Introduction: Where we last left Paul he had just raised Eutychus to life as he was about to leave the city of Troas. From there Paul did a little more missionary work. Then in Acts 20:16 we read that Paul is in a hurry to get to Jerusalem in time for the feast of Pentecost. He reports that he is compelled to go by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22), but we have seriously conflicting signals on that. Our study this week is about Paul's difficult experience in Jerusalem. Let's dig into our study of the Bible and learn more!
Read Acts 21:2-4. Who is behind the warning not to go to Jerusalem? (The Holy Spirit!)
Read Acts 21:10-12. Who is behind this very specific warning message? (Once again, the Holy Spirit.)
Let's read the text I referred to in the Introduction, Acts 20:22. What worrisome note do we find? (Paul says he does not know what will happen to him. This would make me worry.)
Paul says the Holy Spirit has "compelled" him to go to Jerusalem - though he suggests that trouble might be there. Then we read two subsequent warnings, attributed to the Holy Spirit, that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. How do you explain these conflicting messages from the Holy Spirit? (Read Acts 20:23. Now we see that in every city the Holy Spirit warns Paul that trouble awaits.)
Read Acts 21:13-14 and Acts 20:24. What is Paul's answer to this conflict? Why is he doing what the Holy Spirit warned him against doing?(Paul says that this is the natural tension in his life. His is a dangerous job. But, he has a great goal to share the gospel.)
Read Acts 9:13-16. Has Paul been warned? (Paul, of all people, understands. He used to be a persecutor for religious reasons. He understands the conflict between good and evil. I think the Holy Spirit warns him because he does not have to be injured. But, Paul is completely devoted to advancing the Kingdom of God.)
Read Acts 21:20-21. Are the church leaders totally delighted with Paul's work? (They think it is great that he is doing such wonderful work with the Gentiles, but reports of his work are creating trouble in Jerusalem.)
Read Acts 21:22. How would you answer this if you were Paul?
Read Acts 21:23-24. Have you had this happen to you? Someone asks you for your opinion about what you should do, and before you can answer, they tell you what they think you should do?
What do you think about the advice of James and the elders?
Are the charges true - that Paul says that Jews should not circumcise their children or follow Jewish "customs?" (ReadGalatians 5:6 and Galatians 5:12. Should we say that Paul's true position is "super circumcision?" Those zealous for the law should cut off their entire organ? You can argue that Paul is not telling the Jews to avoid circumcision, but he is clearly hostile to the idea that Gentiles must be circumcised. Plus, he says that circumcision does not make any difference.)
Read Acts 21:25. Why do James and the elders add this note? (They want Paul to know that they are not backing down on their view of the limited requirements for Gentiles.)
The good news is that Paul and the church leaders in Jerusalem agree on the distinction to be made between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians. What do you think about members of the same church having completely different standards?
How can you have church unity when different standards apply to different people? (It appears that unity exists when the leadership agrees on the point.)
Read Acts 21:26. If the leaders of the church had not suggested this, would Paul on his own think this is a good idea? (Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. We do not know what is going through Paul's mind at this moment, but this is exactly the kind of thing Paul reports that he would do. He is flexible on this kind of issue to help win and retain converts.)
Read Acts 21:27-29. What is the main charge? (Not defiling the temple, that seems to be an "add on" charge. Rather, it is teaching against our people and our law.)
Where do the accusers live? (Where Paul has just been teaching. Paul has been evangelizing the Gentiles in Asia, and if the main charge is not exactly true, it seems close enough to me.)
If Paul had not gone through the purification ritual as suggested, do you think he would have been arrested anyway? (I feel certain that he would have been arrested given the main charge against him.)
Read Acts 21:30-32 and Acts 21:35-36. Do you think this is how the Jewish people normally reacted? Are they just an undisciplined mob that hates free speech rights? (I think this is demonic. The followers of Jesus can expect this kind of reaction even among "refined" people when demonic influences are high.)
There are dark periods of history when Christians persecuted and killed Jews. Do you think this story has something to do with it? (It seems reasonable that Satan loves to use his own work to incite hatred. The abuses that He inspires he uses to incite abuses from the other side.)
Read Acts 21:39-40. In Acts 22:1-21 Paul tells the crowd his conversion story while they quietly listen. Since we have studied Paul's conversion, we won't consider questions about it. Read Acts 22:21-22. Why should Paul's mission make the crowd want to kill him? (Imagine that you are removed as the head of an company and your job is given to someone else. Paul tells them that they are no longer exclusively God's people. Gentiles now enjoy the favor of a relationship with God. Paul's story rebukes what they are doing right now.)
Read Acts 22:24-25. What do we learn about Paul asserting his legal rights? (Once again, we see him insisting on his rights as a Roman citizen.)
Read Acts 22:29-30. How has Paul's legal position changed? (The original plan was to beat out of Paul the reason for the mob wanting to kill him. Now, the Jewish leaders are required to prove whatever charges they have against Paul. In the meantime Paul is released from custody.)
Read Acts 23:1-3. We discussed a couple of weeks ago Jesus' instruction to turn the other cheek ( Matthew 5:39), and the fact that Jesus later asserted His legal rights against being slapped (John 18:22-23). What is Paul doing here? (Strongly objecting to being struck.)
Read Acts 23:6. Is this true? (Yes. If Jesus merely died, then He would not have fulfilled all of the Jewish customs that were the cause of the riot. Those practices are no longer relevant.)
Is this a sly defense, too? (Read Acts 23:7-10. Yes! Paul identifies with one faction, the Pharisees, and says he is on trial for believing as they do.)
Read Acts 23:11. Do you think Jesus appeared to Paul? Or, is this the Holy Spirit? (The text says "the Lord" and in my Bible the words are in red letters, meaning the translators thought they were the words of Jesus.)
We have debated whether Paul is following the direction of the Holy Spirit. What do Jesus' words of encouragement teach us? (Jesus does not leave us. Paul is determined to share the gospel no matter what. Jesus comes personally to encourage him in his time of trial.)
Let's summarize the rest of our study by reading the official letter to Governor Felix. Read Acts 23:26-30. Why is Paul still in custody? (In part it is to protect him. In part, it is to obtain a judgment by a higher official.)
Friend, what does this study teach you about following God? It teaches us that we might have rough times, but that God is with us every step of the way. It also teaches us that claiming and defending our legal rights is appropriate. Will you ask the Holy Spirit to help keep you faithful in difficult times?