Arrest in Jerusalem – Session 13 Acts 21 – 23
Session 13 of Acts and we have come to the end of Paul’s Missionary travels, we have seen him transformed from a passionate Jew who hates Christians to become a follower of Jesus and take his teaching to Jew and gentile alike. From his base in the Syrian city of Antioch he has been on three missionary trips across what is now, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece.
He has been rejected, hounded, beaten, flogged, imprisoned, stoned & left for dead. Each time he was rejected by the Jews for taking the truth that Jesus taught, he went to the Gentiles and once accepted he then continued his mission to other places.
- Why did he carry on regardless of the consequences?
- What drove him on?
- Jesus revealing himself telling Paul he got everything wrong?
- Was it he was trying to make up for persecuting the wrong people?
- The joy of being in a leadership role, and bringing people to a right way with God?
- Or an inner knowledge telling him he was now doing thing right by Jesus?
The reason we are here to worship is that either we have met with God or we want to meet him, we accept Jesus as God’s Son and want to grow as followers of Jesus. What then do we do, to prove to God, the outside world & to ourselves who we are? We see in Paul he would deal with what he saw as true.
Talk – Acts 21-23 Arrest in Jerusalem
On to Jerusalem 21:1 We stayed seven days at Tyre, through the Spirit some disciples urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. At Caesarea, Agabus a prophet 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.’” Pleading with Paul not to go to Jerusalem he 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.” He would not be dissuaded, so we agreed, “The Lord’s will, will be done.”
Having made his vow and having his hair all cut off, Paul was heading to Jerusalem, he knew the dangers and up to then he had survived every danger. He would have remembered what the Lord had said to Ananias, ‘This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles to their kings and to the people of Israel’.
The warnings given to Paul before he went to Jerusalem told of the danger he would be in when going into the temple. This was due to the priests who could not accept Jesus being God’s Son. Understandably Paul’s friends didn’t want him to go and be arrested or killed and Agabus was used in order to warn him about what was going to happen and because he ignored all advice Paul was bound in chains and sent to Rome.
How should Paul have reacted to the warnings, after all to reject good advice is foolish and the advice not to go was coming from ‘spirit filled followers’. He knew going to Jerusalem would be dangerous yet seemingly ignoring God’s instructions he still went. Things now were going to go against Paul which is a lesson for us to take notice of advice given by spirit led Christians. Paul was going to witness Jesus in the heart of the Jewish power base and Jesus in his love for Paul would still protect him.
Still a warning ought to provide us with some hindsight allowing us to plan things. If we’ve warned it going to rain we wear a coat or take a umbrella. If we know that one day, someone is going to ask us why we are a Christian then we ought to be prepared to have a good answer.
Paul understood as a Christian he needed to live in the truth and in the ways of God, otherwise one’s life is a lie for we are not doing what God wants us to do. When we come to know God and put our faith in Jesus then our priorities becomes his. We put God first, our safety, our pride, our love of this world comes second, we do what God’s wants us to do and thus The Lord’s will, will be done.
Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem 21:17 At Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. Paul reported to James what God had done among the Gentiles and they praised God. There were now thousands of Jews who had come to believe and were zealous for the law. They heard Paul taught to disregard the Law as given to Moses. To placate them a letter was sent to the Gentile believers, telling them to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. To show Paul lived in obedience to the law it was suggested he completed his purification of seven days by joining four men at the temple, who had also made a vow.
When we read about the early church we get a real feel for the closeness of the group, they think of themselves as a family, as brothers and sisters welcoming visitors, sharing what they do with each other and worshiping together. It was by doing this the first churches grew and became a worldwide church so providing we’ve made Jesus our Lord and live by God’s ways all believers are within the same family and it’s a great pity that we don’t acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters in Jesus.
Even in this early Christian church everything isn’t rosy, for difficulties have cropped up. After just 25 years believers are now disagreeing with each other and the reason is that age old problem individuals believe they are right and they know best. They use their own interpretations, so issues cannot be resolved and splits occur, they don’t listen to The Holy Spirit working, and so ignoring Jesus’ central theme to love one another. When we do disagree we need go to the teaching of Jesus to live by those first two laws, Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbour as yourself.
Of course none of us will think or believe exactly the same thing, however we need to be committed to love God and one another and in that love come to an agreement that will please our Heavenly Father. We need to love our enemies, and showing the love of God to them, which is exactly what Paul wanted to do in Jerusalem.
Paul missions had caused trouble across many Jewish communities which would have been reported back to Jerusalem both to the priests in the Temple and also to the Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. They either hated Paul or were jealous of him leading to any and every possible criticism being reported against him. He didn’t want a two tier structure to develop within the church so Paul taught circumcision wasn’t needed but converted traditional Jews wanted it to continue, especially for the Jewish converts.
In the grand matter of things, getting ourselves right with God is what’s important, the old Jewish belief is, you keep God’s laws and he loves you but Jesus turned it round and taught we are to Love God and as a consequence we keep his laws.
Paul Arrested 21:27. Before the purification was completed some Jews recognising Paul, seized him shouting, Fellow Israelites, this man teaches everyone to be against our people, our law and our temple. The whole city was aroused, and dragging Paul from the temple they meant to kill him, the Roman commander heard the uproar took his men and stopped Paul’s beating. Thinking Paul was an Egyptian who had started had a revolt, arrested him and took him to the barracks. A violence mob followed shouting, “Kill him!”
The warnings had been valid, he once again faced a beating and possible death, yet Jesus produces another miracle, for Paul survives the mob wanting to kill him. This was not just a coincidence, God used the Roman commander to save Paul. Perhaps he felt nothing could really harm him for he trusted God’s promise that he would witness to rulers, take his word to gentiles, but also to continue to suffer for the truth of Jesus just like those he himself made suffer before his conversation.
Paul speaks to the crowd 21:39. Paul was able to speak to the crowd in Aramaic 22:1 “Brothers and fathers, he said “I am a Jew, from Tarsus, brought up in this city and trained in the law of our ancestors under Gamaliel. Being zealous for God, I persecuted the followers of Jesus to their death. When sent by the council to Damascus, to bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished, a bright light from heaven blazed and I was blinded, I heard a voice say ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me? In the city, Ananias a devout Jew came and said, ‘Brother Saul, your sight is restored, The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, you’ll see and hear the Righteous One, then you are to teach it to all people, now be baptized and wash your sins away by calling on his name. When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple the Lord spoke to me again telling me the people here will not accept my testimony so I was to go far away and take his message to the Gentiles.’ The crowd bellowed, “Kill him, he’s not fit to live!”
Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we need to keep witnessing for Jesus, to share our story of how we met with Jesus, came to be his follower. These stories of Peter and Paul tell of the early disciple’s willingness to witness Jesus in their lives. We to need to tell people about his life and teachings and in doing so, he is with us until the end of time. Having witnessed the love of Jesus do share it with someone at the church, not to gain kudos but to encourage your community and also yourself to do it again.
Paul the Roman Citizen
22:24 The commander had Paul taken into the barracks ordering him to be flogged and interrogated to find out why people were shouting at him. Paul asked “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty, for I was born one. The commander released him then ordered the Sanhedrin including the chief priests to assemble, so that Paul could stand before them.
The society then was very different to ours, for those in authority had absolute power. Paul had used his Roman citizenship once before when put in prison, insisting the magistrates at Philippi apologise to Silas and himself. Paul use every means possible to influence people and situations so why not this time? Why not admit to being Roman citizen before being beaten and imprisoned because if he did the Jews would not see him as being one of them and therefore reject him.
Paul Before the Sanhedrin 23:1 Paul addressed the Sanhedrin saying, my brothers, today I have fulfilled my duty to God. Ananias, the high priest, indicated for Paul’s mouth to be struck. Paul snapped, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You judge me according to the law, yet you violated the law by having me struck!” Those nearby declared, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
Paul retorted, “I didn’t realize he was the high priest; for it’s written: ‘Don’t speak evil about your ruler.’ As there were Sadducees and Pharisees present, he called out, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I’m on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Then a dispute broke out Sadducees’ saying there is no resurrection, nor angels or spirits, but the Pharisees believe in them all.
So they argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man for a spirit or an angel could have spoken to him” The dispute became so violent Paul had to be taken away by force and taken to the barracks. The following night the Lord told Paul, “Take courage! As you testify about me in Jerusalem, so you will in Rome.”
Leaders want to lead and the last thing they want is rebels, who might lead others, particularly someone who knew their law and wanted them to uphold it. Paul had learnt to speak out against those that abuse the law and so by accepting the authority of the High Priest he had only one chance which was to open an argumentative and hostile theological debate!
Baptising babies once split our church, as did having woman priests, and the next church debate will be if homosexuals are to be officially allowed as priests and bishops. People get so up-tight and defensive about what is right or wrong. We see it in every faith because people want to believe their faith is the true faith forgetting that God wants us to fight against evil not about theology and certainly not with each other.
The Plot to Kill Paul 23:12 40 Jews formed a conspiracy with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul, to achieve this the chief priests and elders agreed to have Paul brought before the Sanhedrin. Paul’s nephew told him and then told the commander about the plot. Orders were given to take Paul to Governor Felix at Caesarea with a letter explaining what happened, in addition he ordered the accusers to go there to present their case against him.
This is where we could have a real difficulty with theology and the bible being the absolute Word of God. Those 40 Jews felt that according to scripture they were in the right to kill Paul, just as did Paul when he was persecuting the Christians. They read something in their scripture and then did what they thought would pleases God. In many ways it’s what terrorists and freedom fighters do today.
What is it that God wants us to think and do, what is his way, his Word? Does God review what’s right and wrong? And so, does God change his mind? Jesus told us he was not changing God’s law yet what he said dose differ from some of whatis written in the Old Testament.
Early in Acts we looked at Deuteronomy 13 giving the priest justification to kill Paul and so it is for these 40 devout followers, thus disregarding Jesus’ new command.
Mat 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Put this in combination with the 2nd commandment Love your neighbour as yourself then everyone is our neighbour, and we’ve being taught to love everyone. We have to love the person yet hate and punish the evil that is done for in love comes the judgement of righteousness, knowing good from evil.
When God created humans he expected us to live by our innate goodness, we didn’t! Eventually he gave to his special people the Jews 10 basic laws to live by, again they couldn’t so their leaders created more rules thinking it would help, it didn’t, God’s prophets and punishments didn’t help for long either, yes they worked for a little while, but generations on the Jews reverted to old ways. God then sent his own son who then lived by and taught The Word of The Father and he summed God’s Word all up in how to live, ‘Love God and one another’
None of us get living to God’s love right all the time, as we’ve seen not even Paul, we don’t really need the bible, and all the commands if we were to heed Jesus’ teaching when he said the most important command is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. In all we do and say we need to remember that and try and put a smile on God face.