Our story continues–the last leg of Paul’s journey from Miletus to Jerusalem . . .
“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. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there” (Acts 21:1-3).
The ship plowed through the Aegean. Miletus’ harbor and the Ephesian elders were behind. Paul nursed warm memories–memories mingled with sadness of the final farewell. He turned his thoughts to Jerusalem. This last leg of the journey would brimg him home. “To what?” he wondered.
Favorable winds blew the coastal-trader to Cos in a day, Rhodes the nex day, then Patara. Paul and company would need a larger ship for the eastern Mediterranean. Patara’s fine harbor had them. They scouted the choices, found one bound for Phoenicia, Syria’s province, and boarded. The trader would take them 400 miles. One day, Cyprus, the island Paul had preached through on his first journey, appeared on the left. Then, over the eastern Mediterranean’s favorable seas, Tyre rose on the horizon. There, the ship would unload its cargo, Paul and company included. Jerusalem awaited 300 miles to the south. Damascus stood 100 miles to the east.
“We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home” (Acts 21:4-6).
A church had been planted in Tyre–Jews dispersed from the persecution that rose with Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 11:19). Paul and company searched for them. They stayed with the disciples a whole week while their ship was unloaded and readied to sail. The familiar warning came again. Paul had told the Ephesian elders ” . . . the Holy Spirit testifies in every city saying that chains and tribulations await me” (Acts 20:22,23). Now again, through the Tyre disciples the Spirit warns. “Don’t go to Jerusalem!” the disciples urge. But Paul is determined. The same Spirit who warns of persecution compels him to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:21). Reluctantly, they walk Paul to the beach. There they pray and say goodbye.
“When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to 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 bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, ‘The Lord’s will be done'” (Acts 21:7-14).
Paul’s ship sails south 27 miles to Ptolemais–a fine harbor, a prosperous metropolis, and a Roman colony. Evangelized at the same time as Tyre, it offers Paul and company Christian fellowship for a day. The next day another 30 miles brings them to Caesarea in northern Israel. The city is a Roman administrative center, the Roman capital of Judea Province, and also a center for Christianity in its early years. Philip lives there with his four unmarried daughters. Philip had been one of the seven chosen to distribute food to Jerusalem widows (Acts 6:1-5), had preached powerfully in Samaria (Acts 8:5-12), and had led the Ethiopian eunuch to faith in Christ on a desert road (Acts 8:25-36).
Several days later, another prophet, Agabus, arrives from Jerusalem. Without a word, he grabs Paul’s long cloth belt, wraps it around his body and announces, “The Holy Spirit says the Jerusalem Jews will do this to the man who owns this belt and give him to the Gentiles.” Agabus’ warning is so dramatic, everyone, including Paul’s companions, urge him not to go. But Paul answers: “Why are you crying and breaking my heart? I’m ready to be bound. I’m even ready to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
They can’t change Paul’s mind, so finally they say nothing, only resignedly, “Let the Lord’s will be done.”
“After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay” (Acts 21:15,16).
So they get ready and start for Jerusalem. Some of the Caesarea disciples come along and accompany Paul 64 miles to the home of Mnason of Cyprus, a man who came to Christ through Pentecost (Acts 2). Mnason’s home will be their home during their days in Jerusalem.
So the stage is set. Paul, the primary player, is in place. He’s been warned, multiple times. Still, he’s come, the Spirit testifying to prison and persecution waiting. The image of bound Agabus lurking in his mind. And, all the while, the Spirit drives him on.
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Paul walking into hostile Jerusalem reminds me of missionaries today who serve in gospel-hostile countries. They know the dangers. If found out, they could be expelled, or worse, arrested, imprisoned, abused. Like Paul, they go because the Spirit compels them. They go where the gospel is silent. According to Joshua Project, 6900 of 16,500 people groups in the world remain unreached. Countries most dangerous for Christians include Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, India, Syria, Vietnam and over forty more.
So here I sit at my computer in the safety of my house, while good friends serve in a gospel-hostile country reaching people previously unreached. Well, that’s their mission, right? Wrong! It’s my mission too. When the offering plate passes, whatever bit of cash I happen to have in my pocket is not enough. When I pray for my health and my family, to forget to pray for them is to go AWOL on duty. Paul walked into danger for the gospel’s sake. Many missionaries do, too.
They mustn’t go alone.