Acts 21:17-36
As Messengers Of The Good News Of Reconciliation

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Paul and his party arrived in Jerusalem. The brothers of Jerusalem receive them gladly. The next day Paul and those with him called on James. James was a brother to Jesus and had a position of leadership in the Jerusalem church of that day. The elders of the church already were gathered together under him. This somewhat pompous picture shows they did not gather to simply greet and welcome Paul in. In short, we may understand from the silence that Paul's visit in Jersualem was about a very important meeting having to do with the relationship of the Jerusalem church centered around Jews and the Gentile church that had been mainly cultivated by Paul. We can understand this from the messages they spoke afterwards. After they hear Paul and his party's report, they praise God who has worked through them, but then they begin to discuss a major problem between the actual churches in Jerusalem and the Gentiles, especially among Paul's churches.

2. Please look at their words starting at verse twenty. "Brothers, as you know, many myriads* of Jews have become believers and all are keeping the law zealously. According to what these persons have heard about you, you have said to all the Jews who are among the Gentiles, 'Don't perform circumcision on your children. Don't follow the customs.' You are instructing them to separate from Moses. What ought to be done? They are certainly hearing that you have come," (vv. 20-22). In brief, among the Jewish Christians an opposition against Paul was developing. Of course, the opposition is based on a misunderstanding. It seems that the leaders in Jerusalem no longer had a divided disposition. They came up with a single proposal to Paul. Please see verses twenty-three and following. "Therefore, please do according to what we say. There are four men among us who have taken up an oath; purify yourself with them and bring these men along; please pay their expenses in shaving their heads. In so doing, there will be neither root nor leaf in what was heard about you, rather every one will know that you are living correctly in keeping the law," (vv. 23-24).

3. Well, what did Paul do about this recommendation? Paul obeyed their recommendation. Verse twenty-six records the following: "With that, Paul brought along those four persons and on the next day they received the purification ceremony and entered the temple; when the purification period ended, they announced they were able to offer up offerings for each one respectively."

Living By The Gospel

4. In order to sufficiently understand what the actions of Paul mean here, we need to keep our eye on several points.

5. First, Paul did not come to Jerusalem to fulfill his own personal needs. Rather, one of the big reasons for this visit was to deliver financial assistance to none other than the Jerusalem church. This is the way Paul himself puts it later in his explanation to Felix, "Well, after many years I returned to hand over the relief money to my country men and to offer up offerings," (24:17). So, this had never been money that was collected up lightly. We understand, for example, if we look at the Second Epistle to the Corinthian Disciples in chapter nine, how much Paul toiled over this fund-raising. His hard work is clear by the total all out concern he showed and how he considered his own close ties with the church at Jerusalem.

6. Second, in verse nineteen Paul informs them how God worked among the Gentiles through his own service. We ought to pay attention here to the point being made about "God through Paul's service." In short, his conviction there is that the Gentile church is genuinely being built through the working of God. So again, this was clear even for those in Jerusalem. To be brief, it is not that he had to formally receive recognition from the church at Jerusalem; Paul himself did not come to Jerusalem seeking with such a purpose. The fact is the Gentile church long ago was a church with genuine significance.

7. Third, "the myriads" (as James and those with him call it) of Jewish Christians held a criticism of Paul based entirely on a misunderstanding of his work. Paul was referring to circumcision, for example, in the Epistle to the Galatian Disciples. Here the issue was how it was a problem teaching that "Gentile Christians" were not saved without keeping the law of Moses and receiving circumcision, yet for Jewish Christians nothing was said. Rather, Paul himself said, (First Corinthians 9:20), that "regarding persons controlled by the law I myself was not like that, but I became as a person controlled by law, in order to gain the person controlled by law." He would never have neglected caring for the Jews. It is recorded in 18:18 that he himself took a vow based on the law of Moses and cut his own hair. That was something done in Paul's own life and time. Therefore, the problem with the Jews in their  opposition [against Paul] was from their lack of understanding, so one cannot say the problem was with Paul.

8. Fourth, their proposal was not just about forcing the responsibility of blame on Paul; rather, their proposal had exposed him to great danger. It exposed him to danger because if he was going to follow through with their proposal, Paul needed to be in Jerusalem at least seven days. What's more, the situation was such that every day in the temple Jews who hated Paul were coming and going in crowds at a time. So, because of these actual conditions, Paul later would nearly be killed.

9. As we try to recall the aforementioned points in detail, we cannot consider it proper, no matter how much we think about it, for Paul to follow the proposal which the elders of the Jerusalem church had made. In thinking with common sense, we wonder wasn't it enough what Paul had done so far? At the least, we feel that wasn't it enough that even while the dangers of Jerusalem were being spoken of he prepared a relief collection and prepared the hearts of the Gentile Christians? So, in light of the above why had they explained their anxious misunderstandings like he was guilty of deliberate charges and worthy of dangers?

10. Why did he have to have a relationship with the Jewish Christians of the Jerusalem church to such a degree, anyway? Why did Paul have to make such a concession on his part? As for the simplest thing, wouldn't it be to not be with them any longer? "You are you. We are us." Isn't this okay? Just as I said earlier, the Gentile church was a church being built by God. So they can go on at it sufficiently by themselves. Even more, they just increased their care for what's going on in Jerusalem. We can see this in our daily experiences. When we have trouble with someone, we often think the best way to solve the problem is "not be together." Yes, we often think the breaking of a relationship is the best solution, don't we? It's only natural to think so since being together actually brings a lot of troubles.

11. However, surprisingly, Paul made no word of counter argumentation, and readily accepted their proposal. That's what's written here. He personally conceded and chose the path to walk with them. Mountains of troubles were awaiting him; yet he chose that path. What is the explanation for that? I would like to think carefully about this point. It is clear he didn't have this type of behavior out of fear for people. He was fully prepared in his mind to die in regards to coming to Jerusalem.

12. If so, we understand that this is not something based on some simple human dimension of need and necessity. That the church at Jerusalem which centered around the Gentile church and Jews be one was not just something "wishful"; rather, it had to do with the essence of the gospel. Paul's actions point this out.

13. Paul proclaimed a gospel that said, "We are saved not from the practice of the law, just by God's grace, and made righteous by faith." However, the purpose of this was not to just emancipate an individual from a guilty conscience. God didn't hang Christ on the cross just for that. It is because we are forgiven of sin by only God's grace and because it is what gave us reconciliation with God, so that we are made one, to be people who live together. The way Paul speaks about it is recorded in the following manner in the Epistle to the Galatian Disciples. "You all are God's children bound to Christ Jesus by faith. Having received baptism you are bound to Christ; you all therefore are wearing Christ. Therefore, you are no longer Jews nor Greeks, neither slaves nor free persons, neither man nor woman. You all are therefore one in Christ Jesus," (Galatians 3:26). If we speak diametrically about it, however much you consider yourself a christian, even if you happily hold to the faith, but if you persistently consider it only an individual matter, in the end you have self pride, you judge others, and live cutting others down, thus you cannot say that you are participating in the gospel with its true significance. Paul lived according to the gospel that he himself proclaimed. Luke is sketching such a character in the passage I read to you today.

[Walking] Behind The Lord Jesus

14. Well, how much of an effect did the actions of such a person like Paul have? Let's give a look in on this matter next. Please look from verse twenty-seven on. It was the time when the seven day cleansing period was about to close out. The Jews, who came from Asia, perhaps from Ephesus, found Paul inside the temple and started a commotion. "Men of Israel, please assist us. This man is teaching to every one who is coming in to ignore our race and law associated with this place. Therefore, since he has brought Greeks inside, he has defiled this holy place," (verse twenty-eight). According to the way Luke himself explains it in verse twenty-nine, this was a clamoring based on a complete misunderstanding. However, as they heard this message, the entire town became greatly agitated. The multitude came running up and seized Paul. We understand clearly they tried to kill Paul as we see how they dragged Paul out of the inside of the temple. They dragged him out of the interior so that there would not be defilement of the temple. They began to beat on Paul. The Roman garrison came hurrying there when they got the news of the disorder. If they had gotten there just a little later, Paul might have been killed. The regimental commander arrested Paul and ordered that they bind him with double chains. Then he inquired as to who Paul was and what he did. The crowd began shouting different things.In the end, the leader of one thousand men was not able to arrive at the true facts of the situation, so he decided to escort Paul to the barracks.

15. "Paul acted in accordance with the gospel.His actions had a good effect, the misunderstanding involving him was dissolved, the unjustified criticism died out, the problem between the Gentiles and Jews was solved, and all became as one." If this was the plot of the story, it would be easy for me to understand. But the truth is it wasn't his way at all. Luke records these facts from verse twenty-seven on. At the time of this disturbance, what in the world were "myriads" of Jewish Christians doing? They surely weren't trying to save Paul? Or, since this was a sudden and unexpected event they couldn't save him? No, somehow we don't see it like that. After Paul was arrested, the Jerusalem church had not begun to work on Paul's behalf.

16. In conclusion, it is believed that though Paul participated in the cleansing ceremony with the four men who took up vows, and though he took the responsibility to pay for shaving their heads, the misunderstanding many persons held towards Paul and the inappropriate criticisms did not diminish. In the end, everything seemed to have been in vain. If we look at it only this way, we might feel that when Paul acted according to the gospel the only real result was that he just exposed himself to endangerment. What could this kind of situation be saying to us?

17. When we read verse thirty-six and reflect upon this matter, we notice something. Luke writes that a crowd of people came clamoring "do kill that man." The words of these people bring something to remembrance. What is brought to mind appears in Luke's gospel. The multitude in this same Jerusalem came to Pontius Pilate in clamor [and rage]. "Kill the man!" (Luke 23:18) Luke depicted Paul's going up to Jerusalem and the course of events leading to his arrest, but coming here he is imposing the characters of Paul and Jesus upon each other. Paul is walkingbehind the Lord Jesus. Yes, Jesus, the one who brought us the gospel of reconciliation after hanging on the cross. So it would be nothing but his carrying his own cross and following after the foot prints of the Lord Jesus, which means, to live by the gospel of such reconciliation.

18. When we think upon this, a streak of light comes flowing into this scene which just looked like nothing but complete misery. This means since Paul is walking after the Lord Jesus it is because Paul knows that his hardships were never in vain but only looked in vain at first view. When in the hands of God, the cross doesn't end at the cross.

19. We may not get beaten up or imprisoned like the way Paul was. However, in our living out the gospel, when we try to live as persons who bring the gospel to others, the hardships over the tasks that we feel are in vain may be unavoidable, nor may we avoid the misunderstandings, the criticisms, the stresses and pains that we must take on. However, we are permitted to walk with still more hope and expectation. Because the Lord walked on ahead of us. And because we know that the cross doesn't end with a cross. And [finally], we who believe the Lord want to humbly follow his foot prints.

End note: *This Greek word "myriad" means ten thousands. Myriads then means tens of thousands.

 
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