Determined to do God’s will, Paul goes to Jerusalem
Based on Acts 21:1-17
1-4. Why is Paul going to Jerusalem, and what awaits him there?
THE parting at Miletus is an emotional one. How difficult it is for Paul and Luke to tear themselves away from the Ephesian elders, whom they have come to love! The two missionaries stand on the deck of the boat. Their baggage is packed with supplies needed for the journey. They are also carrying the funds collected for needy Christians in Judea and are eager to see the delivery of this gift through to its completion.
2 A gentle breeze fills the sails, and the ship leaves the clamor of the quay. The two men, along with their seven traveling companions, gaze at their sad-faced brothers on the shore. (Acts 20:4, 14, 15) The travelers keep waving farewell until their friends fade into the distance.
3 For about three years, Paul has worked closely with the elders in Ephesus. But now, directed by holy spirit, he is on his way to Jerusalem. To some extent, he knows what awaits him. Earlier, he told those elders: “Bound in the spirit, I am traveling to Jerusalem, although not knowing what will happen to me there, except that from city to city the holy spirit repeatedly bears witness to me, saying that imprisonment and tribulations are waiting for me.” (Acts 20:22, 23) Despite the danger, Paul feels “bound in the spirit”—both obligated and willing to follow the spirit’s direction to go to Jerusalem. He values his life, but the doing of God’s will is the most important thing to him.
4 Is that how you feel? When we dedicate ourselves to Jehovah, we solemnly promise to make the doing of his will the most important thing in our life. We can benefit by considering the faithful example of the apostle Paul.
Passing “the Island of Cyprus” (Acts 21:1-3)
5. By what course did Paul and his companions travel to Tyre?
5 The boat that Paul and his companions boarded “ran with a straight course.” That is, it sailed before the wind, without tacking, and under fair winds until they reached Cos later that same day. (Acts 21:1) It seems that the boat anchored there overnight before sailing on to Rhodes and Patara. At Patara, on the southern coast of Asia Minor, the brothers boarded a large cargo ship, which carried them directly to Tyre, in Phoenicia. On the way, they passed “the island of Cyprus . . . on the left [port] side.” (Acts 21:3) Why did Luke, the writer of Acts, mention that detail?
6. (a) Why might the sight of Cyprus have been encouraging to Paul? (b) As you reflect on how Jehovah has blessed and helped you, what conclusion do you reach?
6 Perhaps Paul pointed out the island and told of his experiences there. On his first missionary journey about nine years earlier, Paul, along with Barnabas and John Mark, had encountered the sorcerer Elymas, who opposed their preaching. (Acts 13:4-12) Seeing that island and reflecting on what had occurred there may have encouraged Paul and strengthened him for what lay ahead. We too can profit by reflecting on how God has blessed us and helped us to endure trials. Such reflection may help us to echo the words of David, who wrote: “Many are the hardships of the righteous one, but Jehovah rescues him from them all.”—Ps. 34:19.
“We Searched for and Found the Disciples” (Acts 21:4-9)
7. What did the travelers do upon arriving at Tyre?
7 Paul appreciated the value of Christian association and was eager to be with those of like faith. Upon arriving at Tyre, Luke writes, “we searched for and found the disciples.” (Acts 21:4) Knowing there were fellow Christians in Tyre, the travelers sought them out and probably stayed with them. One of the great blessings of having the truth is that no matter where we go, we can find like-minded believers who will welcome us. Those who love God and who practice true worship have friends all over the world.
8. How are we to understand Acts 21:4?
8 In describing the seven days they stayed in Tyre, Luke records something that may at first seem puzzling: “Through the spirit [the brothers in Tyre] repeatedly told Paul not to set foot in Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4) Had Jehovah changed his mind? Was he now directing Paul not to go to Jerusalem? No. The spirit had indicated that Paul would be mistreated in Jerusalem, not that he should avoid the city. It seems that by means of holy spirit, the brothers in Tyre correctly concluded that Paul would have trouble in Jerusalem. Therefore, out of concern for Paul, they urged him not to go up to the city. Their desire to protect Paul from impending danger was understandable. Nevertheless, determined to do Jehovah’s will, Paul continued on his way to Jerusalem.—Acts 21:12.
9, 10. (a) On hearing the concerns of the brothers in Tyre, Paul might have recalled what similar situation? (b) What idea is common in the world today, and how does it contrast with the words of Jesus?
9 On hearing the concerns of the brothers, perhaps Paul recalled that Jesus had met a similar objection after telling his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, and be killed. Moved by sentimentality, Peter had said to Jesus: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this happen to you at all.” Jesus replied: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” (Matt. 16:21-23) Jesus was determined to accept the self-sacrificing course that God had assigned to him. Paul felt the same way. The brothers in Tyre, like the apostle Peter, undoubtedly had good intentions, but they did not discern God’s will.
10 The idea of being kind to yourself or following the course of least resistance appeals to many today. People in general tend to seek a religion that is comfortable and requires little of its members. In contrast, Jesus urged a far different mental attitude. He told his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and keep following me.” (Matt. 16:24) To follow Jesus is the wise course, the right course, but it is not the easy course.
11. How did the disciples in Tyre show their affection and support for Paul?
11 Soon it was time for Paul, Luke, and the others who were with them to continue on their way. The description of their departure is touching. It shows the affection the Tyrian brothers had for Paul as well as their strong support for his ministry. The men, women, and children accompanied Paul and those with him to the beach. As a group, they kneeled and prayed together and then said farewell. Afterward, Paul, Luke, and their traveling companions boarded another boat and continued on to Ptolemais, where they met the brothers and stayed with them for one day.—Acts 21:5-7.
12, 13. (a) What record of faithful service did Philip have? (b) How is Philip a good example for Christian fathers today?
12 Next, Luke reports, Paul and those traveling with him set out for Caesarea. Once there, they “entered the house of Philip the evangelizer.” a (Acts 21:8) They must have rejoiced to see Philip. Some 20 years earlier in Jerusalem, he had been appointed by the apostles to help care for the distribution of food in the infant Christian congregation. Philip had a long record of zealous preaching. Remember that when persecution scattered the disciples, Philip went to Samaria and began to preach. Later, he preached to and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. (Acts 6:2-6; 8:4-13, 26-38) What a record of faithful service!
13 Philip had not lost his zeal for the ministry. Based now in Caesarea, he was still busy in the preaching work, as Luke shows by calling him “the evangelizer.” We also learn that he now had four daughters who prophesied, which suggests that they followed in their father’s footsteps. b (Acts 21:9) Philip, then, must have done much to build up the spirituality of his household. Christian fathers today do well to follow his example, taking the lead in the ministry and helping their children to develop a love for the evangelizing work.
14. What no doubt resulted from Paul’s visits with fellow believers, and what similar opportunities exist today?
14 In one place after another, Paul sought out fellow believers and spent time with them. Surely the local brothers were eager to extend hospitality to this traveling missionary and his companions. Such visits no doubt resulted in “an interchange of encouragement.” (Rom. 1:11, 12) Similar opportunities exist today. Great benefits result from opening your home, however humble, to a circuit overseer and his wife.—Rom. 12:13.
“I Am Ready . . . to Die” (Acts 21:10-14)
15, 16. What message did Agabus bring, and what effect did it have on those who heard it?
15 During Paul’s stay with Philip, another respected visitor arrived—Agabus. Those gathered at Philip’s home knew Agabus to be a prophet; he had foretold a great famine during the reign of Claudius. (Acts 11:27, 28) Perhaps they wondered: ‘Why has Agabus come? What message does he bring?’ As they watched intently, he took Paul’s belt—a long strip of cloth that could hold money and other items and was worn around the waist. With it, Agabus bound his own feet and hands. Then he spoke. The message was sobering: “Thus says the holy spirit, ‘The man to whom this belt belongs will be bound like this by the Jews in Jerusalem, and they will give him into the hands of people of the nations.’”—Acts 21:11.
16 The prophecy confirmed that Paul would go to Jerusalem. It also indicated that his dealings with the Jews there would result in his being delivered “into the hands of people of the nations.” The prophecy had a profound effect on those who were present. Luke writes: “Now when we heard this, both we and those who were there began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered: ‘What are you doing by weeping and trying to weaken my resolve? Rest assured, I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”—Acts 21:12, 13.
17, 18. How did Paul demonstrate his firm resolve, and how did the brothers react?
17 Imagine the scene. The brothers, including Luke, entreat Paul not to proceed. Some are weeping. Moved by the loving concern they show for him, Paul tenderly says that they are “trying to weaken [his] resolve,” or as some translations render the Greek, they are “breaking [his] heart.” Still, his resolve is firm, and as was the case when he met with the brothers in Tyre, he will not allow entreaties or tears to cause him to waver. Instead, he explains to them why he must proceed. What courage and determination he showed! Like Jesus before him, Paul set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. (Heb. 12:2) Paul was not seeking to be a martyr, but if that happened, he would consider it an honor to die as a follower of Christ Jesus.
18 How did the brothers react? In a word, respectfully. We read: “When he would not be dissuaded, we stopped objecting and said: ‘Let the will of Jehovah take place.’” (Acts 21:14) Those who tried to convince Paul to avoid going to Jerusalem did not insist on having their way. They listened to Paul and yielded, recognizing and accepting the will of Jehovah, even though doing so was difficult for them. Paul had embarked on a course that would eventually lead to his death. It would be easier for Paul if those who loved him did not try to dissuade him.
19. What valuable lesson do we learn from what happened to Paul?
19 We learn a valuable lesson from what happened to Paul: We never want to try to dissuade others from pursuing a self-sacrificing course in serving God. We can apply this lesson to many situations, not just those that involve life and death. For example, while many Christian parents have found it difficult to see their children leave home to serve Jehovah in distant assignments, they are determined not to discourage them. Phyllis, who lives in England, recalls how she felt when her only daughter took up missionary service in Africa. “It was an emotional time,” said Phyllis. “It was hard for me to know that she would be so far away. I felt sad and proud at the same time. I prayed a lot about it. But it was her decision, and I never tried to alter that. After all, I had always taught her to put Kingdom interests first! She has served in foreign assignments for the past 30 years, and I thank Jehovah every day for her faithfulness.” How fine it is when we encourage self-sacrificing fellow believers!
20, 21. What illustrates Paul’s desire to be with the brothers, and why did he want to be with those of like faith?
20 Preparations were made, and Paul continued on his way, accompanied by brothers who thus gave evidence of their wholehearted support. At every stage of the journey to Jerusalem, Paul and those accompanying him sought the companionship of their Christian brothers and sisters. At Tyre, they had found disciples and had remained with them seven days. In Ptolemais, they had greeted their sisters and brothers and had spent one day with them. At Caesarea, they had stayed for a number of days at the home of Philip. Next, some of the disciples from Caesarea escorted Paul and his companions to Jerusalem, where they were entertained by Mnason, an early disciple. Finally, upon the travelers’ arrival in Jerusalem, Luke reports that “the brothers welcomed us gladly.”—Acts 21:17.
21 Clearly, Paul wanted to be with those of like faith. The apostle drew encouragement from his brothers and sisters, just as we do today. Doubtless, that encouragement strengthened Paul to face the angry opposers who would seek to put him to death.