Sovereign Grace Blog

Sermon Summary - Paul Becomes a Jew To the Jews - Acts 21:15-26

Paul Becomes a Jew To the Jews

Acts 21:15-26

Paul lived to please God, he was warned not to go to Jerusalem for the fear of being arrested, but Paul was ready to be imprisoned and to die for the sake of Christ. He was always willing to fight for the gospel despite having enemies of all sorts in Jerusalem. Paul was hated because of his teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it related to the Mosaic law.

Paul arrived at the city of Jerusalem before Passover and it was swelling with people. This is almost 30 years later after the day of Pentecost. His companions were non-Jews, including Luke the Gentile physician. Many of the Jews they met were very happy to see them and arranged a private meeting with the leadership of the church in Jerusalem that included James, Jesus’ half-brother. Paul told them about everything God had done in his previous missions trip and they glorified God because the gospel saves Gentiles by faith in Christ, apart from having to go through Jewish ceremonial law keeping. But James and the other leaders have their own problem in the context of the Jewish church. Thousands of Jews, who were zealous for the law, were told that Paul was teaching them to stop eating kosher diets, stop circumcision, stop living in the culture they were born and raised in (Acts 21:20-21). James offered a solution for him to purify himself along with men who were under a vow, and pay their expenses so that “all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law” (Acts 21:24). (Pause)

This is the Paul, who about ten years ago, said “for all who rely on works of the law are under a curse. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the Law, for the righteous shall live by faith, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” and continues with “Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming of faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:10-21). This is the same Paul who confronted Peter and his hypocrisy in Galatians 2:11-14 and said, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Paul takes the four men into the temple, pays their fees, and goes through the Jewish purification process according to the law of Moses. There are many Christians and scholars that say that Paul contradicted the gospel he preached, he caved into fear, and sinned when he agreed with James to go through the Jewish ceremony. Yes, Paul is a sinner and has his own struggles, but this act of accommodation in the context of the Jewish church was not sin, nor was it against the gospel Paul preached. There are four points to set the context. First, the gospel that Paul preached is in full agreement to the gospel that James understands, they all agree that God saves Jews and Gentiles, not based upon any practice of Jewish cultural or ceremonial law keeping, but by faith through grace in Christ alone. Second, the Jewish leadership knew that if someone became a Christian, they can choose not to practice Jewish culture separating laws. Third, Jerusalem had a big population of Jews that lived there and came from all over the surrounding regions for yearly festivals, the Christian Jews were evangelistically minded, hoping to win their fellow Jews to Jesus. This is why Paul agreed with James and the elders, as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:20 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” Fourth, within the church, there was a sect that was in error, theologically, who denied salvation by grace though faith. From that group, men were sent out to the churches planted by Paul to confuse and threaten the new Christians into practicing Jewish law in order to be saved.

Paul chose to put aside his freedom from practicing Mosaic Jewish Ceremonial law keeping for the sake of having favor with believing and non believing Jews. He wanted a platform in order to speak to them. He lived with a willingness to not use his freedom as a stumbling block to a fellow Jew. We should live the same way and not use our freedom in Christ as a stumbling block to a fellow brother. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

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