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Sunday, February 26, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Back to Jerusalem"

“Back to Jerusalem”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
February 26, 2012
Acts 21:1-23:11


Believe or not, I think we’ve only got 4 more messages until we reach the end of the book of Acts.  If things go as I am seeing it now, we’ll be done the Sunday before Palm Sunday with our study of the book of Acts which we’ve been calling, “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania.”

Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And that’s what we’ve been seeing.

Most recently, we’ve been journeying with the apostle Paul on three missionary journeys throughout the Roman world. Starting in Antioch and stretching outward, returning home and then revisiting planted churches and starting new ones. Three journeys.

And Paul is now on the way home. He’s on the way back from his third missionary journey in the book of Acts. He is traveling with a small team and has landed at Miletus to say goodbye to the elders of the church at Ephesus which he had built up over a two year period of time.

Last week, in chapter 20, we saw him tearfully warn them about the dangers ahead of them and commit them to God and the word of his grace.

Now, it’s time to head back to Jerusalem. “Back to Jerusalem.”

Paul never actually makes it all the way back to Antioch, his sending church.  But he does make it back to Jerusalem.

It’s his plan to go there. We saw last week that he wanted to be in Jerusalem by the Feast of Pentecost.

Paul’s letters from around this time tell us that he had taken up an offering to help the economically depressed Christians in Jerusalem and was planning to deliver it when he got there.

So, Paul is deliberately headed to Jerusalem.

Can you think of anyone else that deliberately headed to Jerusalem?

Yes. I think that there is an echo of Christ-like-ness in Paul’s decision to head back to Jerusalem. We’re going to see in moment that the Spirit is going to reveal to many that going back to Jerusalem, for Paul, means suffering and trials and trouble.

But still he goes.

Just like Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem and would not turn back, for our salvation.

Paul, for the glory of Jesus, goes back to Jerusalem.

You know, one of the hardest parts of preparing a sermon is figuring out what today’s passage is all about.

I love studying the passages and reading the commentaries and thinking about God’s truth that He wants us to know.

But one of the hardest parts (and therefore the most rewarding when it finally comes) is to figure out what this passage is all about in a way that no other passage is all about.

Why did God include this passage in His holy word? Why couldn’t it have been left out?  And when you get a real sense of that, then it becomes easy to preach because you know what it’s about.

I struggled to know what this passage is all about.  Surely, it’s about God. And about His mission for the new church. Certainly, it’s about the apostle Paul and what happened to him when he went back to Jerusalem.

It’s a key piece of history.

But how does that apply to us?

And when I kept asking myself that question, I got five points of “what this story is all about.”  And I’m sure I’ve missed a good bit, but these were five that stood out to me.

Here’s #1. CHRISTIAN LOVE.

This story is about how Christians love one another.

Jesus told us to love one another and told us that we would be known as His followers if we loved one another.

I think we’ll see that in this story.  It’s right in the first verse of chapter 21. V.1

“After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara.”

Now, before we put up the map again, I just want you to see how much affection there was between these men. Chapter 20 ended with them all crying and hugging and even kissing because they would never see each other again.

Real men cry. Okay? Especially Christian men. They are not afraid of their emotions.

And they are not afraid to love each other deeply.

Verse 1 says that they had to tear themselves away from each other.

That’s the kind of Christian brotherhood I want to see grow here at LEFC.  Not that I’m going to kiss any of you guys any time soon!  But that we would care about each other deeply and that parting from each other would mean tearing ourselves away.

That’s Christian love. Now, let’s look at the map.

Here is Miletus. They go from there to Cos. Then Rhodes and then Patara. V.2

“We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.”

And they find some Christians there.

“Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”

Did you catch that? I think what’s happening is that these disciples sense through the Holy Spirit that Paul was in trouble if he went to Jerusalem. So they urged him not to go.  V.5

“But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. [Notice the Christian love again.] After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”

Remember Philip?  We had a whole sermon about him back in the Fall.

Paul and his team are staying with Philip and they get another prophet to visit. V.10

“After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'’”

Dramatic! “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. [They love him!] Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

Here’s something else this story is about:

#2. FAITH-FILLED RISK.

Do you think that Paul is in trouble?

Absolutely.

I don’t think there is any doubt in anybody’s mind that Paul will soon be in major trouble.

First the disciples at Tyre.
Now, Agubus.

“If you go to Jerusalem, you will be bound and handed over to the Gentiles.”

But Paul already knew that. In the last chapter he said, (20:22) “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardship are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Last week we called it the Danger of Christianity. Here Paul says, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

We just sang:
   
    Let Goods and Kindred Go
    This Mortal Life Also
    The Body They May Kill
    God’s Truth Abideth Still
    His Kingdom Is Forever


Some of you may be following the story of Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. 


In 2009, Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested for the crime of apostasy against the religion of Islam even though he had never been a Muslim.

The newspapers this week reported that the regime in Tehran has given the go-ahead for his execution. Pray for him. As I understand it, his wife has been sentenced to life in prison just for being a Christian.

The Washington Times reports that “Last autumn, Mr. Nadarkhani was given an opportunity to recant his Christian faith and save his life. When asked to do so he replied, ‘Repent means to return. What should I return to?’ When told he must return ‘to the religion of [his] ancestors, Islam,’ Mr. Nadarkhani said, ‘I cannot.’”

Paul said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Are you ready to take a risk for the name of Jesus?

What was the last risk you took in the name of Jesus?

V.14

“When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord's will be done.’ After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.”

Back to Jerusalem.  V.16

Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.  When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. [Note again the Christian love.] The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. [But there is a problem.] They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’”

Let’s stop there for a second. Is the picture clear?

Paul and James meet again. They may not have been together since the big conference in Jerusalem back in chapter 15 after the first missionary journey.

They have love for one another.
They believe the same gospel.
They are still both following the decisions made at the conference.

But there is a concern that Paul might be leading Jews astray.

Does Paul do that?

Well, Paul does not feel as strictly about the law as probably James does.

But he’s not against the law, and when he’s with Jews, he can certainly act like a Jew and respect the law, even its more ceremonial aspects.

So, to preserve unity, Paul agrees to take part in this purification rite.

It’s a show of solidarity, togetherness, and a demonstration that Paul respects the law. And strangely enough, their idea not only doesn’t work but lands Paul in the soup. V.26

“The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)”

Do you see what’s going on? 

Remember how much trouble Paul had with the various Jews in Asia (the ones who did not receive the Messiah when He was presented to them)?

Well, well, well. Here they are again. And they are dead set on setting Paul dead.

Apparently, they recognized Trophimus from being on Paul’s team back in Ephesus and they made the assumption that Paul had defiled the court of Israel with a Greek.

And they raised a rucus. V.30

“The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. [Yikes.]  While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’”

Paul is in trouble.

Just like the Spirit was telling him.

And it looks like the end of his life. And then he gets rescued by the Romans.

Don’t you love how they find the guy being beaten up and arrest him?

He must have done something to get this kind of treatment!

And the soldiers have to carry Paul to safety. And crowd is yelling, “Away with him!”

Remind you of someone else? Someone that Paul loves dearly?

The crowd yelling, “Crucify Him!”

Back in Jerusalem.

V.37

“As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ ‘Do you speak Greek?’ he replied. ‘Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?’ Paul answered, [Uh, no.] ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.’ [And here is a minor miracle. He lets him.] Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.’  When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”

What’s he doing?

He’s telling his story.

He’s giving bold witness.

That’s what this whole section is all about.

#3. BOLD WITNESS.

Remember our theme for the year? “Tell Your Story in 2012.”

Give your testimony.

Open your mouth and talk about how the Lord has arrested you.

They think that they are arresting Paul.

But they are too late. Paul has already been arrested by the Lord Jesus. V.6

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' ‘'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. ‘'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. ‘'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. ‘'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.'  My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness [key word!] to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'’

The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!’” Stop there for second.

It takes guts to talk like this before an audience like this.

I don’t know what I would do if I got to this part in one of my sermons and you up and yelled, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

That’ll probably never happen.

So, what are we so afraid of?

Why are we afraid to give our testimonies, to speak out for Jesus?

To be His witnesses?

People don’t get saved unless they hear the gospel.

So, we’ve got share it.

Paul was arrested by Jesus, and He lived to tell about it.

Have you been arrested by Jesus? Saved by His blood?

Be a bold witness. Tell your story. And lead others to Christ.

The crowd listens quietly to Paul’s defense (which is really just his testimony) until he reaches Stephen as martyr and then especially when he says that he’s going to take  the gospel to the Gentiles. Oh, they don’t like that. V.23

“As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. [He does nnot understand what’s going on. It’s probable that he doesn’t know Aramaic and doesn’t even know what Paul has just said to make everyone so mad. V.24] He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. [How would you like that kind of interrogation?] As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?’ When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a Roman citizen.’ The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.”

Remember when this happened to Paul in Phillipi?

Here it is again in Jerusalem.

V.30 “The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.”

This is amazing, too. The Roman commander orders the Jewish leaders to gather to have Paul talk to them.

And what does Paul do with opportunities like that?  He seizes them in bold witness. Chapter 23, verse 1.

“Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’

At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. [“How dare you say that you are fulfilling your duty to God?”]

Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’

[Innocent until proven guilty? Not here.]

“Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult God's high priest?’”

“Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'’”

Why didn’t he know? My best guess is that he didn’t realize that he was looking at Ananias because his eyesight was poor.

However it was, he actually apologizes for insulting the high priest. But he doesn’t back down. Instead, he throws a thought grenade into the meeting. V.6

“Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of [what?] my hope in the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)”

This is pure genius. Paul knows that some are Sadducees (they didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they were Sad-You-See, har har) and that some were Pharisees who did.

And he aligns himself with his historic party and announces that the reason he’s there is that he hopes in the resurrection.

#4. RESURRECTION HOPE.

Now, you and I know that he’s talking about more than just a general resurrection but that the resurrection has already begun.

Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of those who have risen from the dead.

And there is more to come.

We’re just 6 weeks away from Resurrection Sunday (commonly known as Easter).

Paul realizes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world.

Last night, our speaker showed a video with a man sitting at campfire explaining the gospel. And when he got to the Empty Tomb, the man said that this was the best part of the good news and the music swelled the loudest.

This makes all the difference–Jesus is alive!

Resurrection Hope.

If there is no resurrection, then we have no hope.

If you don’t believe in the resurrection, then grab all the life you can right now because this is as good as it gets.

But if you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then you have hope.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to talk to a few families about being a pastor, what it means to be a pastor.

And these were not necessarily Christian families. It was a special invitation.

And as I shared with these families, there was one boy who was about 7 or 8 years old and I said that Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and then came back to life. And this boy’s eyes got sooooo big.

It was clear to me that he had never heard that before.

Jesus Christ came back to life.

“I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

Namely Jesus. And as far as I know that’s why Pastor Nadarkhani is in prison facing execution.

If we’re right about resurrection, then that’s the worst they can do–kill us. But it won’t last. We’ll go to be with Jesus and eventually we’ll get our resurrection bodies, as well.

Do you have resurrection hope?

“I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

And here’s what happened. V.9

“There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. ‘We find nothing wrong with this man,’ they said. ‘What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ [He’s talking our language now!] The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. [He’s getting yanked this way and that!] He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

We’re going to stop here and next week find out how Rome treats Paul.

We’ve seen how Jerusalem treated Paul.

They rioted over his message.

They acted like the Ephesians did when their goddess was threatened.

Do you think they were worshiping the one true God?

Not if they rejected His One and Only Son.

But here’s what we’re going to end with. It was in verse 11.

#5. DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT.

This story is about divine encouragement.

That’s what it took for Paul to have Christian Love, take faith-filled risks, be a bold witness to the resurrection hope.

It took divine encouragement. Let’s read verse 11 again slowly.

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul [isn’t that interesting? It’s more than a vision. He’s right there. Standing near him] and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

Notice two things that encourage.

#1. The Lord is near. 

Do you need that encouragement today?  The Lord is near.

“The Lord stood near” (put your name in the blank).

He’s not far away. He is near.

And #2. The Lord has a plan.

“As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Don’t worry. I have a plan for you.

It’s a good plan.

Yes, I know that they want to kill you. There will be more people who want to kill you.  Wait until the very next verse!

But they can’t kill you until I’m done with you.

Take courage. The Lord has a plan.

Do you need to hear that today?
Is your life swirling with trouble?
Do you feel like Paul back in Jerusalem?

Take courage. The Lord is near and He has a plan for you. And it’s good.

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