God’s Word for You
Acts 21:25-29 Everything blew up
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 6, 2021
25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.”
James finishes his advice for Paul by pointing out that the church’s decision regarding Gentiles and sent out in a general letter (Acts 15:20-21, 23-29) had just four restrictions, which he recounts here in the same order as they were given in the letter. As we noted before, each of these four prohibitions came from God before the time of Moses, during the time of the Patriarchs. Each of the four dealt with things that were especially repulsive to the Jews. These observations would help to set Gentile converts apart from unbelievers while not placing them under unnecessary obligations to the law of Moses, which had been fulfilled by Christ.
26 The next day, Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. He entered the temple to make public notice as to when the days of purification would be completed and when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.
Without delay, on the very next day, Paul took the men to the temple. Paul entered the temple as planned to give the “public notice” and announce what the sacrifices were for. All of this was according to the Law of Moses and in line with what was required in the temple at the time. One of the remarkable things about this passage is that it’s one of the few descriptions of the actual workings of the offerings and sacrifices of the temple from an eyewitness. We have the requirements spelled out in the law, but apart from a handful of Old Testament accounts (1 Kings 3:15, 9:25; 2 Chronicles 7:5-7, 8:12-13, 15:11-12, 33:16; Ezra 8:35) and Luke 2:22-24, we have very few passages like this. And none of them describes everything that was done, in the same way, I suppose, that no one has a written account of everything that you do when you go to church today, or when you take your car to get the oil changed, or hundreds of things we all do and more or less take for granted.
As we pointed out with verse 24, this ceremony was not required of Paul in any way, and Christians are no longer bound to any of the Old Testament laws for salvation. We are not bound by any ceremonies, such as the external form of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or the order of service we follow in worship, or any additional ceremonies. Our Confession states: “The community of God in every place and at every time has the right and the authority and the power to change, reduce, or increase ceremonies according to its circumstances, as long as it does so without frivolity and offense but in an orderly and appropriate way” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, 10:9). For example, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, our congregation has made changes in the way we distribute the Lord’s Supper and in the seating arrangement of the congregation, and also in the length of services by shortening certain parts of the liturgy and the number of verses of hymns, in order to allow for more time for the sanitizing of the pews, doors, restrooms, etc., between services.
27 When the seven days were almost over, some Jews from Asia who saw him in the temple began to stir up the whole crowd. They seized him, 28 shouting, “O men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, against our law, and against this place. More than that, he has brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with Paul in the city, and they assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)
While Paul and the four worshipers were in the temple, perhaps waiting in line to make the sacrifices that would complete their vows, everything blew up. Some of the Judaizers from Asia Minor saw Paul and started shouting things that stirred up the crowd, and the four Jews about to complete their Naziritic vows were even called “Greeks,” accusing Paul of bringing Gentiles into the inner court by the altar of the Lord. There was an area in the temple for Gentile worshipers, but it was screened off from the inner areas by a low marble wall, three cubits (four and a half feet) tall, with an inscription forbidding Gentiles from entering any of the other courts on penalty of death (this Greek inscription was removed from the temple after its destruction in 70 AD but recovered later and inserted into the wall of a mosque in Jerusalem).
The enraged Jews had seen Paul with an Ephesian Gentile named Trophimus elsewhere in the city, and they assumed that the Apostle had brought this Gentile into the temple, beyond the Court of Gentiles, all the way up to the altar of sacrifice itself. This wasn’t at all true, but crowds are interested in what’s being shouted more than what’s true. Suddenly it seemed as if everyone was against Paul. Men there in the temple suddenly turned on Paul. “Men open their mouths to jeer at me, they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me” (Job 16:10). The Levites had their own police force to keep order in the temple, and doubtless some of these men advanced on the apostle. “How many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” (Psalm 3:1). A crowd formed outside the temple walls as men determined what should be done with the lawbreaker. “See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, O Lord” (Psalm 59:3). All of this was due to men who were jealous of Paul and opposed to his preaching about Christ. “Wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause” (Psalm 109:2-3).
People who hate Christ will hate his servants and followers. You and I will be criticized and mocked because of our faith. Lawmakers will attempt to regulate the language we use in worship, especially if we attempt to accept government money or aid in support of our churches and schools (for this reason it is seriously unwise to accept government aid, which always comes with strings attached, even when promises are made to the contrary). The devil uses whatever material is available to lay siege to your faith. Be strengthened by the Living Water of Jesus Christ. Hold out for rescue to come. Your Savior already knows what you are praying for even before you finish your prayer (Daniel 9:20-21). He will help. “The Lord you are seeking will come” (Malachi 3:1). He will lift you up, and provide a way for you. Either you will escape the persecution, or he will use your troubles in some way that will benefit the rest of the whole Christian Church. Either way, you will give him glory both now and in eternity, forevermore.
Pastor Timothy Smith