Acts: The Book That Never Ends

last acts blog

You know the kind of movie ending I’m talking about — the ending that’s not an ending. The credits have rolled but they leave you hanging. There’s something left unresolved: the villain is still loose with plans to strike again, or the guy and girl are not quite together, or even worse, the last frame displays the dreaded words “To Be Continued…”


Why would movie makers delight in administering such torture? One reason is they want to leave open the possibility of a sequel. Another reason is that it can be disappointing when a good story comes to an end. By leaving some loose ends, the movie allows us to run with the story in our own minds. The enjoyment continues even after the theater lights come back on. In other words you create your own ending.     

But why would the book of Acts end without really ending? Acts tells the story of the expansion of the church for several decades after the ascension of Christ. Beginning in chapter 13, Acts focuses especially on the story of the exciting missionary exploits of the apostle Paul. Then, just when you get attached to the character of Paul, he is attacked and arrested in chapter 21. The rest of the book of Acts is taken up with a detailed account of Paul’s imprisonment and trials. It is clear that Paul is innocent of all charges, but it is also clear that due to corrupt politics, Paul has little hope of being released. Seeing this, he exercises his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the highest court in the Roman Empire – Caesar himself.


Reading up to this point, you begin to feel hope that Paul might finally receive justice and vindication. However, that hope is quickly challenged.  Paul’s ship is caught in a terrible storm for day after day, and eventually it wrecks off the shores of the island of Malta. While on Malta, Paul is bit by a poisonous snake, but miraculously survives. The tension and suspense increases. Will Paul make it to stand before Caesar? Will Caesar find Paul innocent and have him released?


Paul does at long last arrive in Rome, but the book of Acts ends with Paul still awaiting trial. The final sentences of Acts read, “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters [under house arrest] and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”


What a let-down! Where is the resolution? What happened to Paul’s case? Did he win, or did he lose? Why would the book of Acts end without telling us what happened?


There appear to be multiple reasons why Acts ends the way it does, but I would like to focus on one of those reasons. Ending a story without a resolution was an important teaching technique in the New Testament. (If you don’t believe me, check out one of Jesus’ most well-known stories – the story of the lost/prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The story ends without telling you what the elder son decides.)


This teaching technique is similar to what goes on with modern movies. The teacher/author leaves the story unfinished, so the reader/listener longs for the sequel. The reader/listener may begin to mentally imagine an ending to the story.


However, that is not the full purpose. The teacher/author does not want you to only make up an ending in your mind. The teacher/author wants you to make the ending a reality. You are supposed to act out the ending to the story in your own life. The story leaves something undone, and it is up to you to do it.


The book of Acts ends with an impressive irony: the apostle Paul is imprisoned, but the good news of Jesus Christ still goes forth openly and unhindered. The implication is that even though Paul may be imprisoned – in fact Paul is now dead – the work of spreading the news of Jesus must continue. Paul accomplished much, but he could not do it all.


You see, the reason that the book of Acts does not have a satisfying ending is that it has not ended. The sequel is still being written. The mission of the church is ongoing. The story is unfinished. Paul is gone. It is up to you and me. We must finish the story. Don’t just imagine it. Live it.


For more on the ending of the book of Acts, listen to Pastor John’s 1-18-2015 message on our sermons page.


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