March 29th, 2015 | Series: The Movement

After 28 chapters, the book of Acts ends with the Apostle Paul in prison, still preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Acts don’t end with information or answers but with an open-ended invitation. As with any great story, the end is really just the beginning. The story that Jesus is writing through His church continues today, and we play a part!

What will be our verse?
What might God do through us for His name and His glory?

Welcome to the never-ending story!

Sermon Content

Well, I know you are very disappointed that this is the final message in the book of Acts.  It’s flown by, hasn’t it? Thirty-seven messages as we’ve journeyed in the book of Acts. Then you come in on the very final message of the book of Acts and the sermon is entitled “Never-ending Story.”  You probably think to yourself, will the series ever end?  And the answer is….sort of!

About a year ago, we started this series and we jumped into the book of Acts and we said that really the framing for our study of this book was that we’re jumping into a stream that’s been going for a long time as followers of Jesus.  That the book of Acts points us back to the fact that we have a foundation that’s forged in the past.  That it invites us to this reality that there’s a power available in the present.  That power is the Holy Spirit that shapes and guides this book.  Also, as we’ll see today, the book of Acts presents us with a vision that presses towards the future.  In many ways, as we come to Acts 28 and we come to the end of the book, we really find ourselves at the beginning!  That God, the same God who, through His Spirit, writes this book, is not done telling His story.  That this book, the book of Acts and the Scriptures as a whole, is a dynamic book—not static!  That they are grounded in ancient truth and yet, point us to a glorious future.  So if you’re joining us for the first time today, yes, you jump in at the very end of the series, but as you’ll see, in many ways the end is just the beginning.

Let me give you a brief summary of what we’ve sorta been through over the last 37 weeks.  Dr. Luke is the author of this book that is a history, an account, of the way that God shapes and forms his church.  It’s an account of the way that God sends the Holy Spirit into the life of the believers. That Spirit drives them, shapes them, forms them, births the church and launches the church on mission.  That’s what we’ve been studying over the last 37 weeks.  These 28 chapters span more than 30 years…..three decades of history.  We have things that take place on three different continents.  We have the church that’s birthed in Jerusalem, on the continent of Asia.  We have the gospel that continues to go forth as Paul takes it to the ends of the earth.  He sets up shop around the Mediterranean, in Europe.  We also see in Acts 8 the Ethiopian eunuch is converted to Christ, comes to know the Lord, and then goes back and serves in his hometown.  So we have Asia, Europe and Africa all represented in this book.

We have 14 churches planted by the Apostle Paul alone, but we know that many other churches find their roots in this time period.  We have the Apostle Paul traveling over 10,000 miles on missionary journeys by land and by sea.  We see in Acts 2 and Acts 4 the blueprint for the church—-the fact that the church is this beautiful, subversive, generous, gracious community.  Where people are invited in, where they say to the Caesar, who’s tagline was Caesar is lord, there’s none other than Jesus!  Jesus is Lord, Jesus alone is Lord.  Thank you very much, Caesar, but we don’t need you, we have each other.  They pointed each other to the Scriptures, there was a teaching, there was learning, there was this beautiful ethos that started to develop among this community of believers.

We see the church develop leadership.  We see the church develop vision and we see the church continue to move forward.  That’s the story we found ourselves in over the last 28 chapters of the book of Acts.  In this book, here’s what we see:  We see the work that Jesus continues to do through the Spirit and the formation of His church.  And today we come to the end.  We come to the end of this book, but as you’ll see as we jump in, it’s not an ending that you and I are necessarily comfortable with.  It’s not an ending that has a nice little bow on it.  Or the curtains are drawn and we’re like okay, let’s move on to what’s next.  That’s not the ending that Dr. Luke gives us to this book.

Will you turn with me to Acts 28 and we’ll jump in at verse 23.  Paul has finally arrived in Rome.  It was his prayer, it was his hope.  He didn’t arrive like he thought he would; he arrived as a prisoner after a shipwreck, but he finally gets to Rome.  He finds himself there on house arrest.  And on house arrest, people come to him and they visit and he’s going to continue to teach them.  We’re going to pick up in Acts 28:23, where there’s a number of prominent Jewish leaders in the city of Rome who come and visit the Apostle Paul in prison and house arrest.  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.    Just a confession:  My wife and I just watched “Mockingjay, Part 1” the other night, to our own detriment.  {She picked it, I’ll just say that.}  Two hours and 3 minutes of my life I’m not getting back, friends.  We got to the end of it and it was like wait, part one, are you kidding me?!  When I jump into something I do it with both feet, I dedicated six years of my life, every Thursday, to watching “Lost.”  “Lost” was this wonderful story and there’s debate about what happened, but you get to the end of it and the end is really the beginning.  It beautifully follows the story arch, don’t get me wrong. I think they nailed it!  There’s no other way to end that, but it ends with you going I want a little bit more.  Just give me a little bit more.  It’s this film technique called “cut to black”  where they leave you going (groan) there’s gotta be more.

The Scriptures use this technique often.  Jesus tells a parable about a son who comes to his father and asks for his inheritance.  The father gives him the inheritance and he blows it all, comes back home and is welcomed by the father.  A party ensues…they kill the fatted calf.  There’s dancing and music.  The story ends with the older son standing in the field saying I won’t go in.  Completely unresolved.  People went away going I think he may have been talking about me.

The book of Jonah.  The prophet Jonah is called to go to Nineveh to preach the good news of who God is and what God has done.  At the very end of the book of Jonah, Jonah 4:11, after he has been wildly successful as an evangelist—against his own desires, right?  {That’s putting it mildly.}  He gets swallowed by a whale, barfed up on dry land, goes and preaches.  Not exactly the most willing evangelist you’ve ever met in your life, okay?  At the end of it, he’s sitting under this little tree and here’s what it says:  And should not I pity Nineveh, {This is God speaking to Jonah.} that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”   You go look in your Bible!!  There’s nothing following that!! You have to be thinking my kids stole Jonah chapter five, right?!  It ends open-ended!

If you look in your Bible in the Gospel of Mark, there’s 20 verses in chapter 16, but there’s a little note after verse 8 that says most of the best, earliest manuscripts don’t include verses 9 through 20.  And they don’t, none of them do.  It wasn’t part of the original.  This is the way the original ends, verse 8:  And they went out and fled from the tomb, {This is after the resurrection of Jesus.} for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.    That’s it!  Done!  It was so difficult for people that later transcribers had to add a nicer, cleaner ending.  Which is what we’d like to do, isn’t it, sometimes?  The story ends a little bit prematurely, in our mind, and we go well, we could come up with a better ending.  I love the way that Eugene Peterson, the great pastor and scholar, puts it when he says this (writing about the book of Mark):  “He (Mark) has just brought a completely new genre of literature into being, a “gospel,” but instead of wrapping it up as a finished product so we can admire his genius, at the last minute he steps aside and hand us the pen and says, ‘Here, you write it, write a resurrection conclusion with your life.”  What a brilliant statement!!

It’s the same thing the book of Acts does.  It doesn’t give us all the answers and would you agree with me, we live in a culture and a time that likes the answers.  You think about the way we build our education around information.  Here’s a list of things you need to know.  Here’s a list of facts you need to know.  Here’s a list of things that you need to get into your head.  I think this is a good thing, but it’s starting to change.  Basically, what we view as the end or the destination is the answer.  Scriptures often don’t invite us to have the answer, they invite us into the story.  The Scriptures are as much about invitation as they are about information.  About inviting us in, not with a nice, tidy bow that is wrapped at the top at the end of the story….where the credits roll and the people live happily ever after.  But an invitation into a story, to step IN TO it.  I think it’s made it hard for us in modernity to really accept this and wrestle with this, because, in many ways, faith is a list of things we believe.    We believe this about God, we believe this about the Spirit…..and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.  I’m just saying that if you go back and read the Scriptures, that the early followers of Jesus, I’m convinced, were more interested in inviting people into a story than they were about giving people all the answers.  And so the book of Acts ends and you go there’s gotta be more! And I can assure you, there’s no Acts 29, at least in your Bible.

I think, in the day and time we live in, we need to embrace this, Church.  This is not a bad thing.  This is not an evil to fight.  This is an invitation from God that we have this unique opportunity to step back into, because information does not carry the same weight that it used to.  You can get on your phone and, if you have access to the right data bases, get all of the information that I used to plan this message.  Now, as someone who teaches on a weekly basis, that’s humbling.  Here’s the deal, I don’t think at any time soon someone’s going to knock at your door and try to sell you an Encyclopedia Britannica.  I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I think the church needs to embrace this invitation, not just to all the answers…..the answers are important, don’t get me wrong…..but an invitation to the STORY that the way the book of Acts ends.  Maybe there’s more power in this than we’ve realized.  Maybe there’s more power in invitation than we’ve realized.  Maybe formation begins with invitation, not just information.  What if….what if our goal as followers of Jesus was not to give people all the answers, but to live such a counter-cultural life that we invited people into the story??!!!  What if that was our goal?  Not just to have all the right answers, but to live a life that demands that people ask and wrestle with questions.  I love the way that one of my favorite authors and pastor, Dallas Willard, puts it when he says this: “The trouble with the way we teach doctrine is that we say, ‘you should believe this whether you believe it or not.'” Is that not true?  That that is the way we talk about faith—you should believe this because it’s right, whether you really believe it or not.  But I think what we see in the book of Acts and what we see all throughout the Scriptures, is not just an invitation to believe something but to be a part of something.  Both are given in the Scriptures.  Unfortunately, to our detriment, I think, we’ve only rested on one.

But the book of Acts ends, chapter 28.  And it ends beautifully.  It follows the story arch it set out to tell.  Luke does not abdicate his responsibility as a storyteller.  In fact, I think he tells the perfect story.  And when I use that term I’m not saying that it’s untrue, I’m simply saying that it’s true in its facts, but it’s even more true in what it says to our lives.  He tells a GREAT story!  Listen to the way it starts out:  In the first book, {which he’s referring to his Gospel Luke} O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, {As if to say, I’m simply continuing the story that Jesus, although he died and was risen and has ascended to Heaven, He is not done writing His story with His church through His Spirit….first verse, that’s what he says.  Third verse says that Jesus came and taught the Apostles for forty days.  What was the content of His message? He talked to them for forty days…speaking about the kingdom of God.  Now, what does Paul end the book of Acts telling them about?  The kingdom of God.  He ends it in jail, preaching the same message that Jesus begins this book preaching.

Verse 8 (Acts 1)…You may have memorized this one.  It may be sort of a part of your calling as a follower of Jesus.  It gives us some of the structure of the book of Acts.  Jesus says: But 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.    Now if that’s your thesis for this book, does it not end perfectly?  It doesn’t end with “The End”.  In fact, on the contrary, it ends with an invitation.  It ends with this is just the beginning.  Paul’s in jail, but he’s preaching and this gospel goes forward without hindrance.  Nothing can stop it.  {Look up at me just a second.}  Jesus is still writing His story!  The end of the book of Acts does not mean that He is done.  In fact, the way the book ends invites us to believe that WE are a part of what He continues to do.

So, here’s the way I’ll say it for us this morning and we’re going to wrestle with this a little bit.  But here’s the truth of the matter, friends, the Scriptures don’t only tell us the story of Jesus.  That’s not their intention..just to give us a bunch of information.  The Scriptures don’t only tell the story of Jesus; they invite us into the life of Jesus!    You see, stories can either end a conversation or they can begin one.  The book of Acts ends with this wonderful, beautiful invitation:  Will you join?  Will you jump in?  Will you be a part of this God who, although this story ends in this parts, continues to write on the pages of the hearts of people who call Him Lord and King.  Look at the way that the great New Testament scholar N. T. Wright puts it: “The authority of the Bible is the authority of a love story in which we are invited to take part.”

The book of Acts ends with this question: Will you give your life to this story?  Will you jump in, not just put your toes in the water, but will you jump in BOTH feet because God is still at work, God is still moving?  Jesus is still continuing to do through His Church, through His Spirit, what the book of Acts records for us happened in the first 30 years.  He’s still doing it.  He has not ended.  Do you know what?  Your story, your life will be given to something….all of us give our lives to something.  We’re designed to be clingers of sorts.  We attach our energy, our time, our resources and our money to things that either cause our lives end with us or cause our story to continue the ripple effects into eternity.

My 87-year-old grandmother passed away this week.  Went home to be with the Lord.  My picture of her is of her in her robe, standing behind her breakfast nook cooking breakfast and making coffee.  She usually stayed in her robe til about noon because that was not a job that you needed to check off the list and get done, but that was a process by which you engaged the people in your household.  Even if it was just her husband, she still did it.  I thought about my grandma this week and I thought about her servanthood and the way she attached her life to the people in her life and to the God that she served.  I was reminded of the reality that our lives will be attached to something.  The question is will it be trivial or will it be eternal?  Will it be a story that continues to go on?  Will we attach our song to the song that has no end??  Or will our story end with us??

The question, I think, that you may wrestle with or I may wrestle with is: how do we do that?  In a very real way, what does that look like?  I’m glad you asked!  I don’t know what I would have done for the next 15 minutes if you hadn’t!  Let me point out a few things that happen in Acts 28 that show us how we graft our story into, by God’s grace and mercy, the story that has no end.  Because the book of Acts does not provide us with an ending. It provides us with an invitation.  So how do we jump in?  Acts 28:3, Paul is still on the island of Malta.  They had a bit of a treacherous ride there.  There was a shipwreck.  They swam to the land and verse 3 we pick up their story.  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. {Let’s be honest.  How many of us, at that point, are praying viper, kill me?! I might!  There’s a shipwreck, you swim to dry land, you’re building a fire and a snake bites you?!!  You can’t make that up!}  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.”  He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.  

Number two, picking up in verse 15.  He finally gets to Rome.  Paul had written to the church in Rome.  He’d written to the church in Rome two times saying I can’t wait to get to you.  Finally, after years of waiting and years of praying and years of wondering is this going to happen, it happens for him.  Verse 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.  And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.    Don’t you just wonder if, as he walks into Rome, this overwhelming joy of saying God, thank you.  You’re good on the promise.  You were faithful to deliver what you stirred in my heart, that I longed to see happen, that I might preach the Gospel in the center point of the known world.  And God, you’re faithful.  Here’s the thing…it looked nothing like Paul thought it would look like.  He’s a prisoner when he gets there.  It doesn’t happen in the way that he crafts that it would happen, but Jesus is good and I think He’s looking for people who would be DREAMERS.  I think He’s looking for people that would ask the Spirit what’s the hope you’ve planted in my heart.  What’s the desire that you’ve given me?  And as He affirms that in us to trust that He would be good, that He would be faithful on His promises.  I don’t know how many days, evenings and nights Paul lay awake in bed wondering is this gonna happen?  God, are you going to be good on your promise?  Did you just stir this in me, this hope to preach there, this hope to go there, this hope to let me down?  Or are you going to be good on what you said?  And you see, most of us, we step out of the story God is telling, when we let the dreams He’s given us die.  I meet with people almost weekly, that at one point….here’s what I thought, here’s what I prayed into, here is what I long to see Jesus do and we let the dream die.  Can I just tell you, it didn’t happen overnight for Paul.  It will not happen overnight for you, most likely, but don’t let the dream die.  Keep praying for that kid who’s wandered away.  Don’t let the dream die.  Keep longing that Jesus would use your life as you reach out to people with the hope of the Gospel and the glory of Jesus.  Keep longing for Jesus to use your life.  Don’t give up on the dream, because when we give up on the dream we step out of the story.  Paul doesn’t step out.  He keeps hoping, he keeps praying, he keeps longing and Jesus is good on His promise.

Verse 23 he’s in jail on house arrest.  When they had appointed a day for him, {All these Jewish leaders are going to come and question Paul. They have the authority to either say let this guy go, or put him on trial.} ..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.     So here’s what he does in jail, in chains, chained to a Roman guard.  He says, “Alright Jewish leaders, we’ll just use your book.  Is that cool with you?  Let me show you why you should believe in the slain, risen Lamb, Jesus the Messiah.  He is what your hope was in throughout the ages and God has been faithful.”  All he has to do is say I was a bit off…I just ate some bad pita.  And they’d say let him go.  But he doesn’t.  In jail, he continues to preach Jesus.  Here’s what we see:  Not only are people who graft their story into the story of God….not only are they persistent and not only are they dreamers, but they’re also people who are BOLD (RISK-TAKER), who are willing to stand on their convictions, even when life gets real difficult.  And the truth about the Apostle Paul is that he was convinced about the message that he brought.  He was connected to the giver of the message.  He was overflowing with love for the people who he delivered the message to.  And if we’re going to live lives of boldness, which I think our culture needs us to do, it’s not going to be when we pull up our bootstraps and go I’m going to be bold.  That’s not what it takes.  It takes people who are convinced of the message, who are connected to the messenger and who absolutely love, not as projects but as people, the people that we have the honor of delivering the message to.

Here’s the last thing that we see in Paul’s life.  Verse 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: ”’Go to this people, and say, “You will hear but never understand, and you will see but never perceive.”  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.’      Here’s what Paul does.  His final act in the book of Acts is saying listen, I know you’re standing in Rome right now as Jewish leaders, but the Scriptures talk about you.  The Scriptures testify about you standing in this place right now.  So what he does is takes the ancient Scriptures that are, at this point, centuries old and he pulls them into the present and says you’re standing in what Isaiah talked about. This is a prophetic announcement by the Apostle Paul.  It’s what all people who graft their stories into the story of God do.  They operate in this.  Now, you’re going to think I’ve either gone too far or not far enough, but here’s what Paul does as he stands in the prophetic.  He takes the Scriptures and he applies them to the people he’s interacting with.  He says this is where you stand right now.  God was talking about you!  And anybody that finds their story in the story of God, I think has to read the Scriptures at least, first and foremost, for themselves in that way.  But then as the Spirit stirs in us, we get the invitation from God to say that the people around us, sometimes the culture, this is where we stand.  Because here’s what we’re convinced (about).  We’re convinced that this isn’t the end of the story, but that it’s the beginning.  That we’re invited not just to read about God, but to interact with God and to walk with God.  And not just to tell the story of Jesus, but to enter into the life of Jesus.  The great Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, said, {He calls this the prophetic imagination.  Where we have the opportunity and the invitation from God to say what might the world be like.} “The people we later recognize as prophets are also poets.  They reframe what is at stake in chaotic times.”

I think God’s looking for people who hear His voice and declare a better tomorrow.  Who step into the void between what is and what could be and say God is still at work.  He’s still writing His story and, in some mysterious way, he’s using your life and my life as a part of that.

I love being the pastor at South.  I think in many ways, we embrace this reality that God is still at work, that He is still telling his story.  I love the way that Sunday after Sunday and Life Group after Life Group, we gather and we declare the goodness and the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and we wrap our hearts and our lives around His life.  And we open our church and we serve the homeless.  We declare the story is still being written.  When kids are loved and pointed to Jesus, we declare the story is still being written.  When you reach out with your time and with your energy and your resources and you come along people who are hurting and say there’s a better tomorrow on the horizon, the story is still being written.  When you give your life to somebody who’s maybe a little bit younger or maybe not quite as far along and enter into a mentoring relationship with them, you’re declaring the story is still being written.  Moms, when you sacrifice daily—get up early, get up throughout the night—you’re declaring the story is still being written.  People that gather together and write songs on a weekly basis and do art on a weekly basis in this body, declare the story of Jesus is still being written….there are songs still left to be sung!  People who are reaching out and inviting neighbors and inviting friends to come to celebrate the risen Christ.  I got an email from somebody this week who said she’s only been a part of South for about a month, but I absolutely love it and I’m inviting 20 of my family members to come with me to Easter Sunday celebration.  The story is still being written!!  It’s why the book of Acts doesn’t end with a nice clean bow, with curtains that close and credits that roll.  We do NOT read the Scriptures in a way that says happily ever after.  We READ the Scriptures in a way where God says welcome to the party!

And so the book of Acts ends with Paul in jail proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus….with all boldness and without hindrance!  Isn’t that great?!  Luke adds that in for us just so we don’t think that the Gospel is in chains—-Paul’s in chains, yes.  But he says no, this story is going forward with boldness and without hindrance.  It is the never-ending story!  And when we attach our story to His, we enter into something that is eternal.  As with every great story, the book of Acts ends in a way that invites you to begin.  It’s not just a clean ending, it’s a beautiful invitation.

We’re going to close our time this morning, wrestling with that invitation.  What’s your verse?  What’s your part of the story that God might want to write through you?  He’s building His church, make no mistake about it, but for some reason He invites us to be a part of it for our joy and for the glory of His name!  What verse might He write through you?

Let’s pray.  Lord, in some ways, I think we long for that clean, nice ending.  The happily ever after where the credits roll up.  But, Lord, I thank you that you’re so much better than that.  Rather than giving us information you give us an invitation and not just all the answers, but a beckoning to come and to follow as You build your church, as You build your kingdom.  As you bind up the broken-hearted.  Provide freedom to the captives.  You invite us to play a part.  Lord, we’re surprised at that and yet overjoyed at the same time.  Would you stir in us a verse….what verse might You write through our lives?  And we’ll give you all the glory and all the praise.  It’s in the beautiful name of Jesus we pray.  Amen and Amen.