God’s Word for You
Acts 28:17-22 First for the Jew…
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 18, 2021
17 Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews.
I think that this meeting would have taken place in Paul’s rented house (verse 30). Since he was chained (verse 20) and under guard, he was under something like house arrest. There were many synagogues in Rome; some say as many as thirteen. These men did not know it, but in just a few years Jerusalem would be destroyed and for a time Rome would become the new center of Judaism. The men who were called together by Paul were nothing like the Sanhedrin, but they represented the Jews of the city.
Paul’s pattern remained the same to the very end. He took the gospel to the Jews first. The Gospel, Paul said, “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Paul never wanted to bypass his brother Jews, but agonized over reaching out to them the way Hosea agonized over the northern tribes just as the Assyrians were on their way (“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” Hosea 11:8).
When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was made a prisoner in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 When they examined me they wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar—not that I had any charge to bring against my own nation. 20 This is why I have called you here, to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 They replied, “We have not received any letters from the Jews about you, nor have any of the brothers who have come from there reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are speaking against this sect.”
Paul explains why he was brought to Rome, and why he is a prisoner. His statement doesn’t contain every detail, but it’s a perfectly acceptable summary of the events. The Jewish elders admit that they didn’t have any correspondence from Jerusalem, nor any messengers, but they know about Christianity, and they say that “people everywhere are speaking against this sect.” It’s to their credit that they wanted to hear what Paul had to say, and didn’t simply dismiss him outright.
Maybe we shouldn’t read much into the statement that no word had come to them. Paul had been shipped away right after his meeting with Festus, and with or without Paul’s shipwreck, no message dispatched by the Jews of Jerusalem could have made it to Rome ahead of Paul since the winter had come and sea travel was out of the question. On the other hand, the Jews of Jerusalem may have had no thought whatever of doing any more than they had done. Paul was gone from Judea, and they might have counted on the eccentric Emperor Nero (now in his mid-twenties) to have Paul murdered or executed just for sport.
This passage preaches the law because Paul is still submitting to the government and therefore the Fourth Commandment, but also the Eighth. Paul could easily have stretched the truth to make his case seem more favorable, but he sticks to the facts, provable by any witness. He does not offer any condemnation or judgment of Felix, Festus, or the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem. This passage also preaches the law to Christians who do not reach out to Jews, Muslims, and people of other religions who do not know the truth about Jesus Christ. When God talks about his people returning to him, he does only talk about the Jews to the north in Assyria, to the south in Egypt, or to the east in Babylon. He also says, “When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west” (Hosea 11:10), from the islands and coastlands of the Gentiles. The gospel is for everyone to hear.
This passage preaches the gospel especially in the marvelous phrase “the hope of Israel” (verse 20). This was a title used by Jeremiah in the days of the Babylonian captivity, when prophet and people alike were bound by chains and help prisoner. “O Hope of Israel,” he prayed, “its Savior in times of distress… do not forsake us!” (Jeremiah 14:8,9). And the prophet used the same title as a warning to those who turned away from faith in him: “O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13). Jeremiah also said, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him” (Lamentations 3:25). What does it mean to be part of God’s chosen people? “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). We offer the word of forgiveness to the world, and by the grace of God that forgiveness is given to everyone who believes in Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith