Trinity Second Sunday Morning Prayer (13 June 2021) Acts 23:12
Updated: Jun 13
Today’s meditation is based on our New Testament reading. In the reading, we heard about a challenging situation that Paul faced. Acts 23:12 says, “when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul”. In this verse, we read that the Jews took an oath to kill Paul. But why Jews did they want to kill Paul?
We know that Saul was a pharisee and a strong follower of the Old Testament laws and commandments. He received the order to slaughter the disciples and the followers of Jesus Christ. But when Jesus met him on his way to Damascus, his life was transformed. He became Paul. We can read about this in Acts 9. After Paul accepted Jesus and was baptised by Ananias, he started preaching about the resurrected Jesus in the same place where he executed the early Christians. He stayed a little time with the disciples in Damascus and “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God”. When Saul increased in strength and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus, proving that this is very Christ, the Jews took counsel to kill him. But the disciples helped Paul to escape from Damascus. He then went to Jerusalem, but the disciples and the first apostles hesitated to accept Paul because of what he had done to them as Saul.
Barnabas accepted Paul and Paul started preaching about the true God in Jerusalem. He proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the true God. When he had disputed against the Grecians, they planned to slay him. Again, some early Christians brought Paul down to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus. Barnabas and Paul ministered in Antioch for nearly a year. Barnabas and Paul were ordained for Lord’s ministry when they ministered in Antioch. At that time, a few Jews came from Judaea and insisted that circumcision was the only way to be saved (Acts 15:1).
When Paul had a dispute with Barnabas, he chose Silas and went to Derbe and Lystra. He saw a faithful disciple there and wanted to receive him in his ministries. Timothy’s father was a Greek and mother was a Jewess. Paul circumcised Timothy and continued his ministry with him. When Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem, the people with him were not happy because the Jews had planned to kill Paul. “Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus”. The people in Jerusalem advised Paul to purify himself with four men to prove that he kept the laws. Paul followed their advice but the Jews laid hands on him. We read this in Acts 21.
I would like to meditate on three questions today:
- Why did the Jews want to kill Paul?
- What is God’s expectation?
- Did Paul follow his preaching?
Why did the Jews want to kill Paul?
We know that God the Father made a covenant with Abraham. He gave Abraham circumcision as a prime commandment. God led Israelites out of their bondage land through Moses and Aaron. When they were in the wilderness, God gave ten commandments and the other Old Testament laws through Moses. Jewish people considered Moses next to LORD Jehovah. They continued to follow the circumcision law, the ten commandments and the various laws given through Moses. Paul preached that there is no need for physical circumcision. Jewish people believed that this preaching by Paul was against the Old Testament laws. They thought Paul was separating them from Moses. Moreover, Paul preached in the name of resurrected Jesus which was against the principles of Sadducees. These were the main reasons for the Jews wanting to kill Paul.
What is God’s expectation?
Circumcision: When God the Almighty Father called Abram, he was an idol worshipper. God separated him and changed his name to Abraham. He made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants through circumcision. Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised on the same day. Circumcision became the prime law for Abraham’s tribe. In other words, Abraham’s descendants received salvation through circumcision. The Israelites were circumcised in the wilderness before reaching the promised land. Although God the Father gave Old Testament laws and commandments to Israelites through Moses, His expectation was not physical circumcision. Deuteronomy 10:16 says, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked”. The Almighty Father expects the circumcision of our heart’s foreskins. God cautioned Israelites through prophet Jeremiah saying, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings”. Joel 2:13 says, “rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil”.
Sacrificing: Many laws and commandments were given to the Israelites about offering sacrifices for the remission of sins. We read about these in Numbers 15:24 and Leviticus 6:6-7. Jesus came into this world as a human and offered Himself as the one eternal sacrifice to stop this continuous cyclic process of committing sin and offering sacrifices. Hebrews 7:27 says, “Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself”. By dying on the Cross, Jesus fulfilled the law of sacrifice on the cross. He shed His blood for the remission of the sins of the whole world. Hebrews 9:22 says, “almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. Today, we do not offer sacrifices for the remission of our sins. “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace”.
Did Paul follow his preaching?
In Acts 15, we read that Paul and Barnabas did not agree with the teaching that circumcision was necessary to be saved. In the same chapter, we read Peter and James also agreed with this teaching. They did not want to “put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither” their “fathers nor” they “were able to bear”. But in the next chapter we read that Paul circumcised Timothy. He “circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.” Paul knew God’s expectation in Jeremiah 4:4 to circumcise the foreskins of the heart, but he physically circumcised Timothy to please Jews.
In Acts 21:13, Paul said he was ready to die for Christ in Jerusalem. But when he came to Jerusalem, he listened to what the elders said. He offered sacrifices and followed the Old Testament laws so “all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning” him “are nothing; but that” he “walkest orderly, and keepest the law.” He did this to please the Jews who wanted to kill him. He knew that Jesus had offered Himself as the Passover Lamb as the only sacrifice. But Paul offered sacrifices and followed the rituals to prove to the Jews that he kept the law. But in spite of doing this, the Jews laid hands on him to kill him.
In these two circumstances, Paul tried to please Jews, not God. But later he said in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things“. He refers to himself being a child in his spiritual growth. In his early days of following Jesus, he behaved as a child. When he grew in his faith, Paul asked God in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure”. When God used Paul, he spread the Gospel among gentiles and established the early church and Christianity. Peter denied Jesus thrice on the day before Jesus’s crucifixion. But when Peter received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he stood firm for Christ and led many to Christ. He died upside down on the cross for Christ .
All of us gathered here today are followers of Jesus. We have been coming to church for many years. We are very knowledgeable in the Bible. We have read the Bible many times. We know what God expects from us. Why are we following the commandments? Is it to please others? Is it to show ourselves righteous before the world? Or is it to bring us into a closer personal relationship with Jesus? Are we still like a child in our spiritual life? Or are we grown up to lead others to Jesus? Are we exalting ourselves or Jesus?
Have we removed the foreskins of our hearts? We cannot inherit eternal life without circumcision of our hearts. Do we pray to God like the Psalmist “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me”? We are called to watch and pray so that we enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Are we repenting and confessing our sins every day and moment to perfect our relationship with Jesus?
Like Paul, we may also have thorns in our life. When Paul said he had a thorn, God replied “My grace is sufficient for thee”. He says the same to us. When God asked Ananias to visit Paul, God said, “for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake”. Paul’s suffering was predetermined by God. Similarly, God has a plan for our lives when He chose us. When we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, His grace is sufficient to lead us through the paths He has for us. Like Paul said in Acts 20:24 we too can say, “none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God”.
May the grace of our LORD and saviour Jesus Christ be with us all and prepare us to inherit our eternal life in the kingdom of heaven with Him. At the end of our life, I pray we can be confident to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”. Amen!