Summary: The primary hinderance to the Good News being taken to all the world is our willingness to share it.
I’ve told you about Myrtie Howell in the past, but she is such a perfect example of what I want to talk about his morning that I want to remind you of her inspirational story. Myrtie was a deeply Christian lady, but she lived a tough life from the start. Her family was very poor, so when she was 10 she was forced to quit school to go to work in a steel mill for 10 cents a day. She got married at 17, but in 1940 her husband was killed in an accident. So, at that point she had to go back to work to support herself and her 3 kids. Like I said, Myrtie had a tough life. But it wasn’t over.
Many years later, her declining health forced her to move into an old, high rise nursing home for those who couldn’t afford anything better. Within a couple of weeks of moving there her youngest son, the baby of the family, died. As you can imagine, sitting in that room, Myrtie fell into a deep depression. As she recalls, she offered up this prayer. “Lord, what more can I do for you? I’ve lost everything that ever meant something to me. And now I’m stuck in this dark, dreary room. I have nothing left to live for! I want to die! I’ve had enough of this prison. Take me home!”
But God wasn’t ready to take Myrtie home. She said that God spoke to her in a way that was unmistakable. He said, “Write to prisoners.” Well, she didn’t exactly know what that meant, but she set out to learn. She wrote a letter and sent it to an Atlanta Penitentiary. Her first letter said, “Dear inmate. I am a grandmother who loves and cares for you. I am willing to be a friend. If you’d like to hear from me, write me. I will answer every letter you write. A Christian friend, Grandmother Howell.”
When the letter arrived at the prison, it was given to the chaplain. He sent her the names of 8 prisoners she could write to. Later she got more names from Prison Fellowship. Soon she was writing letters to up to 40 inmates a day from all over the United States. She said, “I thought my life was over, but these past few years have been the most fulfilling years of my life!” (From The Body by Charles Colson)
This morning, on the last Sunday of the year 2003, we are concluding our journey as a church through the book of Acts. This second document written about the early church by Luke ends in kind of an odd way. Luke started the book by with the Apostles receiving a great promise from Jesus. Acts 1:8 (NLT) “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
As this promise unfolded, Luke described for us the creation of the Church, first in Jerusalem, then throughout the Middle East, and then in other cities all over Asia and into Europe. We watched as the church went through crises, internal challenges like when the Grecian widows thought that the Hebrew widows were getting treated better. The major transition where Gentiles were allowed into the church without becoming Jewish.
There was also pressure from the outside. The Jews persecuted the Christians because they thought they were false teachers. Pagan idol worshippers persecuted them because the Christians challenged the idea that there were many Gods, saying there is only one God, personally revealed through Jesus Christ. Amazingly, the church continued to grow through all of the internal turmoil and external pressure because they were willing to follow God wherever He led.
Now as Luke ends the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul continues to carry the good news that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He alone is the way that we can live forever. After surviving a shipwreck on the Isle of Malta, Paul and their party finally make it to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, and literally the most influential city on the face of the Earth. From this point, the good news about Jesus Christ can literally be spread to the entire world, just as Jesus had promised it would back at the beginning of the book of Acts.
Read Acts 28:17-31
And that’s it! Luke just leaves us there, with Paul under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a chance to speak to Caesar. There’s no grand climax where Paul addresses the ruler of the Roman Empire. There is no conclusion where Paul is either set free or convicted. It’s kind of anti-climactic. Over the years Christians have questioned why Luke ends the story there. Some said maybe Luke actually wrote both Luke and Acts as a legal brief to explain who Jesus and Paul were, and to present as a defense in Paul’s trial before Caesar. Others have thought that probably Luke just ended at this point because this was the point in history where he was at the time, and maybe he planned on writing a third volume, a conclusion to a trilogy, but he never did. I’m not sure why Luke left the story off here, but I’m not so sure it’s an unfulfilling conclusion. As a matter of fact, I think Luke ended just the way he intended, with a word to challenge Christians of all centuries to continue to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. (Read Acts 28:30-31) Literally that last verse reads “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, unhindered.”