ACTS: UNDERSTANDING OUR ORIGIN
Matthew 13 is a collection of Jesus' kingdom parables. Jesus used parables to
describe aspects of God's kingdom, or as Matthew writes, "the kingdom of heaven."
These parables that focus on the nature of God's kingdom include
the parable of the sower
the parable of the tares among the wheat
the parable of the mustard seed
the parable of the leaven
the parable of the hidden treasure
the parable of the costly pearl
and the parable of the dragnet.
Jesus' emphasis concerning God's kingdom did not agree with Israel's common
concepts and expectations. In fact, Jesus' emphasis concerning God's kingdom was
close to being the opposite of many Jewish expectations.
This evening I want to begin with the statement Jesus made near the end of
Matthew 13. After all the kingdom parables, Jesus made this statement in verse 52:
And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the
kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things
new and old." (Matthew 13:52)
A scribe typically was among the experts who had a lot of knowledge of God's word.
When a scribe grasped God's understanding of His kingdom, with this new
understanding that scribe could "see things" in God's revelation that many others failed
to "see." It was not that the scribe added anything to what God said about His
kingdom. He just had his eyes opened so he saw the whole revelation, not just what
Israel expected. He was like a father who could show his family things new and old
from his treasures.
To me that statement is among Jesus' most interesting statements. I want to be
a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. I want to understand what God intended His
kingdom to be. I want to develop the ability to "see" things new and old in God's
Tonight I do not ask you to agree with me. I ask you to study, to look at
scripture, and to think with me as we look at some events in Acts 21. I ask you to
dedicate yourself to "seeing" and to refuse to let past expectations put a blindfold over
your eyes. All I ask you to see is what scripture says.
- We need to begin our examination by first noting Numbers 6:1-8.
- These are the instructions given to Israelites (Jews) for making and keeping a
- The word Nazarite refers to be "separate" or "separated."
- It was a Jewish vow that could be taken by an Israelite man or woman.
- It was a voluntary vow of total devotion to God for a specific period of time.
- A Jew made this vow because he or she chose to do so, not because he or
she had to do so.
- For the Jew who made the Nazarite vow, there were some specific requirements.
- The Jew who assumed the vow of total devotion to God in a Nazarite vow
could not drink wine, could not drink any alcoholic beverage, could not drink
vinegar, and could not eat any grape product (fresh or dried).
- The Jew who assumed total devotion to God in a Nazarite vow could not cut
his or her hair.
- During the period of the vow the hair could not be cut or trimmed.
- When the time of the vow was completed, the head was shaved and the
hair was burned in the fire under his purification sacrifice.
- The Jew who assumed total devotion to God through a Nazarite vow could
not come near a dead person, not even if his father, mother, brother, or sister
- In every way this man or woman totally separated himself or herself for
commitment to God during the period of the Nazarite vow.
- Have this clear understanding: it is a Jewish practice of devotion to God that
involves specific behaviors of consecration and acts of sacrifice.
- I now ask you to look at Acts 18:18:
Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put
out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair
cut, for he was keeping a vow.
- The biblically consistent understanding of this verse is that Paul had
(voluntarily, as a Jewish individual) taken a Nazarite vow.
- Perhaps he was giving special thanks to God for his recent safety in
extremely difficult circumstances.
- Perhaps this also is a factor in his determination to reach Jerusalem
where his sacrifices could be offered and his hair burned.
Now I ask you to consider Acts 21:17 following.
- Paul reached Jerusalem as he intended and planned. (verse 17)
- Some of the Jerusalem Christians were glad to see him and gave him a good
reception. (verse 17)
- The day after arrival Paul and his company had a meeting with James and all
the elders. (verses 18, 19)
- Paul gave these leaders a report on all that God had done among the
gentiles (non-Jews) through Paul's recent work.
- There are two reactions: (verses 20-22)
- The first reaction: these Jewish Christian leaders glorified God for
what had occurred among the gentiles (non-Jews). They were
- The second reaction: we have a problem, and we must deal with it.
- What was the problem?
- There were thousands of Jewish Christians (the literal translation is ten
thousands) in Jerusalem who are devoted to the law.
- They had been told (probably by Jews from Asia who made pilgrimages to
Jerusalem) that Paul taught Jews to abandon Jewish customs. They said
Paul taught Jews these things:
- "Do not follow the instructions of Moses."
- "Do not circumcise your children."
- "Do not follow Jewish customs."
- They could not keep Paul's presence in Jerusalem a secret, so they had
to do something to defuse the crisis.
- Now let's ask a question that we do not ask often enough.
- Who controlled Jewish Palestine including the city of Jerusalem? Rome did
by forced occupation.
- How did Rome enforce its interest and control? Through Roman procurators
(like Pilate when Jesus was crucified).
- Who was the Roman procurator at this time? A man named Felix.
- What can we know about Felix?
- First, remember he was a gentile, not a Jew.
- Second, he was procurator in a period when Jewish nationalism was on
the rise and the resentment against gentiles was growing in Palestine.
- There were a number of Jewish insurrections against Roman control.
- Jews hated Rome and had hostel feelings for any gentile influence.
- Felix dealt with the situation with brutality and attacked Jewish
- What the Asian Jews accused Paul of doing would stir violent anger in
- In that emotional climate, Jews would consider Paul a traitor for even
working among gentiles.
- Even the suggestion that he was teaching Jews to abandon Jewish
practices would have outraged many Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
- Let me make some basic observations about the incidents in the last part of Acts
- First observation: they happened. A Jewish Christian missionary who was
the apostle to the gentiles was by choice involved in a Jewish vow, Jewish
ceremony, and Jewish sacrifices.
- We cannot pretend it did not happen. That is not an honest way to deal
- If what occurred does not fit our concepts, we need to reexamine our
concepts, not ignore scripture.
- Second observation: there are two basic ways for us to approach what
- The first approach is to decide that James and the elders of Jerusalem
Christians were trying to deceive those Christians in order to bypass a
- To me that approach in any form or variation is totally rejected and
- I do not regard what they did as an attempt to deceive.
- The second approach is based on an understanding that the Asian Jews
misrepresented Paul to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The action was
taken to correct a false impression.
- Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians, and Jews
did not have to become gentiles to be Christians.
- Paul did not teach Jews to abandon Jewish practices; he taught
gentiles (non-Jews) that they did not have to submit to Jewish
practices to become Christians.
- There is definite evidence about the thrust of the gospel (a) to Jewish audiences
and (b) to non-Jewish audiences.
- To a Jewish audience, the gospel message was "Jesus is the Messiah (the
Christ) that God promised Israel He would send."
- Look at the evidences for yourself.
- In Acts 2, what was Peter's sermon about? God send Jesus, and the
resurrected Jesus is Lord and Christ. (verse 36)
- In Acts 3, what is Peter's sermon about? Jesus is the Prince of Life, the
- In Acts 4, what is Peter's defense for his preaching? Jesus is the Christ,
and you Jewish leaders rejected him.
- In Acts 5 what is the apostles' defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin in
Jerusalem? Jesus is the Christ, exalted by God to be Prince and Savior,
to grant repentance to Israel and to grant the forgiveness of sins.
- In Acts 7 what is Stephen's defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin? All
Jewish history verifies that Jesus is the Righteous One God promised us.
- In Acts 9 what was the great new understanding that Paul (Saul) received
as a result of his encounter with Jesus? Jesus really is the Christ, the
one God promised Israel.
- In Acts 13 what is Paul's message to Jews, proselytes, and God fearers in
the Jewish synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia? Jewish history and Jewish
scripture prove that the resurrected Jesus fulfills God's promise to Israel's
- In contrast:
- In Acts 10 what is Peter's emphasis in his sermon the gentiles gathered in
Cornelius' home? Jesus was sent by God, crucified, and resurrected, and
God sent him to (a) provide opportunity to all nations and (b) to judge the
living and the dead.
- In Acts 17 what was Paul's sermon about to the gentile idol worshippers
and philosophers at the Areopagus (on Mars Hill)? It was about the true
nature of God. They stopped him before he could tell them about Jesus
who was resurrected and would judge the world according to
How did James and the elders address the problem?
- Paul has been misrepresented by Asian Jews, so let it be obvious to Paul
himself to keep Jewish customs.
- Four Christians had taken a vow [I presume a Nazarite vow]. (verse 23)
- Paul was to purify himself at the temple, "sponsor" them, and pay the
expenses [the sacrifices were expensive].
- This to me is the essential question: Why? Listen to verses 24, 25.
Acts 21:24,25 "... all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told
about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. But concerning the
Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from
meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from
- What would all understand?
- Paul followed Jewish customs himself, and he did not teach Jews to
abandon those customs.
- The Jerusalem leadership already was on record of setting behavior for
gentiles that did not require them to observe Jewish customs (Acts 15).
- Paul did no more among gentiles than what the Jewish leaders said
should be emphasized.
We are gentile Christians. Our dedication to restore Christianity contains
almost nothing Jewish in it. We are completely unfamiliar with Jewish Christianity.
Because we have never been around Jewish Christianity, we have made some
assumptions about God we need to reconsider.
The bottom line for Jew or Gentiles was that Jesus was the Christ. The Jew
understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise to Israel. The non-Jew
understood that Jesus was the means through whom God brought the blessing of
forgiveness to all people. Jesus revealed God's righteousness to the world, and all
people will be judged by the righteousness he revealed.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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