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Aug 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 7, 2016 – Acts 21:1-36

Perfectly Imperfect Saints

After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. Acts 21:4-6

Intro: We are going to swim against the stream this morning

At least, I am swimming upstream–and I’m taking you with me
– most commentators want to justify the apostles’ actions
• I will be trying to do my best to follow the text
• and it appears to me, the apostles made mistakes
– there are two movements in this chapter
• both sections wrestle with the same complication:
◦ the threat to Paul’s life from his own countrymen
• we will see, first, how Paul responded to the threat
◦ then we will see how the Christian leaders in Jerusalem responded to it

1-16 Paul’s sea voyage to Caesarea, and travel by land to Jerusalem

We read how believers in Tyre

kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem

– they were listening to God’s Spirit
• as they understood the message, Paul should not complete his trip
• how did Paul understand what the Spirit was saying?
◦ we read last week that Paul had been informed by the Spirit that

in every city . . . bonds and afflictions await me (Acts 20:23)

◦ so I imagine him telling the believers in Tyre,
“Thanks for the heads up,” and then ignoring their warning
– but the warnings did not end there

When Paul & company arrived in Caesarea they lingered for several days
– they stayed with Philip (Acts 6:5; 8:5 & 40)
• Luke adds a foot note about Philip’s four daughters who were prophetesses
◦ nothing more is said about their words of prophecy or the context of their ministry
◦ it’s an intriguing bit of information, but leaves us with many questions
◦ why did Luke even mention this fact?
• I think it serves to plant a seed in the reader’s mind
◦ we’re reminded that God speaks and there are people gifted to hear him
– so while they were there, the prophet Agabus visited them  (cf. Acts 11:28)
• he dramatized his prophecy (“performance art”) not unlike an Old Testament prophet

And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” (v. 11)

• everyone began begging Paul not to go on to Jerusalem
◦ and as before, he refused to listen

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (v. 13)

God had chosen Paul to be an international leader
– Christians had been eager to learn from him
• and they followed his teaching
• perhaps it was difficult for him to reverse roles
◦ to listen to his followers rather than advise
◦ or maybe he found it difficult to consider they could be right

And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!” (v. 14)

– v. 14, sometimes we have to fall silent and allow the Lord’s will to play itself out
• if so, surrender to Gods well does not have to be passive resignation
◦ it can be active trust – in fact, it must be exactly that

Paul had been driven to get to Jerusalem

He had skipped visiting the church in Ephesus for this reason

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (20:16)

– Luke gives no explanation why it was so important to him
• but once he arrived in Jerusalem, there is no mention of Pentecost
– was he being hard-headed? He certainly had the potential for it
• the question is, What did he accomplish in Jerusalem?
◦ perhaps he influenced leaders in accepting Gentiles as fellow Christians
◦ or maybe his visit improved his attitude toward them (cf. Gal. 2:6)
• but it’s hard to see that he did much good there

Paul’s first full day in Jerusalem

The first appointment he had was with James, and all the [Christian] elders
– he reported to them what God was doing among the Gentiles
• after he wrapped up his report, they praised God
◦ but they also pointed out that there were also thousands of Jewish believers
◦ adding that all of them were all zealous for the Law
• furthermore, they had heard bad rumors regarding Paul
◦ that he had been telling Jews “Forget Moses!”
◦ don’t circumcise your kids or walk according to our Jewish customs
(this is the mirror image of what some of the Jewish believers had done to Gentiles when they told them they could not be saved unless they and their children were circumcised and followed Jewish customs; Acts 15:1, 5)
– James and the elders brought the problem to a head
• word would certainly get out that Paul was in town
What, then, is to be done? they asked
◦ they were not looking for an answer–they already had one

The leaders told Paul about four men who had taken a vow and needed sponsorship
– this is a very Jewish context, straight out of the Law
• if Paul would accompany them and pay their expenses
◦ it would show everyone that he observed the Law
◦ then they would know the stories they had heard weren’t true
• they also added a footnote regarding Gentiles
◦ that issue had already been decided in their previous council
– we need to keep in mind the church’s status in Jerusalem
• it was no longer subject to open persecution, but the situation was still precarious
◦ they could glorify God for Paul’s Gentile work,
◦ but they had other, more pressing concerns
• they wanted their faith to be seen as legitimate form of Judaism
◦ they felt the need to be more diplomatic than Paul (cf. Acts 18:5-6)

What happens if we throw a modern light on all of this?
– the leaders in Jerusalem could foresee trouble coming
• for some reason, they assumed that they could manage it
• I call this the myth of management 

The thinking goes that with the right plan, and right methods, and right tools, and right team, and right resources, a group of people, a corporation, or a nation can accomplish anything. This myth is well illustrated in the story of Babel.
Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. (Ge. 11:6)

– they decided Paul needed to improve his image among the Jews
• the point they wanted to demonstrate was true–Paul was still a devout Jew
◦ but their way of communicating it was staged
• it was definitely a public relations ploy, contrived to spin a better image for Paul
◦ their goal was to win the acceptance of zealous Jews
– the remainder of the chapter reveals how horribly their plans backfired

Conc: In 1971, Francis Schaeffer published a book entitled True Spirituality

It was a reasoned development of his theme, both biblically and theologically sound
– in 2001, Mike Yaconelli published Messy Spirituality–it is a real-life book
• we are broken humans groping for God’s will
• perhaps you’ve heard some nonsense about falling into God’s permissive will versus his perfect will
◦ there is only God’s perfect will, which we live imperfectly

Jesus’ statement, “No one is good except God alone” (Mk. 10:18) could also be said of perfection. No one is perfect except God alone. If God meant for us to be perfect, he would have made us capable of achieving perfection. This would require perfect parents, a perfect upbringing, and a perfect environment, for starters. As it is, he made us “vessels of mercy” (Ro. 9:23), capable of repentance. (Note: When English versions of the New Testament make reference to Christians being “perfect”–e.g., Jas. 1:4–they translate a word that means complete and refers to something that has reached its goal or maturity.)

– Rome, and not Jerusalem, was Paul’s ultimate destination (19:21)
• that was also God’s plan for him (23:11)
◦ amazingly, God got him to Rome
◦ not because of Paul’s perfect decisions, but in spite of his actual decisions
• is it possible Paul could have entered Rome a free man had he not gone to Jerusalem?
◦ we’ll never know

What we do know is that our mistakes, even sinful failures do not deter God
– too often, God gets blamed for the chaos we create
• he doesn’t make our messes, but he does use them
◦ even while we search for God’s will, we are in it
• why does God’s will prevail?
◦ it is because God is not what we are
◦ we lose faith, break trust, love imperfectly and conditionally

It is because of God’s will, overriding all our messy imperfections, that Jesus can say,
Come to Me . . . and I will give you rest. . . learn from Me . . . and you will find rest for your souls (Mt. 11:28-30)
We can do this now with a little soul talk 
Using one of my favorite verses,
where the soul is a weary bird looking for a perch,
say to yourself:
Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. (Ps. 116:7)

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