Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire

A Pastor’s Commentary

Studies in Acts

Lesson 44

Acts 24

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 characterizes the Apostle Paul in many ways

 

(1) “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven

(2) A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what was planted

(3) A time to kill and a time to heal;

(4) A time to weep and a time to laugh

(5) A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones

(6) A time to search and a time to give up as lost

(7) A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak

 

And Acts chapter 24 contains both of those times. By way of background, remember that in chapter 22 Paul had attempted to appease the legalistic Jews by appearing in the temple with two Jewish men who were taking a vow. This effort failed, however, because the unsaved Jews started a riot and got him arrested. So in chapter 23 we saw him on trial in Jerusalem – but during a recess in the trial a plot to assassinate was discovered and so he was moved to the provincial capitol at Caesarea – and that’s where chapter 24 begins.

 

The accusation against Paul is found in verses 1 through 9. And the first thing we find is the appearance of the accusers in verse 1:

 

Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

 

It would have been no small thing for an old man like Ananias to travel the seventy miles between Jerusalem and Caesarea. And he had gone to the trouble to engage an “attorney” Actually the Greek word would be better translated “orator.” In those days there were brilliant speakers who would be engaged in a trial, not to handle the legal matters, but to present the case as possible. It is interesting to notice that God’s chief representative, the high priest left God out of his plans!

 

After their arrival, we find the argument of the accusers in verses 2 through 4:

 

And when he was called upon, Turtullus began his accusation, saying: “seeing that through you we enjoy great peace and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix with all thankfulness (4) Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

 

Of course, none of that was true, – Felix had ruled by means of corruption and violence, and the Jews hated him. But Turtullus is “buttering him up” to believe even the accusations he is about to level against Paul.

 

The accent of the accusation is in verses 5 through 9

 

For we have found this man a plague, a creator dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (6) he even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. (7) But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands (8) commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.” (9)”And the Jews also assented maintaining that these things were so.

 

The word “plague” is a translation of the Greek word used to describe earthquakes and famine and epidemics. And the indictment was threefold: first, he was “a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world.” This was a wildly overblown political charge. But the real problem was that it classed him with all of the insurrectionists who continually stirred the Jews up to rebel against Rome. Tertullus knew that the one thing that Rome would not put up with was rebellion among their conquered people, because it could so easily build into an attack on Rome itself..

 

The second charge is in the next phrase in verse 5: “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”

This was a religious charge. It was similar to the first charge concerning stirring up the people, but the Nazarenes were a group who were constantly coming up with new “messiahs. “So that added to a religious fervor to the rebellions that they stirred up. The third charge is in verse 6. And it was that he had tried to profane the temple. The temple priests were all Sadducees, the party that was cooperative with Rome. So, to profane the temple was to go against the “Pro-Roman Tertullus probably hoped that this would cause the Roman governor to find against Paul. It is important to note that there was an element of truth in all of this – so in a twisted way all three of these charges could sound true to an uninformed bystander like Felix, the governor.

Think of the fear and anger Paul must have felt as he heard these lies – they could actually cost him his life! most of these Roman officials with their high-sounding titles actually knew very little about Jewish history or politics nor even the details of their official responsibilities. Most of the Roman leaders considered the Jews a bothersome group of hot headed trouble makers who had to be handled carefully and used the courts as a weapon.

 

So those are “the accusations against Paul” in verses 1 through 9. But in verses 10 through 21 we find the answers by Paul.

 

First notice the attitude with which Paul begins his defense in verse 10:

 

Then Paul, After the governor had nodded to him, to speak answered: inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.

 

Paul doesn’t have to use conniving flattery with Felix – he could truthfully say that he was glad to see that he was the one hearing the case because he knew that “in his many years” Felix would have seen the truth about the devious Jewish leaders. Besides that, he could be cheerful because the real judge was God Himself and Paul knew where he stood with him.

 

So out of that background Paul gives his answers to the charges in the next few verses. In verses 11 through 13 he says “I am not a trouble maker” and he cites three facts. “Because may easily ascertain that twelve days since I went to Jerusalem to worship (12) And they neither found me disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. (13)Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.

 

In verse 11 he points out that he had not been in Jerusalem long enough to have done any of this. In verse 12 he points out that he had not been seen talking with anybody in the streets or in Jerusalem. And third, he points out in verse 13 that they had produced no witnesses.

 

One of the basic points of Jewish law is the distinction accusation and proof. And Paul’s intellect is demonstrated in the fact that he knew that distinction. Technically Paul could have rested his case here and won on legal grounds. But he didn’t want this “sect” concept of Christianity to slip by.

 

His second answer to the charges against him is in verses 14 through 18. And it is simply “I am not the leader a  cult.”

 

Tertullus had referred to Christianity as a “sect” or “cult” and Paul couldn’t let that slip by. So in verses 14 through 16 he sets out to establish the legitimacy of Christianity as true religion.

 

But this I confess to you, that according the Way which they call a sect so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets. (15) “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust  (16) This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

 

In these verses Paul presents four pieces of evidence about his faith that make it acceptable. First, he serves the same God as the Jews do – verse 14 (“I worship the God of my fathers”) Second, he believes the same Word of God that they do – verse 14 (“believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets”) Third, he, too, hopes in God for his future resurrection – verse 15. And fourth, concerning his lifestyle and beliefs, he has a completely clear conscience – verse 16.

 

The statement that was probably was most appealing to Felix in that list was the last one about having a clear conscience. His whole life was wrapped up in the deceit, treachery and betrayal that characterized politics – then and now – and he probably longed to be free of it. That same longing probably applied to his personal life as well. His present wife was his third one, and he had persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him when she was only sixteen. And besides all that she was also the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. who had executed James, the first martyr after the resurrection. It was her aunt and great uncle who had had John the Baptist beheaded because he kept preaching about their illicit relationship. So, no doubt this was a lady who had a lot of emotional problems, which had to have an effect on Felix.

 

In verse 17 Paul answers the third charge against him, that of desecrating the temple.

 

Now after “many years” I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation.

 

It was only after “many years” that he came back to Jerusalem – he was anything but a “plague.”

And when did come back it was to bring money that he had raised from Christians all over the world for famine relief in Jerusalem. Finally, in verses 18 through 21 he brings out two other important legal points: First, the accusers themselves were not present, only the high priest,

according to 18 and 19.

 

in the midst of  which” [having come to Jerusalem to bring the gift] some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult (19) They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me.

 

And second, the only reason for this trial is his statement about the resurrection, so it is a religious charge, not a civil one, so Felix shouldn’t even be hearing it in the first place and Paul should be freed, according to verses 20 and 21.

 

The last section of the chapter has to do with the arrangements that Felix made for Paul in verses 22 through 27. The background for the arrangements is in verse 22. But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias comes down, I will make a decision on your case.

 

Felix was in a sticky situation here: He knows Paul is innocent here, because he has “more accurate knowledge of the Way” than the Jews do. Incidentally, this demonstrates that it is to know “about” Jesus Christ – Felix knew all about him, but had not trusted him. But at the same time he knows he has to appease these powerful Jews who were before him. So, he does what any man pleaser pressure would do; he procrastinates. Look at verses 23 through 25

 

So, he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. (24) And after some days when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning faith in Christ. (25) Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and said “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”

 

One of the beauties of this is that it was a light sentence compared to what Felix had the power to give. Another beauty is that he allowed him to see friends. But the real beauty of this situation is that it allowed Felix more opportunity to hear the gospel again. Paul’s subject was “righteousness and the judgement to come.” An honest consideration of these subjects would sober anyone. But notice Felix’s decision. So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. (24) And after some days when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning faith in Christ. (25) Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and answered, Felix said “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”

 

This shows the true nature of acceptance of Christ – it is not just an emotional exercise. But it also points out the danger of putting off such a decision: there is no record that Felix ever trusted Christ (although he could have without it being recorded.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s Defense

 

 

 

 

 

A Pastor’s Commentary

Studies in the Book of Acts :”For Old Time’s Sake”

Chapter 23

 

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting or being lied about do not respond with lies

Or being hated do not give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good, nor walk too wise

If you can dream and not make dreams your master; If you can think and not make thoughts your aim

If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to made a trap for fools

Or watch the things you’ve given your life to broken, and stoop and build’em up again

If you make one heap of all your winnings; and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss, And lose and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them, “Hold on.” If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with kings nor lose the common touch. If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; if you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run, If all men count with you, but none too much; Yours is the earth and all that’s in it, And – which is more- you’ll be a man, my son

 

 

This poem describes many of the men and women of the Bible, including the Apostle Paul. But Bible characters are only human, and from time to time in the lives of each of them, we find some weakness or temporary failure. And one of those times is in this chapter in an incident in which the great Apostle Paul failed to keep his head when others were losing theirs.

 

As we look at chapter 23 we will see Paul going before the ruling body in Jerusalem, called The Sanhedrin. And the chapter falls into three parts. First we have the presentation to the Sanhedrin in verses 1 through 10. Then in verse 11 we will see the presence of the savior. And in verses 12 through 23 the prevention of satanic plans

 

Now to get the full impact of what happens in this chapter you have remember what has been happening before we get to it. Chapters 21 and 22 describe the week he has gone through. In it he had been: beaten by a mob, had his death demanded by a group of Jewish zealots, bound in chains preparing to be scourged, and, come within a hairsbreadth of being scourged. (Incidentally, hundreds of years later Prime Minister Winston Churchill of England would say “Few things in life are more exhilarating than being shot at unsuccessfully.”) And interestingly enough, the only thing that saved him from all of that was a Roman commander who decided at the end of chapter 22 to take him to the Jewish court (the Sanhedrin) rather than the Roman one.

 

And so, in the opening verses of chapter 23 we find Paul in the presentation to the Sanhedrin in verses 1 through 10. The first thing we need to understand is something about the representatives of the group. Throughout the book of Acts Luke has referred to them simply as “the council.” But it is obvious from the context in each case that it is the Sanhedrin that he is referring to. In Acts 26:10, Paul says, in effect, that at one time he had been a voting member of this group himself. Later in his testimony he is going to say that he voted for the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr. It was made up of about 70 men (including the High Priest of Israel) who wrote laws and issued judgments based on their interpretation of the Mosaic law. When Israel was taken over by Rome they left the Sanhedrin intact as an aid to keeping order in the nation (a common Roman practice.) Since they held their positions for life, it is entirely possible that Paul may have recognized some of the men who were at his hearing that day. From his membership, he knew that there were two main factions in it: The Pharisees, who were “traditionalists” and experts in the Old Testament scriptures (Paul had once belonged to this group.)  The other group was the Sadducees, who were much more liberal. They did not believe in the supernatural and put no emphasis on the law of Moses. (Some good-natured preacher along the way pointed out that said that one way to keep two groups apart in your thinking is that since they didn’t believe in the supernatural “they were sad, you see”) Another important thing to know about both of these groups is that they were responsible before God. They had been present for most of Jesus’ teaching, even though it was only to criticize and argue with him. And this is a perfect illustration of the fact that it is not knowledge of scripture that brings salvation, it is what one does with that knowledge. Now knowing something about these “representatives” of the Sanhedrin, we see in verse one, Paul’s report to the Sanhedrin.

 

Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”

 

Remember that Paul was exhausted and in pain as he came to this meeting – traveling many miles on horseback, much of it at night. And the tone of his statement was probably almost sarcastic – in so many words “I’m not guilty of anything, and you are wrong in judging me.” So, the response of the Sanhedrin is in verse 2:

 

And the high priest, Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

 

The self righteous and self important High Priest probably took Paul’s words and tone of voice as an insult. Besides that, the whole group had been embarrassed for years by this former “rising star” of their group who had so publicly turned against them.

 

Then Paul’s reaction to the Sanhedrin is recorded in verses 3 through 5:

 

Then Paul said to him God will strike you, you, you whitewashed wall. For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?

 

In effect Paul calls the High Priest a total hypocrite. But he suddenly realizes his hot-headed mistake when bystanders responded in verses 4 and 5.

 

And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s High Priest?  (5) Then Paul said, “I did not, know brethren, that he was the High Priest; For it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”

 

How could Paul not have known that the one who ordered him struck was the high priest?  Many Bible scholars believe that Paul had poor eyesight – Paul himself hints at it in Galatians 4:15 and 6:11. Also, it is probable that Paul did not know Ananias personally. He had been away from Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin for 20 years by this time. In addition, Ananias may not have been wearing his priestly robes. This was a hastily called meeting and he might not have been presiding.

 

But even in that pressurized situation notice how Paul was consistently courteous and based his statements on scripture. Notice, too, that he did not apologize for what he had said, but for the person he said it to. The High Priest was a whitewashed wall, but he was also the High Priest. And that teaches an important principle: although it is never wrong to speak out against ungodliness, it is wrong to be disrespectful of authority under any conditions. But nonetheless the damage was done. In a moment of anger Paul had said the wrong thing to the wrong person. And in doing that he had lost an opportunity for witness  – and probably to get a fair trial. Surprisingly enough, verses 6 through 10 talk about the recess but there are several things that led up to it. The first was Paul’s perceptive presentation in verses 6 through 8.

 

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged (7) And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided (8) For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection,  and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

 

Paul knew exactly how to get the attention off of himself and onto them. And verse 8 is the verse that explains why the uproar arose  Another factor leading to the recess was the Pharisees’ protests in verse 9:

 

Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”

 

All of this taken together led to the commander’s provision for Paul in verse 10 (something at which he was becoming an expert by now)

 

Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to  pieces by them commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away by force from among them and bring him into the barracks

 

Note the means of protection God provided – the government! This is just a reminder of the way God uses all kinds of things to accomplish His purposes for His children.

 

The second section of the chapter, even though it is only one verse, is the presence of the Savior in verse eleven.

 

“But the following night the Lord stood by him and said “Be of good cheer, Paul, for as you have testified for me in Jerusalem so you must also do at Rome.”

 

Let’s think first about the background of the appearance. Paul was probably sitting in his cell feeling utterly dejected. Instead of eloquently and convincingly presenting the gospel to his former peers he had blown his chances with his own explosive anger. He had hoped to win this battle and then go on to Rome to “preach the gospel before kings as God had told him in the very beginning he would do. But now he feels that all is lost. Having let the Lord down so badly, how could he go on? But in this appearance the Lord spoke to each of those needs. For his dejection Jesus, Himself said “Be of good cheer.” For his feeling of failure – “you have testified for me in Jerusalem” Even if the method had been wrong and the results uncertain, he had testified. And he was content to accept the Lord’s measurement of his work. For his fears about the future – so you will also bear witness in Rome.” This is typical of the way the Lord works – look at 2 Corinthians 1:3,4:

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (4) Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 

Ironically, Jesus Himself had been through this same experience in Jerusalem a few years earlier. Who better to comfort Paul in this special situation? And remember that this is a promise to us too! Although Paul had many trying experiences after this, we never see him discouraged again.

 

Well, the last part of the chapter shows God’s gracious provision for Paul continuing with the prevention of Satanic plans  in verses 12 through 33.

 

Paul probably awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and invigorated, but there were some Jews who didn’t share his feelings. So in verses 12 through 15 we find them plotting a conspiracy against Paul.

 

And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. (13) Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. (14) they came to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul (15) “Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he is to be brought down to you tomorrow as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.

 

I have often wondered if those men starved to death – they did if the were sincere, because they never captured Paul. God is going to protect him again, but this time he is going to use a different means – an unlikely eavesdropper. The communication of the plan to Paul is in verses 16 through 22. Notice first the unlikely source of the communication in verse 16:

 

So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush he went and entered the barracks and told Paul.

 

There are a couple of interesting  things about this verse: First, just to know that Paul had a sister and a nephew – one of the few things we are told about his personal family life. Second, we don’t know how old this nephew was; the Greek refers to him as a “young man,” or what his profession was, but he must have been a fairly important person, because he had access to the Jewish conspirators as well as the area where Paul’s cell was. But at any rate, God used this unusual circumstance as a part of the deliverance of Paul.

 

Then in verses 17 through 22 have the spreading of the communication.

 

(17) Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.” (18) So he took him and brought him to the commander and said,

“Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you. (19 Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me? (20) And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though you were going to inquire more fully about him. (21)” But do not yield to them, for more than 40 of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neithereat nor drink until they have killed him. And now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”(22)So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.” 

 

And so as a result of that information the commander puts together the caravan  described in verses 23 and 24

 

And he called for two centurions, saying “Prepare two hundred soldiers,and seventy horsemen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; (24) and provide mounts to set Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor . . . . “ (31)Then the soldiers as they were commanded took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris  (32) The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him and returned to the barracks

 

No finer protection could have been planned – this would have been 470 highly trained men. And the verses that we skipped over (25 to 30) tell that he even included a letter of introduction for Paul to Felix the governor explaining the whole situation.

 

All of this illustrates the sovereignty of God in lives. Isn’t it amazing how God pulled off Paul’s deliverance? An intricate mixture of the small and the great, the human and the divine. This heretofore unknown nephew “just happened” to overhear the plot to kil Paul. He somehow was able to enter the heavily guarded barracks and tell Paul about it. A centurion was willing to take him to the commander. The busy commander listened to him right away and believed him. Then he put together a small army to escort Paul out of town under cover of darkness!

 

As Paul rode out of town the next day more like a king than a prisoner,  he must have been thinking of two things: God’s grace and God’s power.

 

Paul had blown it with the Sanhedrin as far as he could tell, but Jesus graciously comforted and reassured him that it would all come together anyway.

 

And he had faced the most determined plot against his life that he had probably ever faced, but it was no match at all for the power of God.

 

This same two things – God’s grace and God’s power

 

Paul’s Defense

A Pastor’s Commentary

Studies in Acts

Lesson 42 Paul’s Defense”

Acts:21-37 through 22:30

 

Throughout history the most acceptable proof has been the testimony eyewitnesses. This was as true in Biblical times as it is in our own.  Old Testament law said that a man could not be put to death for murder except at the witness of two eyewitnesses to the murder, and there were many other crimes that could not be punished unless there was one eyewitness. In the New Testament, one of the most frustrating situations for Jesus’ enemies was the one in which Jesus had healed a blind man on the Sabbath and when he was questioned about it, all he would say was “whether he is a sinner I do not know; but one thing  I know, whereas I was blind, now I can see.”

 

A very similar situation takes place in the passage to which we now come in our study of the book of Acts. In chapter 21 Paul had come to Jerusalem and tried to demonstrate his loyalty to Judaism by participating in a Jewish ceremony. But while he was still in the temple a group of unbelieving Jews tried to have him arrested for bringing a Gentile into the temple. It was a trumped-up charge, but nonetheless they were able to get a riot going. So as we come to the last few verses of this chapter and move on into chapter 22, Paul takes the opportunity to make a defense of his faith. This becomes the first of six “testimonies” that Paul will give in the next six chapters – each one at a higher level of government. But this is the one that sets the ball rolling toward the end of the book.

 

The overview of the chapter goes like this:

 

  1. The Request for the Defense – 21:37-39
  2. The Reasoning in the Defense – 22:1-21

III. The Rejection of the Defense – 22:22

  1. The Reevaluation of the because of the Defense – 22:23-30

 

So lets begin our study by looking at The Request for the Defense which Paul makes in verses 21:37-39

And the first thing we see in this regard is the identification of Paul in verses 37 through 39. First we see the guard’s assumption about Paul’s identity in verses 37 and 38

 

Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek? (38)Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led four thousand assassins out into the wilderness? This commander and his men remind me of the old movie “The gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” This is probably explains why the Roman centurion had quickly gotten involved in the riot of the previous verses. He thought he had caught himself an insurrectionist. The Jews thought Paul was a blasphemous teacher; now the Romans think he is a dangerous Egyptian political operative. It is truly amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same, isn’t it? But now, just by the use of language, Paul clears up the mistake. So in verse 39 Paul gives his accurate identity:

 

But Paul said I am a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”

 

But in spite of the ridiculous charges, Paul still wants to speak to the people. His trust in Christ soothes his fears and frustrations and he is able to face his enemies with open arms and an open heart. So after getting his identity straightened out with the centurion, Paul begins his defense by giving the interaction that we find in 21:40

So when he had him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people and when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language saying, “Brethren and fathers hear my defense before you now.”

 

“The Hebrew language” mentioned in verse 40 was actually Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect used by the Jews of Palestine. So in this way immediately began to interact with his listeners. By speaking with them in their own language and calling them “brethren and fathers.” He put them at ease and got their attention.

Then, beginning with 22:1 and going through 22:21 Paul gives the reasoning in his defense:

 

And the first part of that is the introduction in verses 2 through 5 in which he tells them about his background:

 

And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, the kept the more silent. Then he said (3) I am indeed a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our father’s law and was zealous toward God as you are today. I (4) I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women (5) “as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were to Jerusalem who were there to be punished.

 

Then the actual instruction is found in verses 6 through 21. And the first part of that is about his encounter with Christ in verses 6-9

 

Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. (7) “And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?(8)”So I answered,” who are you Lord?(9) And He said “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”(9) And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.”

 

This is the crucial point in Paul’s presentation, because now the mob has to come to grips with the fact that Jesus Christ is still alive. They thought they had nailed him to a cross and shut Him in a tomb, but now Paul is saying “I saw Him alive and He changed my life.” And this is the key aspect of any witness: direct explanation of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness of sin!

 

The next aspect of Paul’s testimony is the instructions that he received from Christ as Paul relates them in verses 10 through 21. First there were the instructions in Damascus in verses 10 through 16

 

So I said, what shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said to me, “arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you.’” (11) And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus. (12) “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there (13)” came to me and he stood and said to me, “brother Saul, receive your sight.” And at that same hour I looked up at him (14) “Then he said, “the God of our fathers has chosen you that you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth (15) “For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard (16) ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

 

He continues his story about how the light blinded him and he went to Damascus. There he waited until Ananias came to him, healed his eyes, and gave him his new commission. Then in verses 17 through 21 he receives further instructions in Jerusalem.

 

Now it happened that when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance (18) And I saw him saying to me, make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning me.” (19) So, I said, Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on you (20) And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed I also was standing by consenting to his death and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.

 

Here is what Paul did in his old life: imprisoned, beat, and approved of the stoning of Christians. But the Lord directly interrupted that course and changed its direction. The most radical shift in Paul’s thinking occurred when God explained His new plan for the world – that He would use Paul to reach out to Gentiles! So Paul next recounts to his Jewish listeners what the Lord had told him. Look at verse 21:

 

(21) Then He said to me, Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”

 

Right there the buzzers went off and the sirens shrieked in the minds of these zealous Jews! Gentiles?!

 

You can tell from the text that Paul wasn’t quite through with his talk, but as far as they were concerned he was through.

 

And so in verses 22 and 23 we see the rejection of Paul’s defense.

 

(22) And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (23) Then they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air.

 

They were so enraged that they would have torn Paul apart had it not been for the soldiers protecting him.

In their way of thinking, all others in the world except God’s chosen Jews were unworthy of salvation. Yet, in the Jews reaction to Paul’s words, notice what was absent : they shouted, they stamped their feet, they threw dirt in the air – but no one contradicted Paul’s statements! And that’s because his argument was unanswerable. By this time they knew that that same risen Christ had changed thousands of other people who, along with Paul were turning their world upside down. All this evidence was simply too much for them to handle.

 

But when the Roman commander saw them become violent he knew that he had to do something. This put a whole new perspective on things for him. And so in verses 24 we see the reevaluation of Paul’s defense. Now the Greek speaking commander had not understood a word that Paul said in Hebrew – as far as he knew something criminal must have happened. So he came up with the plan that is described in verse 24.

 

The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks and said that he should be examined under scourging so that he could know why they had shouted so against him. This was not a punishment, it    was  

 

Why did the commander order scourging? This was not a punishment, it was just an effective way of extracting the truth or a confession from someone. However, there was a small problem with this method which Paul wasted no time in bringing to their attention.

 

And as they bound him with thongs Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?

 

Knowing that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be bound and beaten (probably to death,) Paul stops the soldiers in their tracks. Even though Christ had told Paul that he would suffer for His name that didn’t include needless suffering. And Paul knew that his task wasn’t completed yet – he still must go to Rome, so he wisely guarded his life.

 

The value and the power of Roman citizenship is clearly demonstrated in verses 26 through 29.

 

(26) When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.” (27) Then the commander came and said to him, “tell me, are you a Roman? He said, “Yes” (28) the commander answered, with a large sum I obtained this citizenship. “And Paul said, But I was born a citizen. “And Paul (29) Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman and that he had bound him. Incidentally, here is a little lesson about how easy it is to take things for granted. The commander was duly impressed with Paul’s citizenship, because he had had to pay for his own citizenship. But he was even more impressed when he heard that Paul was a natural born citizen of Rome. Think how many blessings we take for granted!

 

Finally, the progression of the case is described in verse 30.

 

The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

 

In effect, what the commander was doing here was releasing Paul to the Sanhedrin because there was nothing more that the Roman government could to do to him. And that leads directly into the next chapter, which we will talk about in our next study. But there are several important points to be sure of before we leave this passage. The first thing we should learn is that when giving our testimony, experience alone might be questioned, but a testimony based on facts is unanswerable. The second thing to remember is that the focus of our witnessing should be Jesus Christ – His life, death, and resurrection. Without these facts, our experiences can easily be rejected by the unsaved.

 

The second thing we can learn from Paul’s experiences in this chapter is that humility is one thing, but indignity is something else entirely. When the soldiers were preparing Paul for scourging he could have thought, “this suffering is God’s will, I shouldn’t defend myself.” But he knew that being victimized is not the same as humbly suffering for Christ. The suffering of a battered wife or an abused child or a mistreated employee are not examples of Biblical submission. There is time to claim our rights as citizens of God’s kingdom and defend ourselves. The difference is in the source and the reason for the suffering. If you are in a situation in which you think is not the biblical kind, you need to ask God for His wisdom in how to proceed. Seek out your pastor or other church leaders for guidance and prayer. No doubt there are several good churches in your zip code and most of them will have Websites on which you can find out all about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wavering in Jerusalem

A Pastor’s Commentary

Studies in Acts

Lesson 41: “Wavering in Jerusalem”

Acts 21:15-36

 

One of the hardest things in life to deal with is being misunderstood – particularly when you are only trying to do the right thing. And yet, it seems that the more visible and the more prominent a person becomes, the more likely he is to be misunderstood. In fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “to be great is to be misunderstood.” Think of all the great Bible characters who were misunderstood – Noah, David, and Certainly the Lord Jesus! Since that is the case, it is important to remember that what is important is not the misunderstanding, but how we react when we are misunderstood.

 

And here in Acts chapter 21 we have a good example of that. Remember that the chapter falls into 3 parts:

 

In verses 1 through 14 we have “The warnings about Jerusalem”

Then in verses 15 through 25 we have “The weakness in Jerusalem.”

And in verses 26 through 36 we have “The Warfare at Jerusalem”

 

In our last study, we looked at those “warnings about Jerusalem.” So in this lesson we will look at the second two sections of the chapter. Paul had been warned by various friends not to go to Jerusalem. And what he finds there is somewhat surprising. But he went regardless of the possibility of suffering. So let’s look now at The weakness in Jerusalem in verses 15 through 25. The section begins with the  return to the city recorded in verses 15 through 17

 

And after these days we packed up and went up to Jerusalem (16) Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of  Cyprus an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. (17) And when we had come to Jerusalem the brethren received us gladly.

 

The fact that harmony had been restored among the believers after the disagreements of the first section of the chapter is shown by the listing of those who went with Paul. Notice that no apostles were present, just “disciples” and “brethren” in these verses and “elders” in the next verse. This absence of apostles shows the development of the church – little by little it was being turned over to a second generation.

 

After they got to Jerusalem Paul gave the report to the brethren which is recorded in verses 18 and 19

 

On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. (19) When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the gentiles through his ministry.

 

Then the response of the brethren is in verses 20 through 25

 

And when they heard it they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;

 

First notice their patronization – how quickly they dismissed his report; almost offhandedly – they immediately began to talk about their own situation. They were obviously much more concerned about the  problem which was created by his presence than about his victories. The problem was that there was a rumor about Paul that was spreading in the Jerusalem church saying that Paul was telling people to “forsake Moses.” Look at verse 21:

 

(21)But they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs (22) What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will certainly hear that you have come.

 

Now the actual fact was that these Jewish believers had kept the law before they were saved, and they continued to keep it after salvation. Of course, Paul warned about the dangers of trusting in those ordinances for salvation, but he had never told them to stop doing it. In fact he was particularly sensitive to Jewish believers, Back in chapter 16 he had insisted that Timothy be circumcised so as not to offend them. But this problem developed because “they had been informed” that Paul was teaching that he wasn’t. Apparently, the accusations were based solely on hearsay and gossip. It was bad enough that the elders had let things get so far out of hand. So, the real “weakness” in Jerusalem was that the elders and other leaders hadn’t put a stop to it – or to allow Paul to confront the situation head on. Which leads to the next point. On the basis of their own concerns, they gave Paul their proposal as recorded in verses 23 and 24:

 

Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. (24) “Take them and be purified with them and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

 

Instead of confronting the situation head on, their plan was for him to identify himself with these men who had taken a vow (they were probably completing a Nazarite vow, as described in Numbers chapter 6) And in that way the legalistic Jews of Jerusalem would see that he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Then, to make it sound pious, look at their pretense in verse 25.

 

But concerning the gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled and from sexual immorality

 

Now it was true that back in chapter 15 at the Jerusalem Conference they had written these requests to the Gentiles. But this statement was twisting the emphasis of the council. The real focus of the Jerusalem Council was on what would be the minimum they should ask of the Gentiles for the sake of the older Jews; they were not setting up a different set of standards for Jews and Gentiles. But that is exactly what these guys are trying to make it sound like – that a less legalistic approach was only appropriate for Gentiles. Their whole aim was to keep the legalists from rioting. But it was a big mistake. In the first place, their aim was simply to keep the peace, not to really quell the false rumors about Paul. And in the second place, they were asking Paul to go along with a plan that was less than Biblical. But their power is demonstrated in verse 26 when Paul went along with the proposal.

 

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the Temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each of them.

 

Why would Paul do a thing like this? We don’t really know, but the explanation that makes the most sense is that out of his intense interest in Jewish salvation (see Romans 9:1-3 for an example) he was willing to pacify the Jewish believers without dealing directly with their sin of gossip and rumor-spreading.

 

The English theologian J.I. Packer said, “It is in our moments of highest exultation that we need to be most careful against the possibility of compromise – men who would never compromise in order to save their own lives are in danger of compromising so they might win others.

 

Now we have seen the details of the warnings about Jerusalem and the Wavering at Jerusalem, so that brings us to the last section of the chapter. The remaining verses show us that, sadly, the efforts of both Paul and the elders of Jerusalem failed. The elders wanted to avoid a riot, Paul wanted to win Jews to Christ. As it turned out, there was a riot, and as far as we know no one was saved. So that brings us to The warfare in Jerusalem in verses 27 through 36.

 

The circumstances of the Warfare revolved around a misunderstanding – verses 27 through 29:

 

Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on them (28) crying out, “Men of Israel, Help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (29) (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

 

They “supposed” that Paul had brought a gentile into the temple. And they exaggerated their report about Paul’s activities, which fit in with the rumors the Jews were already believing.

 

Many attacks, verbal and even physical, are made from supposition and exaggeration – be sure of your facts before you believe or act on a report.

 

The severity of the Warfare is shown in verses 30 and 31a

 

And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. (31) Now as they were seeking to kill him news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar (32) He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers they stopped beating Paul.

 

Notice that it is the Roman government that rescues Paul – the church is conspicuously absent. This is ironic, because it was persecution by the Roman government that had driven so many Christians out of Jerusalem back in chapter 8!

 

Actually, true of the church at Jerusalem after chapter 7 – every time it is in the context of compromise or attempted compromise. If we think back the church leaders had trouble accepting Peter’s testimony about Cornelius in chapter 11 They disputed long and loud about which restrictions to place on the gentile converts in chapter 15. By the time we get to this chapter, they had allowed Jews to become active in the church who were “zealous for the law” (verse 20)

 

The problem was that in their anxiousness to agree with Judaism as much as possible they lost their power to confront rumor and hearsay even when they got out of hand. You see, “political correctness is older then you thought!

 

The remaining verses actually fit better with the subject matter of the next chapter, so we will leave them for that lesson.

 

 

Advice and Consent

Studies in Acts

Lesson 40: “Advice and Consent”

Acts 21:1-14

 

One of the biggest problems that can come up in the Christian life is a disagreement over what the Lord’s will is. On the one hand it is good to seek the Lord’s will , and to have that as a norm and a standard of whatever action we are going to take. But when two or more Christians         disagree about what that will is, problems can result. That is the situation that we find in to be misunderstood – particularly when you are only trying to do the right thing. is in the Christian Life is a disagreement over what the will is in a certain situation. On the one hand, it is good to seek the Lord’s will, and to have that as a norm and a standard of whatever action we are going to take. But when two or more Christians disagree about what that will is, problems can result. That is the situation we find in Acts chapter 21 as Paul continues his trip to Jerusalem.

 

The chapter consists of three parts:

 

  1. The Warnings about Jerusalem in verses 1 through 14
  2. The wavering at Jerusalem in verses 15 through 25

III. The Warfare at Jerusalem – 26 through 36

 

So let’s begin by looking at the warnings about Jerusalem that Paul received in verses 1 through 14. And the first of those warnings are the warnings at Tyre recorded in verses 1 through 6 The way to Tyre  is given in verses 1 through 3  a listing of the places along the way (probably done to give a sense of travel)

 

Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course, we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara (2) and finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.(3) when we had sighted Cypress, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.

 

Then beginning at verse 6 we find the wait at Tyre. The reason for the wait is actually found in the last part of verse 3: The unloading the cargo from the ship. But the real message of the passage is found in the result of the wait. What happened while they were waiting. The wording of verse 4 is very significant:

 

(4) And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

 

Note the phrase “and finding disciples.” Actually, the Greek text says “and having searched out disciples.” The New American Standard Version much more accurately translates it “after looking up disciples.” So this is not an accidental or casual “finding” of fellow Christians as the New King James Version suggests, but a result of careful searching.

 

Harry Ward Beecher, a 19th century liberal criticizes the book of Acts by saying that

 

“Luke was devoid of artistic sense in that he traveled through those cities of asia, packed with things of beauty and artistic merit and value, and never by a line referred to one of them.

 

But G. Morgan Campbell a 19th century conservative said:

 

“There was no “scenery” to Paul, there was no geography, there was nothing but lost humanity, and the redeeming cross of Christ . . .”

 

There is something else about Tyre that is interesting to think about: This is the first time that Tyre is mentioned in the book of Acts. So where did these “disciples” come from? There is no way to know definitively where they came from, but an interesting thing to think about is that these may have been converts of Christ Himself! Mark 3:8 says that a great many people came from Tyre and the surrounding area to see Jesus in the early days of His ministry. Later in his ministry, as recorded in Matthew 11:21,22 Jesus mentioned the openness of those areas to the gospel:

 

Woe unto you, Chorazin and Bethsaida, for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes”

 

So it is not impossible that the first Christians in Tyre were people who had been converted under the ministry of Christ Himself!  In fact, probably many of those first century evangelists were reaping fruit from seeds planted by Christ Himself.

 

But coming back to the text, the point of this part of the chapter is that in the last part of verse 4 those Christians in Tyre “told Paul that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” We will see later what Paul’s reaction to this kind of warning was, but at this point Paul and the others move on.

 

(5) When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children till we were out of the city. And they knelt down on the shore and prayed. (6) When we had taken our leave of one another we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

 

So, Paul received “warnings at Tyre” in verses 1 through 6. But in verses 7 through 14 we read about the weeping at Caesarea. First, we find some nostalgia in the visit. Look at verse 7:

 

And when we that had finished our voyage from Tyre came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day (8) On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. (9) now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

 

Notice the phrase “one of the seven” in verse 8. This is a reference to the seven deacons who had been appointed way back in chapter 6, years earlier. The importance of those deacons is shown by the fact that here years later this would still be the descriptive term for Philip – “one of the seven. “And the use of this term also hints at all that had transpired in the intervening years: When Philip had been appointed a deacon, Paul was still persecuting the church. In fact, it was Paul’s persecution that had driven Philip from Jerusalem as recorded in chapter 8. And it is interesting to notice that Philip had begun pioneering in a work that Paul was later going to become famous for – winning Gentiles (Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch) But now, twenty years later here they are together, involved in the same work! And this is just another example of how “all things work together for good.”

 

So there was nostalgia in the visit.” But verses 10 and 11 tell us about a narrative that was given in the visit. After spending “many days” in Caeserea, Agabus, gives a descriptive narrative of what awaits Paul when he goes to Jerusalem. He does it in the classic Old Testament style of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah etc., which shows again the transitional period typical of Acts – this style would have carried more weight with the Jews involved. And interestingly enough, it is the very same kind of warning that he had given at Tyre back in verse 4. In fact, back in chapter 20, Paul had said that he was hearing this everywhere he went.

 

And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea, (11) When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “thus says the Holy Spirit, “so shall the Jews at Jerusalem do to the one who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”

 

But not only was there “nostalgia” in the visit, and this “narrative,” in the visit but verse 12 tells us there was also an expression of negative opinions in the visit.

 

 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem

 

Everybody close to Paul was telling him not to go up to Jerusalem. And this brings up a central issue of this passage: who was really being led by the Spirit, and who was not? Some say that Paul at this point got out of the will of God by going on to Jerusalem when the Holy spirit was leading not to. Others say that he did exactly the right thing. (and were right!) But at the very least this passage brings up the problem of differing opinions of the Lord’s will by equally sincere people.

 

But the next verses show us the knowledge of God’s will as expressed in this visit – look at verses13,14: The reasoning is found in verse 13

 

Then Paul answered, “what do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

 

It is significant that Paul had not responded to any of the advice before this. But here his answer gives insight to the whole situation. Note the phrase “breaking my heart.” “Breaking” doesn’t mean from the standpoint of sorrow, but from the standpoint of changing his mind. It could literally be translated “why by your weeping are you attempting to get me to change my mind about something I know I must do?” So the true picture of the situation is this: the Lord had revealed to Paul and to the various disciples, that Paul would be persecuted in Jerusalem. The difference was simply the interpretation of that information. The disciples urged him not to go because of persecution. But he wanted to go in spite of it. The application: This provides a test by which we can know which is the true leading of the Spirit: the test of motivation. The disciples’ motivation was love for Paul – and that is admirable. But Paul’s motivation was love for the Jews and the desire for Jew/Gentile unification.

 

One reason for going to Jerusalem was to take another was to take the offering gathered by the gentile believers  in Antioch for poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Another reason was to show the Jewish believers in Jerusalem the Jewish believers in Jerusalem A good rule of thumb to remember in situations like this is that sometimes “the good is the enemy of the best” – interpreting God’s will is sometimes done in this vein.

 

Well, we have seen The nostalgia in this visit to Caesarea, the narrative prophecy that was given in the visit, the negative opinions that were expressed in the visit, and the knowledge of God’s will that finally surfaced in the visit. Now finally, in verse 14 we see the newness of vision that was developed:

 

So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “the will of the Lord be done.”

 

The other disciples finally saw Paul’s viewpoint and fellowship was restored – in verse 15 they went on with him.

 

This is the direction toward which any disagreement among believers should always move. Even if there is still some disagreement about what the will of the Lord is, the common denominator can and should be the seeking of that will.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeping in Church

A Pastor’s Commentary on the Book of Acts

Lesson 38 Sleeping in Church

Acts 19:21- 40

 

In I Corinthians 15:32 the Apostle Paul makes an interesting reference to his time in Ephesus. He says, “I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus. As a Roman citizen Paul could not have literally been thrown to the lions in the Colosseum, so we are safe in assuming that this is a figurative reference. But what a realistic description of the frenzied riot he and his companions had just endured at the end of chapter 19.

 

This incident took place when Paul was wrapping up his time in the city of Ephesus and getting ready to complete his second missionary journey. In verse 24 of chapter 19 we read that

 

About that time there arose a great commotion about The Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said, “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade (26)”Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. “So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.

 

As with all propaganda these claims were wildly exaggerated. But also, as with most propaganda plenty believed it. So, all this leads to the tumult in verses 28 through 34. First there was panic in verses 28,29

 

Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (29) So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.

 

They probably seized Aristarchus and Gaius because they couldn’t find Paul. That theater still exists. It can seat 25,000 – so it is no small matter.  But notice Paul’s peace

 

 (30) So when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. (31) Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.

 

There was so much mayhem and confusion that most of didn’t even know why they were there, verse 32 says. Then the Jews put forth their greatest orator to try to calm the situation, but nothing worked! Verse 35 says that the chanting went on for two hours! Finally God provided for the taming of the situation. Not with the Cavalry or a high Roman official, but with the city clerk!

 

(35) And when the City Clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? (36) therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. (37)”For you have brought these men here who are neither of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. (38) therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow  craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another (39)But if you have any other inquiry to make, it should be determined in the lawful assembly (40)For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering. (41) And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

 

What happened here? As if He were playing Chess, God moved a pawn into the right position to block Paul’s opponent. And the same thing is true in our lives – sometimes He uses unexpected events and unlikely people. The trick is waiting for Him to make His move! Why do we have so much trouble with that? Because we want to be in charge of our own lives! But the trouble is that we can’t! We have absolutely no control over unexpected situations.

 

But with peace established and the church growing and safe, Paul now decides that the time is right to move on. And chapter 20 gives us another “photo album page” from his travels.

 

And as we look at it we will see three segments:

 

  1. The Ministry in Macedonia – verses 1 through 6
  2. The Miracle at Midnight – verses 7 through 12, and

III. The Message at Miletus – verses 13 through 38

 

So, let’s look at the ministry in Macedonia as it is recorded in verses 1 through 6. And verses 1 and 2 record the that the first aspect of it is fellowship:

 

After the uproar had ceased Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. (2) Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece.

 

After three years of ministry in Ephesus a sizable number of disciples had been raised up. His first trip through this area had focused on evangelism. But evangelism isn’t what is crucial now. This time it is exhortation. And we base that on the key word “encouraged” in verses 2. It is a translation of the word that is usually translated “exhort” or “exhortation.” Let’s take a closer look at this familiar term which is so easy to take for granted or overlook. Chuck Swindoll says it means “the ability to apply truth to life.” The Greek word is “parakaleo,” a word which means, “to call alongside to help.” It is fascinating to know that the Holy Spirit is called a “parakletos,” a helper or comforter, in John 14:26. An exhortation can be a warning, a comforting statement or an encouraging comment. And value is inestimable. Exhorting others is sometimes like lighting small fires in other peoples’ lives. Sometimes the fires illuminate sin, drawing people, drawing people toward repentance. Sometimes they awaken sleepers, sometimes they warm failing hearts, encouraging them with hope. Do you think you might be an exhorter? Perhaps the Holy spirit has given this spiritual gift to you and you need to develop it. If so, you can have no better teacher than Paul in the above examples. Think them through carefully and pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the opportunity to light the fire in the right place at the right time.

 

Paul apparently spent about a year in Macedonia and possibly used this time to preach the gospel as far west as Illyricum, an area which was known for many years as Yugoslavia and was sucked into the Communist political machine, and was famous for a few years in the mid 1990’s was known as “Bosnia-Herzegovinia as the communist USSR was falling apart. Also during his stay in that area he probably wrote two of his epistles – II Corinthians and Galatians.

 

Out of that background of “fellowship,” with his dream of reaching Rome still fresh in his heart, Paul heads for the next step in his journey; Greece. And it is there that the second characteristic of his ministry in Macedonia is demonstrated: farsightedness. Look at verse 3:

 

(2) he came to Greece (3) and stayed three months. And when Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

 

Paul then had a fruitful three months stay in Greece, during which he wrote his doctrinal masterpiece, the epistle to the Romans. However, when he is ready to leave, his plans for an ocean crossing to Syria hit murderous swells,

According to Stanley Toussaint, apparently the vengeful Jews were planning to kill him on board and then dispose of the body at sea. But when Paul found this out he wisely set a different course back up through Macedonia the way he had just come.

 

Now the question might come, “does this mean that Paul didn’t trust god to protect him on the ship? Did he show a lack of courage by changing his travel route? Not at all. Paul would have been foolish to board that ship. God had informed him of the plot, so he could escape the murder attempt, not so his courage could be tested. Paul trusted God, but he also knew when to retreat from danger. Verses 4 through 6 bring out a third aspect of ministry among the Macedonians, and that was his fellow travelers. Look at verse 4:

 

Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia; also, Aristarchus and Secundus of the thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia  In his choice of traveling companions Paul revealed that there is no rank or hierarchy in the family of God. Ray Steadman brings this to light for us in his commentary on Acts. The man whose name was Secundus, which meant “the second,” was obviously a slave. Slaves did not bother to name their children, the just numbered them – “The First, “the second,” and so forth. It may be that “Tertius or “number three” to whom Paul dictated the letter to the Romans, was this man’s brother (Romans 16:22) Secundus’ slave status made as little difference to Paul as the fact that Sopater had a noble heritage and a famous father. Even timothy, was half Jewish and half Gentile, yet Paul freely accepted him too. Some of the men were from Asia, some from Europe, Paul treated them all as brothers in Christ. Some of the men were from Asia some from Europe. He lived out the truths he wrote to others There is another “fellow traveler” here who is not mentioned by name, and that was Luke. This is indicated by Luke’s use of the pronouns “us” and “we” in verses 5 and 6. The other “we” sections are (16:10-17; and “we” in  21:1-18)

 

(5) These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas, (6) (But we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at troas, where we  stayed seven days.

 

This brief seven day visit in Troas must have been nostalgic for Paul, for it was here that God had given him the vision of the Macedonian man calling “come over into Macedonia and help us.” (16:9) Now he had the opportunity to minister in the city that had so significantly impacted his life. The first segment of Paul’s trip involved “Ministry in Macedonia, but in the second segment, verses 7-12, we see a miracle at midnight. The setting for the miracle is in verses 7 and 8

 

Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

 

In describing the events at Troas, Luke provides us a rare glimpse of first century church life: four facets stand out of their worship are brought out in this one verse. First, notice on what day of the week the early church met for worship. The Jews observed the sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday, but the Christians met on the first day of the week, Sunday, in honor, we assume of the day of Jesus’ of the day of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:1) Second, the phrase “we were gathered together” implies that the church service was primarily a time for believers. On Sundays Christians would meet to spiritually “tune up” for the week ahead when they would be in the world witnessing for Christ. Third, the Lord’s Supper was an integral part of their worship. Luke simply writes “we were gathered together to break bread.” This phrase gives us no details about how they celebrated communion, which is a good thing. Because now we are free to remember Christ’s death in a variety of ways. We do not have to be in a church building; the “Clergy” doesn’t necessarily have to administer it. As long as there is a worshipful spirit, a body of believers can partake of the Lord’s supper anywhere and in any format.

 

The final glimpse of early church life Luke shows us is the presence of Biblical teaching. Paul began talking to them and he talked and talked and talked. In fact, he kept teaching until midnight (showing that an adequate feeding of the saints can sometimes require a significant amount time.) And that formed the situation calling for a miracle. Look at verse 9

 

And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking down into a deep sleep. He was overcome. And as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.

 

But even more embarrassing, though, is that Luke records this event for every future generation across the entire world to read about. Why do people fall asleep in church? Well, there are all kinds of reasons, and they are not all bad. Church leaders who have the opportunity, such as when constructing, expanding or remodeling facilities should think about good lighting, ventilation, heating and air conditioning, and comfortable seating. (as in the case of Eutychus) sometimes people are already tired when they get to church.) Let’s go ahead and say it: Sometimes it is the fault of the pastor. If he is poorly organized, too much or rambling material, a monotone delivery, and so forth.

 

Thankfully, as in Eutychus case, his sleep was not permanent. In verses 10 and 11, we see the satisfaction with the miracle.

 

But Paul went down, fell on hi m, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” (11) Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten and talked a long while even till daybreak, he departed. (12) And they brought they young man in alive and they were not a little comforted.

 

The passage closes with another of the Bible’s understatements in verse 12

 

(12) And they brought they young man in alive and they were not a little comforted.

 

-end-

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort in Shaky Times

Studies in Acts

Lesson 33: Comfort in Shaky Times

Acts 18:1-18

 

In Acts chapter 17 we read that when Paul toured the city of Athens “his spirit was troubled within him when he saw the city given over to idols.” Interestingly enough the word translated “troubled” is a word that literally means “shaken up.” We are hearing more and more about earthquakes these days (which, interestingly enough, Jesus said would be one of the signs of His return.) so we know that after an earthquake there usually are some “aftershocks” following it. If Athens was an “earthquake” for Paul, Corinth must have been a series of “aftershocks.” And this is what is described in the first part of chapter 18. By way of outline, the whole chapter consists of four parts:

I. The Missionaries – verses 1 – 4The Ministry – verses 5 – 11

II. The Magistrate – verses 12 – 18

III. The Maintenance of Relationships – vv.18 – 28

 

So let’s begin looking at Paul’s experiences in Corinth by noticing the missionaries whom he meets in verses 1 through 4. And the first thing we see about these missionaries is their location as it is specified in verse 1.

 

After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.

 

Now that seems like a very simple little statement, but it is one that forecasts very difficult times of ministry for Paul. To walk into Corinth would be very much like getting off a bus in one of the seedier districts of a major city – times square in New York before it was cleaned up by Mayor Julianni  some years ago. Or San Francisco’s tenderloin district or Hollywood’s “sunset strip.”

 

And this was no shanty town, either. Corinth was a town of awesome wealth It was located close to the isthmus which joined Greece to the Peloponnesian peninsula. Thus it commanded trade routes north and south by land and east and west by sea. For that reason, it actually had two harbors, one on each side of the isthmus. Naturally, then, it was a wealthy city with merchants and goods from all over the world – with all of the wealth and the worldliness that went along with them. In Greek plays there was a standard character known as “the Corinthian,” who was always a drunk or a womanizer. On the highest peak of the city was the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, where 1,000 priestesses, who were actually male and female prostitutes, officiated. It was into this atmosphere, then, that Paul walked as he wound down his second missionary Think about what an assault on his senses this must have been for Paul! Even though we know that before his conversion he had chased down Christians and dragged them into prisons or even to their deaths. In that sense Paul had led a very sheltered life in the theological schools and teaching in the synagogues. Think what thoughts and questions must have filled his mind “How can these people be reached with the gospel? What can I do?” Why should they listen to me? In a letter that he wrote to the Corinthians years later, he wrote about those feelings. Look at I Corinthians 2:1, 3

 

And I brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the gospel of God . . . (3) I was with you in weakness and in much trembling

 

Corinth was probably a low point in Paul’s life, physically, emotionally, even financially (in the next verses we see him working for a living.) But unbeknownst to him God was about to provide him with new friends who would remain close to him for the rest of his life, and a fruitful, long-lasting ministry. This is the location, then, of the missionaries whom Paul is going to meet, their identification is given in verse 2:

 

And he found a certain Jew named Aquila born in Pontus, and he came to them. recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome) 

 

At just the right time God gave Paul just the right people to welcome him. Not only were they fellow Jews but they, too, were new to the area, and thus not tainted by it. Another similarity to Paul was their vocation Look at verse 3:

 

(3) So, because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked. For by occupation they were tentmakers

 

The Greek word translated “tentmaker” actually means “cloth worker” in Greek, so it is conceivable, though not provable, that Paul was a weaver or a tailor. But whatever the work was, Paul’s character is shown by the fact that he joined right in with them in their work – he didn’t presume on their hospitality at all. His trade kept him busy during the week, but along with Priscilla and Aquilla, their real motivation is demonstrated in verse 4

 

(4) And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded both Jews and Greeks

 

Notice that nothing has changed. No matter what problems it had caused him in the past, Paul still went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to preach Christ to the Jews.

 

Suddenly the scene changes in verse 5. There we see details of a couple of different kinds of ministry that go on down through verse 11. First there was a ministry to Paul. Look at verse 5a:

 

When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia . . .”

 

The text doesn’t say so, but probably Silas and Timothy brought an offering from Philippi, which was in Macedonia, when they came and this enabled Paul to stop working and devote his full time to preaching and writing – a ministry to him as well as to the Jews. We base that on the statement of Philippians 4:15:

 

Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.

 

And this is another illustration of the fact that when we give to a missionary (or any kind of ministry, for that matter, you have a part in everything he is able to accomplish – you “free him up” to work on ministry, rather than having to spend time supporting himself.

 

So first there was a ministry to Paul, and that, in turn, enabled him to have a ministry to the Jews.

 

Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ (6) But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles,”

 

Obviously, the ministry to the Jews did not go well. And this reminds us that the same message will not be heard by everybody in the same way. Some will accept and some will reject. But the real focus of these verses is Paul’s reaction to their rejection? Actually, he was just doing what Jesus had said to do in Matthew 7:6

 

Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces.

 

This is not talking about being lax in in giving the gospel to people who are hard to deal with. In the context in which Jesus said this, it was referring to people who refuse to accept what you have to say. Later Paul wrote this same principle to Titus in Titus 3:10, 11

 

Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, (11) knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self condemned.

 

The word “divisive” describes a person who is “argumentative,” always disagreeing with what you are saying. And notice that it says, “after the first and second admonition.” What this boils down to is that if you have given the gospel clearly to a person two times, you should move on. You have better things to do than to keep hammering away at him. there are plenty of other people who haven’t heard it even the first time. Of course, keep in mind that it may take many conversations to get the gospel across even one time. Paul had done all he could for the Jews and still they rejected the “precious pearl” of the gospel, so with a clear conscience he very practically said, “that’s it” and, striding briskly out the door turned to the Gentiles. So with a clear conscience he very practically and striding briskly out the door went all the way . . . .next door!

 

(7) And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue (8)Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, were baptized.

 

This must have seemed like a breath of fresh air!  Paul was now preaching in the personable atmosphere of a home, no longer stifled by the traditions of the synagogue. Ironically, even Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, heard the gospel there and joined in believing in Christ. So, there was ministry to the Jews, to the Gentiles, and, interestingly enough there was also ministry to Paul. look at verses 9 through 11

 

(9) Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent (10) “for I am with you and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” (11) And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them. 

Evidently Paul had not been able to completely shake off his feelings of fear and inadequacy even with the good results of the home bible study, so God speaks to him in this special way. And not only did He promise protection, but reassurance of a fruitful ministry – “I have many people in this city.” This is an interesting statement, because as far as we know, Paul was already acquainted with all of the believers in Corinth at that point. But God knows those who are going to be saved and considers them “His” people too. How many of those around us are “His” people waiting to find out that they are? But the reassurance from God was effective, because we read that Paul then stayed there another year and a half. And many Bible scholars believe that this when Paul began his writing ministry, writing to the Thessalonians.

 

With the ministry of Paul prospering, even to the point of taking away their former rabbi, the Jews couldn’t stand it any longer. And so in verses 12 through 18 they bring charges against him before the local magistrate. First, we see the hearing in verses 12 through 16.

 

(12) When Gallio was proconsul of Achia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul brought him to the judgement seat, (13) saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” (14) And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “if it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. (15) But if it is a question words and names and your own law, look to it for yourselves; for I do I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” (16) And he drove them from the judgement seat.  

 

Here is an amazing provision from the Lord! This is demonstrated in the fact that Paul didn’t even have to speak in his own defense. But the real significance is that this ruling established a legal precedent. Since Gallio was a “proconsul” his ruling could be used in future cases. And that ruling was, in effect, that Christianity could not be considered illegal. Probably in their excitement about the ruling the Gentiles began the heckling of the Jews described in verse 17.

 

Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue and beat him before the judgement seat but Gallio took no notice of these things (18) So Paul still remained a good while.

 

It is interesting to notice that “Gallio took no notice of these things. This doesn’t mean that he was indifferent to justice, but probably just that he didn’t want to get drawn into a racially charged situation. But with all that as background it is not surprising to read that “Paul remained a good while” in verse 18a.

 

As we wrap this up it is interesting to see that Paul had entered the morally corrupt city of Corinth “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3b). But even though his spirit was shaking, God was at work protecting him and turning him and the lives of others around. Later Paul wrote with confidence:

 

And He said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made in perfect weakness”

 

As we analyze this “shaky” experience in the life of the Apostle Paul, there are at least three principles that we can distill from it: First, the darker the scene the greater the challenge. Whether in first century Corinth or 21st century America, where there is little light there is great need and therefore great opportunity.

 

Second The weaker the spokesman, the stronger the message. Paul came to them in fear and trembling – too weak to depend on his own wisdom, he later wrote:

 

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

Third: The greater the resistance, the less the fear. When resistance grows great enough it throws us on the Lord’s strength. And when we depend on his strength we realize that, as Paul also wrote, “If God be for us, who can be against us?