Sunday May 26th
Psalm 32:2 says that a man who God declares innocent is blessed! And in Acts chapter 20 we will find the Apostle Paul making the case for his own innocence.
Verse 1 begins right where chapter 19 left off, after the big riot in Ephesus that was started by the silversmiths:
1After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.
2When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece.
These worshippers of the goddess Diana certainly didn’t consider Paul to be innocent. They felt that he was turning people away from their goddess to this new thing called Christianity. And if spreading the gospel was a crime, then Paul actually WAS guilty. But if it’s a crime to spread the good news about having our sins forgiven through our faith in Jesus, then we ALL should be guilty of that! Paul escaped from Ephesus unharmed, and he continued to preach all throughout Greece. But his enemies were hot on his trail:
3And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
4And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.
5But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.
6We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.
Paul finds out that the Jews who have been following him around persecuting him are planning to kill him when he arrives by boat in Syria. So he foils their plot by sending the rest of his team ahead by boat while he secretly travels by land. When they all arrive safely, he continues his preaching at a town called Troas.
7On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.
8There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.
It’s interesting to note two things about this gathering:
9And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.
10But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him."
11When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.
12They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.
Paul’s long-winded sermon puts this poor boy to sleep and he falls out a third story window! By the way, this boy’s name, Eutychus, means “fortunate”, or “lucky”!
Falling from three floors up doesn’t sound very lucky for him OR for Paul, who might get blamed for being too long-winded! But Paul says, “I’m innocent! I was just preaching the gospel. It’s not my fault that he fell asleep. And besides, he’s not really dead.” Then Paul picks the boy up and brings life back into him, and just goes right back to preaching until daybreak!
After this episode, Luke and the others travel ahead by boat again, waiting for Paul to join them by land:
13But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land.
14And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene.
15Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus.
16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
17From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.
Paul really wanted to be in Israel to celebrate Pentecost, so instead of making a side-trip to Ephesus, he asked the elders from the Ephesus to meet him in Miletus. And when they arrived, Paul began to make his case for his innocence before God:
18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,
19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;
20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,
21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s first point in proclaiming his innocence is to remind them that he only had one priority, one focus, and that was proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus. Paul said the same thing to the Corinthian church in 1st Corinthians 2:2 “For I determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.”
Paul points out that it wasn’t easy carrying out his mission, and that he brought his message, “with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.” Then he tells them that he knows that the cost of his mission is about to get even higher:
22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,
23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.
24"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul has been receiving prophetic warnings as he travels from city to city, heading closer and closer to Jerusalem. They’ve been telling him that “bonds and afflictions” are in store for him once he reaches Jerusalem. We’re going to see a specific example of one of these prophecies in chapter 21. But Paul isn’t swayed by these warnings, he plans to finish the course and fulfill the mission that he’s been given. How certain is he that this trip will end with severe consequences?
Look at what he tells them next:
25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.”
And then Paul makes this powerful statement:
26"Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
There is a very specific Old Testament reference that Paul is making here in proclaiming his innocence. It’s found in two places, both in the book of Ezekiel:
17"Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.
18"When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
19"Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.
And again in Ezekiel 33:8-9
8"When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand.
9"But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.
Paul is making the point to these elders from Ephesus that he has fulfilled God’s command in Ezekiel; he has called out a warning like the watchman on the tower, crying out to sinners to turn from their wicked ways and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Paul says, “I have blown the trumpet of the Gospel for all to hear. Some have listened and some haven’t listened, but those who have rejected the truth bear their own guilt. They can’t say that they weren’t warned. That’s why I can proclaim my innocence today!”
And then Paul gives a warning to these elders, because they are also responsible before God for protecting their flock. He says:
28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
Paul reminds them that they too must answer to God for the lives of the believers that He has entrusted to them. And these believers will need protection, Paul says, from attacks from the outside AND from the inside! The outside attackers Paul calls “savage wolves”. That probably included the Judaizers, those who were trying to put new Christian believers back under legalistic submission to the Old Testament laws. Those who might rise up from within the church Paul says will speak “perverse things”.
Here’s what he means by this: Legalism is a problem, but the opposite problem is something called license. Our freedom in Christ doesn’t give us a license to sin! But Paul says that these folks will “draw away” some disciples. Why? Because some people want to say that they are Christians but still continue their sinful lifestyles. If they can find a leader who tells them that it’s okay to live like that, they’ll follow that leader rather than following what the Bible says!
Paul finishes up the defense of his innocence with one more point:
32"And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
33"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes.
34"You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.
35"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
36When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
37And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him,
38grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
Paul’s last statement of his innocence has to do with money. He reminds them that he didn’t get rich from preaching the gospel. He wasn’t like some TV evangelist who has several mansions, Rolls Royce, and a private jet! In fact, he worked as a tent-maker while he was with them so that he could help to meet the needs of the poor.
Ultimately, the only real innocence that we have when we stand before God comes from having our sins forgiven and our souls cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The day that we put our faith in Him, and His death on the cross, God pardoned our sins and declared us innocent, because Jesus paid the price for the things that we were guilty of!
But at the same time, God is calling us to live pure, holy, and innocent lives once we are saved, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.
That’s why we as a church have taken the time to enter into this season a fasting and repentance. And we, just like Paul, are headed towards Pentecost.
In these next couple of weeks, leading up to Pentecost Sunday, let’s be sure that we are standing before God with willing and open hearts to receive correction from Him in any area of our lives where we are not living according to His standards. We should all be aware, like Paul was, that one day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and we will all give an account of the things that we have done with our lives.
Paul wanted to stand before God not only innocent because of Christ’s forgiveness, but also innocent because of how he chose to LIVE in response to that forgiveness. That’s the challenge that stands before each one of us.