Today’s Scripture – October 15, 2019

Acts 21:37-40 (NIV)
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, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”
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:

Greek was the “lingua franca” in the Roman empire, a vestige of the Greek conquest of much the same area in the late fourth century BC. Often Romans, especially nobles, were raised by Greek-speaking tutors, which kept the Greek language very active, even though Latin was commonly spoken in official circles as well as in lower-class Roman homes.

Paul, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, learned Greek as a child, and was therefore quite proficient at both reading, writing and speaking it, a fact that had helped him greatly in his missionary travels throughout the empire. Realizing that the commander was probably more accustomed to speaking Greek than Aramaic, the language of the province of Palestine, Paul spoke to him in that language.

His fluency and cosmopolitan Greek accent made the commander wonder if he was the Egyptian that had started a revolt in Egypt a few years before and had escaped into the wilderness with his followers before the Roman forces could capture him. That would fit the fact that he seemed to be the instigator of a riot here in Jerusalem.

But Paul quickly set the record straight. He was a Jew from Tarsus, a large city in the empire, and a citizen to boot. (Although this last fact slipped past the commander in all the confusion.)

Paul’s request to speak to the people might have seemed a little foolhardy to the commander. But Paul had been so quickly overwhelmed and assaulted that he had had no time to give a reasoned defense to those who seemed so bent on his destruction, and he wanted to do so now, if he had the chance, and while he was relatively safe under the eye of the commander and several of his troops.

Paul would give his defense in Aramaic, the “official” language of the Jewish people living in the Promised Land at that time. He hoped that that would build a bridge between him and his accusers, as well as make his defense crystal clear.

Father, I’m impressed by Paul’s demeanor here. There is no fear, no panic, no desperation. He trusts that You are in complete control of the situation and will see him through it, all the way to heaven’s gate if necessary. Lord, it is easy to see that that is the best way to approach any challenging situation. Help me to face every day with that same calm resolve, no matter what I’m facing. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 14, 2019

Acts 21:31-36 (NIV)
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!”

The Antonia fortress abutted the wall of the temple, so word of the riot in the court of the gentiles didn’t have to go very far to get to the commander. The Romans hated riots and demonstrations, because they could quickly spin out of control and become a real problem to contain. So, the commander took a contingent of soldiers with him and went immediately into the court.

As soon as the soldiers appeared, the rioters stopped and grew silent. As they moved forward, the mob separated until Paul could be seen, bruised and bleeding from the beating he had taken, but still conscious.

It was obvious that Paul was the instigator of the unrest, although it was far from clear exactly what he had done that had lit the fuse of the riot. But the commander ordered that he be arrested and chained until they could get to the bottom of things. The commander asked those nearby what Paul had one, but instead of a clear accusation, he got different stories from all sides, until the whole crowd was yelling at once.

Rather than deal with the crowd, the commander ordered that Paul be taken to the barracks of the fortress so that he could be calmly questioned to find out what he had done. But even getting him to the barracks proved to be a huge challenge. The crowd clustered thickly around them shouting the whole time that Paul should be killed immediately for whatever crime he was guilty of.

Father, in these few minutes, all the prophesies Paul had received of his arrest and being chained up reached their fulfillment. But You had spared his life through the unlikely means of a Roman commander and his troops! Now that Paul was in the thick of the fulfillment, all he could do was to ride it out, and to trust in your guidance. If this was the end for him, he was confident of Your grace to see him all the way to heaven’s gates. If not, he was confident of Your guidance to help him to navigate the path forward. Help me, Lord, to walk forward today in that same confidence, so that in hard times or easy, You are glorified in my life. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 11, 2019

Acts 21:26-30 (NIV)
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.)
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.

Paul was a superstar in the Church and could easily have pushed back against the Jerusalem authority structure and their recommendations. He could have decided to go back out west and become the head of his own branch of Christianity, where he didn’t have to deal with these kinds of issues at all.

But he didn’t do that. Paul recognized that this authority structure had been put into place by God, and that he was a simple worker in the larger kingdom program. (An important worker, yes, but a worker nonetheless.) Therefore, he submitted himself to the authority and instruction of those above him in the hierarchy.

Unfortunately, his submission and the plan that James and the others came up with didn’t quell the opposition to him or his work. And on that day in the temple, while he was merely worshiping in the court of Israel, some Jews from the province of Asia recognized him and sounded the alarm.

Their false charges against Paul weren’t mistakes but were designed to rouse the population in the temple area into action against him. They accused Paul of teaching things not only against the law and the temple, but even against the Jewish people. This accusation resonated in those who had heard about Paul and his “heretical” teachings but who had never seen him. But now here he was, in the very temple that he had supposedly been teaching against.

The Asian Jews went even further. They accused Paul of smuggling gentiles onto the temple grounds, not only breaking Jewish laws, but actually defiling the grounds and threatening to drive God’s presence out. The fact that there were no gentiles to be seen with Paul at the moment made no difference. He had been seen associating with gentiles earlier in the day, and that was enough to give the accusation credibility. Now the charge had been made, the hearts of the people had been aroused, and Paul once more found himself in the midst of a riot.

The word spread quickly, and people grabbed Paul. They pulled him out into the court of the gentiles and shut the gates that led to the sacred areas of the temple complex. People rushed to the area from all around, and a full-fledged mob formed around Paul, with people pummeling him from all sides, trying to kill him for the heinous crime of defiling the temple.

Father, two things really stand out in all this. First is Paul’s submission to authority. He was not a proud or egotistical man, insistent on receiving honor because of his many accomplishments. He knew that he was simply Your servant who had accomplished everything he had done by Your grace and power that worked in him. The second is that his humility and submission did not protect him from false accusations and even physical attack from those opposed to the gospel. Quite the contrary, this was one of many such attacks that he endured. But even in the midst all these attacks, he never stopped witnessing and testifying to Your grace and goodness. Help me, Lord to always be as humble, as submissive, and as resilient as Paul. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 9, 2019

Acts 21:15-25 (NIV)
After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 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. 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. 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.”

Paul and company finally made it to Jerusalem. We don’t know anything about this Mnason other than what is written here. But it does say something positive about him that he would be willing to open his house to such a controversial person as Paul, as well as to the group of people traveling with him.

Paul delivered the gift he had brought to the Church in Jerusalem, as well as giving a verbal report of what God had done among the gentiles. This report was given to James, the present head of the Jerusalem Church, and to the elders gathered in council. The report was received with thanksgiving over what God was doing to expand His kingdom in the lands to the west.

James did, however, have a large concern. The people of Jerusalem, many of them Jews, but many of them who had also become believers in Jesus, were very zealous for the law of Moses and very defensive against anyone they perceived as militating against it.

Rumors had come in that Paul was speaking out against the law, and that he was instructing the Jews who lived in the gentile areas to the west to not circumcise their children. To the Jewish mind, that was tantamount to destroying their racial identity.

The rumors were, of course, untrue. Paul was teaching the gentiles that they didn’t have to be circumcised in order to take advantage of the gospel. And he did teach the Jews that the mere fact of their circumcision did not give them entry into or any special privileges in the kingdom. But he didn’t teach the Jewish Christians to stop circumcising their children, and he roundly supported all the righteous requirements of the law himself.

But the rumors had been believed, so there were many in Jerusalem who were dead set against Paul and his ministry, people both in and out of the Church. And now he was here, so the issue had to be dealt with. What should be done?

James and the rest came up with a plan. There were some Jewish Christians who had taken a Nazirite vow (Numbers 6). At the end of their vow, which was coming soon, a sacrifice had to be made, and their hair, which had been allowed to grow for the duration of the vow, had to be shaved off and burned along with the sacrifice. The council believed that if Paul were to pay the costs of the offerings and participate in the purification ceremony along with the men, it would demonstrate to everyone that he was upholding and affirming the righteous requirements of the law, just as he had been faithful in holding the gentile believes to the standards laid out for them earlier by the council (Acts 15:23-29).

Father, it is sad to realized that many, both in and out of the Church, are so quick to believe negative things about those who are working in the Church and to reach a verdict without any concrete evidence. And, as in Paul’s case, those same people often refuse to accept any evidence contrary to the rumors and what they have come to believe, even when all the I’s are dotted, and all the T’s are crossed very publicly. Help us to keep our eyes focused on You and You alone, to keep our own plates clean, and to not focus so hard on inspecting the plates of those alongside us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 7, 2019

Acts 21:7-14 (NIV)
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.
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.'”
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 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.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Paul and his companions traveled south along the coast from Tyre until they reached Caesarea, where they stayed for a while with Philip the evangelist. It had been several years since Philip had settled in Caesarea after his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:40), and in that time he had married and had four daughters, all unmarried at that time, and all of them prophets.

At this point Agabus reentered the narrative. The last time we had heard from him, he had prophesied a famine during the reign of the emperor Claudius (Acts 11:28). This time he prophesied the arrest of Paul in Jerusalem.

For some time now, Paul’s companions had been troubled by the sense that disaster was brewing for him in Jerusalem, a foreboding that was increased by several people they met along the way warning Paul of the trouble ahead. And now, Agabus graphically demonstrated Paul being arrest, tied up, and led away. This was too much for them to simply reason away, and they urged him to change his plans and stay away from the city.

But Paul knew what he had been called to do and would not be deterred. Even though he himself already had a strong idea that trouble waited for him in Jerusalem, it was where the Holy Spirit was leading him, and he knew that if the Spirit was leading him someplace, the Spirit would be there with him, and would guide him through whatever lay on the horizon.

Father, some might call Paul foolish for marching into a place where he knew that his life would be in danger, but he was just being obedient. Sometimes obedience looks like foolishness to outsiders. But it is in the midst of that obedience where the greatest blessings of presence, power, and provision are to be found, even if the way ahead is full of danger and hardship. Paul knew that. He also knew that, even if he ended up being killed in Jerusalem, he would be fine, transitioning seamlessly into Your presence. Help me to be like Paul today, Lord, following You wherever You may lead with that same confident obedience. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – October 4, 2019

Acts 21:1-6 (NIV)
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. 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. Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 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. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.

Luke was a very careful historian and biographer. Here he details all the important waypoints in Paul’s journey back to Syria, until they arrived in Tyre.

Even though it had been only around 30 years since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, there were followers of Jesus everywhere, even in that foreign port city. Paul looked for the disciples and quickly located them and was able to arrange his lodging and that of his company among them.

An interesting dichotomy, some might even say a contradiction, appears here. Paul felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22) and deliver the gift from the Churches in Europe and Asia by Pentecost, at the end of May or the beginning of June. At the same time, the Tyrian believers warned Paul through the Spirit NOT to go to Jerusalem.

We know that Paul would not knowingly disobey the Holy Spirit, but we have what seems to be conflicting directions from the one Spirt. Who is right?

The simple answer is…both! Just as Jesus was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem even though He clearly knew by the Spirit that suffering and death awaited Him there, so Paul was under that same Spirit-led compulsion, no matter what might be lurking in the shadowy future.

The Spirit was telling the Tyrian believers about some dangers that awaited Paul in Jerusalem, and they took that truth as a sign that Paul shouldn’t go there, just as Agabus’ prophecy just a few days later was interpreted by Paul’s companions as a warning away from Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-12).

But, just as in Jesus’ case, a warning of trouble ahead does not necessarily mean not to go boldly into that trouble. Paul constantly had his heart tuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and that voice was telling him to move forward, no matter the trouble or danger that lay ahead.

Paul stayed with the Tyrian disciples, teaching them and fellowshipping with them for the seven days it took to get the cargo off their ship. Then, with the prayers and blessings of their Tyrian brothers and sisters, the company got on the ship to head further south, further toward whatever was waiting for them in Jerusalem.

Father, it is intriguing, but historically verifiable, that sometimes the road You lead us down will be a dangerous one. And, as You pointed out in the cases of both Jesus and Paul, the key is not just to rush into every dangerous situation, or to avoid all danger. The key is to keep our ears open, and to explicitly follow Your direction, even if it leads us into danger, knowing that You will be with us as long as we obey all the way to the end. Thank you, Lord! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 3, 2019

Acts 20:32-38 (NIV)
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Paul closed his defense of his ministry to the Ephesian elders by first committing them and the whole Ephesian Church into God’s hands and to the shepherding made possible through His word. This was vital, because Paul wouldn’t be there in person to build up and equip the Church, but he knew that God would be there, and if they were diligent and consistent in their study of the Scriptures, God would work through those words to strengthen them and to build them up. (Yes, the words of Scripture can actually do all that!)

Next, Paul defended his work among them. He had not taken pay from the Ephesians (although it is clear from some passages in his letters that other churches were sending him support, for example 2 Corinthians 11:8 and Philippians 4:15-18), but he worked as a craftsman in leather and a tentmaker to provide for the majority of his own needs, and for those who ministered with him.

As support for his doing this, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Even though that is not recorded as a saying of Jesus in our gospels, there is no doubt that He said it, and that it was in the oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings until Paul wrote it down here.

The elders loved Paul and had no bones to pick with him. They were tearful as they knelt with him on the beach to pray for him, taking at face value his words that they would never see him again. But, in the end they were willing to commit him to God’s grace and walked with him to the ship that would take him on to Jerusalem.

Father, this points out not only the importance of following Your guidance, wherever that may lead us, but also of doing Your work faithfully and with absolute integrity. We never know when our time in a place, or even in the world, will be called to a close, and we want to be able, like Paul, to leave everyone on good terms and with no wrong between us and them. Thank You that Your Spirit can enable exactly that kind of integrity in our lives, just as He did in Paul’s. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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