JohnSWilson3 Blog

“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
January 4, 2010, 12:00 am
Filed under: E Acts

In the book of Acts in the latter part of chapter 21 to chapter 23 Luke describes what happens to Paul immediately following his arrival in Jerusalem and meeting James “and all the elders” of the Jerusalem church. The elders focus, inferred from Scripture, after Paul had described “what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry,” was on whether Paul was like them, “zealous for the law.” They said to Paul that “the thousands of Jews (who) have believed” had “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. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you.” In this entire discourse there is no mention if Paul said anything. From all appearances it seems Paul opted to follow his own advice he had given the Corinthian church that “though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” Perhaps it was more of following his own advice he had given the Roman church, since what he described to the Corinthians was more “for the sake of the gospel” so that he “might save some.” To the Roman church he said to “live in harmony with one another…Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Perhaps it is more of acceptance, to “accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters…The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant. To his own master he stands or falls.” While Paul understood that because “faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” he did understand that the law was a part of the “customs” of Jews and did what he did next as following the custom of a certain people, in this case the Jewish people. So Paul followed the advice of the elders of the church in Jerusalem.

“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.” But as happens where ever Paul went “when the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 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.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.) The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple…” Incredible! Why do people, who are very religious about something, seem to be the ones who are the most defensive and vindictive of people? Perhaps for many reasons. Some of the reasons could be as he described in his letter to the Romans that “Israel…pursued a law of righteousness…not by faith but as if it were by works” and so seek “to establish their own” righteousness, also because “Israel has experienced a hardening” to the benefit of the Gentiles. But perhaps, because of what happened to Paul in his travels from both Jew and Gentile, it is because of greed, jealousy, and unbelief. To Paul this behavior was to be expected. He states in his letter to the Galatian churches that “the acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Perhaps Paul had heard from Peter or Mark the story that Jesus said about the hypocrisy of “the Pharisees and teachers of the law” that “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” But of course, Paul had referenced the Psalms in Romans when he wrote: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…there is no one who does good, not even one” and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” both Jew and Gentile. The events unfolding in the temple were foreseen by Paul, the Spirit had been warning him of what was to happen. Assuredly he had read the words of the gospel according to Matthew from Jesus that Christians would “be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”

The rioters were “beating Paul” until finally “the commander and his soldiers” showed up. In the confusion “the commander came up and arrested (Paul) and ordered him to be bound with two chains.” Because “the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered Paul be taken into the barracks.” But Paul, even when being “carried by the soldiers” because of “the violence of the mob” still desired to “speak to the people.” Man! The fortitude of Paul, or should I saw, the power of Jesus in Paul! Paul’s recent letter that he wrote to the Roman Christians was now being put into practice! “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel…Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” But Paul knows that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So he makes an appeal to speak to the rioters and is given permission to do so. God was at work, preparing Paul for this moment! “When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.” Paul describes his personal testimony of how his life was “as zealous for God as any of you are today,” persecuting the church, and describing the facts of his life before he knew Jesus. He then described how he encountered “Jesus of Nazareth” the One he had been “persecuting” and how Jesus became his “Lord.” Paul also points to Jesus mission, His desire to be made known “to all men” using Paul as “his witness.” But because of the Jews distrust and hatred for anyone other than of their own race when Paul describes how the Lord said to him “‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles'” the rioters began “shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air.” Crazy! Can people really be that hateful of others? Truly it has happened time and again in the history of man. Peace with God only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Afterwords, Paul narrowly escapes being flogged by pointing out to the centurion that he was “a Roman citizen.” So God used the Roman army, including his natural citizenship, to protect Paul and in ironic fashion, opposite of what happened to Jesus, the Gentiles “released him” to the Jews “to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews.” Paul says little. The Jews of the Sanhedrin know Paul and Paul knows the Jews of the Sanhedrin. Paul now has an opportunity to go to those who knew him before he had received Jesus and to share the gospel. May it be that God gives us opportunities to revisit with those who knew us in times past to share the good news of Jesus with them! Paul knows of the doctrinal division within the Sanhedrin and uses the knowledge they share to open up the gospel which is his “hope in the resurrection of the dead.” “The dispute became so violent” as a result “that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.”

So Paul was taken back to “the barracks.” And what is so awesome is “the following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome.'” Lord thank you for your wonderful love! “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Paul knew from experience the life of Jesus! Lord may I know you more, that you would be my all in all, that I might know your love by experience!

After a conspiracy was foiled due to “the son of Paul’s sister” Paul is escorted to Caesarea by “a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearman”! With this many Roman soldiers taking Paul away to Caesarea you have to know that the church in Jerusalem, not to mention the whole of Jerusalem, must have got the word quick about what happened to Paul. It almost makes you wonder about what happened to this church. We know some things from other ancient writers, such as Josephus. How did James and all the elders of the church take what happened? How did the body of Christ, meeting in each others homes, understand what was going on? Were they praying for Paul? It is hard to imagine because nothing is ever mentioned again in the Scriptures about the church in Jerusalem. The last thing mentioned was how “zealous for the law” they had become. How sad that they had not been zealous for the Lord Jesus like they had been at the very beginning when love for Jesus and one another was the mark that distinguished them above everything else.

Jesus had told His disciples on the night he had been betrayed “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” Is it possible that every body of Christ in any city or town can succumb to the same thing, focused on something else other than on Jesus? According to history, absolutely. Because of Paul’s letters and his constant warnings, we know that Satan wants nothing more than to neutralize and destroy the family of God, to “steal, kill, and destroy” like Jesus said. The body of Christ must live together by Christ’s life, His abundant life! As Paul stated so succinctly in his letter to the Galatians: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.”


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