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"The Missionary's Courage"

Acts 21:1-16

Wednesday PM Bible Study
March 11, 2009

Theme: This passage reveals the courage with which Paul answered the call to go to Jerusalem.

Paul had expressed a determination to go to Jerusalem as far back as Acts 18:21. But he also expressed a recognition that great trials awaited him there. When he was first called by the Lord, it was said that he must be shown "how many things he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts 9:16). And as he made his way to Jerusalem, Paul himself testified, "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race, with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (20:22-24).

In this section of Acts, we see that resolve put into action. And from it, we learn something of the courage that must underly all of our efforts, in the individual spheres that God has places us in, to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to those He places around us in this world.


A. This passage begins with the departure of Paul and his co-travelers from Miletus; from which he had given his farewell exhortation to the pastors of Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38). It was in this farewell exhortation that he made it plain that he knew in advance the troubles that awaited him in Jerusalem. But he, nevertheless, determined to go. What an impact that determination must have had on the pastors he had exhorted!

B. The journey from Miletus involved a "hop" along the coast of Lycia; stopping by ship at three ports each about a day's distance from one another. First, they ran a straight course (that is, a swift sail) to Cos; and then from Cos to Rhodes (famous in history as the site of the Colossus); and then from Rhodes to Patara. The famous biblical archaeologist William Ramsey wrote; "The ship evidently stopped every evening. The reason lies in the wind, which in the Aegean during the summer generally blows from the north, beginning at a very early hour in the morning; in the late afternoon it dies away; at sunset there is a dead calm, and thereafter a gentle south wind arises and blows during the night. The start would be made before sunrise; and it would be necessary for all passengers to go on board soon after midnight in order to be ready to sail with the first breath from the north" (St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, p. 293).

C. From Patara, a ship was found that was sailing directly to Syria. This would have gotten them there much quicker than 'hoping' along the coast; although it would also mean a delay in Tyre as the ship unloaded its cargo (suggesting that it was probably a much larger ship than they had been traveling on). Along the way, they passed Cyprus the place at which Paul's missionary work begin (Acts 13:4-12). After a few days journey, they arrived at Syria; and the ships cargo was unloaded at Tyre.

D. Apparently, the wait in Tyre involved a delay of seven days. But the time was not wasted. They immediately set about to find disciples (probably brought to the Lord in the work that is described in Acts 11:19). But while there and in fellowship with them, Paul received his first warning from the disciples speaking "through the Spirit" not to go up to Jerusalem. It should be noted that Paul had already expressed that he was compelled "in the spirit" (or perhaps, "in the [Holy] Spirit") to go to Jerusalem. The disciples probably confirmed, by the Holy Spirit, what Paul already knew; but as a human response to that confirmation from the Spirit, they urged him not to go.

E. After the week had passed, the team (note the use of the word "we"; which indicates that Luke was present) departed and went on their way. But a close bond had formed between the disciples of Tyre and Paul. They all accompanied the team out of the city  along with wives and children; and they all knelt down on the shore and prayed. There doesn't seem to be a sense of disobedience to the Lord either in Paul's actions or in the response of the people to his resolve. But the courage of Paul also moved the people to pray for his safety. After taking leave of one another, the team entered the ship while the others went home. No doubt there was a lot of time for the missionary team to reflect and pray about whatever may lay ahead!


A. After the team had finished their voyage from Tyre, they came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren there, and stayed with them for one day. Afterwards, they departed with Paul to Caesarea (very possibly by foot). There, they came to the home of an old friend and someone we've already met in our study of Acts Philip. He was, you'll remember, one of the "seven" chosen by the church to serve the Hellenistic Jewish widows (Acts 6:5). He himself was a man of great evangelistic power as demonstrated in his ministry in Acts 8:26-40. His story in Acts 8:40 ends with him in Caesarea; and perhaps it was here that the Lord led him to stay and raise his family. By the time we come to our passage, he's known as "Philip the Evangelist"; and it was with him that the team stayed.

B. This man had four virgin daughters who "prophesied" (see Acts 2:17). But as they stayed many days with Philip and his family, another man whom we've met before in our study of Acts came to them from Judea the prophet Agabus (see Acts 11:28). It was through him that the Holy Spirit gave further confirmation of what lied ahead. In a very visual display, he took Paul's belt (probably a cloth belt), bound his own hands and feet with it, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles'" (v. 11). Did he truly speak from the Holy Spirit? Things didn't exactly go as he said, because the Jews didn't deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles; but rather the Romans took him by force in order to rescue him from the Jews. But still, there's a sense in which it did occur; since he ended up being passed from their hands to those of the Gentiles.


A. The response of the people of God including Luke (note again the "we") was to plead with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem (see also Acts 19:31). Perhaps many were putting the pieces together and concluding that the Lord was indicating that Paul should not go.

B. But note Paul's resolve. "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart?"  which we need not take as a cynical statement but one in which Paul's heart was genuinely moved by their concern for him. But though his heart was moved, his purpose remained the same: "For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

C. Some have accused Paul of disobedience to the Lord in going which is a pretty serious charge to make. But we need to consider that no prohibition was necessarily given to Paul in verse 11. He was simply warned of what would happen. What's more, Paul seems to have often received direct revelation from the Lord regarding his work (Acts 18:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:23-25; Galatians 2:2). Paul didn't seem to receive any rebuke from the Lord (see Acts 28:21); but rather seem to have received divine approval (Acts 23:11); and he had already declared that he felt "bound" to go (Acts 20:22). His capture in Jerusalem actually opened many other doors to the gospel and seems to have led to the very thing that the Lord promised would happen at the beginning of his call (Acts 9:15). And before we should be hasty in condemning Paul, we should remember that he followed the example of our Lord who was also urged not to go where God was calling Him to go (Matthew 16:22).

D. The conclusion of the saints again, including Luke was to cease trying to persuade him against going seeing that "he would not be persuaded". Instead, they simply declared, "The will of the Lord be done". Clearly, it would be.


A. From there, they "packed up" and went to Jerusalem. This phrase may suggest some preparation needed to be made; because the journey was uphill, and involved nearly sixty miles much by foot.

B. Along with them they brought a man named Mnason. He was from Cyprus (see 4:36); and may be strategic to have brought because he appeared to have a home in Jerusalem at which they could stay. He may have been a Greek, though; since he was willing to host Gentiles.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jesus once said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Jesus spoke this of Himself; but He then went on to say, "But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep" (vv. 12-13).

We can certainly tell when someone truly is a servant of the Good Shepherd. He would be a courageous evangelist and missionary who, like the Good Shepherd, was willing to face danger for the sake of the sheep. Paul was just such a man. May we be witness-bearers of courage like him and thus be more like the Good Shepherd Himself.


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