|The author working on 2 Acts?|
“Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open.” Acts 28:30-31, The Message
“Whatever be the truth, the fate of Paul is secondary to that of the gospel. The final picture is of Paul preaching to the Gentiles the same message which he had preached throughout Acts with boldness and without hindrance. All the emphasis lies on that last phrase...Nothing that men can do can stop the progress and ultimate victory of the gospel. I. Howard Marshall in Acts: The Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series
|A companion in the journey|
And so the Book of Acts ends. Is it “The End” or, more properly, “The End?” In my year and a half personal study of The Book of Acts I have enjoyed the company of fellow-travelers who have accompanied me along the way – John R.W. Stott, I. Howard Marshall, Ajith Fernando, Sir William Ramsay, Paul Maier and a few of the Church fathers (mainly, Chrysostom) – serving at times like experienced tour guides pointing out things a novice like myself might have overlooked. Their observations have been insightful and helpful in understanding the work and I come away with a far more appreciation for it. It is definitely far more than just a history book. Good scholars that they are at times they have disagreed with one another, arriving at different conclusions about certain events in the story.
|Certain that Luke was planning a third installment|
Take, for example, the “abrupt” conclusion to the book itself. Sir William makes a strong case that Luke had always fully intended on writing 2 Acts but was prevented from doing so because of his premature death in the same persecution that ultimately claimed Peter's and Paul's life. Stott, Marshall and a whole lot of others who know their stuff counter that the enigmatic ending was Luke's intention all along: the great Story begun in Acts 1:8 will continue until its consummation at the End of the Age when the Lord Jesus returns as promised. Maybe both groups are right – while Luke had planned to write about what happened after Paul's release from his two year house arrest in Rome and the rest of his travels to Iberia and back unto martyrdom, Luke would have most likely ended his second treatise on a high note: the Founders may be gone but the Gospel continues to be carried forth into all the world.
|Did he find out about the rain in Spain?|
Maybe the question to ask is not Why does it end so abruptly but How does the abrupt end make me feel? After all that Paul has been through to get to Rome – getting nearly lynched in Jerusalem, the two-year house arrest in Caesarea which included several hearings beforeboth Jewish and Roman officials, the harrowing journey to Rome and at long last arriving there only to discover the same obstinacy among his Jewish brethren there as he found back in Palestine – is this really how his story should end? It leaves me wanting to know what happened to him, specifically with his hearing before the Roman Senate? As some speculate, was he released? And did he make his trip to Spain? Or did his two-year genial house arrest in Rome take a drastic turn due to the madness of Emperor Nero which led to his speedy demise and martyrdom? Whatever happened to Luke? Did he, as I have already speculated, die in the same wave of persecution that claimed the lives of Paul and Peter? Or was that his intent all along - to leave us hanging so that we would put ourselves in Paul's shoes and carry on what he and the other apostles began?
Frankly, after a year and a half of ruminating on this text I don't want it to end. I want to hear “the rest of the story”? I want to read Luke's proposed “third installment” even if he never intended on writing one. What's odd to me is that after my year-long sojourn in the patriarchs in 2011, I was eager to return to the study of Jesus as told by Luke in 2012. But now after a year and a half in Acts, I am hesitant to leave the study of Paul, Peter, Luke, Timothy, Aristarchus and all the brothers. Not because I don't think I need to learn more of Jesus – God knows I do – but simply because I have grown attached to these guys and their daring and their resolute determination to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. I want to know what happened to them, what they accomplished and their end. I think that's why I began reading Eusebius (The Church History) - out of the desire to learn of the fates of the men who followed in the path of Peter and Paul who in turn were following Christ.
Which brings me back to the idea of a Third Volume. I want the story to continue. And maybe that is the genius of Luke in the choice of his ending – it makes you want to look for more installments. And ultimately you do find them but not within Scripture so much as in the lives of those who have gone before us and those who continue to carry the gospel (myself included) up to the present time. Like Lloyd Oglivie once wrote, “The abrupt ending leaves us with the challenge and opportunity to allow the Spirit to write the next chapter in the Book of Acts today in and through us!” I pastor a small fellowship in a small town in a county in our State not known for its economic power nor political clout. But it's the place where he has planted me and to the best of my ability I will continue to preach the Scriptures, baptize and teach disciples and do all the regular kinds of stuff that come with the territory of gospel work. One day another will carry on the work I do now and within a few years after my departure to another post or to my inheritance, my name will be less known but Lord willing, the gospel will continue to be preached at the fellowship that currently meets at the corner of 8th and Leonard in Chetek. It's how it should be. Like Frodo reminded Sam while they were ascending the steps of Cirith Ungol that while the great tale never ends “...the people in them come, and go when their part's ended. Our part will end later – or sooner” (“The Stairs of Cirith Ungol” in The Two Towers). Until that time, may I be found faithful and play whatever is my part to play in the greatest Story ever in the making.
Dr. Paul Maier's conclusion of his little book First Christians is a fitting conclusion to my devotional study of Acts:
“All of the apostles endured great hardships for the faith, many suffering martyrdom itself. Not one of them could see the ultimate triumph of Christianity – except through the eyes of faith and the inspiration of the same Spirit who arrived with the first Pentecost and never withdrew. Though at the time the Christian cause seemed persecuted, burned, crucified, beheaded, and even eaten out of existence by the greatest power in the world, a greater power was at work that would see Christianity conquer Rome a little more than two centuries later, and “the ends of the earth” after that, in Jesus' own prediction.”
“It was Christ, not Caesar, who captured the future.”