Paul finishes his 3rd missionary journey as we sail down the Church Stream today. What will happen in Jerusalem? Will Paul be received with enthusiasm? Discover as we read with the New English Translation for the last time this week. The thread through our streams for this week is “setbacks.”
20:13ff Paul has well “turned the last corner” on his third missionary journey. He has been planning to get into the western part of the empire, but before that he will make a final trip to Jerusalem. Enroute to do that, he stops in several places along the western shore of Asia Minor to visit some of his most endeared leaders. You will find it gratifying to note these cities on a map as they are listed in the passage. His stop near Ephesus where the leaders come to him is a highlight in Acts. He explains to them his urgency to get to Jerusalem, and his hope to get there by Pentecost. They plea with him to avoid this and the altercations, shackles, and persecution that will accompany such a regional visit. Paul’s attitude is, ” ?imprisonment, hostility, beatings, …problem?” Nonetheless, his time to say goodbye to the Ephesians has arrived and he would never see them again. He teaches and urges and encourages and also warns them as leaders. The farewell is rich – and painful but it is time to go, for Paul is a man on a mission. Remember that the Holy Spirit is compelling him (20:22) to head into this religious turmoil in Jerusalem. He is wrapping up his ministry all around the Aegean Sea Region.
21 – the stops and starts, sail and port and visits and prayers is all such wonderful drama for a saint like Paul who genuinely loves God and cares for his people. The chapter here reads like Marco Polo with the Holy Spirit involved in the adventure. Characters like Philip and Agabus give indication of the love that the saints truly have for Paul. The group finally arrives at the Eastern Mediterranean. Others clearly sense that there is trouble in Jerusalem for Paul but he is undeterred. The converts are pleased to see Paul and to hear that Gentiles were coming into “the fold”. Paul and the leaders do their best to express compliance with the locals in Jerusalem while clarifying for all the changes in what God requires. And keep in mind Paul is sensitive to the “old guard” and isn’t there to cause a stir; only to encourage and comfort.
All the same, some hucksters crept in and stirred up the crowd against Paul, claiming he was trying to “corrupt Judaism” so to speak. It was similar to the rally cry that went up against Jesus and caused his crucifixion. Would the same happen to Paul? Would he die here today? The troublemaker Jewish people in from Asia mixed lies about Paul in with truth and the crowd believed them. He is put out of the Temple grounds and the beating begins. Some there really wanted to kill him. Then soldiers retrieve him and he is given opportunity to address the crowd. He does so in the local language and the mob falls silent and listens finally. (Paul was fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, perhaps others)
22 – Paul gives his testimony to them. His pilgrimage is good logic and clear proof that he is not against anyone in Jerusalem or against what they had adhered to for centuries. He is ‘one of them’ in creed. He tells them that his transformation is due to what God has done in his life and the act of God opening the door to receive Gentiles is what God was doing these days. Isaiah 49:6 and Isa. 51:4] speaks of these days. That isn’t stated at this time during Paul’s “trial” here – though it could be of comfort and reassurance to the inhabitants of Jerusalem … But then again why would it be when Isaiah’s contemporaries had him killed too over seven centuries prior?
The crowd was in a complete hush until Paul ended this speech by definitively stating that he is being sent far away to minister to the Gentiles … We’ll talk about the hostile reaction to this final statement next week.
Over this last seven days, the theme that seems to reoccur is “setbacks”. Joseph has some prodigious abilities and there is certainly promise here but he gets sold to slave traders and is gone. Judah could have led the family but he sets himself back. Joseph rises in Egypt but gets lied about (because of his good ethics) and ends up in prison. Will he ever reach his potential? Ruth loses her husband and her father-in-law, leaves her homeland and needs to make a move amid all the loss – then look where it all led! Elihu finally stops talking and takes a step-back (forgive the play on words) and God finally can do the talking to start the culmination of this painful season for Job. Isaiah scribes the years of Judah coming to the brink of annihiliation before it is rescued. King Hezekiah nearly loses his life before he is healed. The setbacks just keep happening. Daniel 9 gives a shining prayer of confession on behalf of the Israelites at the end of this 70-year set back – a setback that was needed because blessing was not working for these people and punishment was needed. Jesus taught many marvelous stories this week in our reading. He does pause abruptly to remind that he is going to be crucified, suffer and be buried (this is going to feel like a set back to them). He reminds them that if they are going to be with him in his glory they would need to set themselves “at the back” – and serve all v.s. joust for a kingly position. Paul in Acts needs to take the gospel to the main culture centers of the world. He is obliged by the Spirit to deliver one last message in Jerusalem which would drive him all the way to Caesar. Though at face value the Jerusalem message and the visit there along with the beating appears as a set-back. Really! -What speaker enjoys getting a beating before he takes to the podium and gives a vital message?
“Lord Jesus, give us patience and insight during the times when we feel like we are stuck at one of life’s compulsory “rest stops”. Let us be built up in faith as we wait through discouraging seasons. Remind us that what we may see as a set back is a well timed promotion, in your grid, that can serve to advance your message and your Kingdom. Serving YOU is our calling, our calendar is merely incidental. Thank you Lord for being faithful to complete your work in us. Amen.”