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Friday, June 17, 2016

Apostle Paul, the Referendum and Jo Cox.


We continue our teaching journey through the Acts of the Apostles. This is quite a long reading and I want to highlight a few things and apply our reading to events of the last week and the coming week here in the U.K.

many thousands

The Greek word is muriades from which the English word myriad is derived and it means, literally, tens of thousands. There were lots and lots  and lots of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. This was not a small sect, but a vast multitude, who, as we've seen before did not leave or renounce Judaism, but who remained good Jews while also being good Christians. For this reason they were:


all of them are zealous for the law

This literally means "they were jealous on behalf of the Torah." God Himself is described as "jealous" at Exodus 20:5 and elsewhere. Notice that nowhere are these "zealots for the law" condemned for their devotion or for their adherence to the law. 

They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs

Now, as we have journeyed through Acts, we have seen that this is simply not true. Paul has never told Jews to stop being Jewish and he himself never ceased to be a Jew. Paul continued to obey the Torah after coming to faith in Jesus. He had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3), he kept numerous customs ... a few weeks ago we saw him cutting his hair off because of a vow he had taken (Acts 18:18), he fasted on Yom Kippur (Acts 27:9). He regularly attended synagogue services and was welcome to teach in them (17:2). He remained a pharisee as we will see when we get to 23:6 and he says: "I am a pharisee." On trial in Rome he will say near the end of his life: "I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors" (Acts 28:17). So, the above statement is just not true.

However, Paul did make it absolutely clear to Gentiles (you and me) that they did not need to be circumcised and did not have to obey Jewish laws and customs. Gentiles had to be reassured that they were saved and incorporated into God's people by trusting God through Jesus and not by keeping laws and customs (1Cor7:18, Gal 5:2-6, 6:12-15, 4:8-11, Col 2:16-23).

And so, knowing that Paul is still fully Jewish, they ask him to take part in a Jewish ritual with some other men:

Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved ... The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.

Paul does all this, so that (vs 24):

Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.

Then, some Jews from Asia, perhaps the same ones we have read about who resisted the Gospel, stir up trouble:

This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.

Five lies: Paul did not teach against the people, or against the Torah (our law), or against this place (the temple); nor had he brought Greeks (gentiles) into the temple, nor had he defiled this holy place (the temple).
Five lies: "Lies" have been in the news quite a bit recently, haven't they? Opposing sides in the referendum debate have accused each other of lying, telling half truths, of spreading myths. I might have missed it, but I haven't heard this: "Yes, what the other side says is true, is absolutely correct, but we believe ... " and then putting a better argument or proposal, but based on respect for the other side. I think we've all missed that we are all on the same side: We all want Great Britain to be greater; We all want the United Kingdom to be more united. This is exactly what Paul wanted for the church ... for it to be greater and more united.


It is ironic indeed that Paul is arrested while doing the very opposite of what he is accused of. In the process of seeking to show his respect for Jewish ethnic identity within the church by practicing ritual purification, he is arrested for allegedly defiling the temple. All this occurs because Paul is committed at one and the same time to the unity of all through their identity in Christ, no matter racial and ethnic background, and he is committed to the respect of cultural diversity in the body of Christ. I think this applies to nations as well.

In her maiden speech given on June 3, 2015, Jo Cox, who was brutally murdered this past week, said: “Batley and Spen is a gathering of typically independent, no-nonsense and proud Yorkshire towns and villages. Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us."

That is true not just in Batley and Spen but also in Norwich; in South Africa after a lifetime of enforced division and separation we eventually discovered that we had more in common than things that divide us; it is true in the church of Jesus Christ, we have far more in common with each other than things that divide us. Paul is committed at one and the same time to the unity of all through their identity in Christ, no matter racial and ethnic background, and he is committed to the respect of cultural diversity in the body of Christ ... and we should be too. The term for this is unity in diversity and this reading teaches us to strive for that whatever the cost ... and the cost can be great.

The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains ... The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Get rid of him!’

Any Christian who insists on standing in such a tension as Paul did and as God calls us to as His people, will probably be similarly misunderstood as both too free in our associations and too strict in our ethnic loyalties. 

But strive we must.

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