Have you known how the phrase “God willing” is falling off our lips? It's one of the things that Covid has blessed us with, we can no longer be certain about the immediate future. We make our plans and then there's another viral variant, a new government policy and plans are changed. We go into lockdowns, border closures, and as today - live services stop.
So, I say ‘see you next Sunday for live services, God willing!’
As Paul sets his face to Jerusalem, he passes from one city to another catching up with new disciples.
We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. ~Acts 21: 3a-4 (NIV)
In chapter 20, the Spirit urges Paul to go to Jerusalem, now he seems to be telling Paul to not go to Jerusalem. So, which is it? Either the apostle got it wrong, the disciples got it wrong or the Spirit got it wrong. We can live with Church getting it wrong. We are surprised if the apostle got it wrong but we are in big trouble if the Spirit got it wrong.
When the voting for a new Pope in 2005 was taking place the Australian Catholic Archbishop - George Pell was being interviewed on TV. He said that the Spirit directs the decision of the Cardinals to appoint the man God wants to be Pope. The interviewer then asked the Archbishop "What about those Popes who even the Catholic Church admits were heretics or sexually immoral?" Then Archbishop Pell replied "Well, sometimes the Spirit gets it wrong."
So my first question from today's passage. Does the Spirit get it wrong? This is not the only time that the Spirit warned Paul about his trip to Jerusalem.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 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 Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. ~Acts 21:10-12 (NIV)
Again Paul ignores the warning to not go to Jerusalem, is Paul resisting the Holy Spirit? Is he despising Prophecy?
Let's look carefully. Agabus, with the style of an Old Testament prophet, re-enacts out what would happen to Paul if he goes. It's clear that this is from God, we are told it is what the Holy Spirit said and we also know it's from God because it happened.
The Spirit got it right! So did Paul get it wrong by going? No! If you look carefully the Spirit did not say 'don’t go'. God lovingly warns the Apostle but does not stop the apostle.
If anyone got it wrong it was Christians. The co-workers jumped to the wrong conclusions.
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 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.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” ~Acts 21:12-14 (NIV)
Like so many Christians they thought that avoiding suffering is what God always wants. Friends, the world lives by one formula, that happiness is the most important thing in the world. It's deadly! And it's making us an immature culture when your highest goal in life is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. You will not do the Lord's will.
EXAMPLE: One woman who was seriously ill had a minister who would only pray for healing and nothing else. She became exasperated with him and said to him "Why do you deny me the opportunity to know my God better through this suffering."
It didn’t help Paul to tell him to avoid suffering and not go to Jerusalem. Let's see what did help
When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. ~Acts 21:5 (NIV)
So the point of the warning was to not only prepare Paul and the other Christians to expect it and so not be discouraged. It was to provoke support and prayer. We are quick to give advice but we are slow to bring those needs before our Father in heaven. Do the Lord's will whatever the cost and entrust it to the Lord for his will be done.
1. Is the 'all things to all men' a waste of time?
Paul comes back to Jerusalem, he has two groups who could oppose him, he has Non-Christian Jews who despise him and he has Christian Jews who are upset at his reported view on the Jewish law, especially converted Pharisees. It's this second group that is his focus.
He is warmly greeted by his Jewish brothers in Jerusalem. Paul tells how God saved the nations through his ministry and they praised God. James, the Lord's brother, appears to be the head of the church in Jerusalem, he instructs Paul to join in a Jewish Nazarite vow of purification and to pay not just for himself but for 4 others. Why would he do this? He wants the Jewish Christians to know that Paul is not anti-law of Moses. He is being slandered and accused of telling Christian Jews that their children should be circumcised. So why would he agree to share in a Jewish vow and pay for four others, this is the principle of 'all things to all people'. To be a Jew become like a Jew.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. ~1 Corinthians 9:20 (NIV)
In that chapter, he lists all his rights as an apostle and then he talks about and forfeits those same rights. He lets love limit his liberty. Its rarely followed by Christians and it's an easily misunderstood principle. Paul himself was accused of being inconsistent and people-pleasing but it comes from grasping that he knew that in Christ he was neither Jew nor Gentile. His identity was bound up with the Lord Jesus, he could sit loose with his culture because he was defined by Jesus. It freed him to work to a higher principle than love, whether they were non-Christians and need to be saved or whether they were Christians and he did not want to cause offence
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. ~1Corinthians 9:19,22 (NIV)
In short, we bend for others for that is what Jesus did for us.
What is the result of this costly sacrifice for Paul? More trouble!
2. Is the 'all things to all men' a waste of time?
Wanting to work on his relationship with Jewish Christians, Paul is attacked by non-Christian Jews. ‘You feel like saying you cant win!!! He is spotted in the temple by non-Christian Jews from Asia, where Paul had an effective ministry, they go berserk and stir up the crowd. They accuse Paul of being anti-Moses, anti-law, anti temple and anti-Jerusalem.
They wrongly assumed Paul had brought a non-Jew, Trophimus, into the temple, the whole city was up in arms. They drag Paul from the Temple, they began to beat him with a view of killing him, until the Roman commander steps in. So much for being all things to all men, he does the right thing, he takes a Jewish vow for Purification, he pays for 4 others. For his trouble, he gets beaten to within an inch of his life while showing his respect for the law of God, he is accused of hating the Law of God.
But friends if its the right thing to do then do it. Forfeit your rights, compromise, bend here, bend there and expect that it will get misunderstood. You may well get condemned any way, we don’t judge something by the outcome, if something is right then its right, whether it appears to work or not.
EXAMPLE : If I choose not to lie at work and then I lose my job, it doesn’t stop being the right thing.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. ~Acts 21:33 (NIV)
Just as the prophecy has warned. For the Lords will be done!
Whatever is happening God has not lost control. What is clear is that Paul is allowed to live. The Roman Law again protects Christians from Jewish opposition and Paul will use the chaos to preach the gospel and give a defence.
The Roman commander can't get to the truth from the rabble, the crowd is dead set wanting to kill Paul. Amidst all this conflict what is Paul doing? He angles for an opportunity to give his defence and share the gospel to the crowd. He gets permission, Paul follows Jesus words to be cunning or wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.
Notice he starts with what they have common. So he speaks in Aramaic which gets their attention and he reminds them he is a Jew with the best credentials. He has been trained under the best of the rabbis. He was born in Tarsus but brought up in Jerusalem like them and has a zeal for the law. Like them he had persecuted Christians - what they were doing to him - he had done to others. Paul was no lone ranger - he had the backing of the High priest and the ruling Jewish Council
But in the midst of his persecution, on his way to take Christian prisoners in Damascus, the living Jesus appeared to him. In a blinding flash, he heard the voice of the Lord Jesus
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ~Acts 22:6-7 (NIV)
He both sees and hears from the risen Lord Jesus. You would think that would have triggered the crowd in a feeding frenzy, but it doesn’t. He is told that he is chosen by God to witness to all people what he saw and heard from Jesus. He is told to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. None of this caused a reaction.
Paul wants to make the point while praying in the temple and in a trance he is warned to leave Jerusalem because of persecution. He tells Jesus in the trance that he would be accepted because he was the greatest Christian persecutor.
His conversion should win the day but still no reaction. What gets their goat.
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” ~Acts 22:21-22 (NIV)
The thought of wanting people like you saved made them want to kill Paul. As far as they are concerned no human is fit to live who would want someone like you, a non-Jew to be in Gods kingdom and be part of Gods people. So did Paul's defence work? It would not get him off the hook. This will be the first of 5 opportunities before the courts and the crowds for Paul to give a defence. He wasn't flogged but that had more to do with the fact that Paul was born a Roman citizen.
Let the Lords will be done. And it was the Lord's will for Paul to stand before courts to give witness and that witness was that anyone from any nation who called on the name of the risen Lord Jesus will be saved. But what guarded Paul was not his Roman Citizenship. It would be that the Lords will be done.
"When David Livingstone was asked if he didn't fear that going into Africa was too difficult and too dangerous, he answered, I am immortal until the will of God is accomplished."
In other words, I will live as long as it takes for God to do what he wants me to do.
Let's not be ashamed of Christ. The Spirit warns us that anyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. That should lead us to pray. We should seek to forfeit our rights and bend for others. Let us take the opportunity to side with Jesus, to speak for Jesus. Knowing that the outcome is in God's hand.
The Lords will be done