Acts 21:1-39

Key Verse 21:13


            “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.’”


            Last week we heard Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian Church. In his farewell address he spoke about his shepherd life. He had served the Lord with great humility and with tears. He taught publicly and from house to house that Jews and Greeks must turn to Jesus in repentance. He exhorted the elders to keep watch over themselves and the flock of God. He told them to be shepherds of the church of God, which Jesus bought with his own blood. And finally, he warned them about men, whom he called savage wolves that would come and distort the truth of God and draw away disciples after them.


            In this morning’s passage, Paul is headed towards Jerusalem to bring an offering from the Gentile churches to the church in Jerusalem,  that is from the Gentile believers to the Jewish believers. Paul does not know what will happen to him as he goes. He only knows that in every city the Holy Spirit had warned him that prison and hardships were facing him. In order to do the will of God Paul was ready to do anything for Jesus. He was willing to face hardships and even death.


            What enabled Paul to have such an attitude towards his life of mission? How could he have such a life giving and sacrificial spirit? None of us here wants to die. All of us want to live as long as we can and enjoy as much of the world as we can. We all want to have an “endless summer.” However, Paul’s attitude exemplifies the life of Jesus that God wants all his people to have. May God help each of you to come to have the faith like that of Paul so that you may be ready to do anything for Jesus.


Part 1. On to Jerusalem (1-16)


            Let’s look at verses 1-6. These verses describe where Paul and his journey team went after their prayerful and tearful parting with the Ephesian elders. In these verses we can trace the route of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. Luke, the gospel writer and historian was one of Paul’s traveling companions. They traveled from Cos to Rhodes and then to Patara. These are cities along the Turkish coastline. These coastal areas along the Meditteranean Sea are one of the most beautiful in the world. The water is a deep blue and fish are abundant. Since sail boats were the major form of travel at that time for these areas, the ports along these small cities were often crowded with boats used as fishing vessels, much like the Beltway is crowded with cars today with people going to work. They found a ship and crossed over to Phoenicia and found a boat there and set sail passing by Cyprus and then onto Syria. They landed at Tyre and unloaded some cargo. At Tyre, they found some disciples and stayed with them for seven days.


            Look at verse 4, “Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” The disciples here had a deep concern for Paul. They said, “Don’t go Paul. Please don’t go! Spend some time with us.” They desired to drag the time he spent with them as long as possible thinking Paul might change his mind. With the love from the Holy Spirit they were concerned for Paul’s safety and for his life. They knew he should not go to Jerusalem because of the great potential of human danger. It is like an ordinary American trying to go to the danger spots of Saudia Arabia or Iraq today.  But Paul was a very determined and focused man. He did not want to stay because he had committed his life to Jesus. Like Jesus, he was ready to lay down his life for the sheep.


            Look at verses 5-6, “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.”  This was an emotional parting. But the thing we see here is that they all prayed together. Even the children came out and accompanied them to pray. It was a huge outdoor prayer meeting. Even the seagulls joined in. They all knelt down on the sandy beach on their hands and knees  in humility before God and asked his grace be upon them and for it to be with Paul as he headed towards Jerusalem. This scene shows the importance of united prayer of God’s people in the early church. This was their custom and it was a sign of their unity and strength. As we send out missionaries to other lands we pray together and become united in Christ with one heart and mind.  When we sent missionaries to China such as Philip and Augustine, we could all pray together and agree in the Lord together, though we were sad to see them go. However, now we are happy to hear that they are doing well there, especially Philip, who is very popular with the Chinese students. Also, as we prepare for the MSU Summer Conference, we are meeting constantly in united prayer, calling on God’s name to bless this conference so that Jesus may be praised.


            Let’s look at the rest of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. From verses 7-14 we see that they went from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais where a few brothers greeted them and where they stayed for a day. Then the left the next day and reached Caesarea. In Ceasarea, they stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist. As you might recall, Philip was one of the seven men chosen by the apostles in Acts chapter 6 to take care of the needs of the Hebraic and Grecian Jews widows. Philip was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and his spiritual influence seemed to have rubbed off on his daughters.


Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. His four daughters did not seem to have a marriage problem.  Rather, they devoted themselves to the Lord. As result, they became powerful speakers of the word of God. After they had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus from Judea came and visited them.  Let’s see what he did. Let’s read verse 11, “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 hand him over to the Gentiles.’” 


Wow! What a scene this was! Agabus did not come and shake Paul’s hand, but tied him up instead with his own belt to give him a warning of what was to come. Agabus was the same person who had earlier prophesied that there was going to be a famine (11:28) that would spread over the entire Roman world and it did happen just the way he said it would. So Agabus was a reputable prophet to be taken seriously. This dramatic act that Agabus showed here in verse 11, was very convincing to the disciples who were already on edge about Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem.  When the disciples heard what Agabus said to Paul, they pleaded with him fervently not to go up to Jerusalem (verse 12). 


How did Paul answer them? Let us read verse 13, “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.” Here we see the clear attitude of Paul’s life. We can see he had a goal in mind. Paul’s goal was to go to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there, to bring an offering and to strengthen the fellow Jewish believers.  But the goal that overshadowed that goal was the prize of the kingdom of heaven and to receive the crown of life.  In Philippians 3:14 he said, “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” It was not merely human determination that inspired Paul. It was his desire to press on to the goal to complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.


From a human point of view it was difficult for Paul to leave. He felt like weeping and his heart was breaking because his fellow believers were so personal and special to him, like family. He knew that by going, it might hurt many of them because of their emotional attachments to him. He had been like a father to them. He had counseled them and listened to them and helped them at all hours of the day, even losing sleep late into the night, to hear some of their personal problems.


But now Paul said he was ready to be bound and even die. How could Paul say this? It was the glorious resurrection hope that the Risen Jesus had put in his heart. It was the desire to meet the Risen Jesus in heaven and receive the crown of life. Before Paul met Jesus, he was Saul.  He was a proud, arrogant and self-righteous Pharisee.  He worked hard to make his name great and to be recognized by others. But along the way he became obsessed more and more with his own personal agenda. He was zealous for God, but it wasn’t to glorify God, it was only to receive human praise and glory. As a result, Saul had no peace in his heart.


Outwardly he might of looked confident and strong. But inside he was restless and anxious and enslaved by the fear of death. But then he met the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus as he was going to arrest more Christians and have them thrown in jail. When he met the Risen Jesus, he experienced the grace of God being poured out on him. His sins had been forgiven! He knew he was the worst of sinners. (1 Tim 1:12-16) He had even been a murderer and a persecutor! Now the grace of Jesus was overflowing on him and his sins were washed away.


In Acts 9:15-16, the Risen Jesus had given him the message that Saul was to be his chosen instrument to carry his name before the Gentiles and the people of Israel. The Risen Jesus also told him that he would suffer for his name. Now Saul had a clear life goal and point. It was to live for the name of Jesus and not for the name of Saul. In joy he might have said, “This is it! This is my purpose, for Jesus’ name sake.” He saw God’s plan of redemption and his purpose for being saved and his purpose for living. So he changed his name from Saul which means “the great one” to Paul which means “small”.  This change of name was a clear expression of his desire to magnify the name of Jesus and live for Jesus and not for himself anymore.


Now we have seen through our study of the book of Acts, how much Paul has suffered. We have seen how many times he was almost killed. We have seen how many times he has been marked out as an enemy when he preached the whole will of God. Paul put his life on the line for Jesus 24-7. Now wouldn’t be good enough for him to say, “I want to retire and go far away from any trouble”? There would not be anyone of his coworkers or disciples who would deny him such a request and make the effort to get him to the best place to live out his retirement.


But Paul did not make that request. Instead he said he was ready to be bound and die for the name of the Lord Jesus. If we read the prison epistles, such as Philippians we get an even better idea of Paul’s attitude in his life. In Philippians 1:20-21 he said, “…but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As we see here back in verse 13, Paul was ready to be bound. Already he had received many persecutions and was not about to shrink back from anymore. He also said he was ready to die.


Paul did not say this because he thought he had lived enough and seen enough of the world or thought that he was an old man. Rather this shows us his attitude in his life was total commitment to Jesus. The grace of Jesus made him say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me---the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (20:24). Paul had really died to himself. He had been crucified with Christ. Some people may say it is easy to die once. But Paul said, “I die everyday.”


It is easy to think that giving up some things for Jesus is fine, up to a certain extent. I have a limit, so don’t push me. And some people may say that what God demands of me is too much. I need some space, give some space. But what made Paul so great? It was because he died to himself. This means he died to his passions and ambition for self glory. When he died, he experienced the life of Jesus in him. He experienced real peace, a sure eternal hope and a clear mission goal. No one could stop Paul when he died to himself. He was like Jesus who set out for Jerusalem with a single mind to die for the sins of the world that it even astonished his disciples and made them afraid. (Mk.10:32)


To follow Jesus’ life means that we all have to die to ourselves. When we struggle to get up in the morning to pray instead of sleeping a little more, this is dying to ourselves. When we chose to attend meetings and Bible study, instead of going to see a movie or by saying, “I just don’t feel like going”, then we are dying to ourselves. The more we die to ourselves, the more we become alive, that is the life of Christ comes in us. This seems paradoxical doesn’t it? When we die we live and have freedom in Christ. Since this is the 4th of July, we can’t ignore the meaning of what we call Independence Day. Real freedom for America did not come without a cost. It came by men and women who were willing to die. Patrick Henry, the great American said, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It was remarkable that the American colonists could defeat the British army and be freed from British rule since England was the strongest nation on the earth at that time.  But victory came when men and women sacrificed for the same cause and had the same goal: to establish a democratic nation. Perhaps they also prayed harder and longer and with more tears of repentance than the British.


Like Paul, we can experience the victory over anything when we make a commitment to Jesus’ high purpose for us and to live for his name. Being bound and dying is something no ones looks forward to. But Paul welcomed them with a peace that came from dying to himself and living to exalt Jesus’ name. The believers could not dissuade Paul from his desire to be bound and die for Jesus’ name.


Look at verse 14, “When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘the Lord’s will be done.’” The Lord’s will be done was their conclusion. This was Paul’s desire all along. May God help us to also say, “The Lord’s will be done” when we go towards the cross of Jesus like Paul. We see here that Paul had committed himself to do the will of God. He went to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the Jerusalem church. In order to do so, he was risking his life and could be killed. He knew this. However, he considered doing the will of God more important than his own life. He would not shrink back from death in doing the will of God. Paul was as we see a man of obedience to God. His attitude and life amazes us because we do not see many people like this in the times we live.


Part 2. Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem (17-26)


            When they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles. Look at verse 19. “ Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” Though Paul was a Jew, he had God’s vision for the whole world and wanted to share this vision with his fellow Jewish believers. This is why he shared in detail about the work of God among the Gentiles. The Gentiles who had no chance for salvation or to become God’s people, could now become God’s people because of the grace of Jesus. Paul was happy and thankful to have this mystery of God revealed to him through the gospel (Eph.3:6).


            Paul’s message was convincing and encouraging and it caused all the believers in Jerusalem to praise God. This month we expect to hear many reports about the great work of God, some in detail, that is happening all over the world. Some of this will amaze you and astonish you. You will hear reports of Hindu’s turning to Jesus through 1:1 Bible study and eating meat. You will hear amazing works of God through God’s`people who have died to themselves and were willing to proclaim the name of Jesus in a foreign tongue.


Now that Paul was in Jerusalem, trouble already started. Paul was falsely accused of teaching the Jews to turn away from Moses and not to circumcise.

At this time, some believers made a suggestion that Paul join in the purification rights to identify himself as a Jew who keeps the law. But as we shall see, it didn’t work as they expected. Nevertheless we see here that Paul was humble. He did not try to force his own way on people and disagree with their suggestion. Instead, he did everything to keep unity in the body of believers. He became all things to all people in order to win as much over to Christ. (1 Cor.9:20-23) 


Part 3. Paul Arrested (27-39)


            Some of the Jews in the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple and stirred up the crowd and seized Paul. Let’s read verse 28, “shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. There was mass confusion everywhere!


            Look at verses 31-36. They immediately tried to kill Paul, but Paul was saved by some Roman soldiers. They arrested him and bound him with two chains, thus fulfilling Agabus’ prophecy. This made the crowd even more vocal and violent. Paul had to be carried away for his own safety other wise he might have been beaten and crushed to death. Look at Paul’s attitude towards all of this in verses 37-39. Here we see Paul’s shepherd heart for his people. He only wanted to speak to them words of the Lord, not shouts of revenge.  He did not think about the wounds on his body that were bloody and bleeding. He did not ask for anything for himself, not even a cup of water. He did not care about his life. He only wanted to use this opportunity for the salvation of his people and to speak about the Lord Jesus.


            Paul had indeed died to himself for Jesus’ name sake. Let each of us pray that we may know what it means to be ready, be bound and die for Jesus’ name. May God give you his grace and the decision to commit your daily life to Jesus. Through dying, may God help you to experience the life of Christ.