Acts 21:17-26 Video Devotional

“When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 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, 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. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 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. 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.” 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.” (Acts 21:17-26)

If the book of Acts were a movie or screenplay, this is where Act III would begin. The stakes are ramping up and getting serious. Paul, on his way to Jerusalem, arrives and connects with James and the elders in Jerusalem. All of Paul’s adventures are recounted and God is glorified. It doesn’t seem (at least from our vantage point) however, that they fully got the message that the Gentiles are a part of this too – or at least that Paul wasn’t trying to destroy everything that had been built thus far.

The elders respond by asking Paul to walk through the purification rituals with some others that had been in a vow, the thought behind this being that it will calm the Jews down as they learn about his ministry to the Gentiles. Culturally, we know that what Paul did was a huge affront to the Jewish culture and this is where the conflict begins to take shape. Even with the elders making sure to dot all their “I’s” and cross every “T” with the letter they sent, there was only hope that the Jewish majority would accept this and therefore accept Paul.

What Paul then did was to go along with the elders and purified himself along with the others. Was this an appeasement like what he criticized Peter doing in Galatians? It can look that way, but I don’t think so. I think this is more of Paul working so that the heart of his message is received by his brethren. An “all things to all people so that by all means” type of effort. Paul purifies himself to show respect to the Jewish traditions and get them to the point to where they may be willing to accept him and even accept the Gentiles that were now their siblings in the faith.

The purification was a step of love towards his own people, even though he knew they were going to have to swallow the hard truth that Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit as well. Would you be able to lovingly confront like Paul? Or would you avoid that conflict? Or forget the love part? Paul was in an impossible position, but he did everything he could with love. That’s a pretty amazing witness to the power of the gospel – especially considering what we know about Paul’s personality.