St Paul Shipwrecked on Malta, 1630

This week we're on track to finish Acts in the church reading plan. The ending is full of action, detailing the shipwreck on the way to Rome and yet the final chapter falls short of telling us of the visit with Caesar or the ending of Paul's life as one might have expected from the drama around Jerusalem in the previous chapters.

The drama of the previous few chapters builds a sense of urgency and significance with regard to Paul's journey to Rome. Paul's rejection in Jerusalem at the mention of his mission to the Gentiles and subsequent choice to leave behind the Jewish center of power and head to Rome is the outworking of not only Paul's decisions thus far, but also fulfils the purpose Jesus Christ called him for (Acts 9:15).

The most immediate parallel which the reader might call to mind is Jesus' ability to calm storms (Luke 8:22-25). Paul, unlike those first apostles, does not despair in absent faith but instead responds with faith and saves all aboard. There are many other stories in the ancient world of heroes encountering storms and shipwrecks and Luke seems to employ this literary motif to show the kind of person Paul had become. Yet the anticlimactic ending of the book shows that despite the wonders Paul accomplished he was not going to sit on some throne or receive glory but rather carry on with the ministry he had been given.

The witness of the book of Acts is to the fulfilment of Jesus' promise that "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). We have seen that Peter, James, and Paul have been sustained by the Holy Spirit in order to proclaim Jesus in complete contrast to their fallibility and weakness before the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is the greatness of the Gospel and the continuing advance of its proclamation which occupies the end of the book. Luke does not record Paul meeting Caesar and so the account ends not with victory but with the reality that despite all the great things God has done for and through his people that the task of proclaiming the Gospel remains the chief concern for each generation. Paul's mission is never finished because the task of sharing the Gospel is never finished. 

The story of Acts provides an account of how God worked through the first generation of Disciples and so inspires us today to carry on in their footsteps to welcome all we meet by "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (Acts 28:31).