Summary: Paul goes to Jerusalem and is arrested; is he doing the will of God?
July 13, 2008
Could Paul have been wrong? Certainly, as I’ve repeated, he was a man, a man of flesh-and-blood, and he was not above sin! There are two points in today’s passage at which different commentators believe that Paul made an error. There are some who believe that Paul made a mistake, a sinful, obstinate display, in going to Jerusalem in the first place. Ray Stedman, a Bible teacher whom I respect greatly, is convinced that this is the case. There are others who believe that what we read in today’s text is evidence that Paul spoke one way but perhaps, in a moment of weakness, acted another. I’m not so sure at all, though, for I believe that there is Scriptural justification, quite likely, for Paul’s actions in both cases. At any rate, what was prophesied to take place when Paul reached Jerusalem indeed does in today’s text.
We really, today, begin the final section of our Unleashed study on the book of Acts, because as we’ll see today, Paul is arrested, and for the remainder of the book, Paul is under arrest until he finally reaches Rome. But we begin on a happy note.
I. A Glad Reunion - :17-20a
We’ve got some old friends from Pennsylvania whom we’re hoping will be in attendance at Red Oak next Sunday; it’s always great to see them, and it was no different for Paul as he reconnected with old friends. James, the brother of Jesus (not of “James and John” fame) was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and it was appropriate that Paul seek him out first. This was at least their fourth meeting, these two men who represented the twin streams of Christian faith; James the Jewish strain, and Paul the Gentile. The elders of the church joined the meeting as well. Finally, Paul is able to present the offering that has been collected for the poor believers in Jerusalem (his reason for going to Jerusalem in the first place! See I Corinthians 16:1-4; Romans 15:25-27.) and to fill in the leaders of the “mother church” on the events of his missionary journeys. Paul actually feared the possibility of a rejection of the gift by the Jewish Christians (Romans 15:30-31). Why would that be the case? The Jerusalem church was caught, in some ways, between its devotion to the Gentile mission, on the one hand, and its national heritage on the other. What would the willing acceptance of such a gift mean? It could drive a further wedge between the Jewish Christians and their Jewish countrymen. And in a time of rising Jewish patriotism, this might not be a good thing. Thus, understanding the situation, Paul had some concern! But his fears, while well-founded, proved to be no problem.
Paul had argued that the Gentile believers owed a debt of gratitude to the Jews, sharing in their spiritual blessings, and thus they ought to give generously. There is a grace to giving, and there is a grace to receiving as well. But while Luke makes no mention here of the gift, it’s obvious that the church leaders received it, along with news of Paul’s successes in promoting the gospel, with real joy; note that the Hero of the story isn’t Paul, though, but God Whom they glorified.
But there is a problem that will need to be addressed; in reality, it’s
II. A False Charge - :20b-22
Before we get there, take a moment and answer this question:
What’s the most unusual practice you’ve ever seen take place in a church?
• Can you imagine praying with your eyes open?
• Can you imagine praying when everyone is speaking out loud, all together, at one time?
• Can you imagine a church service beginning, not five minutes late, but an hour or more?
• Can you imagine it lasting 5-6 hours?
• Can you imagine a prayer meeting that lasts, not a half-hour or 45 minutes, but all night long?
• Can you imagine all the men sitting on one side and all the women on the other?
Fact is that I’ve just scratched the surface of some of the differences between our cultural approach to Christian faith and that of other cultures. Because there are great Christian folks around the world who don’t understand praying with eyes closed, or prayer led by only one person at a time, or the American obsession with a one-hour church service (an obsession we will not have at Red Oak, by the way!). Cultural differences cause us to worship in different ways—and humility ought to certainly cause us as American Christians not to assume all of our cultural norms are right, while others’ are wrong!
Think about the position that the Jerusalem Jewish converts were in. All their lives, they’d been taught to keep the Law of Moses; now they’d come to follow Christ as their Messiah. So what to do with the Law? What about the ritual of circumcision, so central to their identity? What about the religious feasts they’d grown up keeping? These are the things that had been part of their worshipping God. Now, as Christ-followers, what should their attitudes be? What was being said—slanderously—about Paul, this false charge, was that he was teaching Jews to throw away all of their heritage and customs. This was not the case; the true gospel of Jesus Christ does not demand cultural obliteration, and only demands cultural change when the prevailing cultural norms and practices are contrary to the Bible’s teaching.