This is an edited transcript of a sermon I preached as a guest at New Life Community Church in Henry, IL.
A while ago at my church, we had a visiting pastor from India. He was an evangelist who spoke to crowds of thousands of people and he planted churches. He had stories of miraculous healings and amazing conversions to the Christian faith. It was incredible to hear him speak about his experiences.
At the same time, it was a little unnerving. I felt like I haven’t done much for the world in comparison. I have never traveled overseas or built an orphanage or planted a church. And it reminded me of all of my personal friends who served in the mission field and told me great stories like the pastor did last Sunday.
And, of course, it reminded me of Billy Graham’s recent passing. What a legacy!
Do you ever wish that you had a greater impact on this world? Do you ever wish that you had a bigger role to play in the Great Commission that Jesus left his disciples?
The Great Commission
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” And before he left his disciples, he told them, “You will receive power to be my witnesses throughout the world.”
Then, after he ascended into Heaven, his disciples began to preach all that he taught them in the city of Jerusalem. More and more people became believers in the Christian faith. Eventually, this guy named Paul starts believing in Jesus, as well. His life is so radically changed that he moves outside of his own little world and begins to travel, wanting to share his new faith with everyone he meets.
Eventually, Paul gets arrested and shipped off to Rome to appear before Caesar, the most powerful man in the world. God actually tells Paul in a vision, “You must stand before Caesar.” But on Paul’s way there, a powerful storm creates a shipwreck, and it looks like all hope is lost and Paul would never reach Rome to testify.
Paul on Malta
So what happens next? Let’s read on in the last chapter of the Book of Acts. Most historians believe it was a doctor named Luke who wrote this book and traveled with Paul. Luke writes:
1-2. “Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.
3-6. As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god.
7-10. Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.”
Consider Every Invitation as an Opportunity
Now, notice that the author Luke writes that it was raining, and yet the islanders built a fire. This means that they were probably in some type of shelter, like a cave or rocky overhanging. The islanders welcomed these strangers.
What I want to note is this: for us to have a greater impact on the world, we have to consider every invitation as an opportunity.
We take the people in our lives for granted. We need to remember that God places every person in our lives for a reason. Sometimes, that reason is for them to bless us. I find it interesting that the author Luke mentions numerous times that the people of Malta were kind and hospitable to the outsiders…and the people of Maltans weren’t even Christians! God can use a Muslim, Hindu, or atheist to bless you in some way.
Sometimes, the reason is for us to bless them in some way. Paul, by the power of God, healed the sick on that island! And when you think about it, Christians ought to be nicer than unbelievers, right? We have the Holy Spirit of God living inside us to empower us. We know what it’s like to be forgiven. We have the hope of life after death.
Imagine if Paul and Luke had decided to decline the islanders’ invitation for shelter. Paul and Luke could have created their own little hut on the other side of the island. Yet they chose to accept the welcome and saw it as an opportunity to display God’s power.
The story goes on:
Paul Arrives at Rome
11-14. “It was three months after the shipwreck that we set sail on another ship that had wintered at the island—an Alexandrian ship with the twin gods as its figurehead. Our first stop was Syracuse, where we stayed three days. From there we sailed across to Rhegium. A day later a south wind began blowing, so the following day we sailed up the coast to Puteoli. There we found some believers, who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome.
15 The brothers and sisters in Rome had heard we were coming, and they came to meet us at the Forum on the Appian Way. Others joined us at The Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God.
16 When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier.”
All of Us are Stronger than One of Us
In this story, Paul was encouraged and thankful for the believers he met in Rome. Remember that Paul had never been to Rome before, so the Christians there were taught the Gospel by somebody else. It is very likely that when the Apostle Peter preached in Jerusalem on Pentecost that there were some visitors from Rome who heard the Gospel and brought it back to them when they returned.
I’ve attended numerous churches throughout my life. When I was a Lutheran, I thought everybody should be a Lutheran. When I was a Presbyterian, I thought everybody should be a Presbyterian. When I attended a megachurch, I thought everybody should attend megachurches. I looked down on other Christians who I thought had a bad or incomplete theology.
I was wrong each time.
For us to have a greater impact on this world, we have to remember that fellow believers in Jesus are our friends, not our enemies. We can make a greater impact together than apart. All of us are stronger than just one of us.
That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. There are important differences. But it does mean we still have to love each other and unite around the points we do agree on.
Paul Preaches at Rome under Guard
17-20. “Three days after Paul’s arrival, he called together the local Jewish leaders. He said to them, “Brothers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Roman government, even though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, because they found no cause for the death sentence. But when the Jewish leaders protested the decision, I felt it necessary to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no desire to press charges against my own people. I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.”
21-22. They replied, “We have had no letters from Judea or reports against you from anyone who has come here. But we want to hear what you believe, for the only thing we know about this movement is that it is denounced everywhere.”
23-25. So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: “The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,
26-27. ‘Go and say to this people:
When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’
28 So I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.”
If one door is closed, open another one
When you read the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is designated as the people of God. That doesn’t mean that God didn’t love all the other people of the world, but it does mean that Israel was often the first group to receive the blessings of God. It’s amazing that time and time again, many of the Jewish people rejected the blessings of God. They missed out on the best life possible!
So what God does is offer His blessings to non-Jewish people. Can you imagine if Paul stopped preaching after his Jewish audience rejected his message? “Well, I guess that’s it. Nobody else will listen to me. I better go back to making tents, or maybe Caesar will offer me a job at his palace.” We wouldn’t have much of the New Testament today. We would be missing out on the knowledge and revelation that comes from God through His written Word!
There’s an old saying that goes, “If you want something different, then you’ve got to do different.” It’s the same thing with trying to make an impact. If one door is closed, open another one.
Jesus once said to his disciples that if a town rejected their message, that the disciples were free to walk away and preach to a different town. Their hands were washed free of any guilt because at least they tried.
Maybe that means you have to start talking about Jesus to a different family member. Maybe you’ve been trying to convert someone for years with no evidence that they’re changing, but maybe you can start impacting that person’s child.
Paul Lives in Rome
30-31. “For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.”
Sometimes, Being “Stuck” Can Be A Good Thing
Now imagine you were in Paul’s shoes. You’re stuck under house arrest in a foreign city, away from your family and friends. There probably isn’t any Wi-Fi or smartphones, so it’s not like you can just log onto Facebook or call your brother back home. You’re stuck, and how can you have an impact?
What Paul does is make the most of his time where he was stuck. Historians believe that he wrote the letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon while he was under house arrest. Can you imagine if those books were missing from the Bible?
And, Paul welcomed visitors frequently! He figured that if he couldn’t go out on the streets to preach to people, that he would invite people to where he was. I like to imagine that a lot of these people were peddlers or homeless people. They would probably knock on the door, and the Roman guard would answer it, and the person would ask, “Got any spare change?” Paul is behind the guard and says, “Nope, but I’ve got something better! Come inside and let me tell you about it!”
Sometimes, being “stuck” can be a good thing. You can still have an impact where you are, even if you are not where you want to be.
What’s so special about Henry, IL? Or Lacon, IL? Or central Peoria, for that matter? You never hear about this location on the evening news.
What is so special is that people like you live here. People created in the image of God who can make a difference. I only attended this church for less than six months when I lived at Great Oaks Camp a few miles down the road. That was five years ago now. But I still think about this church often. And many of you are getting older in years, but even after you’re gone I think it will be hard for me to forget you all.
The older I get – even though I’m still young at only 25 – the less I remember the conferences I went to. The less I remember what I studied in college. The less I remember about the books I’ve read, and I’ve read hundreds! These things are supposed to leave an impact.
But what I still remember are those times when Christians invited me into their homes, free of charge and with no strings attached. Sometimes a free meal can leave a big impact.
Epilogue – Paul
The Book of Acts ends with Paul in house arrest, but that’s not the end of Paul’s story. Historians believe that he was released from imprisonment and had the chance to continue traveling through Europe, eventually reaching Spain. On his way back he was imprisoned again and martyred under Caesar Nero.
And, of course, the story continues today with us. Each one of us still has the chance to participate in the Great Commission in some way.
When you think the story is over, God says, “Not yet. Greater things are yet to come.”
The Barna Group did a comprehensive study two years ago about the state of Christianity in America.
73% of Americans identify as Christian.
55% of Americans attend church on a frequent basis.
Only 7% of Americans identify as evangelicals, someone who believes the Bible is true in all its assertions, especially that Jesus is the only way to God.
I don’t say these facts to present a picture of doom and gloom. Quite the opposite. We have good news of great joy! We can shine as lights in this dark world. We can love and be kind to our enemies. God can use each and every one of us in the same way that He used the Apostle Paul.
When you think the story is over, God says, “Not yet. Greater things are yet to come.” We can all have a greater impact on this world with God’s help.
*Scripture reference are from The New Living Translation.