SERMON DELIVERED ON 10-26-19

       Last week we left Paul in Troas talking until the break of day after which he set foot for Assos, a distance of about 19 miles from Troas. In the mean time some of his companions had apparently left the meeting at Troas early and sailed to Assos.  

       Acts 20:13-17: 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.  When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus.  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. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 

       Here again we see Paul trying to make it to a specific city by one of the Feast days.  Was it because Paul intended to observe this Feast or was he using it as a marker of time.  We don’t know.  I suspect, however, he was looking to observe this Feast.  To this very day some Christian fellowships observe this day not as an Old Covenant Feast but as a New Covenant recognition of the giving of the Holy Spirit.     

       The last 20 verses of Acts 20 is an account of Paul recapping his relationship with the Ephesians.  When the elders from Ephesus arrived at Miletus, Paul proceeds to reflect on all that had taken place since the first time he had contact with them.  He speaks of serving the Lord with humility and being severely tested by the Jews. He speaks of how he has declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. He then says he was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

        He continues by reflecting on how in every city prison and hardships are facing him but that he is committed to finishing the race and completing the task the Lord Jesus has given him.  He identifies that task as testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

       He then lays a little bit of a bomb shell on these Ephesian Elders in telling them that that none of them among whom he had gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see him again.  It is unclear why he says this but he was headed for Jerusalem where he knew he would face great hostility from the unbelieving Jews who were intent on putting him to death.

       He exhorts them to keep watch over themselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers and to be shepherds of the church of God.  He advises that after he leaves, savage wolves will come in among them and will not spare the flock and even from their own number men would arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

       Acts 20 ends with Paul kneeling down with those present with him and praying. They all are seen as weeping as they embraced Paul and kiss him. It is recorded that what grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

       Acts 21 begins with Paul leaving Miletus and sailing to Cos and then to Rhodes and Patara. From Patara Paul and his companions got passage on a cargo ship and sailed to Phoenicia and then on to Tyre where the cargo was unloaded.

       At Tyre they met up with some disciples and stayed with them for seven days. These disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem but Paul and his companions left Tyre and continued on their way to Jerusalem.  They made a stop at Ptolemais where they spent a day with some disciples.  From Ptolemais they sailed to Caesarea where they stayed at the house of the evangelist Philip.  Philip was one of the seven who were ordained as deacons as covered in Acts 6. Phillip at some point become designated an evangelist and was ministering in Caesarea.

       While at Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, `In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'"  On hearing this, the people there with Paul pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Here was Paul’s response:

       Acts 21:13:  "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."

       In retrospect one has to wonder why Paul was so intent on putting himself at risk. The unbelieving Jews had been out to get him from the day of his conversion. He had initially preached the Gospel to them and when they by and large rejected his message, he took the Gospel to the Gentiles where his message was largely accepted resulting in the creation of numerous Gentile churches.  Since he had such success in his Gentile ministry, why did he persist in butting heads with the unbelieving and hostile Jews?  Why did he not simply tell the Jews to go fly a kite and pour all his energies into his Gentile ministry?   

       The answer to that question is found in the account of Paul’s conversion which we covered a number of sermons ago in this series. You will remember that as Paul neared the city of Damascus a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  After coming to realize it was Jesus talking him he got up from the ground and when he opened his eyes he was blind.  He was led by the hand into Damascus where a disciple named Ananias resided.  This disciple was told by the Lord in a vision to go see Paul and restore his sight. Here is what the Lord also told Ananias in regard to Paul.    

       Acts 9:15-16: This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

       As I have pointed out a number of times during this series, Paul was not only called to be an Apostle to the Gentiles but also an Apostle to the Jews.  While he at times focused on ministering to the Gentiles, he never stopped preaching to the Jews as well. This brought about much suffering on his part, a suffering that was the natural consequence of his mission to not only the Gentiles but the Jews who were very opposed to his message and considered him a traitor to Judaism.   As we will see moving forward in this series, it was through his insistence on facing up to the Jewish resistance that he came to witness before Gentile kings ending with an apparent trail before the Roman Emperor.

       So when we see Paul willingly throwing himself into the fire so to speak. It was he acknowledging the overall mission he was called to accomplish and not shrinking back from accomplishing that mission. 

       Moving on in Acts 21, we see Paul travelling to Jerusalem accompanied by some of the disciples from Caesarea.  When they arrived in Jerusalem they were warmly greeted by their fellow brothers in Christ. They went to see Apostle James and the other Jerusalem Elders. Paul reported to them in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. Then we fine something very interesting happening.

       Acts 21:20-22:  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. 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. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.

       This is very informative. We know from our journey through Acts thus far that the unbelieving Jews were constantly persecuting Paul and trying to kill him for preaching salvation through Christ and teaching that the man Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel. Yet we also have seen in our journey through Acts that many Jews came to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel. As I have pointed out a number of times in this series, the Jews that came to believe in Christ did not abandon their allegiance to Moses and the Mosaic Covenant.  They simply added Christ to their belief system. 

       This is seen in what led up to the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15 which I previously covered in some detail. Some Jewish converts to Christ insisted that Gentile converts to Christ must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses just as they do. This tells us that these Jewish converts to Christ were still keeping the Mosaic regulations and believed they must.  After considering the matter, the leadership of the Jerusalem Church determined that Gentile converts to Christ did not have to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law. 

       However, there is no indication that this decision about Gentile converts to Christ was seen by Jewish converts to Christ as applying to them as well.. A careful reading of the NT narrative shows that Jewish converts to Christ continued to keep the Law of Moses and believed they needed too.  This decision pertained only to Gentile converts.  

       Now we see it stated here in Acts 21 that thousands of Jews had come to believe in Christ and all of them are zealous for the law which simply means they were dedicated adherents of the Mosaic regulations.   It is apparent these Jewish converts to Christ had come to understand salvation through Christ but believed adherence to the Mosaic regulations was necessary as well. So to be told that Paul was teaching that all the Jews who live among the Gentiles should turn away from Moses and not circumcise their children or live according to Jewish customs appeared quite heretical coming from the Jew Paul. 

       As we have journeyed through Acts, we have seen that Gentile converts to Christ often worshipped with Jewish converts to Christ.  Despite the decision made at the Jerusalem conference, it is apparent some Jewish converts to Christ were still insisting that Gentile converts to Christ be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.  We see Paul having to deal with this throughout his ministry. These were the so-called Judaizers that Paul is seen as writing about in his letters.

       Now we know from Paul’s letters that he was teaching the Gentiles that circumcism and adherence to Mosaic regulations was not necessary for salvation and having a relationship with God. This is what had been determined by the Jewish leadership at the Jerusalem conference with Apostle James making this decision. Was Paul also teaching Jewish converts to Christ that they no longer needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses as he is being accused of?  Well we don’t know.  Paul certainly wasn’t preaching two different Gospels. Paul wasn’t teaching that for Gentiles it was salvation through Christ alone and for Jews it was salvation through Christ and keeping of the Law.

       Yet we find the leadership of the Jerusalem Church very concerned about reports that Paul is teaching Jewish believers in Christ that they don’t have to keep Mosaic regulations.

       Acts 21: 22-25: What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 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."

       So what do we have here?  Paul is told to perform a purification rite to show there is no truth in the reports that he was instructing Jewish converts to Christ to turn away from Moses and no longer keep Mosaic regulations.  Paul was asked to participate in these rites to demonstrate that he was living in obedience to the law. The Jerusalem leadership then goes on to reiterate what was decided at the Jerusalem conference as covered in Acts 15.  At this conference it was determined that Gentile believers were only obligated to observe a few of the regulations of the Mosaic Law but were in general free from the requirements of that Law including circumcism. 

       The reference to the decision made at the Jerusalem conference is instructive. An apparent contrast is being made here between what is required of Gentile believers and what is required of Jewish believers.  This tells me that the decision made at the Jerusalem conference was seen as pertaining only to Gentile believers and not to Jewish believers.    

        It is apparent that Jewish believers in Christ, including their leadership, continued to believe that they were obligated to observe the Mosaic Law even though they had come to believe that salvation came through the Christ event. Since Gentile converts were never under the Mosaic Law, they were not seen as being obligated to observe this law except for the few things outlined in the letter to them generated by the Jerusalem conference.       

       We see in Acts 21:26 that Paul participated in the purification rites he was asked to do.  So what is Paul doing here?  Was Paul here showing that keeping Mosaic regulations was still necessary for Jewish converts to Christianity?  Was He doing this to prove he was zealous for the Law as well?  Or, was Paul simply trying to be accommodating to the sensitivities of the Christian Jews who still believed they had to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. Was Paul doing what he had told the Corinthians he did?

       1 Corinthians 9:19-22: Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to 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. 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. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

       We see Paul using this approach when deciding to take Timothy along with him on a missionary journey.

       Acts 16:1-3: He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.   

      In view of what we know of Paul's teaching regarding the matter of circumcision and the keeping of the law, He certainly wasn't circumcising Timothy for religious reasons.  He was simple trying to keep peace with the Jews who lived in the area.    

       In reading Paul it is very apparent he taught that salvation cannot be obtained through keeping the Law.  He strongly taught against keeping the law as the pathway to salvation.  It is very apparent Paul taught that circumcision and keeping the Mosaic Law was not the pathway to salvation and a relationship with God.  Was this true for Gentiles only?  No, this was and is true for Jews as well. Paul was not teaching two different gospels, one to the Gentiles and another to the Jews. 

       However, it must be understood that the Jewish converts to Christ had been keeping the Mosaic regulations all their lives.  They just didn’t suddenly drop their allegiance to Moses.  It took time to fully understand the ramification of the Christ event relative to their Old Covenant belief system.  It is apparent it took time for Jewish converts to Christ to fully understand the ramifications of the Christ event relative to their Old Covenant belief system.

       A careful reading of the NT reveals that covenantal change was a slow and arduous process that took years to accomplish and wasn’t fully accomplished until the temple was destroyed and the means to carry out the requirements of the Old Covenant were no longer available. 

       Hebrews 8:13: By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

       While the Christ event had made the Old Covenant obsolete, its observance didn’t end with the death of Jesus.  We know that Old Covenant regulations and requirements continued to be observed right up to the time of the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  With the destruction of the temple, the destruction of much of the city of Jerusalem and the killing off of the priesthood during the war with Rome, the means to facilitate many of the Old Covenant practices came to an end.  All indications are that going forward from that time on, both Gentile and Jewish converts to Christ no longer adhered to the ritualistic regulations of the Mosaic system.  

       Going on in Acts 21 we see that some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple and began to speak abusively about him and thus created the same type of mob effect we saw with the Ephesians and the Artemis event.  This led to Paul being seized and dragged from the temple. In verse 29 it is reported that these Jews had previously seen Paul with some Greeks and assumed he had brought them into the temple area which apparently he had not. Here is what they said.

       Acts 21:27b -28:  They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, "Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place."

       It is further recorded that while they were trying to kill Paul, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. The commander took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander came up and arrested Paul and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done.

       It is recorded that some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another. Since the commander could not get at the truth of what the uproar was all about, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.  It’s recorded that the violence of the mob was so great that the soldiers had to carry Paul to the barracks while the crowd was shouting “Away with him.”

       Acts 21: 37-40: 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. "Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?" Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people." Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

       Apparently Paul addresses the soldiers in Greek.  It is interesting that Paul is asked if he spoke Greek.  Apparently the arresting authorities believed Paul to be some uneducated rift raft who was stirring up the people with messianic claims.  We see this in their thinking that Paul was the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago.  False messiahs were appearing regularly during this period of time as witnessed by the historians of the time.  

       The first-century historian Josephus wrote about Theudas who twelve years after the death of Christ claimed to be a great prophet and deceived a great multitude into believing he could divide the Jordan River.  Many of his followers were killed and Theudas was beheaded.  Both Josephus and the Church historian Eusebius wrote about the messianic Egyptian aspirant who led 30,000 people to the Mount of Olives and the desert proclaiming that he would cause the walls of Jerusalem to be destroyed.  As we see, the Roman authorities appear to have thought that the Apostle Paul was this Egyptian.

       Origen spoke of a certain first-century wonder-worker named Dositheus who claimed he was the Christ foretold by Moses.  In Acts 13:6, we read about the false prophet Bar-Jesus.  In his Antiquities, Josephus wrote that, “so many false christs began to appear among the Jews of Judea during the time of the early Church that hardly a day went by that the Roman procurator did not put some of them to death.”  Josephus further states that, “the country was full of robbers, magicians, false prophets, false messiahs, and impostors who deluded the people with promises of great events.”

       So when the Roman authorities took Paul into custody, they probably thought “here we go again,” another rebel rouser trying to make a name for himself and causing us to have to once again intervene to keep the peace.  

       So why did the Jews react the way they did to Paul. Paul had peacefully arrived in Jerusalem and had joined himself to the leadership of the Jerusalem Church. He was willing to participate in a purification ritual to demonstrate he was not teaching against the Mosaic Law.  And yet at the instigation of some apparently unbelieving antichrist Jews from the province of Asia, it appears many Jews in the city rose up in opposition to Paul so intense that they were out to kill him.

       Remember that the leadership of the Jerusalem Church had told Paul that there were many thousands of Jews who had come to believe in Christ.  On the day of Pentecost at the time the Holy Spirit was given it is recorded that around 3000 were added to the number of believers that very day.  Now many years had passed and we can only assume that many more thousands of Jews had become believers in Christ.  We are talking here about Jewish converts. 

       Were some of those that made up this mob against Paul the zealous for the Law Christian Jews that Paul was asked to appease by participating in a purification rite?  We don’t know but they could have been. The leaders of the Jerusalem Church were certainly concerned about how they would react to Paul’s being there.  Remember they had said “What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.”

       On the other hand, there were plenty of unbelieving antichrist Jews in Jerusalem. These are Jews who did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel.  These were the Jews who were vehemently opposed to the developing Christian community. These were the Jews who were following Paul everywhere he went trying to prevent him from teaching Christ.  These antichrist Jews were especially angry with Paul for going to the Gentile world with a message of salvation and teaching that the promises made to Abraham extended to both Jews and Gentiles.

       Under Jewish theology at the time, only Israelites were considered eligible for having a relationship with God.  Only Israelites and proselytes to Judaism were believed to be eligible recipients of the promises made to Abraham. Gentiles could become recipients of the promises made to Abraham only if they became circumcised and kept the Mosaic Law. Paul was teaching that Gentiles were included in these promises without having to be circumcised or keep Mosaic Law. 

       By the time Paul had returned to Jerusalem he had been in the mission field for many years preaching to both Jews and Gentiles.  His teachings were well known by this time to both Jewish converts to Christ and to the unbelieving Jews. While it is apparent that Peter and James and other leadership of the Church understood that Gentiles were to be included without the need to be circumcised and keep Mosaic regulations, this understanding was not universal among Jewish converts to Christ and certainly wasn’t true among the unbelieving Jews.     

       We will see this matter boil over in Acts 22 when the Roman authorities allow Paul to address the crowd.