Part 5

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 treasures.

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.

  1. We need to begin our examination by first noting Numbers 6:1-8.
    1. These are the instructions given to Israelites (Jews) for making and keeping a Nazarite vow.
      1. The word Nazarite refers to be "separate" or "separated."
      2. It was a Jewish vow that could be taken by an Israelite man or woman.
      3. It was a voluntary vow of total devotion to God for a specific period of time.
      4. A Jew made this vow because he or she chose to do so, not because he or she had to do so.
    2. For the Jew who made the Nazarite vow, there were some specific requirements.
      1. 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).
      2. The Jew who assumed total devotion to God in a Nazarite vow could not cut his or her hair.
        1. During the period of the vow the hair could not be cut or trimmed.
        2. When the time of the vow was completed, the head was shaved and the hair was burned in the fire under his purification sacrifice.
      3. 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 died.
      4. In every way this man or woman totally separated himself or herself for commitment to God during the period of the Nazarite vow.
    3. Have this clear understanding: it is a Jewish practice of devotion to God that involves specific behaviors of consecration and acts of sacrifice.
      1. 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.
      2. The biblically consistent understanding of this verse is that Paul had (voluntarily, as a Jewish individual) taken a Nazarite vow.
        1. Perhaps he was giving special thanks to God for his recent safety in extremely difficult circumstances.
        2. Perhaps this also is a factor in his determination to reach Jerusalem where his sacrifices could be offered and his hair burned.

  2. Now I ask you to consider Acts 21:17 following.
    1. Paul reached Jerusalem as he intended and planned. (verse 17)
      1. Some of the Jerusalem Christians were glad to see him and gave him a good reception. (verse 17)
      2. The day after arrival Paul and his company had a meeting with James and all the elders. (verses 18, 19)
        1. Paul gave these leaders a report on all that God had done among the gentiles (non-Jews) through Paul's recent work.
        2. There are two reactions: (verses 20-22)
          1. The first reaction: these Jewish Christian leaders glorified God for what had occurred among the gentiles (non-Jews). They were genuinely thankful.
          2. The second reaction: we have a problem, and we must deal with it.
      3. What was the problem?
        1. There were thousands of Jewish Christians (the literal translation is ten thousands) in Jerusalem who are devoted to the law.
        2. 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:
          1. "Do not follow the instructions of Moses."
          2. "Do not circumcise your children."
          3. "Do not follow Jewish customs."
        3. They could not keep Paul's presence in Jerusalem a secret, so they had to do something to defuse the crisis.
    2. Now let's ask a question that we do not ask often enough.
      1. Who controlled Jewish Palestine including the city of Jerusalem? Rome did by forced occupation.
      2. How did Rome enforce its interest and control? Through Roman procurators (like Pilate when Jesus was crucified).
      3. Who was the Roman procurator at this time? A man named Felix.
      4. What can we know about Felix?
        1. First, remember he was a gentile, not a Jew.
        2. Second, he was procurator in a period when Jewish nationalism was on the rise and the resentment against gentiles was growing in Palestine.
          1. There were a number of Jewish insurrections against Roman control.
          2. Jews hated Rome and had hostel feelings for any gentile influence.
          3. Felix dealt with the situation with brutality and attacked Jewish customs.
        3. What the Asian Jews accused Paul of doing would stir violent anger in Jerusalem.
          1. In that emotional climate, Jews would consider Paul a traitor for even working among gentiles.
          2. Even the suggestion that he was teaching Jews to abandon Jewish practices would have outraged many Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
    3. Let me make some basic observations about the incidents in the last part of Acts 21.
      1. 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.
        1. We cannot pretend it did not happen. That is not an honest way to deal with scripture.
        2. If what occurred does not fit our concepts, we need to reexamine our concepts, not ignore scripture.
      2. Second observation: there are two basic ways for us to approach what occurred.
        1. 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 crisis.
          1. To me that approach in any form or variation is totally rejected and totally unacceptable.
          2. I do not regard what they did as an attempt to deceive.
        2. 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.
          1. Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians, and Jews did not have to become gentiles to be Christians.
          2. 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.
    4. There is definite evidence about the thrust of the gospel (a) to Jewish audiences and (b) to non-Jewish audiences.
      1. To a Jewish audience, the gospel message was "Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ) that God promised Israel He would send."
        1. Look at the evidences for yourself.
        2. In Acts 2, what was Peter's sermon about? God send Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus is Lord and Christ. (verse 36)
        3. In Acts 3, what is Peter's sermon about? Jesus is the Prince of Life, the Christ.
        4. In Acts 4, what is Peter's defense for his preaching? Jesus is the Christ, and you Jewish leaders rejected him.
        5. 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.
        6. 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.
        7. 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.
        8. 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 ancestors.
      2. In contrast:
        1. 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.
        2. 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 righteousness.

  3. How did James and the elders address the problem?
    1. Paul has been misrepresented by Asian Jews, so let it be obvious to Paul himself to keep Jewish customs.
      1. Four Christians had taken a vow [I presume a Nazarite vow]. (verse 23)
      2. Paul was to purify himself at the temple, "sponsor" them, and pay the expenses [the sacrifices were expensive].
      3. 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 fornication."
        1. What would all understand?
        2. Paul followed Jewish customs himself, and he did not teach Jews to abandon those customs.
        3. The Jerusalem leadership already was on record of setting behavior for gentiles that did not require them to observe Jewish customs (Acts 15).
        4. 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.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 18 August 2002
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