GETTING THE MESSAGE/Suffering for the name of Christ
In this passage, Acts 21:15-40, Paul has completed his third missionary trip and is in Jerusalem. As we saw previously, the Holy Spirit had conveyed to Paul he was to go to Jerusalem, but also conveyed to him he would face afflictions and imprisonment. The Holy Spirit had impressed upon other Christians that Paul was heading for affliction in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Paul was resolved to go, prepared to suffer for the name of Christ.
The passage we are looking at has two distinct sections. In the first, Paul meets with the elders in the Jerusalem church. He gives them a detailed mission report about the conversion of many Gentiles in his missionary journey. They all rejoice at this news and glorify God (verse 20).
They then say a report is circulating among them that Paul was forbidding Jewish Christians to observe the ceremonial laws and Jewish customs. Paul had taught that Christ was the fulfillment of the ceremonial laws, but Jewish Christians still had freedom to observe them as a matter of conscience.
The elders have a remedy to put the matter to rest and preserve the peace of the church. They asked Paul to observe a temple purification vow, while emphasizing that the Gentile believers were under no obligation to observe Jewish customs (verse 25). Paul readily complies with the request.
In the next section of the passage, when Paul goes to the temple, he is recognized by Jews from Ephesus. They seized him and pronounced that he is the man “teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place (verse 28).
All the Jews are stirred to a riot by this news. They drag Paul out of the temple and proceed to beat him, intent on killing him (verse 31). A Roman tribune intervened or Paul would have died (verse 32). Amazingly, Paul, though beaten and battered, requests to speak to the crowd (verse 39). Even though he almost died, he is intent on bearing witness to Christ.
In this passage we are reminded of the relationship between the law and the gospel. The Jews were angry because they believed Paul was teaching a repudiation of the law and Judaism. He was not. Paul was teaching that Christ had fulfilled the law and the prophets. The Jews stumbled over Christ because they tried to establish a righteousness of their own. The Jews who tried to kill Paul did so because he had preached that Christ was the only way to be righteous before God and that observing the law could not save them from God’s wrath.
God’s word teaches that man’s sin makes his nature contrary to God’s pure nature. But we must discover this truth in our own hearts. God’s law doesn’t only condemn particular sins, but the whole breadth and depth of sin, and our nature itself. Our sin stands against us before God.
So God gives us a mirror in his moral law to help us see our inability to keep it to his standard. His law requires personal, perpetual, perfect obedience and that from a perfect heart. According to that standard, the conclusion is there is none who do good, no not one. The ceremonial law, through Moses, with its purification rituals, sacrifices, offerings, and other things, pointed to the need to be made clean and pure before God; they taught the need we have for a Savior.
We need to understand the law condemns us and be humbled by that fact. The moral law summarized in the 10 commandments is impossible for a sinner to comply with in a way that satisfies God. So it is a terror and burden to the sinner, if his conscience is awakened.
The gospel comes to us in a different way. It comes with the announcement of a Savior: “I bring you good tidings of great joy. Today is born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Christ came to fulfill the law of God. And he came to present an offering to God. For whom? Not for himself, but sinners. He offered up his life as an atonement for sin, to make sinners clean and accepted by God. And he suffered God’s just wrath against the debt of that sin. He is a gift from God for salvation.
There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. So the gospel is indeed good news. There is life in Christ for any sinner. To refuse him is to remain in rebellion and estranged from God. But to hear him, turn from rebellion, and come to him is to enter into the peace and love of God.