- A cliffhanger is a narrative plot device used to capture the audience attention and cause them wanting to know more and keep reading/watching. The story builds and climaxes with important happenings but concludes in mystery and suspense. You are compelled to turn the next chapter or watch the next episode. You are so engaged in the drama that you must know how the story ends.
- Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest examples of plot twists and suspenseful cliffhangers.
- Lori’s favorite was the show Dallas with discovering “Who shot J.R.?” 😊 But my favorite as a child was Batman (Adam West; 1960’s series). Every episode was a two-part episode where the crisis and crime would occur with the characters “Bruce Wayne & Dick Grayson” discerning a series of improbable clues to discover and thwart the villain’s plan. They would show up as the “Dynamic Duo – Batman & Robin with their colorful tights driving the bat-mobile and using their bat-gadgets” to fight the villains (BAM! POW! ZAP!) and rescue the victim from a dangerous fate. But the two-part nature of the shows included these cliffhangers where a villain would somehow either escape or hold another victim – or sometimes either Batman or Robin. The episode would conclude without being resolved but encouraging the audience to watch the next at the “Same Bat time, same Bat channel.” It made you want to know what happened next!
- The Book of Acts is a “Holy Cliffhanger, Batman!”
- The beginning of the story is the author writing to Theophilus to write an accurate account of the life of Jesus (Gospel of Luke), and the events that followed (Acts).
- The disciples spread the gospel in Jerusalem – the church starts, Judea, and Samaria. The Jews, with noted leader Saul, threaten and persecute the church in attempt to erase its Messiah’s name and eliminate its message. However, the Christian Messiah was/is alive and no grave or government had any power of Him!
- Amazingly, Saul encounters Jesus and radically changes his aims. Instead of murdering Christians, he joins them to multiply their message.
- Saul shares the gospel over land travels and sea voyages. His ultimate aim is to take the gospel to the most unreached and the ends of the earth: Rome.
- Last week’s message in Acts 27 was a crisis culmination of Paul as a prisoner on a ship destined for Rome. However, their winter voyage barely survived a storm, and they were shipwrecked on an island. Acts 27 is a cliffhanger to Acts 28, but the last chapter continues as a cliffhanger. We’ll discuss why towards the end of this message.
EXAMINE Acts 28
1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta.
For several weeks on a ship, they were questioning their beliefs, doubting their leaders, and regretting their decisions. When you’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean during a storm, you will second-guess everything and everyone. They were dropping anchors, crying out to God, and pleading for rescue. But remember, the Lord spoke to Paul and reassured him they would reach Rome. The opening of ch.28 reminds us God is faithful. Luke’s word is more detailed than a safe incident but meaning “thoroughly saved” (διασώζω).
- Underline/highlight v.1 in your Bible… and your neighbor’s Bible! God will bring you through. God doesn’t promise a paved path of ease. When you experience Jesus’ salvation there is not a signed agreement of your earthly safety. Christianity doesn’t guarantee comfort. But faith in God does promise you will persevere, endure, and be thoroughly saved. Regardless of what you are experiencing at this moment, press on.
- Proverbs 18:10 “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.”
God doesn’t promise a paved path of ease. When you experience Jesus’ salvation there is not a signed agreement of your earthly safety. Christianity doesn’t guarantee comfort. But faith in God does promise you will persevere, endure, and be thoroughly saved. Press onward.Tweet
2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.
The people are described as barbarians (βάρβαροι), a word from a Greco-Roman perspective for people who were non-Greek speaking, communicating what sounded like babble (cf Rom 1:14; 1 Cor 14:11; Col 3:11). Yet, these foreigners reflect unusual hospitality, generosity, and kindness with friendliness, warm fire, food, and lodging.
- It’s too easy to judge a book by its cover. Rather than evaluate others with our bias and stereotypes we need to learn how to empathize with one another. Empathy comes from those who have learned about and received grace.
Ironically, those without the gospel are already gracious. Yet, we will also see in just a moment life is not about being nice but being made new in mind, heart, and soul.
- Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire,
The apostle Paul isn’t comfortable sitting still and being served. He busies himself with gathering wood to keep the fire going. Paul was a servant leader, showing us no job beneath him. Only a little person refuses the little task.
- Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”
3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. 7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9 And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.
Paul places a stick in the fire, and something comes back out fastened to his hand with teeth – a snake! The native people save Paul’s snake bite and their theology was that bad things happen to bad people. Justice was a Greek goddess and daughter of Zeus. She’s prevalent in our society today with Lady Justice holding the scales of balance to judge wrong and right and a sword to punish.
Back to the snake. Paul never misses a beat and is lightning on his feet. Paul knew players gonna play and haters gonna hate, so Paul goes “Taylor Swift” and shakes it off… (sorry, helping you pay attn).
The Maltese thought Paul would fall dead but after no fainting or foaming at the mouth, they changed their mind about Paul deserving death but considered him divine. Do you see how fickle their thinking and flawed their theology was?
Our society today is similarly superficial with unbalanced views and unsound beliefs. The world frequently refers to “karma,” as getting what one deserves for their actions. But in Christianity, we can be spared what we deserve and receive unmerited grace through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Christians must know sound doctrine and speak truth in everyday conversations. In one of Paul’s letters, he exhorts believers to “rightly handle the word of truth; avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene… to swerve from truth and upsetting the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:15-18). For a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
Some examples of unbalanced views or unsound theology
- Politics is power. If you have not already, I encourage you to get informed and go vote on Tuesday. But if your reactions intensify triumph or temper based on an elephant or donkey, then you need a theology of myriads of angels singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:11-13)
- Humanity is sport. While everyone should appreciate their family heritage and upbringing, we are not in competition with one another. Our ethnic differences are not at odds with each other, but they make us into a united masterpiece reflecting the beauty of our Creator.
- Values are fluid not concrete. Anything goes with behaviors and beliefs. Ethics have become relativized and claims of wrong/right are viewed as offensive. Yet, the promotion of tolerance is predominantly one-sided when it comes to Christianity who upholds God’s standard of truth. Think about it: If no one is wrong but Christians, how can that be true? Or, if you doubt the Bible or resurrection of Jesus but never have honest discussion and study, who is the hypocrite?
In all, we can see how the Maltese people were curious of faith and needed someone to share with them the truth and love of Jesus. Perhaps Paul’s shipwreck was part of God navigating the gospel to a forgotten island off the coast of Italy. In God’s eyes, no one is unnoticed. He will orchestrate all sorts of circumstances for you to hear about His goodness and receive His grace into your life.
In God’s eyes, no one is unnoticed. He will orchestrate all sorts of circumstances for you to hear about His goodness and receive His grace into your life.Tweet
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.
Paul and company get several months rest after their traumatic travels. This is a reminder for us that rest and recovery are needed after severely troubling and traumatic experiences. They board a Roman ship and finally enter the capital city of the world in Rome. Paul is chained to a Roman soldier each day. Undoubtedly, the soldiers are intrigued by Paul and hearing the gospel, with some trusting in Jesus. It is here that Paul also writes several “Prison Epistles/Letters,” such as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
Php 1:12-14 “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers and sisters, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Col 4:18 “Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
Paul meets a fellow prisoner, Onesimus, and becomes like a father to him (Phm 1:9-10). While in prison, Paul accumulates friends and deepens relationships. Paul could have pouted and complained in prison. Instead, Paul salvaged his struggles and redeemed his moments. He kept his focus on trusting God’s sovereignty and testifying of God’s forgiving grace.
- Name one lesson you are learning about God’s character.
- Identify one person enduring a similar struggle you have experienced that you will commit to pray for and minister to this week.
While in prison, Paul accumulates friends and deepens relationships. Paul could have pouted and complained in prison. Instead, Paul salvaged his struggles and redeemed his moments. He kept his focus on trusting God’s sovereignty and testifying of God’s forgiving grace. #Acts28Tweet
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.
Acts ends in a cliffhanger, and we are not told if Paul testifies before Caesar. Yet, there are two hints that we believe he does.
- Tradition tells us Paul was imprisoned in Rome twice. So, this would be the first and it’s likely he was released and perhaps traveled to Spain to share the gospel and start a church. Later, Paul is imprisoned again in Rome by Emperor Nero. Capital punishment for Roman citizens was beheading.
- The text tells us Paul fulfills God’s call. The end of Acts ends as the Gospel of Luke. Jesus teaches the disciples about the kingdom of God, and likewise Paul is doing the same. The two-volume work is the gospel unhindered (ἀκωλύτως).
You/we are Acts 29. Together, as God’s church we are the continuation of all that Jesus began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). We are Spirit-filled witnesses telling about the wonder-working power of God and the overwhelming love of God.
You have someone and somewhere to tell the gospel. #WhosYour1
- Make a commitment today to pray and go.
- Paul took the gospel to Rome. We must take the gospel to our relationships and communities.
Christians we are Acts29. We are the continuation of all Jesus began to do and teach. We are Spirit-filled witnesses telling about the wonder-working power of God & the overwhelming love of God. Paul took the gospel to Rome, so we must take it in our relationships & communities.Tweet
 Quote adapted in John Stott, Message of Acts, p.621.