John Carter – November 17, 2013 – Acts 21:17-40 – HVBC Acts Sermon Series
Do you believe ‘the Gospel of the Grace of God’?
Life is Precious
Philippine Typhoon November 6, 2013: Affected population – 2 Million families; 9 Million People, 1,400 Evacuation Centers, up to 10,000 feared dead
At least one of these events— if not both—should stir the emotions. We should not be so callous to the harshness of life that we read or hear about these devastating circumstance and turn our ear from the cries of the grieving. For those who recognize Jesus of Nazareth as King and as their supreme worth we must pull our hearts in line with God the Father and weep for the loss of life. For those who do not call Jesus of Nazareth ‘King’, I wonder, where do you turn to—to make sense of this chaos?
Believer (Christian) we know that God created everything good. We also know that it was at the fall of humanity that chaos like hurricanes and murder entered into the world. It was because of a willful rejection of God by the first man (Adam) and the first woman (Eve) that caused this chaos. But in spite of this rejection God promised to redeem humanity. And this redemption is through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. This act of redemption is called grace.
Christian, we look at the chaos of the world and we know that it is because of the rebellion that is in every persons’ heart that many horrible circumstances plague humanity. Yet at the same time we know that through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus– there is hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope that death and misery will not be the end of all things. Hope that one day Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. And His judgment will be based on one question, did you believe me? Did you believe when I said that I am God in the flesh who came to offer forgiveness for the rebellion of humanity? Those who believe will live forever in the presence of God the Father. And those who reject this truth will forever spend eternity in hell— dying.
Paul – Believer unto death
A man named Paul of Tarsus believed this message of Jesus. If fact he believed it so intently that he was willing to die to spread this message of love and redemption. Paul called this message ‘the gospel (good news) of the grace of God. Knowing that he was going to suffer beatings, imprisonment, and even death he still sought to tell other about this good news of God’s grace. A message of mercy, restoration, redemption, and of his magnified glory.
Paul of Tarsus traveled much of ancient Rome to spread this good news of God’s grace for the encouraging of the church and the salvation from death and bondage for the unbeliever. Paul, just like Jesus, is a Jew. This is important because God promised a man named Abraham that he would send salvation through his bloodline. From Abraham came the Jews. And God became a man as a Jew. That man is Jesus of Nazareth. For the Jews of the first century many rejected Jesus’ message because his message meant the salvation of the Jews and the non-Jews (gentiles) alike. There is more to this reason of rejection but it is enough to know that it was a problem for many Jews to accept that non-Jews (Gentiles) were being offered salvation by their God.
Back to Paul. Paul traveled telling this good news about Gods’ grace. While traveling and teaching Paul also sought out financial support for poor Jewish Christians who lived in Jerusalem from other Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentiles) Christians throughout the Roman empire. He had collected some monies and was eager bring it back before the Jewish festival called Pentecost. We should know that at the first Pentecost after the ascension of Jesus– God the Holy Spirit came to dwell among believers in a magnificent way. So this was a significant festival for both Jews and Christians.
Paul believed Jesus’ message about Himself being God in the flesh; to the point that he was willing to suffering to the point of death. Paul also loved the people of God both Jew and non-Jew. It is here where we join the timeline of the text at hand.
Acts 21:17-40 – Text
Acts 21:17-20 Joy!
Paul and his traveling companions were eager to be with James and the leading men of Jerusalem. And the inverse was true too! The day after Paul arrived in Jerusalem there was a meeting where Paul began telling each and every thing that God was doing to bring hope to a world desperate for anything but death and depression. God by his grace was causing non-Jews all over the Roman empire to accept Jesus’ message. And James was telling Paul of how thousands of Jews were coming to believe the truth about who Jesus is. This was utter joy and excitement for those present. I take this moment to pose a question to you: Do the stories of those believing the good news of the Grace of God bring you joy? Do they make you happy? Joy is beyond contentment. Joy is excitement. Do you find yourself excited to hear what is happening in the church around the world and even here in Hemet? If you believe who Jesus is, and you truly believe that life is precious then hearing the stories of people coming to the realization that Jesus is the Son God should bring you to a point of worship. Hearing stories about what God is doing around the world should be a cause of happiness for the believer.
Acts 21:21-26 Love will obey
As Paul and James were discussing the ways that God was working among the Jews and non-Jews a problem was brought to Paul’s attention. There were Jews going around telling lies to other Jews saying that Paul was telling Jewish Christians to neglect Moses and his teachings. These teachings are often called the Law or the Torah and is composed of the first five books of the Bible. This lie about neglecting the teachings of Moses was creating a serious problem for the early church. Even earlier in the life of the Church there was a question asked, ‘do Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) still have to obey the laws and customs taught by Moses?’ This was a concern because more and more non-Jews (Gentiles) were beginning to believe the good news about Jesus.
In verses 21-26 the answer to this question is quickly summarized. The Jews do, but the non-Jews (Gentiles) do not. Since Jews were to observe the law it was suggested by James and the leading men of the church that Paul should pay for the offerings of the four unnamed men who had taken a Nazirite vow and that Paul himself should go and purify himself according to the Jewish custom. Without hesitation Paul agrees to do this so that he might prove to the dissenting Jews that he loves God, that he loves God people both Jews and Gentiles, and that he loves Gods commands. Jesus of Nazareth made a significant statement that should be brought up here. Jesus said that “If we love Him then we will obey Him”. It was because of this statement by Jesus that the early church had to determine whether Jesus’ command meant that non-Jews (Gentiles) had to obey the law of Moses. The leadership of the early church (which included Paul and James) agreed that non-Jews should only adhere to Jewish customs in four areas: eat no meat sacrificed to idols, eat no blood, eat no meat strangled (as opposed to having the blood drained), and have no participation in fornication (sexual immoral acts).
It is fundamentally impossible to say that ‘we love Jesus of Nazareth’ and then not obey Him. I will draw an example from the text – fornication. If we claim to love God then we will not ‘fornicate’. This means we will not have intimate sexual relations (mental or physical) with anyone but our spouse (the person we are currently married to). Men, browsing the internet for pornography is committing adultery. Men, having a one night stand is treating a woman like a prostitute. Men, living with a women but not being married to her is treating her like a concubine. Men, if by your own admission you love God and His creation then you will begin to treat women with respect and dignity and like an image bearer of the triune God head. Women, if you love God you will put these types of relationship behind you and you will delete all those unflattering self-ies on your social network of choice.
Paul was willing to suffer death because he believed that Jesus was telling the truth about who He is. And Paul Believed that Jesus really was the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus came to die in our place so that we would not have to suffer the wrath of God. Do not cheapen the grace of God. We cheapen the grace of God by believing the good news of God in our minds but not in our lives. If we believe Jesus the we will love Him. If we love Him then we will obey Him. If we obey Him then we will love whom He created in His image.
Acts 20:27-36 – Suffering for the Sake of the good news of the grace of God
So a few days pass. Paul is part way through the Jewish purification process. A process that would prove his love of the Jewish people, his love of the teachings of Moses (the Law/Torah), and his love for the place dedicated to the worship of God. Luke, the writer of Acts has already mentioned three times earlier in Acts that Paul knew he was going to be bound, and chained for the sake of the gospel (good news) of God in Jerusalem. So it was no surprise to God when the people turned on Paul, dragged him out of the temple, and began to beat him with the intent of killing him. Because of rumors and lies Paul’s presence in the temple sent the city into a full blown riot. This would be a scene similar to that which we see on the news of a mob of people seeking the death of a law breaker in the middle east today. This was not a calm, cool, and collected group of people acting in an orderly manner. This was utter chaos.
The violent mob was not interested in the Truth. They were so blind with hatred that they were ready at a moment’s notice to have Paul killed. And they were going to kill Paul in the name of God. The same God who came as a Man to save them. But as the beating was beginning the local authorities got word of what was going on and quickly came to secure the situation. And just like when Jesus was betrayed it was not the instigators who were arrested, but it was the innocent. Paul had broken no law. Paul was guilty of having committed no crime. But it was Paul who was bound with chains.
After Paul had been bound he was then being questioned by the Roman commander in the middle of this chaotic scene. As one might imagine being question by an authority in front of your enemies will not yield quality results. The crowd was shouting lies and deception. Although they couldn’t use their fists they could still use their words. And as we all have experienced, sometimes we would rather be hit with fists then feeling the sting of hateful words aimed at our heart. Because mending a bruised eye or scratched knee is usually much easier then mending a wounded heart pierced by the words of a friend or foe.
The commander decided to take Paul to the barracks where he could ask his questions and get clearer answers and make sense of what happened. Having to pick up Paul because of the crowds belligerence Paul is physically carried to the barracks. And in step with the day of Christ’s crucifixion all the crowd had to say was “AWAY WITH HIM!” –
Begging for Grace
Paul cannot bear to hear it any longer. The men, the women, the children that Paul loves so dearly. His own countrymen are verbalizing their rejection. Not a rejection of Paul, but a rejection of the good news about the grace of God.
Grace is not a message of hate, but of love. Grace is not a message of condemnation, but of redemption. Grace is not a message of doing good things to earn favor with God, but a message of salvation through faith in Jesus of Nazareth. The crowd is not rejecting Paul. But instead, once again, the crowd is rejecting Jesus. The crowd is rejecting their only hope of salvation. The crowd is in full blown rebellion of God.
I am reminded of the message God gave to the prophet Isaiah. A message given to the rebellious southern portion of the nation of Israel. God tells Isaiah to warn of the imminent judgment because of their willful disobedience and rejection of the God who saved them from bondage and slavery in Egypt. After a very sever warning of judgment from God Isaiah says:
Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.
God is a God of justice. He does not seek the death of the wicked and immoral nation of Israel! No. He seeks to be gracious and compassionate. Because He is a God of justice.
Because of the acts of irrational sinners Paul is being dragged away from being beaten them only to be ordered to be beaten by the Romans. And what does Paul do? He does the only rational thing to do. Just like God he seeks to be gracious and compassionate on this crowd of image bears of the Most High God who are vehemently seeking his death.
At the peak of Jesus’s suffering on the cross he calls out, “forgive them Father, for they don’t know what they are doing”. Jesus wasn’t seeking vengeance, he wasn’t seeking their death, he wasn’t seeking retribution. He was concerned for the life of those who were concerned with His death.
At the peak of the chaos found in Acts 21 Paul stops the Roman commander to make an unbelievable request. Paul begs and pleads with the commander to let him speak once more to this riotous mob. Christian, when you are at the moment of your most severe persecution have you ever been so bold as to display unwavering love to those who are bent on your destruction? Unbeliever, when you have been most spiteful of God and His Son, has he ever despised you?
What Paul, James, and the rest of the Apostles believed about the good news of the Grace of God fundamentally changed how they lived. Not a single one counted their own life as of any value to themselves. Instead they put the task of boldly telling others about this good news above all other things. This is why all but one of the original Apostles of the church died at the hands of their enemies. While only one sat in exile on an island, like Alcatraz, until his death.
How you and I respond to this good news must and will change everything. Believer, if you believe the Good News about who Jesus Christ is, then you will live boldly and recklessly for Christ. Unbeliever, God has made himself very clear through His prophets and disciples – if you do not believe this good news that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that his life, death, resurrection, and ascension is the only way we receive forgiveness for all the things we are guilty of doing, then you will spend eternity in hell.
Do you believe the gospel (good news) of the grace (redemption) of God?
If I am clear in nothing else let me be clear on this one point: what you and I believe about this good news will make an immediate difference in how we live, how we love, how we work, and the how we spend eternity. Do you believe as the crowds believe who sought Paul’s death? Or do you believe as Paul did and are willing to living with abandon for the sake of those who are dying because they hate you and they hate your God? I beg of you, please believe.
Do you believe the gospel of God’s grace?
Do you believe the good news of God’s redemption?
Polhill, John B., Paul and His Letters, 1999. Pages 316-318
Schreiner, Thomas R., The Law and Its Fulfillment, Pages 225-226