Study No. 26 Prisoner of the Lord Acts chapter 21:
At this point in our study of the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul’s third missionary tour is coming to completion. This trip started with his walking west from Syria and going across Asia … encouraging the churches previously planted there. Then he goes further west and south to Ephesus. He spends three years there and leaves after having made this statement.
Ac 19:21 ¶ “When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."
As he has just purposed to do, he goes up to Macedonia (Philippi) then down to Greece (Achaia) and spends three months in Corinth. It was while he was in Corinth that he wrote that marvellous book of Romans. As he writes to the Christians in Rome he spells out his intention to come and visit them.
I will include some of what Paul wrote to them regarding his coming.
Romans 1:8-15. and chapter 15:22-29
He had planned to go to Jerusalem, then to Rome, but because of the Jews ‘lying in wait’ he changes plans and goes back up to Macedonia, then to Troas and then spoke to the Elders of Ephesus as he passed near there.
Paul … the battle scarred veteran
Early on in the book of Acts we read this about Paul:
Ac 9:16 "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake."
And as we have discovered … this has certainly come to pass.
Ga 6:17 Finally, let no-one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
(The Judaizers gloried in the ‘mark’ of circumcision they could leave on the bodies of their victims and this may be the reason for Paul’s choice of words. The ‘marks’ he bears on his body refer to scars remaining after his multiple rounds of persecution. I find it interesting that he does not call them ‘marks of my enemies’ or ‘marks of the Jews’ … but rather, marks of the Lord Jesus. The reminds me of the sermon I heard many years ago entitled ‘bottles, boxes and books at the Judgment Seat of Christ’)
In our last study we read that, as Paul purposes to go to Jerusalem for Pentecost and that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to him. He tells the Ephesian elders:
"… except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” Ac 20:23
Here is where we pick up our study today.
Leaving the group of Elders, Luke describes the last portion of the journey. 1-3
Paul in Tyre
The ship docks in Tyre to unload …
And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem. Ac 21:4
Luke paints a touching picture of loving believers and their children walking Paul out of the city, going with him to the beach and then he describes a prayer meeting. They have given him a message from the Holy Spirit. What else can they do?
After a one day stop at Ptolemais and visiting believers there, we read of …
Paul at Caesarea
Next Paul and company land at Caesarea
Here we re-discover Philip … one of the Seven initially chosen in Jerusalem soon after that first day of Pentecost. He has settled here and raised a Godly family. We read that his daughters prophesy … is this general or specific? Could it be … that the topic is the danger waiting for Paul and this is what they prophesy? And then (by chance?) Agabus (chapter 11:27,28) comes to the home of Philip.
Ac 21:11 When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his [own] hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver [him] into the hands of the Gentiles.’"
Have you noticed the almost, inordinate number of times that mention is being made of the Holy Spirit’s communicating to Paul regarding his trip to Jerusalem? Paul is no stranger to the leading and speaking of the Holy Spirit. This is not new to him. Sometimes the Spirit lead him toward something. At other times the Holy Spirit stopped him … Ac 16:6 ¶ Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. We do not know the details regarding this … but we have to take it at face value. Somehow the Holy Spirit had said … Do not go into Asia and Paul listened.
The Holy Spirit has been saying in every city … Paul, if you go to Jerusalem as you are desiring and planning to do … you will end up in chains.
If this ‘warning’ is to prepare him … how much preparing does he need? On the other hand, if this is more than a warning … a clear instruction from God, what will it take to get Paul to listen?
As believers there may be times that you intensely want to do a certain thing for God.
Paul wants to go to Rome.
Ro 1:11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--
Ro 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,
Paul wants to go to Jerusalem
Ro 10:1 ¶ Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
Paul knows that thousands of Jews from abroad will congregate at Jerusalem for Pentecost. He is hoping for some way to get through them all. He may even be expecting the return of Jesus. He is likely aware of the words of Jesus,
Mt 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
He had written, Ro 15:23 “but now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.
25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there.
28 So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.”
Look at this last statement that Paul wrote to the Romans.
I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.
At the time Paul is writing this, he expects to arrive in Rome … in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.
It was after this that the Holy Spirit started to tell Paul otherwise.
His words are very different from what the Holy Spirit is predicting. Paul is planning to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome. We know he expects to endure some suffering along the way. We have no way of knowing whether it is beginning to dawn on him that the ‘chains’ about which he is being warned may be rather permanent.
The Holy Spirit has said … “Don’t continue going to Jerusalem”.
Paul in Jerusalem
A warm welcome awaits Paul and his company (which included some from Caesarea). The following day they went to see James (The Lord’s brother and pastor or bishop of the Jerusalem church) and ‘all the elders are present’. We read concerning the size of the church … they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;
One can only imagine how many elders were required to lead a church of this size. Remember that church-owned buildings had not yet been thought of. This church would literally consist of hundreds of house churches meeting in upper rooms wherever possible.
James says that these church members are all zealous for the law
Today we think this to be an oxymoron. How can one be both a believer in Jesus and be zealous for the law … at the same time?
We question … 'What were they thinking?' How could they continue to offer sacrifices in the temple, since Jesus, our Passover lamb, has been offered … once for all? Paul clearly taught that these sacrifices and other rituals and observances were all ‘shadows’ …. Pointing forward to the ‘reality’ which was Jesus.
Turn with me to Colossians 2:11 - 17 and see how clear this is.
So why were the Jerusalem Christians still following the old system? First let me say that God had every intention of stopping the old system and ‘allowed’ (or caused?) it to cease in 70 ad. The general, Titus, and the Roman army completely destroyed the temple and most of the city. Judaism was essentially dead.
Secondly let me say that the early Christians, knowing full well that Jesus was their messiah and their once-for-all sacrifice were treating the Jewish temple sacrifices in the same way that we do our communion service … They used the sacrifice of the animal as a memorial, just as we do the bread and wine.
The apostle Paul was not ‘compromising his convictions’ by going into the temple and acting as a good Jew.
1Co 9:20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those [who are] under the law, as under the law, that I might win those [who are] under the law;
But at the same time, Paul was understanding that these ‘shadows’ were nothing more than memorials of the completed sacrifice of Christ.
V21 Rumour had it that Paul was ‘teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children’ This was false. Paul taught that the gentiles did not need to convert to Judaism to become Christian. The Judaizers were Jews who believed in Christ, but believed everyone must convert to Judaism and then ‘add’ belief in Christ as the Messiah. This is what Paul fought against. Gentiles did not need circumcision … or any of the long list of Jewish traditional rituals.
But here we are reading that Paul is accused of encouraging Jewish/Christian families to forsake Moses.
James offers a solution to stop this rumour.. 23-26
Does it work? Partially. But then someone, based on a false assumption (27-29), creates a huge mob attack against Paul.
Paul the prisoner
Seven days of Paul’s joining the four men who had taken a vow and shaved their heads etc. have passed and someone spots him there, accuses him of having brought a Greek into the temple. This was based only on an assumption because they had seen him in some other part of the city with this Greek Christian.
It’s amazing how the mob formed so quickly. Whether or not the law forbad them of killing someone who they deemed as being sacrilegious … they did not care.
Paul is rescued by a Roman soldier and a local army detachment. The mob is so fierce that the soldiers are compelled to carry Paul on their shoulders.
Paul tries to make the most of this moment by addressing the mob …
I don’t know how disappointed Paul was at the response … but this is the turning point for him. His freedom to travel will now be gone.
“Now, the Spirit of God, as he was with Paul, is always faithful to warn us. We need not stumble blindly into this trap, any more than Paul needed to, but what this great study shows us is that we must be very careful to be obedient to the Spirit's voice. When he checks us, clearly and unmistakably, we are to obey. Otherwise we simply open ourselves up to unnecessary heartache, unnecessary limitation and restriction, as the apostle did here. But God did not abandon him, did not forsake him. He picked him up and used him in great power, turned those very limitations into opportunities for the advance of his cause. But Paul himself had to undergo deprivation, heartache, and suffering which he need not have endured, had he been obedient to the Holy Spirit. God help us to learn this -- that even a mighty apostle can fail in faith at times. Scripture is always honest with us and records for us the failures of even a man like Paul. May this serve as a lesson to us that only as we walk in obedience to the voice of God and to the clear directions of the Word of God, only then can we find our way through all the pitfalls that await us throughout life” – (Quote from Ray Stedman. October 5, 1917 - October 7, 1992)
Extra Study – In Acts 22 Paul shares his personal testimony. In chapter 20:18-27 is another testimony of Paul, this one to believers. Peter tells us to be ready to give our testimony at a moments notice. (I Peter 3:15)
Make a list of kinds of things to include in your testimony. Perhaps comment on the kinds of things to leave out.