Sabbath School Lesson for September 8-14, 2018
Back and forth in meetings and councils, Paul has a tumultuous turn of events when he arrives in Jerusalem. We see him…
- meeting with the Christian leaders in Jerusalem (Sunday)
- causing a riot in the temple (Monday)
- speaking before the crowd of his conversion (Tuesday)
- being brought before the Sanhedrin to be judged (Wednesday)
- transfering to the town of Caesarea for his safety (Thursday)
Of all Paul’s arrests and mishaps, the one in Jerusalem after his third missionary trip surely beats them all. Perhaps because for those who heard the prophecy of Paul’s fate, this appeared to indicate that Paul was on the final stretch of his gospel ministry to the Gentiles.
Who would have thought that after experiencing all the dangers thrust at him by angry Gentile mobs in foreign lands, he would now be arrested and so brutally treated by his fellow countrymen. In what was still considered God’s special holy city.
Even after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Paul recognized the fragile state of the church, as it continued to grapple with issues so petty for one side, and yet so enormous for those who opposed them. At issue were still the ceremonies and traditions that the Jews stubbornly clung to, that identified them as Jews, often a pride-filled identity they were reluctant to abandon.
These practices, such as circumcision, were proving to be hugely challenging for new Gentile believers, who wanted nothing more than to accept the Messiah’s offer to believe on Him, become baptized, and enter into His kingdom as fully saved Christians through the grace of God alone.
Therefore, in an effort to demonstrate love for his Jewish Christian friends back in Jerusalem, Paul collected offerings from the Gentile churches he visited and attempted to deliver them in person to the needy believers there. It turned out to be a dangerous task. But in the long term, God’s will held strong and the church grew stronger because of it.
Memory Text: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’ “ Acts 23:11 NIV
Think of it. If Paul had listened to his friends’ warnings and avoided Jerusalem, we would be missing much of the New Testament writings that have proven so valuable to God’s church over the years. Many of his most ardent appeals are found in Paul’s epistles, written while under Roman arrest, as he awaited his trial, verdict, and sentencing in the city Paul longed to evangelize.
Sunday: Meeting the Jerusalem Leaders
Paul’s meeting with the Christian leaders in Jerusalem went well at first. He found a place to stay in the home of a believer from Cyprus, Mnason. James and the other elders were fearful for Paul’s safety, however, and informed Paul of the false charges of some of the Jewish believers that were being spread about him in the city.
In order to appear more Jewish and less guilty of these charges, the elders suggested that Paul sponsor and join four Jewish believers who were taking a Nazarite vow of purity, which involved shaving their heads. Paul agreed to do so, but the measure ended up doing more harm than good.
This small compromise on Paul’s part appeared to be an endorsement of just the kind of legalistic behavior that Paul was preaching against. Paul had been adamantly opposed to one gospel for the Gentiles (saved by grace), and a different one for the Jews (saved by the law). An argument that still persists today.
Works are needed for good reasons, but not to earn our salvation, or to make us appear more righteous to God or to others. This kind of forced piety is always a compromise for us as well.
Read Acts 21:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 7:19. What was false about the charge they were bringing up against Paul?
Read Acts 21:23, 24, 18:18. What was wrong with Paul taking a Nazarite vow at this time in Jerusalem, and not when he had done it earlier on the way to Antioch?
Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. How is compromise different than what Paul describes here to the Corinthians? How can we know when we have crossed the line of distinction that exists between reaching out and compromising?
Monday: Riot in the Temple
The temple is probably the last place any of us would expect to see a riot. But Paul’s presence there one day with his four Nazarite friends, did precipitate such an event.
We remember that a riot did not even occur when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers, an active protest, but well-executed. Jesus’ intention is always to cleanse the temple, not let it be desecrated with something like the riot that evolved when Paul showed up to make an offering concerning his days of purification being over.
It was assumed that Paul was accompanied by Gentiles when he entered the temple that day. So, he was seized by zealous Jews on the spot. Soon, however, Roman troops rushed to his rescue and carried him away to their fortress.
Once again, it seems strangely ironic that Paul, the apostle who fought to bring salvation to the Gentiles, finds his own life spared for awhile by Gentile soldiers. While Paul, himself a Jew, has fellow Jews clamoring for his death.
Read Acts 21:26-29. Who were the men who falsely accused Paul at the beginning of the riot? Why would these Jews be particularly offended when they saw Paul in the temple with men they assumed were Gentiles?
Read Acts 21:30-32. Why was Paul dragged out of the temple area? Why does the show of force seem necessary at times to ensure peace, as it did in this story? What other means are available for differences to be resolved, however, and why should they be used first?
Read Acts 23:26. Why is the Roman commander, Claudius Lysias, important to the story of Paul’s arrest?
Tuesday: Before the Crowd
We have seen time and again how Paul desires to speak to a crowd of people, even at times of extreme danger to himself. What comes out of Paul’s mouth though at these times was most likely not to be a defense of his actions, but a re-telling of his conversion experience.
Paul used this tactic once again in the riot episode that began in the Jerusalem temple. In the middle of his story, however, the crowd became incensed at his statement that God had sent him to the Gentiles.
This concept of being sent to the Gentile world by God was totally unfathomable to the Jewish mind. To them, being dispersed to other nations was due to their failure to follow God’s commandments, a punishment, and was the only frame of reference they would consider.
In their minds, being told to leave God’s holy city would never be urged by God for any other reason than punishment. No wonder they declared Paul unfit to live. With their limited vision, Paul had spoken heresy and blasphemy. He must be put to death, according to their misguided version of the law.
Read Acts 22:1-3. How did Paul’s identification of himself at least get the crowd’s attention? Why is it important to identify ourselves with our listeners, in order to reach them with the gospel? What are some practical ways this can be done?
Read Acts 22:20. Why is a person guilty of a crime that he permits to happen, but doesn’t take an active part in committing? Why should we always come to the defense of another, who is bullied or misunderstood, even at the cost of harm to ourselves? How does our silence at these times condemn us?
Read Acts 22:24-29. Why did Paul say something at this point to defend himself by declaring his Roman citizenship? How would a flogging have affected his chances of witnessing for God?
Wednesday: Before the Sanhedrin
The Roman commander understandably wanted to know why Paul had caused such a riot, and therefore had him brought before the Sanhedrin council the next day to learn more about the situation. Paul’s first statement to the council was an appeal and an exclamation of his innocence.
“…Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” Acts 23:1 NKJV
This brought an immediate slap to Paul’s face by the high priest Ananias. Not knowing this was the high priest (which could have been due to Paul’s poor eyesight), Paul denounces the offensive action, even calling the priest a “whitewashed wall”. After all, the slap did go against the law (Deuteronomy 25:1, 2), which would have called for any punishment to occur only after one had been judged by the council.
Paul then shifts to another tactic. Knowing that the council would consist of both Pharisees and Sadducees, he reminds them that he is a Pharisee, and that his charge involves the resurrection of the dead. True, because Paul did preach extensively about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This statement, however, results in an angry exchange between the opposing factions about the existence of a resurrection. The council becomes so agitated and disruptive that, once again, Paul is removed from the scene and brought back to the safety of the army barracks.
Read Acts 23:1. What does it mean to have lived in good conscience?
Read Acts 23:2-5, Deuteronomy 25:1, 2, Galatians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 12:7. Why was the slap by the high priest against the law? Although we don’t know exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, why do some believe it was poor eyesight? For what purpose was he given this “thorn”, and how should we react to our own personal limitations?
Read Acts 23:6, 7. Why was Paul justified in using such a manipulative, divisive tactic in this particular situation? When and how did he know that this council meeting was a bad idea in the first place?
Thursday: Transfer to Caesarea
Our modern world is beginning to see more and more of the same religious fanaticism that was common in Judea in the first century. Sometimes people can be passionately wrong about the causes they promote. Let alone in the way they promote them.
In Paul’s story we see this fanaticism clearly in the band of forty extremist Jews who vowed not to eat until they had killed Paul. This was truly a dangerous situation for the apostle, but providentially, he heard about it through his young nephew, who found a way to get into the barracks and tell Paul about the ambush that was being planned for him on the way to the next Sanhedrin council.
Paul alerted one of the soldiers, asking that his nephew be taken to the commander to tell of this plot against him. The commander wisely escorted Paul to the town of Caesarea nearby, where he would be safe from his opponents.
Read Acts 23:12-15. What does this say about the priests and elders, that they would agree to participate in such a plot?
Read Acts 23:18, 19. It is thought that Paul’s nephew was perhaps a teenager. In what ways does God use both young and old in His service? How does our age affect our ministry?
Read Acts 23:23, 24. Paul’s Roman citizenship seems to be shaping his treatment by the soldiers. When will see rewards for becoming a citizen of the kingdom of God? How are some of our trials, actually blessings in disguise?
Paul consistently put God’s church above his own welfare and comfort. Indeed, above his very life. In going to Jerusalem with the intention of bringing more unity to the brethren there, he knew his actions may have led to dangerous outcomes. But God had a plan, and we are thankful Paul had this steadfast, sacrificial commitment to follow God’s plan, no matter where it led him personally.
How willing are we to do likewise for our church? The family unit is important as well, because it provides the schooling for young people to become God-fearing citizens of the heavenly kingdom. But the church is also a family and should provide schooling for God’s children. It also should never be neglected or forsaken, but instead supported and uplifted.
Even when problems exist in a church, as it surely does in the smaller family units we all grew up in, we must never weaken the church through criticism or discontent. When problems are present, we must instead promote unity through affirmation and re-direction of energies. There are ways to correct wrongs in a church, and we must always strive to find out what they are and implement them in a loving, kindly manner.
Paul did the loving thing by attempting to bring monetary relief to the desperately poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem. When was the last time you did something positive and helpful for one of your brothers or sisters in church? Let’s make that our aim every day.
When it comes church, we must do more than occupy a pew. God has a place for us to make a real difference in our church family, no matter how large or small it presently is. God’s church will grow only in proportion to the amount of love we have for our brothers and sisters.
Next Week’s Lesson: Confinement in Caesarea
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/