The Apostle Paul feels “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem even though he’s expecting to face prison and hardships when he gets there. But he feels his life is worth nothing unless he finishes his race and completes his task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:23-24)
Acts 21:17-18 “When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.”
This James actually happens to be the brother of Jesus. He’s the one who wrote the Book of James and he’s a prominent member of the church at Jerusalem.
Acts 21: 19-20a “Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God.”
They all praise the Lord for the work God was doing among the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry.
Acts 21:20b – “Then they said to Paul, ‘You see , brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed and ALL of them are zealous for the Law.”
The elders tell Paul they’re thrilled about what God is doing among the Gentiles. But there are many thousands of Jews, their own people, in Jerusalem right now who believe Jesus rose from the dead and have accepted Him as their Messiah. They believe in Jesus, but they’re all zealous; they’re all still fervently in love with the Law of Moses. To a Jew, even the ones who believed in Jesus, the Law was their law. They were very proud and very protective of their Law. Jesus is our Messiah, but Jehovah is our God and the Law is our national treasure. If you take away Jehovah and the Law, we’ll no longer be Jewish.
There are many thousands of zealous Jewish believers in this city right now who have a distorted view about what you’ve been preaching, Paul. They still remember when you were zealous for the Law and they can’t understand why you’ve changed.
Acts 21:21 – “They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.”
Just like all gossip and every other form of rumor, it’s partially true. Paul never told Jews to stop observing the Law of Moses. He simply told them to stop depending on that Law to make them right with God or to get them into heaven.
We know what you’ve been teaching Paul, but there are still many thousands of zealous Jews in this city right now who are convinced that you’ve been telling our people to turn away from Moses and give up our sacred customs. They don’t like the changes you’re making.
Acts 21:22 – “What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.”
They all know you’re here. There’s going to be a pretty ugly scene here tomorrow. How are we going to convince them that what they’ve heard about you is wrong? They are new believers, babies in Christ, struggling to accept the idea that Jews and Gentiles are now one people because of our faith in Jesus. Remember what you told the Ephesians.
“For He,,, has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the Law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one Body, to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” Ephesians 2:14-16
Acts 21:23a – “Do what we tell you.”
We value your opinion, Paul, but what you decide to do right now is going to determine how true your words really are. Paul, if you really believe that “Christ reconciled Jews and Gentiles together by means of His death and our hostility toward each other was put to death;” if you really believe there is only one Body and one Spirit; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism; then do what we tell you.
Acts 21:23b “There are four men with us who have made a vow.”
There are four men in our congregation who have taken vows to become Nazarites. Those are men who vow to abstain from certain worldly influences and be totally consecrated; totally set apart for the Lord.
Acts 21:24a – “Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so they can have their heads shaved.”
In order to become Nazarites, these men need to acknowledge the sin in their lives and undergo a rite of purification to make them clean and acceptable to the Lord. “Take these men and join in their purification rites.” Publicly acknowledge that you also are unclean before God. And “pay their expenses.” Buy the animals needed for the sacrifices and pay the priests to shave their heads. Then accept the purification granted to you by the priest.
Acts 21:24b – “Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but you yourself are living in obedience to the Law.”
Wait a minute! I don’t believe in those things anymore. Are you asking me to compromise my faith? Do you want me to give them the impression that I’m still living in obedience to the Law when the truth is, I’m not?
If I really believe that the blood of animals only covers our sin; it only hides our sin and only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from our sins; only His blood can remove our sins, why should I be expected to join in their purification rites and pay their expenses?
Remember it was the Holy Spirit who was compelling Paul to go to Jerusalem. This was the Lord’s idea. The Lord is using these people and this situation to help Paul finish his race and complete the task the Lord has given him to do.
Lord willing, next Tuesday we’ll see what Paul did and try to understand why he did it. I hope these postings continue to be helpful and relevant to your life. Why not invite a friend to get in God’s Word with Pastor Buj?