You can watch and listen to this message here.
Last week, we learned about Paul and his journey from Miletus to Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem. He stayed at Phillip the Evangelist’s house and introduced us to the prophet Agabus. Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound by the Jews in Jerusalem. Paul told the locals that he was ready to be bound and even die for Christ. This morning, the journey to Jerusalem is over and we’ll see things don’t get any easier for Paul.
I hope you take a look at our passage today found in Acts 21:15-36.
Knowing what Agabus told Paul, I wonder if he had any anxiousness in him. Do you ever get a sick feeling in your stomach when you’re facing a tough situation? It might be butterflies in your stomach as you get ready to teach a Sunday School class and then one of the pastors chooses that day to visit your class. It might be as the time draws closer to your wedding day. Maybe you get nervous as you step on the jetway to get on an airplane or when you walk on the brow to get on the ship for deployment. Did this trip lead Paul to write Phil. 4:6-7 when he said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul begins the 64 mile leg of the journey that will lead to Jerusalem and he is ready to die for Christ if that is what God has in store for him. Luke says, “Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” Arrangements have been previously made to stay at the home of Mnason who Luke describes as being a disciple of long standing. Like Barnabas, Mnason was from Cyprus and could have been a founding member of the church. At any rate, Mnason is set up to receive Paul and his companions. Paul’s third missionary journey is complete. Never again will Paul make the rounds to the regions of Macedonia, Achaia, Galatia, or Asia. The traveling journeys to share the Gospel are over, but the work of the Lord will continue through Paul as we’ll see.
The remaining chapters in this book will differ markedly from the previous. They’ll fulfil what was told to Ananias back in 9:15 when God told him to meet with Saul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” We’ll see this played out in incredible fashion. After a night’s rest courtesy of Mnason, “Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” Paul takes the time to brief the elders on everything that happened during this final missionary journey. I am sure Paul related the stories about Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila. He spoke of the seven sons of Sceva and how the Lord delivered them as well as those that practiced magic in Ephesus. He told the elders about Demetrius the silversmith and Eutychus, the young man that Paul raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit. He told them of the sorrowful good byes in Miletus with the elders of Ephesus. He told them about staying with Phillip the evangelist and shared the prophesy of Agabus. He shared all the plots to disrupt and derail the message of the Messiah. He told them how he was able to persevere during those hard times.
Paul has been gone about five years and when he finishes sharing all about his journey, “they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.” After spending about five years among the Gentiles, Paul is in front of the Jews at the Jerusalem church. Remember at the Jerusalem Council, Paul shared about his work and the people were less than enthused. This time, the elders respond with joy and excitement, but that joy was short lived and we see a shift as the elders share a concern with Paul. Thousands of Jews have responded to the truth of Jesus Christ, but are still, “zealous for the Law.” We saw this back in 15:1 when, “some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
So, what about the Law? Are we supposed to follow the Law? The elders tell Paul that those zealous for the Law will surely hear that he’d come back to Jerusalem. These potential problem people in Jerusalem are generally considered Jewish converts to Christ. Remember in Acts 11:2-3 when, “those who were circumcised took issue with [Peter] saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter shared what the Lord revealed to him at Joppa and concluded that, “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18) The elders are concerned about possible backlash so they formulate a plan to alleviate any concerns someone might have with Paul. The elders tell Paul what must be done in vs. 23-24 to prevent any political unrest that might come. What appears on the surface to be no big deal, the elders saddle Paul with the financial burden of the purification process. We don’t know for sure what the vow was, but all the cross references point to a Nazirite vow. It’s more than just a haircut. According to Num. 6, this purification required: A male lamb for a burnt offering. A female lamb for a sin offering. A ram for a peace offering. And there might be other offerings specific to the individual.
Paul has traveled throughout Macedonia, Galatia, Asia, and other Gentile regions for five years. In 2 Cor. 11:24-28, Paul shares what he went through for the sake of the Gospel. I can only imagine the sense of incredulity at the behavior of the elders. Paul literally risked his life to promote the Gospel, to share the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ and these guys are afraid that there might be some political upheaval because Paul’s back in town. Why not just tell those that think you have to keep the Law to back off? To mind their own business? To get a clue? Don’t they remember the wonderful news from Peter in Joppa? Why would these Christian leaders be concerned over what a small minority might think? “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” The elders remind Paul what was decided at the Jerusalem Council back in Acts 15. Gentiles are not required to keep the Law, but to follow those apostolic decrees to foster Jew and Gentile relationships in the community of faith. “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.” Paul follows the instructions from the elders without any note of disagreement or push back. It was a sort of compromise and perhaps Paul was thinking that it’s no big deal. Maybe he thought this particular request wasn’t worth the fight. Whatever it takes to keep the peace to promote Jesus as the Messiah. He wrote to the Corinthians, “To the Jew I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.” (1 Cor. 9:20) Remember, the Bible we hold is not documented in chronological order. Many of Paul’s letters were written during his missionary journeys while he traveled.
Not a week has passed and Paul’s in trouble again. Look at vs. 27-29. The Jews from Asia, probably Ephesus, saw Paul in the Temple. They would have known Paul by sight. Remember, Paul spent three years in Ephesus and three months in the synagogue. They bring a fourfold accusation against Paul. First, they say he, “preaches to all men everywhere against our people.” Second, they accused Paul of preaching against the temple. Third, they accused Paul of preaching against the Law. Finally, they say Paul, “brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this place.” There was a barrier preventing access to the interior courtyard which was the court of the women. Outside that barrier was the courtyard of the Gentiles. Gentiles were only permitted outside the outer walls of the temple. Jewish historian Josephus wrote that warning stones were placed at regular intervals along the barrier with inscriptions on them in Latin and Greek warning non-Jews to stay away. Their reasoning for the last one? “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.” Guilt by association. No possible other explanation exists for Trophimus to be at the temple. As the Asian Jews incite a riot, “Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.” Paul was physically removed from the temple and the doors were shut behind him.
Think of the mob mentality we’ve seen in the news today. You see community leaders stirring the pot in an attempt to get people riled up over some injustice whether real or perceived. Is there injustice in the world? Of course: innocent people locked up; guilty people go free. Two people commit the same crime: one goes free, one does not. A believer is told he cannot read his Bible at work, but the Muslim is permitted to read the Koran. A Christian baker is sued because he doesn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple, but fashion designers refuse to make clothes for Melania Trump and are heralded for standing up for what is right. Tim Tebow takes a knee in prayer and is excoriated in the press; Colin Kapernick takes a knee in protest and that same press talks about the sacrifice he’s made. Hypocrisy, double standards, and injustice rule the land, but we should be different. We fight all these things with the unchanging truth of God’s Word. We don’t pick and choose verses to suit our needs. We don’t condemn the Old Testament as out dated and old fashioned. We don’t throw out fundamental biblical principles of gender, sexuality, and marriage because a very vocal minority is offended. We combat all of that uproar and dissention by, “earnestly contending for the faith which was once for all handed down by the saints.” (Jude 3)
What happened to Paul? Look at vs. 31-36. The uproar is reported to the commander of the Roman cohort who immediately takes action. The commander, we’ll find out in 23:26 is named Claudius Lysias, is responsible for law and order in Jerusalem. Claudius shows up at the scene with “soldiers and centurions.” He has at least 200 men with him and the crowd immediately stops beating Paul. Claudius orders Paul bound with chains and then begins asking who he was and what he had done. The crowd is so incensed that Claudius can’t hear the facts and orders Paul taken away to the barracks for his own safety.
Paul has concluded his third missionary journey. He shares his experiences of the past five years with the elders in the Jerusalem church. Fearing political unrest, the elders tell Paul to purify himself to show the Jews that he was just like them. Before the purification process is completed, the Jews bring accusations against Paul. What should have been a joyous occasion filled with celebration at the work Christ has done through Paul, turns ugly with Paul left in chains and the crowd crying out, “away with him,” the same thing the mobs shouted at the crucifixion of Jesus. What will happen to Paul? Is this the end of the story? Join us next week to find out what happens to our beloved Paul.