Thank God For Our Freedom
INTRO: We continue our study today in Acts chapter 21 and we will be examining verses 1-36.
Last week we left the apostle Paul with tears in his eyes warning the elders from Ephesus to be on their guard against false teachers in Acts 20. We saw very powerfully that Paul knew that his time on earth was ending soon. He knew what was about to happen to him as he departed from their company in Miletus.
We catch up with Paul’s journey now in Acts 21:1-4 – “1. Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2. And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3. When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo. 4. And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.” [NKJV]
Luke tells us that they went from Cos, to Rhodes, to Patara. Then, they boarded a ship sailing to Phoenicia and they passed Cyprus and sailed to Syria, where they stopped at Tyre for the ship to unload its cargo.
It’s here in Tyre that Paul and his companions sought out the Lord's followers in that city and stayed seven days with them. Since the Spirit played a key role in the start of this journey toward Jerusalem, it seems likely the disciples, having further revelations from the Spirit concerning Paul's coming imprisonment, begged him not to go.
I. Luke continues in Acts 21:5-9 – “5. When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed. 6. When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home. 7. And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day. 8. On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”
A. Luke says that at the end of their weeklong visit, Paul's company walked toward the ship with an escort composed of the many Christian men in the city of Tyre, along with their wives and children.
1. Look what they did before boarding the ship. They all stopped for a prayer.
2. Do we ever do that? We are not told exactly what it was they were praying for but the fact that they begged Paul not to go makes me suspect that they may have been asking God to be with Paul because of what was going to happen to him.
B. Before we embark on any journey, do we pray for a safe trip and ask God to be with us?
1. I know I have, and I know others have as well. Sometimes though we seem to have the mindset that we only need to pray for a safe journey if we plan to fly or go on a ship. For some reason we consider these journeys more dangerous.
2. What about all the small journeys? Do we pray then? Or do we take those journeys for granted? Do we think that we don’t need God for those small journeys as well?
3. When the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua finally took the Promised Land, Joshua reminds the people in Joshua 24:17-18 – “for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, even the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
4. We find in Ezra chapter 8 the account of the Israelites returned from captivity to Jerusalem. Ezra 8:21-23 – “21. Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. 22. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, "The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.'' 23. So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”
5. As Christians we should always pray for safe journeys no matter how long or short the journey is. We need to remind ourselves that we are never alone. We need to remember to take God with us whether the journey is great or small.
C. After their prayer on the beach, Paul and those with him boarded the ship and the others returned home. The ship went on from Tyre to Ptolemais, where they were again greeted by the brethren.
1. After one day's stay, they went on to Caesarea, where they spent some time in the house of Philip the proclaimer of good news.
2. Who was this Philip? Scholars believe it was the same Philip who is mentioned in Acts 6 and Acts 8 who was chosen for the ministration to the widows and the one who taught the Ethiopian.
3. According to what we have just read Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
II. It’s during Paul’s time at Philip’s house that we're re-introduced to a man who we have already met. Acts 21:10-14 – “10. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. 11. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. 12. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. 14. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” [KJV]
A. Luke tells us that Agabus came to Philip's house at the same time as Paul's company. This is the same man we met back in Acts 11:27-28. He was one of the prophets who went to Antioch from Jerusalem. He was the one who predicted a sever famine was going to spread throughout the Roman Empire. This time though he’s not prophesying a famine, he’s predicting Paul’s future.
1. Luke tells us that Agabus took Paul's belt, or girdle, and bound his own hands and feet. He then explained that the Holy Spirit was foretelling Paul's being taken prisoner by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles.
2. Understandably all those who heard the prophecy, including Luke, begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
B. Here again, we see Paul demonstrating in his life who carries the most influence. Not pain or suffering, or even the fear of death was going to stop him from doing God’s will. Paul explained that his trip to Jerusalem was one he was making in the effort to fulfill his commission to preach the gospel.
1. Paul was practicing what Jesus preached in Matthew 10:28-29 – “28. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” [KJV]
2. Paul also wrote in Romans 14:8 – “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.” [KJV]
Someone once said, “The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop at late or early hour.
To lose one's wealth is sad indeed. To lose one's health is more. To lose one's soul is such a loss that no man can restore.
Thirty-nine people died while I read these words.
Every hour 5,417 go to meet their Maker.
You could have been among them.
Sooner or later, you will be.
Are you ready?”
C. There’s no use spending a lot of time worrying about dying because all of us will have to go some time. We all need to spend a lot of our time preparing to meet our Maker. Everyone on the earth past, present and future will all have to meet the Lord.
1. Remember Hebrews 9:27 – “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” [KJV]
2. I know that brings fear into the hearts of those who don’t know Christ and it should, but for Christians that’s one of the highlights of our future.
D. If we stay in Hebrews and read on, the writer says, Hebrews 9:28 – “...so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” [NKJV] Just as people are destined to die once, and after that face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
E. Are we waiting for Him? Don’t you long for Jesus’ return? I know I do, because when that day comes, we will no longer hurt Him by our disobedience. While we are here we must strive to be more like Christ until we leave this earthly realm.
1. Yes, I understand I have work to do for Him before I go.
2. Yes, I understand I will leave loved ones behind when I go.
3. At least our families, God willing, will find some peace in the fact that “We have fought the good fight, and kept the faith,” and know that they will see us again.
4. They will, like those listening to Paul, realize the strength of our convictions, and they will yield, and express the desire that the Lord's will be accomplished.
III. Luke carries on with his report to Theophilus of Paul’s journey in Acts 21:15-20 – “15. And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. 16. Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them one, Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge. 17. And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19. When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;” [NKJV]
A. Luke tells us that the group travelled on to Jerusalem where they planned to lodge with one of the early disciples named Mnason who was from Cyprus. They were joyfully greeted by the brethren in Jerusalem which Paul may well have viewed as an answer to the prayers he had been asking others to pray for him.
1. Romans 15:30-31 – “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,” [NKJV]
2. Whether this was an answered prayer or not, at least another prayer was answered. Those in Jerusalem received the gift of money which Paul brought to help the needy saints.
3. Luke tells us that the next day, Paul delivered a report to James and all the elders concerning the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through Paul. No wonder the group glorified God for the good which had been done.
B. Luke continues in Acts 21:20-21 – “... And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; "but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.”[NKJV]
1. The assembled group explained to Paul that thousands of Jews had obeyed the gospel of Christ in Jerusalem, but they also still tried to adhere strictly to the Law of Moses.
2. As always when people do great things for the Lord there are those in the background trying to discredit what they have accomplished. Someone, or some group, had spread the rumor that Paul taught Jews who lived among the Gentiles that they should forsake Moses' law, especially by refusing to circumcise their children.
C. We know that this was a false accusation because if you remember correctly, Paul had circumcised Timothy with his own hand. Acts 16:3 – “Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.”[NKJV]
D. What we also need to remember is that a full understanding of the effect of the cross on the ordinances of the Law of Moses would ultimately result in the end of circumcision as a religious act.
IV. What happens next raises a few questions which need to be looked at carefully. Acts 21:22-25 – “22. "What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23. "Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24. "Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. 25. "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.''”[NKJV]
A. Naturally, the church would hear of Paul's arrival in Jerusalem and would assemble. James and the others proposed that Paul purify himself along with four men who had taken a vow. Paul was also urged to pay the expenses involved in their vows.
1. Why would Paul do that?
2. If the Law of Moses and their customs were abolished at the cross of Christ, why would Paul do this? Because by doing this Paul would silence those who were falsely charging him.
B. We need to ask ourselves, did Paul compromise his teachings about the law being a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ... by purifying himself and paying for a vow under Moses' law?
1. Or did he recognize that these things did not have anything to do with salvation, so he could do them to further reach out to the Jews?
2. This is one of those questions for which we have no certain answer. I will point out this much about Paul’s actions because some people seem to suggest that Paul sinned by doing what the officials asked.
C. Let’s try to understand what ‘ceremonial purification’ involved. It did not necessarily involve atonement for personal sin.
1. As an example, a Jewish woman had to be “purified” following the birth of a child. Leviticus 12:1-7 – “1. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2. "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. 3. 'And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4. 'She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. 5. 'But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days. 6. 'When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7. 'Then he shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.”
2. We see Mary after giving birth to Jesus, obeying this purification law in Luke 2:22. Remember this law was to be obeyed even though the act of bearing a child is not sinful.
3. The point I’m trying to make is that Paul’s act of “purification,” doesn’t mean that he was seeking personal forgiveness by means of an animal sacrifice.
D. We’re not sure why Paul agreed to do this, but I believe that Paul’s actions were for keeping the peace and so he could reach even more Jews with the good news. If there is anything we can get from this text it’s this, at least James and the elders were consistent in not requiring the Gentiles to follow the Law of Moses.
V. Luke tells us in Acts 21:26-30 – “26. Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them. 27. And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28. crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.'' 29. (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) 30. And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.”
A. Luke tells us that Paul yielded to the proposal set forth by James and the others and began to be purified and entered the temple. Near the end of the seven days of purification, some Jews from Asia found Paul in the temple area and called for others to help them.
1. These people accuse Paul of four things:
a. Teaching against the Jews;
b. Teaching against the law;
c. Teaching against the temple;
d. Bringing Greeks into the temple, thereby defiling it.
2. As to the last charge, Luke reported that they had seen Paul in the city with Trophimus the Ephesian and believed he had brought him into the temple.
B. With all those accusations flying around the angry mob seized Paul and dragged him into the court of the Gentiles. They then closed the doors to the temple's inner court so that no blood would defile it. This would have been a terrifying ordeal for anyone to go through. As Luke tells us next however, we can see quite clearly that it wasn’t God’s will for Paul to be killed at this point in his life.
C. Acts 21:31-36 – “31. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33. Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. 34. And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. And when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks. 35. And when he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. 36. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, "Away with him!''”
D. Luke tells us that word reached the commander of the Roman garrison guarding Jerusalem. He rushed in with perhaps 300 men into the midst of the mob violence. As they rushed in, the mob stopped beating Paul.
1. Agabus’ predictions came true, the commander ordered Paul to be bound with two chains and asked of his crime.
2. The mob gave all sorts of answers to the crime which Paul supposedly committed.
3. The commander ordered Paul taken to the barracks, but even this was no easy task because the soldiers literally had to carry Paul as a large part of the crowd followed, shouting, "Away with him."
E. It’s very difficult to appreciate just what these early Christians went through, sometimes daily, to remain true to God and I pray we may never have to experience it in our lifetimes.
These accounts of Paul’s struggles should give us so much encouragement to keep going. I know that sometimes people read these accounts as though they were fictional figures in fictional places.
But we know that the apostle Paul was a real person, travelling through real cities, going through real trials. If we were to sit down with Paul today and compare our trials, pains and sufferings with his, I believe we would come away very humbled.
We would be humbled because we complain to God about so many things that in the big picture would seem to be very trivial.
We complain to God about the weather.
We complain to God when someone says something bad about us.
We complain to God when we let each other down.
We complain to God when we get colds and flues.
We complain to God when someone breaks a promise.
We complain to God when something bad happens to our loved ones.
The list could go on and on.
Notice that most of our complaints are not because we are being persecuted for being Christians, but because of things which happen to everyone in this world, whether they are Christians or not. We need to get real, stop complaining, and be praising and thanking God for allowing us to live in a country where we are free to worship Him in peace.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
# 366—Is It For Me
Taken from sermon by Mike Glover
© Chardon Church of Christ
All right reserved