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Acts 21:1-21:36
Key Verse: 21:13

Thank God for teaching us Paul’s exemplary shepherd life, serving the Lord with great humility, leading people to repentance and faith in Jesus, the completion of the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace, raising shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood, being watchful of false teachers who distort the truth, and practical life of working hard and giving. May we learn of him as we follow our Chief Shepherd Jesus (1 Pe 5:4). Today’s passage is about Paul’s going up to Jerusalem and his arrest there. In his journey to Jerusalem he showed his life direction and purpose to be ready to do anything for the Lord Jesus, even to die in Jerusalem. May God speak to us.

First, Paul’s decision to die for the Lord Jesus (1-16). In verses 1-3 we see Paul’s travel from Miletus, to Cos, Rhodes, Patar, Cyprus and Tyre in Phonecia. Look at verse 4. “Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” We don’t know who pioneered Tyre, but how good it was that disciples were found there. The disciples must have heard of Paul and welcomed him wholeheartedly. Paul and his companions were so happy to see the disciples that they could not leave Tyre right away but stayed there seven days. As they stayed together for a week, they loved one another very much. Then the disciples in Tyre urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Luke specifically wrote that their urging was through the Spirit. So it seemed to be God’s will for Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. At this what did Paul do? Look at verse 5. “But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way.” Despite their urge Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem was firm and could not be shaken. He had made this decision after seeing the powerful gospel work in Ephesus (19:21). Nothing could discontinue his way to Jerusalem. At this the disciples did not feel sorry for Paul’s not listening to them. Rather they and their wives and children accompanied Paul and his companions out of the city, and there on the beach they all knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, Paul’s team went aboard the ship, and the disciples’ families returned home.

Look at verses 7-9. “We continued our voyages from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (We remember Philip in Acts 8. When a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. Through him God worked mightily that there was a great joy in that city. And then God led him to meet an Ethiopian eunuch in the desert road and tell the good news about Jesus to the eunuch. After the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the Spirit took Philip away and he came to Caesarea. Since then he must have lived there for nearly 20 years.) As for Luke the author, it must have been a very meaningful time for him to encounter Philip, one of the Seven, in his house. Luke did not write how long they stayed in Philip’s house. Surely he heard about so many stories regarding the Jerusalem church of the early Christian days including Stephen’s martyrdom and his speech and Philip himself, his life and ministry which Luke wrote in detail in Acts. As for Paul, he may have reminded of his terrible sin of giving approval to the death of Stephen and persecuting the early Christians, and have gone deeper in the grace of the Lord Jesus. Yet, we wonder why Luke wrote that Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Anyway, in their young age they seemed to be spiritual and devoted to God different from many young girls of those times. They could have prophesied about Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, but they were silent. There was no comment at all about it. Luke wrote, “Philip had four daughters who prophesied” and that’s it. Probably Philip’s daughters were humble and prayerful.

Not Philip’s daughters but another person prophesied about Paul’s journey. Look at verses 10 and 11. “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’” Agabus had appeared in chapter 11. He came to Antioch church and through the Spirit predicted that a sever famine would spread over the entire Roman world. So the disciples in Antioch made offering for Jerusalem church, which was delivered by Barnabas and Saul (11:27-30). Now Agabus dramatized his message about what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem. His dramatized message was so effective that all Paul’s companions and the people there who heard it pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Luke was also included in that pleading.

In today’s passage it was the second time for people to urge Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Undoubtedly all were out of love for Paul. But how did Paul respond to it? Look at verse 13. Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Paul was not dissuaded, although his heart was broken at their earnest plea. Was it because he was too stubborn to hear others’ advice? Certainly, not! Or was he rejecting the message through the Holy Spirit? No. It was because he was so assured of the Lord’s will through the Holy Spirit, being compelled by the Spirit to go up to Jerusalem and warned by the Holy Spirit about his hardships there (20:22). In addition to that Paul particularly said here, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” It meant he was ready to do anything for Jesus, even to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord Jesus. We know that when Paul said that he was ready to die for Jesus, it did not mean that he had lived for himself and then now suddenly wanted to die for him. He had undoubtedly lived for the Lord Jesus and now was ready to die for Jesus as the culmination of his continuous life for the Lord Jesus. He had lived for Jesus and now was willing to die for him. His death would be the expression of his great love for Jesus, as Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Look at verse 14. “When he was not dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’”

Here then we can think about how we can discern God’s will amid many voices including the voices of loved ones, even the voices that claimed through the Spirit. What is the distinguishing mark? It is whether one wants to save his life or give his life for the Lord Jesus. When we think about Paul’s life, we wonder why he suffered so much. Was there no easy way for him to believe in Jesus and follow him? Yes, there was. Paul said in Galatians 5:11, “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished.” And he said in Galatians 6:12, “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Here we see that there were two kinds of preachers, preachers of circumcision and preachers of the cross, which has been so throughout Christian history. Circumcision represents the works of men. The preachers of circumcision are those who give the message that human good acts along with Jesus’ cross contribute man’s salvation. But they gradually water down the cross of Jesus and then nullify it. Paul, however, simply because he preached the gospel of the cross that Christ Jesus died for man’s sins and all are sinners and should repent and believe in Jesus to be saved, was persecuted and suffered much. At this time Paul was going to Jerusalem to deliver the offering of the Gentiles to the saints in Jerusalem and thus unite both churches in Christ. But in the next part we see that he was arrested because he preached the gospel of the cross so clearly and was misunderstood as if he taught against the law. Paul was pained in his life because in truth many lived as enemies of the cross, although they claimed to believe in Jesus. The reason why they lived as the enemies of the cross was that they wanted to avoid suffering and live a comfortable life with ease and glory in this world in the name of Jesus (Phil 3:18-12). But Paul cleared said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He taught God’s flock in Philippians that to believe on Jesus and to suffer for him go together (Ph 1:29). Throughout his Christian life Paul lived as a defender and preacher of the gospel of the cross, which is against human sinful nature, to the point of death. He could do so because he had a clear life direction in Christ Jesus, which was well expressed Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

In our times there are various kinds of believers, in truth two kinds: one kind to believe and be saved for their own happiness and success in this world, another for Christ and Christ’s kingdom. When we are ready to live and die for Christ, everything becomes clear with no confusion and no wavering. We can have a discernment to know how to live as believers of Christ in this world. When we think of being ready to die for the Lord Jesus, it seems to be too much. But we should know that Christ Jesus died for us. When we hear about someone’s dying for others, it moves our hearts. There was a nineteen year old girl in Japan who lived with her father, a widower. The daughter was a devout Christian, but the father was a robber. Time after time she tried to help her father to believe in Jesus and receive the forgiveness of sin. However, the father refused it to the end. One day the father went out with a sword. Then the daughter, as a last resort, wrote her will and put it in a bag and disguised herself as if she was a rich woman and followed her father secretly. She saw that her father hid himself in the trees in a park, and just passed by as if she knew nothing about it. At this moment the father swiftly stabbed her and took her bag and ran away. As he got home, he quickly opened the bag and found the will she had written, which says, “The very one you father killed tonight was your daughter whom you loved so dearly. I chose this way because there was no other way for me to help you to receive the salvation of your soul and enter the kingdom of heaven. Could you think of the hearts of the parents whose children you killed? As for me, I am ready to go to the kingdom of heaven and so chose this way. If you accept me as your daughter, please, repent and believe in Jesus so that we can meet with bright faces in the kingdom heaven. Sincerely, your beloved daughter.” At this the father’s heart was so broken and went to the police and repented and was sentenced with a lifetime imprisonment. But after 20 years he was released as a model (well-behaved) prisoner and became a true believer in Christ Jesus. When we hear this kind of story, we realize more who great the love of our Lord Jesus Christ is: God’s Son Jesus loved us and gave his life on the cross for our salvation. When we know this, we can be willing and ready to die for Christ. Jesus said in Mark 8:34, “For whoever wants to save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Our students may study with life-giving spirit for the sake of Jesus’ name. May we preach the gospel and live for the gospel with life-giving spirit. I ask God that in his grace I may be ready to die to serve the ministry of God’s word in our times.

Second, some Jews’ decision to kill Paul (17-36). In this part we see that James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem welcomed Paul and his companions. They praised God when they heard what God had done among the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry. Then they helped Paul to prepare himself from the misunderstanding of the Jewish believers that Paul taught the Jews living among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to be circumcised or live according to their custom. Paul accepted their advice and purified himself along with some of the Jewish believers. It was solely for the sake of the believers among the Jews. So Paul’s relationship with James and the elder of the church in Jerusalem was beautiful and encouraging each other and building up the whole church of God.

Then suddenly the situation was changed. The peaceful and warm atmosphere in the temple was turned into the violent and murderous one. Some Jews from the province of Asia accused Paul of bringing brought Greeks into the temple area and thus defiling the holy temple. Then the whole city was aroused and the people dragged Paul from the temple. When the temple gates were shut, they beat Paul and were trying to kill him. They were the ones who were so zealous for the law and for the holy temple. Why then were they so violent and murderous? It was because they did not know God. Jesus once said of the Jews who were trying to kill him, “The word of God does not dwell in you…you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (Jn 5:38,42). They were zealous for the law and legalistic and self-righteous without a personal love relationship with God. They became enemies of God and his gospel servants. In that dangerous situation God protected Paul through the commander of Roman troops. The crowd kept shouting, “Away with him!”

In our Christian life it is easy to become legalistic, just religious and self-righteous, when we do not focus on Christ and loving him and doing his will in obedience to him. Legalistic Christians can be like the some Jews who arrested Paul and tried to kill him. We remember Paul’s warning to the elders of the church, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock…Be on your guard.”

Thank God for helping us to think of Paul who was ready to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Thank God for our Lord Jesus who loved us and gave his life on the cross for us. May we also live and die for him who died for us to offer us salvation and eternal life.

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