Part 6

For five lessons I have asked you to consider specific information in the book of Acts that talk about Christianity in its earliest form. I have not asked you to agree with me. I have only asked you to look, to study, and to think from a perspective that many do not use when approaching Acts.

  1. Thus far I have asked you to study and consider these facts and situations revealed to us by Acts:
    1. In the first nine chapters of Acts the church is completely Jewish.
      1. The Jews who accepted Jesus as being the Christ or Messiah that God promised Israel understood that in Jesus God kept His promise to Israel.
        1. The "restoration of the fortunes of Israel" was understood to be God's work in the resurrected Jesus.
        2. The early sermons to the Jewish people stressed that fact.
      2. The primary distinction between those Jews who were Christians and those Jews who were not was this: the acceptance of the resurrected Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah.
        1. Jews (a minority) who believed Jesus was the Christ or Messiah were Christians.
        2. Jews (a majority) who believed Jesus was not the Christ or Messiah were not Christians.
        3. Both believers and rejecters attended the synagogue and the temple.
        4. Both believers and rejecters honored Jewish customs and Jewish practices.
      3. Peter's visit to the home of Cornelius and his social association with people who were not converts to Judaism created a major crisis among Jewish Christians.
        1. The issue was not can people who are not Jews be saved through the resurrected Jesus.
        2. The issue was can people who are not Jews be saved through the resurrected Jesus without approaching Jesus through Judaism.
      4. Paul, as a Christian, was falsely accused of doing two things:
        1. Defiling the Jewish temple by bringing people who were not Jews into temple areas forbidden them.
        2. Teachings Jews not to practice Jewish customs.
      5. Paul was not guilty of doing either of those things.
        1. He made a Jewish vow (likely Nazarite vow) prior to coming to Jerusalem on his last trip there (Acts 18:18).
        2. He sponsored four Christians who took a Jewish vow (likely Nazarite vow) and escorted them to the temple (Acts 21:20-26).
      6. He did the last thing by the direction of the Jewish elders to make a specific point to Jewish Christians who believed the false reports given against Paul.
        Acts 21:24b 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.

  2. This evening I want to call your attention to two things: the first is Paul's defense speeches that are found in Acts 22, 24, and 26.
    (If you would like to do some deeper research in Paul's defense speeches, a good starting source would be The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, complied by Ben Witherington, III.)
    1. In Acts 22, I ask you to note these things:
      1. Paul spoke to a Jewish audience (probably including proselytes) from some steps that connected the temple court yard of the Gentiles with the Antonian fortress.
      2. Verse 1 makes it clear that Paul addressed them as a Jew and identified with their Jewishness: he called them "brethren and fathers."
      3. Verse 2 states he used their language (not Greek) to talk to them, and that they listened to him because he was speaking to them in Jewish language.
      4. In verses 3-5 he identifies with his Jewish audience by declaring his Jewish credentials.
        1. He was Jew born in Tarsus, Cilicia (which had an honored Jewish community).
        2. He grew up in Jerusalem.
        3. He was taught at the feet of Gamaliel, the most prestigious Rabbi in Israel of that time.
        4. He was conservatively taught the law of "our fathers"; he had a strict Jewish religious background.
        5. He was as zealous for God as they were.
        6. He was a persecutor of The Way.
        7. Jewish leaders right there in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin and the Jewish temple could verify these facts.
        8. His point is, "I am Jewish," not "I used to be Jewish."
      5. Then he explained why he become a believer in Jesus Christ. (Verses 6-21)
        1. He told them about his encounter with Jesus, and nobody got upset.
        2. He told them about the visit of Ananias, the man who was devout by the standards of the law and was respected by all Jews, and nobody got upset.
        3. He told them about his baptism, and nobody got upset.
        4. He told them about the warning he received in a vision, an nobody got upset.
        5. He told them about the instruction to go to non-Jewish people, and everybody got violently upset.
        6. They wanted to kill him because he associated with people who were not Jews.
    2. In Acts 24, I ask you to note these things:
      1. He made his defense before the Roman procurator or governor, Felix, after Jewish representatives from Jerusalem have accused him of being: (verses 5,6)
        1. A real pest.
        2. A man who stirred up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world.
        3. The ringleader of a dangerous group.
        4. A man who desecrated the Jewish temple.
      2. Paul defended himself by declaring his Jewishness: (verses 10-13)
        1. He went to Jerusalem to worship (as a Jew).
        2. He was not engaging in confusing discussions or riots in synagogues, or the temple, or the city of Jerusalem.
        3. The Jewish representatives could not prove any of their charges.
      3. He plainly admitted these things: (verses 14-16)
        1. He did belong to The Way.
        2. He served the God of the Jewish fathers.
        3. He believed everything that was in accordance with the Jewish Law.
        4. He believed everything that was written in the Jewish prophets.
        5. He placed the same hope in God that his accusers placed in God, a hope based on the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
        6. Because of his belief in the resurrection, he was serious to maintain always a blameless conscience before God and men (that would include Jews).
      4. He explained how this situation happened. (verses 17-21)
        1. He came to Jerusalem to bring a gift to Israel (probably the collection from Gentile churches).
        2. He was found in the temple quietly purifying himself (according to Jewish teaching), causing no disturbance.
        3. Those who caused the disturbance were Jews from Asia, not Jerusalem.
        4. One of two things should happen:
          1. Either the Jews from Asia should be there telling the court what he did wrong.
          2. Or the accusers who were present should tell the court what he did wrong in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin.
    3. In Acts 26, I ask you to note these things:
      1. Paul made his defense before King Agrippa who was an expert in Jewish customs and questions.
      2. He began by affirming his Jewishness. (verses 4-7)
        1. From the time he was a boy the way he lived demonstrated his commitment to Israel and to Jerusalem, and all Jews knew that.
        2. His commitment to Jewish ways was well known--he was a strict Pharisee.
        3. He was being tried because of the hope God gave the Jewish fathers.
        4. The Jews are accusing him because he was devoted to Jewish hope.
      3. He then explained why he believed in the resurrection of Jesus (verses 8-21)
      4. Everything he taught was in agreement with Moses and the Jewish prophets.
    4. Paul did not teach Jews to abandon Jewish ways, and Paul himself did not abandon Jewish ways.
      1. However, Paul did not bind Jewish ways on non-Jewish people.
      2. People who were not Jews did not have to do things the way Jews did them to be saved.
      3. Jews who believed in and accepted Jesus had to have some basic understandings.
        1. Jesus was the Christ that God promised Israel.
        2. Jesus is God's high priest who represents Jews and all people before God.
        3. Jesus is God's atonement sacrifice that eliminated Jewish atonement sacrifices.

  3. Most Christians who were Jews and most Christians who were converted from idolatry did things very differently.
    1. Most Jewish Christians met in synagogues when they were welcome; most Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    2. Most Jewish Christians who had access to the Jewish temple went to the temple; Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    3. Jewish Christians ate kosher food; Christians converted from idolatry ate many different kinds of foods.
    4. Jewish Christian could make certain kinds of sacrifices at the Jewish temple; Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    5. Jewish Christians observed regulations regarding religious purity that Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    6. Jewish Christians observed Sabbaths and Jewish holy days which Christians converted from idolatry did not observe.

  4. Turn to Romans 14. These differences are precisely the problem Paul addressed.
    1. I call your attention to:
      1. Verse 4: do not judge Jesus' servant; Jesus' judges each of you, you do not judge each other; Jesus can make both of you stand.
      2. Verses 5, 6: when it comes to what you eat or what days you observe, your actions should be determined by your convictions--the Lord knows when you are honoring him in what you do.
      3. Verse 10: do not judge each other or hold each other in contempt.
      4. Verse 16: do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as an evil thing (do not use your liberty destructively).
      5. Verse 20: do not tear down God's work by insisting on things being done your way--even when your way is precisely what God has said.
    2. Let me make some observations: I ask you to think about these things in your heart and understanding.
      1. There are times when we create terrible disturbances among Christians because baptized believers in Jesus Christ sincerely do something others do not do.
        1. It may be raising hands.
        2. It may be clapping.
        3. It may be the kind of songs sung.
        4. It may be assembly atmosphere issues.
      2. The common reaction is to judge baptized believers who do things differently.
      3. The common judgment is made on their motives: "they are just drawing attention to themselves" or "they are just interested in entertainment."
      4. Be careful! The Lord knows your heart and their heart. The Lord knows your motives and reasoning and their motives and reasoning.

One of the most difficult Christian challenges we face is learning how to spiritually encourage Christians who do things differently from ourselves.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 1 September 2002
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