1. We pray and reflect about our challenge topic this week.

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  2. This week we’re concluding our series on the Book of Acts. We read yesterday how Paul was where God needed him to have maximum influence. He was in Rome, the center of the Roman Empire, and had two years of relative peace.

    It says he lived there at his own expense, and I asked yesterday why that was relevant. Several reasons – to show his sacrificial generosity, to prove he wasn’t in this for himself, but really just wanted to see the gospel advanced.

    We get a complete picture of his utter devotion to this task. He isn’t needing to fundraise, but is perhaps working as a tentmaker on the side. He isn’t fighting off angry mobs anymore, he’s able to speak freely and engage in meaningful debates.

    What would you do with an opportunity like this? If you had two years of financial freedom, and freedom from other responsibilities, what would you do?

    Would you do something for yourself, or would you do something for others?

    Would you do something for God – helping others connect with him?

    That’s what Paul did.

    Now we may not all have that opportunity, but we may have two days, or two hours of freedom to give to God’s work.

    Challenge: Dream up what you’d do to advance the good news of Jesus with two years of freedom. Now, what would you do with two days of freedom? Finally, what would you do with two hours of freedom?

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  3. We learned yesterday about Paul arriving in Rome, a place of great influence, where he hopes to convince Caesar, the Emperor, about the good news of Jesus Christ, and anyone else he meets.

    He tried to share it with some of his fellow Jews, but was rejected by all but a few. Does he give up? No…there is great progress, and great potential.

    The book of Acts ends with these two lines:

    [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 28:30-31 ESV)

    The book of Acts began with Jesus commissioning his followers to take the gospel to Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth. We’ve seen Paul transform from formidable opponent of Christianity to its biggest proponent. We’ve seen him travel to those exact places, sharing the good news of Jesus at each stop.

    Now Paul finds himself at the centre of the Roman Empire, where those from the ends of the earth come, and from which the Roman Empire sends its messengers, soldiers and rulers. Now, Rome will also be a center of mission for the Christian church as well.

    It says he was able to do this without hindrance. Finally. After all kinds of hindrance from angry crowds, religious authorities and local rulers, he finally has some peace.

    This doesn’t last, of course, Christians continued to be persecuted, even as they are today, for example in Iraq. But for a time, Paul had some peace to write, speak, and see the Christian movement grow in influence. It seems like God had him exactly where he needed him to have maximum impact, an impact we still see today!

    Question: Why do you think it’s relevant that Paul lived there at his own expense?

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  4. I asked yesterday, why Paul was so bent on getting to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire.

    Was this to make him famous? To expand his personal influence? No, it was to expand the influence of the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

    Last week, we read a story where Paul had a hearing with King Agrippa, a local ruler, and tried to convert him on the spot. He was waiting for a hearing with Caesar, the emperor, as well. He had plans to see them become Christians, despite their high and normally inaccessible positions.

    We skipped over lots of material to get to this week’s reading. He’s been arrested, primarily for his protection against angry crowds. He’d have been let go, since he hasn’t committed any crimes, but he appealed to Caesar, his right as a Roman citizen. The Roman soldiers protecting him help him travel to Rome, but they are shipwrecked, and marooned on an island for some time. They finally are able to travel to Rome after all these setbacks, and here’s how it all ends in Acts 28:

    [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…

    (Acts 28:16-25 ESV)

    He seems to think they’ll have heard his story already, and will be put off by the fact he was a Roman prisoner. But they actually say right after this that they had no idea. What they’re actually concerned about is Christianity itself! They call it a sect, and have heard it causes nothing but trouble.

    He then had an opportunity to speak to all of Rome’s Jewish leaders, but they actually rejected his message, save for a few exceptional people.

    Thankfully there was already a church, a community of Christians gathered in Rome. He wrote a letter to them before he arrived, that we find in the Bible called the Book of Romans, where he tries to articulate his teaching so they recognize him as a true teacher of the true good news of Jesus.

    Question: Why did Paul go to his fellow Jews first? Do you think they were prejudiced by the rumours? How do you think it felt for him to be so summarily rejected?

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  5. I had a friend in university who dove right into student politics. He was elected first to the faculty society, then a university-wide position. He gained a wide-ranging education in three separate disciplines. On Facebook, he posts fascinating insights into world issues, and isn’t afraid to support his favourite political party. A few years ago, my wife and I ran into him on the street in Toronto, and he announced he was in law school.

    After that encounter, my wife and I both looked at each other and said the same thing – he’ll be Prime Minister one day. All the pieces are falling into place, and guess where he just moved? Ottawa. He’s finally in the capitol, where I’m sure he’ll gain all the necessary contacts and experience to run for office.

    Ottawa is one of those places with influence in our world – if you want to get ahead in Broadway, get to New York. If you want to get ahead in technology you go to California. If you want to get ahead in Canadian finance, go to Bay Street Toronto.

    It’s there that you’ll have access to the leaders in those industries, and the institutions and structures that can give someone the training and opportunities they seek.

    For one early Christian leader, Rome was that place. The capitol of the Roman Empire, where Caesar resided. This was the place of power and influence.

    In Acts 19, he said, 'After I have gone there I must see Rome.'

    Was this to make him famous? To expand his personal influence?

    We’ll explore that this week, as we conclude this series on the Book of Acts.

    First,

    Question: What place is influential in your world – where do the orders come from? Why do you think Paul wanted to get to Rome?

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