When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” – Acts 21:27-36
I am a student of Church Growth. Now much out of favor with many, this discipline is useful and salutary for those who wish to remove barriers to people’s access to God and worship. It is true: church growth principles can be used to help a Lion’s Club be more successful. It is also true, however, that insights about how the church grows can help churches be more effective in their mission and ministry efforts. That doesn’t seem to be a bad thing to my way of thinking.
There is a danger, however, in an indiscriminate use of principles that essentially market the church, seeking to do whatever one can to attract people to the church. Certainly we ought not to make worship confusing, nor should we hide the restrooms, or try to be unfriendly to guests and visitors to our services. But we need somehow to convey the fact that it is a high and holy privilege to worship God. We’re not doing him a favor when we show up for church services. He is. And he shows up in order to do that.
Which brings me to Paul and Trophimus the Ephesian, whose supposed presence in the temple, instigated by Paul stirs up quite a conflagration. By the time it is unraveled, Paul is under guard, carried by soldiers, while the people call for his death. The ESV Study Bible notes:
The Jews from Asia (v. 27) charged Paul with defiling the temple by taking a Gentile (“Trophimus the Ephesian,” v. 29) beyond the stone barrier that divided the outer courtyard (Court of the Gentiles) from the inner sanctuary, which was off-limits to Gentiles, under penalty of death. But their accusation was a lie. Paul, knowing of the death penalty, would not have brought a Gentile into the forbidden area.
One commentator suggests that they shut the gates (v. 30) so that they would not desecrate the temple by murdering Paul there. I guess it’s OK to murder, just don’t do it in the temple! It could also be, however, that this was a move to prevent other gentiles from entering the temple. In either case, however, there is certainly a strong awareness of the sacredness of the temple. One does not saunter nonchalantly into the presence of God. But maybe they took it a bit too far.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple which divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sacred area was torn in two. God was saying by that act, that Jesus had provided direct access to God.
While it remains true that no one can approach God who is not totally holy and perfectly pure and righteous, it is also true that God’s gift to the world is the righteousness of Jesus, which we receive through faith. He provides full and free access to the Father. In fact the throne of God is now called a throne of grace, which we can approach boldly through Jesus.
The Jews of Paul’s day hadn’t quite worked that through. But today we may approach God boldly and with confidence in his mercy and love.