We pick Paul’s story back up as he was completing his third missionary journey, encouraging the churches he planted and collecting money to take to Jerusalem to help relieve the famine and poverty of the Jewish Christians there. Paul had hoped to heal the growing division between the Jewish and the Gentile churches by showing Jerusalem how deeply the Gentile Christians loved them and were willing to sacrifice for them. Remember back in chapter 20, Paul had brought with him a delegation of eight elders from the Gentile churches, each bringing the gifts from their area
As Paul and the delegation approached Jerusalem, they met with churches along the way, and people began to prophesy in the Spirit that Paul was heading into terrible danger. As God revealed the truth to these saints and to Paul, they feared for Paul’s life, and in their deep love for him, each church begged him not to continue.
Each prophecy was getting more dramatic and emotional than the last, until Paul found his heart beginning to break. Was he really in God’s will to continue on?Finally, as he met with his last group of beloved friends and coworkers, the elders from the assemblies in Ephesus, Paul cried out,
And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.Acts 20:22-24 (NRSV)
There was no dissuading him as he set his shoulders and squared his jaw forward. Luke, careful to document every detail, recorded their progress.
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. 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 21:1-6 (NRSV
You can see how Paul had to keep moving to make up for lost time due to his unscheduled detour (to avoid those who were seeking to kill him.
Ptolemais, incidentally, is called Akko today, and was the best natural harbor on the entire coast of Palestine. From there, Paul and his company continued on to Caesarea where they spent several days with Philip the evangelist and his four unmarried daughters who had all received the gift of prophecy. It was here Paul finally broke down in tears, as the prophet Agabus vividly portrayed to him what the Spirit was telling them all would come.
“Thus says the Holy Spirit,” Agabus had said, employing the code language of prophets announcing a direct word from the Lord. He had loosened the belt Paul had been using to hold his robes together, and had taken it from him. As all watched in somber silence, Agabus first tightly bound his feet, then proceeded to knot his arms and hands together, trussing himself up as a prisoner. ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
Even Luke was overcome with the heavy and frightening truth of Agabus’ message. There was no denying the voice of God had spoken. They had rightly discerned the Spirit’s message, for it was clear what lay ahead for Paul would be dangerous and dreadful. Yet, because of their great love for Paul and their shared passion to see the gospel spread to the ends of the earth, it seemed inconceivable God would provide such a unified and powerful report of calamity without expecting Paul to take heed and turn back.
Paul, by now, was crying openly. “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.”
Stricken to the heart, the crestfallen gathering fell silent. All that was left was to continue their journey, the excitement drained from them, leaving only the residue of sorrow and apprehension. “The Lord’s will be done,” they said, with shaky voices and tear-filled eyes, swallowing hard.
Paul was absolutely convinced God had a purpose for him in Jerusalem, and he had to stand firm on that. In the same way that Jesus knew the cross was God’s will for Him, even though Peter tried to stop Him out of love and concern, Paul knew that this was God’s will for him, even though his beloved friends were trying to stop him.
It makes me think about when my own feelings and logical reasoning get in the way of what, perhaps, God is intending for me, or someone I love. There are times when we absolutely know the voice of God has spoken, but…we’re not sure what to do about it.
Shaken and subdued, Luke wrote in his journal, “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.”
Remember who else was from Cyprus? Barnabas!
Mnason’s name, a variant of “Jason” and common to the Greeks, established him as a Hellenistic Jew. Because Luke identified him as an early Christian, it’s possible he was in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, perhaps even with Barnabas, and was among those first few thousand who joined in faith. Alternately, he may have become a believer during Barnabas’ and Paul’s first missions trip with Mark.
Apparently, Mnason had relocated to the mainland in the larger Jerusalem district, as later texts place his village outside the city itself.
When Paul and his large entourage arrived in Jerusalem, Luke said they were welcomed warmly. What a relief! But it wasn’t to last long.
[Escapeguy / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]