Acts 21

Today we return to the book of Acts. So, read Acts 21.

It has been a while since we read Acts 20, so when Acts 21:1 said, “After we had torn ourselves away from them…” we need to be reminded that Paul had been speaking to the elders from the church in Ephesus at the end of Acts 20. He was completing his third missionary journey and was on his way to Jerusalem with money collected from the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers struggling in poverty in Jerusalem. Here in Acts 21, we read repeated warnings for Paul not to go to Jerusalem:

  • Verse 4 said that the disciples in Tyre told him not to go: “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”
  • Verses 10-11 told us that in Caesarea a prophet named Agabus “took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’”
  • Verse 12 recounted how Luke, the other traveling companions of Paul, and the Caesarean believers begged Paul to change his mind. The verse said, “we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.”

This is a tough situation to interpret. All of these people were speaking to Paul “through the Spirit” (v. 4), so it would seem that Paul went to Jerusalem in spite of God’s revealed moral will.

Yet back in chapter 20, when speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “…compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” (20:22a). He also knew that the result of his going would be personally painful: “not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (20:22b-23).

So what caused him to keep going?

Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” And here in Acts 21: “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” His motives for going were pure and righteous and to the glory of God. The warnings about suffering, then, must have been to prepare him and the churches so that they would not lose faith in God when Paul was arrested.

And, sure enough, he was arrested (v. 33). We’ll see in the chapters to come what the results of that arrest were.

For now, though, we should reflect on the warnings in Scripture. The Bible tells us that the way of following Christ is a narrow way. It tells us that there are few who go that way, so we will be in an uncomfortable minority throughout life if we follow Christ.

Other passages tell us that following Christ means dying to ourselves and that it will cost some disciples their families, their homes, their inheritance on earth, and even their lives. These warnings were not given to tell us not to follow Jesus; they were written to prepare us in advance for the costs of following him. So, don’t be surprised or unhappy with God when being a Christian costs you something. Instead, understand that you are on the right path because what is happening to you is exactly what God said would happen to his children. So trust him to do his will (v. 14b) in and with your life.

Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, Acts 22

Read Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, and Acts 22 today. This devotional is about Acts 22.

Yesterday we read in Acts 21 about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to placate the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted. Today’s chapter, Acts 22, is the written record of that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to the time in his life when he persecuted Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience.

The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ. A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old carjacker or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out, even, to help you prepare to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

Acts 21

Back to the book of Acts today, specifically Acts 21.

It has been a while since we read Acts 20, so when Acts 21:1 said, “After we had torn ourselves away from them…” we need to be reminded that Paul had been speaking to the elders from the church in Ephesus at the end of Acts 20. He was completing his third missionary journey and was on his way to Jerusalem with money collected from the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers struggling in poverty in Jerusalem. Here in Acts 21, we read repeated warnings for Paul not to go to Jerusalem:

  • Verse 4 said that the disciples in Tyre told him not to go: “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”
  • Verses 10-11 told us that in Caesarea a prophet named Agabus “took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’”
  • Verse 12 recounted how Luke, the other traveling companions of Paul, and the Caesarean believers begged Paul to change his mind. The verse said, “we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.”

This is a tough situation to interpret. All of these people were speaking to Paul “through the Spirit” (v. 4), so it would seem that Paul went to Jerusalem in spite of God’s revealed moral will. Yet back in chapter 20, when speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “…compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” (20:22a). He also knew that the result of his going would be personally painful: “not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (20:22b-23). So what caused him to keep going? Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” And here in Acts 21: “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” His motives for going were pure and righteous and to the glory of God. The warnings about suffering, then, must have been to prepare him and the churches so that they would not lose faith in God when Paul was arrested.

And, sure enough, he was arrested (v. 33). We’ll see in the chapters to come what the results of that arrest were. For now, though, we should reflect on the warnings in Scripture. The Bible tells us that the way of following Christ is a narrow way. It tells us that there are few who go that way, so we will be in an uncomfortable minority throughout life if we follow Christ. Other passages tell us that following Christ means dying to ourselves and that it will cost some disciples their families, their homes, their inheritance on earth, and even their lives. These warnings were not given to tell us not to follow Jesus; they were written to prepare us in advance for the costs of following him. So, don’t be surprised or unhappy with God when being a Christian costs you something. Instead, understand that you are on the right path because what is happening to you is exactly what God said would happen to his children. So trust him to do his will (v. 14b) in and with your life.