This is the fourth of a four-part series on the Spirit of God in the book of Acts
From Ephesus Paul presses on to Jerusalem. In both the cities of Tyre and Caesarea Paul is warned by fellow believers not to go to Jerusalem. In the preceding chapter, Luke mentions that Paul had also been warned “in every town” of the chains and suffering that awaited him in Jerusalem. Even though it is the Holy Spirit warning him, Paul resolves to forge ahead and finish the work set before him. It seems the Spirit is not forbidding Paul to travel back to Jerusalem, rather, he is making him fully aware of what lies in his path. This view is supported by the end result of Paul’s Jerusalem visit which accords with God’s plan for Paul: a visit with Caeser in Rome.
And so Paul enters the storied city of Jerusalem fully expecting both chains and suffering. What he expects is indeed what he gets. Luke spends the next six chapters of Acts describing Paul’s ordeals resulting from his visit to Jerusalem. The presence of the Holy Spirit is not readily apparent in these chapters, or for that matter, in the rest of the book. But a closer reading of this lengthy account coupled with a knowledge of literary context reveals how the Spirit was moving in Paul and his circumstances.
Consider first of all the words of Jesus in Matthew 10.
Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves…Beware of them, because they will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you are to speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because it isn’t you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
As an apostle of Jesus, these words apply to Paul even though he was not physically present at the time they were spoken. Furthermore, these words describe perfectly Paul’s experience as a minister of God. In particular, the final chapters of Acts chronicle exactly how Paul was “brought before governors and kings” and how he bore witness of the truth of Jesus’ kingdom. What is of note is how Jesus calms the fears of the disciples by telling them “the Spirit of your Father” will give them the words necessary to witness before persecutors and authorities. Luke records several of Paul’s speeches before the Jewish mob, the Sanhedrin, Governor Felix, and King Agrippa. With these speeches, Paul wonderfully witnesses to the truth of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit was giving Paul the necessary words to testify as he did.
It is a remarkable thing that Paul uses his chains and suffering to get a free ride to Rome for a hearing before Caeser himself. Here is an opportunity for Paul to witness of Jesus to the highest authority on the planet in the most influential city in the empire. However, if we recognize the Spirit’s orchestration behind the scenes this is not so surprising. Back in the first chapter of Acts Jesus had said the Holy Spirit would empower the apostles to witness to “the ends of the earth.” While Rome was not the ends of the earth (Spain is even further and it is suggested that Paul traveled there from Rome) it certainly represented a significant end-point for the Gospel. Rome was the epicenter of the Empire and the known world at the time and Caesar was no less important. For the Gospel to reach this point was incredible and truly a work of Spirit of God.
Luke’s last words recount how Paul boldly and without hindrance preached the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ. We are reminded of how the other apostles were boldly proclaiming that same message of good news after the Pentecost event. When the Spirit moves and comes upon a person he or she is given power to witness to the fact of Jesus Christ. Timid, ordinary men and women can be used by God in bold and extraordinary ways.
Rome is where the book of Acts ends. The Gospel’s advance did not stop in Rome or with the death of the great apostle Paul. It continued on in all directions gaining victory over the powers and spirits of this age which are slowly crumbling away under the weight of Christ’s rule. The Spirit of God continues to live within sinful, but forgiven people who witness to the kingdom of God and truth about Jesus.
The Spirit’s ordinary instruments of choice are faithful prayer, patient suffering, and the Word of God in both the preaching and symbols of the sacraments. This extraordinary working of the Spirit is still evident all over the world if only we have alert eyes and ears. And we are invited, even commanded, to be active participants of the Spirit’s work and to be attentive to the manner and means by which the Spirit carries out his gospel advancing, God-glorifying acts. May we be found faithful.