Acts: For the Cause of Christ #34

Notice: I did not preach on Acts 27. I had another engagement that week, and our guest speakers spoke on Acts 27:21-26. The following week, I resumed with chapter 28 to finish the series. To open this sermon I quickly summarized chapter 27 for context.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #34

Title: The Unfinished Task

Acts 28 

Chapter 28 closes the book of Acts with Paul in Rome still working out his commision and doing what he needs to for the Cause of Christ.

Overview (What?)

Now that Paul and the other 200 people are on the island, what happens next? Where are they?

Verses 1-10 is the time spent in Malta

Verses 11-16 is leaving Malta for Rome

Verses 17-29 Paul is the Jews

17-22 intro and diplomacy

23-29 discussion and unbelief

Verses 30-31 Close

Now What?

So, now that we see that Paul makes it to Rome, what now? What is the Holy Spirit telling us in this chapter. I see a few things in this chapter, so let’s take a look.

In this chapter, we see that Paul continues to example evangelization. Paul has never stopped doing the work of the ministry. On Malta, he showed his servant attitude in assisting in keeping the fire going by gathering more wood. After being shown kindness by the island official, he returns the kindness by praying over and healing Publius’ father. He then is able to minister to the people of Malta as many who were sick came seeking to be healed. Paul engaged the people of Malta. Though the text doesn’t tells, I think it is safe to assume that Paul took these opportunities to explain the gospel.

Then when Paul makes it to Italy, we see that he received encouragement from some local Christians. Fellow Christians came from Rome and met them at these two small towns that were mere stopping points on the way to Rome along the Appian Way. Paul must have been blessed to meet these Christians after the recent shipwreck, the trial before Festus two years after being tried before Felix. These Christians expressed Christian love and fellowship with Paul.

After Paul was in his private residence in Rome, he invited some of the local Jewish leadership. On the day he discussed what the Christian sect was and who Jesus of Nazareth truly was, he did so emphasizing the Scripture. I’m sure the Holy Spirit was with him assisting him in this discussion, but we are told plainly in Acts that he was using both the Law and the Prophets. We have seen this throughout Acts, Paul, Peter, Stephen, Philip all using the Scriptures to explain who Jesus is. Yes, Paul and Peter were at times receiving new revelation, but these additions to Scripture was for the Church to know how to behave, how to function. Now we have the completed Canon of Scripture and we have the ability to use the verses these men penned to aid in our evangelism, but Paul used the Old Testament to explain things, especially to the Jews.

We also see that Paul didn’t let house arrest stop him, or the unbelief of many of the Jewish leadership. Paul spoke with anyone who came into his home over the next two years about Jesus and the gospel. He took any and every opportunity he could, and you know he talked to the Roman guard that had nothing better to do for four hours a day but listen to Paul. I’m sure that Paul was discussed back in the barracks as well. It is generally thought that during these two years Paul wrote Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians. In Philippians, Paul makes to comments about the progress of the Gospel in Rome. In 1:12-13 Paul writes, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ.” Then as he closes the letter he writes in 4:22, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.” Through Paul’s persistence and the work of the Holy Spirit the Praetorian Guard and the members of Nero’s house had heard the gospel and some had come to Christ.

So What? 

Ok. Great. So what? What are we supposed to do with this information now? 

Acts closes in an incomplete way. We are left with Paul spending two years in Rome proclaiming the gospel from his house arrest. We don’t really know the state of the church in Judea, we don’t know the state of the many churches in Asia Minor and Greece. We know that the church continued, we know that a great persecution would begin in a few short years at Nero’s order; but the book is left with the task unfinished.

In one sense, the book does complete. Remember we said at the beginning that 1:8 was the key verse for Acts, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts recorded the beginning of the Church, spreading from a regional beginning in Judea to the seat of one of the greatest empires in the western world in ancient times. But this book also shows us how to evangelize. We need to engage the people where they are, we need to emphasize the Scripture in our witnessing and as our guide for faith and practice, we need to expand to every person, not a select people group, or type of person. But all of this has to be done with the power of God and in His way, not our way. Paul say in 1 Corinthians 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” God will bring in the harvest, we need only to go and labor. H. A. Ironside in his work on Acts closes with these lines, “What almost seems like the unfinished character of the book of Acts, from a merely literary standpoint, is doubtless intended to teach us that until the fulfillment of the angels’ prophecy that ‘this same Jesus’ shall return even as He went away, the work of evangelization for this age will not be completed . We are to heed the Word – ‘Occupy till I come.’” (Ironside, H. A., Lectures on the Book of Acts © 1975, p 650-651)

Conclusion:

Acts is a reminder to us that what the mission of the church is.

First the Church’s mission is to make disciples – Mt 28:19-20, Ac 2:41-42, 14:15, 18:8

This includes proclaiming the gospel – Ac 20:24; Rom 15:20

Bearing witness to Jesus – Ac 5:30-32

Bringing honor to God – Eph 3:10-11; 1 Pet 2:12

Second our objective is all creation – Mt 24:14; 28:19; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8

What are you doing for the Cause of Christ? Are we doing our part in this unfinished task? How can we do more?

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #33

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #33

Title: Paul’s Royal Hearing

Acts 25:1-26:32

Last time in Acts we saw Paul’s trial before Felix. We saw how the Jewish leadership had a seared conscience, how Paul kept his conscience clear, and Felix ignoring his guilty conscience as he rejected the gospel. Felix delayed his judgement and kept Paul in custody for two years. Two years Paul was not in Rome.

This week Paul stands before a new governor and a king, presenting the same defense he was been since chapter 22. Paul is two years closer to Rome.

Overview

Today we are going through two chapters, chapters 25 and 26, it may seem like a lot to cover, but these chapters play right into one another so first thing we are going to do is walk through the passage to overview what we have before us and then we’ll pull a few things out and discuss them. 

Festus meeting with Sanhedrin. Case of Paul. Plot to kill Paul.

Paul’s trial is a repeat of 24:1-21 in verses 6-8. Luke is giving us a condensed soup version of events in these verses, which is a repeat of the previous trial. Festus, having heard both sides asks Paul if he would consent to having the trial again before Festus in Jerusalem, instead of giving a judgement now. Paul, realizing Festus was starting to give in to the Jewish Council, must have thought that he wouldn’t receive the trial he deserved, appeals to Caesar in response.  Festus confers with his advisors, and then announces, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go.” I can’t help but picture in my mind that when Festus makes that statement, he washes his hands in a manner similar to Pilate.

Days later Agrippa II and Bernice arrive to greet and welcome the new governor to the Region.  Agrippa was possibly the same rank as Festus, just in another region, or he was immediately below him in rank. Agrippa was given jurisdiction over the temple in Jerusalem, he also held the ceremonial dress for the High Priest for the Great Day of Atonement. Agrippa is the son of Herod Agrippa I who we saw in chapter 12 of Acts and the grandson of Herod the Great. Bernice is his sister who had her own checkered past and there were rumors of an inappropriate relationship between these siblings. After they get there, Festus tells Agrippa about Paul’s case. Now verse 15-21 Festus recounts the events that we just discussed. He has piqued Agrippa’s interest as he has a better understanding of the Jewish religion, Festus is asking for guidance and assistance in what to say in the report to Caesar. The next day Agrippa and Bernice enter the court with a great pomp. Festus gives a general statement about what is going on, why Paul is there, and why Festus is allowing this hearing. Festus needs help understanding what the problem is so he can give some sort of credible report to Caesar.

This brings us to chapter 26. This is not an official trial,  once Paul appealed to Caesar all trials stopped until he was before Caesar. This was an informal hearing, where Paul could defend his position more thoroughly. We can break chapter 26 up into a few sections, verses 4-11 Paul recounts his upbringing and the strict religious life he led before he came to Christ. In verses 12-23 Paul discussed his conversion to Christianity and commission from Christ, and verses 24-32 we have dialogue and Paul’s intent that all should come to Christ, and the end of the hearing.

Festus – Priority of Peace

Have a priority of peace isn’t necessarily bad, but when someone is willing to bend over backwards and do what it takes to keep or maintain peace for their own gain or the sake of peace, that person’s priorities are probably off, and we see some of that with Festus.

Festus first demonstrates his priority of peace in verse 1 of chapter 25. Festus didn’t waste any time getting to Jerusalem to try and smooth things over and hopefully find ways to work with the Sanhedrin to keep peace in the province. The Jews tried to get Festus to do what they wanted by bringing up Paul’s case and asking that he be brought to Jerusalem. Festus didn’t give in here, but told them that Paul had to be tried in open court before him since Paul was a Roman citizen.

Next we see Festus is still trying to prioritize peace with the Jews during the hearing in verses 6-9 [read]. Verse 9 is key here. Festus is trying to keep the Jews somewhat happy. If the Jewish Council at least is happy or content, then Festus would have peace during his tenure as governor. And we talked about this earlier, I think Pau realized what Festus was doing, that Festus wasn’t able to grasp the issues of Paul’s case  and was starting to give in to the Jews’ wish for the sake of peace.

Next we see Festus wanted peace with Caesar. In 25:26-27 we see Festus’ issue with Paul’s case. He is new to the province and doesn’t know the religion or the politics of the Jews, but he has to send Paul and a report explaining the issues to Caesar. If the report is unclear, or incoherent Festus could be in trouble. He is responsible for the prisoner and the report representing the case up to the call for appeal when it goes before Caesar. To keep himself out of trouble or at peace with Caesar, Festus needed a better grasp of the issues, so he asked Agrippa for help. This peace is more self-preservation.

Now I am not calling peace a bad thing, but Festus’ desire for peace at any cost is wrong. Of course Festus being an unbelievers, ultimately his priority was his self-serving and not God honoring. Festus was making peace his god. Exodus 20:3, the first of the ten commandments reads, “Do not have other gods besides me.”

There are examples of others not putting God first, not making God the priority. Such as Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4, “When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his `father David had been.” And Abijam in 1 Kings 15:3, “Abijam walked in all the sins his father before him had committed, and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God as his ancestor David had been.” There are other examples, such as Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12, and Paul gives warning to the Romans in Romans  16:17-18, “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned, Avoid them because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words.”

Paul – Priority of God

Now that we’ve looked at Festus’ priority, let’s look at Paul’s. Paul’s priority was God. We see this in chapter 26, where we see three examples of Paul’s priority.

First we see his priority for God before his conversion in verses 4-12. What do I mean that his priority was God before he was saved? Paul grew up in a strict Jewish home, received a strict and prestigious Jewish education, became a Pharisee and living as a “godly” Jew he opposed the Church, and persecuted Christ’s disciples. Paul’s unconverted mind, sold-out to the religious Judaism that he lived and breathed his whole life, was a misguided priority of God. Everything he did before he was saved was, in his mind, for God, he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do. Paul writes in Galatians 1:13-14, “For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” He makes a similar statement in Phillippians 3.

Second we see his priority of God after he received his commission from Christ in verses 19-23. In verses 13-18, Pauls discusses his conversion on the road to Damascus, here he tailors the account for his captive audience and we get more information of the event. Now Paul’s priority changes though it is still on God and doing His will. Before, Paul thought he knew what the will of God was, now God the Son has directly told him what he must do. No longer seeking to punish the disciples of Christ, but go and preach repentance and make disciples of Christ. Paul was now sold out for the Cause of Christ.

Thirdly we see how he fulfills his commission, we see this in verses 20-23 also, but even in verse 29 where Paul makes his final statement in our passage [read 29]. Every opportunity he gets, before the common man or rulers he is keeping his priority on God by proclaiming the Gospel that all might come to repentance and know Christ as Savior.

Paul’s priority was for God, and His will. Paul knew what he had to do. By fulfilling his commission, by proclaiming the gospel, by planting churches his focus was on God’s glory and God’s plan. Paul is the opposite of those verses about Solomon and Abijam, Paul is wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God.

Conclusion:

Where’s your priority? I know I have to course correct, when my priorities are wrong. But if we are living a life devoted to God, if we are living a life of worship to God, God is our priority. We wouldn’t hesitate to what was needed for the Cause of Christ.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #32

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #32

Title: Paul’s 2nd Trial

Acts 24:1-27

Last week we saw Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin which turned into a dangerous debate over doctrine. Some Jews then plotted to kill Paul if the Sanhedrin could get Paul out of the Roman fortress. The Roman Commander, having hearing of the plot, sends Paul with a military escort to Caesarea to the Governor Felix for a more formal trial. 

Will Paul be able to get to Rome soon? What will Felix do?

Prosecutor’s Remarks – vs 1-9

After five days, Paul’s trial can begin. Ananias and a delegation from the Sanhedrin along with lawyer or orator to make their case against Paul.

As was common, those bringing the charges or claim spoke first to present their case to the governor. In true lawyer fashion, especially of the time, Tertullus gives Felix a heavy coating of flattery (2-4). He’s laying it on real thick folks, I doubt very much that any average Jew that would have heard Tertullus’ comments that day would have agreed with him. Both a Roman and a Jewish historian tells us that Felix was rather fierce in his governorship. But the lawyer continues to present his case against Paul. 

There are three charges that the Sanhedrin are leveling against Paul. First: Treason against Rome. They call him a plague or pestilence and an agitator among the Jews. They’re blaming Paul for inciting riots and problems among the Jews throughout the Empire. In recent years there had been uprisings in major cities such as Rome and Alexandria, two places Paul has not been; true Paul was in cities closer to home where riots happened, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, in southern Galatia, and Jerusalem; but we know that he had actually started or incited any of these riots. Second charge: Religious heresy. Paul is called a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”, here they are trying to say he has violated Mosaic Law. The Third charge: Temple desecration. In chapter 21, the original charge was the Paul had brought a Greek in the restricted area, now the Sanhedrin seemed satisfied to soften the charge to Paul had tried to and they had apprehended him. 

Now there is debate over the inclusion of the second half over 6 through the beginning of verse 8, for our purposes today, we will include this section of verses. By including these verses we see that Tertullus is trying to score points against Lysias, and taking an even more free hand with the truth than Lysias had done in his letter. The Jews were trying to keep the peace by having the Temple Police arrest Paul so that the Jews could try him, but Lysias had troops rush in violently to grab Paul and is wasting everyone’s time by making everyone come to Caesarea. Tertullus implies that if Lysias were present Felix could get the same story from him. We know that if Lysias and the Romans had not rescued Paul, the Jewish mob would have beaten him to death, not try him according the Law.

Once Tertullus had finished, the Jewish delegation all vehemently agreed with him and joined in the attack against Paul. The prosecution has rested its case. I think that Tertullus’ tactic was that by accusing Paul of causing Jewish riots around the Empire Felix may just have him executed and be done with it, or if Felix wasn’t convinced of that charge, maybe by claiming the Jews had real legal reasons to try Paul, Felix would just send him back with them to deal with.

Defense’s Rebuttal – vs 10-21

Now that the Jews had given their trumped up charges, Paul was able to speak in his defense. (v 10)

Paul says that Felix was a judge for many years. At this point Felix was Governor of Judea for about 4/5 years, but he had spent time in Samaria serving under his predecessor Cumanus. Paul also starts with a courteous acknowledgement to Felix without stooping to hollow flattery. Tertullus’ hands were covered in whitewash, Paul’s were not.

Paul answers each of the three charges. First he states that it has only been 12 days  since he had arrived in Jerusalem, basically he said he hadn’t been in town long enough to create the trouble they were accusing him, nor did they have witnesses or proof that he had spread sedition throughout the empire (11-13). Secondly, for the charge of heresy, he admits that he is a follower of the Way, but that this doesn’t mean he is a heretic. He still serves the God of the Jews, believes the OT Scriptures and holds to the orthodox Jewish belief of a resurrection (14-16). Paul was actually more orthodox than the Sadducees, who don’t hold to a resurrection, but there may have been a few Pharisees among the delegation from the Sanhedrin. Third, Paul answers the charge of temple desecration, by stating that he had been away for many years, I think it’s been about 4 years since the last time Paul was in Jerusalem at the end of chapter 18, Paul had come back bringing offerings and charitable gifts. Paul states that while he was going about his business of bringing offerings and being charitable, being ritually purified was seen by Jews from Asia. 

Paul tells Felix he wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t supposed to be doing in the Temple, he wasn’t creating a problem, and the Jews from Asia that started the whole thing weren’t even there before Felix to give testimony as to what Paul supposedly did. Paul then remarks that even the Sanhedrin didn’t have grounds to charge Paul, the only thing that upset the council was Paul’s remark that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection. Paul’s statement in verse 16 is the basis of his defense, he always sought to have a clear conscience before God and men, again he isn’t saying he is never wrong or never sins, but he gets things cleared up so his conscience is clear.

Judgement Postponed – vs 22-27

At this point Felix had heard both sides and with some knowledge he postpones his judgement (22).

Felix seems to understand what is going on, how he knew about the Way we don’t know. It is possible that he learned about it while serving in Samaria. Felix states he needs to hear testimony from Lysias before making a judgement. Lysias would be able to give some clarity to the case, as Felix had just heard two contradicting testimonies. Whether Lysias ever comes to Caesarea or not we are not told. Felix keeps Paul in custody in Caesarea until he is able to render a verdict. Paul does have some freedom, specifically mentioned is that Paul was able to receive visitors or other things he may need. If Felix did see that the case against Paul would not stand, he may have been trying to win a few points with the Jews by keeping Paul in custody and therefore out of Jews hair, keeping the Jews out of his hair.

After some time, as we see in verse 24, Felix has Paul brought to him so he and his wife Drusilla could hear more about Jesus and Paul’s faith. Drusilla is called Jewish, she is the daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had James the brother of John killed in chapter 12, roughly 12 years previous. She is also the sister of Herod Agrippa II whom we will meet in upcoming chapters. Drusilla was Felix’s third wife, possibly not quite 20 or in her early 20s at this point. She was betrothed to a prince in eastern Asia Minor but that was called off as the groom didn’t want to become a Jewish proselyte, she was then married to a king of a small state in Syria, but Felix persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him. She did. They had a son named Agrippa, who died in AD 79 when Mt Vesuvius erupted.

In verse 25 we see Paul obliged and began teaching the Christian faith. Specifically mentioned is that Paul spoke on righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgement. Paul took a courageous step by discussing these topics with man who could order his death or had him over to the Jews. But notice the rest of verse 25, “Felix became afraid” and sent Paul away saying he’d call Paul back when he had a chance. Obviously his conscience was bothering him through the Holy Spirit and Paul’s preaching of the Word. Verse 26 also give us an insight into Felix. He was hoping Paul would offer a bribe, so Felix could release him. Of course the behavior was illegal, but sometimes the Roman political wheels turned easier for someone who was able to pay. Where Felix got the idea Paul had the ability to pay a bribe, we can only speculate. Perhaps when Paul had stated that he came to Jerusalem with offerings and charitable givings Felix thought Paul had access to a large amount of funds. Felix is also an example of someone hearing the gospel several times and, as far as we know, not believing, we see that he called for Paul several times to talk with him over the next two years.

Let’s look at verse 27. We just skipped forward two years to about AD 58/59. Paul has been in custody unable to leave the Roman headquarters in Caesarea, speaking to Felix, probably taking any chance to speak to the guards or centurions that were assigned to him as well. But this was two years of not getting to Rome. Felix was recalled because of a riot that broke out between the Jewish and Gentile populations in Caesarea, which Felix ordered troops into the fray to intervene. The troops acted in such a way that there was a lot of bloodshed from the Jewish faction leaders. The Jewish population was so outraged, they were able to force Felix’s recall. Felix could have faced serious consequences when he returned to Rome, except that his brother that helped him get posted there, was very wealthy and had a lot of influence. This explains why Felix was looking “to do the Jews a favor”, if he could placate the Jews by leaving Paul in custody for Festus to deal with, it may have benefited him.

Conclusion:

I think this passage gives us three examples responding to one’s conscience. What do I mean? I think verse 16 is a key part to this chapter, “I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.”

First we see with the previous actions and the accusation from the Jewish Council an example of corrupted or seared consciences. Paul will write to Titus, “To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They claim to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16), and to Timothy, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). In verses 1-9 here in Acts 24, I believe, we see seared and defiled conscience from the unbelieving Jewish Council.

Our second example is Paul himself in verse 16 says he “always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” Job makes a similar statement in Job 27:6, “I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live!” Job knew he had done nothing wrong deserving the hardships he faced and he was saying that his conscience was clear. Now, being a born again Christian is the best thing for a conscience. Hebrews 9:13 and 14 tells us, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” Paul is the example, and he makes several claims throughout his letters of how his conscience was clear, Paul obviously listened to his conscience a lot.

Then with Felix we see a guilty conscience. Verse 25 of our passage today, “Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come Felix became afraid…” Why was Felix afraid? The Holy Spirit through Paul’s teaching of the Word was causing his conscience to bother him and he knew he was guilty and would face judgment. We see other examples of guilty consciences in Scripture as well. In 1 Samuel 24, David sneaks up on Saul and cuts the corner of his robe, and his conscience troubled him. Then in 2 Samuel 24, David again is troubled by his conscience verse 10 of that chapter reads, “David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops. He said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, LORD, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away your servant’s guilt.’”

So I ask, how’s your conscience? 

Is your conscience clear before God and man? Wonderful, keep listening to it.

Is it seared, are you ignoring it? Stop ignoring your conscience. The more you ignore it the easier it is to ignore. Journalist Sydney Harris is credited with saying, “Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a ‘necessary evil,’ it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.”

Is your conscience pricking and picking at you about something? Then deal with it. If it is sin confess it to God and if you are able to, ask forgiveness from the person. If your conscience is prompting you to come to Christ, don’t wait. Now is the time to confess your sins to God and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #31

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #31

Title: Paul’s First Trial

Acts 22:30-23:35

Last week we saw as Paul delivery his defense to the Jewish people. We saw how Paul, through his testimony, demonstrated that the Lord can break into our lives at any point, and that baptism is important to the life of the believer as it publicly identifies us with Christ. We also recognize that the Christian life can be full of danger, but as Christians we need to remain faithful to Christ and what He called us to do.

This week we see Paul still in Roman custody, and still in danger. Paul wanted to get to Rome, will he get the chance?

Paul and the Sanhedrin – 22:30-23:11

After a night in the barracks, Paul is brought before the ruling Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin.

Since the Roman governor wasn’t staying at Jerusalem at the moment, this Roman Commander was essentially the highest Roman official in the city, so when he ordered the Sanhedrin to meet, they met. The Commander needed to find out what trouble Paul was in and if it was serious enough to place him under arrest or to turn him over to the Jews, so the Sanhedrin had to meet to decide to charge Paul or not. Whether this was an informal meeting, a formal council, or something in between we’re not sure on and I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

Paul begins the meeting by stating that he had lived before God with a clear or good conscience all the way up to that moment. Paul is not saying he is sinless, or that he was never wrong, but that his public life was blameless and he had lived up to the demands of the Law. Paul makes a similar statement in Philippians 3:4-6, “although I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.”

But this statement was too much for the High Priest, to him it sounded close to blasphemy, so he ordered that Paul be slapped across the face. Is response Paul makes comment back. Now there is much criticism and debate over the next few verses and whether Paul was right or not. I think that Paul was justifiably angry about this. Paul hadn’t been proven guilty of anything and the High Priest should be counted on to act fairly if he isn’t going to be compassionate. Paul calls the High Priest a “whitewashed wall”, this is similar to Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Paul was calling him a hypocrite. Someone nearby asks Paul if that was any way to talk to the High Priest. Paul’s apology, I think, shows respect for the office, but not for the man that was currently holding it.

Ananias was one of the most corrupt men whoever held the position of High Priest. This man stole tithes from other priests and did whatever it took to increase his own authority. He was known as a brutal man who cared more about gaining favor from Rome, than caring for Israel. Paul’s comment about God striking Ananias proved to be somewhat prophetic. In AD 66 when the Jewish revolt began, Ananias had to run and hide. He was hunted because of his known sympathies for Rome. He was found hiding in an aqueduct in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem where he was killed. Paul’s response in verse 5 has been interpreted in a number of ways. Some think he didn’t actually know who was High Priest, some think Paul had poor eyesight and didn’t really see who had ordered him struck, some even think that this meeting was more informal so Ananias wasn’t wearing the traditional dress for the council, or that Paul was speaking with a touch of sarcasm. I think Paul is using a touch of sarcasm, along the lines of “Could a man like that be high priest?”because he quotes Exodus 22:28, I think he knew that the High Priest was the one who ordered him struck, but he is showing respect for the office and not the man.

Paul changes tactics and realizes the divide of the Sanhedrin between Sadducees and Pharisees. History tells us that Ananias was a Sadducee, and I think Paul maybe knew that he wouldn’t get a fair trial from the Sanhedrin. So Paul claims the issue is his belief in the resurrection, which of course the Sadducees think is heresy that crept in from the Babylonian captivity. These groups were greatly divided on this point. Pharisees begin to say they can’t find anything wrong with Paul and the groups debate grows violent and the Commander orders Paul removed and taken back to the barracks. I can’t help but think that if given the chance, that Paul would have explained further that the real issue was his belief in the resurrection of Jesus Chirst and not just about the teaching of the final resurrection.

That night when Paul was back at the Roman barracks, the Lord appears to him. This is one of 5 visitations from Lord to Paul recorded in Acts. First is the appearance on the Damascus Road (9:3-6), a few years later Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision in the Temple (22:17-21), then when Paul was in Corinth and thinking of heading elsewhere the Lord appears in a vision (18:9-10), then this appearance and then in the storm at sea in chapter 27:23-25 an angel is sent to encourage him. 

For this visit the Lord had three things for Paul. First, “have courage” or “be of good cheer”. The Lord is always near and always with us, we can have courage in difficult times because we know this. Second, Paul was commended for testifying about Jesus there in Jerusalem. I think this confirms the thought that Paul was supposed to come to Jerusalem, and though the Jews didn’t respond to his witness, Paul testified of Jesus. Third, Paul knew that he would get to Rome. Christ told him that he needed to testify there as well. Since Ephesus Paul had wanted to get to Rome, now he knew he would get there. Paul just needed to trust the Lord to work out His plan.

Secret Plots – 23:12-22

Whether Paul had any ideas of what was going to happen next, I don’t know. He knew he would get to Rome and be able to testify and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. But some Jews weren’t ready to give up yet.

Forty men, possibly Jews from the region of Asia that started the riot a couple of days previous, bound themselves into a vow with each other calling down a curse from God on themselves if they didn’t kill Paul. To add to their urgency, they swore off eating and drinking until the murder was done. There is a tradition that such a vow could be rendered void if it could not be completed because of reasonable constraint. These conspirators then go to some of the members of the Sanhedrin, certain elders and chief priests, to inform them of their vow and to get their assistance to get Paul in the open. One source remarks that these men, “knew how morally rotten their leaders were, or they would not have suggested such a scheme to them” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 170). What did they need from the Sanhedrin? They wanted the leaders to request Paul be brought back for another hearing so the Sanhedrin could question Paul more, but the conspirators would make sure, that once Paul was out of the fortress, Paul would never make it to the council room. These men must have thought themselves so pious, so zealous for God and thought Paul was such a problem that murder was the only way to bring peace to Judaism.

But something these conspirators didn’t know, was that their plot was known. We don’t know anymore about Paul’s sister and nephew than what is recorded here. How did this young man hear of the plot? We can only speculate. Perhaps he was in Jerusalem for his education just like his uncle, or perhaps he and his mother lived in Jerusalem and were known at the temple. It is generally thought that they weren’t fellow Christians as Paul’s comment in Philippians 3:8 of “I have suffered the loss of all things” is inferred to include Paul being disinherited from his family. 

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Paul wasn’t under arrest in the fortress, he was more or less under protective custody. He was an unconvicted, and uncharged, Roman citizen, therefore he was allowed to receive visitors, and centurions saw to it that many things Paul requested were done. So once Paul heard about this plot he called for a centurion and instructed that his nephew be brought to the commander to repeat the information.

The commander receives the young man, and perhaps, since Paul sent this messenger the commander may have realized that this might be a serious matter and led the young man to a more private area where he was told of the plot against Paul. The Commander understood the seriousness of the plot and sent Paul’s nephew home instructing him not to let anyone know that he had met with the commander about the plot.

Safety in Caesarea – 23:23-35

The Commander knew he had to act quickly to get Paul to safety, as Jerusalem was obviously the last place for Paul to stay, and he wasn’t going to take any chances.

If the Jews wanted to kill Paul so bad, they’d have to convince the governor or try to overtake 470 Roman troops during the night. After issuing his orders to his centurions, he needed to write a letter to Felix. How Luke knew what was written is not known, but we can speculate that Paul may have heard the letter read and told Luke the basic parts of the letter. We read for the first time the name of the commander, Claudius Lysias. More than likely he was a Greek has his second name is Lysias, and he purchased his Roman citizenship during the reign of Emperor Claudius as Claudius became is primary name. Claudius makes a change in the timeline of discovering Paul’s citizenship to remove himself from any discipline for his actions. But he continues to say that all he was able to determine is that the problem is based on Jewish doctrines and law, and nothing that warranted Paul’s imprisonment or death. But with the discovery of the plot to kill Paul, Claudius was forced to send Paul to Felix for Paul’s protection and to let Felix try the case.

That night about 9 pm, or the third hour of the night, those centurions with the 70 cavalry, 200 spearman and 200 soldiers left with Paul heading to Caesarea. In what was probably a forced march or quick march, the whole group arrived at Antipatris which is about 35 miles north of Jerusalem. Now at the foot of the Judaen hills, and the conspirators left behind them, Paul no longer needed such an escort. The next morning the group split with the infantry returning to Jerusalem and Paul escorted by the 70 cavalry continued to Caesarea. When they arrived, they brought Paul and the letter from Claudius to Felix the Governor.

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 Felix read the letter and then asked Paul what city he was from. If Paul was from a small client kingdom, it would be politically and diplomatically better for Felix to consult with that ruler, but upon learning Paul was from the Roman Province of Cilicia he could render judgement on his own without consulting anyone else. Felix became governor of Judea about AD 52, about 4 years previous to our passage. He wasn’t really well liked by many Jews as there was an increase of insurgency by more militant Jews, but Felix was rather ruthless in putting the uprisings down which upset more moderate Jews and led to more uprisings. A Roman historian summarized Felix’s character and career by quipping, “he exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave”. This was the man Paul’s fate now rested with, of course Paul knew and trusted that the Lord would do what He said, that Paul would testify about Him in Rome itself. Felix ordered that Paul stay there in the fortress, the palace Herod the Great and built for himself that the Roman governors used as their home and in Judae. Paul would have to wait for the representative from the Sanhedrin to come before a hearing could happen.

Conclusion:

Paul still in custody, but in a less dangerous place than in Jerusalem, still unable to get to Rome yet. But Paul is trusting that the Lord would do what He said, Paul continued to trust God.

What can we take away from this passage?

We need to trust God in difficult and even dangerous situations to do His will. This is especially true if we have been and continue to do what the Lord has commanded us to do as Christians. Jesus promised in Matthew 28, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

 Remember God has established the government, which means as long as we have legal means and the government still protects the rights of its citizens, we do not need to be afraid of using legal means. God can use one person in or before the government to work His will and plan.

Paul was confident that the Lord would work His plan out, are you? Paul was willing to lay his life down for the cause of Christ, it is an easy thing to say but hard when put the test. What are we willing to do for the cause of Christ?

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #30

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #30

Title: Paul’s Address to Jerusalem

Acts 21:37-22:29

Last time we saw Paul finish his third missionary journey as he came to Jerusalem, gave an account of the Lord’s work in Asia, Macedonia, and Greece. We saw that we each need to follow God’s will for our lives by spending time in the Word and in prayer, we saw that we shouldn’t say, “The Lord’s will be done” without sincerity, without meaning it, and that we shouldn’t expect an easy life or easy path when we follow Christ.

Today, we continue the drama of the riot started in the temple focused on Paul and his ministry.

Paul’s Plea – 21:37-22:2

Paul had been beaten because of false accusations by a Jewish mob, arrested by the local Roman Commander, and then carried to the top of the stairs of the Roman fortress because the mob was still in such a violent state. This is where find Paul now.

Paul wants to address the crowd and try to explain himself and quiet them, but first he has to get permission from the Roman Commander. This Commander, mistakenly thought Paul was an Egyptian who had led a failed revolt in Jerusalem a few years previous. This Egyptian apparently came to Jerusalem, claimed to be a prophet, convinced a large number of men to join him, convinced them he could miraculously cause walls to collapse so the revolt could catch the Romans off guard and regain the city. Of course this failed as Felix had ordered Roman soldiers to meet them, causing a number of people to get killed, and this Egyptian had been able to escape. This commander assumed Paul was this man and wasn’t surprised that the Jewish population was attacking so if it were that man. But Paul caught the commander off guard by addressing him in educated Greek and explains that he himself is a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia.

Paul standing on the steps of the Antonia Fortress, with guards around, motioned with his hands in someway to quiet the mob down so that he could speak. Paul, the master public speaker, ever knowing how to address whatever audience he had, spoke in the local language, Aramaic [read 40-2]. Paul addresses the crowd in a manner similar to Stephen, by calling them “brothers and fathers” he begins by addressing them in the native language and by stating he is Jewish as well. When they heard him address them in Aramaic the crowd grew even quieter. At least now their interest was piqued and would listen to him.

Paul’s Proclamation – 22:3-22

Paul now having the attention of the mob, that just minutes before was trying to kill him, begins to explain to them who is and his Jewish pedigree.

Paul began his defense by telling this crowd that he is as Jewish as they are. Though he was born in a foreign city, he was raised in Jerusalem. As far as his education, he couldn’t have gotten any better than learning the law and traditions from the famous Gamaliel. Gamaliel, you’ll remember from chapter 5 warned the Sanhedrin against using too strong of force against the Apostles and the Church, in case they were God’s messengers. Paul continues by describing his zeal for God and Judaism.

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Paul didn’t condemn this mob for nearly killing him, he simply chalked it up to their zeal for God and the holiness of God’s Temple. He then goes on to describe the lengths he went to in the name of God and Judaism to eliminate the Way, the Church. He also adds that if any of them doubted what he said about his zeal, they could check with the High Priest or the Sanhedrin.

Paul then continues with his testimony by describing his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul had stated he was persecuting the Way, those who were Jews and disciples of Jesus. At this point, almost every Jew that was listening to Paul had heard of the Way. But as Paul is recounting his experience with the resurrected Lord, he repeats what Jesus Himself had said. Paul had just equated Jesus to God (called Him “Lord” three times in those 5 verses) and had stated that by persecuting the Jesus’ disciples he had been persecuting Jesus. He mentions that those who were with him, saw the light, and couldn’t hear the words of Jesus. It is possible that they only heard Paul’s side of the conversation. 

Paul remarks that because of this event, he had lost his sight and had to be led into Damascus by his companions. Here Paul, ever mindful of who his audience is, says that Ananias, who is called in chapter 9 a disciple, a term Luke uses to describe Christians, was a devout Jew with a good reputation with the Jews in Damascus. And this devout Jew was sent by God to return Paul’s sight. But not only that, Ananias was there to deliver a message and bestow Paul’s commission from the Lord. Paul continues to direct his Jewish audience to legitimacy of his claims by using familiar Judaic and Messianic terms. “The God of our ancestors (or fathers)”, “the Righteous One”. Verse 15 is the commission, “since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard.” Now the reading of verse 16, in every translation I looked at reads in a similar way, but the list part should be translated, “having called on His name” which better indicates that it is the calling on the name of Jesus that saves or cleanses, not baptism. Water baptism is a picture of our identifying with Jesus and shows our new spiritual condition. Water baptism has no supernatural powers that affects our standing before God, it is an act of obedience and devotion.

Verses 17-21 shows that the Lord was involved in Paul’s calling. Paul again directs his audience to the Jewishness of the experience. The crowd would have been impressed by the fact that Paul was praying in the Temple and received a vision from God. Paul receives a warning from Jesus that a Jewish element was seeking to kill him and that Paul should leave Jerusalem. But Paul tells us here that he actually debate with the Lord. He wanted to stay and continue to preach to the Jews, showing that Jesus was Lord and that Paul was a new man, maybe to undo some of the damage he did earlier, especially for the killing of Stephen. But the Lord told him to go because Paul would be the Lord’s messenger far away to the Gentiles.

That did it. To the first century Jews the thought that their God, the God of the patriarchs, the God of Moses, would show concern for the Gentiles was unimaginable. To the crowd, this rabbi was speaking blasphemy, and their original intention was right, kill him! Apparently they missed the point of the book of Jonah, where God teaches the prophet that He cares for people, even the wicked, Gentile city of Nineveh.

Paul’s Protection – 22:23-29

The crowd had listened to Paul up to the Lord sending him to the Gentiles. Upon hearing this unthinkable idea, they began shouting to have Paul killed again.

With the crowd yelling, throwing dust in the air and waving their coats about, the Commander, who evidently didn’t speak Aramaic, knew whatever Paul was saying had enraged the mob again and ordered that Paul be taken into the fortress for interrogation. The commander ordered that Paul was to be scourged as part of his interrogation. We’ve heard this language before, when Pilate turned Jesus over to be crucified the process began with this scourging. This is the Roman flagellum, where the victim is tied to post with his bare back exposed to the soldiers swinging a whip with multiple leather strips which had pieces of metal or bone or pottery embedded into the leather. If the victim didn’t die from the whipping, he could be crippled the rest of his life. 

Paul was been beaten by rods 3 times by this point (once in Philippi) and received the Jewish lashing 5 times, but none of these would compare to the torture that the Commander had just ordered for Paul.

As the soldiers were tying Paul to the post, Paul called out to the centurion in charge. With that new information the centurion put a hold on the interrogation as he went to the commander and reported that Paul had claimed Roman citizenship. The Romans had protected Paul from the crowd, and now Paul was using Roman legality as protection from the soldiers. This information about Paul made the commander come out and ask Paul himself. Roman citizens were not to be whipped in this manner or beaten by the authorities unless they were convicted of some crime. The Commander comes and asks Paul if it was true, to which Paul replies yes. The Commander then states that he paid a large sum of money to gain his citizenship. This meant he paid a bribe to some magistrate or someone of influence to gain his citizenship, this was not unheard of at the time. However, to the Commander’s amazement Paul states he was born a citizen. This means, that at the very least Paul’s father had gained citizenship, possibly his grandfather, how this happened is unsure, but Paul was legal Roman by the son of Roman citizen. This scene tends to mean that when Paul told the Commander he was a citizen of an important city at the end of chap 21, the Commander took that to mean of Tarsus only and not of Rome. 

Everyone present knew that the entire procedure was illegal. Those who were going to administer the whipping left. The wording here at the end of verse 29 where the Commander is alarmed because he had Paul “bound” more than likely is in reference to the chains Paul was shackled with at the Temple and not just tying him to the whipping post. Paul remained in the barracks for the evening, probably in a cell, but he was spared any further beating for the day. 

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Paul, addressing the crowd, may have stood on the same steps that Christ did when Pilate presented Him to the crowd and they responded with “crucify”. Paul, when being prepared for the scourging, may have been tied to the same post that Christ was tied too when He received the scourging. I wonder if these things went through Paul’s mind that night as he rested and decompressed. I also wonder if Christ’s own words to and about Paul went through his mind, in Acts 9:16 Christ tells Ananias of Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name”; then in our passage during Paul’s speech he told the crowd what Christ had said in the last part of verse 18, “they will not accept your testimony about me”.

Conclusion:

What can we take away from our passage:

That we need to be ready for the Lord to break into our lives. You may not have a dramatic experience like on the Damascus Road, but every salvation testimony is glorifying to God.

Baptism is a symbol, a way to publicly identify with your Savior, we shouldn’t shirk from that.

The Christian life can lead to danger, as Christians we need to trust that God is working out His plan, we need to remain faithful to what He has called us too.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #29

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #29

Title: Back in Jerusalem

Acts 21:1-36

Last week we saw Paul the Pastor as he was saying goodbye to several churches heading for Jerusalem. We saw how we need to encourage each other to remain faithful to Christ and the gospel, that we should regularly attend church, and that we need to invest in each other’s lives and pray for one another.

This week Paul finishes his third journey as he comes to Jerusalem.

Continuing Voyage and Warnings – vv 1-14

We continue our journey from Miletus. Luke uses the phrase, “we tore ourselves away”. This is the same verb, but more active and intentional, that is used in describing leading disciples away in 20:30. We see that emotion in this phrase. Nobody wanted to say goodbye, but the ship needs to set sail.

These first 4 verses here continue with travel route the group was taking. In verse 2 we see that they were in the city of Patara and found s ship sailing for Phoenicia. This was probably a larger merchant or cargo vessel as we see it sailed directly into the open Mediterranean bypassing Cyprus straight for Tyre. Sources say that this trip would have taken 5 days, but this greatly decreased the journey time from staying close to the coast as smaller ships would have had to do. In verse 4 they arrive at Tyre, the major port city of the region of Phoenicia. Their ship took seven days to get all the appropriate cargo off the ship and to the right merchant. 

During that time Paul and the others sought out and stayed with local disciples. This church was more than likely started during the dispersion after the death of Stephen. We are told here that these disciples also warned Paul about going to Jerusalem, through the Spirit. We don’t know what this looked like, but we know that these disciples were warned by the Spirit about Paul’s time in Jerusalem and they urged him not to go. We saw last time that Paul was warned in every city they stopped at by the time they reached Miletus, but we also saw in chapter 19 that Paul was bound by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and Paul said in chapter 20 that he was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Paul could not be dissuaded from his mission. One source highlights Luke’s parallel between Jesus and Paul upon heading to Jerusalem. In Luke 9:51 we read of Jesus, “When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem.” When their time in Tyre came to an end, the disciples and their families escorted Paul and the others to the beach where the group prayed together before parting ways.

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From Tyre the sailed to Ptolemais, this city was known before the Greco-Roman time as Acre and would be again, but in the OT this city is known as Acco a city which the children of Israel failed to clear when they settled the land. Here Paul and the others stayed a day with disciples before sailing to Caesarea Maritima. This was the provincial capital for Roman Judea, the governor’s home was here at the largest port city in Judea. Here Luke tells us that the group stays with a person we haven’t seen since the end of chapter 8 about 25 years previous. Paul and the others stayed at the home of Philip the evangelist. Philip had traveled through the region preaching and then drops from the narrative of Acts when he reached Caesarea. It seems he settled down here as we now see that he has four daughters who have the gift of prophecy.

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After several days with Philip and his family, another person from the past comes from Judea to address Paul. The prophet Agabus who traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch to help teach and establish that church and had prophesied a famine in chapter 11 came to Caesarea. Once there he gave Paul a prophecy with all the visual drama of an OT prophet. What do I mean by that? Listen to how one source puts it, “As Ahijah the Shilonite tore his new cloak to show how Solomon’s kingdom would be disrupted (1 Kings 11:29-39), as Isaiah went about naked and barefoot to show how the Egyptians would be led into captivity by the Assyrians (Isa 20:2-4), as Ezekiel mimicked the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem by laying siege himself to a replica of the city (Ezek 4:1-3), so Agabus foretold the binding of Paul by tying himself up with Paul’s [belt]” (Bruce, F.F. NICNT: The Book of the Acts, © 1988, p401). In this prophecy, we see a resemblance to Jesus’ own words about His arrest and delivery to the Gentiles in Luke 18:32.

Agabus’ prophecy sent Luke, the traveling party and the local Christians into a passionate attempt to plead Paul from continuing to Jerusalem. Some think Paul was wrong to keep going to Jerusalem, that he may have been going against the will of God. We should remember that Paul’s ministry has been led by a sensitivity to the Spirit, as in Acts 16:6-10. These prophecies, especially Agabus’ only seem to give fact, not prohibition. They were stating what would happen, not that Paul shouldn’t go. These prophecies may have been just warnings for Paul to be prepared for what would happen. After some passionate pleading by close friends and fellow Christians, Paul states that he is not only ready to arrested but to die for the cause of Christ if needed. The others’ response I believe was a natural concern for their dear friend, but they realized they couldn’t convince him to change his mind so they responded with a “The Lord’s will be done.” Here we see an echo of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane in Luke 22:42.

Concerns in the Church – vv 15-25

After the final prophecy in Caesarea, the group went on to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea came with them to bring them to the home of Mnason. Mnason was an early convert, maybe even as early as Pentecost, who was originally from Cyprus. It is unclear as to where his home was, whether it was in Jerusalem or somewhere between Caesarea and Jerusalem as that 60-70 mile distance was more than a single day’s travel.

The day after they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul and his party went and met with James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. After a warm welcome from the church, and greeting James and the other elders Paul recounts his latest ministry journey in Asia and Greece causing them to rejoice. There is no direct mention of the relief funds that Paul and the others were bringing here in the text, but it may have been given to the elders during Paul’s report.

After Paul’s report, the leadership in Jerusalem begin to discuss with him a growing concern about Paul within the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. There were rumors going around that Paul was teaching other believing Jews that lived in Gentile cities to not bother with the Mosaic Law. The first line in verse 22 they ask “what is to be done about this?” We know from other passages that Paul never forgot his Jewish heritage and never encouraged any other Jewish Christian to forget the Jewish heritage, but he did resist the idea of forcing Gentile Christians to follow the Mosaic law, especially as a safeguard to better their position before God. I think that James and the Elders were concerned that with the large number of Jews in Jerusalem for the festival and Paul in town as well would set off a major problem.  I think James and the elders knew Paul well enough to know these rumors were false, but I think to help keep the peace, promote unity, and put an end to these rumors they had an idea for Paul.

There were four men who had taken a vow, this is usually thought to be the Nazarite vow, and had to be purified before they could complete the vow, it is possible they had been defiled during their vow possibly by coming in contact with a dead body. It was suggested to Paul that he put a rest these rumors by publicly show his respect for the Mosaic Law by purifying himself, since he was ritually unclean after 3 plus years in Gentile lands, along with these men and pay for or at least defer the cost of the offerings that these men needed to complete their vow. Paul agreed to this suggestion. Some criticize Paul for going along with this, thinking the was a mistake. However, I disagree. Paul writes about his ministry in 1 Cor 9:19-22, “’Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law — though I myself am not under the law — to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law — though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ — to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.”  Also, no one had forgotten the Jerusalem Council back in chapter 15, the elders reference it here. They may have had copies to go back with Paul’s companions to take back to the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and the others. I think Paul knew exactly what he was doing, and that he trusted God to do what He would.

Contentious Jews in the Temple – vv 26-36

The next day, Paul joins with the four men under the vow, began the purification time of seven days and went to the temple to determine when the offerings would be made and to make the arrangements for the offerings.

The near the end of the 7 day purification process, Paul was back in the temple. At the same time so unbelieving Jews from Asia, probably Ephesus, saw Paul there. These Jews were already antagonistic towards Paul, whether out of a mistaken assumption (which is how the verse comes across) or out of intentional ill-will towards Paul they grab Paul and call for help leveling extremely serious allegations against him.

Gentiles were only allowed so far into the temple complex. They could go as far as the Court of the Gentiles otherwise called the Outer Court, but any further than that and they could and would be executed. Now you’re thinking that the Romans were the only ones allowed to execute, the Jews couldn’t do it. And typically that was correct, but with this law, the Romans gave Israel the right, even against Roman citizens. There were signs in Greek and Latin around the barriers of the inner courts that warned any foreigner who went pass had only himself to blame for his death. Now since Paul was trying to dispel rumors and allegations about him, I find it hard to believe he would bring Trophimus to the Temple, let alone past the Outer Court. If Paul had done that, Trophimus would have been the one to die, though Paul would be an accessory and probably killed too.

This cry of alarm did what one would expect. A riot broke out as several men rushed Paul dragged him out of the inner courts and the temple police shut the gate to preserve the sanctity of the Temple from any further violations. This appears to be a turning point. F. F. Bruce writes, “For Luke himself, this may have been the moment when the Jerusalem temple ceased to fill the honorable role hitherto ascribed to it in his twofold history. The exclusion of God’s message and messenger from the house once called by His name sealed its doom: it was now ripe for the destruction which Jesus had predicted for it many years before (Luke 21:6)” (Bruce, p410).

At the northwest corner of the temple complex attached by stairs and tunnels was the Antonia Fortress. This was the Roman stronghold in Jerusalem, and was attached to the temple to control riots, like now. At this point the whole temple complex was in an uproar as many were beating Paul trying to kill him. At some point, maybe a Roman guard looking down from the fortress seeing this riot, the regiment or legion commander was notified of the riot. We can assume that at least two centurions were there, meaning at least 200 men and the commander came down the stairs from the fortress and into the outer court. Seeing two centuries of Romans coming toward them, the Jews stopped beating Paul and back away. Assuming Paul had done something, the commander order Paul arrested, and bound with two chains. The commander then tries to get to the bottom of what had happened [read 34]. The crowd was still so enraged at Paul that by the time he got the steps his escort had to carry him up the stairs while the crowd shouted, “Get rid of him! Away with him!” Attacked and beaten by the Jews, Paul was rescued and carried off by the Romans.

Conclusion:

What can we take away from this passage today?

We need to follow God’s will. How? We need to be in the word and in prayer.

We need to learn to say, and mean, “the Lord’s will be done”, even if it is something we don’t like.

We should listen to fellow believers, but ultimately we have to choose to follow God.

Though the suffering Paul was going through and would continue to go through was part of Jesus’ commission of Paul, we should know that following Christ doesn’t mean we will have an easy life free from suffering. 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #28

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #28

Title: Paul the Pastor

Acts 20:1-38

Review of 19:1-41

Last time we looked at Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Paul spent the longest amount of time in Ephesus than in any other city during his recorded journeys. We saw that Paul was constantly working and proclaiming the gospel. We were reminded in Ephesus of the spiritual battles that we are in engaged in as Christians.

Here we see Paul continue his third journey and return to Jerusalem.

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Paul Gathers Funds for Judea – vv 1-6

After the riot was dispersed and calm had returned to the city, Paul gathered the disciples there and encourages them before he leaves for Macedonia. We get a brief statement that Paul went through Macedonia offering a word of encouragement and then went to Greece. But with a little detective work, we can glimpse parts of this journey from Paul’s writings. From passages in 2 Corinthians we see that Paul had sent Titus to Corinth, possibly with 1 Corinthians or the lost letter Paul had sent them. Since Titus was not at Troas, they met in Macedonia where Titus gave a good report helping to relieve concerns Paul had. During this time in Macedonia, Paul may have gone into the Province of Illyricum which is west of Macedonia and borders the Adriatic Sea, since Paul references himself ministering there in Romans 15. Paul may have also mentioned and began gathering the companions and relief fund to assist the needs in the Judean churches.

We see that Paul continued on into Greece/Achaia and this is generally thought to mean he returned to Corinth and spent 3 months there. During his time in Corinth, Paul wrote the book of Romans. Now Paul may have been planning on going back to Antioch in Syria before heading to Jerusalem, but the Jewish population in Corinth was plotting against him again, so he changed plans and returned by land back through Macedonia to Philippi. 

Here we get a list of names of men from churches in Macedonia and Asia who are with Paul traveling back to Jerusalem, but it is probable that these men are messengers from those churches with the relief funds to go to Judea. One man from Berea, Sopater, two from Thessalonica, Aristarchus and Secundus. We see one from Galatia, Gaius of Derbe, and two from Asia, Tychicus, and Trophimus. Now Timothy is listed and we know he is from Lystra in Galatia, but Timothy may have already been with Paul in Macedonia. There is no mention of a representative from Philippi, but that may have been Luke, as another “we passage” appears in verses 5 and 6. Timothy and the others leave for Troas before Paul and Luke. It is assumed the Luke rejoins Paul here at Philippi, as the last “we-section” ended at Philippi in chapter 16. Paul and Luke leave for Troas after the Feast of Unleavened Bread which immediately follows Passover. As we will see in a few verses, Paul wants to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost, so time was of the essence.

We see is this section that Paul continues to take a personal interest in the churches he planted or were planted by co-workers. When Paul had the chance to visit those churches he did so to encourage them to remain faithful to Christ and the gospel. We cannot be unfaithful to Christ or the gospel and do the work for the cause of Christ.

Paul’s Travels from Troas – vv7-16

Paul is finishing his stay in Troas. We are told they stayed seven days, then on the first day of the week, Sunday, the church met together. We don’t know when the early church moved their worship time to Sunday instead of Saturday, but we can assume that the why is to remember the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In the account before us, it appears that the church met in the evening as their time of worship. As Paul may have already been receiving warnings about arriving in Jerusalem, and I think it is likely, Paul took the opportunity to encourage this church as well as to say good-bye.

image from freebibleimages.org

Paul was speaking, late into the night. We are told he spoke until midnight. Now there were no electric lights, no air conditioning or fans. The room was full of people, oil lamps burned adding to the heat, and it was very late at night. Nobody can blame Eutychus for being drowsy and falling asleep. He may have moved closer to the window to help him stay awake, but sleep overtook him. They were meeting on the third story, Eutychus fell back out of the window three stories and died. We don’t know how young Eutychus was, it is thought that he may have been a servant, so it is possible that he was between 8 and 14. Luke may have been one of the first to arrive on the scene and confirmed that Eutychus was dead. But then Paul arrived. Look at verse 10. Paul in a manner similar to Elijah in 1 Kings 17:21-22, bent over the body of the boy, embraced him and then declared Eutychus alive. Paul may have even prayed the prayer of Elijah, saying “LORD my God, please let this boy’s life come into him again”. 

They return to the upper room and continue their meeting, as we see Paul speaking until daybreak. It is possible that this second reference to breaking bread may not be the Lord’s table, but may have been a late snack or, if they hadn’t had the fellowship meal the usually accompanied the Lord’s Table, they may have been enjoying the meal at this time. I think this time was more laid back and focused on fellowship. At daybreak, Eutychus went home alive and the church was encouraged.

Paul sent Luke and the others by ship to the next port at the city of Assos, but Paul walked the 20 or so miles and met them there. Paul may have stayed a little longer in Troas to finish some farewells, or he wanted to spend the time alone with God. I think Paul may have already been receiving warnings about the danger for him in Jerusalem, and that he took the time walking to Assos to pray and spend time with God. The next few verses (14-16) describe the group’s island hopping along the Asian cost in the Aegean Sea. We see Paul skipped past Ephesus and went to Miletus instead. He wanted to visit, to encourage and say farewell in that region as well, but he was trying his best to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost and the clock was ticking. You’ll remember that Pentecost is 50 days after Passover, at this point in Miletus at least 24 days have passed. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, five days sailing to Troas, seven days in Troas, and another 5 days between Troas and Miletus.

Here we see the importance of regular attendance to church and staying awake. Warren Wiersbe made the following observation: “Perhaps each of us should ask ourselves, ‘What really keeps me awake?’ Christians who slumber during one hour in church somehow manage to stay awake during early morning fishing trips, lengthy sporting events and concerts, or late-night TV specials” (Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Daring. © 1988, p84).

We all see Paul’s care for individuals in the church as well. We said earlier that Paul was returning to Jerusalem to bring the offerings raised by these churches to the needy Christians in Judea. Paul not only wanted to build up the churches through preaching and teaching but through the care of individuals as well.

Paul’s Farewell and Charge to the Ephesian Elders – vv17-38

Paul the others stopped in Miletus. Miletus is about 30 miles south of Ephesus. In the pre-Roman days, Miletus held more importance than Ephesus. Miletus sits on a small peninsula and had three harbors operating. From Miletus Pauls for the Elders of the Ephesian church. Paul had spent two and a half to three years with these men ministering to and alongside them. If this was going to be the last he saw them, he wanted to do so face-to-face and give them one final charge.

Paul begins his address in verses 18-21 by reminding them of his history with them, that since the beginning of his third journey he was determined to be in Ephesus. He reminds them that he served God with humility and through trials and plots from the Jews. He reminds them that he taught publicly and privately and didn’t discriminate between Jew or Gentile. He taught anyone who would listen the way of salvation. 

In verses 22-25 he tells them that his future is uncertain, but it appears that hardships await him and that he will likely not see this group again. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit was warning Paul, it could have been with prophets in similar ways to what we see in 21:10-11. But Paul was determined to remain faithful and he knew that he was innocent before God no matter what happens in Jerusalem. In the following verses (26-27), he explains why he was innocent. 

Starting in verse 28 Paul begins to issue his challenge to the Elders from Ephesus. The first thing I see here is that Paul is addressing these men as pastors and leaders. We are told in verse 17 that they are elders of the church. Here in verse 28, Paul calls them overseers, this is the same word in 1 Timothy 3, sometimes translated bishop. Still, here Paul tells them to shepherd the flock, this is the same word and language Peter uses in 1 Peter 5 when he addresses church elders. Acts 20 is key to understanding pastoral ministry and we see these terms used interchangeably, referring to one office with 3 titles. The other things we see here are that these pastors not only need to guard the flock, that is the church, but themselves as well. Pastors need to be aware of the dangers to the church. 

Paul continues in verse 29 with what some of those dangers will be [read 29]. In the immediate context, Paul is concerned that once he is out of the picture in Ephesus and the other surrounding churches, that false teachers and others wishing ill for the churches will come and lead some astray and seek to destroy the churches. Paul tells them that even some of the men there before him would begin teaching false doctrine, he can also mean individuals from the congregation causing division, seeking power, or being false teachers themselves. So Paul tells these pastors to be alert, not to be careless, and to remember his example of constantly teaching and warning every day for those three years he spent in Ephesus.

Verses 32-35 Paul uses himself as an example to these pastors . In verse 32 he warns them not to be shallow. Paul commends these men to God and God’s Word. Pastors need to spend time in prayer and the Word as much as the everyday Christian, if not more. Verse 33 Paul reminds them not to covet. It is easy to see the wealth of other people and to want it for yourself and it can be more difficult for those in full-time ministry when their church members have a level of wealth, but the pastor, missionary, full-time Christian worker should be a servant leader and not given to covetousness. In verse 34 Paul reminds them that he literally worked for everything he had and still devoted himself to teach and preach daily. There are other passages that teach that the church should care for its leaders, and think the other point here is to not be lazy. Pastors should not only be willing to do the work but when it is time to work, they do the work and earn what they receive. 

Then in verse 35, he reminds them that selfishness has no place in ministry. Christian service is not about receiving, but giving. Paul quotes Jesus’ own word of “it is better to give than to receive”. Now you’re not going to find those words in any of the gospel accounts. “This saying is one of the agrapha, a term, used to describe sayings of Jesus which are not recorded in the four gospels. That thee were many such can hardly be doubted” as John 21:25 tells us (Kent Jr., Homer A. Jerusalem To Rome © 1972, p158).

Paul finishes his time with the Ephesian Elders by praying with and for these beloved coworkers. It was difficult for everyone to say goodbye. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place, they took turns hugging him and as was the custom a affectionate kiss on the cheek. They were all grieving because as far as anyone knew at this point, Paul could have been going to his death, and he nearly did. But his friends escorted him to the ship and he sailed for Jerusalem.

Paul here was not only concerned for the churches, or the individual members of the churches, but for the leaders of the church. Just as churches and their members need to be encouraged and challenged, so do their leaders and pastors.

Conclusion:

Warren Wiersbe said of Paul’s meeting with the Ephesian Elders, “…is unique in that it reveals Paul the pastor rather than Paul the evangelist or Paul the defender of the faith” (Wiersbe, p85). I think he is right, but I think we can expand that statement. How we see Paul in Acts 20 is not Paul the evangelist as in chapters 13, 14, and 17; not Paul the apologist as is in chapters 22, 23, 24, and 26, but here we see Paul the pastor. Caring for multiple flocks, individual sheep, and fellow shepherds.

You’re thinking, “that’s great for you, but not all of us are pastors or leaders”.

We need to encourage each other to remain faithful to Christ and the gospel. We cannot be unfaithful to Christ or the gospel and say we are for the cause of Christ.

We need to be intentional and regular in our church attendance.

The church is built of individuals that need each need specific care and attention.

We need to be praying with and for each other. We need to be invested in each other to pray for our church and one another.

Even pastors need prayer and encouragement as we guard and tend to the flock.