Beth has provided the notes this week and the passage is Acts 21:1-16
As a Christian, have you ever met someone new and thought, ‘I’m sure they’re a Christian?’ I have. Sometimes there’s a really strange sense that you have something in common with someone. It’s bizarre but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced it. As much as obviously not all Christians are best friends – we all have different personalities, attitudes and interests, just like everyone else – one of the most amazing things about a ‘church family’ is the diversity of it. Although you might have very little in common with another person, if you are both Christians, it’s a heck of a lot in common! We get this sense in this passage where we see a real unity and care between Paul and Christians who he has presumably never met before.
If you’ve been reading along with us in Acts, you’re probably used to Paul’s speedy travels around huge distances but let’s take a moment to take this in. Paul travels from Miletus to Kos, to Rhodes, to Patara, to Phoenicia, to Syria, to Tyre, to Ptolemais, to Caesarea. This is some pretty extensive travelling that would be tiring with today’s travel systems. In Paul’s time, this must have been nothing less than exhausting. Despite all the stops and detours, Paul is very clearly and confidently heading to Jerusalem. He knows (20:23) that he will suffer there but he seems to be travelling with a sense of urgency.
Despite this determination to go to Jerusalem – in spite of everyone else’s protests and concerns – Paul does spend a few longer spells of time with certain groups of Christians (v4 and 10). This is likely to be because he wants to stay there for the Sabbath; he’s constantly looking for opportunities to preach the good news of Christ. He has a purpose for reaching Jerusalem but wants to ‘make the most of every opportunity’ (Eph 5:16) on his way.
I think there’s so much to learn from Paul. He has a real sense of urgency to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and takes every opportunity to speak to and build up his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ but also to share the news of Jesus with everyone in his path. We need to be so much more like Paul. It’s too easy in today’s society and in our relatively comfortable surroundings and experiences to become complacent… to forget that there is a time coming when this world will end. We should be sharing the amazing news of Jesus at every opportunity because it might be our last.
There seems to be a real unity amongst these early Christians. There is a united aim amongst the disciples and apostles. Paul stays with numerous Christians on his travels and prays with them (v5). He doesn’t simply pray with a selected few but with everyone: the men, the women and the children. At the beginning of this passage, it seems a fairly large group go as far as they can with Paul and then pray with him. There’s a unity amongst them all – men, women and children. This is real unity amongst Christians, where everyone is included, not a selected few. At the very beginning of this passage, it says, ‘after we had torn ourselves away from them’; there’s a deep connection and bond between these Christians and it’s healthy. Having very close Christian friends is a real privilege; look for these relationships and foster them. There must have been points on Paul’s journey, or at the very least, when he was in prison in Jerusalem, that he felt alone. He was human, after all. The comfort of these friendships must have helped.
However, what’s noticeable when reading this passage is that one of the things that everyone is united on is their desire to keep Paul away from Jerusalem – they assume he’s not safe. They’re right and the prophet, Agabus, confirms this. Despite the comfort Paul must have found from these friendships, he knows when to ignore their advice. He goes anyway. He doesn’t care about being bound and imprisoned in Jerusalem. He’s all in. We see real unity in this passage but here, they are united and wrong. Let’s beware that we can be united and wrong. Let us seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives and in the work of the church.
I find it comforting that God sends a prophet to tell Paul that he will be imprisoned. God doesn’t let it come as a surprise to him. Our God is a compassionate God; he always lets people know what they’re letting themselves in for. ‘Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25-26)
Even when the waters rise
And the waves are crashing over;
We’re hard pressed on every side
But won’t give up the fight –
Surely You are holding on.
Father, let Your kingdom come
Your will be done on earth.
Saviour, can You hear us call?
We trust You are enough. (Kingdom Come – Beth Croft)