Scripture Reading: Acts 21 - 22 …
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). But these were more than just words to Paul … it would shortly become reality. Jesus said all who would be His disciples must die to SELF … that we must be willing not only to die for Him, but also to live for Him!!
Paul had plenty of warning about going to Jerusalem. As he and his companions landed at Tyre, the disciples "urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem" (21:4). A prophet named, Agabus met Paul, and taking his belt declared to Paul that "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’" (21:11). Again, the people pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Paul's response is telling: "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" (21:13). So they stopped trying to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem and said, "The Lord's will be done" (21:14).
But why would it be the Lord's will for Paul to be persecuted, imprisoned, or put to death? We need to understand that suffering is at times part of God’s plan to use the evil other people do to advance His kingdom in ways you and I will never understand this side of heaven. Like Paul, we need to be obedient, to be faithful to God, entrusting our very lives to His keeping. The time may come for many of us to have to decide whether we are willing to give even our very lives for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Arriving finally at Jerusalem, Paul met with the elders and "reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry" (21:19). They, in turn, reported "how many thousands of Jews have believed" and how they were all "zealous for the law" (21:20). Then they asked Paul to show that he was not against the law by going through some of the rituals that God had given to the people of Israel in the days of Moses. They said, "Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (21:24).
But as soon as the Jews saw Paul in the temple they started a riot and seized Paul and began to beat him, trying to kill him! (21:30-31). He was "rescued" by Roman soldiers, but as they led him away and were about to put him in jail he asked to speak to the people. Imagine yourself having just been beaten by an angry mob and then asking to speak to them. Paul was thinking about testifying about Jesus … about explaining to the people what they clearly did not yet understand.
As Paul spoke to the crowd they listened intently. This was "one of theirs." He was no stranger in Jerusalem. He had been "on their side" and now they saw him as starting a new religion. They, like so many since, were blind to the truth about Jesus Christ. Their eyes were blind and their ears were deaf. Their hearts were hard and they would not, they could not believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. After all, they were guilty of crucifying Him!!
They listened … until Paul explained that God had sent him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Now they revealed the truth of what was inside them: foolish, sinful PRIDE! THEY were the people of God! The Gentiles were unworthy to receive forgiveness. God was THEIR God … period! They had forgotten God's promise to Abraham that in his "Seed" all nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). They were done listening. "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!" they cried (22:22).
Afraid that the crowd would take Paul by force, the commander of the soldiers took Paul away and told the soldiers to flog him and to question him to find out why the people were so angry. The Romans were tired of the Jews and their constant revolts and it would not be long before Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed by their armies. But God was not finished using Paul for His glory. He had more work to do! As he was about to be flogged, Paul asked one of the soldiers if it was legal to flog a Roman citizen. Roman law treated Jews and Romans differently. Because of his birth, Paul was both, so in a move similar to what happened to Jesus, Paul was released to stand before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council … the very people who wanted to kill him.
But God had a plan! God always has a plan. God had a plan to use Paul's life and He has a plan to use your life and mine. Whether it is to one person or a hundred or a thousand or more, you and I who believe in Jesus today are no less called by God to testify to the truth of the Gospel. There are still people who need to hear, some for the first time, some for the thousandth time. God knows those who are His and He has determined that it is through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that people will be saved from His coming wrath and judgment. "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).
Are you ready to die for the name of Jesus? Are you ready to give your life to be used of God to "tell the old, old story?" Some will listen … most will not … but someday soon that last one of Jesus' sheep will be found and the trumpets will sound and Jesus will return to take us home! Until then, may we be found faithful as we declare to the world that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:12).
"Our Father in heaven, Your glory shines through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for in the Gospel Your righteousness, Your holiness, Your perfection, Your glory is displayed as sin is exposed and the perfect sacrifice of Your Son is revealed as the only way of salvation. Give all Your true people wisdom and strength to stand firm in our faith and to proclaim this message to a world in need of good news! Strengthen those who are being persecuted now and Your whole Church, that we will defend the truth against the attacks of those outside the church and those within who would enslave people to live by the law rather than by grace through faith in Jesus. Pour out Your Holy Spirit and empower us to fulfill the mission You have entrusted to all who truly believe. In Jesus' name, Amen"