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"'Go to this people and tell them this: You're going to listen with your ears, but you won't hear a word; You’re going to stare with your eyes, but you won't see a thing. These people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won't have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won't have to look, so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them."
"'You've had your chance. The non-Jewish outsiders are next on the list. And, believe me; they're going to receive it with open arms!'
"Paul lived for two years in his rented house. He welcomed everyone who came to visit. He urgently presented all the matters of the kingdom of God. He explained everything about Jesus Christ. His door was always open." Acts 28:26-31 (The Message).
And so our journey with Paul ends today. From Jerusalem to Rome -- what a journey! What a story! Paul was no ordinary traveller. He could have made the trip across land in a few weeks or by ship in a few days. He was a messenger, a herald of the King, taking the message of hope to an earthly empire ruled by fear. His story had to be painstakingly told, day by day, town, by town, city by city, giving people an opportunity to listen, think and respond.
His biggest disappointment was the response of his own people. Time after time he met with the same reaction. A few believed but many rejected him and his message. He experienced what the prophets had spoken of centuries before, and they knew what they were talking about because they had first-hand experience of their people's stubborn hearts.
Once again, in Rome, Paul had to shake the dust off his feet of those who heard the invitation to choose life but had chosen instead to walk away. He had faithfully delivered his message to them first but most of them were not interested in a place in the eternal kingdom of God. They were comfortable and complacent in their sin. It was too much effort to rouse themselves from their stupor and their false hope to embrace this new life, full of suffering, yes, but also full of hope.
As we cast our eyes across the years and across the miles of this man's journey, what do we see? We see man who had only one vision. One would think that Rome would be his cue to retire. After all, had he not fulfilled his commission to take the good news of Jesus to the world?
Rome was the heart of his world, and here he was, at last, telling his story in the centre of his universe. But "retire" was not in Paul's vocabulary. Like the Cheshire cat in "Alice in Wonderland", whose smile was the last thing to fade, when he finally left, only his voice would be left to tell the story of Jesus!
Luke does not finish Paul's story, perhaps because his story is not done. He had a mission to complete, to stand before Nero to offer him the opportunity to believe in Jesus. Nero too, rejected the message and demanded Paul's head as the price for his faithfulness.
Like Abel, whose voice cried out from the ground long after his death; like Jesus, whose blood speaks of better things, Paul's voice was not silenced when his blood was shed. His life, his letters keep on speaking of the One he faithfully served, and he still calls for a response to his eternal message of hope.
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