“You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law. But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses […].”
I can’t quite seem to wrap my head around how the elders in Jerusalem sent Paul into clear and present danger based on rumors.
While they must have had the best intentions when ordering Paul to go into the temple, I cannot imagine modern elders ever asking a member of the congregation to make such a bold statement at the risk of his or her life. (Acts 21:4,11,12)
Their decision is all the more surprising because in a way, the people they were trying to win over were immature Christians who were unwilling to part with Jewish customs. (Acts 21:24,27,28; Rom. 2:28,29)
Paul humbly acceded, willing to make just about any personal sacrifice to settle divisiveness. (1 Cor.9:20)
Rather than crouch away from responsibility, he seized the opportunity to try to ‘legally establish the good news’ not only in Jerusalem, but throughout the Roman empire. (Acts 24:10-22; 25:10-12; Php. 1:7)
Most Christians today will never have to put themselves in life-threatening situations to prove their faith in God’s Word, but from time to time our humility is tested when our elders ask us to do something that does not make sense to us.
We should always try to put the congregation’s peace and unity before personal opinions. (Php. 1:8-10)
“I do not consider my own life of any importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.”
Paul did not feel entitled to the privilege of teaching others about Christ.
He humbly recognized that he was a sinner and attributed the success of his ministry to Jehovah God. (1 Cor. 3:6; 15:9,10; 1 Tim. 1:12,13)
When a need for financial aid struck the congregation in Jerusalem, Paul personally risked his life to carry relief over to them. (Rom. 15:25,26)
He fulfilled his sense of debt towards God, grateful for the ransom sacrifice that allowed him to be God’s friend. (2 Cor. 5:18)
If we have the privilege of sharing God’s good news with others, may we equally treasure it.
“All those who became believers were together and had everything in common, and they were selling their possessions and properties and distributing the proceeds to all, according to what each one needed.”
Were the first Christians practicing an early form of Communism?
The story of the first Christian congregation relates that they went from 120 members to over 3,000 people in a single day. (Acts 2:41,47)
Many of those people were from far away and had not originally planned to extend their stay in Jerusalem, but that is what they ended up doing in order to learn more about Christ. (Acts 2:5-11,42)
The generous Christians knew that very soon, they would be persecuted and eventually, Jerusalem would be destroyed, so their possessions would be lost. (Acts 8:1)
Their material things were put to better use because they had a sense of urgency, not because of a philosophical ideology.
While donations were administered by the congregation, property owners could choose how to manage their own assets. (Acts 2:46; 5:1-4)
Later on, a formal distribution was arranged for the benefit of widows only. (Acts 6:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:16)
Christians were always encouraged to share, even after the congregation had been well established. (Acts 20:35; Jas. 2:15-17)
But the fact that there were still class distinctions indicates that the congregation did not redistribute wealth as a rule. (Rom. 12:13; 15:26; 2 Cor. 9:7)
“Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”
While most Christians do not die as martyrs on account of their faith, the Apostle Thomas set a good example of willingness to follow Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice.
Two attempts against Jesus’ life had already been made in Judea. (John 8:59; 10:31)
Still, Jesus courageously returned to the area with the intention of resurrecting his friend, Lazarus. (John 11:11,14,15)
Jesus later emphasized the need to be self-sacrificing when he returned to Jerusalem a week before his death.
He prayed, “Father, save me out of this hour. Nevertheless, this is why I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27,28)
Jesus knew he was about to endure a great deal of pain, but he put his Father’s plan before his own comfort.
He trusted his followers would be willing to do the same, and Jehovah blesses them for that. (John 12:25,26)
“He said to them: ‘You will indeed drink my cup […].'”
When James and John asked their mother to ask Jesus if they could sit on either side of him in his kingdom, Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Matt. 20:22)
To this, they resolutely replied, “We can.”
Jesus’ companions had already left behind a successful fishing business to follow him, and he trusted them. (Mark 1:19,20)
He affectionately called them “the Sons of Thunder” perhaps because of their impetuous zeal. (Mark 3:17)
About eleven years later, James proved he could “drink the cup” of martyrdom when Herod Agrippa executed him. (Acts 12:1,2)
Despite outliving the other apostles, John also followed Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice when he was exiled to the island of Patmos for bearing witness. (Re. 1:9)
Jesus trusted they would remain loyal, and they did not disappoint.
They learned to slave for their brothers instead of seeking prominence. (Matt. 20:25-27)
Like Jesus, we should trust our brothers in the congregation will remain loyal despite their imperfections as we strive to do the same.
“[…] The sons of the Kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside.”
Jesus knew his Jewish contemporaries would reject him as the Messiah.
As God’s people, they were the first to have the opportunity of joining Jesus in his heavenly kingdom. (Gal. 3:29; Heb. 6:17,18)
But most rejected the signs that its king, Jesus, was walking amongst them. (Matt. 12:38-40)
Perhaps they expected the Messiah to rebel against Roman rule and establish God’s kingdom there and then. (Dan. 7:14; Luke 23:2; John 18:33-35)
Still, Jesus continued to carry out his ministry until the end, confident that God would bless all who eventually followed him. (Matt. 8:11, 20:28)
We do not know who will listen to us when we share God’s kingdom message in our communities, and most reject it.
But we can imitate Christ by enduring with a positive attitude.
“This was the error of Sodom your sister: She and her daughters were proud and had an abundance of food and carefree tranquility; yet they did not support the afflicted and the poor.”
Why was Jerusalem, the Holy City, compared to Sodom?
Sodom had been notorious not only for its immoral practices, which Judeans now surpassed, but also for its hardheartedness. (Eze. 16:47,48,50)
Over a hundred years before Ezekiel, the prophet Isaiah had also compared the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah, which led to his execution (Isa. 1:10; Isaiah’s Prophecy I: “Let Us Set Matters Straight; footnote)
Jesus, referring to the inhabitants of his day who ignored the signs that he was the messiah, stated: “It will be more endurable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than for that city.” (Matt. 10:11-15)
What about ourselves?
Do we respond to the Bible’s message with pride and hardheartedness?
As Christians, does our moral lifestyle include giving more of ourselves toward those who are spiritually, emotionally and physically in need? (Jas. 1:27)