The Attempt: Day 21

Spoiler alert: this chapter ends with a cliff hanger.

After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. 2 We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. 3 After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.

I’m getting an attitude with brother Luke. After all the things I wished he’d have told us, and he didn’t, at his point in his travels he feels compelled to blog. Luke! Now you give detail?!? Unloading cargo was a big deal?  Where was this kind of reporting when Paul met Aquila and Priscilla? Why didn’t you slip in a ‘farewell to Silas’ moment?

I’m probably being a little too disrespectful here, but remember, Luke makes no claim to be anything other than a reporter. Without his testimony we’d have almost no written record at all of the beginning of the early church. Thank you, Luke. But really? Great travel journaling; I’d have killed for some other details: what was it like to pray with Paul? when did you become a disciple? were you really a painter? What was Lyidia like?

And let me take my tongue out of my cheek and clearly say, there’s more in these few sentences than maybe meets the eye. They tore themselves away… what relationships! What love! The next day we went to Rhodes, what an incredible international port; once the home of an amazing wonder, the Colossus. They sighted Cyprus… what memories Paul had; what stories he could tell Luke as they went on their way to Tyre, drawing nearer and nearer to Jerusalem.

4 We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days.

We don’t have any stories of the birth of the Tyre church, but here’s a fact that Luke slips in elegantly: a church had to exist there for disciples to be sought out. Just a little snapshot of how thoroughly our brethren spread the word 2000 years ago! So many places, each with some story maybe as dramatic as the few we get to read about in Acts.

Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

Another town, another church, another group of loved ones saying, “Don’t go to Jerusalem! Please don’t go!” Paul is closer and closer to Jerusalem and as he gets closer the warnings get no less intense.

Tyre was an important seaport on the Mediterranean and has a fascinating history. This photo is almost a hundred years old.  You can see that at one time this island and the main land part of the city formed a strategic port and if you get really interested you should read the story of what happened here when Alexander the Great laid siege and eventually conquered Tyre.

Tyre was famous and historic and a little over 300 miles from Jerusalem. Paul has now been warned from one side of the Mediterranean to the other to not go to Jerusalem, and now he’s making his final approach.

5 When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. 6 After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.

7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters…

Again, a church planting that know almost nothing about; but it happened. Just in the course of the gospel spreading dynamically churches have been planted and are spreading everywhere.

…and stayed with them for a day. 8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

If you’re in the show, you know how I love Philip and the story I build about long time desire to go home and marry and have a family. I love that this guy, probably a Hellenistic Jew, who we first see helping widows, then the Samaritans, then a Eunuch;  now has daughters.  And clearly, he’s no misogynist; they’re all preachers. Maybe that wasn’t so unusual in those days. As Peter quoted Joel in that first sermon: “and your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” Something to think about.

I’ve sinned greatly in my life and there’s so many things I’ve said and done that I wish I could take back.  But I’m thankful for the time God has given me to learn and to repent in at least a couple of areas of my life. And little has influenced me to change more than having daughters.

Listen, I used to say things and think things that I don’t think or say anymore. I have truly changed in this one area that I’m about to jump into with all fours, but it took me so so so very long to change; so I can be patient with folks who haven’t caught up yet. But let me not water it down: I HATE when someone says something like, “you throw like a girl” unless they mean it as a compliment, and you know that’s not usually the case; you know what I mean.

“Don’t cry like a little girl” is another one that I hate. Or when guys talk about women drivers; or ‘that time of the month’… or virtually any ignorant, insensitive, sexist comment.

I also HATE when people think it’s okay to say, “oh, you’re so gay” or “man up” or any sexist remark that goes hand in hand with homophobia, misogyny, racism, ableism… I know whole ministries that are known for being “manly” in that way and I don’t mind telling you, that kind of talk is not Christ-like. If we do it we need to repent.

Philip went to Samaritans and they were the objects of racism demonstrated by the Jewish crowd. He went to the eunuch, someone who could not possibly get circumcised before he was baptized, and that  was apparently the teaching up until that very moment. Philip just saw a lost soul and taught him and baptized him. Philip is a living example of following a Lord who was known for loving everyone, even those considered outcasts by society; especially those.

So when I see Philip having 4 daughters who prophesied, I chuckle and know that it just fits what I now see as a real disciple living in a kingdom where there’s neither male nor female; slave of free; Jew or gentile: a person who does not discriminate, does not hate, does not judge, but loves the lost and treats everyone the way Jesus treated lepers, Samaritans, sex trade workers, tax collectors… sinners. No one felt more loved anywhere on Earth, in any club, in any gathering, in any circle; than how they felt when they were with Jesus. And that’s how a lost world should feel when around Christians. Convicted by the word, not by our distain, or smug, judgmental attitudes. Convicted by the word, but loved by us.

10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

Really?! Talk about a dramatic entrance. Talk about interactive, visual aid rich, message delivery. Talk about getting in someone’s personal space. He takes off Paul’s belt…? He ties himself up with it….?

Come on. Paul! How much clearer a warning do you need? DO NOT GO TO JERUSALEM!

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.

Again, with the warning.

Now we’re in Caesarea, only 75 miles from Jerusalem.

Closer and closer and more loved ones pleading, “Please, we’re begging you. Don’t go to Jerusalem! Stay here. Or go anywhere else. Go back to Philippi! At least you already know the jailer there!”

13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

15 After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

Mnason could have been one of those men who first preached to gentiles in Antioch. Remember? The ones fleeing from Jerusalem?

And, by the way; did you know, that one of the strongest stories about Barnabas was that he was the rich young man who went away sad from Jesus? But then he became a follower and after the church began he sold his property, which was in Cyprus, and laid the money at the apostles feet. It’s a cool story, whether it’s true or not; imagine if the name of the young man who went away sad from Jesus was a name that meant “encouragement”.

But it sure seems to me that there had to be some kind of relationship between Barnabas and these Cyprus guys who went to Antioch way back during the first persecution. If it’s true, and Mnason had been in Antioch way back then; well now, obviously, Mnason has moved back to the center of the universe, Jerusalem, or its outskirts at least; and he plays host to Paul when he arrives.

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

On a side note, I started a series years ago that I never finished. How many reasons can you imagine for me calling this series “The Attempt”…? Anyway, you might like to see it sometime. And this is a reminder to me to get back to that story and climb that mountain some day… https://portlandchurch.org/media/james/

You’ll also see a Hebrews thing there. I’m reminded of those old links because when I see Paul getting to Jerusalem this time, I’m seeing a church that looks and acts very different from what we have probably been taught in Sunday school. In some ways, the level of tolerance for different opinions was apparently much higher than what we usually have today.  You had disciples who kept the law of Moses religiously; but they accepted, at least intellectually, the gentiles; and had learned that they could not bind the law of Moses on them officially. But on the other hand they expected their Jewish brethren to keep the law even if they were born again believers of Jesus. Funny people. But you see these moments when they fight for peace and unity wherever and whenever they could.

Also, another thing: remember the vow Paul took when he shaved his head back in chapter 18? In Cenchreae? As I said then, I think that vow had something to do with Paul’s decision to come to Jerusalem. And I think the way someone wore their hair and beard when they took that kind of vow, as it was growing back,  was visually a dead giveaway that you’re a devout Jewish man taking a vow. I’m going to have to research this more, but I think the last time Paul was in Jerusalem, he had just shaved his head and the brothers saw him adhering to a Jewish custom. This time, listen makeup department; I think as time has passed he has long hair, a long beard; and the brethren see he’s kept his vow and he’s going to be purified and end his vow. And before this stay in Jerusalem is over I think he’s going to the barber shop. But for now, picture that the way Paul appeared to his brothers was visually stunning in such a way that we see him actually living out his claim that he’d tried to be all things to all men.

When they saw Paul, and …When they heard this… the report of the gentiles becoming disciples… they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 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. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved.

In essence, they’re saying, “It’s obvious to us that you’re a good Jewish believer who loves the Lord and keeps the law, and needs a haircut and a shave; we can tell just by looking at you! So sponsor these 4 men to do what you’ve been doing and it will go a long way to helping our cause here in Jerusalem.”

Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

26 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.

I have no doubt that someone more familiar with the different purification rights and rituals of first century Judaism can correct a number of my sloppy assumptions. If no one bothers at this time, I promise that in time I’ll dig into this deeper, because it’s really important to paint a picture as best we can of what the Jerusalem church looked like back then. And this is great great stuff.

What I have little doubt about is that Paul shaving his head and his visits to Jerusalem are connected, and was evidence of his Judaism that the elders of the church did not overlook and tried to use to their advantage.

27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! 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.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

Remember Trophimus? Here’s where we find out he was an Ephesian.

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple…

This is violent!  This is it! Now it has begun! Now, all those warnings from all those disciples in all those towns are coming to pass. It’s happening; people told  Paul not to go to Jerusalem; pleaded with him to stay away from Jerusalem; but he went anyway and now it’s hit the fan. The ordeal has started. A mob coming at Paul from every direction grabs him and drags him… drags him! … from the temple…

…and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.

People are yelling everywhere, and their cries are spreading all over town. This isn’t a huge city and news spread instantly all over town: “What’s going on?”

“They’ve grabbed a follower of the Way and they are beating him to death.”

This is being shouted so loud that word gets back to the commander of the Roman guard housed in the fortress adjacent to the temple.

32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.

Paul is being lead to the Antonia Fortress. It was not an accident that it was built on the northwest corner of the fortress wall of the Temple. Josephus wrote something along the lines of the Temple dominated the city and the fortress was to dominate it all. In this model, that’s Antonia Fortress in the upper right corner.

It was a short walk from where Paul had been dragged out of the temple courts, to the fortress. From another angle, imagine Paul being lifted out a mob and carried up these steps:

35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”
37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:

…to be continued (that’s a cliff hanger).

Gina is going to lead us in prayer today. Gina is one of our greatest treasures. When we decided to do this show in St. Louis, Gina was one of the first people to call me and said, “I’m in! Whatever you need, I’m in!” gina

Gina is a talented actor, singer, dancer, writer, director, producer… she can do it all, and she has. And in our show I don’t know where we’d be without her. I’m so thankful to God for her. Let’s pray. Gina, please…?

Father God

I love you so much and feel so amazed that you have chosen me to be one of yours. Truly knowing you has and continues to be the most comforting thing my soul will ever know. You are the dad I always dreamed about, the friend I always wished for and the savior I need continually. I pray with every part of my heart that you will give each of us in this show, peace that only comes from being secure in you. Peace that makes the world know undeniably that YOU are at the helm. I pray that each of us feel the angels singing along with us, through us and for us as we attempt to bring you glory. I pray for the health and happiness in the heart of each one of us and that through this show we are united for eternity. Protect our unity and help us always have YOUR perspective as we work along side one another. Thank you God for who you are…your loving kindness is our longing and your wisdom is what we lean on. In your incredible sons name.


slj june 21, 2016

Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the https://portlandchurch.org

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