Date: 8 October 2023
Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Text: Acts 21:18 – 22:1
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Blessed Sunday to everyone, both here in Henderson and those participating online.
For those who are online, next week which is the 3rd Sunday of the month, if you have not come in-person to Hermon yet this month, do come for our 2nd service at 11.30 am.
We will be administering Holy Communion then.
In the month of September and October, the sports pages in the newspaper are full of events.
We have the rugby world cup in France, we have the Asian Games in China and of course the Premium League has started in the England.
We witness men and women of all skin colour, nationality, languages and body size, battle it out in their chosen sport.
At the end of the match, hands are shaken, a few words spoken and maybe some hugs exchanged.
Thus, everyday I do look forward to reading the sports section.
However, on Wednesday 27 Sept 2023, I read a disturbing article that was titled ‘Irish gym body sorry black girl was ignored at ceremony’.
This article was about an event in Dublin held on March 2022. There, one official who was handing out medals to gymnasts snubbed the only black girl who was in the line.
There was an uproar of criticism online when the video was posted.
I read with disbelief that in the 21st century, in a developed society like Ireland, a young girl of a different skin colour could still experience racism and discrimination.
Gymnastics Ireland has since issued a statement of apology and clarified that the girl had received the medial before leaving the award ceremony.
Also, the official involved has sent the family and the girl a written apology.
This is the 21st Century and many feel we should have evolved into better human beings by now.
Think with me, if this is still happening in 21st Century, how might racism, discrimination and prejudices be experienced during Paul’s time in 1st Century Israel?
Let’s appreciate then, what it means to have a Kingdom Perspective during the 1st Century.
Think of the staggering significance of what Peter was stating at Pentecost:
Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
This is the gap that Christianity is bridging. The gap between God and man, the gap between Jews and Greeks.
For in Christ, we are one.
Seeking unity (21:18-26)
One key thing we will note in today’s text is that it is filled with misunderstandings about Paul and his ministry.
The Jews in Jerusalem misunderstood what Paul taught about how the Jewish believers should live. The Jews from Asia misunderstood what Paul did when he was in the temple in Jerusalem.
We begin by looking at Acts 21:18-26.
I submit Paul shows us how to better counter, any misunderstandings or worst, any unjustified accusations, by having a Kingdom Perspective.
In this first segment, when we speak of Kingdom Perspective, we see Paul, seeking unity.
Seeking unity with the Jewish believers. Desiring that no stumbling block be placed to impede their growth in the Gospel.
In the previous chapter, we see from Acts 20:16 that Paul was hastening to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 20:16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
It is not mentioned by Luke here why he wanted to be in Jerusalem, but we get a glimpse of the reason elsewhere:
Acts 24:17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.
Rom 15:25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.
Acts 24 and Rom 15, tell us that Paul was eager to come to Jerusalem because he was carrying the financial gifts from the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem believers.
So here, we already see Paul’s heart for the Jewish Christians and how he was doing his part to build unity and harmony with the Gentile believers.
Thus, it is no surprise to me that when the leaders in Jerusalem asked Paul to participate in a rite of purification and to sponsor 4 men who were undergoing a Nazarite vow, Paul would readily agree.
The Jerusalem Elders had already given thanks to God for what God had been doing through Paul’s ministry amongst the Gentiles.
At the same time, they were aware of the tensions amongst the Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
The concerns factually speaking wasn’t accurate. Paul had not been advocating that Jews living among Gentiles forsake the law, circumcision and the customs.
They misunderstood what Paul was teaching.
As an example, Paul felt it was necessary for Timothy to be circumcised so that he could minister amongst the Jews because Timothy’s mother was a Jew.
Acts 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
But since the leaders sense the need to address this perceived problem, Paul agreed to do so.
It might be unnecessary effort but since it was not doctrinally wrong, he was willing to do so.
What was Paul’s motivation?
Act 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Though Paul’s primary focus was to the Gentiles, God still asked him to testify before the children of Israel. And that is the reason why Paul always went to the synagogues first in every new city he visited.
Paul cared for his fellow Jews and wanted them to know Jesus Christ, the crucified Messiah.
And so, he was willing to bend over backwards to ensure that there would be no misunderstanding by the Jewish believers.
To satisfy Paul that the Elders understood that the focus was only on the lifestyles of the Jewish believers and not the Gentile Christians, the Elders, emphasized the Jerusalem Council’s ruling in Acts 21:25.
So from Scripture, we see that for the sake of ministering to the Jews, Paul laboured at the following:
Willingly carrying the offering from the churches in Asia to Jerusalem.
Willing submitting a report to the leaders in Jerusalem about the mission work in Asia.
Willingly participating in the purification rites and the sponsoring of the 4 men.
This morning, let’s ask ourselves, what inconveniences have we laboured in to promote unity in Mt Hermon?
Would the basic, basic level be to participate in Sunday Services and CG meetings regularly?
Let me highlight some positive testimonies:
We thank God that we have a small group of Hermonites who fetch a member from her community home every Sunday. It means, also providing her lunch and bringing her back after service.
We thank God that as a church, we can provide transport from Yew Tee MRT each Sunday to Henderson. And that those who stay in other parts of Singapore have not protested.
We thank God that in our worship services we sing hymns and choruses that cater to different generations. And that for both the young and old, we are learning to appreciate the favourites of other generations.
Our leaders are currently thinking through what it means to be an intergenerational church and how we want to avoid being multi-generational.
Multi-generational means we cater for different generations in different events whereas Intergenerational means we cater for different generations in the same event.
Intergenerational type of ministry would need some adjusting by ALL of us.
May we take encouragement from today’s text about what it means to have a Kingdom Perspective by seeking unity.
Responding Graciously (21:27-22:1)
From today’s text, I submit that to be able to manage misunderstandings by having a Kingdom Perspective - it means we learn how to respond graciously.
It is so ironic right that Paul, while completing his purification rites for himself and also sponsoring those of the 4 men, is accused by the Jews from Asia.
Accusing Paul of teaching things contrary to the law and the temple.
Paul is in the precise act of doing what a pious Jew would do and yet he is accused of acting and teaching paganism.
Luke notes down the charge in v28-29:
Acts 21:28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.
So it seems, Paul is proving by his act of “bringing a Gentile into the temple”, to teach against the Jewish faith.
Non-Jews can enter the Court of the Gentiles. But further in, only the Jews could enter and they had to be ritually pure.
Before entering the inner temple, there would be signs written that said:
“No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put blame for the death which will ensue.”
There was no actual justification to the charges brought against Paul but yet we see that the Jews of Asia were able to incite the crowd and they proceeded to lynch Paul.
This is a misunderstanding on a colossal scale. And the implications of such a misunderstanding is the possible death of Paul.
Like Mission Impossible right? Paul still has to go to Rome, he still has to testify about Jesus to the authorities in the Roman empire.
There is no way out, the Jerusalem believers could not defuse the tension. Paul’s companions would be helpless as well.
This is the time of Pentecost, Jerusalem would be overflowing with pilgrims and Luke says, the whole crowd was stirred up.
But God is in control.
The crowd pulled Paul out of the inner courts as it would not be ritually appropriate to stone Paul inside.
But by pulling Paul to the courts of the Gentiles, it made it possible for the Roman soldiers to intervene.
See, during that time, there was the Antonia Fortress which is built right up next to the Court of the Gentiles. From the fort, the soldiers can look down and see what is going on in the temple.
The Romans had soldiers there to maintain law and order and would have beefed up the number of soldiers during the festival periods.
So, because Paul was now being executed in the Court of the Gentiles, the Roman commander intervened to quieten the mob, thereby saving Paul.
God in His sovereignty, permitted a Gentile enemy of Israel to save His preacher.
And as Paul was carried into the fort by the soldiers, they crowd shouted ‘Away with him!’.
Luke’s recording of this is significant. For in his first volume, he has recorded the exact same words that were spoken about Jesus before his crucifixion:
Acts 21:36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!”
Lk 23:18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—
Paul as God’s Apostle, was facing unjust persecution just like His Lord.
When Paul was pulled into the fortress, he must have been hurting both physically and emotionally.
Yet, we see that his actions were calm and courteous to both the Roman commander and even to the Jews.
Paul was responding graciously.
Paul showed that he was learned as he spoke to the Commander in Greek as he asked for permission to speak to the crowd.
When he addressed the crowd, he switched to Hebrew which helped him identify with the heritage of the Jews.
And he addressed them as “brothers and fathers”.
How might we have addressed them if we were in Paul’s shoes?
As blood drips from our head, I suspect we might justify to ourselves the use of very undignified speech.
Why could Paul be so calm and courteous?
May I offer that it was because He trusted in God’s Word.
God had already told him this will happen. The prophecy of Agabus was being fulfilled. Things are going according to God’s plan, God is in control.
Acts 21:11 And coming to us, he (Agabus) took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ”
Thus Paul, in his response to the prophecy had already said:
Acts 21:13 … For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
I submit if we believe in the promises of God’s Word like Paul, it will go a long way in enabling us to respond graciously to misunderstandings.
A relevant promise from our Lord Jesus is found in the Beatitudes:
Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I don’t know what kind of misunderstanding you are currently facing. But Scripture has recorded for us that it is possible to respond graciously like Paul, in a calm and courteous manner.
I submit in order to do so, it begins with a Kingdom mindset that Jesus our King has ordained each and every day of our lives.
That King Jesus sits on the throne and nothing happens outside of His will and His permission.
Christ-centred Re-orientation (22:2-21)
As we have observed, there was a great misunderstanding about Paul’s ministry especially amongst the Jews.
And since Paul’s ministry was his God given commission, Paul felt it was so important to do whatever is necessary to address them.
Since Paul’s ministry was about the faith, by misunderstanding Paul, they were in some ways, misunderstanding the Gospel.
And so, to address these misunderstandings, we see Paul sharing his conversion testimony.
Since repetition is emphasis, it is significant that Luke records Paul’s conversion three times in the book of Acts.
Paul is truly an Apostle of Jesus, who is the crucified and risen Messiah.
So to a very Jewish audience, Paul begins by establishing his credentials before them.
Acts 22:1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day …. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there …. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard …. 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.
Paul identified with them by addressing them as ‘brothers and fathers’ in Hebrew. Then adds, I was born a Jew, brought up in Jerusalem and educated under a famous rabbi, Gamaliel.
Not only that, I have been certified as genuine by Ananias, who is a devout and well known Jewish leader.
And Ananias said that the ‘God of our fathers’, the God that the Jews worship, has revealed Himself to Paul in the person of His Son, Jesus, who is the Righteous One.
Not only have I been spoken to, by God, on the road to Damascus, God, has also spoken to me in the temple here in Jerusalem.
Paul is saying indirectly, I’ve received the same experience as Prophet Samuel.
Paul then goes on to say, I am no different compared with you all in the past. I was just as zealous.
Acts 22:19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.
Paul, I’m sure was alluding also to the Jewish leaders - hey guys, you know how I got your permission to go after those who believed in Jesus right?
Remember Stephen, I was there and on your side, and I took part in his martyrdom.
By identifying with them, I submit Paul was trying to get them to think, if he was like them, a persecutor of Christians, they should consider what turned him around to become a Preacher of Jesus Christ!
I submit Paul was presenting to them the following:
Christianity - believing in the name of Jesus, is not a deviant from God’s covenant with Abraham and David. No, it is a fulfilment of God’s Kingdom.
Paul understood the Jewish faith and so did Ananias. And they both knew that it was the God of our fathers who was addressing them. So what Paul is saying is credible.
Thus, Paul in his defence implies - Jesus, who is the crucified and risen Messiah is the key to my 360 degree turn in life. And I’m no radical.
Jesus of Nazareth who is Yahweh’s Righteous One is the fulfilment of all of God’s promises. Jesus has come to inaugurate God’s Kingdom.
So indirectly, Paul is saying - would you be open to accepting Jesus too?
Church, I submit that Paul models for us what it means to have a Kingdom Perspective. It is to have King Jesus re-orientate everything in our lives.
Jesus is the key. Only Jesus can unlocked the actual meaning of Scripture.
And for Paul, it changed him from a zealous persecutor, to a zealous preacher.
Paul’s personality didn’t changed, but now it was functioning in the right direction and purpose. And I submit, it will happen to us as well.
Paul then adds that not only is Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel, Jesus is also going to be the fulfillment to God’s promise to the Gentiles.
Paul, a Jew of Jews is being sent by God to proclaim the Gospel to Gentiles.
So, God’s people now include both Jews and Gentiles who call upon the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Sadly, God indicates also to Paul, that many Jews will not accept Paul’s testimony of Jesus.
In Christ re-orientating Paul’s life, we see too that Paul re-orientating to God’s timing as well.
Acts 22:17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
In the temple, Paul told God, he was the ideal person and in the timely situation to witness to the Jews. But God said no, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.
And as we have seen from Acts 13 to 20, Paul was obedient to God’s instructions.
Church, do we have a Kingdom Perspective like Paul? His life, his purpose and down to his ministry timing have all been re-oriented by Jesus.
Paul says, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. For Paul, because of Christ, his life has now changed from ownership to stewardship.
May I offer the picture of the thermometer and that of a thermostat.
The life before Christ is one like that of the thermometer. As unredeemed sinners, we will just reflect society.
The life after Christ is one like that of the thermostat. The temperature in the room can be set. It can be controlled.
And as believers, Christ is the controller of who we are and what we do.
And Christ controls us, so that we can be His salt and light in our little corner of the world.
I began the sermon by sharing about discrimination in the gymnastic field.
I submit, the misunderstandings Paul experienced can be attributed to the discriminatory mindset of the Jews.
They were not able to comprehend that in Christ Jesus, the walls of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles have been torn down.
As the writer of Hebrews has helped us understand, Christ Jesus is the better sacrifice, He is the better Moses and He is the better temple.
And in Christ, we have been reconciled to God and to one another.
Thus, for our consideration this morning, as we reflect on how Paul responded to such staggering misunderstandings, may we appreciate that he saw it through the perspective of God’s Kingdom.
And that meant that he went out of his way to seek unity.
Under severe duress, he was still able to respond graciously.
And finally having a Kingdom Perspective meant that the foundation of his life and ministry was based solely on Jesus Christ, who has re-oriented his focus and his timing.
As we end, may I encourage us through the words of Apostle Peter. I feel today’s narrative is an appropriate illustration of 1 Peter 3:13-17.
1 Peter 3:13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.