Event(s): Paul is urged to make peace; Paul is arrested in the temple; Paul addresses the Jerusalem mob
Today’s Text: Acts 21:17-40
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 22:1-30
Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem, his heart heavy yet determined. Heavy because of all the words of warning he had received about the trouble that awaited him there. Determined, because he knew that God was with him and had him there for a specific purpose.
Acts 21:19 “he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” Notice what Paul chose to give greater attention to. Notice what he talked about and what he didn’t even bring up. He didn’t arrive and start talking about his “witness protection plan”. Remember, he had determined to finish his race with joy (20:24). He spoke of the things that brought God great glory and that would be an encouragement to both himself and the people who heard.
Acts 21:21 “saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” Years later, Paul is still dealing with the issue of legalism and specifically, circumcision. Wow. Yet, what Paul had said was obviously getting twisted.
“They had heard he was instructing Jewish converts not to practice circumcision or to observe the customs of Judaism. This was a false report. Paul did not teach that these customs were evil, just unnecessary for justification and sanctification.” Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Bible Expositor
Acts 21:24 “take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses…” Most scholars believe that the vow being mentioned here was the Nazirite vow, the same vow that Paul is believed to have taken part of himself in Acts 18:18. Not to over-simplify this, but basically, the vow was a setting of one’s self aside, and involved 30 days of ritual purification, including shaving the head. At the end of the 30 days, the person would then give an offering in the temple. (The full instructions for observing the Nazirite vow can be found in Numbers 6:1-21).
Though Paul was no longer a Jew in religion, he was a Jew in nationality. So to participate in this vow was not a compromise of his convictions because he saw it as a way of drawing closer to God, not as a means of salvation or acceptance by God. Additionally, to go as far as paying for the expenses (associated with the items needed for the necessary offerings) of these other four men would indicate that Paul had not rejected or forsaken the Mosaic law, but still respected and honored it.
The men giving Paul this advise figured these actions would be a way of silencing his enemies who were spreading these false reports about him. The plan failed.
Acts 21:27 “stirred up the whole crows and laid hands on him…” These Asian Jews, who had greatly opposed Paul when he came through their regions spreading the Gospel arrived in Jerusalem. It’s almost as if they didn’t even take notice of what he was doing (with regards to the Nazirite vow). Immediately upon seeing him, they were enraged and assumed he had taken one of his traveling companions, Trophimus, into the inner parts of the temple.
This was absolutely forbidden. The Jews permitted Gentiles in the outer court of the temple – the court of the Gentiles – but they could not go in beyond the sacred enclosure which included the women’s court, the court of Israel, and much less the court of the priests. Jewish men like Paul, who were not priests or Levites, could not go any farther than the court of Israel.
These men had seen Paul together with Trophimus in the city, and because they new Paul’s message which seemed to them, well, quite liberal, they quickly jumped to conclusions and assumed that Paul had taken Trophimus into these inner precincts within the temple. Since Trophimus was a Gentile, this was an offense so grave that even Roman citizens were not exempt from the death penalty for it. Had they really known Paul’s character, they would have known that he would have never done such a thing. He was honoring of every environment he went into and used his influence wisely.
Acts 21:30 “and immediately the doors were shut” They dragged Paul out of the court of Israel and into the courts of the Gentiles. The doors Luke speaks of were the doors that separated these two areas. The priests closed these doors to prevent the defiling of the inner courts by the uproar and bloodshed that was about to take place. This was not simply an act of punishment. They were preparing for Paul’s execution. This was the fulfillment of Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 21:10-11.
Acts 21:31 “news came to the commander” News of the riot reached the Roman commander. The Roman troops were responsible for keeping the peace in the whole city and if they could not keep things tight, under control, and in order, they would have to answer to Rome for it. So upon hearing the news, he immediately dispatched soldiers and centurions to gain control of the situation.
Acts 21:38 “are you not the Egyptian…” The commander had Paul confused for someone else.
Acts 21:39 “permit me to speak to the people.” Paul was a Jew and a Roman citizen, and as such had the credentials to speak for himself. This persuaded the commander to let him do so.
When most would have retreated quietly from the wounds and exposure, Paul used this as an opportunity to stand up and speak for God. This is a reminder that God can use some of our most painful circumstances and turn them into a platform for His glory.
Aside from what Paul was about to say, the sheer fact that he was even able to stand up and speak in the midst of so much physical pain carried a weight all on its own. Let’s think of this in a spiritual sense. Our testimonies carry an added weight when we can speak of them from a place of strength. So when it comes to the issue of past hurts, are there any areas that have not healed totally? Areas we may still be carrying around some internal pain? Areas we can’t even speak about because they hurt so badly? What would it take for God to heal those hurts? What steps are we proactively taking to let Him “treat” those areas? Is there someone trustworthy we can talk to that can help us start down the path of healing?
It’s time to let God turn something that may have been intended for bad into something good. It’s time to let Him heal us to the point where we are no longer vulnerable to the tenderness of those hurts, but instead they become a platform that God uses for His glory as we are healed and set free.