Acts Day 246 - Uh Oh
21:1 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.
Recently we had an archaeologist come to our church and present a series of lectures linking historical evidence to the Bible accounts. There are cities and places and peoples mentioned in the Bible that are known of nowhere else. Then as archaeologists do their work evidence is found to demonstrate that these places and people were real. I believe that's one of the reasons the Bible includes details that seem irrelevant to the Story. It provides evidence for those with a more skeptical nature.
However there is something in this passage of a much deeper significance. Paul is convinced within Himself that God wants him to go to Jerusalem. We have read about it more than once already. In the previous chapter we found out that not only is he convinced he must go but he also believes he will die there.
On route, the ship stops in Tyre to unload cargo and he spends 7 days with the believers there. They plead with him not to go. They are convinced that God is telling them by His Spirit to tell Paul not to go.
One God. One Spirit. Two opposite messages?
Jesus was convinced he had to go to the cross. His believing disciples were convinced He should not and tried to stop Him.
Is it possible for sincere believers who love God and desire to follow His leading to take opposite views of the same issue? Apparently it is and apparently it's been happening for a long time.
We'll continue tomorrow...
Acts Day 247 - Mixed Messages?
21:5 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!”
Just in case you thought yesterday was an aberration it wasn't. The believers in Tyre were convinced that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. When he arrives in Caesarea the prophet Agabus comes from Judea with a message. He takes Paul's belt which would have been essentially a long rope and he ties his hands and feet with it. As if the visual was not message enough he specifically says the Jews in Jerusalem will do this to Paul and then hand him over to the Gentiles (Roman authorities). Sound familiar? Was not Jesus arrested by the chief priests and handed over to the Romans?
What is happening? Why is God telling Paul to go to Jerusalem and telling everyone else to tell him not to go?
Are you uncomfortable yet?
Currently in the Seventh-day Adventist Church it would not be an exaggeration to say we are internally at war over the issue of women being ordained to the Gospel ministry. Is there anything we can learn from Paul and his concerned friends about what to do when some in the church say one thing and some say the opposite and all claim God is the giver of the message?
Let's examine closely what is happening with Paul. He is convinced he must go to Jerusalem. He openly admits this will likely mean his death. For him that immaterial. For those who live him that's not acceptable. They are not willing for him to die.
Now look at the prophecy of Agabus. There was a clear portrait of what would happen but no instruction from God to tell Paul not to go. The pleading with him not to go was an emotional response created by the prediction that he would be bound and handed over to the Romans. Remember Jesus? Did His followers support His journey to the crucifixion or repeatedly oppose it? Did they sincerely believe it was God’s will to oppose Him?
See God gives a message and our emotions add to the message. Our emotions interpret the message. Our emotions amend the message. Did the Spirit of God forewarn the church about what awaited Paul in Jerusalem? Yes. Did Jesus forewarn His disciples that He was going to die? Yes. Did prophecy forewarn that Messiah would die? Yes. The problem was that in both cases the warning was interpreted as a call to protect. They selfishly and sincerely wanted both Jesus and Paul to live which blinded them to the purpose of the messages from God.
The messages were from God. They were harmonious. He was telling everyone the same thing. The mix up came in the emotional interpretation of and response to the message.
So what about us? What about today? Are we different? Are we immune to an emotional reactionary response to God's messages?
When the Jews heard from God that He was expanding the Gospel to reach to the Gentiles did they take it as good news or bad? See the message is one thing. Our response to it is another.
Paul was deeply hurt by their resistance just as Jesus was by the resistance of His friends. Often we mean well. We are sincere. We even invoke God's name to support our opinions. In all of it we hurt God and those who are truly following.
I will conclude with this thought key:
If you want to know where the truth lies when God's people are set against each other and all claim to be led by Him watch for this - which side is on the side of self-preservation and which side is on the side of self-sacrifice? Then you'll know exactly where Jesus is...
Acts Day 248 - Profoundly Practical Counsel
21:12 When we had heard this (the prophecy that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Romans), 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!”
Today's thought is short but intensely practical. Paul's friends were convinced he should not go to Jerusalem. Paul was convinced he must. It could have become divisive. It could have become a fight. Instead they recognized his mind could not be changed and stopped trying to force their will on him. They released him from their insistence that he see things their way. They stopped talking altogether...
Notice their final words: "The will of the Lord be done."
By giving the entire situation to God they were neither abandoning their position nor forcing it. They were neither supporting his position nor standing against him. They simply surrendered it all to God by respecting Paul's individual freedom.
Remember the story of the prodigal son? I am sure the Father tried to persuade his son to stay but he did not insist. He even cut the cheque that enabled him to leave.
God created us free from the very beginning. He jealously guards that freedom still. If God (who loves us all more than any of us love each other and has invested more than we'll ever invest) respects our individual freedom shouldn't we? When God pleads with us to follow Him, He knows His way is right yet He never forces.
Next time you find yourself believing you are right and trying to push that on someone else you love, remember this story. Take a step back and say "The will of the Lord be done..."
Acts Day 249 - Were You There?
21:17 "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."
This passage gives me a headache. It is not a good news situation and it underscores one of the most damaging habits of humanity - gossip. Five times in his letter to the churches and/or individuals Paul laments the evil of gossiping, listing it with the worst kinds of sin.
There are two kinds of gossip mainly. One is hearing a spreading information that you don't even know is true. The second is spreading private damaging information that is true. Just because something is true does not mean we have the right to share it.
Notice what the elders in Jerusalem say to Paul: "There are thousands of believers here in Jerusalem and they have been told about you..."
Fact number one is that they don't know Paul themselves and have not heard his teaching.
Fact number two is that what they think they know about him is gossip.
We already know that wolves came into the churches Paul established trying to convince them that Jesus didn't quite do enough. They taught Jesus + _____ = salvation. The blank might be circumcision, or feast keeping, or diet, etc... Paul opposed these false teachers swiftly and boldly. You can just imagine what these men said about Paul to anyone who would listen. Guess who the most easily persuaded are when you're on a smear campaign? Those who don't know any better.
So Paul is returning to a hornets nest. The believing Jews are convinced he is teaching against all things Jewish which of course isn't true. He only taught not to view any of these customs and practices as currency to buy heaven. Never did he say they were evil or forbidden.
In my 20+ years of working with congregations I have learned some things. I have learned some people are too quick and eager to "share" information that they don't know is true as if it is true. I have learned bad news that is true spreads faster than good news. I have also learned that we tend to believe the first story we hear. If Johnny and Susie split up and Sam tells us it was because Johnny was abusive we believe it. If afterwards it comes out that actually Susie was having an affair and trying to find a way out by saying Johnny was abusive we view that angle of the story with far more skepticism and caution than we used when we heard Johnny was abusive.
There's a reason why God included "You will not bear false testimony against your brother" among the Ten. It is as destructive as any of the others.
What should have been and could have been a joyous reunion in Jerusalem was instead marred by gossip. Tomorrow we'll see just how destructive it can be.
In the meantime, use this filter when talking about others: Will this information help or harm? Is it even my information to share? Would I say it if the person were present? Do I even know it's true?
See you tomorrow.
Acts Day 250 - Appeasing the "Saints"
21:22 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.
I hate criticism. It's ugly and mean and destructive. However there are times when truth looks, sounds, and feels like criticism. We are about to enter that uncomfortable space.
When you go to the doctor and he or she lists off some things that aren't functioning properly in your body it isn't good news. When the dentist tells us we have a cavity it isn't cause for celebration. On the flip side neither the doctor, nor the dentist did anything wrong either. In fact they did exactly what they are supposed to do.
The church is a body and at times the body is sick. Some organs or limbs aren't functioning as they were designed to and there might be a cavity or two as well.
Returning to the context, Jerusalem is the place where the church killed Jesus. There is a lot of anger and frustration in the church at Jerusalem. It is rooted in pride and a sense of entitlement. Jerusalem used to be the mighty kingdom's capital. Other kings and queens from foreign nations came to see the kingdom Solomon built. Deep down the Jews have ever since felt that it was their right and proper place to sit atop the world. They dreamed of the day when their former glory would return but every dream was interrupted by the stomping feet of Roman soldiers marching through their streets.
On top of that, for generations they had been taught that perfect law keeping was the path back to glory. If they could please God enough with their devotion to His law He would be duty bound to reinstate them as world leaders.
That mindset (which still exists among conservative Jews to this very day) drove them to add laws to the law and rules to the laws which had been added to the law. No less than 613 laws and rules dictated exact observance of the Sabbath alone, never mind all the other laws and areas of life ruled by them.
Into this cultural baggage stepped Jesus. He ignored their man made laws and kept God's law in a way they had never seen. He paid for it with His life. Now Paul has followed in the footsteps of Jesus and is returning to the hotbed of tension - Jerusalem.
Notice that the leaders got it. They knew Paul was innocent but they also knew the mindset of the people. They knew a bomb was on the verge of exploding. They had come up with a plan. They figured if Paul publicly kept a strict Jewish custom it would demonstrate his respect for the law and dispel the rumours that Paul was a renegade set on undermining all things Jewish.
Before we go any further I want to make sure we fully understand what was happening. The Jews they are trying to appease are Christian Jews. They believe in Jesus. They also believe in the law. They have made a step toward the Truth but are dragging a serious load of baggage with them. They stand in between the complete and hopeless position they were in of finding a future and peace with God by buying His favour through religion, and freedom through the gift provided by Jesus at Calvary. They have not fully let go of the past or fully grabbed onto the new reality of the good news.
Paul has. He no longer feels one thread of hope in religious performance. All his hope is in Jesus. It's a position the church in Jerusalem is not yet able to handle. In fact that level of freedom is such a threat to them that Paul is in danger of losing his life. Why? To "protect the church". To preserve the "truth" as the church in Jerusalem sees it.
That battle is not over. Why do you think there are so many denominations within Christianity? Each has more faith in their brand and their religious formulas than they do in Jesus, and when push comes to shove things can get ugly fast. All religious wars are fueled by this tension.
So Paul agrees to try and appease the masses. I want you to note that no prayers for wisdom were offered. No instruction from God was given.
Tomorrow we'll see what happened next...