Acts 20:5–21:17. Paul Walks Toward the Trap.
Key Notes: Pauls' last word to Ephesian elders. Painful aspects of Chrstian teaching. Paul defied multiple warnings of danger. The leading of the Holy Spirit.
20:1–6 Paul ended his third missionary journey with a trip to Greece and Macedonia. Although Luke says nothing much about it, it was an important time, because Romans and II Corinthians were written then. [Luke omits many events in Paul's life such as those recorded in II Cor.11:24–28.] Paul escaped one more plot against him by not sailing at once for Syria while sending his co-workers on ahead. Luke left Philippi with Paul and landed at Troas.
20:7–12 On the last day of his visit in Troas (Sunday), he spoke until midnight. Eutychus, a young fellow sitting in the window (no screen), was overcome by the fumes of lamps, the late hour, and Paul's long message and fell three stories to the ground. He was picked up dead, but Paul revived him. Then Paul ate and went on preaching until 6AM.
Eutychus has been a humorous reminder to two thousand years of Christian preachers and teachers: don't be long-winded.
20:13–16 The ship coasted along Asia Minor to Miletus. There Paul disembarked and called for the Ephesians elders. He no doubt knew that he could communicate more effectively if the elders came to him, than if he went into the city. He was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, when the largest number of Hellenists from the Empire would still be there.
20:18–35 Paul gives us our first glimpse of a presentation to a Christian audience; however, it is most unusual. It is a last will and testament to his best church, leaving his legacy to them to carry on the work he has begun. He says much about himself because he intends them to do the same. His farewell to the Ephesian elders is in four parts, each transition marked by "and now."
•He had faithfully worked with them with tears and trials, declaring repentance toward God and faith in Christ.
- He is bound for Jerusalem in spite of warnings in every city of imprisonment and affliction, but he intends to finish his course.
- He did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God. He transfers his care of the Ephesian church to the elders with the warning that there will be attacks from outside and inside the church, bent on dividing and ruining its people.
- God is able to build them up and give them the inheritance belonging to the saints. They should follow Paul's example of making their own income to help the weak. "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
20:36–38 Parting was tearful because they would never see Paul again. They obviously loved him.
21:1–6 The next stop was Tyre where the party stayed with the little church for a week. They told Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
21:7–14 At Caesarea they stayed at the home of Stephen the Deacon who had four daughters who prophesied. Agabus, another prophet, came from Judea to warn Paul of imprisonment at Jerusalem. He tied his own hands and feet with Paul's sash. His visible demonstration was sometimes used by OT prophets to dramatize a message.
•Ahijah tore his new robe into 12 pieces and gave ten to Jeroboam to signify his leadership of the ten Northern Kingdom tribes. IK.11:30–31
•Isaiah walked barefoot and stripped for three years to dramatize the captivity of Egypt by the Assyrians and warn Israel not to depend on Egypt. Isa.20:2
•Ezekiel lay on his side and set up a miniature siege works to dramatize the coming attack of the Babylonians on Jerusalem. Ezek.4:1
Two questions emerge:
Why would Paul tell the Ephesian elders twice that he did not withhold anything (20:20,27) in his teaching? Why would anyone withhold any part of the "whole counsel of God"?
If we think of Paul's NT writing, much of I,II Corinthians would be painful to the Corinthians. The first 3 chapters of Romans are upsetting to modern readers. In Galatians, Paul vigorously opposes legalism and cries out "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you...." In Ephesians, Paul makes high demands for moral conduct, especially of married people. In Colossians, he attacks tradition and heresies. In Titus, he denounces rebellious believers. There is plenty that would be tempting to withhold.
What of the modern church? People are emotionally fragile and need a safe place to mend their broken lives. Sin, righteousness and judgment are reserved for the emotionally stable. One young woman said "I always leave those parts out because they put me down."
Many important topics are taboo for preachers: gender and sexuality, divorce, moral conduct and life-styles. People claim the right not to be upset. Some theological topics are out of vogue such as justification by faith, death, hell and judgment. Our church went for twelve years without a sermon on the Atonement. Further, depth in teaching cannot be achieved because many are transient. Basic messages such as stewardship and evangelism must be given over and over.
The second question is why Paul went ahead into danger that he was warned against. What was Paul's mission?
•He had been collecting a large offering from Gentile churches to take to Jerusalem. (Rom.15:25–32; ICor.15:1–4; IICor.8–9). He had been advised to "remember the poor" (Gal.2:10). He hoped that "my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints." (Rom.15:31). Carrying the offering himself would help to break down the wall between Christian Jews and Gentiles. Eph.2:11–22
•He needed to dissipate any tensions still felt since the Jerusalem Council. Acts 15
What did his advisors say?
"...the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." Acts.20:23
"Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." Acts.21:4.
"Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" Acts.21:11
"...we and the people there, including Luke, begged him not to go up to Jerusalem." Acts 21:12
If the Holy Spirit warns and his advisors agree, how could Paul appear to defy them?
Paul knew that afflictions awaited him and he was unafraid. When Jesus commissioned Paul in the beginning, He had prophesied that he would "...carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel, for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My Name." Acts 9:15–16. God's word through the Holy Spirit was not intended to deter him, but to arm him. His friends and advisors got the message correctly but misinterpreted its conclusions. God's purposes were confirmed to Paul in the crisis: "Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome." Acts.23:11
Information is only part of discerning the Spirit's leading. Warning of danger does not automatically determine the course of action be taken. We may need a second message to make the application and we must be sure of our ground.