Monday, October 20, 2014

Acts 22 - A Chance to Speak

Monday, October 20, 2014 - 'Say What?'
1 "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.

Why would they have instantly ceased accusing Paul and, instead, listen to him, simply because he spoke in the 'Hebrew dialect'? Didn't they already know that he was a Jew? Didn't they already know who he was?

The answer to this question may be found in chapter 21:27,28. Jews from Asia had 'stirred up the crowd' and had planted the information that 'this is the man who preaches against our people.' In other words, a few people who did know Paul and hated him, maliciously provoked other ignorant Jews to assault Paul. When Paul spoke to them in Hebrew they were immediately taken aback. Not really knowing who he was, and having rushed to judgment based solely on the claims of other people, they were surprised to discover that Paul was one of them.

How easily do we 'rush to judgment' based on the testimony of others? How careful are we to check out what others say to make sure it is true? Do we keep reminding ourselves that it is a fallacy of logic to assume something is true simply because (1) everyone else thinks it is true, (2) it has been believed for a long, long time, (3) high-ranking people and/or celebrities believe it to be true, (4) people I personally know and trust tell me it is true, or (5) it resonates well with my worldview?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - '
6 “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ 11 But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - '
12 “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

Thursday, October 23, 2014 - '
17 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ 21 And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Friday, October 24, 2014 - '
22 They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” 23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

Saturday, October 25, 2014 - '
25 But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.” 29 Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains. 30 But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Acts 21 - I Did It My Way

Monday, October 13, 2014 - 'The Spirit: No #1'
1 When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; 2 and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

Paul believed that the Spirit was calling him back to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21; 20:16, 22). But was it really the Spirit or his own spirit that had prompted him? Hadn't the Spirit spoken to Paul in every city along the way - probably through the prophetic word of other believers - that only danger lay ahead (Acts 20:23)?

Here again, in Tyre, the Spirit spoke through the disciples, not only warning Paul of impending danger in Jerusalem, but that he should 'not' go into that city. It seems rather clear that it was not the Spirit that was leading Paul to Jerusalem, but his own spirit. Paul himself had confessed that the Spirit had 'solemnly testified' to him that 'bonds and afflictions' awaited him if he ventured into Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). Paul, though, had chosen to interpret those warnings as a test of his determination to follow Christ even if it led to death. Was he missing the point? Had his own desires blinded him to the actual message of the Spirit?

The Spirit hadn't given up on Paul. This was not a warning about danger, but a clear and specific command to 'not set foot in Jerusalem' (Acts 21:4). Yet, Paul continued on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 'The Spirit: No #2'
5 When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6 Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. 7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8 On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!

The author of 'Acts' has mentioned this issue repeatedly. Paul believed God was calling him to Jerusalem. Yet other believers heard the Spirit saying 'no, don't go to Jerusalem'. Even a prophet from Judea, Agabus, reiterated what the Spirit was saying. If Paul had interpreted the will of God correctly, then why did the Spirit persistently warn him in every city he traveled through to 'not' go to Jerusalem? If Paul had heard correctly and was in obedience to the command of God, enough said, right?

No one doubted Paul's willingness to die for the Lord. No one doubted his faith in Christ. Was Paul still finding it difficult to forgive himself for his past actions against Christians? Was he overcompensating? Or, was he so intent on going back to Jerusalem and then on to Rome that he just couldn't clearly hear any voice that said otherwise? How can a Christian discern the difference between God's voice and their own human voice? If you had been in Paul's place and had received all those same warnings, how might you have interpreted them? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 'The Accusation'
15 After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. 17 After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

After repeated warnings from the Spirit that they should 'not' go to Jerusalem, several disciples decided to follow Paul there anyways. At first it seems like all the concern had been misguided. They were all warmly welcomed. The elders rejoiced in the report of Paul's evangelistic successes among the Gentiles. They then reported to him that many Jews had also come to accept Jesus as the Messiah. So far, so good. Paul seemed to be in good favor. Who could object to his successes? Who could deny that God had chosen him and that the Spirit had blessed him?

There was, though, one problem. There was a nasty rumor about Paul that needed to be put to rest. The Christian Jews clung to the Law more than the Spirit. Evangelistic success among the Gentiles was not as important to them as was obedience to the Law. The Jews who had received Jesus had not let go of the old covenant. Despite the fact that the Law was only a 'shadow of the good things to come' (Heb 10:1), that the communion wine symbolized the 'new' covenant (1 Cor 11:25) which had been inaugurated at the cross and confirmed at the resurrection (Heb 10:20), and despite the fact that the old covenant was obsolete (Heb 8:13), many Jewish converts clung to the 'old' Law more than to 'new' grace.

Worse, the elders of the church in Jerusalem didn't seem to 'get it' either. Thus they hatched a plan that they hoped would be a 'win-win' solution. Paul, who had written to the Corinthians, that he was a Gentile among the Gentiles, and a Jew among the Jews (1 Cor. 9:20), chose to accept their plan rather than to confront the erroneous belief among the Christian Jews. What do we cling to today that obscures the covenant of grace?

Thursday, October 16, 2014 - 'Man's Solution'
22 What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

Nearly from the beginning of the Christian faith it was divided into two very different groups - Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. Both had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, yet the former continued to value the old covenant while the latter the new.

Paul was urged to demonstrate that he still valued the old covenant. The elders wanted him to convince the Christian Jews that he sill kept the Law. Paul complied.

There is, though, a difference between respecting the beliefs of another (1 Cor. 9:20) and leading others to believe that you 'believe as they believe'. Mature folks learn to 'see as others see', yet do not try to pretend that they 'believe as others believe'. When we attempt to deceive others into believing that we are 'one' with them in belief, they will naturally expect us to act as they act - at all times. As soon as we fail to do so, they will cry foul. We are better off making it clear that we will be respectful of others beliefs, yet clear that they are not our beliefs. Mature 'others' will respect our respect for them and not expect conformity. But no one likes to be deceived.

The elders requested too much from Paul. Paul went too far in his attempts to reconcile. He set himself up for accusations. Could he have done anything differently? If he had been straight forward wouldn't he have also gotten in trouble with the Christian Jews? Probably. Once he was in Jerusalem he was 'damned if he did, and damned if he didn't' - which is why the Spirit warned him not to go there. All the good that Paul had accomplished among the Gentiles would not be as valued as the cherished traditions among those who were raised Jews. The Christian Jews had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, but had not understood nor accepted the gospel of the kingdom. Thus, they predictably protected the only 'covenant' they had known.

Friday, October 17, 2014 - 'Predictable Results'
27 When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31 While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. 34 But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, “Away with him!

If someone wants to find something that can be used to condemn another person, it can always be found. No one is immune from a 'witch hunt'. Even Jesus was not exempt from such persecution. In fact, in His sermon on the mount Jesus told his disciples that even if they lived a perfect life, they would suffer persecution (Mt 5:10-12).

The Jews from Asia 'supposed' that Paul had brought a Gentile into the sacred parts of their Temple. Since they hated Paul and wanted to kill him, they were primed for a 'jump to conclusions'. There is an old saying, 'a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still'. In other words, we see what we want to see, regardless of the facts. No matter how supposedly 'open minded' we are, we all have biases against certain realities. We all see 'slant'.

The Romans assumed that Paul was guilty. They should have questioned their assumptions about Paul as soon as they heard the crowd shouting contradictory things about him. Instead of confronting the crowd, they took Paul away. I wonder if, in this experience, Paul finally came to the realization that he had misinterpreted the Spirit. His interpretive bias had collided with the interpretive bias of the Jews. The end result, it seems, was a whole lot of unnecessary suffering.   

Saturday, October 18, 2014 - 'Past Present'
37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40 When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect..'

Whether one believes that Paul had been led to Jerusalem by the Spirit or by his own spirit, it was what it was. However he got there, he was there, and he had been arrested. While he couldn't change the past, he did have some choices about the present.

Sadly, many folks relinquish their right to make choices after having discovered that they have made a wrong choice. Neglecting to make a choice, when given the chance, may be a 'wrong' choice in itself, adding 'insult to injury'. Paul kept his wits about him and chose to do something about his situation. 'What' he did and the 'timing' of what he did, made a whole lot of difference in the outcome.

Never permit your guilty past obstruct an opportunity to create of better present and future.