Lesson 46: Paul's 3rd Missionary Journey (Concluding In Jerusalem)
Acts, Lesson #46. Beginning in Acts ch. 21. Get your map. Locate Miletus! Remember Paul's destination is Jerusalem and the poor saints in Judea. If Paul and his company left Troas on Monday morning, then their departure from Miletus must have been late Thursday or early on Friday. This was four weeks and two days before Pentecost. V. 1-2-3-4. Let's read: "And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a strait course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara: and finding a ship sailing over unto Phoenicia, we went aboard, and set forth. Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden. And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem." O.K., Phoenicia is marked on your map and Tyre is city #12. Tyre was one of the cities that was trying to make some kind of a deal with king Herod. Do you remember Acts ch. 12? First let's retrace their routing. Coos is an island #39 on your map. Rhodes, next stop is #40 on your map. From Rhodes they came to Patara and changed ships. That's city #41, on the southern coast of Asia Minor in Lycia. The thought in v.3 is: they crossed south of Cyprus. I get the feeling the trip went smooth and rapid. The ship was to be unloaded at Tyre. They found disciples in the city of Tyre. We have had no hint before of a church in Tyre. But you would have expected such. Because after the stoning of Stephen; you remember, "they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." And where the word is preached, disciples are made. Tyre was no exception. And, it's entirely possible Paul could have visited this church before. Paul and Barnabas passed through Phoenicia (Acts 15:3) when they took Titus to that big circumcision and keep the law of Moses controversy in Jerusalem. O.K., Paul, Luke and the other men spent seven days in Tyre. And, there was probably some more of those Troas-preach-til-midnight sermons. I hope nobody fell off the window sill. But, I'm sure a few interesting things happened.
Some of those disciples had a special measure of the H.S. Apparently some apostle had imparted to them spiritual gifts, which was common in almost every church at that time, I suppose; not having the bible. These gifts were their source of guidance. Our source is the bible. One or more of these disciples, so endowed, understood through the spirit that Paul would meet up with those bonds and afflictions at Jerusalem that pressed so heavily upon the minds of those elders at Ephesus. Paul understood this. But, it's not likely Paul understood how it was to come about. But Paul did not take off in the other direction like Jonah. The disciples at Tyre did not want Paul to go to Jerusalem. But, Paul was set on going. It may have been the wishes of the H.S. We don't know.
Let's read v.5-6-7. "And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day." At the end of seven days, several families came to say good-bye and wish them well. Another moving scene like Ephesus where they prayed at the edge of the ocean. They realized that something was going to happen to Paul in Jerusalem. Ptolemais is city #42, also known as Acco (A-C-C-O) approximately half way between Tyre and Caesarea. Only about 30-35 miles down the coast from Tyre. There were also disciples at Ptolemais. And Paul probably gave a little quick exhortation there. Luke doesn't give details.
O.K., v.8-14. Let's read. "And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea; and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. 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. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. 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. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done." O.K. Caesarea is city #5. Do you remember Philip? He was the man who preached to the Ethiopian who rode in the chariot (Acts 8). From there he went back to Caesarea, preaching along the way. This was obviously Philip's hometown. This is possibly twenty years later. Philip must have lived in a small hotel to accommodate that many preachers. This is also the town where Peter had preached to Cornelius about two decades before. V.9 is interesting, in that Philip's daughters (more than one) had received the spiritual gift of prophecy. Do you remember Agabus? He's the disciple who foretold the dearth that came to pass hi the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28). He was still prophesying. He must have been very dramatic. He demonstrated with Paul's belt how Paul was going to be bound hi Jerusalem. This correlates with what others had prophesied. But, we find one more clue in his prophecy. Paul would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. Thus it would not be the Jews who ultimately detained Paul. After Agabus' dramatic demonstration, Luke say hi v. 12 "we" all persuaded Paul to change his mind and not go to Jerusalem. Paul had changed plans before to avoid problems, similar to this. One example was only two or three months before...remember the Jews laid wait for him, that's Acts 20:3. But this time, Paul is bent on Jerusalem. They couldn't talk him out of it. Apparently, up until this time Luke, Timothy and the others had not really tried. But, notice Paul's answer in v.13, "What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die..." Why Paul? "...for the name of the Lord Jesus." Even if it meant his life, Paul could see a great potential hi his mission to reconcile the cool feelings, that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles in the church. This project of benevolence to help the poor brethren hi Judea was not a requirement. Paul made this point hi the II Corinthian letter, when he encouraged that church to carry through with this project. "I speak not by commandment.." he said but, "to prove the sincerity of your love." (II Cor. 8:8). Paul said: "...this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but...by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ..." (II Cor. 9:12-13). You see, Paul's motive was to remove that wall of partition that had existed for 1500 years between the Jews and the Gentiles, which Paul mentioned hi Eph. 1:14. Jesus died for Jews and Gentiles. Ifs quite evident, Paul believed this experiment (as he called it) would soften the hearts of his countrymen. Many were hi need of food and physical facilities. Paul saw an opportunity to relieve some suffering and the same time teach his Gentile brethren in Asia and Europe, "that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want" (II Cor. 8:14). And then a little later Paul makes the point: "...by many thanksgivings...they glorify God...by their prayers for you..." (II Cor. 9:12-14). So, Paul was not about to give hi at that point. The way Paul looked at it, they were just making it more difficult...a greater burden for him to bear. His mind was made up! So they gave hi to Paul, saying, "The will of the Lord be done." Now, that's James 4:15, but they didn't get it there. They were drinking further up stream.
O.K., v. 15-16, let's read. "And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem. There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge." After enjoying the hospitality of Philip for two or three weeks, Luke says: "we took up our carriages." A marginal comment hi my bible says, "baggage." The New American Standard version simply says, "we got ready and started on our way." But the idea of baggage brings to my mind the cargo or gifts they were carrying. Possibly silver, which would have made their baggage very heavy. Each man took up his bundle and they truckled out. Jerusalem, up hill all the way, more than 50 miles. Notice, others from Caesarea went also. This is the only time Mnason is mentioned hi the bible. What does Luke mean when he says, "with whom we should lodge?" Bro. McGarvey suggests, he must have been a wealthy disciple who maintained a home in Jerusalem, and they stayed at his place hi Jerusalem. This Pentecost was approximately 25 years after the church was established hi Jerusalem. This was the time of year when Jews from "every nation under heaven" took a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). The temple was still standing and sacrifices were being offered daily. This was about a dozen years before the temple was destroyed. Jerusalem must have been six deep with travelers. Finding a place to stay and something to eat was a valuable asset. Paul must have made arrangements ahead for these brothers to stay in Mnason's house.
Let's read v. 17-21. "And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs." It's interesting, at this point, our writer (Luke) becomes so obsessed in telling about Paul's ordeal in Jerusalem; that he does not mention one word about the distribution of the gift they were carrying. I would assume that meeting in v.18 with James and the other elders of the church at Jerusalem was the place where they turned over this liberality (as it's called other places) to the elders. And the elders were most likely responsible for the distribution similar to Acts 4:35. And, you can see by studying that passage that the elders have now assumed part of the duties that were originally taken care of by the apostles in that city. Notice how these brethren were received in v.17. Luke says the next day after they arrived, "Paul went in with us" (v-18). Each man must have carried his bundle containing the gift. James is mentioned separately, but ifs my impression he was simply a fellow elder. Perhaps, the elder who spoke for the group on this occasion. This James is undoubtedly the son of Joseph and Mary whom we met before at the conference on circumcision (Acts 15). Paul was the spokesman for the visiting group. V. 19 is a summary of what Paul said. Read it real close and it very well could be those gifts were part of what things God had wrought amount the Gentiles by Paul's ministry. Then each of these men most likely in some way delivered greeting from their respective congregations. Those elders must have shown great appreciation for this project and they must have prayed with the very thoughts that Paul had when he instigated this project. I would assume this is encompassed in the words, "they glorified the Lord" in v.20.
But very little time transpired in that meeting until the conversation turned to a major concern, heavy on the hearts of these elders. I speak of the safety of Paul and these other brothers. This is because the elders realized, rumor had it, among the Jews, Paul spoke evil of Moses' law. I say rumor, because this was NOT Paul's stand. But, these elders knew when the news spread through the thousands of Jews at Jerusalem, that Paul was there, there could be trouble. So, these elders were anxious to remove every ounce of fuel that might feed the flames of hatred. They wanted to enhance the safety of these men. So, they fell upon a plan. Let's read the entire statement of these elders to Paul (v.22-25). Eyeball it close! Lef s read. "What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together; for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication." O.K., back to v.22. It's really the same thing that created the problem at Antioch of Syria (Acts 15). Remember that little letter these same apostles and elders wrote? Judas and Silas (from Jerusalem) had carried it to Antioch? Those Judiazing teachers had revamped their arguments and exported their brand of religion in every direction. Now make sure you understand this issue clearly. These Jews were Christian Jews (for the most part). They believed in Jesus as the Messiah. They submitted to Baptism. Yet, they were not willing to make a clean break from the Jew's religion as Paul had done. They continued to circumcise their children and "walk after the custom" as v.21 put. it. Now, Paul knew this was unnecessary as a Christian, but he did not take issue with them who did this. Otherwise, Paul would never have circumcised Timothy (Acts 16). But, many who took this position went beyond this and taught: "Except ye be circumcised and keep the law, you cannot be saved." Now, that's where Paul highly disagreed. Hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins was all that was necessary to become a Christian. And, if one did this and was faithful to keep Christ's law until death they could and would be saved; without circumcision and without observing any customs of Moses. But, some Jews felt a little naked (so-to-speak) without this, they had observed the customs of Moses all their life - circumcision, clean and unclean meats, etc. It was a matter of conscience. And, if this was their reason, having nothing to do with salvation; then, they had Paul's blessing. For Paul taught one must keep a good, clean, pure conscience. In the Roman letter Paul said, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not" (Rom. 14:1-3).
Now, down in v.5 of that same discussion Paul said, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded hi his own mind." You see, Christianity allows some liberty. Faith in Jesus Christ and the bible are required. But that faith doesn't cover every rinky dink thing you do. To become a disciple is NOT to become a puppet or robot. When we try to make others conform to our conscience then we may be obstructing their liberty. Liberty is liberty you can do it or not do it at your discretion. Paul said this in I Cor. 8:9, "take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak" Get the idea? We cannot step on our brother's conscience. Step someplace else. And, if there's no place else to step - don't step. Now, does that mean we can't discuss it? Of course not! You are obligated to try to educate me and my conscience; and the reciprocal is true. But, no arm twisting! You can't require me to violate my conscience, without sinning, I cannot violate my own conscience without sinning. Because my conscience is really an extension of my faith beyond that which is required, i.e., into the realm of liberty. I educate it, I am responsible for it; just as much as that realm of faith where God has established the bounds. This is the idea in Rom. 14:23. "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Let me say this before I get back to Paul and the Jews: To have a good conscience does not make it right. You can take a cyanide pill, believing it is aspirin (with all good conscience) and it will kill you just as quick. So, to have a good conscience, or a clear conscience doesn't necessarily make it right. You educated it, you are responsible for it. Don't violate it! That's a sin. But, don't feed it lies and educate it improperly; it can kill you spiritually. You see, Paul was very benevolent to respect the liberty and conscience of those Jews in these matters as long as they did not make it a test of fellowship. Now that (sometimes) gets to be a fine line. This concept of conscience, liberty, keeping the old law, justification by faith, etc. is so broad and has so many ramifications that if it was widely understood and observed today, it would eliminate 90% of the bickering, religious nonsense, misunderstandings and religious differences today. It's that murky, muddied-up, confusion of creed bound denominations today that perpetuates the very thing Paul was contending with then. Oh! We may be suffering from a slightly different facet of it. But it is exactly the same concept. And, people get just as upset over their sentimentalities and their misunderstandings today as they did at the time of Paul. And, dabbling around in this murky mire causes many to chuck it all and join the ranks of atheism and agnostism. Faith -vs- opinion. Think how great it could be and would be if everyone today would burn those creed books like those who practiced curious arts at Ephesis (Acts 19:19); then join hands, study God's word, teach nothing more or less religiously than God's word. Until we do, our world will writhe, squirm, suffer, persecute, harass, struggle, toil, ferment, agitate, bleed and waste away in that same stinking slime that has been stirred for so long. God has tried to give us the solution. He loved us so much, He gave his only begotten Son that we could be saved. But He also gave us liberty, we can accept it or reject it.