Readings for this week:
July 19 - Acts 21:18-40
July 20 - Acts 22
July 21 - Acts 23:1-15
July 22 - Acts 23:16-35
July 23 - Acts 24
July 24 - Acts 25
July 25 - Acts 26
Jesus once observed that a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown (Mark 6:4). Paul discovers this in spades when he returns to Jerusalem. He had faced many hardships and much persecution during his journeys to Gentile lands, but none were harder than thing things he faced in Jerusalem. The first problem he faces is turmoil in the Christian community. The Christians in Jerusalem are Judaizers and they are angered by Paul’s generous attitude towards Gentile believers (21:20-22). In an effort to be a “Jew to the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20), Paul goes through a ritual purification in the Temple and pays for others to do the same.
This doesn’t prove good enough. Some other Jews from Asia show up in Jerusalem and falsely accuse Paul of bringing Gentiles into the Temple (20:27-29). This begins a riot, which has to be sorted out by Roman soldiers (20:30-36).
In spite of the turmoil, Paul never gives up speaking about the Good News of Christ. What starts out as a self-defense (22:1) ends up being a testimony to Christ. They track with him until he gets to the part about going to the Gentiles (22:21-22), when they turn things into a riot again. One commentator once observed that wherever St. Paul went he either started a church or a riot. As funny as this seems, it does mean that Paul managed to make a noticeable impact on his community. Could the same be said of us?
Things get so bad that the Roman military get involved. They arrest Paul and start to flog him, but Paul pulls out his citizenship card (20:25-28), observing that he was born a Roman Citizen. Paul is not afraid to use earthly muscle for heavenly ends. I wonder how well we use our earthly influence for heavenly ends.
The next clever thing Paul does is divide and conquer before the Sanhedrin. The whole Sanhedrin wanted to condemn him because of his preaching about Jesus. They were united about this but he turns the tables and makes the discussion about the resurrection from the dead, a matter about which the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed (23:6-11). The other thing to note is that Paul maintains a respect for institutions even while he is challenging them (23:1-5). This passage is one of my favorite in all of Acts because it demonstrates how Paul, through the power of the Holy Spirit, takes a situation in which he could have become a victim and turns it into a time when he sets the agenda. I don’t know if I could have done that in front of the United States Supreme Court!
After another great speech before Felix, the governor of Palestine, we come across a verse of great import:
Paul was put away for two years just because Felix wanted a bribe! How fair was that when Paul was in his evangelism prime? Two years! But then I began thinking: if Paul didn’t spend so much time in prison would we have all the fine letters of the New Testament? God turns what we consider a waste into something far more productive than we can imagine.
The last thing I want to comment on in this passage is Paul’s trial before Agrippa, the king of the Jews. What seems to be his life story turns into a Gospel presentation, using Jewish history as its lynchpin. Agrippa gets the point and asks Paul if he intends to make him a Christian in short-order (26:28). Paul comes back with a classic answer:
In Romans 1:16 Paul declares that he
is not ashamed of the Gospel. This
week’s readings are a clear demonstration of that.