Acts 21

Reading Luke and Acts in 2020

Week 45  |  Acts 21

Acts 21 Reflections and Questions

By Rev. Brian Tillman

Yesterday was Election Day. People all over the country have voted for who they feel should be President of the United States of America in this crucial time. I am writing this before the results are known to me. Like many of you, I cast my ballot early and I am praying for the result. I have no qualms in declaring that we need change in this country if there is any hope of salvaging whatever dignity we have left. It is past time for bold leaders to stand up and take their march to the power centers and call for moral leadership, justice, and righteousness. No more games. No more fence-straddling. It’s time for the truth to be set free.
These past few years have been brutal for many people. Especially so for Black people, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, people who are lesbian, gay, transgendered, bisexual, people who are poor, and now those who have been impacted by the pandemic. We’ve seen white supremacy in places where it once was hidden. This world is in a crazy time. Lies are being tossed around and squeezed for any ounces of truth and when all efforts fail, the lies still seem to prevail. The truth is being shutout, chained up, and attacked and even religious leaders participate in this sickening injustice.

Paul felt similarly in the first century.
In Acts 21, Paul is traveling toward Jerusalem. Those who love him have pleaded with him not to go. They know that going to Jerusalem will only result in Paul being arrested and possibly killed at the demands of the Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders feel their power being threatened. They feel their influence waning. They feel they are losing control of the people they oppress. They feel that this cannot be tolerated and Paul, and anyone else like him, must be stopped. The truth of the gospel must be smothered and covered! That meant that Paul’s message was a threat and that it would be neutralized at all costs.
But Paul was undeterred. He had come to learn the truth about Jesus and His gospel message. He would not be silenced from telling the truth or to sellout to a bunch of lies. Paul continued his charge to Jerusalem. After visiting with James and others, he went to the Temple, observing the law, but was met there, dragged out of the Temple, and beaten. A mob of people formed and those who arrested him had to guard him from them. He was arrested and bound with chains. The Tribune saved Paul from the people that day and Paul could have left well enough alone. He could have kept his mouth shut and taken the day to heal up and consider his steps. But Paul was a bold leader in a time when those who held leadership positions abdicated to cowardice and political expediency. He could not keep quiet and requested that the Tribune allow him to speak to the people. Paul, knowing full well how deeply he was hated, stood on the steps to speak and …
That’s when the chapter ends.
But you can probably guess based on what has already been shared what Paul does. It has something to do with truth-telling, speaking truth to power, standing bolding, and declaring what God demands about justice and righteousness and there was nothing anyone could say or do to convince him to stop.
The religious leaders did eventually kill Paul, but they could not kill the truth. They crucified Jesus, but could not crucify the gospel. They arrested Rosa Parks, but could not arrest the conviction of the people who boycotted the buses and walked for a whole year to demand fairness in public transportation. They beat Amelia Boynton, and cracked the skull of Congressman John Lewis, but they could not crack the audacity of hope in the people who walked 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery to demand voting rights. They lynched George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, but they could not lynch the faithfulness of the collective of drum majors for justice who still beat their drums day and night. God’s justice that has come, is here, and will continue coming day after day regardless of the results of the election. We all must stand up for the truth or step aside and watch God bring about His justice without us.
Questions to consider:

  • Paul’s actions are a great example for us. Where do you stand on lies, racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, murder, intelligence-phobia, science-phobia, and any other form of injustice or bigotry?
  • Do you stand so strongly with the gospel message of justice and righteousness that you are willing to stand up in the town square, in your Sunday school class, in front of your family, in the board meeting, in the middle of the place where you could enjoy comfort in exchange for your silence, but refuse it to sell out to the truth?
  • How will you stand up for truth, regardless of the outcome of the election?

Rev. Brian Tillman is chair of the Conference Commission on Religion and Race and Associate Pastor at Ben Hill UMC.