Acts 21: 1-16

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. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 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. 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. 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 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 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. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 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.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 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.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul tore himself away from the Ephesian elders to set sail. The Holy Spirit told Paul imprisonment and suffering lay ahead. Yet Paul continued on. Luke gives us a detailed account of this leg of the journey. They traveled from Miletus straight to Cos. The next day they traveled to Rhodes and then to Patara. They disembarked in Patara and boarded another ship sailing to Phoenicia. They passed by Cyprus or the left or port side. That is because they were sailing east. They boarded another ship heading to Syria. It put into port at Tyre to unload its cargo. They disembarked in Tyre. Once in Tyre, they sought out the disciples in that city.

They stayed in Tyre for seven days. I find verse 4 troublesome. The disciples in Tyre told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. They were not telling him this from a selfish or worldly point of view. They were speaking through the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit was telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Then why go? Was Paul disobedient to the Holy Spirit?

Every commentary I read says no. They all speak with a unified voice. They say the disciples were warning Paul what was going to happen if he went to Jerusalem. Every commentator said Paul’s friends tried to convince him not to go. It was Paul’s safety that concerned them. Some commentators say Paul was being tested by the Holy Spirit.

Every commentator I read agrees on this point. So, it is with much trepidation I must take an opposing view. So, if you disagree with me you are in good company. In fact, the probability is you are right and I am wrong. But please listen to my argument.

The first question we must ask when understanding scripture is, “What does it say?” Well, what does verse 4 say? It says they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. It does not say they warned him. They did not say what lied ahead if he went. They said don’t go to Jerusalem. It says they spoke through the Holy Spirit. So, it was God telling Paul not to go.

It was God the Holy Spirit told Paul not to go. Yet Paul went. So, contrary to some very learned commentators I must conclude Paul was disobedient. Though I will say, this was not a willful disobedience. Yet the scripture, in plain language says the Holy Spirit told Paul not to go. And Paul said, “I am go’n and you aren’t stopp’n me. I know how best to spread the Gospel.” If that is not disobedience I don’t know what it is. In fact, that is full on rebellion against God. But like I said, I am in a minority on this. That puts me on shaky ground. But I keep asking the question, “What does the scripture say?”

Some may find the thought Paul rebelled against God’s command troubling. After all, Paul was an apostle. I find it comforting. We know Paul was a sinner. And we know Paul continued to sin to after God redeemed him. We know Paul continued to sin after God called him to be an apostle. How do we know? He told us.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15-24)

So the fact Paul sinned here should not bother us. We know Paul was a sinner. Rather than discomfort I find comfort. God continued to use Paul. God did not abandon Paul. Paul’s disobedience did not affect God’s plan. God was and still is in charge. That means we don’t have to get it right all the time. God makes it right. Praise God. His will, His plan is not dependent on me. God can use me. But He does not need me. God’s will is not dependent on my obedience. Praise and glory be to God! He still uses me in spite of me. He still uses you in spite of you. You don’t have to get it right all the time. God is in charge. Praise God you and I are not in charge!

I find that comforting. God is in control. The world does not depend on us. Thank you Lord Jesus!

When it came time to leave, the disciples and their families walked Paul to the shore. They all knelt and prayed. Paul and his party boarded the ship and sailed to Ptolemais. There they disembarked for one day. While there they met with some Christian brothers.

The next day they traveled to Caesarea. At Caesarea, they stayed with Philip. Philip was one of the seven deacons mentioned in Act 6:1-7. Luke tells us he was also an evangelist. Luke mentioned Philips work as an evangelist in Act 8. There Philip preached in Samaria and to the Ethiopian Eunice.

We find out a little bit more about Philip’s personal life here. Philip had a wife. He may or may not have been a widower. We do not know. He had at least 4 unmarried daughters. And they prophesied.

While Paul and his company were staying with Philip a prophet arrived from Judea. This man’s name was Agabus. This same Agabus Luke mentioned in Acts 11:28. There he prophesied a great famine. Luke told us this famine occurred in the reign of Claudius.
Agabus takes Paul’s belt ties the belt around his hands and feet. He then said the owner of the belt will be bound in a similar fashion by the Jews in Jerusalem. He will then turn him over to the Gentiles.

It was common for prophets to represent the things prophesied. They did thing under the command of the Spirit. God commanded Isaiah to go barefoot. (Isaiah 20:2) Jeremiah put a yoke upon his neck. (Jeremiah 27:2). God told Jeremiah to buy and sell property.(Jeremiah 32:7) God told Ezekiel to dig through the wall of his house. (Ezekiel 12:5). So Paul would have understood the message. Paul’s companions understood. As a result, they urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Did Paul listen? No!

Think about this. This is the third message the Holy Spirit sent to Paul telling him not to go. The first was a direct revelation. The second was through the brothers in Tyre, And now God sent a prophet from another city. The prophet came for the express purpose to tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem. How stubborn can Paul be? I am afraid I know the answer to that question. As stubborn as you and I. I am afraid.

Paul thought he knew best. No one was going to convince him not to go to Jerusalem. Paul was zealous to preach Christ. But his zeal was the source of his disobedience.

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