In chapter 20 Paul moves through Macedonia to Ephesus, where he had previously spent two years proclaiming the gospel. Determined to go to Jerusalem, his parting words for the Ephesian elders capture the zeal that appears to have driven his life: I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
The grief and anxiety crests at Tyre when we’re reacquainted with Agabus, the prophet from chapter 11 who had foretold the famine in the days of Emperor Claudius. His vision today is even more foreboding: that the Jews at Jerusalem would bind Paul and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. Though Luke asserts that “we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem,” Paul was indignant: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
There is a lot of movement today so I encourage you to keep an eye on Paul, and the activity surrounding him. Since the chapter 13, when the Jerusalem church fell under sever persecution, and coincidentally Paul and Barnabas were commissioned from Antioch, Luke’s focus has been on Paul’s journeys. This is perhaps due to his proximity to Paul’s work, but it is also evidence of how dangerous things had become for the church in Jerusalem.
That danger fills the second half of today’s reading. Paul is determined to tell the Jews of all he had seen on his journeys, even after hearing that he is a marked man. He is discovered and imprisoned, ironically while fulfilling the ritual purification rites. The scene is eerily similar to that of Jesus’ final night: an angry mob, conflicting accusations, and Romans whose arrest of Paul ironically protects him.
Paul’s discipline to purify himself for Temple worship exemplifies the ambiguous tension between Judaism and the Christian church. Paul emphatically insists to the Jews that he is one of them: raised in Jerusalem, taught at the feet of Gamaliel, a celebrant of Stephen’s stoning. But he cannot avoid his experience on that road to Damascus, when about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me…”
The crowd listened, respectfully, until he announced that in this very Temple the LORD had commissioned him to a task so despicable that they determined “he should not be allowed to live!”
Our verse for this week is Hebrews 13:8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Acts 20 through 22. Now let’s read it!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.