Acts 21:1-16; Romans 9:1-5; Mark 14:35-36
Paul’s return to Jerusalem per Acts 21-22 represents a seismic shift in his ministry—he transitions from mobile, at-large church planter and mentor to a Roman prisoner who’ll spend many of his remaining days under arrest. In resisting repeated warnings about the perils he’d face in Jerusalem (Acts 21:4, 10-13), was Paul stubbornly doing his own will? Or was he doing God’s will, the Lord perhaps repeatedly reminding him of what it meant to “bear his own cross” and “count the cost” (Luke 14:27-28)?
“It was … ill conceived … (and) backfired. Paul was arrested and after trials before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa he was taken to Rome (and) eventually executed.… Paul’s visit to Jerusalem was not of the Lord, but it was due to the fact that he so desired for his people to come to know Jesus the way he did that his judgment was clouded.” (Jack Kelley) A different interpretation: “Paul rebuked them (in Acts 21:13) … (because) he wanted them to know that it was the Lord’s will, and that he was ready, not only to be bound at Jerusalem … but also if necessary to die there.” (Peter Pett)
Paul’s situation illustrates a perfect blend between our free will and God’s sovereignty. Paul’s burden for unsaved Jews (Romans 9:1-5)
inclined him toward Judaism’s center, Jerusalem’s temple. God had raised Paul up as a “Pharisee of Pharisees” (Philippians 3:35) and a product of Israel’s finest education. His birthplace, Tarsus, was a leading center for “Hellenistic” Jews, equipping Paul to relate excellently to the greater, Greek-influenced culture.
God used Paul’s later imprisonments to enable him to pen seven of the thirteen or fourteen books he produced, the “prison epistles”—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, along with Titus and 1st and 2nd Timothy. Further, “his being bound would (enable) him to testify before rulers and to proclaim the word freely in Rome.” (Pett)
Was God’s program for Paul comfortable, much less what he probably expected? Undoubtedly not; however, the Lord used Paul mightily to build His Church and pen about half of the New Testament. If you ever feel misaligned with God’s will, consider Paul. Then seek His will in prayer and Bible study.
In venturing back to Jerusalem, was Paul doing God’s will or his own? How was Paul ideally prepared to be “an apostle to the Gentiles”? How did God use Paul’s “prison time” productively?
Pray for steadfastness, faithfulness and joy during trials. Ask God to give you a heart more like Paul’s.
Acts 21:7-9; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 78:4-7
When we last met “Philip the evangelist,” he’d led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ and then proceeded to evangelizing along Israel’s coast (Acts 8). For a refresher on Philip, use this Glenkirk devo link (Tuesday- Friday): www.glenkirkchurch.org/sermons-resources/devotions/devotionals-april-9-13-2018/.
Philip is now settled and raising a family in Israel’s coastal resort of Caesarea. Paul, conversely, was into the most action-packed years of his far-flung ministry. “This is twenty years after Philip fled from Jerusalem because of Paul’s (Saul’s) intense persecution of the church at the time of the stoning of Stephen.… Now these two men meet … no longer on opposite sides of the fence, but now brought together as brothers in Jesus Christ.” (Chuck Smith) Had Philip now “retired” from being an apostle and evangelist? Was he now literally and figuratively a “coasting” Christian?
Acts 19:9 tells us that Philip remained fruitful, having raised four daughters who prophesied. Many mistakenly interpret prophesying only as foretelling the future. However, biblically it means to “‘speak forth’ or declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, or to make known in any way the truth of God.” (GotQuestions?org) Philip’s daughters were godly women who studied, understood, and taught the Bible.
There are at least three key takeaways from today’s passage. First, Jesus Christ, who makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17), had united these former enemies in fellowship and friendship. Philip and Paul, with very different backgrounds, personalities and gifts, were now brothers in Christ. Second, Christianity is not chauvinistic nor diminishing toward women—quite the opposite! The 1st century women were considered little more than property in the greater culture, whereas Philip’s daughters were teachers of God’s Word like other women in Paul’s network (e.g., Priscilla and Phoebe). Finally, Philip understood that his most important ministry was at home. His daughters’ giftedness was a meaningful fruit of his faithfulness, adding to his legacy as an apostle, one of the church’s first deacons, an evangelist, and a key player in opening Africa to Christianity.
Of my three children, only one clearly follows Christ. I admire Philip and long for the fruitfulness that he enjoyed. How can you and I be more faithful like Philip?
What indications do we have that Philip wasn’t simply taking it easy during this later stage of his life? How do Philip’s daughters exemplify how Christianity considers the status of women?
Pray by name for family members and close friends you fear do not know the Lord. Ask God to pursue them and draw them to Him in Christ. Ask Him what role He would have you play in this process.
Acts 21:17-25; James 2:14-19
We were first introduced to this James in Acts 15:13 at the Jerusalem council in which he spoke authoritatively on what formerly Jewish practices applied to Gentiles wishing to join the church. Obviously, this “James the Just” was not the apostle and John’s brother martyred in Acts 12, but Jesus’ half-brother and oldest among Mary of Nazareth’s other children.
It’s not uncommon for children to resent a sibling’s “favored treatment” by parents, at least as seen by the envious son or daughter. Mocking complaints like, “I’m tired of hearing, ‘Why can’t you be more like…?’” are common toward parents dealing with family drama and related, covetous jockeying. Can you imagine, therefore, what it must have been like growing up with Jesus as your older brother, One who was literally perfect and sinless (1 Peter 2:22)? James knew this.
The Bible tells us that James, like his younger brothers, did not believe in Jesus before the crucifixion (John 7:5). James and other family members even questioned Jesus’ sanity (Mark 3:21) and tried to halt His ministry (Matthew 12:46). Jesus’ mother herself joined this family resistance to our Lord’s mission, countering the Catholic Church’s views of Mary being fully in-the-know and sinless.
Yet we now experience James as the unequivocal leader of the Jerusalem church, his related influence there apparently greater than even Peter’s and John’s at this point. James played a key role in establishing Christianity as distinct from Judaism vs. simply “its next phase,” trailing only Paul and Peter in leading church advances here. He also penned the powerful, impactful New Testament Book of James, with its emphasis upon works as fruits of saving faith, taming the tongue, faithful praying and living, etc. What caused James’ dramatic turnaround? After His resurrection, the risen Christ appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
I see several lessons in James’ story. Never give up on loved ones regardless of their apparent resistance to Christianity; pray for them continually. Walk faithfully and be ever ready to share your faith with any, including those seemingly “far from God.” And always show others the risen Christ, both in your life and by your words.
What was James’ relationship with Jesus, both before and after His resurrection? What are some biblical examples of Jesus’ mother’s (Mary’s) fallenness? What were James’ notable contributions to Christianity following his conversion?
Ask God to give you a heart more like His, a heart that grieves for the lost. Pray for the faithfulness, opportunity and discernment to share your faith with others.share your faith with others.
Acts 21:20-36; Acts 16:1-3; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Within a week after entering Jerusalem, Paul proceeds to the temple, his historic pattern. Thereupon, unsurprisingly, he got into trouble with local Jewish leaders. Their unfounded charge of “bringing Greeks (Gentiles) into the temple” (Acts 21:28) was serious—the one offense for which the Jews were allowed by Rome to execute the offender.
Were Paul’s “mixed messages” somewhat responsible for his predicament? Earlier he had his protégé, Timothy, circumcised as a concession to those of Jewish heritage. In Acts 21, Paul submits to “purifying” himself and sponsoring men who take a Nazarite vow, “part of the prescribed process of (Jewish) purification following a time of separation (per) Numbers 6.” (Jon Courson) Was Paul conflicted regarding his Jewish roots, or were his actions consistent with his teaching?
“Paul never taught a Jew to abandon Moses, or not to circumcise his children. (Rather, what he) taught was that the Gentiles (emphasis added) should not be made subject to these Jewish provisions.… But he did not set aside (all) ritual for the Jews … He pointed out to them that (Jewish practices were) symbolic … a picture … pointing toward Christ.… He was free—free to live as a Gentile among the Gentiles, free to live as a Jew among the Jews, free from the Law, but free also to keep the Law if there were certain advantages to be gained by so doing.” (Stedman)
Many resist Christ for fear of becoming “cookie-cutter Christians.” However, God’s desired relationship with us in Christ is personal. My wife didn’t have to “renounce her Catholicism” upon joining Glenkirk, though today such background is a distant memory. Worry of becoming a “Bible-thumping whacko” deterred me as a pre-Christian. Ironically, that faded concern hasn’t kept me from Bible study small groups throughout my Christian life.
Though Paul abandoned the religious terrorism he had practiced as Saul the Pharisee, God used his underlying passion, intellect, and intimacy with Judaism to form a uniquely impactful Christian leader. Paul was truly one-of-a-kind, yet he became powerfully effective in meeting unbelievers where they were. How has God made you a purer, more advanced version of who you’ve always been? How is He using this for His glory?
How did Paul get into trouble with Jerusalem’s Jewish leaders? How might Paul’s continuing practices have confused the Jews and even those with Gentile heritage? How are the liberty that Paul expressed and his individuality meaningful examples to each of us?
Thank God for loving you just as you are while loving you too much to leave you just as you are. Pray for preparation and faithfulness in what He wants to do next with you in your Christian journey.
Acts 21:37 – 22:30
In today’s passage, Paul finally addresses the Jews in Jerusalem’s synagogue, the audience he had desired since his conversion. His aim and expectations? “Paul felt that having an understanding of the Jew, being one, understanding their zeal, understanding their desire to persecute Jesus Christ, he felt sure that he could convince them of the truth of Jesus Christ.” (Smith) “Paul must have thought, ‘This is my opportunity! Virtually the entire city is here. This is the moment I’ve be waiting for twenty years!’ I’m convinced Paul was sure there would be great (awakening) among his (Jewish) brothers.” (Courson)
So, what went wrong? What inflamed their antagonism? Right after Paul shared how Jesus told him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (22:21), the mob scene led to Paul’s preparation for flogging and, perhaps, worse (vv. 24-25). “These Jews of that day did not have a problem with Gentiles becoming Jews. But they were incredibly offended at the thought of Gentiles becoming Christians just as Jews became Christians, because it implied that Jews and Gentiles were equal, having to come to God on the same terms.” (David Guzik)
Are we so different from these xenophobic, misguided 1st century Jews? I wonder how often bigotry underlies the “immigration control” views of many churchgoers, or how comfortable we are when someone profusely pierced and tattooed or apparently homeless visits Glenkirk. “Likewise, many people today are offended that ‘good people’ must be saved the same way ‘sinners’ are; they want a gospel that will keep them separate from the ‘riffraff’ of society.” (Guzik)
How could God possibly salvage and redeem something so disconnected from Paul’s expectations? Verse 30 shares that Paul went from the synagogue to appear before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s “congress” of judges and influencers whom he’d formerly been part of. That led to an audience with Israel’s governors, Herod Agrippa and, eventually, Caesar Nero. Paul would access Israel’s most influential leaders and the world’s then-most-powerful man, surpassing his wildest dreams.
God answers the prayers of Jesus’ faithful followers. “Yes,” “No,” “Not now,” and “I’ve got something better for you” are, after all, legitimate answers.
What were Paul’s goals and expectations when witnessing to the Jews in Jerusalem’s temple? What particular “hot button” did he push among the Jews who heard him there? How did God use Paul’s resulting circumstances to further the Gospel?
Thank God for answered prayers. Bring to mind past prayers where His answer was “No.” Reflect upon His wisdom in answering like this, thanking Him accordingly. Pray for contentment and joy regardless of how God answers your prayers.
- Jack Kelley’s quote is from https://gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/paul-go-jerusalem/.
- Peter Pett’s quotes can be found at www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet.
- Chuck Smith’s quotes are from www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/acts.html.
- GotQuestions?org quote can be found at www.gotquestions.org/seven-sons-of-Sceva.
- Jon Courson’s quotes are from Jon Courson’s APPLICATION COMMENTARY (Thomas Nelson Publishers, © Jon Courson 2003).
- Ray Stedman’s quote can be found at www.raystedman.org/new-testament/acts/pauls-mistake.
- David Guzik’s quotes are from www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david.