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Acts #67 (chapter 18:18-23)

The Book of Acts

From Judaism to Jesus

Part 1: Paul in Transition

Acts 18:18-23

 

When we study the book of Acts, it's important to keep in mind that it is a study in transitions. Luke is

describing the early years of the church after its beginning, and in a sense it is the Genesis of the New Testament as it records the beginning of the church.

 

And on the of the things we often overlook is that the church began primarily with Jews and these early Jewish converts had to transition out of Judaism and into Christianity. And as you might expect, that change took place very slowly and with great difficulty and resistance.

 

The book of Hebrews gives us the theology of the change from Judaism to Jesus as the writer reminds his hearers that the great heroes of early Judaism such as Moses and David and Joshua and Aaron and all of the priests have all been replaced by Jesus.

 

And beyond that, all the laws and ceremonies and rituals and practices of the Old Testament have found their fulfillment in Him as well. The entire system of sacrifices and offerings pointed to one final sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.

 

So the writer of Hebrews gives us the theology of that transition, but Acts gives us the history of it . as the church moves from Judaism to Jesus. And it was not an easy transition.

 

And what we have here in the closing verses of Acts 18 and through chapter 19, are some of the details of that transition as we meet some of the people and groups who were involved in that change.

 

There are three individuals or groups of individuals who are in transition. First, we have Paul, then Apollos and finally the 12 disciples of John the Baptist. And together they give a little composite of what this transition looked like.

 

Tonight we'll look at Paul, and in the coming days, we'll study the other two. And before I get into the text, I want to just point out that all three have some kind of connection to John the Baptist.

 

  1. that makes sense because John the Baptist is the last of the Old Testament prophets. And according to Jesus, he was the greatest man who ever lived. And all of these Jews pictured in chapters 18-19 were attached in some way to John. They were Jews. They were Messianic Jews. They were Jews with hearts ready for Messiah, and they were linked to John, the last Old Testament connection to the Messiah.

 

And now we seem them slowly bridging to Jesus and letting John fade away. That's exactly what John wanted to happen when he said, "I must decrease, and He must increase." What he was saying was, "You must let go of Old Testament, of me, and you must embrace Jesus Christ."

 

 

 

 

That doesn't mean we minimize the Old Testament. That means we adopt Christianity in full. The principles, morals, standards, and truths of the Old Testament are timeless, but the ceremonies and rituals went away when the new covenant came in.

 

So let's see how Paul begins to fully embrace this transition from verses 18-23.

 

verse 18

 

Now in the middle of all this narrative on ministry and preaching and miracles, and so forth, all of a sudden, the Holy Spirit inserts this little detail regarding Paul and this vow.

 

And at first reading, it almost appears to be incidental, and hardly worth considering. But in it, we get a little insight into the transition Paul is making from traditional Judaism to fully embrace Christianity.

 

And even though we primarily think of Paul as a Christian, before Paul was ever a Christian, he was a Jew who was absolutely engulfed and entrenched in Judaism. And yet, this little passage shows us he had just as tough a time as anyone else in making this transition.

 

Let me show you what I mean. Verse 18 tells us Paul stayed in Corinth for a pretty good while. And while he is there, he is encouraged in the ministry. He's made new friends; he's reunited with old friends. He preaches and sees results. And God shows up in some marvelous way to establish him and remind him of His faithfulness.

 

And Paul is so blessed that, apparently, he made a vow in gratitude for God. I'll explain that in detail in a minute. And then, he left Corinth and sailed

toward Syria. Now Syria is where Palestine is, where Jerusalem is. He's all the way over in Greece. So he's facing a boat trip of about 1,500 miles.

 

And, by the way, Priscilla and Aquila went with him, which tells us the church in Corinth is not dependent on these three individuals being there. It has developed some leadership during his stay.

 

And notice what happens: When Paul got to a place called Cenchrea, he got a haircut. Now we know there was a church there because we learn in Romans that Phoebe was a servant of the church in Cenchrea, but that's all we know about this city and church except Paul got his hair cut there. It must have been some kind of haircut if that's all God mentions!

 

And that's exactly right! It was some kind of haircut because it was connected to this vow that Paul made. So what is going on with this vow and this haircut?

 

Let me tell you what a vow was. In the Old Testament, there was a certain kind of vow that had to do with your hair that was called a Nazirite vow. It had nothing to do with Nazareth or being a Nazarene.

 

instead, Nazirite comes from a Hebrew root which means to vow something or to promise something. A Nazirite literally was a consecrated one. That's what it literally means. "Consecrated one."

The word is used to speak of holiness or devotion. So when a person took a Nazirite vow, he was saying, "God, I promise to consecrate myself totally to You." He was cutting himself off from every other thing. A Nazirite totally consecrated himself to God and the outward sign of that vow was to let his hair grow. It was an outward symbol to himself and everyone else that he was set apart to God.

 

We won't take the time to read it tonight, but you can get the Old Testament history of all that in Numbers 6. One thing in particular we need to know to understand what is happening in Acts 18 is that when a Nazirite vow was made, the man's hair would remain uncut for the duration of the vow.

 

Then, once the time period of the vow was past, and the vows could last from 30 to 100 days, they would go to the temple and have their hair cut and the vow would be completed through certain offerings.

 

And here we see Paul, so thrilled with what God has done for him, that he takes a Nazirite vow, let's his hair grow for the duration of the vow, and then, true to Jewish requirements, completes the vow with the cutting of his hair.

 

You say, "But Paul was now a Christian!" And that's my point. We're seeing Paul in transition. He's still a Jew. He still thinks in Jewish patterns, and he says, "Oh, I want to thank God and show Him how committed I am for what He's done for me." And the greatest commitment he could think of was a Nazirite vow, so that's what he did.

 

 

 

He made this vow while still in Corinth, stayed awhile, and by the time he got to Cenchrea, the time period of the vow had been fulfilled, and he followed the Jewish pattern and got a haircut.

 

By the way, a moment ago I mentioned that all the people in Acts 18 and 19 that we see transitioning from Judaism to Christianity have a connection to John the Baptist, so what's the connection to Paul?

 

In addition to short term Nazirite vows, there was such a thing as being a Nazirite for life. As far as I know, there were only three people in the Bible who were under a Nazirite vow from from birth. One was Samson, next was Samuel, and the third was John the Baptist.

 

It is interesting that neither of them ever made a Nazirite vow. With all three, those lifetime vows were made between God and the parents before the child was ever born.

 

All other Nazirite vows, such as we have here with Paul were either 30, 60 or 100 day vows. So why did Paul make this vow? The last great Nazirite that ever lived prior to Paul was John the Baptist, and I just think is very likely that Paul held John in such high esteem, not only because he was a great prophet, but because John the Baptist loved and served Jesus.

 

And motivated by this great Nazirite, I think Paul chose to make the same kind of commitment himself simply out of love and devotion for the Lord.

 

 

 

And now, Paul comes to Cenchrea, the days of the vow are completed and he cuts his hair.

 

Now, Mosaic law regarding the Nazirite vow required that once the hair was cut, it had to be presented before the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem, along with certain offerings. So here we have Paul in Cenchrea with a handful of hair and he's got to get to Jerusalem. So what happens?

 

verse 19

 

  1. the ship needed to stop in Ephesus, and Aquila and Priscilla stayed there. They may have been there for as much as 5 years.

 

verse 20

 

As we would expect, Paul went down to the synagogue and engaged those there in discussion about the Lord, and they wanted him to stay for a while, but he wouldn't do it. That's a switch! Usually they wanted him to leave and he stayed.

 

This time, they want him to stay, and he left. Why?

 

verse 21

 

He's in a hurry to get to Jerusalem. After all, he's got his hair in his hand, plus he doesn't want to miss the coming feast day, either Pentecost or the Passover.

 

And notice, his determination: "I must by all means keep the coming feast." He sounds more like a Jew than a Christian, doesn't he?

 

verse 22

 

What church? There is only one city in the world that the Bible always references as going "up" to and that is Jerusalem. And if it isn't named, it doesn't need to be. The prepositions give it away. So he went up and greeted the church and went back down.

 

He went to the Jerusalem church. There he greeted the church and even though it's not mentioned, I would guess he burned his hair and took care of that final part of his vow.

 

verse 23

 

  1. spends a little time in Antioch, then he's back on the road again to preach the gospel.

 

These verses give us a unique picture of a man in transition. He's a Jew by birth and nature, yet saved by the grace of God. And as the church is transitioning from its roots in Judaism to its faith in Jesus Christ, so also is Paul making that switch also.

 

And that change is hard. Paul is preaching the gospel and offering his hearers freedom from the law and its bondage. At the same time, there is something deep inside that compels him to honor Jewish vows and make certain their scriptural requirements are fulfilled and to keep the Jewish festivals and feasts.

 

Next time, we'll see Apollos in transition and then some others.

 

Let's pray.

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