At Berean Bible Church we do what is called expository preaching. Expository preaching is the kind of preaching that follows consecutively through a particular body of material. We preach verse by verse through books of the Bible. One of the things that is difficult about expository preaching, among other things, is the fact that that means you must handle the uninteresting, passages as well as those that contain interesting material. Now, the way to avoid this is not to preach expositorily in that sense. That is, to select passages throughout the Bible that have special, outstanding phraseology and teaching that's very impressive. And that's the kind of plan that is generally followed in Evangelical Churches.
Well, we've tried to do that differently in Berean Bible Church, but one of the drawbacks is that we do come to chapters that no one, probably no one, would ordinarily choose as a text to preach upon.
That's one of the problems of expository preaching, but it's also one of the good things, because those who listen over a lengthy period of time become acquainted with whole bodies of material. And the result is a better understanding of the word of God. In final analysis, it seems to me, that the point of preaching is not to preach to the problems of a particular congregation; but rather to preach the Word of God so that they may become knowledgeable in the Scriptures and thus able to apply the Scriptures themselves to their problems.
I particularly like messages like I preached last week from Philippians 2. I like the exhortive passages, but I have learned so much by dealing with difficult passages because they are part of the text. Acts 21 is one of those not so exciting passages that we must deal with because it is part of the Word of God. Hopefully, we will be blessed by what we see in this text.
Everything in Acts, from Acts chapter 21 on, moves toward Rome, via Jerusalem. Paul is on his way toward Rome, but he feels that he must go through Jerusalem. One of the reasons Paul felt that was because he had with him a gift for the poor saints at Jerusalem.
The year is A.D. 57, and we are in the 21st year of Paul's ministry. The apostle has completed the third of his three missionary journeys, having established dozens of churches in Greece and Turkey. Paul has just said farewell to the elders of the church in Ephesus and boarded a ship to begin his journey to Jerusalem with his fellow disciples. With him he is bringing the money collected from the Greek churches for the relief of the famine in Jerusalem. Paul may have been praying that this money would be a symbol of unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
We saw in Acts 20:16, that the apostle wanted to be in Jerusalem by the Feast of Pentecost when he perhaps would have opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nation he loved so deeply.
Paul has been meeting with the elders of the Ephesian church in Miletus when he announced to them that he was on a one-way journey to Jerusalem with the knowledge that persecution would await him there. They urged him not to go, but he insisted that this was God's will. The apostle and his friends left the Ephesian elders on the beach at Miletus and boarded ship. This is where Chapter 21 picks up the story:
When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; (Acts 21:1 NASB)
The word "parted" here is from the Greek word apospao, which means: "to drag forth, that is (literally) unsheathe (a sword), or relatively (with a degree of force implied)" A literal reading would be "When we had torn ourselves away from them." This phrase is also used in Luke 22:41 to speak of our Lord tearing Himself away from His disciples in Gethsemane. It speaks of a love bond, which is hard to sever physically, and so they had a sad kind of parting. Paul had poured his life and love into these leaders from Ephesus, and they loved him deeply in return.
Cos is an island in the Aegean Sea. Rhodes, another island in the Aegean Sea, was celebrated for its Colossus, which was one of the seven wonders of the world. This was a brazen statue of Apollo that was so high that ships in full sail could pass between its legs.
Henry Ward Beecher was one of the great preachers of his day, and he once declared, "Paul was devoid of artistic sense. He traveled through these cities of Asia, packed with things of beauty and artistic merit and value, and never by a line referred to any of those things." And so far as Paul was concerned, there was one thing that was important, and that was the work of the Lord.
Then from Rhodes they sailed to Patara:
and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. (Acts 21:2 NASB)
The first legs of their journey would have been on small ships that stay close to the coast, but now they find a large vessel to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Sea journeys in the ancient world depended on finding shipping available and accepting delays arising from loading and unloading.
When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:3-4 NASB)
Do you remember what happened on the Island of Cyprus? Saul and Barnabas were preaching in the synagogues. They came across Bar-Jesus, a false prophet and magician, who had great influence over the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus. The governor was spiritually hungry, but the false prophet had him under his influence. Saul, through the power of the Holy Spirit, blinds Bar-Jesus.
What is really significant about this Island is that it is here that Saul becomes the Apostle Paul, it is here that he began to exercise his apostleship. The conversion of Sergius Paulus seems to be a turning point in Paul's whole ministry. Even his name changes from the Jewish Saul to the Gentile Paul. From here on he is Paul.
The ship then lands at Tyre. A city of Phoenicia, one of the most celebrated maritime towns in the world. Here the party stays a week, either during the unloading and loading of their vessel, or until they can find another ship.
Tyre is a very significant city Biblically. In Ezekiel 26 Ezekiel gives a prophecy against Tyre, speaking of its destruction. In 590 B.C., Ezekiel makes his prediction. Four years later, in 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar attacks the coastal city of Tyre. It took him 13 years, but Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls and the towers, destroyed the city, did every single thing Ezekiel said he would do.
He got in the city, but didn't find the spoils. He thought he was going to find spoils, but they had used their fleet to take the spoils out. They took all the spoils to an island a half-mile off the coast because, Ezekiel said, that his army would receive no wages from Tyre. And that is exactly what happened. When he got there, they had taken all the valuables off to the island; Nebuchadnezzar had no naval force to go off and get it.
Only part of the prophecy was fulfilled; the part about Nebuchadnezzar, the part about destroying the walls, smashing it down, slaughtering the people, not getting the spoil, but not all of it was yet complete:
"Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water. (Ezekiel 26:12 NASB)
The ruins were still on the old sight. The rubble was still there. After 250 years, a 24-year-old guy by the name of "Alexander the Great" showed up. He didn't have a fleet, so he decided he had to get a way to go to that island, so he did what Ezekiel, the prophet, said would be done; he said that the place would be scraped bare as rock and all the rubble would be thrown into the sea. Well, what conqueror in his right mind would ever do that? Why waste your time once you've conquered the place, picking up everything and throwing it in the ocean, all the stone and all the rest of it? But that's exactly what had to happen. So Alexander did it. He took all the debris and built a 2,000-foot long, 200 foot wide causeway all the way to the island with all the debris. Ezekiel couldn't have guessed that those things would happen. The story of Tyre is evidence that God directed the writing of the Bible.
After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:4 NASB)
"Looking up the disciples"--that's a very interesting expression in the original text, because it suggests that the apostle found them by searching. Tyre was quite a sizeable city, and so when the apostle landed there, he wanted to find the believers there. So he found them by searching. In other words, one of the first things that he did was to say, "Where are the Christians?"
We are not told how a church was planted in Tyre, but there obviously was one there. This reminds us that the Book of Acts gives only a partial picture of the early church's activity.
Now notice what the text says, "They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem"--Now the question is this: Did Paul get a word from the Holy Spirit not to go to Jerusalem? If he did, then he went anyway, he was disobedient. So the question that comes up is, "Is Paul disobedient?" Did he make a mistake in going to Jerusalem?
Some commentators, such as Donald Barnhouse, Ray Stedman, and James Boice, argue that Paul was either deliberately sinning or making a foolish mistake to continue his journey in light of these warnings. Paul was human, and he could have been disobedient to the Holy Spirit, but I don't believe he was. The Holy Spirit forbid them to preach in Asia. You know what they did? They didn't preach in Asia. Paul didn't violate the Spirit's commands. The text says the Spirit didn't allow them to go to Bithynia. They didn't go there either. When the Spirit directed, Paul obeyed.
So what does it mean, "They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem"? It could mean that the Holy Spirit revealed only the fact of Paul's fate, and that the conclusions drawn from this were not those which came from the Spirit, and were not the will of God for Paul. The expression "through the Spirit" (NASB) must refer to the fact that the words spoken "through the Spirit" were the words pertaining to Paul's bondage, while the words spoken urging Paul not to go were not spoken "through the Spirit," but were spoken out of the loving and well-intentioned hearts of these mistaken saints.
We know that Paul was told by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem:
Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (Acts 19:21 NASB)
When the phrase "purposed in the Spirit" is taken in combination with the "must" of the next sentence, which is "dei," a term often used by Luke to indicate divine necessity, Luke seems to be declaring Paul's conviction by the power of the Spirit that it is God's will for him to continue pursuing his calling by preaching the Gospel in Rome.
The Biblical principle that was governing Paul's trip to Jerusalem was his strong conviction that in the Church there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, but we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). He was taking the collection that he had raised from the Gentile churches to the Jewish church as a demonstration of love and unity. Luke hardly mentions this collection (24:17), but from Paul's Epistles we know that it was a big deal to him (Rom. 15:25-32; 2 Cor. 8 & 9).
So the statement in verse 4, "through the Spirit" means that they were enabled to advise him not to go, by knowing through the Spirit, what awaited him. The knowledge was supernatural; the advice was the result of their own judgment.
When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6 Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. (Acts 21:5-6 NASB)
The practice of accompanying a traveler to the outskirts of the city was traditional. The practice of kneeling down on the shore together for prayer was uniquely Christian.
Picture this, the whole Tyrian church, including wives and children, came with them out of the city, and all kneeling on the beach, they prayed and said their goodbys.
When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. (Acts 21:7 NASB)
"Finished the voyage"--is a very peculiar verb appearing only here, and it means: "to make the last stop or to completely finish." So, apparently, the ship they had crossed the Mediterranean with docked up at Tyre, and that was it.
From Tyre, they went to Ptolemais; this was a seaport town of Galilee, not far from Mount Carmel, between Tyre and Caesarea. They may have taken another little ship and hopped down the coast. It was only 27 miles, or they may have walked, we don't know, but anyway, they came to Ptolemais. They spent a day with these saints, It must have been wonderful for Paul and his companions to find Christians in virtually every city they stopped in. The following day they departed for Caesarea:
On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. (Acts 21:8 NASB)
Caesarea is due west of Jerusalem, almost in a straight line, 65 to 70 miles. It is the port of Jerusalem in Bible times. At Ceasarea they stay with Philip. Philip is identified as "the evangelist, who was one of the seven." This distinguishes him from the apostle of the same name, but also brings to mind his chief work, the early evangelization of Samaria all the way to the coast (8:4-40).
He is said to be one of the seven, and, thus, he was one of the original ministers chosen there by the people under the apostle's direction, in Acts chapter 6, to care for the widows. Now, Philip is very important in the ongoing ministry of the Book of Acts, because he was the original pioneer beyond Judaism.
In the early days of the Christian church, the ministry of the Gospel was confined to Jes, and largely confined to Jerusalem. But then the apostle Paul, who then was Saul, persecuted the church so strongly that the church was scattered from Jerusalem.
When we think of non-Jewish evangelism, the first guy that ever got involved in it Biblically was Philip. When the persecution came, he was the guy that was preaching in Samaria to the non-Jews, the half-breed Samaritans. And while preaching in Samaria, the Holy Spirit said, "Get out of here. I want you to go to Gaza," which is desert. He went to Gaza, and met an Ethiopian eunuch, reading Isaiah. And he led him to Jesus Christ and baptized him, and that was the first gentile convert.
Philip, the evangelist was the original pioneer beyond Judaism and forced out, humanly speaking, by the persecution led by Saul, the Jewish Pharisee. So here, coming into the house of Philip, the evangelist, the original pioneer beyond Judaism, meets the greatest pioneer beyond Judaism, the Apostle Paul.
Philip had met Paul indirectly 20 years before. Paul was breeding out threatening and slaughter against the church. And Philip was one of the ones who ran into Samaria. So it was Saul who had persecuted Philip, and now Philip hosts Saul in his own home as a brother in Christ.
But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:40 NASB)
Twenty years later, he is still in Caesarea, no doubt teaching the Word of God.
Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. (Acts 21:9 NASB)
This is interesting, Philip has four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. That's all it says. They didn't give any particular prophesy. It just says they were prophetesses. According to early church tradition, Philip and his daughters later moved to Hierapolis in Asia Minor. There these women imparted information about the early history of the Jerusalem church to Papias, a church father. It seems unusual that Luke would refer to these daughters as prophetesses without mentioning anything they prophesied. Perhaps they gave him information as they did Papias.
There is evidence, that Luke himself received much of the revelation of the Book of Acts from these four women, and that that's why they were placed here. Their role was not to preach in the church, but to be a vehicle of revelation, and in one case, for Luke.
We know Luke didn't know what he knew because he was always there, because he wasn't always there in the Book of Acts, was he? He didn't have firsthand experience of everything, so the Holy Spirit had to get it to him. How did the Holy Spirit get it to him? Well, the Holy Spirit used revelation. But the Holy Spirit could have used a human vehicle to give him that revelation.
Papius said that Philip's daughters were commonly known as the informants on the early history of the church. That's a very interesting statement. Usivius, who is a very early church historian, quotes Papius to give some credence to the fact that these four daughters were used to transmit the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Significantly, the daughters of Philip did not prophesy about Paul's trip to Jerusalem, though we might have expected them to. A prophet by the name of Agabus comes down from Jerusalem, enters into the meeting, and it is from Agabus that the warning comes, "Don't go up to Jerusalem."
These four prophetesses did not prophesy in the meetings of the church. Paul taught that in the church meeting:
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11-12 NASB)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34 NASB)
Because it was not a woman's place to teach or prophesy in the church, God sends Agabus to them:
As we were staying there for some 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, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: 'In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" (Acts 21:10-11 NASB)
We met Agabus before in Acts 11:27-30, when he came down from Jerusalem to Antioch to tell of a coming famine that would strike the region. This prompted the church in Antioch to take up the offering to be delivered by Paul. In this circumstance, Agabus came down from Jerusalem to Caesarea to deliver his message to Paul.
Agabus takes Paul's belt ( probably a long strip of cloth that he would wrap around himself several times), and in the image of First Testament prophets who frequently acted out their prophecy, he bound his own hands and his feet to give a vivid picture of what the Gentiles would do to Paul in Jerusalem. That is, the Romans, for the Jews had not, properly speaking, the power of life and death. This prediction of Agabus was literally fulfilled:
Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. (Acts 21:33 NASB)
We see this acted out prophecy often in the Hebrew prophets:
It came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field. (1 Kings 11:29 NASB)
So, here Ahijah, the Prophet, runs into Jeroboam, who was going to be a king:
Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him and tore it into twelve pieces. (1 Kings 11:30 NASB)
This looks as if it was Jeroboam's garment, having acquired a new one to wear when he appeared before the king; though the sense may be this: That the prophet took hold of his own garment that was upon himself, and tore it into 12 pieces.
He said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes (1 Kings 11:31 NASB)
This was a very picturesque illustration of what God was going to do with the Kingdom of Israel.
"Now you son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you and inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem. "Then lay siege against it, build a siege wall, raise up a ramp, pitch camps and place battering rams against it all around. "Then get yourself an iron plate and set it up as an iron wall between you and the city, and set your face toward it so that it is under siege, and besiege it. This is a sign to the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 4:1-3 NASB)
So God tells Ezekiel to get a brick and draw a little deal of the city of Jerusalem-- "and lay siege against it." Now, can't you see the Prophet of God, sitting in the middle of town, with his brick pretending to lay siege against it. "Get yourself an iron plate"-- which is supposed to symbolize Nebuchadnezzar's army--"set it up as an iron wall between you and the city, and set your face toward it so that it is under siege." These are little plays, acted out prophecies, that aren't soon forgotten.
Can we expect these kind of prophecies today? If anything divides Christians today, it is this question. Many today still believe that prophecy is ongoing in church. But I think that Scripture makes it clear that it is not:
"Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. (Luke 21:21-22 NASB)
Luke tells us that in the destruction of Jerusalem, all prophecy was fulfilled. Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, so that should settle the question.
When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:12 NASB)
Agabus, through the Holy Spirit, told only of Paul's bonds and affliction that awaited him in Jerusalem. He gave no inspired instructions to Paul about turning back or avoiding Jerusalem, but the Caesarean saints did, along with all those in Paul's traveling party, including Luke it would seem. Their attitude was the same as the saints of Tyre. The saints from both cities came to the conclusion on their own that Paul should stay away from Jerusalem, a conclusion based upon the prophecy of Paul's treatment in Jerusalem.
With tender affection, the believers "were begging" Paul to "cease going up," to Jerusalem. They want to preserve the beloved apostle from physical harm, possibly death, and so keep him for themselves and the church's mission.
The saints concluded, on their own, what Paul should do about the Spirit's revelation. And these saints were wrong, even though they were unanimous in their conclusion!
Christians are just as inclined to give advice today as they were in Paul's day. Unfortunately, much (if not most) of the advice which is given by Christians is like that which the saints along the way to Jerusalem gave to Paul--well-intentioned, but wrong.
Our text is a very important one in Acts for it tells us how it was, in the plan and the purpose of God, that the Gospel made its way to Rome. It was a way that no one would have expected, and many of the saints were trying (unwittingly) to prevent. But it was God's way. The very thing which God was going to do, and which Paul was committed to do, the saints were seeking to turn around, to do the very opposite.
Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13 NASB)
Paul rebuked those who tried to turn him away from Jerusalem, assuring them that he knew well that he would be bound and would suffer when he arrived there. Paul was not only willing to suffer; he was ready to die for the sake of the Gospel. Paul's ministry was characterized by suffering and the threat of death from the very outset. Luke's account of the conversion of Saul informs us that Paul was immediately opposed and persecuted by the Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah, so that Paul had to secretly leave Damascus, lowered from a wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). So, too, in Jerusalem, Paul was in great danger and had to leave (Acts 9:29-30). In Lystra, Paul was stoned and left for dead (Acts 13:19). In his Epistles Paul referred to a number of other incidents of his sufferings, which were not recorded in Acts (see Romans 15:31; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; 6:3-10). Paul was no stranger to suffering.
Paul saw suffering more as a privilege than as a problem, and as an inseparable part of his calling to proclaim Jesus as the Savior. In the Book of Philippians, Paul spoke of suffering as that which God graciously granted, along with believing in Christ:
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, (Philippians 1:29 NASB)
God's committed followers have always believed their cause was worth dying for, and Paul was one of those followers.
If you have a sound doctrine of God, then whatever happens, is acceptable. When I see anybody fall apart or crackup under any kind of anxiety; whether it's the pain of persecution, which is a little bit rare; whether it's the pain of broken relationships; whether it's the pain of death in a life; or whether it's the pain of illness--when anybody collapses underneath that, it is because they don't have a sound doctrine of God.
We must realize that even the pain that comes to us, comes directly through God's hand.
If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6 NASB)
When the sound of alarm is trumpeted by the watchman in the city, the people are sure to run to and fro in alarm. Yet Israel is not alarmed, though God threatens judgments.
God is the Author of all the calamities that come upon you, and that are foretold by His prophets. God is no spectator. And everything that reaches you in your life is from His loving hand.
People talk about the permissive will of God, but you can't find it in the Bible. It isn't there. God's not a spectator. He isn't beside the events; He isn't behind the event; He's in them, and that's the only way to look at it. God is sovereign.
And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!" (Acts 21:14 NASB)
Once they recognized that he believed that it was God's will for him to be bound in Jerusalem, and that nothing would change His mind, they declared "The will of the Lord be done."
I see a comparison between Paul's journey from Ephesus to Jerusalem and Jesus' journey through Samaria to Jerusalem. Both encountered plots by the Jews; both were given multiple prophesies concerning being handed over to the Gentiles, a prediction of their suffering; and both had a resolve to be obedient to God's will. In both cases it was the Romans who made the arrest as a result of the Jewish uprising against them. There is little doubt that Paul would have drawn from his knowledge of Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem as he was observing his own. Unlike Jesus, Paul did not know what awaited him in Jerusalem other than some form of persecution. At this point he did not know if he would live or die. But he was willing to face whatever God's will was for him.
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