Join us sundays at 9:30 am

Gospel Priority

March 24, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 21:27– 22:1

Gospel Priority – Acts 21:27–22:1

PRAY & INTRO: What matters more to the Christian than physical safety, comfort, or even freedom? The exaltation of Christ, the advancement of the gospel.

When Paul is under house arrest in Rome (where we will get to by the end of Acts), Paul writes a letter to the Philippians in which he says this:

Php 1:12… “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Php 1:16… “I am put here for the defense of the gospel.”

What does Paul care about more than his own safety, comfort, and freedom… more than he cares about how he is treated? Paul’s purpose is to exalt Christ, to advance the gospel. Nothing else matters more than testifying to Jesus and being like Jesus.

So when we come to our text in Acts 21, Luke has set us up (as readers) to anticipate Paul’s arrest. In his return trip to Jerusalem at the close of the third missionary journey, Paul has been repeatedly warned in his own spirit and by fellow believers that affliction and arrest await him in Jerusalem. But Paul goes regardless, having been convinced by the Spirit of God that this path of suffering is in fact the one he must take.

Now we finally read where this anticipated arrest actually takes place:

Acts 21:27–22:1 ESV

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: 1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

This will be the first of four major defenses Paul makes in the remainder of Acts. You can tally the number at 6 defenses if you include a couple of the shorter exchanges (opportunities for a defense) that get cut short.

What we should notice then as we approach this final section of Acts is that Luke goes to great lengths to describe the defense of Paul’s ministry (literally… the remaining 6+ chapters of Acts are devoted to Paul’s defense… from the end of ch. 21 onward, where Paul has now been arrested. We will not see Paul free again in this book).

Why would Luke devote so much to this? Is it simply his personal relationship and concern for Paul? Although the does care for Paul, that alone doesn’t make sense with Luke having written an entire gospel about Jesus: the incarnation, his ministry and training of apostles, his atoning death, resurrection (and appearances), and his ascension; the One who is the Messiah of God and Savior and Lord of all mankind. 

In  Defense  of the Gospel: Luke defends Paul to defend the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 21:27-28:31)

All that Luke has written is in defense of the gospel. Acts began this way, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up…” (Acts 1:1-2) So then I want to remind us what he said to this addressee in the first book, the one that we call Luke (after the author’s name). “… it seemed good to me… to write an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you have have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:3-4)

All that Luke has written is in defense of the gospel. And anything that Paul will say in his various defenses, even in defense of his own integrity and purpose, is really a defense of the gospel. Paul couldn’t hardly care about defending himself, except that the heart of the gospel is what’s at stake. Paul is under attack because of his relationship to Jesus, but then “who is Jesus” is the greater question!

So even the evidence from Luke that the followers of Jesus are not a threat to the established Roman authority is meant to give further credibility to the gospel. These “Christians” are about worshipping God through Christ Jesus and following him with their lives, telling others how they too may come to God through him.

More pointedly in our passage for today as a part of that defense of the gospel, we see that the integrity of Paul’s life when suffering injustice is itself a defense of the truth of the gospel. And secondly, this gospel priority is evident through Paul’s greater concern for gospel opportunity over his own safety.

Here’s a summary of what we just read together:

While Paul is completing his purification for the sake of unity among the church in Jerusalem, a riot results from zealous Jews misrepresenting Paul, who is promptly mistreated (beaten) by the mob. The Roman authorities rescue Paul by arresting him, assuming he must be a known revolutionary.

But Paul uses simple truth to dispel the misconception about his identity, and he uses a respectful request to gain a hearing.

There are several evidences in the text that Luke is keen to show Paul’s integrity, which helps Paul (and Luke) defend the truth of the gospel, and which we can therefore apply to our own lives in following Paul’s example.

Especially when misrepresented and mistreated, Christian  integrity  defends the gospel by mirroring Jesus. (vv. 27-32)

Luke wants us to see that Paul is an innocent man arrested for his commitment to the gospel. Luke maintains Paul’s innocence of these charges. Paul is falsely accused. Though innocent, he is treated severely by the mob.

Paul began this day with an intent to complete his purification at the temple. (day 3 and day 7 would have been the days he had to appear at the temple) Recall that he’s doing this as a peacemaker to promote unity in the church in Jerusalem to avoid the misunderstanding that he is antinomian—against the law and the Jewish ceremonies of the law. (But he’s not against that; he believes Jesus is the true fulfillment of the law. He need not be anti his own heritage.)

But some of his enemies have followed him from Asia (most probably from Ephesus, where Trophimus is also from and where Paul had recently spent three years in ministry). They stir up the crowd, yelling for help from the men of Israel to deal with Paul, accusing him of several things.

Is Paul teaching “everyone everywhere” against “the people” (eg., the Jews as God’s uniquely selected people to represent him)? No, in fact he’s preaching the fulfillment of God’s great promise to the Jews, that their Messiah has in fact come!

Is Paul teaching against the law? We’ve established that isn’t the case. Christ fulfills the law, but as long as Jews don’t think of these activities as salvific (bc only faith in Christ can save), then Christian Jews can practice Jewish traditions. But do Gentiles need to keep the Jewish traditions? No… unless they’re not practicing some freedom in order to not offend Jews and thereby promote unity. (like not eating raw meat)

Is Paul teaching against the temple? Good grief, he’s literally in Jerusalem in observance of Pentecost, and literally in the temple due to a Jewish purification rite. False, false, and false.

Oh, and did Paul bring Trophimus (presumably a Gentile by the way this all goes down) beyond the Court of the Gentiles, which to their sensibilities would defile the temple, “this holy place”?

Number one, Paul and Trophimus both would have to be brazen idiots to do such a thing. The 4-5 foot rock wall that separated the outer courtyard (where the Gentiles were allowed) from the inner sanctuary, literally had “warning signs posted at intervals in Greek and Latin: “Any foreigner who passes this point will be responsible for his own death” (the inscriptions are reported in ancient literature and one has been found by archaeologists).” -Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 21:28.

What’s more, “This was the one offense for which Jewish authorities could execute capital punishment—even on Roman citizens—without consulting with Rome.” -Keener, Ibid.

In spite of the fact that such divisions as a separate court for Gentiles and a separate court for women were not prescribed in the Mosaic law (but were manufactured ideas of later Judaism)…, even so, the text seems to indicate clearly that this an utterly false accusation. They presumed it because they wanted Paul to be guilty of such things. But Paul is innocent of these charges.

Application: To defame Christ, they should have to make stuff up about our integrity as his followers.

The mob drags Paul out of the temple because their intent is to kill him, and the gates are probably shut by priests or their guards precisely because of this riot and making sure this doesn’t take place on the temple grounds.

Word gets to the tribune of the cohort quickly (commander of up to 1,000 soldiers, with several centurions). “Roman soldiers were quartered in the Herodian fortress known as the Tower of Antonia on the northwest corner of the temple wall (see note on 12:4). Its high tower provided a full view of the temple area, and it had two flights of stairs leading down into the grounds, so that soldiers could run down to the crowd almost immediately. A lookout person on the tower would have observed the mob below.” -Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2132.

When the authorities arrive, the mob stops beating Paul. This was not the way justice was to be handled by anyone’s standards.

Again, it matters a great that Paul is innocent of these charges because the integrity of his life through injustice is a testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now Paul is certainly not innocent in the same way that Jesus was innocent. Jesus never sinned. Paul was born with a sin nature and lived many years proving it. Even in his misdirected zeal for God he had actively participated in the wrongful persecution of Christ’s people, the followers of the way. Paul would be the last to deny his sinfulness: Besides Jesus, the Righteous One (Ac 22:14), “No one is righteous, not even one.” (From Paul’s own pen in Romans 3:10)

But it matters that Paul is innocent of these charges against him because when he suffers injustice for the cause of Christ he’s drawing attention to the superior and perfect innocent sacrifice of Christ for our salvation.

Luke is defending the gospel not only from Paul’s mouth but from his integrity, and setting an example for us to follow.

So too…

Even when suffering injustice, trust in God allows us to focus less on our safety and more on gospel  opportunity . (vv. 33-40)

Luke wants us to see that the present danger doesn’t deter Paul’s focus on proclaiming Christ.

(Trust in God’s providential care and perfect will and guaranteed promises)

Paul has never been foolish or flippant about his safety, but in this entire closing section of Acts we see him prioritizing the opportunities God gives for proclaiming the gospel. We see a first example of this plainly in this scene where he is initially arrested.

Although his arrest by Roman authorities provides rescue, Paul is less concerned for his personal safety and more interested in the opportunity to make a defense of the gospel.

The tribune arrests Paul, presuming that there must be some kind of reason for the crowd’s reaction to this individual. Bound between two chains probably means being bound with one guard on either side of him.

When the commander asks what Paul had done, the facts are not discernable because of the disorderly behavior and shouting of the crowd. So he commands that Paul be brought to the barracks, which would have been at Antonia Fortress at one outside corner of the temple complex. But the crowd has become violent and is intent on killing him, so they have to carry Paul to keep him safe from a premature death. By “Away with him” they mean to have him killed, as Ac 22:22 shows. Similarly, the crowd that called for Jesus’ crucifixion had also shouted, “Away with this man and release to us Barabbas” (Lk 23:18).

So Paul’s life is at stake, and he has this temporary reprieve by being in the hands of the soldiers. How does Paul respond? Well, he thanks his lucky stars and he high-tails it into the barracks.

Instead, he’s trying to respectfully find a way to address the crowd. To get to that though, he has to quickly correct the misconception that he’s an Egyptian revolutionary who had recently caused problems in the region for Rome. -There had been an Egyptian false prophet several years earlier who had promised to drive out the Romans, but governor Felix (with the might Roman soldiers) had laid waste to the revolutionary forces. The leader had escaped with his life, however. The assassins mentioned here are the sicarii (or dagger men), who terrorized Roman sympathizers by stabbing them under the cover of crowds. (So here they presume that the crowd has captured such a one, perhaps the Egyptian revolutionary himself.)

Paul, though, surprises the tribune with his educated speech in Greek, and with a very succinct explanation as to why he is plainly not who they have presumed. (I’m a Jew, and I’m from Tarsus.)

So the Jews are threatening his life, and the Romans are presuming he’s a revolutionary and a terrorist, and still Paul is undeterred from seeking opportunity here for the gospel.

He politely but urgently asks to address the people, and the tribune surprisingly gives him leave to do so. I’d say God’s intervention to make the tribune sympathetic must be the reason.

From the steps in front of Antonia fortress on the edge of the great courtyard of the temple, Paul will address his beloved fellow Jews in the native language of Aramaic as he begins his defense of Jesus as the Righteous One who transformed Paul’s own life and gave him new understanding (of the law) and new purpose.

But time and again in the coming chapters, the Roman authorities and legal channels prove to be Paul’s only safety. For Luke, this is yet further defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of his followers, that they are no threat to the establishment of governing authority.

For his part, It is clear that Paul is more concerned for people’s souls than he is for his own safety, that others might be as he is—made right with God by exalting Christ.

What about us?

Conclusion: Do we have our priorities straight?

Integrity of character, becoming like Christ… (even or especially in contexts of suffering and mistreatment) When do we look most like Jesus? When is our greatest opportunity the grace of Jesus in us to be most evident? What situations grow us the most?

And trust in God allows us to see and seek opportunities to proclaim the gospel over our safety, comfort, even freedom…

Let’s follow the example of Paul as he follows Christ, walking in Christian integrity, and prioritizing gospel opportunity.

More in Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

July 14, 2024

Continue the Pattern of Faithful Proclamation

June 23, 2024

God Preserves for a Purpose

June 16, 2024

Trusting God Through Life's Perils