Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Acts Studies|
Chapters 21 to 23
Introduction to chapters 21 to 28:
In the previous set of Studies in Acts, we saw the apostle Paul coming back to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey. So far he has been used to establish and build up local churches across Asia Minor and on into Europe, but that phase of his ministry now seems to have come to an end.
In this last set of Studies in Acts we see the apostle Paul apparently being restricted at the hands of men, but in each case we will see him testify to the rulers, to:
These last chapters of Acts were not accidental. Again and again when we read narrative passages in Scripture we should look for signs of the spiritual implications or indications. We'll recap the last part of the previous set of Studies to get the context. We'll see a prophecy coming that Paul will be handed over to the Gentiles (21:11) which confirmed the feeling the believers at Tyre had had (21:4) which was only what Paul himself already knew (20:22,23). Later in the studies we'll see the word of the Lord coming to Paul to encourage him that he is to testify in Rome (23:11), then in the middle of a storm an angel confirms God's purposes for him (27:23,24). Understand, therefore, this is not Paul going astray, but God working out His plans and purposes to use Paul to testify to top people!
PART 1 : In Jerusalem
In this first Part we'll pick up the story again back in Jerusalem and then follow the events surrounding Paul while he remains in Jerusalem. We'll see Paul testify to the Jerusalem crowd and then see how he speaks before the Sanhedrin.
Chapter: Acts 21
Passage: Acts 21:17-26
A. Find Out:
1. With whom did they meet? v.18
2. What did Paul share? v.19
3. What concern did teh apostles share with Paul? v.20-22
4. How did they propose he overcame that? v.23-24
5. What was their response for the Gentile believers? v.25
6. So what did Paul do? v.26
In Jerusalem Paul and his friends are warmly welcomed by the Christians they met. After settling in, the went, the next day, to visit the leaders of the church, headed up by James, and shared with them what had been happening among the Gentiles. When they heard this they rejoiced BUT there was a problem.
Until Paul's ministry, most of the Christians had been converted Jews and these converted Jews still felt they ought to hold on to the Law of Moses. When they heard about Paul, they assumed he was casting off all Jewish trappings, including the Law. As yet, they themselves were still bound by it, although as the church increasing became Gentile based, that would cease.
For now though, the leaders in Jerusalem were worried about the effect of Paul's presence in town on the more traditional Jewish Christians and so asked Paul to go along with some of their other jewish Chrsitian men who would shortly be going through the rite of purification having made particular commitments to the Lord (vows). This Paul accepted and did.
That only left the leaders there, as the accepted present heads of the church, to give some basic guidance to be passed on to the gentile believers to follow rudimentary practices, including particularly abstaining form any form of sexual immorality.
1. No longer are WE under the direction of the Law of Moses.
2. Yet we still follow the Ten Commandments and the guidance of the Newe Testament
A. Find Out:
1. What accusation did the Jews make against Paul? v.28
2. What did they do with Paul? v.30,31a
3. What stopped this happening? v.31b,32
4. What then happened to Paul? v.33
5. What then was done with him and why? v.34
6. Who did the soldiers think he was? v.38
The prophecy of Agabus is being fulfilled. Paul has been going through the seven day Jewish purification ritual and is at the temple. Some Jews from Asia Minor recognise him and denounce him as one who teaches against the Jews. A clear case of misunderstanding. They then denounce him for bringing Gentiles into the temple. That was clearly untrue, but emotional religious crowds frequently are not too concerned with truth. So worked up are they that they beat Paul desiring to kill him. Those are the lengths to which religious fervour will go. Zeal without righteousness soon becomes clear sin!
Jerusalem was obviously in a bad way, for crowds came and joined in from all directions and a full blown riot soon ensued. This quickly comes to the attention of the Roman garrison who turn out to quell the trouble. Arriving on the scene they stop the violence and arrest Paul without further questioning. We later find out they mistakenly believe Paul to be an Egyptian revolutionary. The situation is clearly out of hand and the soldiers seek to take Paul into custody although that was difficult under the circumstances. Well it wasn't actually the Jews who bound Paul but they certainly gave him over to the Gentiles who bound him. God knew this would happen.
1. Over zealousness is not to be commended. It breeds sin.
2. Before we condemn we need to be sure of the facts.
A. Find Out:
1. How does Paul identify himself? v.39
2. What does Paul want to do? v.39c,40
3. How does Paul address the crowd? v.1,2
4. What does Paul say about his background? v.3
5. What does he say he did? v.4
6. Who did he say can testify to that? v.5
Having shown the Roman commander that he is learned by speaking in Greek, Paul now shows the crowd that he is one of them by speaking in Aramaic. He addresses them as brothers and fathers, again identifying with them. Indeed the whole the first part of his speech seeks to identify with the people of Jerusalem. He wants them to listen to his whole message so he goes to some lengths to get them to identify with him and accept him.
He tells them he is a Jew, born elsewhere but brought up in Jerusalem. He was even trained by the famous Gamaliel. He was a good Jew, fully trained in the Law, and just as zealous for God as any of them. Indeed he went even further and had been persecuting the Christians who belonged to this new sect (as the Jews saw it), throwing men and women into prison. He worked with the help of the high priest and the Sanhedrin, so they could all testify to the truth of what he is saying. In all he says here, he seeks to show his credibility in the eyes of the Jewish population. He had been just like they were, he understood what they felt and why they were acting as they were, he had been just where they were (all implied). That's how he had been, so he knew what they felt. But he has yet more to tell them.
1. We can be utterly zealous and utterly wrong! Beware!
2. Seek to identify with those to whom you share the Gospel.
A. Find Out:
1. What had happened on the Damascus road? v.6
2. Who had been speaking to him? v.8
3. What effect had it had on him? v.11
4. How did he describe Ananias? v.12
5. What had Ananias done? v.13
6. What had Ananias told him? v.14,15
Remember Paul is speaking to a devoutly Jewish crowd. He wants to tell them about his conversion but he wants to do it in the most acceptable way possible. He does it by showing a) the circumstances were out of his control and b) they involved a devout Jewish man.
First the circumstances beyond his control: a bright light making him fall to the ground, a voice speaking to him, and finally blindness. These were all things outside himself that he had no power over; they were things imposed upon him.
Then the devout Jew: Ananias, described as a) a devout observer of the Law and b) respected by all the Jews living there. This makes Ananias acceptable to the listeners. The fact that Ananias then “performed a healing miracle” by making Paul see, adds to his credibility. It was Ananias who told Paul the import of what had happened to him and what he was now to do. In other word, everything Paul was doing came from the instructions of a devout and respected Jew! In all of these things, so far, Paul is preparing his listeners to receive the unacceptable by seeing it all in an acceptable and valid context, a Jewish context. So far, so good.
1. Everything of Christianity came out of a Jewish context.
2. Do we share with others sensitively?
A. Find Out:
1. What had later happened to Paul? v.17
2. What had he been told? v.18
3. But what had Paul replied? v.19,20
4. Yet what had he been told? v.21
5. How did the crowd react to this? v.22
Up until this part of Paul's speech the crowd seem to be listening attentively. They have just listened to his testimony of how he met the Lord and now he jumps on to when he eventually went to Jerusalem and there had a vision of the Lord instructing him. Again he seeks to win their approval by saying it happened when he was praying in the temple, thus showing them that he is indeed a devout Jew. Yet what he then goes on to share is not likely to win them over.
He first mentions that God had told him to leave Jerusalem because his testimony wouldn't be received there (that was a number of years back). That might have made the crowd feel a bit defensive. Paul had struggled with this because he knew that his reputation there as a persecutor of the Christians was strong and he anticipated that people would remember that and accept him. Finally the Lord told him that He would be sending him to the Gentiles and (implied) that's why he went off on his missionary journeys.
It is at this point that the crowd boil up again. Their views of the Gentiles was very low. They hadn't realised that God had a heart for the whole world, not just the Jewish part of it. The fact that this devout Jew should apparently be sent away from Judaism to the Gentiles was beyond them. This was virtually heresy! They revolt!
1. God loves the whole world, not just small groups within it.
2. Spiritual blindness stops us seeing the immensity of God's love.
A. Find Out:
1. What was happening? v.23
2. What 3 things did the Roman commander instruct? v.24
3. What did Paul ask? v.25
4. What effect did this have? v.26
5. What was the difference between the commander and Paul? v.28
6. What effect did this have? v.29
The riot is about to break loose again and so the army commander who had come to arrest Paul continues with the course of action he started before Paul started speaking (21:33,34) and have Paul taken into the barracks and be interrogated. To make the subject more pliable the Romans would first flog him and as they go to do this Paul, almost casually, asks if they usually flog Roman citizens without trial.
At that moment the whole situation changes. The man in charge immediately goes and tells the commander what they are doing. They are about to offend one of Rome's most important rules - abuse a citizen without fair trial. To be a citizen of the Roman empire meant you had either to be born to a Roman citizen or you could buy the privilege, if you could afford it. Obviously the former was of greater status, and thus was Paul. The commander had bought his citizenship, and realises he could be in trouble for being so casual in the arrest, where he had nearly flogged a citizen. They draw back from beating Paul and presumably also release him from chains, although they do hold onto him over night. In all this we observe that Paul was almost reticent to rely upon his human qualifications to protect himself. It seems he would rather trust himself to the sovereignty of God.
1. We are citizens in the kingdom of God, under God's protection.
2. Can we rest in the knowledge of that, secure in God's love?
A. Find Out:
1. What happened the next day? v.30
2. What was Paul able to declare? v.1
3. What happened as a result of this? v.2
4. What was Paul's reaction? v.3
5. What did Paul obviously not realise? v.5
6. How did Paul get out of this situation? v.6-8
7. What was the outcome? v.9,10
Because the army commander has been thwarted in his interrogation of Paul he decides to send him before the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, made up of many senior religious figures, to see if they can bring out the truth.
Paul declared his absolute innocence and for this he is slapped across the face at the instigation of the high priest, a thoroughly unpleasant individual who is clearly not bothered about abusing his power and breaking the rules. Presumably he knows all about Paul and knows his belief in Jesus, and therefore takes Paul's statement as a blasphemous lie. He is unwarranted in having Paul struck. Paul reacts angrily at this abuse of justice but calms as soon as he realises who the high priest was.
As Paul looks at the Sanhedrin, he realises that some are Pharisees and some are Sadducees, in other words that it was made up of people with differing religious beliefs. Paul plays on this difference and the result is mayhem! Again! These are supposed to be leaders of the nation and yet they are provoked into division by belief. The army commander has no option but to take Paul out of this - again!
1. Unrighteous religious belief can be divisive.
2. Power is to be used justly and not abused.
A. Find Out:
1. What did the Lord tell Paul the next night? v.11
2. What happened the next morning? v.12-14
3. How did they plan to do it? v.15
4. But who heard about it and told Paul? v.16
5. So what then happened? v.17-21
6. What did the commander instruct? v.22
In the night the Lord speaks to Paul and encourages him that in the same way that he has had to testify in Jerusalem, he was also to testify in Rome. Now such a word as this must have various effects. First, simply the presence of the Lord speaking is comforting. The Lord's presence when He speaks is always comforting. Second, this word confirms that all that is happening is under the overall will of the Lord and Paul is not to be fearful of the course of events. Third, when the following events become apparent, such a word can bring comfort to Paul in that, although his life is going to be threatened here, it will not be ended here. God has spoken, so he's not going to die yet!
Then we have the plot. A large group of zealous Jews plan to kill Paul. What is worse they involve the spiritual leaders who join in and become part of it. Whether or not they feel Paul is guilty of blasphemy is not the point here. The point is that they have not given Paul the chance to be tried properly, and when he did come before them as a Council, they did not come to a decision, so this activity is completely illegal. However the word slips out and counter actions are going to be taken. Paul will remain safe - because God has said so!
1. When God speaks to us personally, it is always comforting.
2. He may correct us but His loving presence is always comforting.
A. Find Out:
1. What precautions did the commander provide? v.23,24
2. What did he also do? v.25,26
3. Why did he say he had rescued Paul? v.27
4. What was his conclusion about Paul? v.29
5. So why was he sending Paul? v.30
6. What did the governor check? v.34
Felix ruled as provincial governor of Judea from the provincial capital, Caesarea, so the army commander in Jerusalem decides that if there is a case to be answered, it should be before the local governor. This is now the fourth time this commander has rescued Paul (21:32,33, 22:23,24, 23:10, 23:23-) and thus we see the Roman sense of justice and law-keeping at work, to protect Paul.
The army commander writes to Felix, telling how he has rescued Paul, acknowledging him to be a Roman citizen who should receive the proper protection of the Roman law, declaring he could find no cause for either death or imprisonment (this is the first of a number of occasions where Paul will be declared innocent), telling of the plot to kill Paul and also of the arrangements he has made for the accusers to come to Caesarea to present their case before Felix.
When Paul is delivered to Felix, Felix reads the letter and checks that Paul comes from his administrative area, so that he knows he is under his jurisdiction. Paul is able to confirm this - we know he had been brought up in Jerusalem (22:3) and his family was still there (23:16). Now we have to wait for the case to proceed.
1. The Roman law protected Paul. The righteous need not fear the law.
2. The law declared Paul innocent, but he still has to stand trial.
In this first group of 9 studies we have seen :
In these tumultuous passages the temptation is to only see the events which could be construed at being completely out of control, Paul getting swept along by a tide of events beyond him. Yet twice previously in these readings we have seen the word of the Lord coming, first to warn Paul what would happen at Jerusalem and then to say that he would also testify in Rome. Of course Paul could have completely avoided Jerusalem and avoided that outcome, but he was sold out to the purpose of God and saw it as further opportunity to testify to what God had done in Jesus, and through his ministry.
1. Prophecy doesn't make things happen, it simply warns or informs.
2. Zeal can be unrighteous and lead to sin.
3. We should not condemn without the full facts.
4. Spiritual blindness is often a characteristic of religious people.
5. God loves all people groupings, not just some.
6. The Lord knows all that is going to happen.
Thank the Lord that even though at times events seem out of our control, they are not out of His!
PART 2 : "Before Rulers"
In this next Part, watch and see how many rulers Paul is able to testify before. Watch and see how he speaks to the various rulers and see their reactions to him. Remember, they may not be very receptive but at least they have heard first hand. They have no excuses now.