Scripture Study -- The Acts of the Apostles

Reach Beyond Your Limits!

According to the New American Bible, Luke is the only one of the evangelists who supplements his gospel with a second volume describing the origin and spread of the Christian communities in New Testament times. In Acts, Luke has provided a broad survey of the Church’s development from the resurrection of Jesus to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, the point at which the book ends. This month we focus on the last three chapters of Acts—Paul the prisoner bears witness to the resurrection. Luke’s approach to the history of the Church is predominantly theological. He conceives of the Church as a mystery of God introduced into history through the apostolic preaching. His preoccupation with the mystery of the church as the bearer of the word of salvation rules out of his book detailed histories of the various members of the Twelve as well as of the churches founded by Paul. None the less, the historical data he utilizes are of value for the understanding of the church’s early life and development and as general background to the Pauline epistles.

The apostle Paul must have had a dream to carry the gospel to Rome. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean world spreading the gospel. It was only natural that he would want to take the message of Christ to the very capital of the Roman Empire. But it seemed that this dream was not destined to come true. Paul became embroiled in a controversy with certain members of the Jewish community wherever he traveled. His enemies finally succeeded in having him arrested and transferred to Jerusalem to be tried before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy. But that turn of events was the very means by which Paul was able to take the gospel to Rome. Caught in an impossible situation in Jerusalem, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen for an imperial trial in Rome.

Paul got to Rome the hard way but at least he made it to the capital city. Life is like that more often than we would like to admit. We hold out certain dreams for what we want out of life or for what we want to contribute to life. But all the direct and easy ways to fulfill those dreams seem closed to us. Life becomes one big detour after another. But if we remain true to our dreams, we usually find a way to make them come true. They may not be as grand as we had hoped and they may not happen in the way we imagined. But people who hold on to their dreams are seldom totally disappointed. Usually our dreams do not come true because we surrender them too quickly. Having failed once or twice, we give up trying. We revise our hopes and dreams downward, settling for less than we should have.

Paul spent his last years of his life under house arrest in Rome where he had been sent for an imperial trial. Tradition says that he was chained to a Roman guard twenty-four hours a day. Even though he was confined, he was able to bear witness to his faith. He preached the gospel of Christ to those who came to visit him. And tradition claims that every imperial guard that was assigned to him became a believer. As strange as it might seem, Paul was never more free than when he was confined to his house in chains. He learned the real meaning of freedom during those two years. People can chain the body but they cannot fetter the soul. They can confine your physical movements but not curb your spiritual aspirations. Finally, freedom is an inward rather than an outward thing.

No matter how limiting our physical or social circumstances, we are free to reach beyond those limits. We can figure new ways to achieve our goals. We can create new ways of getting things done. Even when our outer lives are reduced to nothing, we can live in our imaginations. Great literature can carry us to worlds that we never dreamed of visiting. Great music can liberate us for feelings that escape all explanation. Great faith can take us to the very throne of God. And out of those imaginings, we can return to our daily lives with a new sense of resolve and a new set of options. No one finally can take that kind of freedom away from us. As long as we can think and feel, we can never be locked away. Like the apostle Paul, we can transcend our limitations by taking flight in our hopes and dreams. GLP