Acts 21:1-14 “Fearless Love”

21 Nov

We all love a story of courage or bravery. We think about Patrick Henry saying, “Give me liberty or give me death.” We think about the soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944. We think about the great martyrs of the church who prayed for their persecutors and willingly were burned at the stake. But no one is naturally brave. We are only brave when we are motivated from within to be brave. The mother that pulls her child from the burning house does so because of a greater motivation than her own safety, the motivation of love for her child. So when we look at the apostle Paul and note his bravery, we must ask ourselves about his inward motivations.
Paul’s last words of example and instruction to the church in Ephesus are still ringing in our ears as we come this morning to Acts 21. Paul is now setting out for Jerusalem, where he wants to deliver an offering for the church there. But before he gets there, he will meet with others on the way. And they will try to persuade him not to go to Jerusalem. Paul’s response to them reveals his fearless love for Christ, the motivation for his bravery.

Let’s hear the Word of God from Acts 21 . . . We see first . . .
The SETTING (21:1-3)
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.
Paul and his team are leaving Miletus, where they had met with the elders of the church in Ephesus and are journeying along the coast of Asia Minor for a couple of days. They hop on a ship taking a direct route to Phonecia, a district just north of Judea. Jerusalem was in the province of Judea. So they get on this ship and sail some 400 miles, passing right by Cyprus. I wonder what Paul might have been thinking as he passed by the island that had been the site of his first missionary victories, accomplished some ten years earlier with Barnabus? Finally they landed at Tyre. And it is there that Paul receives . . .

The First WARNING (Acts 21:4-6)
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.
Paul and his friends were on layover in Tyre and they seek out the believers there, who had probably been won to the Lord in the years after the church in Jerusalem faced persecution in the aftermath of the death of Stephen. Paul and his team stayed in Tyre for seven days. And something really interesting happens here. Paul receives from the people of Tyre a warning from the Spirit. And it seems on the surface that the Holy Spirit was warning Paul through the believers in Tyre to not go to Jerusalem.
But here we have a problem, because last week we saw that Paul said that he was compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. And Paul was warned by the Spirit as noted in chapter 20 that he would face great hardship in Jerusalem. So is the Holy Spirit now directing Paul differently? I don’t think so. I think the most likely solution to this apparent contradiction is that the believers in Tyre heard from the Spirit the same message Paul had heard, namely that trials and troubles awaited Paul in Jerusalem. And having heard this message they assumed that Paul should not go. These believers were rightly concerned with Paul’s well-being, but it seems to be a case where they received the right information but drew the wrong conclusions about what they had received from the Spirit.
All of us want to protect those we love. Some of this is just common sense. We don’t let our three year old cross the street without someone holding his hand. We want to keep our teenagers away from people who are bad influences. But when it comes to walking with God, we are called to entrust ourselves to His protection and follow Him no matter the cost. It takes discernment. Do I go to the church that is comfortable for me, with a lot of people my own age or do I go to a church where not everybody thinks like I do, but where I can grow? Do I as a pastor seek the easiest place of ministry, do I look to climb some kind of career ladder or do I serve in difficult, needy places? We need to make sure we never substitute comfort or safety for obedience.
These trials, these challenging callings God gives us, they are good for us, because they drive us to prayer. Notice how everyone here at Tyre kneels down in the sand on the beach and prays. They all say their goodbyes and it is very emotional. This is a church Paul had never worked with and yet their bond with him is so deep after just seven days. The bonds of spiritual fellowship are just amazing and it is these spiritual bonds which should bring us together as a church. Age, family relations, income, background, all these things are secondary to the common bond we share as followers of Jesus.
So Paul and his team move on from Tyre and as they do they encounter . . .

A Strange SILENCE (21:7-9).
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.
Paul and his team are moving down the coast and they land after a couple of days at Caesarea, the Roman capital of the province of Judea. Paul will travel from here some sixty miles to Jerusalem, where he will deliver the offering he had collected for the church there and where the Spirit has warned him great trials will come.
But before Paul gets to Jerusalem, he goes to the house of Philip in Caesarea. So we have here the meeting of two of the great evangelists of the early church. Philip was one of the seven, one of those first deacons chosen in chapter 6 to handle to food distribution for the widows in the Jerusalem church. But remember, those first deacons were not just guys who handled the business matters of the church. They were men full of the Spirit and wisdom. So Philip had a powerful evangelistic ministry after the death of Stephen. It is Philip who led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ in chapter 8 and it was Philip who had gone to the Samaritans to preach the gospel to them with great effect. And it was Philip who had preached to the people along the coast of Palestine, where it seems he settled, living in Caesarea. Interestingly, Caesarea was the most secular city in Judea, so it seems Philip was not one for settling in the easy place but stayed in a place that was strategic for the spread of the gospel.
Now Paul has come into Philip’s home. Philip had been one of the seven deacons in Jerusalem. One of the other deacons was Stephen, the man who gave the incredible sermon recorded in Acts chapter 7. Stephen was killed by the angry crowd in Jerusalem because of his preaching about Jesus. The people of Jerusalem stoned him to death. And as they killed Stephen they took off their outer cloaks and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul. And the Bible tells us that Paul approved of the death of Stephen and used it as an occasion to travel from place to place and persecute Christians. But it was on one of these trips that Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ which led directly to his conversion. Philip had been a friend of Stephen’s, a trusted co-worker of the man whose death Paul had applauded. How will he receive Paul? How many of you could welcome into your house someone who had participated in the killing of your friend? The power of the gospel to set us free from bitterness and anger is unmatched. Philip, knowing Paul had done what he did in the ignorance of unbelief, welcomes him into his home. May God set us free from bitterness and anger and frustration and every negative sin of the heart so that we can serve him in freedom and joy.
We notice here that Philip has these four unmarried daughters who presumably live with him, and who prophesy. These women were probably just in their late teens, as it was about 20 years from the time Philip served the church in Jerusalem to the time he meets Paul here. That these women prophesy is also a statement about the power of the gospel, as the first readers of Acts would have seen young, unmarried females are people of low status. The gospel is powerful enough to work through anyone, even people we might write off due to cultural bias. It is clear from the New Testament that spiritual gifts are not limited to men, and that women are free to use the gifts God has given them. And this all goes back to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, where he pointed out that the Spirit would be poured out all people and that sons and daughters would prophesy.
But the most significant observations about this section I can make is this: Philip and his daughters say nothing to Paul about his upcoming mission to Jerusalem. There is a strange silence here, especially since we are dealing with an experienced evangelist and his four prophesying daughters. Have you ever met a quiet evangelist? I haven’t. But Philip says nothing. I believe Paul would have taken a warning from Philip very seriously. I believe he would have seen Philip as a peer, one who had significant experience in ministry and a deep walk with the Lord. Yet the Lord does not give Philip or his prophesying daughters, any word for Paul about his trip to Jerusalem. For that word, we have to look to verses 10-12 where we see . . .

The SECOND Warning (21:10-12).
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.
Paul and his team are continuing on in Caesarea when Agabus, a prophet from Judea, appears. We have already seen him in chapter 11, when he came from Jerusalem to the church in Antioch to prophesy that a great famine was coming. This motivated the church in Antioch to send relief to the believers in Judea. Now Paul is bringing a second offering to Judea as he journeys toward Jerusalem. And it is at this point that Agabus does this very strange thing of taking Paul’s belt and binding his hands and feet saying that this is what will happen to Paul in Jerusalem. Now we shouldn’t think what Agabus did was too unusual. Old Testament prophets often acted out their prophecies symbolically. Read Isaiah or Ezekiel or Jeremiah to get a sense of some of the things they did. We even now have the symbolic actions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as visual representations of our hope in the gospel. So it is not unusual but such a visual display is powerful.
Still, it is very important to note here that Agabus did not tell Paul that he should not go to Jerusalem; he only told him what would happen if he did go. In this way, Agabus was only affirming what Paul had already heard from the Spirit in chapter 20, that he would face hardship and trouble in Jerusalem.
It is Paul’s friends and co-workers who are urging him not to go in verse 12. Not Agabus, not Philip and his daughters. Even Luke the author of Acts joins in the urging, as we see through the use of the word “we” in verse 12.
But what we want to see finally today is that in spite of all these warnings, the emotional pleas and the rest, Paul is still going to Jerusalem. This is because his life is characterized by . . .

Fearless LOVE (21:13-14)

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.”
I love Paul’s answer here, because he acknowledges his feelings without giving up on the mission God had given him. He is heartbroken over the sadness of his friends and their love for him, but he is resolute in his calling. Paul didn’t let his heart dictate to his head but he also didn’t become cold-hearted. We don’t have two choices in the Christian life. We don’t have to be either emotionally-driven and unthinking or mind-driven but unfeeling.
Paul is such a good model for us of one who is not emotionally attached while at the same time not controlled by his emotions. He is living by a higher motivation, the name of the Lord Jesus. And for this Name he is ready not only to go to prison but to die. And in fact he will do both before all is said and done.
Because Paul’s life had been dedicated to the Name of Jesus and its spread, he was ready to devote also his death to the Name of Jesus. We wonder how a person can make such a sacrifice. How can a man go to jail or death for the gospel when so many he loves are going to be hurt and are going to ask him to do differently?
Oswald Chambers has said, “To choose suffering means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.”
For Paul, one thing mattered. It was like his trump card, the one truth that directed everything else in his life. He explained it in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ compels us. For we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” He explained it in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He explained it in Philippians 3, “I press toward the goal of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He explained it over and over again in all his letters. Paul’s passion was Jesus. Knowing Him. And knowing Him led directly to making Him known. And the cost of that wasn’t important because Jesus was so valuable.
I know the number one reason I don’t share Christ with people. It’s not because I am scared. It’s not because I am a pastor and not around as many non-Christians. No, it’s none of those things. The reason I don’t share Christ is because I don’t treasure Christ as I ought. The number one reason for every sin area in my life is a failure to treasure Christ. When He is who He should be in our lives, all else finds its meaning in Him. When He is who He should be in our lives, we can’t live in strife with other believers. We can’t go around removing specks and ignoring our own planks. We can’t stay silent when a fountain of joy is welling up in us. We can’t stay on the sidelines seeking a comfortable, happy life while millions die and go to hell. We can’t imagine not joining the saving work of our great, Sovereign God. Every one of us should pray for and live in such a way that we can come to the point in our lives where we can say, “I am ready to go to prison and even to die for the Name of Jesus.” One day we might have to. Many Christians in the world have to face the reality of prison or death every day. And they do it gladly, because Jesus is their treasure. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”
God calls us to fearless love. God calls us to fearless love because He promises to be with us. Go into all the world and make disciples and surely I will be with you always. I would rather be in the darkest prison with God than in the shiniest palace without Him. Richard Baxter said “Christ leads us through no darker rooms than He went through before.”
God calls us to fearless love because that is what it means to follow Jesus. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For the one who wants to save his life will lose it but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. I’ve been asking myself these days, how can I most fully lose my life for Jesus? Maybe it’s just middle age creeping up on me. I don’t know. I don’t have a desire to something spectacular to try to feel significant but I do have a deep desire to be faithful and to live a life of fearless love.
God calls us to fearless love because He will give us the power to live it. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” God won’t call you without also giving you what you need to get the job done.
As the missionary martyr Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus is greater. He is greater than my family. I love my wife. I love my children. Jesus is greater. Jesus is greater than success. I love a job well-done. I love accomplishment. I love the rewards of hard work. Jesus is greater. Jesus is greater than church. He is greater than us having it be just the way we want it so we can be proud of ourselves and boast about all we’ve done. Jesus is greater. He is greater than theological understanding. Being correct about the Bible is worse than worthless if He is not my treasure. Jesus is greater than America. If our country turned around today and became the most virtuous and godly nation on the face of the earth, it would still be like a bucket of warm spit in the comparison to the King of Kings.
Jesus is the greatest treasure in all the world. Read His Word. The Old Testament points to Him, the Gospels reveal Him, the rest of the New Testament explains Him. Go there often. Think about the Bible always in relation to Jesus. Don’t think of it as all the things you have to do but as a revelation of God’s story of what He has done for you so that you can walk in fearless love. What good is it if you have all your ducks in a row theologically or behaviorally if you don’t love anyone with the love of Christ? Meditate on the Word, live there and the Spirit will transform you. Rare is the Christian these days who is both fearless and loving. And the reason is because rare is the Christian these days who really walks with God. Have you turned off the TV long enough to just sit in the presence of God? Are you taking time daily to wait before Him, to talk to Him, to listen to Him as He speaks to you through His Word? We say we love Jesus, but has the love in our hearts grown cold? Have circumstances of disappointment caused us to withdraw from Jesus so that we don’t quite trust Him and are not really sure how well we want to know Him? It’s true, knowing Him is not comfortable. But it is good. Let’s not be a people of whom it could be said, “You have lost your first love.” Let us be a people of fearless love.

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