Today’s Reading: Acts 20:3b-21:16
These verses are filled with movement as we are being allowed to peer a bit into a “ships log” or a “day-timer” of these early disciples. The time frames given also help to make these passages more real and believable. Most significant, I think, is the fact that the Holy Spirit is moving faithful followers of Jesus Christ in a very determined way. They, in turn, are responding with faith and commitment and obedience. Perhaps none stands out more clearly than the Apostle Paul. In these chapters we are seeing some of his last movements before being imprisoned. His passion and energy and vitality are hard to appreciate fully when we are only reading the words, but they are clear and compelling. He loves His Saviour, and that love is being demonstrated by his complete obedience and surrender. His spiritual, mental, physical and emotional exhaustion are also hard to grasp but they must certainly have been there. He managed to exhaust others as well, as we see the young Eutychus falling asleep and then falling to his death. Even this does not seem to throw any kind of damper on the determined, single-minded focus of Paul. After bringing him back to life, it is back upstairs to break bread, eat and then talk until daylight. I think this would have sent most of us home to our beds to recuperate, but not so the Apostle and these early followers. Coupled with the sheer physical strain of such an intense schedule (being carried out, I might add, not in the comfort of our modern day transportation options), is the clear emotional toll of all these encounters with people. Those who love him, and have been ministered to by him, are disturbed by the dangers he is facing and that he will face. They are, understandably, concerned for him. We see that there is much weeping as unpleasant realities are being impressed on their hearts. Paul, himself, is being warned by the Holy Spirit that much danger and imprisonment awaits him and yet his words in Acts 21:13 are a testimony of the power of love to constrain a heart: “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus”. Here we see two types of sacrifice, both different but both very real. Those who loved him grieved his impending suffering. Their heartbreak, in turn, saddened him. In the end they contented themselves to allow the Lord’s will to be done. Paul was faced with the reality that, in order to follow His Lord, those who loved him would experience loss and heartbreak. The Ephesian elders, too, were grieved that they would never see his face again. Yet, “they accompanied him to the ship”. Are we willing to do that with those we love.? Perhaps some will be called to a faraway place, perhaps some will experience persecution for their faith. Are we willing to entrust them to the will of the Lord? This will truly show we also believe the Lord’s words that it is “more blessed to give than to receive”! Are we willing to accompany them “to the ship”, as it were? Are we willing to give of our most precious treasures? It is a challenge to my heart.
Paul was also, then, dealing with the emotional strain of these plots against him. Yet again, it is hard to really enter into the true extent of his pain. None of us would ever want to feel hated and betrayed and to know that there are those that want our harm. To know we are misunderstood and wrongly accused can make us defensive and angry but Paul could say that he “served the Lord with great humility and tears” although he was “severely tested by the plots of the Jews”. The testing would have been more than physical but, once again, it serves as a backdrop to embellish the character and faith of this man who so loved His Lord.
A few times in these verses we see them kneeling to pray. This movement downward is a sure step upward. Their prayers were serving to strengthen them and comfort them for the mighty task at hand.
It seems that all great men and women of faith share common understandings and often similar soul aches. In Psalm 55 David is hurting from the pain of betrayal, yet he sums up in verse 22 with the exhortation to: “Cast your burden upon the LORD and HE will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Truly his words are brought to light and life by the example of Paul. He refused to be shaken from his course and steadfastly, resolutely moved towards Jerusalem with full knowledge that arrest and imprisonment awaited him.
A. W. Tozer said : “In the Book of Acts faith was for each believer a beginning, not an end; it was a journey, not a bed in which to lie while waiting for the day of our Lord’s triumph. Believing was not a once-done act; it was more than an act, it was an attitude of heart and mind which inspired and enabled the believer to take up his cross and follow the Lamb whithersoever He went.” May we, too, like these early disciples be willing to daily journey forward with our Lord, and for our Lord, regardless of the cost.