In our study of Acts chapter twenty one, we continue to look at the end of Paul's third missionary journey and his arrival in Jerusalem. This chapter is inspiring in that we see that Paul, even though he knew he was facing tough times ahead, continued to listen and follow God's will for his life.
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After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.
We continue with the travel log as Paul gets closer to his ultimate destination of Jerusalem. Phoenicia is what is known today as the country of Lebanon. We notice here that Paul didn't own a ship or really anything else as they sailed on a commercial ship to the port city of Tyre. When Paul had accepted Christ, he gave up the things of this world to serve the Lord and that is a great example for us today. We have forgotten the fact that Jesus said that it would not be easy to follow Him and that many would give up everything to do so. We have to ask ourselves if we are ready to do the same.
Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
There are those that use this verse to say that Paul made a mistake and was out of the will of God in going to Jerusalem. Quite simply, they are wrong. The disciples in Tyre were listening to the Spirit but the Spirit was warning Paul (just as he had said in chapter 20), that he had to be prepared for the sacrifice that he would make. God had been preparing Paul for this and making sure that he knew what he was getting into. The same thing is happening in this verse. Paul is simply listening to God and following Him. His actions agree with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-48 and served to further the gospel. Paul was confident that he was in the will of God as he was able to say (at the end of his life) that he had finished the course set before him.
But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.
Imagine the sight of this very large group of people kneeling on the beach to pray. Even as Paul continues his march to Jerusalem, he is still teaching the people on the way as well as us. Here we see once again how Paul knew the value of prayer and I am sure that the disciples that were on that beach with him understood as well.
We continued our voyage 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.
Paul and the group continued on their trip to Jerusalem and reached Caesarea where they stayed with Philip. This is the Philip that we are introduced to in chapter six when he was given the job of running the daily distribution of food to the widows. We see, here, that he had four daughters that were prophets and this is a good lesson for those who say that women cannot be leaders in the "church".
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 own 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."'
In this passage, Paul gets another warning about the persecution he is going to face. This time, the Holy Spirit is specific about who and how as it seems that God wants Paul to be prepared.
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then 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.' When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lord's will be done.'
Once again, Paul has people trying to get him to listen to them instead of listening to the Holy Spirit. Although they have good intentions, they are trying to pull Paul out of God's will and that is not of God. This reminds me of what happened between Peter and Jesus (see Matthew 16:21-23) where Jesus went so far as to call Peter Satan for trying to go against God's will. Paul's answer to them is to teach them by letting them know that he is not only ready to be bound but, in fact, he is willing to die for the name of Jesus. It is amazing to watch God work and to see the people finally come to accept that God's will is what matters.
After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.
God not only changed the hearts of the people in Caesarea in the previous passage but we see here that some of them even went on to travel with Paul. This is a good reminder that our testimony is a combination of our words and actions. The people there heard Paul's words before and now some are going to get to see his actions in the face of persecution. That will help them to grow in their faith. Mnason also reminds us that, as Christians, we should be ready to share our things (homes, finances, time, etc) with those who are fellow workers for the Lord.
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Paul made a courtesy call on the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. I say this because there are many who take his visit here and try to make a case for a certain "church" structure and even to go so far as calling a man on earth the "head of the church". In Ephesians 1, Paul explained that God's will is for Jesus to be the head of the church and not a man here on earth. Paul worked with the leaders of the believers in Jerusalem but he was subject to Jesus Christ and listened to the Holy Spirit for direction. He simply informed them about what God had been doing in his life. (We would call this sharing a testimony.)
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: 'You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.'
When the leaders in Jerusalem heard about what God was doing in his ministry, they praised God but then had to inform Paul that not everyone was happy with his ministry. The thousands of Jews that believed were "zealous for the law" instead of zealous for Jesus as Paul was. Therefore, Paul was being falsely accused of turning people away from their customs. Paul was not doing that but was simply telling people that customs, rituals, or belonging to a particular group of people did not bring salvation. Sadly, we face many of the same issues today as legalism has crept back in and even taken over in some groups of believers.
What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.
So, Paul was accused of telling the Jews that they did not have to keep the law to be saved and this made the other Jews angry. The solution from the leaders in Jerusalem was for Paul to demonstrate obedience to the law. Paul was ok with obeying the law; he just knew that obedience to the law did not bring salvation because salvation was only possible through Jesus Christ.
'As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.'
The elders are saying that they have handled this question by sending these instructions to the Gentile believers. By putting them under part of the law it satisfied the Jews. This decision was made at a meeting in Jerusalem described in chapter 15.
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
Paul agreed to take part in this ritual purification because he knew that it was not a matter of salvation. He knew that he did not need to do it to be saved but was willing to do so to reach others. This ritual is a picture of our repentance as the people had to be humble enough to let people know they had sinned (were unclean) by announcing it at the temple and that they wished to be cleansed (freed from the sin).
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, 'Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place.'
So, even as Paul was obeying the law, he was seized and accused of leading God's people astray (being a false prophet). In fact, Paul was not doing what they accused him of; he was simply telling everyone that Jesus had died for their sins and been raised again. The charge of being a false prophet has been used throughout history by religious people who do not agree with someone.
'And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.' (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)
One charge was not enough for them so they came up with another which was defiling the temple by bringing someone who was unclean (a Gentile) in. Nobody saw Trophimus in the temple but they didn't let the facts get in their way. Gossip and rumors were a destructive force back then and they are as well today. In James 3, we are warned about this destructive force. The good news is that this gossip will be used by God to spread the gospel.
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.
We see that the gossip and rumors that started with a small group has got the whole city going. Nobody has stopped to ask whether the charges are true or not but now you have a mob. This calls to mind the words of Jesus and the six woes mentioned in Luke 11:37-53. The last woe was where He said that the experts of the law were hindering the gospel.
While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
The people of God were the ones that were trying to kill Paul but God intervened and sent the Romans to protect his life. The same type of thing happens today as too many Christians are fighting other Christians instead of resisting the devil.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.
Those that were making accusations against Paul couldn't even get the story straight. Even so, Paul did not resist but still kept his eyes on the fact that God is in control. This is a good example of what God would have us to do in the face of persecution.
When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, 'Away with him!'
The mob wasn't happy with just having Paul arrested as they even followed as he was being taken away. This reminds me of the times that we live in and the misguided religious fervor that is often seen. A simple comment or picture of Muhammad can start the same type of mob reaction around the world. The sad fact is that religious fervor does not get you any closer to God or heaven.
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, 'May I say something to you?' 'Do you speak Greek?' he replied. 'Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?'
As Paul was being taken into the barracks, he spoke to the commander in Greek which surprised the commander. The commander did not know Paul and did not recognize him but instead thought he was a common criminal. This speaks much about Paul and his ministry in that it was all about Jesus and not self promotion. Today, there are many that are peddling the gospel for fame and profit but Paul was simply led by the Holy Spirit and shared the gospel.
Paul answered, 'I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.' Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic:
After Paul cleared up the case of mistaken identity, he received permission to speak to the crowd. He had spoken in Greek to the commander but switches to Aramaic to speak to the Jewish people.