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Acts 21:1-26: Willing to Die and Submit Print E-mail


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None of us can escape the necessity of dealing with tension in our lives.  We face it at work.  We face it at home.  And we even face it in the Church.  Hopefully, we could all give examples of times when the tension was dealt with in such a way as to promote unity and peace among the parties involved.  Yet, I fear that all of us could also give examples of times when the tension escalated and resulted in anger and division.  The truth is that not every tension can be resolved peacefully.  We live in a fallen world.  Our relationships are plagued by sin and selfishness and pride (and not just from others!).  Sometimes we have to take a stand for truth or what’s right in the situation, even when we know that such a stand will be costly.  Yet, there are other times when we can and should fight for peace, doing all that we can to resolve the tension.

Paul was no stranger to tension.  He expected it.  He faced it at the Jerusalem council (15:1ff).  He faced it with Barnabas after the first missionary journey (15:36-41).  He tells us in the letter of Galatians that he faced it with Peter (2:11-14).  Although we cannot make hard and fast principles for dealing with tension in each of these situations, we can learn from Paul some various approaches to tension when we face it.  In our passage this morning, as Paul is finishing his third and final missionary journey, we see him dealing once again with the tension that existed between him and the Jews.  So how does Paul deal with it in this passage?

Paul is willing to die for Jesus (v. 1-16)

Paul told the Ephesian elders that difficulties awaited him in Jerusalem, but that he was going because the Spirit constrained him to go (20:22-23).  Others affirm that Paul will suffer in Jerusalem, but they draw different conclusions about what that means for him.  This happens in the city of Tyre.  Look at verses 1-4.  It seems that the Spirit had led these believers to the conclusion that Paul was going to suffer in Jerusalem.  They concluded from that revelation that he should not go to Jerusalem.  Yet, Paul interpreted what the Spirit was saying differently and continued moving toward Jerusalem.  Look at verses 5-6.  These believers cared for Paul and the others even though this was probably their first meeting.

Paul receives a further warning about what will happen in Jerusalem in Caesarea.  Look at verses 7-9.  We had last heard about Philip in Acts 8, where he had made it to Caesarea after witnessing to the Ethiopian eunuch.  Now, twenty years later, we find him still in the same city with a family and daughters who can prophesy.  But Luke quickly draws our attention to another prophet in verses 10-12.  Look at those verses with me.  Like the prophets of old, Agabus acts out his prophecy about what is going to happen to Paul in Jerusalem.  He takes his belt and ties his own hands and feet and then tells Paul that the same is going to happen to him.  Although Agabus does not really draw a conclusion about what this means for Paul, the other believers do.  They urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem in light of the prophecy.  Again, it seems what is happening is that the prophecy is from the Spirit, while the application is from those who do not want to see Paul imprisoned.  How does Paul respond to their pleas?

Luke tells us of Paul’s response in verse 13.  Look at that verse with me.  The Spirit has made it clear that Paul is going to suffer in Jerusalem.  There is no question about that.  His friends and fellow believers conclude that the Spirit is warning Paul so that he will not actually go to Jerusalem.  But Paul does not agree.  Yes, the suffering will come, but Paul is prepared for it.  He knows that he will be imprisoned and he is ready to face that.  In fact, he says, “I am ready not only to be imprisoned by even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Paul expects to suffer and he is ready to give his life for Jesus if that is what it takes.  He knows that the Jews will continue to persecute him for preaching Jesus, but that does not mean that he is going to stop.  This is not Paul pursuing martyrdom.  Rather, he is simply seeking to finish my course and   the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Do Paul’s actions here mean that we should pursue suffering?  No, but they do teach us that we should be willing to suffer for obedience to Christ.  We should not flee from obeying Jesus just because we could be persecuted.  Rather, we should be willing to suffer when it is necessary.  We should be willing by God’s grace to give our lives for the gospel if that is required.  Paul believed that the gospel was worth his life.  He believed that telling people of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins was worth persecution.  He knew that the Jews who did not believe in Jesus would continue to pursue him.  But that was not going to keep him from trying to reach others with the gospel.  He was willing to die for Jesus.  And so he keeps heading toward Jerusalem.  Look at verses 14-16.  The missionary journeys are over.  Paul returned to the city with the promise of suffering and the plan to keep preaching anyway.

Paul was willing to submit for peace (v. 17-26)

When Paul finally does make it to Jerusalem, he meets with James and the elders of the Church.  Look at verses 17-20a.  Paul tells them about all that God has been doing among the Gentiles while he has been on journeys.  They rejoice in his report and praise God for His work among the nations.  But then they inform Paul of some potential tensions in Jerusalem.  Look at verses 20b-22.  As Paul has been traveling and ministering, it seems some false ideas about his teaching has come to the Christian Jews in Jerusalem.  They think that he is encouraging Jewish converts to abandon their cultural traditions and in this way to forsake Moses.  Was Paul actually doing this?  Paul did not believe that Christians were required to follow certain customs to be saved.  He wrote against this in his letter to the Galatians.  Paul believed and taught that the only response to the gospel that was necessary was repentance and faith in what Jesus did at the cross.  Yet, being a Christian did not mean that the Jews had to abandon all of their cultural practices.  In one sense, Paul was indifferent on these cultural matters, but he did understand the tension that surrounded them.  Apparently, the tension was great in Jerusalem.

So what did James and the elders recommend?  Look at verses 23-25.  They encourage Paul to pay for four men to finish their vows, which would have been a considerable price, and for him to purify himself (since he has been traveling in Gentile lands).  In this way, Paul will communicate to the Christian Jews that he is not telling people to forsake Moses.  They have all agreed on what should be done concerning the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Council.  Now, they are encouraging Paul to take these actions for the sake of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

How do you think Paul will respond?  How would you respond?  These Christian Jews have believed false ideas about Paul’s teaching and they are seemingly fired up about cultural practices that do not really pertain to salvation.  Wouldn’t you be tempted to just blow this off?  Wouldn’t you be tempted to just tell James and the others that these folks need to get their facts straight?  Wouldn’t it be easy to condemn them for focusing on issues other than the gospel?  The truth is, there can be times when we have to take such a stand, but for Paul, this is not one of them.  Look how he responds in verse 26.  This is an example of Paul becoming all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22).  Did Paul think that he had to do what he was being asked?  No, he did not.  But he was willing to submit to James and the elders for the sake of peace.  He did not want to be a stumbling block for his weaker brothers.  He did not want to needlessly offend.  So he paid the price (literally) and purified himself according to custom.  He submitted for peace.

The Christian life is all about dying to self.  Paul was prepared to give his life in Jerusalem for the sake of the gospel.  He was not going to stop preaching even if it cost him his life.  He was prepared to die physically for the sake of Christ.  At the same time, he was prepared to die to self for the sake of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  He did not have to pay the money.  He did not have to go through the purification custom.  But he was willing to do so for the sake of others.  He was willing to die to his own preferences to maintain peace and unity.

What about you?  Are you willing to give your life for the gospel?  Would you die for the gospel if necessary?  It is not an easy question and we should not answer it lightly.  My hope and my prayer is that God would grant us grace and faith to endure in the face of such suffering.  How can we prepare for that?  How can we have the faith that Paul had?  I cannot answer that question fully this morning, but I can say that it begins with valuing Jesus more than anything else.  We have to truly understand our sinfulness and what we deserved.  We have to believe that God owed us nothing but death and Hell.  But that is not what He has given us.  Rather, He sent Jesus to take our death and bear the wrath of the Father in our place.  And He has raised Him from the dead so that we could know this morning that our sins are forgiven.  Do you believe that this morning?  O praise God, Jesus is worthy of all our devotion, even if it costs us our lives!

But if I am honest, I actually think it is just as hard at times to die to ourselves on a daily basis as it is to give our lives in triumph at the end.  It is hard to die to our own preferences, our own ideas, our own desires.  It is hard to submit to others, especially when we think they are misled.  Are you willing to submit to the people around you this morning (Ephesians 5:21)?  Are you willing to consider them as more significant than you (Philippians 2:3)?  Are we willing to die to ourselves and live for each other, even when that means giving up our preferences or doing something we don’t think is necessary or paying out a large sum of money?

Paul was willing to die for Jesus and to submit for the unity of the Church in Jerusalem.  And through his letters he calls us to do the same.  By example and by exhortation he calls us to die to self, just like Jesus did.  Our Savior laid down His own life to save sinners like us.  May we take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and live (or die) for His glory.  Amen.  

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 10 November 2014 )

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