At his second meeting with the Jewish community in Rome, Paul preached the Gospel and did it all day long (v. 23). He began in the morning and went on until evening, declaring the kingdom of God and preaching Jesus. That is a sermon I would like to have heard. I do not think this would have been a monologue. Paul would have taught, as he did in other places. But in this company, he would have been questioned by the rabbis, who would have known the Old Testament well and would have had very astute minds. If Paul gave a uniquely Christian interpretation of an Old Testament prophecy, they would have challenged it and pursued it, as only rabbis can do. This went on all day.
Although we do not have a record of it, I think it is not all that difficult to surmise what might have been said since the very next book in the Bible is Romans, which Paul had written just three years earlier to explain the Gospel to this very community. We may suppose that he followed the general outline of Romans more or less.
He would have begun by speaking of our obligation to know God and worship Him, to love Him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. This would have been a point of contact with His Jewish hearers because, of course, these assertions are true. They are what the Scriptures teach.
Paul would also have pointed out that none of us has done that. We have all fallen short of God’s standard. He would have explained why, much like he did in the early chapters of Romans. “Gentiles have rejected the knowledge of God,” he would have said. “But we Jews have missed it, too. We have substituted our own righteousness for God’s righteousness, forgetting the matters of faith and trust, which are so prominent in the Old Testament. We have substituted ceremonies for a heart relationship with God.”
I do not know the hearts of those to whom he was speaking. But if they were sensitive men, as we have every right to suppose they were, something in them may have acknowledged that this was true. Which of us, if we have any sensitivity at all, even after we come to know God through Jesus Christ, is not aware of a coldness of heart toward Almighty God? We know we should love Him, but we find that we do not. We find barriers between ourselves and God. Even our prayers seem to be unheard. These Jews may have acknowledged that to themselves quietly.
Paul must have continued by saying, “So you see, it is not a question of being a Jew or a Gentile. We are sinners, all of us. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10-11). Those words are not only in Romans. Paul would have quoted them from the Old Testament, from the book of Psalms where they are found twice (Ps. 14:3; 53:3). His hearers would have known these texts, and the words would have found an echo in their hearts.
Then Paul would have gone on to talk about Jesus, the hope of Israel. The Messiah has come, he would have argued. This is the point at which he would have gotten opposition. “We are expecting the Messiah, to be sure, but not the despised Nazarene,” they would have said. Paul would have gone to the many Old Testament prophecies about Him and would have shown how Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. The Jews were looking for a day when God would reestablish Israel as the dominant, chosen nation. Paul would have shown that before that happened it was necessary that the Messiah should sacrifice Himself to provide salvation for all people. God does not show favoritism. He does not show concern for one nation rather than another. He cares for all peoples equally.
At this point the Jews began to disagree among themselves (v. 25). Some of them believed Paul, apparently convinced by his reasoning. Most did not. The negative reaction was so strong that Paul was led to cite this great text from Isaiah: “Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and I would heal them” (Isa. 6:9-10).
Paul concluded, “Therefore, I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (v. 28).
John Stott points out that Paul was accustomed to this reaction and had done the same thing before: “Three times before, stubborn Jewish opposition has led Paul to turn to the Gentiles—in Pisidian Antioch (13:46), in Corinth (18:6), and in Ephesus (19:8, 9). Now for the fourth time, in the world’s capital city, and in a yet more decisive manner, he does it again (v. 28).”1
1John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: To the Ends of the Earth (Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1990), 399.