Monday, April 23, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 83, The Roman Commander Delivers Paul To The Sanhedrin For Questioning

The Apostle Paul has been addressing a crowd at Jerusalem from the steps of a Roman garrison near the temple mount. He related to them that God told him in a vision that his own people would reject his message about Christ. God told him that instead he would be sent far away to preach to the Gentiles.

The mob has been listening silently until he mentions the Gentiles, but these particular enemies of Paul also harbor an intense hatred for the Gentiles. They are enraged by the very idea that God would have anything at all to say to people they consider unclean and unworthy of salvation. "The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, 'Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!'" (Acts 22:22)

This mob's attitude doesn't represent the attitude of everyone present in Jerusalem. The mob was begun by the men from Asia Minor who previously caused Paul trouble there. They stirred up the anger of men who were already prejudiced against Christians and Gentiles. There are thousands of extra people in the city because of Pentecost, and in a crowd that large anywhere there are going to be troublemakers. It wasn't that difficult for Paul's enemies from Asia Minor to incite a riot.

"As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks." (Acts 22:23-24a) The men are likely flinging their cloaks off in preparation to stoning Paul to death, just as men flung their cloaks off to stone Stephen to death. The commander quickly orders Paul to be brought inside.

"He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, 'Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?'" (Acts 22:24b-25) Rome's legal system was very clear about the enormous amount of rights granted to its citizens. The commander has already broken the law by binding and arresting a Roman citizen. Flogging him without a trial and conviction would be a very serious crime, a crime for which the commander could face the loss of his job or something even worse.

"When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. 'What are you going to do?' he asked. 'This man is a Roman citizen.' The commander went to Paul and asked, 'Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?' 'Yes, I am,' he answered. 'Then the commander said, 'I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.' 'But I was born a citizen,' Paul replied." (Acts 22:26-28) Before Claudius became the emperor it cost a large sum for anyone not born free to obtain Roman citizenship. The commander must have bought his citizenship under a previous emperor if it cost him a great deal of money. Some Bible scholars believe Paul was automatically a citizen because he was born in the free Roman territory of Tarsus. Others dispute the claim that a Jew would have been granted automatic citizenship no matter where he was born in the Roman Empire, so they assert that citizenship was bestowed upon either Paul's father or grandfather under either Emperor Tiberius or Emperor Caligula for some valuable service rendered to Rome.

The men who were about to beat and interrogate Paul are ready to split the scene at the news that he is a Roman citizen. "Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains." (Acts 22:29)

The commander wants to get to the bottom of this problem. Why do some of the Jews hate Paul so much? Why do they want him dead? Paul is a Roman citizen but also a Jew, so the commander decides to hand him over to the Sanhedrin for questioning. Paul is held at the barracks overnight for his own safety, but it is not legal for the commander to continue holding a Roman citizen indefinitely without any charges having been brought against him, so he solves the problem by placing Paul into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. The council will be able to interrogate Paul and perhaps then the commander will learn what all the commotion is about. "The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them." (Acts 22:30)

In tomorrow's study we find Paul presented with an opportunity to preach the gospel to the Sanhedrin. He dearly wants to be an apostle to his own people, and although God has already made it very clear that He has chosen Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles instead, God will allow Paul to preach the gospel to the religious leaders before fulfilling His word that He will send the apostle "far away to the Gentiles". (Acts 22:21)

It could be that Paul, deep in his heart, hasn't yet fully accepted that he isn't called to be an apostle to his own people. The Lord is going to use the meeting of the Sanhedrin to prove to Paul that His plan is right for him. The meeting will not be a success and the commander will have to drag the apostle from the assembly in order to keep him from being torn limb from limb. If Paul needed a clear sign that he is not God's choice to be an apostle to the Jews, this is it. God is so gracious, isn't He? He knows we are weak and doubtful creatures. He knows we have trouble letting go of ideas that are dear to us. Sometimes He mercifully grants us a little taste of what we thought we wanted in order to prove to us it isn't right for us. Paul is called to lead the Gentiles to Christ. This is not what he would have chosen for himself, but this is what God has chosen for him, and when he leaves Jerusalem he will spend the rest of his life preaching the awesome salvation of Christ to people of other nations and tongues. He will stop fighting against his calling and will consider it the greatest honor to be known as the apostle to the Gentiles.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 82, Paul Tries To Argue With The Lord's Plans For Him

The Apostle Paul is standing on the steps of a Roman garrison in Jerusalem, telling the crowd about his conversion on the road to Damascus. When we concluded yesterday he had just finished relating his conversation with Ananias. Today we begin with the story of his return to Jerusalem after the Damascus road experience, which we know from his own words in Galatians 1:15-18 wasn't until three years later. "When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me, 'Quick!' He said. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about Me." (Acts 22:17-18) Not everyone at Jerusalem in those days was Paul's enemy, but he had enough enemies for a plot to form against his life. This may be the same incident we studied in Acts 9 when the Hellenistic Jews intended to kill him. Luke didn't tell us in Acts 9 how their plot was discovered, but it could have been revealed to Paul in the vision of verses 17 and 18. Upon learning of this the believers escorted Paul safely down to Caesarea and sent him by boat back to Tarsus.

The Lord told Paul to depart from Jerusalem and now Paul lets us in on a little secret: he tried to argue with the Lord. I've tried to argue with the Lord, haven't you? I've tried to talk Him into things, or talk Him out of things, or explain to Him why I think my own plan for myself is the best. It comforts me to know that a great apostle of the Lord also tried to argue with the One who knows best. Paul tells us what he said to the Lord, "'Lord,' I replied, 'these people know that I went from synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'" (Acts 22:19-20)

Paul is saying something like, "But, Lord, I'm the perfect choice to tell my fellow countrymen about Jesus! A miraculous conversion story like mine is bound to have a huge impact on them. They know how much I hated the Christians. They know I'm responsible for having Christians beaten, imprisoned, and even killed. But now, after meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus road, I myself am a Christian. I used to be a man filled with hatred and pride and selfish ambition, but now the only thing I want is to lead others to Christ and to help build His church. I love all my fellow human beings now. I want them all to have what I have in Christ. Surely a story like mine will change hearts!"

Looking at the situation from a human standpoint, Paul does seem to be the perfect person to preach Christ to his own people, but God knows the future. He knows that the same influential religious leaders who hated Christ and had Him put to death will also hate Paul and want to put him to death. The strict Pharisees who once were Paul's friends are now his enemies. In their minds he has either deserted the true faith or he has gone mad---either way they want him stopped. The Lord doesn't waste time arguing with Paul; He simply restates His instructions. "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" (Acts 22:21)

Today's passage is especially meaningful to me. I'm going through a season in life when important decisions need to be made and they need to be made according to God's will. I don't know yet what His answers will be, and I don't know whether they will be what I want to hear, but I'm listening. I hope I won't try to argue with Him or try to persuade Him that my plans are better than His. I hope that I will have the faith to say "yes" to His instructions. I desire your prayers that His will would be made clear to me and that I will have the faith to follow Him wherever He leads. The Apostle Paul sets an example for us in such situations. Although he did briefly try to persuade God to change His mind, when God said "Go!" Paul said "Yes".

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 81, Paul Makes His Defense To The Angry Crowd, Part Two

The Apostle Paul is about to tell his conversion story to the angry mob at Jerusalem. When we left off yesterday he was talking about the journey he took to Damascus with letters that gave him permission to arrest Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem for punishment. This is where we pick up today.

"About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute Me?'" (Acts 22:6-7) Jesus takes persecution of Christians personally. The one who ridicules, despises, or mistreats Christians is ridiculing, despising, and mistreating Christ Himself. Paul thought he was doing God a favor by attempting to wipe out Christianity, but in reality he was fighting against the One whose honor he sought to defend.

As Paul lies in the dust on the road to Damascus, hands plastered tightly over his eyes because of the great light, shaking uncontrollably in fear, he asks the only question he can think to ask, "'Who are You, Lord?' I asked." (Acts 22:8a) Who is this whose glory shines like a thousand suns? Who is this whose voice shakes the heavens? Who is this whose gospel is turning the world upside down? We have to ask ourselves the same question. Who is Jesus to us? Do we believe that He is Lord and Savior and God?

The voice answers Paul, "'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' He replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of Him who was speaking to me." (Acts 22:8b) We can all sit in the same church and hear the same message, but unless our hearts are open and willing, we won't all understand what Jesus has to say. Paul's companions are no doubt frightened. They see the same bright light. They hear the same thundering voice. But unlike Paul they are not shaken to their very souls. Something inside them has not opened itself up to the miraculous event that is taking place. As they journey on toward Damascus, only one man in their group arrives there changed forever.

Confronted with the terrible truth of his sins, Paul's only concern is how he can be made right with the Lord. In one shining moment, his hatred toward Christians and the Christian faith has blown away on the wind. He has been consumed with the task of eradicating Christianity and now he is left without a purpose in life. He doesn't know where to go or what to do. "What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. 'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him." (Acts 22:10-13) The Lord gives Paul a new purpose in life. The man who once zealously persecuted the church now zealously wants to build it up.

He relates the words of Ananias. "Then he said: 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.'" (Acts 22:14-16) Paul wants the angry crowd to realize that a devout and well-respected Jew like Ananias believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord did a miracle through this man when He enabled Ananias to give Paul his sight back. The Lord gave Ananias a prophetic vision of all the things Paul would do for the church. If a man like Ananias who loves and respects the God of Israel and who honors His law is willing to extend the hand of friendship to Paul, shouldn't they be willing to do the same?

But in tomorrow's study we will find that they are quite unwilling. They will riot in the streets again as they scream for his execution. The troubles of Paul will lead to the furtherance of the gospel in the Gentile world. King David prophetically foresaw the word of God going out to the world, and he said, "I will speak of Your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in Your commands because I love them." (Psalm 119:46-47) The Lord Jesus Christ spoke similar words to His followers, "Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." (Matthew 10:17-18) The Apostle Paul will be handed over to the local council. He will endure beatings by his own people. He will share the gospel with Gentile governors and kings. Like David, Paul asserts that he will never be put to shame no matter what comes his way, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 80, Paul Makes His Defense To The Angry Crowd, Part One

In yesterday's study we found Paul seized at the temple and beaten outside its gates by an angry mob. His life was saved only by the arrival of a Roman commander who took him into custody. Today Paul makes his defense to those who are calling for his execution.

"As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, 'May I say something to you?' 'Do you speak Greek?' he replied. 'Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?'" (Acts 21:37-38) The ancient historian Flavius Josephus tells of an "Egyptian false prophet" who gathered an army together and went up on the Mount of Olives, promising to make the walls of Jerusalem fall before their very eyes. They were then to rush into the city and take control of Jerusalem. (Josephus credits the Egyptian with far more followers than the four thousand the Roman commander credits him with, but Josephus is known to exaggerate from time to time.) Governor Felix came against the false prophet and his men with a large group of soldiers on foot and on horseback. Many of the rebels were killed and a large number were captured, but the Egyptian escaped. The Roman commander in our passage today evidently thinks, and hopes, this Egyptian is who he currently has in his custody.

"Paul answered, 'I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.' After receiving the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd." (Acts 21:39-40a) Paul is a Jew but also a Roman citizen. Upon realizing he has a Roman citizen in his custody the commander grants Paul's request.

"When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: 'Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.' When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic they became very quiet. Then Paul said: 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today." (Acts 21:40b-Acts 22:1-3) Luke told us yesterday that the crowd was so confused that they were shouting conflicting things. Like the members of the mob at Ephesus, the majority of them don't know who Paul is or what he is accused of. When they hear him speaking in their own tongue they become quiet.

Paul is quick to point out that he is one of their countrymen. He is just as Jewish as any of them. He studied under the highly respected Rabbi Gamaliel. He once was a member of the strict religious sect of the Pharisees. He respects the Lord, the law, the temple, and the holy city of Jerusalem. He has not done any of the things of which he stands accused, such as blaspheming the name of the Lord or speaking against the temple or against the law or against the city. He has not brought Gentiles into the inner court of the temple where they are not allowed, as the men from Asia Minor claim. The only thing he is guilty of, and the thing he is most hated for, is preaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and Son of God, and that Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and that He was buried in a tomb, and that He rose from the dead, and that salvation is found only in Him.

Paul goes on, "I persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council themselves can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished." (Acts 22:4-5) Paul is saying to the crowd, "I was once just like you! I thought if I persecuted the Christians I was defending the name of my God. I didn't know that by persecuting Christians I was persecuting God---because Jesus is God."

When we continue our look at Paul's defense tomorrow he will relate the account of his conversion on the Damascus road. As far as we can tell, his testimony doesn't convert anyone in the crowd, but he faithfully gives his testimony anyway. We may or may not ever convert a single soul with our testimony about how we came to Christ, but we are to be obedient to the great commission anyway. Then we can say to the world, like Paul said to the Ephesians, "I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (Acts 20:26-27) When we meet our Lord face to face we can know we have fulfilled our duty in sharing the gospel, whether anyone took our words to heart or not. Jesus Himself did not convert everyone who heard Him speak and we shouldn't expect to have more success than He did, so let's not become discouraged. Let's do what He told us to do and then, when we enter His presence, He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 79, A Prophecy Fulfilled When The Apostle Paul Is Arrested

The Apostle Paul, just as predicted, is arrested at Jerusalem. He's arrested on false charges and beaten before Roman soldiers rush in and take custody of him to prevent him from being killed.

We recall from yesterday's study that Paul had agreed to sponsor four men who had taken a vow. Upon the completion of the days of their vow he was to provide the sacrifices and offerings they would be required to bring to the temple. But trouble breaks out before the days are completed. "When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple." (Acts 21:27a) Paul suffered persecution from some of the Jews of Asia Minor when he took the gospel to various cities, and now it would appear that some of these same men have come up to Jerusalem for Pentecost. They recognize him. They know he is the man who preaches that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, who states that the Messiah is a man who hung on a tree like a criminal, and who declares that salvation can only be found in this Jesus who rose from the dead. Such an idea goes against everything these particular men believe the Messiah should be, so they fly into a rage when they see Paul at the temple. His presence there is ruining the festival for them.

We want to always remember that when Luke tells us "the Jews" do this or that, he is not speaking of the entire nation. A large number of the Jews accepted the gospel of Christ. An even larger number of the Jews didn't accept Christ, but that didn't keep them from being able to live peacefully with the Christians in their midst. The average citizens were just going about their daily lives as usual, unconcerned with whatever the Apostle Paul was doing, and not troubled by the fact that he was at Jerusalem for the feast. But because it's Pentecost there are people pouring into the city from all the surrounding areas, and some of them are enemies of the gospel. When these enemies of the gospel from out of town manage to stir up the faction at Jerusalem that is against the gospel, Paul is seized and assaulted.

"They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, 'Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.' (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)" (Acts 21:27b-29) These are all bald-faced lies. Paul has never done anything to stir up the Christians against the Jews. He has not spoken against the law or against Jerusalem. He certainly hasn't brought Gentiles into the inner court of the temple where they are not allowed. He's been busy trying to prove that he respects his people, the temple, and the law by sponsoring the four men who have taken a vow. The last thing he would do is insult his own people by defiling the temple.

"The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut." (Acts 21:30) People come running from all directions to see what the commotion is about. Upon hearing the lie that Paul has defiled the temple, a mob of angry men who aren't fans of Paul anyway grab him and drag him outside. They shut the gates, likely meaning the gates to the outer courtyard where Gentiles were allowed, perhaps to prevent friends and supporters of Paul from rushing outside to his aid.

Aid comes from an unexpected source: Rome. "While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul." (Acts 21:31-32) There was a Roman garrison located near the northwest corner of the temple complex and news of the riot travels quickly to the commander stationed there. The Roman soldiers are always especially concerned with keeping the peace in Jerusalem during high feasts like Pentecost, so the last thing this commander wants is to be reprimanded by his superiors for allowing a riot to break out under his watch.

The commander doesn't know what Paul has done or whether he has done anything at all. Until he can determine what's going on, and in order to keep Paul from being killed, the commander arrests him. "The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, 'Get rid of him!'" (Acts 21:33-36) The rabid anger focused on the Apostle Paul is like that which was focused on the Lord Jesus when His enemies cried out, "Crucify Him!"

The Apostle Paul will speak many times in his letters about the ways he has suffered for Christ. He considers it an honor to be counted worthy of suffering the same type of hatred and persecution that Christ suffered. As he is carried up the steps with the shouts of the angry mob behind him, I think he feels very close to the Lord Jesus. I think he understands, in part, how Jesus felt when the shouts of "Crucify Him!" rang in His ears.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 78, The Mission Team Arrives At Jerusalem

We learned yesterday that Paul and his companions have been lodging with believers at Caesarea for a while. A prophet named Agabus came down from Judea and prophesied that Paul would be arrested at Jerusalem. At this news the believers at Caesarea and even the members of the mission team try to dissuade Paul from going, but he is determined to go.

"After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples." (Acts 21:15-16) We know very little about this disciple except that he is a generous host to the mission team. He must have had a big home, a big food pantry, and a big heart.

"When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry." (Acts 21:17-19) This James is the Lord's brother James. An early Christian writer, Hegesippus, identifies James as the head (bishop) of the church at Jerusalem. Clement of Alexandria states that James was elected as the leader of the church at Jerusalem by the apostles. Because James holds the highest office in the church at Jerusalem, he is the only one Luke mentions by name, telling us James and all the elders are present at the meeting.

"When they heard this, they praised God." (Acts 21:20a) The men praise the name of the Lord for all the great works He has wrought among the Gentiles. However, there is a problem regarding the Gentiles and Paul's close relationship with them. Many of the Christian Jews in the early church are still observing the law and they are disturbed that Paul is telling both Jews and Gentiles that they are not saved by observing the rite of circumcision or by trying to keep the law.

"Then they said to Paul: 'You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs." (Acts 21:20b-21) Paul has simply been preaching that salvation is by faith and not by works. He has not slandered the law of Moses or commanded his Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ not to circumcise their sons. But now that Christ has died and risen again, they are to trust in Him for their salvation and not in their imperfect efforts to keep the law. No one other that Jesus Christ ever perfectly kept the law. He did for them what they could not do for themselves, so they are to put their faith in Him to make them righteous in the eyes of a holy God. The proof that God accepted Christ's sacrifice is that He raised Him from the dead. Will God not therefore also, for the sake of His Son, accept all of us who have placed our trust in Him and in what He accomplished for us on the cross?

The elders are concerned about how to deal with the problem of what some people are saying about Paul. They propose a solution that they feel will smooth things over. "What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law." (Acts 21:22-24)

Earlier in our study of the book of Acts we discussed the Nazirite vow when Paul fulfilled one himself after leaving Corinth. The elders ask Paul to take on the cost of the required sacrifices and offerings that must be made when the four men complete their vow (a year old male lamb for a burnt offering, a year old ewe lamb for a sin offering, a ram for a peace offering, a basket of unleavened cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, a grain offering, and a drink offering). Sponsoring just one man would have been quite expensive; Paul is being asked to sponsor four men. In order to keep the peace, he agrees. His agreement in no way compromises what he stands for. Paul too is a Jew and has been known to make and fulfill a vow to the Lord. He has no problem with such a custom so long as no one trusts in vows, or in the law, for salvation. He still maintains his stance that Gentiles do not need to learn the law and keep it, and that Gentiles do not need to make vows or observe rituals, and that Gentile Christians are not to be treated as "less than" Jewish Christians because they don't follow the law of Moses.

James and the elders assure Paul that they don't expect the Gentiles to observe the law and that they have only asked them to refrain from eating the foods their Jewish brothers and sisters find most offensive and to refrain from living in sexual immorality, "As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them." (Acts 21:26)

Paul's respect for the Nazirite vow likely pacifies the Jewish Christians, but in tomorrow's study we find enemies of the gospel arriving from Asia Minor before the days of the vow are completed. They do not want to make peace with Paul, or with the gospel message, or with Christ. They will stir up the Jewish religious leaders (those who have not accepted Christ) against Paul. The prophecy of Agabus will come true. He will be bound hand and foot and taken into custody by Roman soldiers, fulfilling what the prophet said, "The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will hand him over to the Gentiles."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 77, A Prophet Named Agabus Predicts Imprisonment For Paul

The mission team has just said goodbye to the elders from Ephesus at Miletus and now they continue on toward Jerusalem.

"After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara." (Acts 21:1) You may have heard of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The people of Rhodes commissioned the 110 foot tall statue of the sun god Helios to commemorate their military victory over the ruler of Cyprus. The statue did not stand for long; it was destroyed by an earthquake about fifty years after its construction. This happening is over two hundred years in the past as the Apostle Paul stops at the port of Rhodes. The statue of the sun god, a god who never lived at all, no longer exists as Paul and his companions take the gospel of the Son of God, who lives forever, to the world.

"We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo." (Acts 21:2-3) The men have to wait several days at Tyre while the freighter unloads its cargo, so they decide to make the most of their time there. "We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days." (Acts 21:4a) We don't know who took the gospel to Tyre but the mission team finds believers there. This was foretold by the author of Psalm 87 who mentions Tyre as one of the cities where there will be found those who acknowledge the Lord's name. (Psalm 87:4)

The disciples at Tyre have the same sense of foreboding that Paul has. Something is going to happen to him at Jerusalem. They don't want anything to happen to him so they try to convince him not to go. "Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:4b) I don't think the Holy Spirit is telling Paul not to go but that the disciples don't want him to go because they care for him. I don't think Paul would have gone up to Jerusalem if it had not been God's will for him to go. At the same time I don't believe the Holy Spirit wanted him to be ignorant of the risk he was taking. The Lord Jesus spoke of the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:25-33) and He advised His followers to first count the cost of being a disciple before making the commitment. The Holy Spirit reveals to Paul that it is God's will for him to go to Jerusalem but that he will pay a price for his obedience. Paul is given the opportunity to count the cost of discipleship. After counting the cost, he decides Christ is worth it. He decides Christ is worth everything. He will someday say from a Philippian jail that he counts everything garbage that he lost for the sake of Christ, Christ being more precious to him than anyone or anything else ever could be. (Philippians 3:7-11)

When the ship is ready to set sail the mission team gets on board. "When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home." (Acts 21:5-6) What a beautiful picture this makes in my mind, all these believers kneeling together in the sand, perhaps as the sun comes up over the ocean. The disciples haven't been able to persuade Paul to avoid Jerusalem so they send him on his way with their blessing as they pray earnestly for his safety.

"We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day." (Acts 21:7) Ptolemais was a seaport in the territory of Galilee. The believers there show hospitality to the mission team and everyone enjoys a day of fellowship and mutual encouragement.

"Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9) In Acts 6 we find a list of the Seven who were chosen to assist the Greek widows; the martyred Stephen being one of them. Following the stoning death of Stephen many of the believers fled Jerusalem for safer regions, but they took the gospel with them. Philip evidently settled in Caesarea and preached the gospel there. Luke specifically takes time to mention the gifts of prophecy that Philip's daughters have, and it could be because they too predict that trouble awaits Paul at Jerusalem, but if so Luke doesn't provide us with the details.

"After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, 'The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:10-12) Did Agabus come down from Judea solely to deliver this message? That could be the case. It may be that the Holy Spirit was saying to Paul through Agabus, "Here is what is going to happen at Jerusalem. Knowing this, are you still all in? Are you still ready to risk everything for Christ?" The believers urge Paul not to go, but he is all in. He is ready to risk everything for Christ.

"Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lord's will be done.'" (Acts 21:13-14) Luke himself is one of those who tries to keep Paul from going to Jerusalem, but when he and the others see that Paul's mind is made up, they resign themselves to whatever is coming. It is the Lord's will for Paul to go. It is the Lord's will for him to be arrested. They don't know why these things are the Lord's will, but they are willing to trust Him.