Wednesday, July 4, 2012

From Missionary to Prisoner – Paul's Promotion – Acts 21

(read Acts 21)

Acts 21:13 (ESV)
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Seriously, guys. Cut it out. Sheesh.

Paul is coming to the end of his third preaching tour, the last one recorded in Acts. Since becoming a Jesus Follower and joining the communities of generosity and resistance known as "the Way", his life has never been the same. Once he was a deeply religious man and violent persecutor of the Way, believing that these self-governed communities of mutuality and justice were a threat to the old orders of religious hierarchy and law.

Soon after leaving his old life of control and violence, this unlikely Jesus follower was commissioned by the Way to go share Jesus with the most unimaginable people, citizens of the oppressive empire of Rome of which the Way lived in resistance.

Since he was first sent, Paul has traveled with partners (including good friends Barnabas and Silas), and later with teams of people hoping to learn from his example (including Timothy, to whom he later wrote his pastoral letters, and Luke, author of Acts and the gospel of Luke). At the beginning, his strong convictions and sharp temper caused him trouble and trouble for others, but his life as a citizen of the Kingdom of God has borne patience, gentleness, and humility in his life.

On his travels he has been arrested frequently, stoned, and whipped. The beatings on his body have resulted in a tenderizing of his soul. He now travels as a man fully sold out for the cause of the Kingdom, his life forfeit to Justice, Love, and Peace.

In Ceasarea he visits Philip the evangelist. He is coming to the end of his journey, traveling back to Jerusalem, the heart of the Jesus controversy where he expects a violent welcome. A prophet warns him that he will, indeed, be bound and arrested in Jerusalem, and will likely die as a result. His party begs him not to go, but Paul insists. He believes God is leading him back, and this direction is all that matters to Paul.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Paul meets with James, brother of Jesus (and author of James), and elder of the church in Jerusalem. James tells Paul of his reputation in Jerusalem. Many of the Jewish community are deeply offended at Paul, believing he has forsaken his heritage to follow Jesus, and teaching others to do the same.

The controversy exists because Paul has indeed been sharing the Good News of the Kingdom with Gentile outsiders, and requiring no observance of religious law for them to join the communities of the Way. That uncircumcised pagans would be allowed to join their communities was quite a radical thought for many of the old order. For some it amounted to heresy, and made Paul an enemy and a threat.

In the past, Paul had responded to religious legalists with frustrated and dramatic temper fits (Acts 18). But Paul has matured and changed significantly since then. When James suggests Paul go and observe some religious ceremonies in the temple, Paul agrees to do it. Paul has lived several years of his life for the message that people can be free of such observances. Yet for the sake of love and understanding of those who hold these things dear, Paul is willing observe these traditions. His life is not his own any longer. In the Kingdom, he lives for Grace extended to others, even at his own cost. Such humility and generosity is the heart of the message of following after Jesus.

Acts 21:26 (ESV)
Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

Unfortunately, Paul's gracious act is not received as such by the community. Accused of defiling the temple by bringing Greek people into it, Paul is dragged out of the temple. The crowds knew of Paul's reputation for associating with a diversity of people from different ethnicities and religions. In their confusion as to Paul's message of freedom and love or gracious intentions, the mob is provoked and Paul is beaten.

Roman soldiers quickly take notice, and move to break up the incident. Paul is bound by the soldiers, who are unable to discern just what is the problem. They assume Paul is a wanted insurrectionist, until he speaks up in his own defense. After a few words, the soldiers agree to let him address the crowd.
Acts 21:39-40 (ESV)
39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
Acts 22:1-2
Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet.

Paul's defense in Acts 22 would mark the end of his days as a traveling missionary, as they were. Paul is now a prisoner of the empire of Rome. For the rest of Acts he will be a man in chains, appealing to courts higher and higher where he will give strong and reasoned defenses for his faith. His imprisonment, therefore, will plant the message of freedom more deeply in the centre of the empire of Rome than it otherwise could have ever reached. Paul's humility before people and submission before God has prepared him to be a well crafted agent of the Kingdom, well suited for this difficult path.


“we” – Luke (the author) must have been present when it is written in first person.
v4 - what?
v10 – Prophecy isn’t always positive.
v13 – Paul is not discouraged by the prophecy. Though negative, it is still potentially encouraging to Paul. Perhaps it gives peace to him to know that these things will happen and that he is prepared.
v14 – The Lord’s will be done – amen. This whole passage is a great example of prophecy rightly given and rightly received.
v33 – Prophecy fulfilled.

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