Acts 21 is a chapter that makes me tired just reading it. The first half is about Paul’s travels – and how he went from place to place – often for a day or a week – and then moved on to minister to the folks down the road or across the sea. Everywhere he went they received him warmly. And in each case they were saddened to see him leave. He stayed the course – sharing the gospel and setting an example – as he did when he left Tyre “kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell”. Paul was the real deal. He lived Christ every moment of every day. At Ptolemais, he stayed with Phillip and it was interesting that scripture calls out the fact that “he had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied”. Now that would be an interesting environment to live in, wouldn’t it? Phillip is called “the evangelist” and it makes me wonder if these girls were blessed with the gift of prophecy because of the way they were raised. Parenting does matter – and whatever the reason – Paul’s trips here are filled with folks who are telling him the future – that he should avoid Jerusalem because things were not going to go well there.
So what is Paul’s response to the warnings that he would be bound and beat and suffer in Jerusalem? “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus“. Paul is single-minded. He is going to go and follow God’s leading to report to the church and face the suffering he has been called to. Nothing is going to take him off his mission and course. He is on the way and won’t be stopped. So finally the local folks gave up trying to persuade him differently and realize he is on God’s mission. A few even went along to accompany him on the trip. Quite a change for a guy who had spent many years killing those who followed Christ. Now he has many people who will follow him, even into a city that will cause much pain and suffering.
Paul first heads to the elders to report on what God has been doing among the Gentiles. You may recall that this was not exactly an accepted thing early on in the church – to take the gospel to folks who were not Jews. But Paul had been sent and now he comes back and “he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God”. That is how the Body of Christ should function. See what God is doing – not judge based on our own personal bias or expectations – and then respond positively as God reveals Himself around us. The elders see Paul’s passion and impact and are excited – glorifying God. But that isn’t how the mainstream felt and that is where the problem comes from. Paul is advised to do as much as possible to “fit in” to the expectations of the crowd. But even those attempts are not enough to sway the people who were set on punishing him. So they whip the crowd to a frenzy and beat Paul mercilessly. Had not the local authorities intervened he likely would have been killed. They rescue him and as the chapter ends, Paul appeals to the authority to allow him to talk to the crowd that was set on killing him. That is how we end this chapter – with Paul on the steps ready to speak.