Message – Paul… to go to Jerusalem or not?
So this is the third week in which we have been on a passage in Acts 20, where Paul was encouraging and warning the pastors of Ephesus regarding their sacred duties before Jesus the Chief Shepherd.
Let’s refresh our minds with what was actually said. It is found in Acts 20:28-31,
Today as we leave chapter 20, I’ve found myself a little perplexed as to the reason behind much of the rest of the book of Acts.
As I began studying for today, I read chapter 21 and could find no place to stop since the story didn’t end in that chapter – so I kept reading.
As it turned out I read to the end of the book since chapters 21-28 are literally all one continuous story with only two main focal points.
Those points of focus are…
- Paul going to Jerusalem and
- Paul going to Rome
So I found it hard to find a stopping point until the book ended of its own accord.
While there are several “mini-lessons” one might pick up and teach, at first, it seemed like little more than Luke’s journal entries regarding the last recorded phase of Paul’s earthly journeys.
So after I had spent some time considering and pondering, what to me is the most significant lessons to learn from these closing chapters – something entirely self-focused occurred to me.
In college, we had two courses independently called hermeneutics and homiletics – the one flowing directly from the other.
Hermeneutics – is the study and methods employed in interpreting scripture.
Homiletics – is the art of preparing a sermon from that material.
In homiletics, we were taught two primary things.
The first is always easy to remember since it was also Steve Martin’s advice to John Candy in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Anyone who remembers that movie, can easily recall how different and outright conflicting these two traveling companions’ personalities were.
John Candy was an awkward salesman who was also a people person and so, in his own sense of discomfort with himself, he nervously found it difficult to ever stop talking.
One night after the two of them wound up having to stay the night in the same hotel room, Steve (an otherwise polite, reclusive individual) finally lost it on his traveling companion and he offered to him the very first point of sermon preparation – and in my enthusiasm I confess I spend far too much time editing and shortening a clip from that movie to illustrate the point.
So the first point of homiletics is…
1- have a point
2 – have a call to action
I have always had difficulty with both or more specifically – I have never really had a problem having a point in my teaching. My difficulty was limiting how MANY points I have in my teaching – which flows directly from my hermeneutics – my method of study.
As I study, I most often see MANY interconnections with other scriptures. As such I have to ground myself again in what led me to this study in the first place in order to focus my points on those interconnections which immediately apply to what we are learning. This will usually reduce say – 12 different directions down to 3 or 4 – but almost NEVER just one.
So to have ‘A’ point is very, VERY difficult for me.
I simply see too many ways in which surrounding information is immediately pertinent to the topic and which I don’t see how they can responsibly be left out.
My main difficulty has always been a call to action. I think the greatest reason why is because to me, it is so obvious. All of scripture is for the purpose of learning how to live in agreement with God and in alignment with His plans and purposes.
As I am teaching I am pointing out those parts to which I feel the Spirit leading me to teach on. The fact that I am teaching on it IS the call to action – so I always felt it unnatural and a little condescending to spell it out for people at the end.
Nevertheless I have, over the course of the past 10 years, attempted to offer a summary at the end of my teaching as well as an encouragement to allow it to influence how we live.
I bring all of this up because points like these are difficult to find in these closing chapters of Acts.
So I thought, “You know what? One of the Pastors I enjoy the most and who is pretty well accepted in Christian circles is Alistar Begg and he usually doesn’t have a call to action either.”
So I decided to look him up and find a message he taught on Acts 21.
I listened to it and felt immediately better because his opening words were that from Acts 21 to the end of the book seemed to him to be largely the journal entries of Luke who was simply recording where they were and what was going on in the last stint of Paul’s earthly journey and ministry.
I listened and enjoyed some of his insights – especially those regarding relationships which I have also drawn some attention to throughout this book and following his example I will do more of that as we continue.
In the end though, he had no real call to action at the end of his message, though, like me, he offered and does offer several points throughout his message which highlight Christian virtues which honor God and further His kingdom if practiced.
So let’s get re-grounded in our purpose for working through this book of Acts.
We began with the purpose of seeing the interactions between the Holy Spirit and his church, knowing that His stated mission and role in this age is…to reveal Jesus
encourage His rule in the hearts of His people and further the reach of the rule of Christ through their living testimonies.
In other words, this series of Holy Spirit – Helper and Friend, is to help us better see how to enter into and cooperate with this relationship we have with the Spirit of God.
We know that it is the Holy Spirit Who enables Christ to be formed in us. It is He Who leads and guides us and it is He Who stirs our hearts to longingly anticipate His return.
In the first 7 chapters of Acts, Luke talks about the beginnings of the church age in
- The giving of the Spirit
- the establishment of the church
- the ministry of the Apostles
- the establishment of deacons.
In chapters 8-20 we have Luke’s account of…
- the conversion of Paul
- his calling along with Barnabus
- and the missionary journeys of Paul who, along with those he ministered and traveled with – spread the gospel not only to the Jews but also the gentiles in Rome and Asia.
Now in the last 8 chapters we see…
- Paul’s last journeys which were just to Jerusalem and Rome where he eventually died and the work he did in these closing years.
Along with Alistar what perhaps strikes me the most are the connections – those greetings and salutations Paul has with the spiritual brothers and sisters he had come to know over the years of his ministry among them. These connections are precious and important, and we see the first example of it in the words Luke chose to use to express their departure from Militus where Paul had met with the elders of Ephesus.
Now the time period of these events was probably between 56-64AD.
As we are about to see, at the beginning of this account Felix was still the governor of Judea, but two years after the beginning of these events Felix dies and is replaced by Festus as governor of Judea.
This helps us tremendously in our timing of the events from chapters 21-28 because while we do not know specifically when this transfer of authority took place, we do know that Festus had to be in power by at least 59AD since the Emperor Nero had Festus’ image minted on Judean coins by this time.
Nero was Emperor, but there is no biblical record of Paul appearing before him, though he was supposed to do so.
Acts 21:1-40, “(1) After we tore ourselves away from them, we put out to sea, and sailing a straight course, we came to Cos, on the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. (2) We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went aboard, and put out to sea.”
First I want to draw attention to the continued use of the word ‘we’. Luke started this in chapter 16 and continues it on through the end of the book. So while some of the book appears to be written from accounts he heard and information he had gathered, from a certain point on, Luke clearly was among those who traveled with Paul.
Notice also that Luke’s account of this was that they had to tear themselves away. There was genuine love and desire for fellowship among these people! Not just the elders with Paul, but he and his companions with them!
“(3) After we sighted Cyprus and left it behind on our port side, we sailed on to Syria and put in at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there.
(4) After we located the disciples, we stayed there seven days.”
They repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.
Now this is important. Paul seemed fixated on going to Jerusalem. The question is – was this fixation one God gave him, or one he imposed upon himself? THAT is one of the things we will be examining today.
You see, back in Acts 19 we are told that Paul had personally resolved to go to Jerusalem. Let’s read it. It is found in Acts 19:13-21.
“(13) But some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were possessed by evil spirits, saying,
“I sternly warn you by Jesus Whom Paul preaches.”
(14) (Now seven sons of a man named Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were doing this.)
(15) But the evil spirit replied to them, “I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?”
(16) Then the man who was possessed by the evil spirit jumped on them and beat them all into submission. He prevailed against them so that they fled from that house naked and wounded.
(17) This became known to all who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; fear came over them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.
(18) Many of those who had believed came forward, confessing and making their deeds known.
(19) Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone.
When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins. (20) In this way the word of the Lord continued to grow in power and to prevail.
(21) NOW AFTER ALL OF THESE THINGS HAD TAKEN PLACE, Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. He said, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
If you remember, in the past Paul showed eagerness to report to the church in Jerusalem all that Paul saw God doing out in the world on his missionary journeys. So after demons admitted to know Jesus and the power of His name and SO MANY people departed from idolatry and witchcraft – even to the point of burning their books (to the tune of 4 million dollars) – it seems most natural that he would be eager to inform the mother church and the Apostles of the Lamb of the inroads the Kingdom of God was having in the greater gentile world.
This is NOT to say that this is proof that Spirit had not encouraged him to go to Jerusalem, but only that SO FAR, all we see if Paul’s OWN determination to go.
Now when I said that Paul seemed fixated, I meant it, for this issue came up a few other times as well. The next one we just read in chapter 20.
Let’s first look at verse 16…
Acts 20:16, “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so as not to spend time in the province of Asia, FOR he was hurrying to arrive in Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.”
And also verses 18-25…
Acts 20:18-25, “(18) When they arrived, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia, (19) serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews. (20) You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house, (21) testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
(22) And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, (23) except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
(24) But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
(25) “And now I know that none of you among whom I went around proclaiming the kingdom will see me again.”
The words “compelled by the Spirit”, seem conclusive. This was the will of God… but there is a problem.
If you remember we just read here in chapter 21 verse 4 that…
“After we located the disciples, we stayed there seven days. They repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit NOT to set foot in Jerusalem.”
So we have Paul say that he was compelled BY THE SPIRIT to go and yet many believers in Tyre repeatedly told Paul THROUGH THE SPIRIT NOT to even set foot in Jerusalem.
So what gives?
Well this is where word studies are VERY helpful.
You need to know that the word “spirit” pneúma by itself does NOT inform the translator WHOSE spirit we are talking about.
However, the way the word is used in a given statement can tell us if the word means spirit, or mind or emotions.
Regarding Paul’s words “compelled by the Spirit”Spiros Zodiaties – says means, this means impelled in mind or compelled. It is an inner issue of the soul. It is not saying the inner compelling was from the Holy Spirit – in fact the word “spirit” as we understand it is not being used here at all – the word mind is! So he was mentally compelled to go.
What were the ensuing circumstances which led to this? All that HAPPENED in Ephesus. All of this conspires together to paint a picture of Paul feeling strongly about something due to external events – NOT a directive given to him by the Spirit.
In this place the word pneúma essentially means the rational mind as implying one’s will, counsel, purpose. Examples of this configuration are found in Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38; Acts 18:5; here in Acts 19:21 and in Acts 20:22)
On the other hand are the words “the Holy Spirit warns” as we find in the next verse.
“(22) And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, (23) except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.”
These words are stronger and the word “warns” is evidently a reliable word to represent what was meant.
Much can be read into this, and we have to be careful about that, but the word “could mean” that the Holy Spirit earnestly and repeatedly testified to Paul.
In either case what is NOT said here, is that the Spirit testifies that I Paul must go regardless, nor does it specifically say the Spirit’s reason for warning was to simply inform him of what was going to happen IF he went.
It seems as if the former were the case, more would have been said. Such as… “the Holy Spirit has told me to go to Jerusalem but has warned me that when I arrive I will be persecuted.”
On the other hand, it also seems as if the later were the case, the Holy Spirit would have told him “you should not go because in going you are placing yourself in unnecessary danger”.
The failure to be clear, in my opinion, seems to indicate that going to Jerusalem was a decision of Paul’s, but one that would not thwart the plans and purposes of his life and ministry and so it was within God’s permissive will, though in His goodness, He forewarned Paul of the consequences of this determination to go to b.
It is interesting that the words used in verses 22 about Jerusalem are the same words used by Luke in his gospel regarding Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem – suggesting a type of parallel between the two, but this in no wise indicates the purpose of God – only an observation of similarity between the two events.
The next verse to consider are the strongest of all and they make the decision for us as to which was true.
Acts 21:4 says of the disciples of Tyre…
“After we located the disciples, we stayed there seven days. They repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit NOT to set foot in Jerusalem.”
“Through the Spirit” – again the word spirit is pneúma only here it takes on the meaning of a spirit. Meaning an incorporeal, immaterial being thought of as possessing higher capacities than man does in his present state in this case it is used of the Holy Spirit of God. It is used to indicate the work resulting from the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit, such as when the power of the Holy Spirit prompts someone to do or restrain from doing particular actions.
Examples of this abound and I will list many of them in this place on the website but it includes this place here in Acts 21:4. In fact here in this place it is said to be the medium of divine communications and revelations.
Finally we have Agabus – an actual prophet, not simply other Christians who by the Spirit prophesied.
Acts 21:11-13, “(11) He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” (12) When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. (13) Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So it is my conclusion that Paul was not forbidden to go, but warned that it was a bad idea and would only add to his personal troubles, but would in no way obstruct his duties before God in the ministry.
We learn later on in chapter 23 that when Paul was aboard a ship which looked like it very well might be destroyed at sea…
“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”– Acts 23:11
I found the words informing. Jesus did NOT say, “…even as you were to testify about Me in Jerusalem, so you MUST do in Rome.” He simply said, “even as you did in Jerusalem, you MUST in Rome.”
We know and remember that just following Saul’s conversion, the Lord told Ananias,
“(15) But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. (16) For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” – Acts 9:15-16
So we know that suffering and appearing before Gentile kings was part of the duties of his calling before God. However, to think that God could not have gotten Paul before kings without this misstep is to limit God and therein lay one of our lessons for today.
Just because God uses something, doesn’t me He caused or ordained it.
Also, just because we are convinced God has told us something, and it works out to glorify Him, doesn’t mean you heard Him at all. There is what God SAYS and then there is what we INTERPRET that He meant!
One more thing which is just a little more personal. Paul was a great man of God and he was determined to be a testimony of Jesus. However, he was just a man and as I have told you several times in the past, there are clues in the scriptures that insinuate that Paul, on some level, may have felt all the more ‘willing to die’ out of a false sense of grief over the Christian lives he had delivered over to death. We HAVE to be careful NOT to allow our past – either the good or the bad – to play a role in how we hear God’s commands.
“(5) When our time was over, we left and went on our way. All of them, with their wives and children, accompanied us outside of the city.
After kneeling down on the beach and praying, (6) we said farewell to one another. Then we went aboard the ship, and they returned to their own homes.
(7) We continued the voyage from Tyre and arrived at Ptolemais, and when we had greeted the brothers, we stayed with them for one day.
(8) On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.”
By “one of the seven” it is referring to one of the seven deacons appointed earlier in the book of Acts who took pressure off the Apostles, freeing their hands to pursue what God had called them to do – study the word of God, teach and pray. This is the SAME Philip we left back in Acts 8 who taught in Samaria, who led the Ethiopian eunuch to the Lord and who was teleported by the Spirit to Azotus and then preached throughout all the region of Caesarea. He evidently found a woman there, settled down and had children as least 4 of which were daughters who prophesied!
“(9) (He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.)”
Now I do not say this for your benefit for you all know and understand the difference, but many people today – especially in more conservative denominations – believe that the gifts are far less supernatural than they are and so prophecy has been reduced down to inspired preaching and teaching – and when they say “inspired” they mean inspirational. While this is a possible expression of prophecy, many times it is to foretell the future or to speak words of exhortation, edification and comfort by the immediate and unplanned influence of the Holy Spirit. THAT is what Philip’s daughters did – just like Joel had prophesied – your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
This is NOT preaching or teaching – but inspired utterances given by the unplanned influence of the Spirit of God. These girls were not pastors and they were not teaching and instructing men. Prophecy carries with it absolutely NO authority in the individual – it is strictly informative. This is why prophets were NEVER part of the council of elders and apostles when doctrine was being established.
“(10) While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
(11) He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
It is important not to read into this. Agabus does not tell Paul NOT to go, only that IF he goes the Jews will capture him and hand him over to Roman officials.
“(12) When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
(13) Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
They were not just crying, they were weeping! The word here is and weeping is a good translation for it. It means To wail and lament. It implies not only the shedding of tears, but also every external expression of grief.
The result was a breaking of Paul’s heart!
Why did it break? Because regardless of whether he was appointed to go to Jerusalem or not – he was determined and probably felt he was supposed to. So his heart was divided between loving His lord and his love for these people.
“(14) Because he could not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”
I love the heart of the early church! We are not told if this particular group of Christians believed Paul was not to go, but they didn’t want to lose their brother and so begged him not to go. When Paul was insistent, they let the issue go and placed the matter in the Father’s hands!
“(15) After these days we got ready and started up to Jerusalem. (16) Some of the disciples from Caesarea came along with us too, and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple from the earliest times, with whom we were to stay.”
Are you seeing a pattern? Everywhere they went they looked for or joined up with brothers and sisters in the Lord.
…and THAT is where we will pick up next week.
So our takeaways today were…
- Making certain that we are moved by God.
That just because God is permitting something doesn’t mean He appointed it.
That if you think God is telling you something and yet, MANY of your siblings in Christ warn you about it – slow down and seek God to make sure you are truly being led.
The fellowship of true believers is precious and should be sought out.
Do not let guilt over your past influence your decisions in life and ministry. Submit them to God and be all the more careful in those areas to make sure it is God Who is leading you!