Reaching Jerusalem Where Paul is Warned of Jewish Opposition
When we arrived, the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem welcomed us warmly.
The next day Paul went with us to meet with James, and all the elders of the Jerusalem church were present.
After greeting them, Paul gave a detailed account of the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry.
After hearing this, they praised God. And then they said, “You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all follow the law of Moses very seriously.
But the Jewish believers here in Jerusalem have been told that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They’ve heard that you teach them not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs.
What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.
“Here’s what we want you to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow.
Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumours are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws.
“As for the Gentile believers, they should do what we already told them in a letter: They should abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 21:17-25)
This is a curious part of the story. I don't know if you have the same reaction as me to these words. When Paul and Luke and the others arrived in Jerusalem Luke tells us they were received warmly. The greeting was friendly, welcoming and warm. The word [asmenos] is an adverb which Luke adds to the word “to receive and welcome someone”. But curiously that is all that is said. Normally in the book of Acts the welcome is more effusive and meaningful. Just look at the last two chapters and see the kind of welcome and impact on the people that Luke describes in many of these other insignificant towns along the way. But here in Jerusalem the greeting is merely [asmenos]. The next day Paul, and assumedly Luke, met with James and all the elders of the church in Jerusalem. After the greeting, which again receives no more comment than that there was a greeting, Paul gives them a detailed account of what God has done through his ministry to the Gentiles. They praised God and then they said . . . The juxtaposition of these words makes me think, “What is going on here?” What is Luke not saying. One would expect from one of Paul’s main sending churches (Antioch is the other one) a more enthusiastic response. And what about the huge gift that Paul has brought back with him from the poorer churches or Macedonia and others. It is mentioned in Scripture in a number of places (Acts and 2 Corinthians especially) but there is just no mention of it being handed over. One would expect a grateful response from those for whom the gift was collected. Especially in this meeting of the leaders of the church. But there is not a mention. You have to admit such an absence of comment is curious.
However then comes the next statement. After a brief response of praise the topic of discussion returns to exactly where it was left the last time Paul was in Jerusalem a number of years ago. Go back and have a read of Acts 15. Nothing has changed. It seems the meeting the day before was before a gathering of all those who were followers of the Way in the Jerusalem. It highly likely that the gift from the churches of Asia Minor was handed to the leaders before the whole gathering. If not then, certainly the next day when Paul and Luke met with the James and the elders. But all they want to do is talk about what they have heard of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles. Namely that they heard Paul has been teaching Jews to forsake the Law of Moses and telling them (the Jews living among the Gentiles) not to circumcise their children or observe Jewish customs and cultural practices. An interesting opening statement to say the least. And may I ask where are the apostles? It is interesting to me what is omitted from this account. Every other time Paul visited anywhere there were apostles, those closely connected with him, there is comment about their gathering and strengthening. But not this time. It seems the leadership of the church in Jerusalem in now well and truly in the hands of James and the appointed leaders. The same James who made the summary comments (Acts 15:13-21) in support of Paul and a softer approach to the Gentiles. So what has changed? What is Luke not telling us?
What should we do?
The Jews living in this city will certainly hear that you are back.
Here is what we want you to do. . .
Now that is a curious combination of words to say the least. They have clearly been doing much thinking and talking before this meeting started. They already have an agenda they have worked out. The “what should we do” clearly didn't include Luke’s “we”. The question appears to be directed toward Paul, including him in any likely discussion on the matter. But the movement of the words that follow indicate the question was merely rhetorical at best. These leaders had already made up their minds. They have “praised God” for what He has done. Paul has very clearly given these leaders cause for rejoicing over what is happening in the all of the places they have been ministering. Go back over the intervening chapters between Acts 15 and this moment in Acts 21. There are some spectacular things that God has done. Reason for rejoicing, reason for praising him. Good reason to think that wonderful things are happening among the Gentiles. Just what is going on here. There is a lot not said.
The lack of mention of the offering which we would think the text has been building toward. The short brief almost perfunctory praise and then the rather forceful expression of the concerns the Jerusalem church leaders have over the Jewish reaction suggests tension in the text. Or maybe there is a time lapse here in the text, and Luke has omitted a great deal in his account of what happened in order to press on to record the outcome of the concerns about Paul going to Jerusalem and Agabus’ prophetic enactment of what would happen. Is that why this account is short, clipped and lacking any true feeling? Feelings which by contrast have been expressed all along the way before now. The contrast between the two seems telling.
I am going to leave the Gemz at this point, simply because if I open up the matter of the visit to the temple to fulfil the vows of the four men and Paul I will have opened up a can of worms and it will turn this Gemz into an epistle. If I do that you will miss a lot of the interesting things I have highlighted above. Rather take time to gather your thoughts. Go back and look at the intervening chapters between Acts 15 and 21 and refresh your memory. This section has taken a long while to cover. Then don't forget that most likely Paul has been pressing on to Jerusalem for the sake of fulfilling his vow, which we discussed thoroughly in Gemz 1749 to 1752. That was back when Paul as in Corinth before he had gone to Ephesus and spent two and half years there. What happened to the urgency to get to Jerusalem? It is all very curious to say the least.
Believers behaving badly never invalidates the Gospel. Instead it validates it, because Jesus insisted we all need a Saviour because we're all hopelessly broken.
I desperately need God's grace. You do too.
My advice to leaders is to try to live between the lines. The line of success and the line of failure. We're neither as good nor as bad as they might indicate. Authenticity is about living an open life between those lines. John Maxwell
Love doesn't need to be perfect; it just needs to be true.
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