The Unruly Gospel

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), December 3

images-1Religious disputes are as old as the human race. Often those seeking to defuse a dispute only increase its intensity. That’s what happens when Paul arrives in Jerusalem.

Jewish-background believers are disputing with Gentile-background believers over the role of circumcision and the Law. The Jews believe that, because Christianity flowed out of Judaism, Gentile believers should embrace Judaism as a completion of their faith. Paul’s trip to Jerusalem brings the controversy to a head. James and the elders suggest that Paul demonstrate his respect for Judaism by taking the vow of a Nazirite and by paying the fees of the Nazirite vow for four poor Jewish people.

Paul’s fulfillment of this Jewish custom backfires. A riot ensues when unbelieving Jews see Paul in the temple and assume that he has brought Gentiles beyond the court of the Gentiles and into the temple itself, desecrating the temple. The Romans break up the riot and arrest Paul before the crowd can kill him. Paul sees the gathering of the crowd as a great opportunity to share the gospel and asks permission to address the crowd. He tells his story.

Paul’s telling of his story offers a number of helpful truths about how to share your spiritual journey:

  • Sharing a quick overview of your past captures the attention of your audience and helps them identify with you. Paul shares his “Jewish” testimony. He had been just as zealous about his Jewishness as the crowd: “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders . . .” (Acts 22:3-5).
  • With the turn of a sentence, your story can transition to His story: “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (22:6-7). Paul simply and concisely reports what happened to him. Meeting Jesus changed his life.
  • The gospel message is confrontational. Introducing the person of Jesus Christ confronts listeners with their need and Christ’s redemptive work: “Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of his mouth” (22:14). Sharing His story confronts the listener. Confrontation causes vulnerability, to which people will either respond in humility and brokenness or in pride and defiance. Paul’s crowd does not humble itself before the truth. Instead, the people respond in pride—“And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live’” (22:22).

Sin causes a dispute between God and man. Religion cannot settle that dispute; only the gospel of Jesus Christ makes peace—but it must be accepted. It does not leave people comfortably neutral. Paul shares His story, and it causes an uproar. The gospel of Jesus Christ does that.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Acts 21:37-23:35):
How does Paul begin his defense? What does he share that turns the crowd totally against him? What does this reveal about their prejudice?
What does Paul understand about the outcome in Jerusalem? How does the Lord intervene on his behalf to accomplish His plan? What does this reveal about God?