Friday, March 17, 2017


For the week beginning Sunday March 19, 2017

Acts 21:1-14

   In Acts 21, things begin to accelerate quickly, as the apostle Paul and his entourage press on towards Jerusalem. After saying goodbye to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, Paul and his company sail first to the island of Cos, and then subsequently to Rhodes and Patara. There, they boarded a cargo ship to the Syrian province of Phoenicia. They passed the island of Cyprus on the left, and landed at the port called Tyre. There they went ashore, found some believers, and abode with them for a week, while the ship they were sailing on unloaded its cargo.

    At the end of the week, they re-boarded the ship and sailed to Ptolemais, where they stayed for one day, fellowshipping with believers there. They then traveled on to Caesarea and abode in the home of Philip the evangelist, who had been one of the chosen seven that had been picked by the congregation at Jerusalem to administer the food program, prior to the death of Steven (Acts 6:1-6). It had now been 20 years since Philip had come to Caesarea, after his fateful encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch on the desert road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-40).

    During their stay with Philip (about 3 days), a man named Agabus, the same prophet who had predicted the great famine in the Roman Empire at a meeting of the believers back in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:28), arrived from Judea. During his visit, the prophet took Paul’s belt from his waist, and used it to bind his own hands and feet. He then declared, through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT, that, “the owner of this belt will be tied and bound the same way by the Jewish leaders at Jerusalem, and then, he will be turned over to the Romans”.
    When Paul’s company heard this, they begged him not to go to Jerusalem. Paul then declared that, “Even though their weeping broke his heart, not only was he ready to go to jail for CHRIST, but he was also ready to die for HIM”. After it became clear that they were not going to be able to deter Paul from pressing on to Jerusalem, they ceased their pleading and weeping, and gave him their blessings.
    In this powerful passage, Luke clearly shows the parallel between CHRIST’, and Paul’s, unwavering commitment to do GOD’s will. In both cases their own Jewish people had become their worst enemies, and both, were handed over to the Gentiles and made to suffer. And while this story serves to highlight Paul’s heroic attitude, it also serves to remind us that we too, are called to follow the example of CHRIST JESUS, no matter where HE may lead us, and HE doesn’t always lead us into what we consider safe territory.
    There was an overwhelming determination in Paul to complete the mission that CHRIST had called him to do. It is a comforting thing to know that, everywhere we go, we can find waiting, a Christian community that will welcome us. We see here in this story of Paul’s final missionary journey, that it was no different for him either. It is also, an even more comforting thought to know that, a person who lives in the family of CHRIST, need not worry about pressing on into the unknown dangers of this world. The person, who lives in CHRIST, always has family to comfort them, wherever they go, anywhere in the world.

Acts 21:15-25

   After spending several days with Philip the Evangelist in Caesarea, Paul and his crew packed their things and headed on toward Jerusalem. Some of the believers who lived in Caesarea joined the crew and took them to the home of Mnason, in Jerusalem. Mnason, who was originally from Cyprus, Barnabas’ homeland, was one of the earliest disciples to convert to Christianity.
    After receiving a warm greeting from the brothers and sisters at Jerusalem, the following day Paul went to meet with James (the half-brother of JESUS), who was the head of the Mother Church at Jerusalem, and the other elders. At that meeting Paul gave the men a detailed account of everything GOD had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
    When the leaders heard Paul’s report, they praised GOD, not only for what HE had done among the Gentiles, but because those same wonderful things had also influenced many Jews to believe on CHRIST, and take the commandments of GOD more seriously. However, they told Paul that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had been told that he was teaching the Jews, who lived in Gentile areas, to turn their backs on the Law of Moses.           They even heard that he was teaching that the Jews did not have to obey the law of circumcision, or follow other Jewish customs. These accusations however were slanderous, as Paul had only taught that Gentiles did not have to abide by the Jewish customs and rites that GOD only intended for the Jews to adhere to.
     In order to appease the skeptical believers at Jerusalem, the elders thought it may be wise if Paul would engage himself in a public display of support for Jewish customs by taking part in a “Nazarite vow” that was about to get underway involving a group of local men in the temple courtyard.
    They suggested that Paul go over to temple and join the men as they were preparing to shave their heads, for the purification ceremonies. They also asked that Paul would pay for their haircuts too, and that way everyone will know that the rumors they heard about him were false, and that he really does observe Jewish laws and customs.
    The “Nazarite Vow” is a vow that is taken in gratitude for a special blessing, or special favor that one had received from GOD. It usually involved abstention from meat and wine for at least 30 days. During this time the heads of the men had to be shaven and allowed to grow back, and the last 7 days had to be spent entirely inside the temple courts.
    At the end of this 30-day period a 1-year old lamb for a sin offering, a ram for a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, a meat offering, and a drink offering, all had to be provided by each person involved. Then finally, the shaven hair of each person had to be burned on the altar with the sacrifices.
    And so, it can be seen that, in light of the fact that the person taking the vow also had to give up several days of work (in this case, at least the last seven), in addition to paying for all these items needed for sacrifice, what Paul was asked to do by the elders to prove himself, was no small matter.
    However, Paul agreed to the request of the elders, and the following day he himself went through the purification ritual with the other four men at the temple. He then publically announced the date when their vows would end, and the sacrifices would be offered up on the altar for each of them.

Acts 21:26-36

   The final seven days of the Nazarite Vow were almost over, when a group of anti-CHRIST Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple and quickly instigated a mob of people against him. They incited the crowd to violence by telling them that Paul had been traveling around the whole Roman Empire preaching against their Jewish laws and customs.
    The Jews from Asia also accused Paul of bringing Gentiles into restricted parts of the temple. They had seen Paul with his Gentile friend, Trophimus, earlier in the day, and they assumed that he had taken him into the temple with him as he completed his vow. Being a Gentile, Trophimus would have been restricted from going into the temple areas beyond the outer court, which was known as the “Court of the Gentiles”. It was the outermost part of the temple, and it was separated by a barrier from the next court in, which was the “Women’s Court”, where JESUS made HIS, now famous proclamation, “I AM the LIGHT of the world” (John 8:12).
    This restriction was held so seriously that the Jews were actually allowed by the Roman government to apply the death penalty to any person who violated it, without prior consent from Caesar.  In fact, it was the only crime that the Jews could apply the death penalty for, without consent from Rome. And so now we see, that, Paul’s compromise with the elders, had turned into a potential disaster, for himself.
    The whole city was rocked by the accusations that these Asian Jews made against Paul, and they dragged him out of temple and closed the gates behind them. As they were trying to kill Paul, word quickly reached the commander of the Roman cohort (1000 men) that had been assigned by Caesar to keep the peace during the Pentecost Festival, which was just getting underway.
    A riot, or any civil disturbance, within the Roman Empire was something that was not tolerated by the government. Not only were the inciters of such incidents subject to the death penalty, but also the persons put in charge by Rome at the time, were in danger of suffering the same fate. And so the commander moved quickly to quell the situation.
    When the mob saw the soldiers coming, they stopped beating Paul, and the commander placed Paul under arrest for his own safety. They bound Paul with two chains and then asked the crowd, “Who was he? And, “What did he do? Some shouted one thing, and some shouted another, and so, being unable to discern the truth, the commander ordered that Paul be taken to the fortress and held. The crowd’s violent behavior continued, and the soldiers had to lift Paul over their heads to protect him from the ensuing mob, who continued to shout, “Kill him! Kill him!”
Acts 21:37-40

   The great Jewish historian and general, Josephus, writes in his chronicles of a revolutionary Egyptian imposter who also claimed to be a prophet. He had garnered a large following of several thousand men. In around A.D. 54, less than 30 years after the crucifixion of CHRIST, this man came to the Mount of Olives and promised his followers that the walls of Jerusalem would come down at his command. Instead, the Romans army marched on the man and his followers, killing many of them and taking many into custody before executing them. However, the Egyptian imposter escaped with a few of his followers and was never seen again.
    The commander of the cohort had suspected that Paul might be this man, and now, he could finally be brought to justice. However, as they climbed the stairs to their barracks at the fortress, with the mob in hot pursuit, Paul spoke to the commander in the Greek tongue and asked, “May I have a word with you?
    The stunned commander looked at Paul and replied, “Do you speak Greek? Aren’t you the Egyptian who led the rebellion some time ago and took four thousand members of assassins out into the desert? “No”, Paul replied, “I’m a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, which is an important city. Please let me talk to these people” (NLT). Realizing he was wrong about who he thought Paul was, for he certainly was no thug, the commander allowed Paul to speak as they stood on the stairs. And seeming with the power of GOD, Paul raised his hands and motioned for the crowd to be quiet, and a deep hush fell over them all. Then Paul began to address the now silent crowd, now speaking in the Aramaic tongue, which was language most commonly spoken by the Palestinian Jews in those days.    

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website

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