February 26, 2023


Passage: Acts 21:1-14

1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

— Acts 21:1-14, ESV

For the remainder of the book of Acts, we are going on an extraordinary sea and land cruise that will take Paul and his companions from their missionary exploits in Europe and Asia back to the mother church in Jerusalem, then all the way westward to Rome.  It becomes clear that our human author, Dr. Luke, is a maritime physician, who knows as much about seafaring as he does the healing arts.  A familiar cast of characters abound, as Paul the good Christian does what every good Christian should do, surround himself with other good Christians.

The fixation for this first part of the journey is Paul’s desire to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost.  He wants to worship, fellowship, and celebrate with the good Christians there, who were some of the very first Christians.  He has taken an offering for them, because persecution for the gospel was early and steady in the center of Israel.  In Jerusalem, the Pharisees still seethed against Christ and the Roman Empire still crushed any allegiance to another king besides Caesar.

What is going to happen to the good Christian Paul when he arrives in Jerusalem is not going to be good.  But Paul presses on, anyway.  His good Christians companions warn him not to go.  When he gets there, his good Christian brothers try to protect him.  But Paul is determined to do what good Christians do, follow Christ, share the gospel, pursue the will of God.  Good Christians live, and die, for Jesus Christ.

First Warning (vs. 1-6)

When you love someone, you warn them, if you believe they are in danger, even if you know they may not listen.  We warn our kids not to stay out late, for nothing good happens after midnight, but curfews still get broken.  Andrea warned me not to eat that spicy gumbo, and two packs of Tums and two days later I still don’t feel right.

Paul was so beloved by the good Christians in Ephesus, he literally had to tear himself away from them (a weaker translation, “parted from them,” appears in vs. 1) to go to Jerusalem.  Upon arriving north of Israel in Tyre, Paul met some good Christians for the first time, and they seemed to love one another as much as his old good Christian friends.  First century Christians seemed to take Christ’s commandment to love one another very seriously, and so should good Christians today.

Love warns, so Paul’s good Christians friends “were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (vs. 4).  But Paul, whose head and will were iron, kept on going.  So, in love and warning, they “prayed and said farewell to one another” (vs. 6).

Second Warning (vs. 7-12)

Traveling southward from Tyre into Israel, Paul passed through Caesarea, named for the Roman Caesar, of course, and home to the provincial governor over Palestine.  Pontius Pilate lived there during the days of Jesus.  The current man in charge was Felix, soon to be followed by Festus, and Paul will encounter both of them in the near future.

Caesarea was also the home of Philip, one of the first seven deacons (ref. Acts 6), who became the evangelist who led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ (ref. Acts 8), then settled down to raise a family which included “four unmarried daughters, who prophesied” (vs. 9).  That’s right, good Christian ladies and gentlemen, God gifts both ladies and gentlemen to prophesy, or preach the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The late Elizabeth Elliot remains on my top ten list of preachers I’ve heard in my lifetime.

Another prophet, or preacher, shows up named Agabus.  He is from Judea, probably Jerusalem, and has heard the gossip there about Paul.  Some people read this as Agabus telling the future, but in reality he is just being Captain Obvious, with demonstrative flair.  In love, he, and Philip and his daughters, and all the good Christians around Paul “urged him not to go up to Jerusalem” (vs. 12).

But Paul, whose head and will were iron, had an answer for them.  In giving it, he states his essential purpose in life, to live, and die, for Jesus.

Paul’s Answer (vs. 13-14)

Paul invented the phrase “life is a journey.”  His had taken him from being a silver-spooned son of Tarsus, to the hardened Pharisee Saul, to the Damascus Road convert, to the commissioned Apostle Paul, to the missionary, to the pastor, and now, to the would-be martyr.  He’s been everywhere and now thinks he’s going to “die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (vs. 13).  This, of course, is in keeping with Paul’s purpose, to live, and die, for Jesus.

Jesus went to Jerusalem, as required by God’s word.  Every devout Jewish male had to show up in the holy city at least three times a year for the Feasts of Unleavened Bread (Passover), Weeks (Pentecost), and Booths (closely related to Rosh Hashanah/New Year, and Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement).  As His public ministry gained a few disciples and garnered a host of enemies, Jesus was repeatedly by warned His disciples not to go to Jerusalem and face His enemies.  But the Son of God lived to do the Father’s will, to fulfill and obey God’s word, and because of this He died, in Jerusalem.

Paul went to Jerusalem, as led by God’s Spirit.  Though fully Christian he still honored his Jewish roots.  He felt led to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost, to deliver the offering, to worship with the saints, to tell all the visitors about Jesus.  Repeatedly, as we have read, he was warned not to go.  But he lived to do God’s will, he was led by God’s Spirit, he was writing God’s word, so he was willing to go, willing to die, like Jesus, in Jerusalem.

People who want to obey God’s word and be led by God’s Spirit wind up in their own Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the place where they planted the cross.  Jerusalem is the setting where the Spirit came in power at Pentecost.  Jerusalem is the center where the Jews gathered to meet with God in accordance with the Old Covenant, and where God first gave the gospel to the Gentiles at the inauguration of the New Covenant.

Jerusalem is the place you go to meet God, to die at the cross, to live by the Spirit.  Jerusalem is place where you join the church, suffer persecution, and persevere as a saint.  Jerusalem is the place where you live, and die, for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Where is your Jerusalem?  If you’ve never been, will you go?  You can if you are you willing to live, and if necessary die, for the Lord Jesus Christ?

Where is your cross?  Where was it planted?  Did you die there, to sin and self, in repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ?  Where is your Pentecost?  Where did you feel a rush in association with hearing and believing the gospel?  Did you feel regeneration, conversion, that change of mind, heart, and will?  Are you living your life now by God’s word and God’s Spirit, for the honor and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ?

You do not have to live and die in the literal city of Jerusalem to live and die for God.  Jesus did, to be sure.  Paul was willing, but did not, as we shall see.  But Jesus and Paul really lived, for God, because they were always willing and ready to die, for God.

This may sound overdramatic for a church like ours.  No one is out to get us, like they were the Lord, and His servant Paul.  We do not risk our lives to assemble for worship or invite other people to Christ and His church.  Nursery work is a little scary, we pot luck at our own risk, and sometimes rolling out of bed for a Sunday morning service seems like great sacrifice.

So it is true, not many, if any, of us are on the path to martyrdom.  But you don’t have to be a martyr to be a favored saint of God.  You just have to be willing to live your life, putting everything in your life, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  And, yes, you have to be willing, if somehow called upon, to die for the Lord who died for you.  For it is only when you are willing to die, that you can truly live.

So let us live, wherever we may find our Jerusalem, and live fully under the authority of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit, in active membership in Christ’s church for which He died, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, until we die.  Let us live and die for Jesus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *