God’s Word for You
Acts 21:17-21 Jerusalem at last
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 4, 2021
How often does the devil attack us when we’re at our highest moments? Remember Elijah after the victory on top of Mount Carmel. Maybe you can come up with examples from your own life faster than I can come up with more examples from the Bible. After all the time and effort Paul made to get the offering to Jerusalem, and after the warnings he was given about going there, trouble would catch up to him sooner than he thought.
17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to see James; and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them, and then one by one he recounted the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many countless thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs.
The first thing we notice as Paul and his companions arrive in Jerusalem is their heartfelt welcome by the brothers there. A meeting was arranged the very next day with James, the Lord’s brother, who served the Christian church in Jerusalem and who wrote a letter to all of the Jewish Christians out in the world (see James 1:1). At this meeting, Paul told the story of the third mission trip, and of the wonderful success of the gospel in the various places he had gone. This was met with praise to God for the success of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the same meeting, another issue was raised. Paul was told about false reports that were being circulated among many of the Jews, to the effect that Paul was telling people to forsake “Moses” (probably a way of referring to the whole Old Testament, especially the law) and also not to circumcise their children or live by the customs of the Jews. Of course, Paul did no such thing. He resisted people when they insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation (Galatians 6:12-13). He also said, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). Salvation is not by our deeds or obedience, but by the obedience of Christ and through the great deed accomplished by him: his own sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, atoning for our sins and triumphing over death and the grave.
Jesus himself put this in the simplest of words for a woman who was mourning the death of her brother: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). The rumors being spread about Paul were by a small but quite vocal minority of Jewish Christians we call the Judaizers. They thought of Jesus as another law giver, and they twisted the gospel into a law whenever they could, They maintained that salvation is still only possible through obedience to the laws of Moses. This negates Jesus entirely. It makes Jesus into nothing but another teacher or prophet, but one whom they disagreed with on almost every point.
As we will see, there was almost no course of action that was going to spare Paul from persecution of some kind. But he had been warned. He had come to Jerusalem bearing the gift from the Asian and Greek churches, he had met with James and the elders in Jerusalem and received their approval and they had all praised God for what he had accomplished through Paul and his companions. Whatever would happen next was God’s will. Sometimes God places people in our lives who will take us where we need to be. He can do this whether they are enemies of the gospel or friends. But whatever happens, God is able to use it for our good (Romans 8:28). Don’t be concerned about your own mistakes and past sins, which are forgiven by Jesus. Look ahead to the good things that God has in store for you. Expect good, and praise God for it. “God is mighty, and firm in his purpose” (Job 36:5), and “he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Perhaps in your case, this has taken what seems like a lifetime, but God’s good purpose for you is there, nevertheless. You already trust in God for the good of your immortal soul. Trust in him with your mortal life, too. He loves you.
Pastor Timothy Smith