2019-03-24 – Acts 20-23 – Paul’s Courageous Finale – 1
Bible Text: Acts 20-23 | Preacher: Pastor Jerry Higdon | Series: Acts | 2019-03-24 – Acts 20-23 – Paul’s Courageous Finale – 1
Good morning everyone. It is so nice to be able to spend some time with you all in fellowship with the Lord. Thank you and God bless you for being with us today.
(This Tuesday Sunday-School & Small Group Training; Iron Sharpens Iron)
As we are continuing in our study of the books of Acts. Last week we read about the life of a young man named “Lucky”, who fell asleep then fell out of a third story window while Paul was preaching a late-night sermon. We learned from “Lucky” that we need to be preparing ourselves for church so as to maximize the potential of God’s word on our lives. By God’s grace, “Lucky” survived, and through the grace of God, we too will thrive from these early morning sermon lessons that God has ordained for us to hear as well. So please Stay Awake! lol
Please turn now to Acts 20, verse 17, page 987 in your pew Bibles, which is the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God. But first let us pray..
In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul now is just starting on his trip back to Jerusalem, it is the last leg of his third missionary journey. This is the final series of messages for this wonderful book of Acts. Unlike the previous chapters where we went verse by verse, we are only going to be covering the highlights of these final eight chapters. Today we are going to cover chapters 20-23. This series of messages is called Paul’s Courageous Finale. I will warn you in advance that we are going to be reading through a lot of scripture, but it is really one great story.
This first part is about Paul’s farewell message to the people in and around Ephesus. He had been there for a number of years now, established some strong relationships and strong churches, but his time with them has come to a close.
Verse 17 reads: 17 Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church. 18 When they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house. 21 I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. 24 But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
25 “And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see me again. 26 Therefore I declare to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 because I did not avoid declaring to you the whole plan of God.
28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears.
32 “And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.
33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me.
35 In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. 37 There were many tears shed by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
You can practically feel the love that they shared for one another in these verses. They had risked their lives in the process of striving to save many people’s eternities. And they shared most everything with each other, they cried with each other, and here in this farewell message we see they embraced and even kissed as they grieved Paul’s parting. Nobody enjoys saying goodbye to the ones they love. However, the one consolation that they have, and we have as Christians is the hope of an everlasting reunion in heaven to look forward to. How grim these temporal goodbyes would be otherwise. When I attend to funerals of those that do not have that a solid faith in Jesus, I wonder what the families cling to in these dismal circumstances. No Jesus, no heaven, no hope, and no peace. So sad it is for sure. But that isn’t the case here with Paul. Yes, they all grieve, as they will miss their friends, but it is only temporary as hope follows. Praise the Lord.
Now we are going to move ahead to Acts 21 in our scripture, starting at verse 17. Doctor Luke, who wrote Acts, tells us what happened when they finally arrived at their church home in Jerusalem. Keep in mind God told Paul he was in danger.
Acts 21 17 When we reached Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters welcomed us warmly.18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 But they have been informed about you—that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs.
22 So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law.
25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
These final chapters of Acts can really be broken down into three large scenes. The first scene we just started to read about here takes place in Jerusalem with the Christians and then the Jewish authorities. The second scene we will cover next week is where Paul is incarcerated and taken for trial in Caesarea. And the final scene takes place in Rome where we will hear the last of our dear brother Paul as this book of Acts comes to a close. We have come a long way together through these Acts of the Apostles. They have followed Christ’s Great Commission or command in taken the new Christian church to really the ends of their known world at the time. Through it we have learned much about our brothers Peter and Paul especially. They are wonderful roll models for us indeed, praise the Lord.
In these last verses we read, after Paul is greeted by the church, they advised him to quickly put on a “character repair” effort, so that he could show the Jewish people and the authorities that he did in fact respect their cultural norms, laws and traditions. And because Paul had been with the “defiled” gentiles for such a long period of time, they felt he needed to be cleansed of their unrighteousness. Paul went along with their plan, but it unfortunately didn’t do the trick. The Jewish authorities immediately went after him. They started a big riot, whereas the roman commander and his troops had to move in and even rescue him from being beaten to death. It all goes down-hill rather quickly. Paul is very much mistreated, and the sad reality is, he really didn’t do anything wrong.
Question: What would you do if you found out that all the people and the government was going up against you? Thankfully in this nation we have lots of protections and rights as citizens. At least today we can feel secure that we won’t be beaten or killed because of our faith. But as I watch the news lately, sadly it seems those protections are becoming more and more fragile. Jesus warned us about this dynamic. In Matthew 5:10, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you”.
They raged against Paul in our verses here, just like they raged against Jesus before; and just like they will rage again sadly for many of Christians in our days as well. What we are going to see next in scripture, starting in Acts 22 verse 1, is Paul’s appeal to the Jewish leaders, before he is taken away to Caesarea for trial.
Acts 22 1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.”
2 When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter. 3 He continued, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the law of our ancestors.
I was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, arresting and putting both men and women in jail, 5 as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to arrest those who were there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “As I was traveling and approaching Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
8 “I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, the one you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.10 “I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “The Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything that you have been assigned to do.’
11 “Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of the light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and went into Damascus. 12 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, who had a good reputation with all the Jews living there, 13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him.
14 And he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, 15 since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “After I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance18 and saw him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’
19 “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in you imprisoned and beaten. 20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I stood there giving approval and guarding the clothes of those who killed him.’
21 “He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
As he was standing in the middle of the belly of the beast, so to say, Paul gave this impassioned testimony in a way that only Paul could do. He was not unfamiliar with being persecuted by the masses, as he had survived this same type of brutal attack many times throughout the towns and countries that he visited. But this time it was amongst his own Jewish people where Paul was once training to become their high-priest. He probably knew many of those that were now persecuting him, as they probably looked at him as being a traitor of their faith. Paul took full advantage of the fact that he had the Roman soldiers now all around him, who were responsible for keeping the peace. All the angry Jewish authorities and citizens despised Paul, but they were forced to put up with him.
Paul was so bold. His last comments before he was taken away are shown to us in chapter 23, starting at verse 1:
Acts 23 1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 The high priest Ananias ordered those who were standing next to him to strike him on the mouth.
3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!
You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?”
4 Those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?”
5 “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest,” replied Paul. “For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”
6 When Paul realized that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees, he cried out in the Sanhedrin, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am being judged because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and neither angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all.
9 The shouting grew loud, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued vehemently: “We find nothing evil in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
10 When the dispute became violent, the commander feared that Paul might be torn apart by them and ordered the troops to go down, take him away from them, and bring him into the barracks. 11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome.”
Paul allowed the Lord to use him in these last chapters to shake up the people. The Jewish authorities have been dealing with these rebellious Christians for a few years now. The Christians in the town were becoming timid and protective. They were very poor and they felt the pressure of persecution over their heads for a long time. Then Paul comes on the scene, and he on the other hand, has become accustomed to persecution and also has seen the hand of God at work in the midst of persecution. Paul was fearless, and he was really shaking things up.
Jeremy read to you the key verse of the Iron Sharpens Iron conference earlier.
1 Cor 16:13-14, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” Our brother, the Apostle Paul was living this out! As Christians it is important for us to know scripture, it is another thing to speak out God’s holy word, and yet another thing to live it out and even being prepared to die for it like Paul is doing here in these verses. Lord help us live it out as well.
As we will see in our next scene of Paul’s Courageous Finale, Paul goes through several more years of trials and persecution, imprisonment and even torture, but he never gives up. We as fellow Christ-following Christians should be emboldened by our brother Paul’s conviction and courage. God has already told us that we too will experience persecution as well. But take heart, for He knows what it is like, and we are never alone. Be brave and live in the faith of His Good-News Gospel, Jesus is Lord! And He loves you so.
Would you please stand with me now, as we close with an invitation
Let us sing: Amazing Grace.. “A FRIENDLY CHURCH IN A FRIENDLY TOWN”