Sermon: Zealous for the Law of God Acts 21:17-26

Zealous for the Law of God

Acts 21:17-26

Introduction

The Apostle Paul and the missionary team finally arrive in Jerusalem. Paul, going against everyone’s advice to stay away, walks into the great city. He meets with the leadership of the church and shares what God has been doing among the Gentiles then, James and the others share with Paul what God has been doing among the Jews. Both people, Jews and Gentiles, God has elected for salvation.

Notice with me how God’s Law found in the OT has become a great and powerful building block for the Gospel. Jews are now zealous for the Law because of its fulfillment in Christ and the Gentiles are freed from the letter of the Law.

TT- God’s Law found in the Old Testament is still binding on all Christians because it tells us who God is and what He requires.
Human need met by text

How is it that we are to view God? How is it that we are to worship God? How do we learn what He requires of us? All these questions are answered in the Word of God.

We have a great need to learn God rightly. Not just make up what we think as we go along. Who He is and what He requires and how He desires to be worshipped are not up to us to decide. They are up to us to learn and obey.
Our modern world does not know God. They use His name and believe they know Him but they do not. We have to stop giving our opinions about things and begin quoting Scripture about things. What God says about things can be found in the Bible.

The Supreme Court tells us Abortion is lawful. Seven Judges in 1973 determined that a woman could have an abortion if she so chose to. Millions of babies have been killed in their mother’s wombs…45% of women in America will have an abortion. It is lawful in America but is it lawful with God? How do we know? Where would you go in the Bible to see what God says about abortion?
The Supreme Courts in many states have ruled that same-sex marriages are now lawful. The sentiment today is that everyone deserves and has the right to love and be loved. Are same sex marriages lawful in God’s eyes? Where would you go in the Bible to find out?
We hear over and over about caring for the environment. The EPA and other agencies have passed many laws and set regulations concerning everything from exhaust levels on cars to taking oil out of paint. Should we be concerned at all about our environment? What does God say? Where would you turn in the Bible to find out what God says?

Acts 21:17-26 (ESV)
17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly.
18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law,
21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus 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.
25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

1. Jews and Gentile—One in Christ

17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly.
18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
I really don’t think we can fully appreciate the power of Luke’s opening words. Remember, Luke was a gentile believer. He tells us that at Jerusalem the Jewish Christians greeted them with great joy and gladness. I pray we can get a feel for what Luke wrote. Those who were once alienated because they were viewed as unclean are now fellow partakers of salvation with everyone else who believes. There must never be racism or any type of ethnic hierarchy with the Church. Regardless what color you are or what ethnic group you come from, no matter if you’re rich or poor, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

When Paul and the others arrived in Jerusalem they were very warmly greeted.

We see James, One of the pillars of the Jerusalem Church extending a warm welcome to Paul as well. This was much like a family reunion where the beloved were coming together in love and in Christ.

2. God’s Glorious Work for All People

19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law,
Next, Paul reviews his third missionary journey. It’s important to note, that after each missionary trip, he goes to Jerusalem. This, his last, is no different.

Notice who gets all the credit for the success Paul experienced among the gentiles… he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. Paul knew who was responsible for Gentiles coming to faith in Christ and it was NOT him. God had orchestrated the events that produced belief in the hearts of the Gentiles.

We must always remember that if anyone sees fruit in their ministry it is God who works. I can remember listening to puffed up people who boasted of the number of people they led to Christ. I had been around them enough to see them in action. They manipulated and literally badgered folks until they gave it and prayed the prayer, which is unbiblical, so they could be counted. These people who take credit for leading so and so to the Lord are simply trying to look good before men. They are attempting to steal the glory for themselves.
Isaiah 42:8 (ESV)
8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
The issue here is not the abilities of Paul but the issue really is that the Gentiles are also accepted into the Church through faith like the Jews. The mark that they are accepted is God endorsing the idea by bringing them into the fold.

Paul gives proof of the many thousands of Gentiles who were coming to Christ through the work of God.
Notice what James tells Paul…

20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.

So, not only is God doing a great work outside of Jerusalem among the Gentiles but also within Jerusalem among the Jews.

James mentions something that we should pause to investigate for just a moment… They are all zealous for the law,

Literally, the term is a noun…they were zealots for the law. Most commentators think this is a bad thing. But It seems that James is making a point which we’ll see in a minute. Coming out of Judaism is not mandatory to being a Christian. What I mean is that these Jews had learned of the coming Messiah and they were embracing Jesus as the Messiah. They had learned about the Passover and the blood that saved and they were embracing Jesus and trusting in His sacrifice and His shed blood. They were experiencing the fulfillments of the law in Christ and were not about to let go. Christ Himself said I did not come to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them.

When an orthodox Jew comes to Jesus his understanding and worship can be so much richer than anyone else. They were not called to forget but to reflect.

3. Jewish Christians

21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus 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.
The false teachers, the Judaizers, had lied about Paul. He never ever told the Jewish Christians to forsake their traditions or God’s law. Paul never taught for Jews to forsake the Law of Moses, to not circumcise their children, or to not walk according to the customs that God had ordained, only to see in all this how Jesus is the fulfillment.

The difference between the Judaizers and the Jewish Christians was that the former held Judaism as the means to salvation and the latter saw in Judaism God’s laws that pointed to Jesus Christ as salvation.

We must never think that a Jew must give up all their training, knowledge, and customs to be a Christian. They can remain zealous for the law so long as they are zealous for Christ.

James has a plan…
In order to prove that Paul didn’t view the Mosaic Law as eradicated, James wanted him to engage in a Mosaic rite, which four of the brothers were, in fact, already engaged in.

23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus 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.
These four brothers were reaching the end of their nazarite vow. If you remember, Paul had placed himself under the same vow. This was a time when one would dedicate himself to the Lord and to holiness. During this vow they would not cut their hair, come in contact with what is unclean. So now Paul would help these four fulfill their vow and even pay for the sacrificial animals that were required by the Mosaic Law to purify them all. By doing this, there would be more than words refuting the false accusations but their would be proof as well.

(Numbers 6:13-20)

4. Gentile Christians
25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

Here we have the formula, which was laid out by the church in Jerusalem during the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15.

Acts 15:6-21 (ESV)
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.
7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.
10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me.
14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.
15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things
18 known from of old.’
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,
20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
This remained orthodox Christianity for the Gentiles.

Additional Application

What we have seen today is that Jews still practiced much of their Judaism as Christians. They were freed from the curse of the Law through the saving work of Jesus the Messiah. They worshipped Jesus from an OT perspective. The OT set the foundation in which the fulfillment of just about every prophecy was to be found in Jesus.
The Gentiles were freed from the yoke of the Law. They did not have to practice Jewish traditions to become Christians.

One group was freed from the curse of the Law and the other from the obligations of the Law.

How are we to view the Law of God or Literally, the OT?

“We are living in lawless times, when disrespect for authority has led to widespread disdain for God’s commandments. People are behaving badly, even in church. Part of the problem is that people don’t know what God requires. Even among Christians there is an appalling lack of familiarity with the perfect standard of God’s law, and of course the situation is far worse in the culture at large. This ignorance undoubtedly contributes to the general lowering of moral standards in these post-Christian times, but it does as much damage to our theology. People who are ignorant of God’s law never see their need for the gospel. As John Bunyan explained it, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.”—Albert Mohler

Let’s try an experiment. I’m going to cite a few passages from Psalm 119 for our reflection. I’m asking that you read them existentially in the sense that you try to crawl into the skin of the writer and experience empathy. Try to feel what he felt when he wrote these lines thousands of years ago:

  •  Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).

• Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the very end (vv. 111–112).

• I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (vs. 131).

• Trouble and anguish have overtaken me. Yet Your commandments are my delights (vs. 143).

Does this sound like a modern Christian? Do we hear people talk about longing passionately for the law of God? Do we hear our friends expressing joy and delight in God’s commandments?

These sentiments are foreign to our culture. Some will surely say, “But that is Old Testament stuff. We’ve been redeemed from the law, now our focus is on the Gospel, not the law.”

Let’s continue the experiment. Let’s read some excerpts from another biblical writer, only this time from the New Testament. Let’s hear from a man who loved the Gospel, preached it, and taught it as much as any mortal. Let’s hear from Paul:

  •  But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).

• What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through law (Romans 7:8).

• Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (Romans 7:12).

• For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Romans 7:22).

Does this sound like a man who believed the law of God has no place in the Christian life? Read Paul carefully and you will find a man whose heart longed for the law of God as much as David’s.—RC Sproul

Exhortation

Love God’s Law. This is who God is. It’s not up for debate, we don’t get to make up our minds as to who God is. He is the God of the Bible…both the OT and the NT.

We have such an advantage. We can learn what the Jews knew about God because we have the OT. We can also see through the pages of the Bible how Jesus came, lived and died, fulfilling prophecy after prophecy. We have the Apostolic clarification in the Epistles…Oh, and we have the end of the story in the Book of Revelation.

God has blessed us greatly by giving us the entire Word of God.
Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day

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