FREEDOM IN CHAINS
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. 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: 26 “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 27 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.’
28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 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 28:11-31, ESV
The long and winding road named “Acts” finally comes to an end. It has taken us all over the known world, as the world was known in those days. It began in Jerusalem, it ends in Rome. It began with the eminent Apostle, Peter, it ends with the last Apostle, Paul. It began with the Holy Spirit busting loose among the first Christians, freeing them to preach the gospel. It ends with the most Spirit-filled person on the planet in chains for preaching the gospel. At the end of this road we find it is only in chains that true freedom can be found.
When we are chained to God’s sovereignty, we are free to enjoy His grace and providence.
“The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!” (Psalm 99:1). Yet, they do not (ref. Psalm 36:1; Romans 3:18). Still, that does not change the biblical and historical fact that the true and living God does what He wants, when He wants, effecting whom He wants. God is sovereign.
In this final episode of Acts, God commandeers a ship dedicated to false gods, “the twin gods” (Castor and Pollux). With help of pagan shipmasters and soldiers, He gives escort to His chosen vessel Paul and sails him to the center of His will. “And so we came to Rome” (vs. 14).
Lost people are lost because they lack the grace to surrender to God’s sovereignty. Only those who “call upon the name of the Lord” (ref. Joel 2:32; Romans 10:23) can be saved. “Lord” means God, Ruler, Master, Savior. Salvation is complete surrender to God’s sovereign grace and providence.
Paul demonstrates such a salvation all throughout the book of Acts, even until the end. When Saul did what Saul wanted, he persecuted and murdered and otherwise enriched himself and his reputation. When Paul did what God wanted, he repented and believed on the Damascus Road, he preached the gospel to all who would listen (and many who would not), he helped build churches in every country, then courageously accepted bad treatment, false charges, fiery trials, and a long imprisonment to accomplish God’s will to get him to Rome.
I remember the first time the censors allowed a curse word on the radio. It was the early 70’s, and Jonathan Edwards (no, not that Jonathan Edwards) sang, “He can’t even run his own life, I’ll be d***** if he runs mine!” Lost people feel that way about God. Saved people, saints like Paul, revel in the grace that saved them and gladly go with the flow of God’s providence.
When we are chained as God’s servants, we are free to worship and serve Him.
It is ironic that Paul, whom F.F. Bruce described as “The Apostle of the Heart Set Free,” spent so much time in chains. Here he is in this ending to Acts, chained on a ship, then landed in Rome “with a soldier who guarded him” (vs. 16), “wearing this chain” (vs. 20). Yet this was perhaps Paul’s favorite picture of himself.
His favorite word to describe himself was a slave or bondslave, a servant or bondservant. He used it 32 times in his New Testament writings. Such a reference initially conjures up images of the evil days of slave trading, when Africans were captured against their will and sold into slavery in Europe and America. But enslavement to God is freeing, voluntary, eternal.
Lost people best like to think of themselves as free men, free thinkers, free to do as they please. Yet they are in bondage to sin, bondage of the will, prisoners in their own right awaiting the sentence of eternal death. Saints like Paul may wear chains, but they are servants only of God, which actually makes them free. Paul freely worshiped and served the Lord, and during this station in Rome, even though imprisoned under house arrest, he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (vs. 31). So, who’s the free man in this picture?
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
When we are chained to God’s word, we are free to willingly obey Him.
There was a key reason why Paul was imprisoned for so long. Some speculate this imprisonment never ended, until the Apostle’s death. Most scholars, however, believe he was released for a season, then recaptured and returned to Rome, where he then died. Either way, he spent most or all of the latter days of his life in chains.
What was he doing? Writing! We know that Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon were written from prison. It is possible that one, two, or all three pastoral epistles, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus were written from prison. That would be half of Paul’s half of the New Testament.
Writing in the fluent and descriptive language of Koine Greek was all the rage in the first century, when Christianity was born. But the early Christians realized there was something special, even supernatural, about certain writings by Paul, along with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Simon Peter, James, Jude, and whoever wrote Hebrews. Confidence in these 27 writings was gained in the first century and enshrined by the end of the fourth century as not merely the word of godly men, but the word of God, joining the Old Testament canon to give us the complete written word of God, the Bible.
Paul was chained to write it, but all Christians should be chained to read it, meditate upon it, understand it, and obey it. That’s what Christianity does. It frees our will to willingly love and obey the word of God. This shows our love for the Lord (ref. John 14:15) and brings glory to God (ref. Matthew 5:16).
When we are chained to God’s gospel, we are free from sin and death, free to free others.
Paul had written to the Romans before he arrived in Rome. “Romans” is the most doctrinally significant book in the Bible. If the Gospels are Christianity presented, and Acts is Christianity practiced, Romans is Christianity explained.
The glorious eight chapter of the book of Romans begins like this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4).
Lost people are chained to sin and death. Christians, like Paul, by chaining themselves to the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, are free from the penalty of sin and will escape death onto everlasting life. We can know this with certainty (ref. 1 John 5:13), by grace through faith in Jesus.
And, we need to let other people know, like Paul did, even under house arrest. Paul preached to the Jews first, as was his custom. But they, as predicted by Isaiah, would not listen. They did not prosecute him, like the Jerusalem Jews had done, but they did not believe his message, either. So then Paul turned to the Gentiles, beginning with his prison guards.
The rotating guards assigned to him were member of the praetorian or imperial guard. Look at what Paul said about them in Philippians: “I want you to know, brothers, 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” (Philippians 1:12-13). Apparently, many members of the guard became Christians, then took Christ to their next post with them, and this is how the gospel spread so rapidly through Paul, a prisoner, who was actually the most free man on earth.
When we are chained together as God’s people, we are free to love and help one another.
Remember other Christians had reached Rome before Paul. When Paul arrived, they were waiting for him. Actually, Paul “found brothers” (vs. 14) in Puteoli just outside of Rome, then “the brothers [in Rome]” (vs. 15) greeted him and gave him no small amount of encouragement and support.
It is written in the final words that Paul’s house arrest was carried out “at his own expense” (vs. 30), but Paul had no money. Surely the church supported him and made sure his needs were met at he “welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hinderance” (vs. 31). By the grace of God and with the love of his brothers and sisters in Christ, the prisoner Paul was truly unchained.
Practicing Christianity alone is like doing it in a dungeon. It will not produce God’s desired effect in you, and you will not minister to nor effectively influence anyone else for Christ. Freedom is found in being chained to Christ’s church, loving one another as Christ commanded (ref. John 13:34), and joining together to get God’s gospel out to the whole world (ref. Matthew 28:18-20).
After this ending in Acts, Paul’s chains would finally be removed. After this lengthy imprisonment, or after a brief release and another Roman incarceration, they took off Paul’s chains right before they took off Paul’s head. The great Christian, Apostle, evangelist, missionary, pastor, writer, lived in chains and died by the sword.
Or, did he? No! Paul was free from the moment he met the Lord Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road. He freely lived and proclaimed the gospel until his dying day on earth. And on the day he died, he really lived, and now lives forever with the God who freed him from his chains and gave him everlasting life.
Chain yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ and the things of God, and you will be now and eternally free.