Hey, Let’s Have a Riot! – Acts 21:27 – 22:21

Well, that title probably just got this post read by a whole bunch of folks at the National Security Administration (NSA). To them I say, “Hi guys – I welcome you to read through the book of Acts with us! Hah! You think you guys have got problems?! This passage even mentions an Egyptian revolutionary leader and 4,000 terrorists in the wilderness. See how relevant the Bible is!”

So, today we see again where the Apostle Paul gets arrested – thankfully – since he would have otherwise been beaten to death by the Jews in Jerusalem. The Jewish crowds were certainly confused about exactly who Paul was, but in some general way at least, many of them seemed to know he had a history as a trouble-maker. We can well imagine what the rumor mill was circulating about him. He was known to be too friendly with Gentiles – having been seen around town with a particular fellow from Ephesus. The crowd wrongly assumed that Paul had brought Trophimus into the Temple, but the accusation was more than sufficient to get the masses aroused. After all, who doesn’t like a good riot?

Well, the Romans don’t!! They rush into the crowd and “rescue” Paul by arresting him and putting him into chains. With the crowd chanting and the Romans hauling him off to the barracks, Paul gets the bright idea of giving a speech to the crowd! Hey, great speakers never like to pass up a big audience!

Granted the request, Paul motions to the crowd to become silent and listen to him. (And this is what amazes me…) They do! He begins a defense before them in the common local language of the day, rehearsing his experiences of being a former persecutor of “The Way” before his incredible conversion experience. It is a great testimony.

It all goes well until the final sentence: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”  You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to read what happens next!

The Scriptures tell us in several places that we should be ready at all times to share the story of our faith and to give an account for it and the hope that is to be found in Christ. Paul really lived this out! We probably usually think this will happen in a happy and positive place of good feelings amidst seekers who genuinely want to hear our story. But maybe it does not always have to be in that context … maybe sometimes there are also opportunities in the midst of criticism and opposition – even when it will not be popular. God can use it all.

Paul Arrested – Acts 21:27 – 22:21

27 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, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”

Paul Speaks to the Crowd – Acts 21:27 – 22:21

37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

22 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’

19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

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Stubbornness?… or Conviction? – (Acts 21:1-26)

One part of my keen interest in Civil War history has to do with continually seeking to understand the values and commitments that would make a man walk across an open field and into the face of a 12-pounder Napoleon Model 1857 cannon loaded with canister (about 75 metal balls packed into a sort of tin can). Looking straight into that barrel, watching the enemy artillerists ramming home the powder charge and the projectile, knowing life was down to a few final seconds … thousands continued to walk forward toward that fate. Were they too stubborn to turn and flee? Or were they that committed to their convictions?face of a cannon

The Apostle Paul was a man of conviction – that is certain. In today’s reading, we see him journeying onward to Jerusalem. Everywhere he goes – at every stop – he is warned that difficulties, persecution, and imprisonment await him. Yet he continues on toward that goal, convinced that the Lord wanted him to do that.

What is success in ministry? Is it always visible? Is it always quantifiable? By 21st century standards, the day of Pentecost was a success – 3,000 saved in one day! That is the blessing of God. Here and there we read of “many who believed and were baptized” after a sermon of Paul. Amen! But now (as we will see over these final two weeks of readings) Paul walks into the face of certain imprisonment. Everywhere, people warned him to stay away – come on Paul, change your methods and stop being so antagonistic! Surely you can reach more people by staying out of jail and the courts! Are you just stubborn or what? Get over yourself!

But Paul had a divine appointment that he knew included imprisonments and suffering. And this would involve gaining the attention of (and gospel proclamation to) a mob in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, two Roman governors, King Agrippa, and the praetorian guard in Rome.

Again, the road of taking up one’s cross to follow Christ is difficult. It is filled with obstacles, opposition, pain and disappointment. There is brokenness on the journey, no matter what the modern fired-up purveyors of the gospel of success say and appear to always enjoy. As Paul said to Timothy, sometimes ministry is “in season” and sometimes it is “out of season.”  The command is to be faithful in each – being convinced of the calling of the Lord.

This is not a popular message. Sorry about that! Sometimes the calling is to set your face toward Jerusalem and walk that road into the face of great difficulty and opposition. Paul did it … and so did another guy before him, who began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

So what is success? What does the pathway of conviction and calling look like in our lives? Sometimes it looks and feels like walking toward a loaded cannon.

On to Jerusalem – Acts 21:1-26

21 After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.

We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

15 After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow.24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.

Additional note: I know this final section today almost looks like Paul was honoring the Jewish sacrificial system as if the cross was not sufficient. Paul certainly did not see it this way… he was not doing this to promote a method of salvation – for that was in Christ alone. But he saw no conflict in honoring these Jewish traditions related to vows of commitment and things of that sort. His action here would work toward the unifying of the Jews and Gentiles in the universal church. Perhaps this passage from the epistles would put it into context:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. 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. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

It is Hard to Say “Goodbye” – Acts 20:13-38

This past Sunday we had the experience at church of saying “goodbye” to our dear friends Tsiry and Barbara – thankful for the past three years, but sad to see the time expire and their return home to Grenoble, France. The passage today pictures a similar sort of farewell with deep emotions so many of us are well able to understand these days.

But first, Luke again explains some of the travel itinerary on this part of what is the 3rd missionary journey, which is included here with a map to illustrate how Paul was bypassing Ephesus in his haste to get to Jerusalem.

Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders – Acts 20:13-38

13 We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. 15 The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus.16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.

Rather than take the time to travel to Ephesus, Paul asks the elder leadership of the church there to meet with him at the relatively nearby coastal town of Miletus. His words to them comprise what is essentially a farewell speech. Paul rehearses the events of their several years together in that place – recalling the persecutions, the extensive teaching ministry, and all the hard work that had brought them together in mutual association.

He also warns them of the inevitability of the work of the kingdom of darkness to infiltrate, as he pictorially speaks of such as savage wolves ravaging a flock. He reminds these leaders that they must be vigilant about preserving the timeless truth, knowing that error would arise from within. These exhortations continue to this day to be wise counsel for leaders of churches.

But grieving the Ephesians most is the word from Paul that, as he heads toward inevitable persecution in Jerusalem and beyond, they will never see him again – in this world. They knell and pray (as always in the book of Acts), as Paul commits them to God and his care. The scene becomes very emotional, as the Ephesians accompany Paul to the very last steps of boarding the ship.

Relationships in Christ are indeed often very deep, especially when forged together in the inevitable challenges of mutual service – a sort of spiritual warfare in a dark world under the power of the Evil One. We are combat veterans together. Over 30 years ago as minister of music in a large Dallas church, I was especially close to the senior pastor. And when I parted from that place to serve at home on the east coast, we were both much affected at the departure. Though he continues, even as an elderly man now, to serve as the Chaplain at Dallas Theological Seminary, when I see him as I did just this past spring, it is as if no time has passed at all. And I can say similar things about many with whom I’ve served over the years. And this is all very appropriate. We are comrades together in an eternal, cosmic conflict – co-workers for Christ.

Friends, if you are not committed at a deep inter-personal level, but are only casually a part of the life of the church, you are missing the depths of relationships and service that is at once both required of you and personally beneficial for your well-being. Please bring both hands, both feet, your heart, your mind, and your soul.

17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

36 When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.