Acts 21:1-16
God's Will Be Done

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The traveling of Paul and those with him continues towards Jerusalem. After several days at anchor the ship sets off from Miletus. They bid their farewells to the people and tried to begin their trip. We saw in the last part of chapter twenty how sad they were at parting. The phrase translated as "they bid their farewells" is a strong phrase, which could also be translated as "they were being torn apart." Luke was probably expressing here how this parting was filled with such sadness because there would not be a second time while living that they would be able to see each other again. So Luke is diligently recording with a flood of emotions the journey which Paul would never follow again.

2. They continued their journey by ship and arrived in the harbor of Tyre in the Syrian province. While the ship was to unload its goods there, they had to make a seven day stopover. After finding out the Christians in Tyre they made a stay out of it. It is believed that possibly in Tyre the gospel was propagated by persons scattered by a persecution which arose after the martyrdom of Stephen.

Opposition To Going To Jerusalem

3. From verse four on, the situation of the relationship with the Christians in that area is recorded and we notice that something very hard to understand is written here. Luke records it like this. "Finding disciples there we stopped over for seven days. They were moved by the Spirit and repeatedly said to Paul to not go to Jerusalem," (verse four). Based on Luke's writing that "they were being moved by the Spirit," (literally, "by the Spirit"), this statement was not just simply their anxious concern for Paul himself but this was clearly a decision of faith. In short, they believed that it was God's will for Paul not to go to Jerusalem. So they repeatedly oppose Paul's going to Jerusalem. However, Paul himself was keeping on with his journey to Jerusalem because of the leading of God's Spirit. Please look at chapter twenty verse twenty-two. Paul relates the following to the elders of Ephesus. "So now, I go to Jerusalem upon the urging of the Spirit. I don't know any thing about what will happen to this body of mine while there." Paul believed that this matter of going to Jerusalem was God's will. Based on exactly that reason, he felt that he absolutely had to go no matter what dangers there might be or even if dying might be there. Well, what could all of this mean? Could Paul have been mistaken? Or, could the disciples of Tyre have been mistaken?

4. As we think about this matter, let's look at what's ahead. Finally after leaving Tyre, they continued sailing as planned, and arrived at Ptolemais. There they spent one night with the disciples and the next day they proceeded on to Caesarea. Please pay attention to the kinds of people who enter the scene here. Where they stayed was at Philip's house. It says concerning this particular Philip that "Philip the evangelist was one of the seven men." We have already seen several facts about him. Philip was one man from among seven chosen to resolve the trouble over the daily distribution that arose in the early church at Jerusalem. (6:1-6) They are described in the text as having been chosen from "good men of reputation filled with the Spirit and wisdom." So after Stephen was martyred, who was one of the seven men chosen in the same way, there was Philip who was among the people scattered during the persecutions. He went down to Samaria. He proclaimed God's word there and the result of that was many persons were led to Christ. (8:12) However, in the heat of that work he was led to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. He met there the high official of Ethiopia and it was recorded in the eighth chapter the extent to which he preached the gospel to him. After that event, chapter eight verse forty was the last reference made to Philip. "Philip showed himself at Azotus. So he made the gospel known going around all the towns and went up to Caesarea." As he spends twenty-five years worth of time there, the context here is Philip coming on the scene again with his daughters.

5. There once more, the name which appeared before returns to the scene again. It's Agabus. He appeared in chapter eleven. "In those days, persons who prophesy came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. A person from among them named Agabus stood up and forewarned by the Spirit that a great famine will arise through out the world, and as expected this famine arose in the time of emperor Claudius." (Here what is written as "by the Spirit" is the same phrase "moved by the Spirit" seen earlier.) As this Agabus appears he forewarns about the sufferings of Paul. We can easily imagine how terribly heavy the message was to the people who heard it. He takes Paul's belt and binding his own hands and feet spoke like this: "The Holy Spirit is making the following announcement. 'The Jews in Jerusalem will tie up in this way the owner of this belt and transfer him over to the hands of the Gentiles,'" (verse eleven). Naturally, here as well as in Tyre opposition arose to Paul's going to Jerusalem. It is written in verse twelve, "We heard this with the people of the land we were in, and begged Paul repeatedly not to go up to Jerusalem."

6. Did we notice here the change from verse four? In verse four when they had done their best to oppose Paul it was "they." But, here it has changed to "we." In short, Luke, who was a fellow traveler, also began to oppose going to  Jerusalem. And we can understand that quite easily.

7. To begin with, it was when Paul was at Ephesus that he had made his resolution to go to Jerusalem. Luke recorded the facts of that time in this way: "After these things happened, Paul passed through Macedonia and Achaia and decided he would go to Jerusalem, and said, 'After I go there, I must see Rome also,'" (19:21). Luke himself rejoined the trip with Paul and afterwards Paul spent about three months in Corinth, then after going to Macedonia it is believed he was probably in Philippi. (From chapter twenty verse five the word "we" appears again.) Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans during his sojourn at Corinth. As we read that letter we see how even during that time period Paul clearly intended to go to Rome. In such a context Luke therefore went on traveling with Paul. So even he himself probably comprehended how this journey was not to end in Jerusalem but would end up exactly in Rome. It is felt that he had seen the path Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles ought naturally to go on.

8. Then the dangers, which may happen to Paul in the towns he goes to, are talked about. They are spoken of as Holy Spirit-given prophecy. Paul himself begins to say things like "I don't feel that my life is so valuable." So, what happened at the end was the message given by Agabus who forewarned about the aforementioned famine. If it was God's will that Paul reach Rome, then it is surely not right for Paul to risk the danger to his life before then. This was a very reasonable judgment call, wasn't it?

9. Luke repeatedly asked Paul not to go up to Jerusalem while he was with the people of that area. Among them there was probably both Philip and his four daughters who were prophetesses. Those who oppose Paul were not all unbelieving people or people who could only make decisions about business pertaining to this world. It was not a simple composition of Paul the believer and unbelieving persons. Paul says to them. "Why are you crying so much and breaking my heart over this matter?" With these words, the mental state of Paul is made visible where he says he is getting a broken heart. Paul himself knows fully that this is not a decision that could ever be made simply. Let's come back to the questions from before. Could Paul have made a mistake?! Or, could the people who are putting me in check wrong?

10. In conclusion, in our reading up to this point, I think we must say that "we just don't know." Even Luke himself, who wrote Acts account, looks back over every thing and feels like deferring his judgment. I think that this kind of scene is also a good deal visible in our own actual situations as well as the situations of the church. Whether to go on ahead or to remain as is can both be seen purely and faithfully as correct decisions. One can see that either one is suited to God's will. It is a situation where one cannot clearly say which is the faithful one and which is the unfaithful one. In times like this what should we do?

That God's Will Be Carried Out

11. Let's return to the scene at Tyre. While moved by the Spirit they repeatedly said to Paul not to go to Jerusalem. However, in the end, Paul and the others began their trip. With this, a decision with a certain significance was made. For Paul and them this was a decision that said, "Let's go ahead," and for the others it was a decision that said, "Let Paul go." However, this is not  Paul's pushing over his own assertions or his having ignored their messages. If you say where am I getting this from, it is in the farewell scene. All of them have come to the send-off at the outskirts of town. Then, they pray together on their knees at the beach area. They trust God together for the way the future goes. They had to make a decision. So, at that place they no longer had [to linger over] the important question about whether that decision "was correct or not." The important thing was they were together before God himself. Regardless of which decision they had made, the fact is they were kneeling together before God.

12. Let's look right at the scene in Caesarea. Luke records this about that place. "Since Paul decided not to comply with our recommendation, we say 'That the will of the Lord be carried out,' and we shut our mouths." They shut their mouths. That also turned out to be their decision in a certain sense. But it is important to note that they said "The will of the Lord be done." I say this because there are two ways of shutting one's mouth [or being quiet over a matter]. One may close one's mouth because one has fully trusted the Lord. But another person may also shut his mouth and he simply means no more than "Do as you please. I don't care." Closing one's mouth sometimes only means irresponsibility or "washing one's hands from the matter."

13. Luke and the others said, "That God's will be carried out." They said it with seriousness. That was a message which their mouths did not frivolously make up. What did Luke do? In verse fifteen it reads, "After some days, we made preparations for the trip and went up to Jerusalem." Luke goes with Paul. He goes up with Paul to Jerusalem where dangers are clearly awaiting for them. It is written that "Several of the disciples from Caesarea also traveled with them." They were persons who had opposed Paul's going to Jerusalem. However, they went along, too. This is what shutting one's mouth means when it says, "That the will of God be done." It is walking along with them. In having trusted God, what they ought to carry they are carrying together.

14. So, just as I said before, Luke did not come up with a judgment regarding whether or not Paul was right. In the place we read up to so far, this has been shown. Even in the time when he portrays the split up of Paul and Barnabas (15:39), Luke left out any conclusive comments on which way was correct. There is nothing about this, but he does narrate simply the fact that the result of the split gave way to the second preaching tour. It's the same here also. Paul goes on forward. And, after this as we keep reading, he finally gets imprisoned just as Agabus prophesied. Paul becomes a prisoner. But, he does reach Rome. He probably wasn't in the shape that he was expecting. Paul arrives in Rome as a prisoner. Luke finishes the Book of Acts portraying Paul at the end in Rome. This very effect is indicative of his eloquence. They said, "That the will of God be done." -So God's will is certainly being done. In spite of the uncertainty of human decisions God's will is being accomplished through a person who decides to live in his presence.

15. It is certainly important to inquire of God's will in every matter. I want to live making the right choices and decisions. So in our individual lives or in church history, there have been times we had to make weighty decisions. In those times deep prayer is important. But, among people of deep faith there have been times when we see people who can't even take a step ahead because they are afraid of making a decision that is wrong. Again, we see people who can't take even a step away from regret and fear over a decision made where they were wrong. If that's how it is with you, we should say there is something wrong in your life. Though each choice and every decision are important, they no longer ought to be some final matter of despair even though one of them was a mistake. If you think about it some, hasn't there been a succession of wrong decisions in church history? However, they still were used within the hands of God. If trying to make the "right" decisions only causes worrying about the future or regretting the past, you need to know that it's more important to be together in God's presence and to be able to say "that the will of God be done" with trust in God. Whenever we make decisions, are we able to pray "That the will of God be done?" That's the point [for today].

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