Previously, the Christians had heard that the Christians here (in Jerusalem) were in dire straits and needed money, so he’d gone to the churches and collected an offering for them. Now, they’ve returned with the money.
Paul had been received by the Christians in other cities with joy, he’d given his testimony of God’s grace and guidance, he’d told them of the signs and wonders and Holy Spirit working during the Gentiles, and they were amazed.
While Paul had been away from Jerusalem, there arose a public relations problem. The Jews accepted that God had blessed Paul in his ministry, but there arose many rumors (that most believed) that Paul was preaching against the Jews and their heritage. So, a solution was agreed upon to help Paul “keep face” in front of the Jews. There were 4 Christians who had taken a Nazarite vow (described in the OT). So, to make things easier to be received by the Jews and the Christians, they asked Paul to partake in a “cleansing ceremony.” Since, he’d been living with the Gentiles, he was technically considered “dirty.” Also, he would pay the expenses of these 4 Christians who’d taken the Nazarite vow. This was supposed to prove and demonstrate that he hadn’t turned from his Jewish faith.
He hadn’t preached against circumsicion (for example), he’d had Timothy circumcised in order to let him enter the temples they went to (Timothy was a half-Jew). Paul was not against keeping the Jewish feasts, he’d also taken a Nazarite vow. He’d kept all the laws of the Jews, but did not impose them on the Gentiles. He understood that all this “ceremony” and “religiosity” was not enough to save you – it’s what’s in the heart that matters. So, he didn’t want to impose these things against the Gentiles.
Previously in Acts 15, the Jews had agreed (as a public relations thing) to hold the Gentiles to only 5 requirements – including no sexual immorality, not eating meat with blood in it, etc. If the Gentiles followed these things, the Jews were free to have fellowship with them. And now here, they are trying to reinforce these things in Jerusalem to show that Paul is remaining consistent with his vows and heritage.
Here also, they want to affirm a connection with Paul and the mission to the Gentiles, and they want to show that Paul is still 100% Jew. So, they began the process and Paul headed off to the temple to take care of all these things. But…it backfired.
The Jews from Asia (up for Pentecost) saw Paul in the temple (they were probably from Ephesus) – where he’d received a negative reaction to his teaching. And they said, “Hey, this is the dude who’s hating on us!” And they accused him of (even *gasp*) bringing a Gentile into the inner temple – super un-holy and sinful action. This was punishable by death. And this is one of the things the Romans allowed the Sanhedrin to carry out on anyone who did it.
So, here they accuse Paul of doing that.
“He’s a hater! He’s defiled the temple!”
The police (temple) shut the door and put him out. He was an apostle, now considered an apostate (someone who turns from sound doctrine of faith). And they started beating him.
But, word came to the Roman centurion who was stationed near there – the Romans had set this up on purpose because there were TONS of riots there, especially during their holy feasts (ironic isn’t it?). So, immediately the commander went down and arrested the obvious center of attention.
They bound him with two chains, he was spared from being beaten to death (but was probably bloodied and black-eyed). Now, though, they wonder why he’s been beaten.
The commander thought he was an Egyptian terrorist (who led 4,000 revolutionaries into the desert – the revolution had been put down, but the leader had escaped). So, he was surprised to hear him speak in Greek (a “smart-guy” language) and not in Egyptian (a lower language). Now, Paul tells where he’s from (a reputable city) and that he’s a reputable citizen. Then, he asks permission to address the raving mob that tried to kill him.
So, in order to prevent the mob from killing him, they lift him up and carry him to the stairs. Now, he will address the crowd in Aramaic (the common tongue). Wow! Surprising! This guy’s smart!
Now, he gets his chance to explain why he is a missionary to the Jews and Gentiles (next time).
But, here we can see how God has kept his hand on Paul, throughout.
When we think about the roots of our own (Gentile) Christianity, we can only thank God for his provision. This man had originally fought against the Christians, but through his encounter with Jesus, he realized that the LAW was only a tool to point to Jesus and the LAW doesn’t save ultimately. Jesus is the embodiment and fulfillment of the LAW.
We can only be very thankful for Paul and his beatings, sufferings, willingness to suffer for Christ
Next, in Acts 22, the commander will command that Paul be beaten (similar to Jesus’ experience it seems) because that was just “the thing to do” to calm the crowd.
Paul asks, “Are you sure you want to do that? I’m one of you guys! A Roman!”
They send word to the commander about it.
Paul’s father had been a Roman citizen, so he’d inherited Roman citizenship naturally. And actually, the commander himself was probably originally Greek – he had NOT gained citizenship through heritage…
The lesson there:
While in England, there was a terrible tragedy in India – there was a time of feast, and 1000s of people had gone to the river Gangez to be cleansed of their sins – but there were so many that went, they trampled others. These people were trying to “buy” salvation – these false teachings from the Hindu leaders were leading them into a frenzy and leading them astray. There are many others who try to “buy” or “earn” their ways into salvation (as this Roman commander had “bought” his citizenship). But, ultimately, we must all be “BORN” into our citizenship and salvation (as Paul was “born” into his Roman citizenship). As Jesus says, “You must be born again.”
Q: Have you been born again? As a citizen of heaven?
How can we? We hear the gospel. John 3:16 – Faith comes by hearing the Word (Romans) – and then we look to Jesus (not to our works and deeds, not to the River Gangez).
Have you been born again?
Here’s a short prayer – not sure? Examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith. In sincerity, repent of your sins, ask Jesus to come and live in your life and heart. And strive to follow him wholeheartedly and obey his commands “Whoever loves me keeps my commands.” And all heaven rejoices.
I repent, cleanse me, come into my life, I receive you, hold me until eternity, justify me, sanctify me. Amen.