Acts 21:17-40 (Pastor Heo)
Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 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. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 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.” [From the Jerusalem council in chp 15]
26 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.
At long last, Paul was welcomed by the church, and reported thoroughly what God had done among them. They praised and glorified God. This meeting is very important in Jerusalem. “All the elders…” (including James – the leader of the Jerusalem church – the senior pastor). This James was Jesus’ half brother.
He was not one of the original 12 who had followed Jesus, but he was still called an Apostle. Peter, James, and John – were Jesus’ closest friends, but at this time, James was already martyred. And Peter and John were elsewhere on other missions. So, this James was left in charge of the church at Jerusalem.
The church at Jerusalem was a horribly persecuted church (after the death of Stephen) and was undergoing hardship and famine.
There were reports among Jewish believers in Jerusalem about Paul. Even though they became Christians, they loved their Jewish culture and law (circumcision, etc). The rumor was that Paul compelled Jewish believers in foreign countries to abandon Mosaic Law and Jewish customs and traditions – including not circumcising their children. This rumor spread all over the world – but it was untrue.
We know that salvation is found only through the grace of God by faith in Jesus – and not through customs. Also, Paul never told anyone NOT to be circumcised, in fact, he instructed Timothy (half-Jewish) to be circumcised to avoid rumors. Paul practiced Jewish customs and traditions himself as a Jewish man.
The OT laws prepare for the coming of Christ. Jesus came, and released the people from the burden of guilt by the Law. Paul was not keeping the Law in order to be saved, but was keeping the Law to avoid offending those he wished to reach for the gospel.
As a result of these rumors, the elders suggested to Paul that he join the four people who were taking a Nazarite vow at that time. They suggested he join in the purification right and the vow.
At that time, this vow was a symbol to set oneself apart as fully devoted to God. The taker of the Nazarite vow had to abstain from meat, alcohol, wine, dead bodies, cutting hair – for at least 30 days (and sometimes at the last 7 days, he had to stay exclusively at the temple courts). He also had to prepare many kinds of offerings.
- One year old lamb for sin offering
- Ram for peace offering
- Basket of unleavened bread
- Cakes of fine flour mingled with oil
- Drink and meat offering
- Cut his hair and burn it at the altar with these sacrifices
This was obviously a costly business. Poor people were unable to do it. This is what Paul was asked to do – his own expense, and also pay for the 4 companions.
This suggestion may be unacceptable to Paul – because he had no obligation to do it. He was an apostle, a great missionary. But even though he was a man of strong conviction, he submitted to this suggestion, and did it (paid for himself and the 4 others). Why?
We should apply this lesson in our own lives today. Why would Paul do this? Here are 3-4 reasons.
1. To follow his mission policy
To be flexible in non-essentials. His mission policy:
1 Cor 9:19-23 “Even though I’m free and do not belong to anybody – to God alone, but I make myself a slave to everybody to save as many as possible. To the Jews, I became a Jew. To those under the law, I became under the Law to save them. To those without the Law, I became like one with no Law, though I’m under the Law of Christ. To the weak, I became weak. I became all things to all men so that by all possible means, I might save some. I do this all for the sake of the gospel.”
This is our mission policy. If we are really true, born again Christians, yes, we must be faithful to the Word of God, but flexible to this world.
2. To show his love for his lost nation
To avoid offending the Jews. Romans “I speak the truth in Christ. I’m not telling a lie. My conscience confirms it in the HS. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. I wish that I were cut of from Christ for the sake of my people Israel.”
Even though he was a missionary to the Gentiles, he loved his lost country more than his own life.
That’s why he accepted this suggestion.
3. To keep solidarity (unity) between the Gentile and Jewish church
Even today, this is a major issue in the church. But Paul had a big vision for union between the Jews and Gentiles in the church. He longed for the unifying power of God in uniting the church.
“Live in harmony with one another. If it is possible, as long as it depends on you, live at peace with EVERYBODY.” (including upstairs and downstairs people)
Eph 3:5..? “Keep the unity of the Spirit of the bond of peace”
So sometimes, we must also submit to worldly authority, especially when the unity of the church is at stake.
We Christians must be careful not to spread bad rumors.
Eph 4:29 “Do not let bad words (unwholesome talk) come out of your mouths, but only that which is helpful to edify (build up) others.”
Do you have a mouth? This is given as a special gift from God for:
- To confess Christ as Lord
- To preach the gospel
- To encourage others
You should have no spare time to spread bad rumors about your neighbors.
There’s a man who repeated a bit of gossip about a neighbor. One day soon, all the townspeople knew the story. Because of this gossip, the slandered person was deeply hurt and most unhappy. This person who spread the gossip knew it was untrue. So he went to a wise teacher to get some good advice. How could he take it back, solve the problem, pay the damage.
The teacher said, “At the market, buy a hen, kill it. On the way home, pluck the feathers and drop them one-by-one on the way home.” Strange suggestion, but he did it and told the teacher he had done it.
Teacher, “Good job. Go back the same way and collect all the feathers you dropped and bring them all back to me.”
He followed the same path, but all the feathers were gone due to the wind. Searching the whole day, he returned with only a few.
Teacher, “It is very easy to drop them (gossip) but it is impossible to collect them again (repair).”
It is easy to spread a bad report, but you can never again completely undo or take back what you’ve said.
Mouth: given to you to:
- Confess Christ
- Praise his name
- Preach to others
- Edify others
Where is your free time to slander others? You should have none.
“God bless my mouth.”
2 misunderstandings about Paul
Great men / women are often misunderstood. Are you misunderstood? Perhaps you are great~
Jesus was misunderstood, Paul was misunderstood. If you are also misunderstood, you are following in the footsteps of Paul and Christ.
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia [Ephesus] saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)
30 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. 31 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. 32 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.
33 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. 34 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. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”
Paul Speaks to the Crowd
37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”
38 “Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?”
39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
40 Having received the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic [common language of Palestine Jews at that time – half-Hebrews]:
The season at this time was Pentecost, so as we saw in chp 2, we can know that many, many Jews came here from all over the world – from Asia, Macedonia, etc.
As we know, before coming, Paul worked at Ephesus for 3 years. And many Jews came from Ephesus, so knew him from there, and they knew how effective his ministry had been there. They also knew his Gentile friend from there. So they thought he had taken his Gentile friend into the temple (like a tourist maybe).
They thought, “Everywhere Paul goes, his Gentile buddies go too.” They saw him in the temple, and thought, “OMG – the Gentile buddies came here too???”
But he had been in the temple due to his Nazarite vow – and had been seen many times in the temple by the Jews. So they assumed he was destroying their customs and defiling the holy temple.
At that time, Gentiles entering the temple was an absolutely unacceptable thing. There was a specific court for the Gentiles and for women. Between these two, there was a fence, with a big signboard: “No man of an alien race shall pass beyond this barrier. If anyone goes beyond this barrier, he will be guilty to death.”
Even Rome took this so seriously, they allowed the Jews to carry out this penalty of death for this crime. That’s why they seized Paul and lynched him and tried to kill him.
At that moment, the news reached the commander of the Roman troops – who came with his officers and soldiers. When they saw the officer, they stopped beating Paul. They asked, “What’s wrong? What has he done?”
They had a mob mindset and just shouted various things to get him out of there (almost like with Jesus, “Crucify him!”).
The officer ordered Paul be bound with two chains (for his own safety) and be carried to the barracks. In the middle of this picture, he was bound, black and blue, bloody, and being carried. On the steps, all of a sudden, these stairs became Paul’s excellent pulpit (stage) from which to preach the gospel to them all.
He asked to speak to the crowd (v. 37). He spoke to the soldier in Greek, “May I speak to the crowd?” At that time, speaking Greek proved that someone was international, cultured, educated. “Are you Egyptian?” “No, I’m from Tarsus.”
At that time, there were three MOST famous cities in that world for philosophy, literature, and education.
- Athens, Greece
- Alexandria, Egypt
- Tarsus, Asia
This commander gave him permission to speak.
When he turned to speak, he somehow motioned for silence in the plaza below. Almost miraculously, silence arrested this uproaring, crazy mob.
“When they were all silent…”
How is this possible? The power of God overflowed through Paul at that moment.
Lesson / Insight:
- Paul spoke Greek to the commander.
- He spoke Aramaic to his fellow countrymen.
We should learn this:
For our ministry, language is an essential tool for communication. Effective ministry requires that we speak the language of those we want to impact. Effective communication requires that we expend effort to build the bridge of understanding to others.
Including me, I want to bless all of us that God bless our tongues for his kingdom and glory.
- I wish Korean brothers and sisters may get great development in your English so that you may communicate the gospel story with English speakers in English.
- I wish English-speakers in AICF would get great development in your Korean so that you may communicate the gospel message to Koreans in Korean.
God bless our tongues. This is not only glory to God, but also very exciting. This will make our lives much more energetic, purposeful, and meaningful.
In this horrible situation: God was overruling.
God is overruling today as well.
God wants to use our tongues, our hearts, our attitudes, our decisions, our courage to spread the gospel of salvation. When we decide to preach the gospel, God will give us his power, his wisdom, his insight, his joy, his peace. God bless our tongues and our whole beings.