Sermon for Sunday Evening, October 8th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Acts 21:1-16 ESV] 1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. 7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many 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, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” 15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.
What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever set your mind to and accomplished? I told a hiker the other day that the two hardest things I’ve ever done were (1) an engineering degree at the University of Michigan, and (2) hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. And whenever you set out on something major like this, you’re bound to have people warn you. “It is going to take a lot of time.” “It is going to take a lot of work.” “There are dangers ahead.”
But, with the end in mind, you continue courageously. You are ready for the troubles that are ahead. And the joy of the goal draws you through.
What are such difficulties you’ve experienced? Child birth? The pains of a labor are replaced with the joy of a new child in the world. Or maybe it has been a difficult job you’ve taken. People warn you “don’t do it.” But you persevere, complete the project, and are rewarded both monetarily and with that good feeling of success.
Well, none of these situations fully rises to the level of what Paul is dealing with in our text, and what we are called to do as Christians, be ready to give all for the Gospel, for the Lord, and for His glory. And it is not so far-fetched that such might occur to us. That we may even be martyrs. We pray it isn’t so. But in this world with abortion, and medical tyranny, and government tyranny of all sorts, in addition to the worldly secular society around us, there is considerable danger for Christians as we pursue our Christian lives. But we must stand for the truth. “Live not by lies” is the phrase well-used in our day, with a book of the same title. We must live as Christians, defending even to the end our right to home schooling and private schooling without government indoctrination. Defending our right to gather for worship. Defending our right to sing. Defending our right to the truth; to holding views that are not popular and wished to be silenced by the evil forces of the world.
So our text is a call to courage. And a call to be ready, for perseverance through warnings and danger and actual persecution. Live not by lies. Even better would be to say this in a positive way: Live according to the Truth, with a capital T.
I. On the Road Again.
For a few chapters now we’ve seen Paul heading towards Jerusalem. And he finally arrives now in our text. But there are a number of stops on the way. And on two these stops he gets warnings about the trouble that is ahead. It is clear to all, even Paul himself, that danger awaits. He’s going to be arrested, imprisoned, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.
Paul is heading to Jerusalem to provide relief funds from the other churches. And this also had the effect of the Jews seeing that the Gentile Christians cared for them in their plight.
Luke is traveling with Paul. The entire passage is some of the “We” passages. He’s able to relay the information of what has occurred as a first hand eyewitness.
So Luke tells us of the path they took:
Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Syria, Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea before Jerusalem.
There were dangers, no doubt, in traveling in the ancient world. The sea is mightier than the ship! Of course, that is true even today, but the disparity was much greater back then. Going over open sea on the Mediterranean on a hand-made boat was risky.
But the real dangers for Paul is in what lies ahead. Like so often, the most dangerous thing in the world is the people! I always find it strange that people thing it is dangerous out in the woods with animals or dangerous out in the “Wild West.” The actual history shows that it was safer out West, and more dangerous in the Eastern cities. And it still is. It is way more dangerous in Manhattan than the woods in Maine.
So the warnings start to come to Paul. And never warning of nature, which they all lived in all the time, but warnings of the persecutions ahead. And Paul knows about persecutions. We’ve seen all of what he has gone through so far; stonings, beatings, imprisonments. But never does he diverge from his mission; proclaiming the Gospel and living according to the Spirit of God.
II. Warning in Tyre
The first warning Paul gets when he is in Tyre.
3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
But Paul continues on.
5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey
So, did Paul ignore the Spirit in Tyre?
This is debated by some. But I think we can be fairly sure that Paul did not sin here. Certainly the text doesn’t say that he sinned.
And in fact, Paul had been warned by the Spirit previously of what would happen to him if he DIDN’T go to Jerusalem. [Acts 20:22-23 ESV] 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
MacArthur concludes “The Spirit’s message to Paul in Tyre, as elsewhere, was a warning, not a prohibition.”
I wonder if the idea here is that when it says “And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” that this is indicating that the Christians there were in faith in saying what they did. They truly cared for Paul.
III. Warning in Caesarea
The second warning Paul get is in Caesarea. It comes from the prophet Agabus.
10 While we were staying for many 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, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
So there have been two warning. And now even “we” — that is Luke and other leaders — as well as “the people”—perhaps the Christians in that place—all urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
Despite the warnings, Paul remains courageous. Paul is ready.
13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
He is ready even to die for the Lord.
And Paul isn’t the only person in the Bible who has that conviction. There is also David coming up against Goliath, and there is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, and Daniel in the Lions den. All of these are willing to die for the Lord. Willing to die rather than to cease worshipping him.
So we see a Christian Courage; going forward for what is right despite the obstacles. It is not a foolish courage. It isn’t seeking danger for dangers sake, but seeking the Lord whatever dangers that might bring.
We are called to “live peaceably with men.” And, so far as that is possible we are to do so. But, above all we “must chose God over man.” And so the peace is ended, not on our end, but by the unbeliever who hates God and wants the believer to cease worshipping God. The Romans and the Jews wanted Paul to stop preaching the Gospel; to stop preaching that Christ is Lord. But he absolutely would not do so. And Paul was in the right.
Paul “lived ready.”
We too are called to “live ready.” We are to “be ready” and “live ready.” Being prepared for the end, whenever it may come, and living for Christ at all times and through all obstacles.
This account also tells us something about our guidance in the Lord. Paul was led to go to Jerusalem. The other Christians were led to warn him about Jerusalem. The same spirit led both. Is God at odds with God? I think not. He both directed Paul and warned him at the same time. This is a not a contradiction.
As for the “leading” from the Lord, our primary guide now is the Scriptures themselves. The whole counsel of God, the faith, as Jude says “which was once for all delivered to the Saints.” The word of God is to be our guide.
There are many ways that the Scriptures speak about God leading us:
Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”
Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
Psalm 31:3 – “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me”
Romans 8:14 – “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Galatians 5:18 – But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
So these are generally GENERAL leadings, in the truth of God.
Do we have “specific” leadings?
The lord “puts things on our heart.” He arranges things together, so that we see things that need to be done. The Lord “puts it on our heart” that we need to help out a friend. But ultimately it might not work out well. And we don’t blame God for that failure.
While Paul and the Christians here have leadings that are not at odds with each other, what if 2 Christians do claim to have such opposing leadings? What if, for example, one elder in a church says “God tells me we should expand our property” and another elder says “God me that we should reduce our property, selling off part of it.” Then what do we do?
I think they must realize these “leadings” have limitations. We have wisdom from God, but it can be presumptuous to say that our “leading” is absolutely the only correct one from God.
In a Presbyterian church, we yield to the majority in the session.
We have to guard against a type of “American” individualist Christianity that says “I don’t need a confession of Faith,” I don’t hardly even need the Bible, I just let God lead me. That is very dangerous. That make-it-up-as-you-go theology. We have the Bible, God’s sure word to guide us. Let us use wisdom as we look at the Bible to guide us.