This is Episode #325 and today we’ll read Acts chapters 21-23 together. Paul goes up to Jerusalem, a riot breaks out in the temple and Paul defends himself before the angry mob.
Joy: You’re listening to Season 2 of the Lifting Her Voice podcast. This is Episode #325 and today we’ll read Acts chapters 21-23 together. Paul goes up to Jerusalem, a riot breaks out in the temple and Paul defends himself before the angry mob.
Welcome to the Lifting Her Voice podcast, Season 2! I’m your host, Joy Miller, and I invite you to grab your Bible and join me – from the beginning – simply reading God’s word together. We built some spiritual muscles in 2020 with just the New Testament. But this year we’re going all out, cover-to-cover, Old Testament and New. So, whether with your first cup in the morning, your commute to work, or as the last thing on your mind before sleep, God’s Word will equip you for every good work. I’m really glad you’re here!
Acts Chapter 21
Warnings on the Journey to Jerusalem
After we tore ourselves away from them, we set sail straight for Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. After we sighted Cyprus, passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, since the ship was to unload its cargo there. We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When our time had come to an end, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, accompanied us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, we said farewell to one another and boarded the ship, and they returned home.
When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
The Lord’s Will Be Done
After we had been there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, both we and the local people pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Conflict over the Gentile Mission
After this we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us and brought us to Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
When we reached Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters welcomed us warmly. The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. But they have been informed about you — that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs. So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have made a vow. Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved.
Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law. With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
The Riot in the Temple
So the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering would be made for each of them. When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.
The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.
As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the commander approached, took him into custody, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks. When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for the mass of people followed, yelling, “Get rid of him!”
Paul’s Defense before the Jerusalem Mob
As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?”
He replied, “You know how to speak Greek? Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt some time ago and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the wilderness?”
Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.”
After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in Aramaic:
Acts Chapter 22
“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.” When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter. He continued, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strictness of our ancestral law. I was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, arresting and putting both men and women in jail, as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to arrest those who were there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.
“As I was traveling and approaching Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
“I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, the one you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
“I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’
“The Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything that you have been assigned to do.’
“Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of the light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and went into Damascus. Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, who had a good reputation with all the Jews living there, came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
I Will Send You Far Away to the Gentiles
“After I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’
“But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in you imprisoned and beaten. And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I stood there giving approval and guarding the clothes of those who killed him.’
“He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
Paul’s Roman Protection
They listened to him up to this point. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this man off the face of the earth! He should not be allowed to live!”
As they were yelling and flinging aside their garments and throwing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be interrogated with the scourge to discover the reason they were shouting against him like this. As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?”
When the centurion heard this, he went and reported to the commander, saying, “What are you going to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”
The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes,” he said.
The commander replied, “I bought this citizenship for a large amount of money.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul said.
So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him.
Paul before the Sanhedrin
The next day, since he wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and instructed the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to convene. He brought Paul down and placed him before them.
Acts Chapter 23
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day.” The high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?”
Those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?”
“I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and neither angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all.
The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently, “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
It Is Necessary for You to Testify in Rome
When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, take him away from them, and bring him into the barracks. The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.”
The Plot against Paul
When it was morning, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who had formed this plot. These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we won’t eat anything until we have killed Paul. So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. But, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.”
But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.”
So he took him, brought him to the commander, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you.”
The commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, “What is it you have to report to me?”
“The Jews,” he said, “have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than forty of them lying in ambush — men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they have killed him. Now they are ready, waiting for your consent.”
So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, “Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.”
To Caesarea by Night
He summoned two of his centurions and said, “Get two hundred soldiers ready with seventy cavalry and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Also provide mounts to ride so that Paul may be brought safely to Felix the governor.”
He wrote the following letter:
To the most excellent governor Felix:
When this man had been seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, I arrived with my troops and rescued him because I learned that he is a Roman citizen. Wanting to know the charge they were accusing him of, I brought him down before their Sanhedrin. I found out that the accusations were concerning questions of their law, and that there was no charge that merited death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there was a plot against the man, I sent him to you right away. I also ordered his accusers to state their case against him in your presence.
So the soldiers took Paul during the night and brought him to Antipatris as they were ordered. The next day, they returned to the barracks, allowing the cavalry to go on with him. When these men entered Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. After he read it, he asked what province he was from. When he learned he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing whenever your accusers also get here.” He ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.
Paul was warned more than once about returning to Jerusalem. But return he did, and when he participated in purification rituals for 4 young men, Jews from the province of Asia spotted him in the temple and instigated a riot. Fortunately, the commander in charge of the regiment intervened and prevented Paul from being killed.
When Paul asks permission to address the crowd, he provides a stirring account of his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He tells them of his credentials: how he was raised and trained up as a Pharisee; his persecution of the early Christian movement and his encounter with the risen Christ. It’s an incredible story of redemption that should give even the worst of us cause for hope.
For some reason, it is difficult for some of us to believe that God will forgive us for our sins. We imagine that our sins are worse than most – “God may be able to forgive you, but you don’t know what I’ve done…” And so, we shrink away from a relationship with Christ that we believe is doomed to failure.
But Jesus forgave Paul, and he will also forgive you and me. He died on that cross for all our sins, not just the easy ones. So put your faith in Christ and take comfort from the company of believers like Paul, that you and I are not alone.
Let’s pray. Oh, Father, thank You that You provided a way for us to spend eternity with You through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Help us to put aside our shame over the sins we have committed and embrace the redemption that is freely offered through Your Son Jesus. Forgive us for thinking that we are somehow unique and unworthy when You tell us otherwise. Amen.
Thank you for joining me here today. I pray that by spending time in His Word every day, you will be changed. Visit me at Lifting Her Voice.com with your comments and questions. And don’t forget to visit the Blog page while you’re there. If you like the podcast, it would be great if you’d give it a five-star review and share it with everyone you know. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. See you tomorrow!
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible(r), Copyright (c) 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible(r) and CSB(r) are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
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