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DAY 1 – A Guide To This Week’s Reading And Reflection
You are in Week 7 of your devotional work through the Book of Acts. So far you have covered 20 chapters and about 27 years of time! You have moved from Jerusalem through Judea, past Samaria and through the entire Mediterranean world. For the last few weeks, you have followed Paul on his three missionary trips to preach about Jesus and advance the Church.
Acts 1-7 focused on Jerusalem and lasted about 1 ½ years.
Acts 21-26 will focus on Jerusalem again and last about 1 ½ years! The time is AD 58-59 for these chapters.
Luke is a historian with a purpose. Acts 1:8 is the map of his purpose unfolding through the Book of Acts. The Gospel of Jesus goes to the ends of the earth, and that will mean Rome itself, the great capital of the massive Empire of Rome.
Acts 9:15 is a core verse for Luke as well. Paul is the chosen instrument for God to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And Paul will proclaim the name of Jesus to the people of Israel and to kings of the earth. That is what happens in Acts 21-28.
This week you will work through Acts 21-24. Once Paul arrives in Jerusalem, there are six or seven phases of witness, each phase before an increasingly prominent and powerful ruler. This week you will explore the first four phases of Paul’s witness. In some ways, the final chapters are a summary of all that Paul experienced and taught since his conversion. Twice he will recall his Damascus Road experience of salvation and transformation (Acts 9). You will also see a strong Christ-centered message.
There will be some explanation of the events taking place. Pay close attention to how Paul describes Jesus and his mission on behalf of Christ.
The daily reflections will provide core teachings from the letters of Paul about how to be missional in a challenging world.
DAY 2 – Acts 21:15-36 Phase One
Notice that James and the elders of the Church in Jerusalem know that Paul’s visit is going to be “dicey, tricky, problematic, rough going…” And they come up with a plan to placate the Jews and soften their reaction.
The first phase was to gently enter the charged atmosphere, gain some credibility, and find common ground for Paul to be in Jerusalem. It does not work.
Notice that many of the Jews who are upset are believers in Christ who have been misinformed about what Paul believes. The misinformation revolves around issues of Jewish identity—circumcision, the Law of Moses, and how much of the Jewish customs and practices the Church needs to observe. These are obviously issues of great sensitivity. Be sure to notice the intense energy and emotions of this scene. It is a violent crowd.
Galatians was the earliest letter of Paul dealing with many of these issues. Read Galatians 2 to see how Paul dealt with these issues then and how he will continue to deal with them in the trials that are ahead of him. Grace is a dominant word in this passage.
Christ is the one who justifies us, by grace through faith. We now live in Christ and Christ lives in us.
DAY 3 – Acts 21:37-22:29 Phase Two
The crowd is about to kill Paul when a Roman commander of troops intervenes and saves Paul. Paul is arrested and bound (guilty until proven innocent). A pre-trial or hearing takes place to find out if there is a real case to be tried.
Paul clarifies who he is and that he is NOT a terrorist. Paul walks through his credentials as a Pharisee and then his conversion on the Damascus Road. He talks about Jesus quite clearly and with no opposition up through Acts 22:20. At verse 21 he describes God sending him to the Gentiles and that is when the crowd begins to riot once more.
Notice the issue is not about Jesus. It is about Gentiles finding Jesus and being incorporated into the people of God! It is about Gentile Christians not following specific religious practices a good Jew would practice.
The commander orders Paul to be flogged and interrogated. That is when Paul plays his trump card and announces he is a natural born Roman citizen. That is an impressive status and that changes everything. As a citizen, Paul is protected by Roman law.
Extremism is always bad. Religious extremism is among the worst of its kind. That is on display in this section of Acts. Apparently, as the years have gone by, anti-Gentile fervor has become very intense. There is no reasoning with extremists—then or today.
Read Romans 15:5-22 to see how Paul advanced the good news of Jesus to the Gentile world.
DAY 4 – Acts 22:30-23:22 Phase Three
The Roman commander knows this problem is outside his area of expertise. The commander summons a meeting of the Sanhedrin (the same group that persecuted Peter and John in the early chapters of Acts).
Paul goes on the offensive, then he backtracks, and finally he stirs up an internal debate to get the focus off his mission to the Gentiles and on to an in-house debate on theology. The tactic works and one part of the leadership sides with Paul. Now they have a violent dispute between the various Jewish groups. The commander intervenes again, to protect Paul.
The Sanhedrin devise a plot to kill Paul. The plot is discovered, and the commander acts to protect Paul, since Paul is a Roman citizen with all the rights and protection of the Roman armies to guard their citizens.
Paul will be bold at times. Other times he will be careful. He is strategic and tactical in how he does ministry. He has long years of painful experience in dealing with crowds of all types.
While facing his enemies, Paul can be harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake (Matthew 10:16).
Read Philippians 1:12-30 to see how Paul lives and carries on his mission in the face of opposition and danger.
This mindset will be necessary for our post-Christian times.
DAY 5 – Acts 23:23-24:27 Phase Four
The Roman commander realizes this severe problem is not only outside his expertise, it is above his pay grade. He does the sensible thing and “kicks the problem upstairs” to someone with more authority.
In case you didn’t already realize how serious this problem is and how volatile the situation is, look at the size guard the commander gathers to escort Paul to Caesarea to meet with Governor Felix (vv. 23-24).
The governor is the highest Roman authority from outside a region appointed to rule a region. Pontius Pilate, who ordered Jesus crucified, was a governor.
This is the first major trial. Luke records a good amount of detail that shows how attuned he was to the legalities and the procedures. Notice the charge against Paul in 24:5-9. There is a good deal of misinformation and slander.
Now Governor Felix speaks and is favorably disposed toward Paul. He is so favorable that, for a bribe, he would have let Paul go. Meanwhile, Paul is given some freedom and time with friends.
Things stall out and for TWO YEARS Paul is in a mild kind of protective custody, limited but safe. Paul has conversations with the governor. Verses 24-25 show the great evangelist, pastor, and teacher at work. Paul is witnessing to the “kings of the earth” and their representatives.
In a pre-Christian world with totalitarian rulers, Paul (and Peter) had a very respectful and careful relationship with the political authorities. They both counseled their churches to do the same. Read Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:11-17 to see their advice.
Living in a democracy gives Christians in the United States an unparalleled opportunity to interact with political powers. Even so, we must do so with a respectful and responsible attitude.
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