We pick up with Paul in Ephesus after a 3 year stay, where he had a conflict with local artisans. He wrote about it in his first letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
This is the first reference (the first formal reference, at least) to the Lord’s Day in The Acts of The Apostles, and you get the impression that when Paul comes (and it is to Philippi that he eventually will come) and he’s there with Luke, you get the impression that they’re engaging in a certain activity that they’ve been engaging in for some time on the Lord’s Day.
he hears of a plot, a plot to kill him…a Jewish plot to kill him. And he heads back up to Macedonia, heads back towards the districts of Thessalonica and Berea, and eventually to Philippi, and eventually across the Aegean again to Troas.
Luke tells us that he didn’t travel alone. It was a wise policy, of course, not to travel alone. There’s a whole slew of people, there’s a group here of ten people that we know of in this party. One is Timothy, from Lystra; Aristarchus and Secundus come from Thessalonica in Macedonia; Tychicus comes from Asia; Sopater comes from Berea; Trophimus, from Ephesus; Gaius comes from Derbe; Titus and Luke come from Antioch. We’re not quite clear where Luke has been; all we can say is that when he gets to Philippi, Luke is there, because all of a sudden, you notice, we’re back to we again. And they were gathered together to break bread. Already, do you see, the church in Troas…of which we know almost nothing…but this little church, this little community that has gathered together in Troas on the first day of the week, on Sunday, they’re gathering together. And they’re gathering together for the purposes of breaking bread and, as we see here, of listening to preaching, of listening to the word of God being expounded. There’s no mention here of singing. We do have reference here to two things: preaching and the Lord’s Supper.
The Reformers, especially, drew from this particular passage the lesson that the Supper was celebrated after the preaching of the word, and it’s always been the case in Reformed worship that first of all there’s the exposition of Scripture and then there is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Eutychus, this eight to fourteen year old boy who’s on the third floor window sill. He falls to the floor. the grammar here seems to imply that he came to life as a consequence of something that Paul did; that Paul comes running down the stairs and takes him up, and life comes back into this boy. what was Paul doing? He was engaging in a ministry of comfort. It’s the word that’s used for the Holy Spirit. He is the Comforter. Jesus has promised “I will send another Comforter.” Jesus is a Comforter; the Holy Spirit is another Comforter. The ministry of Paul here is a Spirit-like ministry, it’s a Jesus-like ministry.
The distance from Troas to Assos was about 30 miles by sea (20 miles by
land). Paul’s companions went by ship. Paul chose to “go on foot” and met them at Assos where he would board the ship.
It had bee approximately four years since Paul had established the work in Ephesus. Paul addressed the Ephesian elders at Miletus. Luke is giving us a description of the journey that he and Paul make from parts of the north. And having been at Troas, Paul is now picked up in this ship. He had intended to go by land, but Luke has now joined him. He’s brought on this ship to various places, eventually to come to this port city of Miletus, not too far from Ephesus where he had spent, you remember, three years of ministry. Luke tells us that he intended to pass by Ephesus, probably because he knew that once he got there he’d never get away again. There were friends there. There were ties there. There were bonds of love and affection there. But he wants to say a word to the elders at the church in Ephesus, and he calls them to Miletus. We don’t know how many elders there were, just that they were in the plural.
We know from something Luke has told us way back in Acts 14 in the province of Galatia that it was Paul’s habit, custom, to ordain elders in the churches that under God he was enabled to establish in these various places. These elders are variously described here. They’re called elders, or presbyters, in verse 17. In verse 28, although our English translation somewhat hides the fact, but twice he refers to them as shepherds, or as doing shepherding work. They are shepherds who take care of the flock of God. And then, again in verse 28, he refers to them as overseers, or as we would sometimes transliterate that word from the Greek, bishops. Presbyters, shepherds, bishops…there are three different Greek words, but he intends the same office by all three words, describing various functions of that office of an elder.
First of all, he gives to us a pattern of apostolic ministry. He relates what he had done three years in Ephesus, and he does so along a six-fold trajectory. He tells them first of all that his ministry among them had been selfless. He says in verse 19, “…serving the Lord with all humility.” He goes on to explain in verse 24, that he doesn’t consider his life as dear to himself on any account, “…in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” He’d engaged in this work because he’d been called to this work. He engaged in this work out of a love for the people to whom he ministered. It wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about building an empire for the Apostle Paul. It wasn’t about what his name would gain by way of reputation in the various cities and provinces to which he went. His ministry was entirely for the sake of Christ, he says.
In the second place, he describes his tears, once in verse 19: “…serving the Lord with all humility and with tears….”; and then again in verse 31: “Therefore [he says] be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
It had cost him. He’d got emotionally and affectionately involved in this ministry. He wasn’t a mere professional. He didn’t do this because this was his job. He loved the people. He entered into friendships with certain people. There were certain loyalties and ties and bonds of affection. He tells us in verse 20 that he had ministered from house to house; he’d been in their homes, he’d had supper with them.
He mentions, in the third place, the cost of his ministry. He speaks in verse 19 of the plots of the Jews. All of Paul’s ministry, as all ministry, is engaged in in enemy occupied territory, where the devil roams, where Satan prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
Fouth, he mentions the impartiality with which he engaged in this ministry. He mentions in verse 21 that he had ministered to both Jews and Greeks. And he mentions, fifthly, the fact that he’d been a tentmaker in Ephesus, as he had been in Corinth. He elaborates on it in verses 34-35, how he’d been a burden to no one, how he’d worked making leather goods for him and those who worked alongside with him.
And last, that the principal focus of his ministry…and note how he puts it in verse 27: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” Or, as the King James has it, “The whole counsel of God.” Paul had declared the whole truth about God. The word counsel or purpose is one of those Greek words…a group of words…that revolves around the notion of election and predestination, and the eternal plan, and the eternal purpose of God. That had been the focus of Paul’s ministry, the plan and purposes of God. Paul also warned against false teachers from both within and without the church. Acts 20:29-31.
He charges the elders, in verse 28, with three things: To take care of themselves; to take care of all of the flock of God; and, to do so watching for the enemy of souls who prowls about. These are his final words to them. This is his swan song, as far as Paul is concerned; he could be arrested in Jerusalem, and he could be executed.
It was an enormous task given to the Elders, the commission he had given them, could have been partly what caused their serious concerns.
Paul Goes to Jerusalem
We see a little glimpse of the bonds of affection and companionship and friendship that Paul had evidently formed with the people in Ephesus, and particularly among the eldership, particularly among the leaders of the church in Ephesus. He had been there for three years, but it was the word that Paul had said to them that they would see his face no more that had especially got to them.
Paul knew he would suffer in Jerusalem. God revealed this to him so that he would be prepared for what lay ahead, not so that he could avoid it. Paul understood this and was willing not only to suffer in Jerusalem, but if need be, to die for the name of the Lord Jesus, who died for him. As an unbeliever, Paul had undoubtedly watched many suffer joyfully at his own hand. He was likewise ready to suffer in the same way.
Second, our text instructs us regarding the will of God for our lives. When you stop to think about it, our text isn’t just about taking advice; it is about knowing God’s will for our life. Going to Jerusalem was about fulfilling the prophecy revealed to Paul at the time of his salvation. This prophecy revealed the will of God for Paul’s life: Act 9:15
From beginning to end, Paul experiences great opposition and thus great suffering for his identification with Christ. No surprises here, for Paul or for any other Christian (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). When Paul came to faith, he chose to identify with our Lord Jesus and to follow Him.
The Book of Acts has a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. God sovereignly works to assure us that the Great Commission of Acts 1:8 is fulfilled. The harder the Jews work to oppose the gospel, the more effective it is, because salvation is God’s work (Acts 13:48; 16:14). On various occasions, God delivered His servants from the grasp of the Jews, of Gentiles, and even of Rome (Acts 5:17-20; 12:1-23; 16:16-40). On the other hand, God sometimes used the death of a martyr to advance the cause of the gospel (Acts 6:8—8:2). Paul knew that God could rescue him from death, but he was also assured that God might use his suffering and death to bring glory to Himself.
What was this about, this Nazarite vow? (Numbers 6:1-2)
A Nazarite vow was a vow taken in gratitude for some special blessing. It involved abstention from meat and wine for thirty days. During the thirty days the hair had to be allowed to grow. It appears that least the last seven days had to be spent entirely in the Temple courts. At the end of the vow, certain offerings had to be offered: a. A year-old lamb for a sin offering. b. A ram for a peace offering. c. A basket of unleavened bread cakes. d. Cakes of fine flour mingled with oil. e. A meat offering. f. A drink offering. The hair had to be shorn and burned on the altar with the sacrifice. It is obvious that this was a costly business. This would mean Paul would have to take part in the purification ceremony for entering the temple. (Numbers 6:9-20) Paul submitted himself to this Jewish custom to keep peace in the Jerusalem church. (1 Cor. 9:20)
Paul is in the temple and two things happen: one, accusations are made; and, two, an arrest is made. Towards the end of that week some Jews from Asia — probably from Ephesus… they’d given Paul trouble in the past…they had probably followed him to Jerusalem. They recognize him. Paul had been in Ephesus for three years. He would easily be recognizable, as well as this man called Trophimus. He’s one of the nine people that have accompanied the apostle on this journey. Trophimus was from Ephesus. They recognize him, too. But he’s a Gentile. And they bring an accusation that Paul has brought a Gentile into the temple.
The temple is divided into various sections, and what Luke is trying to say to us is it would have been OK for a Gentile to find himself in what was called the Court of the Gentiles, the outer court. But the inner court, the Court of Israel, where the two courts were divided by a wall three and a half to four feet high….along the wall at regular intervals, posted in Greek and Latin, were dire warnings that anyone bringing a Gentile into the Court of Israel would face death. And the Romans had granted the Jews the right to exercise that penalty in the temple. The Romans themselves had no access into the Court of Israel.
The Temple Warning Inscription stone; found in Jerusalem in 1871; housed in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey. It measures: 13¼”x 8¾”x 5¾”.
These markers were placed in the outer court of the Temple platform warning all Gentiles not to enter the inner court area of the Temple on penalty of death.
Translation: “Let no foreigner enter within the parapet and the partition which surrounds the Temple precincts. Anyone caught [violating] will be held accountable for his ensuing death.“
It’s a scurrilous charge: there’s no basis whatsoever to this charge, as Luke is trying to tell you. There is no way that Paul would have brought Trophimus into the Court of Israel. And then there’s another charge, a charge we’ve heard before, and we’ve heard it from the lips of James: that there were certain people who are of the opinion that Paul was teaching men not to obey the laws and customs of Israel. Now here’s the irony. Paul is obeying a custom of the Jews. He is undergoing a rite of purification. He has made notice that he will pay for the expenses of these four men undertaking a Nazarite vow. And he’s being accused of not being obedient and of teaching a lack of obedience to Jewish laws and customs.
And so he’s arrested. In the northwest corner of the temple there was a structure known as the Fortress of Antonia the Antonia Fortress. It had been built by Herod the Great, and paid for by a friend, Anthony, and this fortress was built in such a way that the Roman garrison in Jerusalem could look down into the courtyards of the temple and ensure that any trouble that would break out — as occasionally it did — they could immediately go in and deal with it. The commander of the troops, a man by the name of Lucius, takes a few of his soldiers to rescue the Apostle Paul, and Paul has now been brought from the Court of the Gentiles in the temple to the steps of the Antonia Fortress. These steps led right down to the very beginning of this outer court of the temple, and it’s at that point that we pick up the reading.
Paul Speaks to the People
And this commander of the Roman forces has made now this assumption in his mind that Paul might be in fact an Egyptian insurrectionist, But hearing him speak Greek, he immediately realizes his mistake.
We will pick up next week with Paul’s address to the people.