Friday, April 27, 2018

Reading Through the Acts of the Apostles #8 (21.17-28.31)

Larkin ActsThis post concludes my reading through the book of Acts accompanied by Acts, vol. 5, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by William J. Larkin Jr.. 21.17-28.31 record Paul’s return to Jerusalem and the persecution (assassination plot) he received there. Luke focuses in on Paul’s speeches before the Sanhedrin and Roman governors to show that faith in Christ was the logical conclusion to the hope of the Hebrew scriptures and that Christianity was legal and should be protected in the Roman Empire. He also portrays Paul as being successful, despite opposition, in accomplishing the task Jesus had given him.   I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

21.17 records Paul's arrival in Jerusalem and begins the last major section of Acts. This last section provides a parallel to the passion account in the Gospels. When Paul arrives in Jerusalem he is warmly greeted by the leadership, including James, and gives a report of the Lord's work among the Gentiles which is received with praise. To head off Jewish objections and quell rumors, James asks Paul to participate in a temple ritual. When Paul does so it precipitates a riot in Jerusalem because Paul is falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. Paul is saved from death when arrested by Roman soldiers. He then has an opportunity to defend his actions to the crowd. His main point is that Jewish piety is compatible with devotion and service to Jesus and his mission to the Gentiles. When Paul recounts his vision of Jesus commissioning him to take the gospel to the Gentiles the crowd riots and the Roman soldiers need to bring Paul into the barracks to preserve his life.

There is a large measure of freedom, but that freedom is to be used to promote (1) the advance of the gospel and (2) the unity of an ethnically diverse church. So long as our conscience is not bound by non-Christian traditions and practices and the Christian gospel is not syncretized with the thought behind non-Christian practice, our pre-Christian religious past, properly cleansed, may move into a transformed spiritual future. Acts 21.17-36

Jesus of Nazareth, in his resurrection power, is the key for distinguishing between proper and misguided zeal for God. And it is the same today for Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus is the litmus test. Any zeal for God that turns a person against the followers of Jesus is misguided. Acts 22.1-21

The tribune then interviews Paul and decides to interrogate him with torture. Paul asserts his rights as a Roman citizen and avoids torture and instead is just questioned and protected. The tribune decides to hold a trial before the Sanhedrin to determine charges. When Paul give his testimony and again asserts that what he believes is compatible with the Hebrew scriptures the high priest orders him to be slapped on the mouth and the court becomes disorderly. when Paul shouts that he is on trial for the "hope of the resurrection of the dead," the court divides along party lines, a riot breaks out, and the Roman soldiers again must save Paul. The Jews form an assassination plot, which gets back to Paul, who informs the tribune, so the tribune decides to send Paul to Caesarea to be tried there accompanied by a large armed guard. Through several “coincidences” God works to save Paul, bring him to Caesarea and then on to Rome, to keep the promise he made that Paul would testify before rulers in Rome.

Paul’s confession focuses on that aspect of the gospel that will be central to his apologetic throughout his trial witness (24:15; 26:6–8; compare 28:20). It tells the truth about the ultimate reason for his arrest by the Jews. For Paul and Luke, resurrection, especially the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, is the key issue that determines the nature of the continuity and discontinuity between Jews and Christians as part of the true people of God. Acts 22.22-23.10

The might of Rome’s legions willingly deployed to protect one witness to the Lord Jesus is silent but powerful testimony to who is really Lord in that world and in ours. Acts 23.11-35

In Caesarea Paul is given the opportunity to testify before governor Felix. The Jewish leadership accuses Paul of insurrection, "disruptive heresy," and defiling the temple. Paul responds that he did not have time to foment rebellion in Jerusalem and that there is no proof of any of their accusations. He then uses the opportunity to explain the gospel of resurrection, God's goodness and the judgment to come. Paul's point is again that "the Way" is the fulfillment of scripture and not illegal by Roman law. Felix, hoping for a bribe from Paul, delays judgment on the case.

Paul’s introduction models the bold, yet respectful, demeanor that Peter counsels us all to adopt when we stand before civil authorities and are required to “give the reason for the hope” that is within us (1 Pet 3:15–16). Acts 24.1-9

For Jewish seekers and believers in any age, Paul’s confession gives an encouragement that Christianity is, in the end, not a betrayal but the fulfillment of the Old Testament faith. The challenge is that this fulfillment will radically transform the Jewishness of those who step onto the “Way” inaugurated by Messiah Jesus. Acts 24.10-27

Chapters 25-26 record Paul's defense before Festus and Agrippa. The Jewish leadership had requested a change of jurisdiction back to Jerusalem (with a plan to ambush Paul on the way there) and Festus had planned to grant it as a "favor" to them. Paul understood what was happening and used his right to appeal to Caesar and this was granted by Festus. When Agrippa II visits, Festus uses the opportunity to get help in writing an explanation of the situation for Caesar. In Paul's longest recorded defense he emphasizes his past life as an enemy of Christians and his changed life as a result of meeting the resurrected Christ. The chief persecutor of the church had become one of its most faithful witnesses. Paul emphasizes that at the center of his conversion was the reality of Jesus' resurrection. It is very important to Luke to emphasize the Festus' and Agrippa's private conclusion that Paul was innocent of the charges. Nevertheless, because he had appealed to Rome the full resources of Rome would be available for Paul to finish the mission to which he had been called; to bring the gospel before the rulers in Rome.

Luke capsulizes his conviction about first-century Christianity’s two defining relationships. As to Judaism, it has not betrayed its religious roots. It stands in direct continuity with the Old Testament faith in its ethics and worship. The Jews can find no apostasy here. As to the state, Christianity is no revolutionary disrupter of the civil order, though in its own way it will produce a radical transformation of society, one heart at a time. Acts 25.1-22

When persecutors use the state to further their ends and the result is a failure in the administration of justice, Christians must live in such integrity that even then their innocence before the laws of the state will be apparent to all. Acts 25:23-26:8

The point is clear. Without the resurrection of Christ, the defining moment in human history, there is no future hope for anyone. But when we let Christ’s resurrection be our defining moment, the lights come on for our past, present and future. Acts 26.9-32

Chapters 27-28 conclude the book of Acts. 27 records the disastrous sea voyage to Rome. It takes place, probably, in October, a time of potentially very dangerous weather and Paul warns the captain that disaster is coming. Despite the warning, they set out and encounter a violent storm that requires all the expertise of the sailors just to stay alive. When they get to the point of despair, Paul receives a message from God that they will all get through the experience alive. The soldiers decide to rely on Paul's revelation rather than the sailors' expertise and all the people on the boat are saved. On the island of Malta (28) the gospel is introduced with two powerful signs: Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake with no ill effect and he heals the governor's father and many others. This provided a very receptive environment for Paul to preach the gospel. The rest of chapter 28 relates Paul's arrival and stay in Rome. Luke portrays the event as a triumphal procession. God keeps his promise and Paul will preach in Rome. He begins with a defense of his ministry to the Jewish leadership and then spends two years as a prisoner, under house arrest, preaching and teaching Jew and Gentile, whoever will come to him. The gospel cannot be stopped by natural disasters, persecution or even imprisonment by the greatest world power of that time. It will go out to all the world and bring the blessings of God's kingdom to all nations. Like Paul, we must be faithful to do our part.

The comforting prophetic word had been fulfilled to the last letter (27:22, 34). The strongest of natural forces threatening Paul’s existence had been unable to thwart God’s providential purposes for him. Solidarity with Paul meant physical life. Acts 27

The islanders’ about-face shows the power of a worldview for interpreting experience—and how a non-Christian worldview often won’t “get it right.” Those who have a non-Christian worldview and observe a “witness in sign” are likely to misconstrue what is happening unless an interpretation, a “witness in word,” is Luke calls the “signs and wonders” movement to reckon with this ambiguity and aim to make the Spirit-empowered, Spirit-illuminating proclamation of the gospel message central to any “power encounter.Acts 28.1-10

More that just a shorthand way of referring to the gospel message (1:3; 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:31), the kingdom of God was the eschatological highway into the heart of the pious Jew (Lk 13:28, 29; 14:15; 19:11; 23:42, 51; Acts 1:6). And the good news was that God’s reign was in their midst in the victorious life, death and resurrection-exaltation of Messiah Jesus and his salvation blessings. Acts 28.11-31

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