“Up to Jerusalem” – Acts 21:15-26
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This would be Apostle Paul's last time in Jerusalem.
By going "up to Jerusalem" he took his life in his hands to try and solve the biggest problem in the early church.
The division between legalistic Jews and Gentiles in the church.
Since the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15), trouble had been brewing.
The Judaizers (legalistic Jewish believers) had been following behind Paul and trying to capture Jewish converts, returning them to the Law of Moses, and demanding that Gentile converts become Jews before they could become Christians (the epistle to the Galatians).
Religious tradition dies hard and not without a fight.
Paul was ready to work with the believing Jews and share Christ with the unbelieving Jews, but not to compromise the truth:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Religious works (Judaism) were of no value as it relates to salvation, and the Jerusalem Jewish believers could not understand this truth.
The Apostle knew he was seen as part of the problem, but also that he had the solution, Christ Jesus and His Word.
So, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, he would do all he could to solve the problem.
"...went up to Jerusalem..."
* Geographically and spiritually.
* What fellowship they must have had!
"...Mnason, an early disciple..."
* The earliest disciples were considered as those who came to Christ after Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
* Mnason was from Cyprus as was Barnabas (Acts 4:36).
"The brethren received us gladly..."
* "Brethren" - Jewish believers in the Jerusalem church.
* Unlike the first Jerusalem "Council" (Acts 15:4-6).
* Did they "receive the gift" (1 Cor. 16:1-4) from the Gentile churches "gladly?"
"...James and all the elders..."
* "James" - The half-brother of Jesus.
- Pastor of the Jerusalem church.
- Writer of The Epistle of James.
"...those things which God had done..."
* Paul never took credit for God's work.
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient--in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
(1 Cor. 15:10)
"...many myriads of Jews...who have believed..."
* Tens of thousands. 50,000 is the conservative estimate of Jews that were converted to Christ.
"...they are all zealous for the law..."
* "Zealous" - Having, or showing real zeal, fervent, ardent.
- Partisan for political independence, "tradition of the fathers" (Strong's 2207, 8)
* Both would apply in this instance (Acts 15:1).
* Paul would say this of himself (Acts 22:3).
Why did so many Jewish believers continue in the law? Had they not read Romans and Galatians? Probably not, and tradition is one of the most difficult things to change.
"But they have been informed about you..."
* Rumors and accusations, circulated by the Judaizers.
"It has been well said that though a rumor doesn't have a leg to stand on, it travels might fast."
And what were the accusations?
"...that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses...not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs."
* This was untrue. He had told the Gentiles they were not to place themselves under the Law of Moses because Christ had freed them from bondage to the law (Gal. 4:1-5:7).
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
* Paul was always considerate of Jewish practices (Rom. 14:1-15:7).
* These same accusations were also said about the Lord Jesus (Lk. 6:7) and Stephen.
They also set up false witnesses who said, "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us."
The elders were not worried by what Paul taught the Gentiles, that was settled at the first Jerusalem Council by James (Acts 15:13-21).
"What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come."
* James and the elders concern was that Paul's presence in Jerusalem would cause division and disruption among the "myriads of Jews...zealous for the law."
* Leading to the church's disunity, as Paul, himself, wrote to the Corinthians:
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
(1 Cor. 1:10)
And ultimately a victory for Satan.
So, the Jerusalem leadership had a plan:
"Therefore, do what we tell you..."
* It seems Paul still considered himself somewhat under the authority of the mother church, as he had earlier (Acts 15:1-2, 12).
"...we have four men that had taken a vow."
* Most likely the Nazirite vow (Num. 6:1-21).
"...pay their expenses..."
* Did Paul pay from "the gift" sent by the Gentile churches, or from his own resources? (Acts 18:3, 1 Cor. 9:14-15)
"...shave their heads..."
* Paul had already taken a Nazirite vow and shaved his head in Cenchrea (Acts 18:18).
"...that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law."
* The elders hoped this would show that Paul still considered himself a Jew, and he did, but a Jew under grace (Eph. 2:8-9) not the law.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
"But concerning the Gentiles..."
* To the elders, this incident was a continuation of the first council (Acts. 15:19-20, 29).
"Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them..."
* So, Paul took the direction of the elders, not because they were in actual authority over him, but rather because it was his ministry philosophy:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
The plan appeared to be safe and wise, but as we shall see, it failed miserably.
Instead of bringing peace, it brought turmoil, and Paul ended up "bound in chains," (Acts 20:22-23, 21:4, 11) and a prisoner of the Romans (Acts 21:33).
Paul certainly knew who the Hebrews were, he was one (Phil. 3:4-6).
God knew also, for He said they were a "stiff-necked" people:
And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!"
"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you."
Eventually, God would have a special letter written to the Jews; the Epistle to the Hebrews, to explain the relationship between the old and new covenants.
"The Book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrews to tell them to stop being Hebrews!"
Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse
But God, and Paul, loved the Jews.
Christ laying down His life for them and us, and Paul willing to forfeit his eternal soul for them.
Are we any different?