The Pilgrim Paul’s Progression Through Patra and Phoencia to Philip

Acts 21:1-14

And when it came about that we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. And when we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. And when it came about that our days there were ended, we departed and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. And after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

The problem with considering the continuing context and sublime string, taking a long view of Scripture, means that one has to consider the continuing context, see the sublime string and actually take the time to take a long view of Scripture. Yes, another one of my literary gems of which should go without saying. Redundant Russell P is my name–unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. Yet we don’t learn for ourselves and we don’t consider the context or take a long view of Scripture. Perhaps we partake of our daily crumb but for the most part, we in the West, don’t read our Bibles, much less study them, carefully considering the context.

I love knowledge and am good at research but I have to admit that while the inter-webbing has made my trips to the local library non-existent, I have to be very careful not to be fooled by false facts found in cyberspace. I will use two reputable sources, LifeWay and Barna, as my primary sources for daily Biblical reading and similar scenarios. According to both Barna and LifeWay, most American households have a Bible but most members of the household don’t read it daily, or even weekly. According to Barna, 14% of Americans read their Bible daily. This is actually a surprise to me–I thought it would be half that number. 13% read it once, or more than once, a week–That doesn’t surprise me but I thought that this number would be higher than the number of people who read it daily. It’s almost like a default answer. We don’t want to answer that we read the Bible daily because we may skip a day here and there. Since we are in a society where everything is taken literally, many of us would​ put ourselves in the more than once a week category. I admit that I don’t read my Bible every, single day. If I were part of the survey, even though I have read my Bible every day for a long time, I still wouldn’t say I read it daily. To me, concerning this, 350 out of 365 days isn’t daily. However, some days, most probably (I don’t keep track) I spend more than an hour in study and once or twice a week I may spend two hours or more studying the Scriptures. That’s where the research falls flat. We don’t know if people are getting a daily crumb or a feast every few days. Nevertheless I want to focus on what we do know–almost half of Americans report reading the Bible more than a few times a year but less than 10% have read the entire Bible more than once. That’s about 30 million people. To put it in perspective, the Left Behind series has sold some 80 million copies. The Late Great Planet Earth has sold around 30 million copies itself. Your Best Life Now has sold over 8 million copies. The statistics are staggering between the sales of books which take a short view of Scripture and those who have read the entire Bible more than once. Ironically, Left Behind is pure fiction and in Your Best Life Now, Scripture is rarely even quoted, but mentioned and poorly paraphrased and when it is quoted, it’s ripped out of context. Don’t even get me started on Heaven being real and blood moons!

The number of people who take a long view of Scripture, carefully considering the context, seems to be around the same as the number of people​ who take a short view of Scripture, carelessly ripping verses out of context. And when you combine the two distinct peoples with two distinct plans of Biblical hermeneutics, they still equal less than the rest of the casual Bible readers. Therefore we use a herminutical tool called the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens, and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We take a long view, letting Scripture interpret Scripture and not mega-church pastors and baloney book writers. They made millions on blood moons, millions! And what did you get for your $19.95? A big, fat nothing burger. Hopefully you did get something out of it, a hard lesson learned that supposed signs in the sky can’t hold a candle to the context. Speaking of the context, I have wasted enough time trying to explain the importance of thorough, expository Biblical study, clammering about the context–let’s consider the context.

We are in a series, if you are here for the first time, welcome, Paul is on his way, in haste, to get to Jerusalem. I firmly believe, based upon the entire rest of the Bible, that Paul was making one last stand in Jerusalem, proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah, before God passes judgment on that generation in Jerusalem. Notice very carefully that I said “that generation in Jerusalem” and not the Jewish people but rather the Jewish system; mainly the temple. But yes, many people were involved like we have seen before in the Babylonian captivity. The greater context and sublime string are always important to the immediate context, as is taking a long view. Watch: “And when it came about that we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. And when we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And after looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

To the super-short-sighted, this says nothing. But to the average American reader, they would probably remember reading; “Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem;” this looks like a contradiction to what we have read; “they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.” Now to the astute observer, you will notice that in the context of Paul wishing to go to Jerusalem, spirit is not capitalized but it is capitalized in the context of the people warning Paul not to go to Jerusalem. However nothing was capitalized in the original Greek. This was a decision made by the translators and I believe it to be a poor choice. I can only assume that they assumed a contradiction. However, most other translations don’t make a distinction. I prefer the NASB because it is usually very accurate and it highlights Old Testament quotes but nobody is perfect. Taking the long view we see that while there is certainly conflict and confusion, there is no contradiction. We have to remember that it is in the genre of a historical narrative and Luke writes about what he saw. Yes, the Spirit spoke to the disciples and it was exactly the same thing that he said to Paul.

Paul said to the elders in Ephesus and Luke recorded; “I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” Luke is carefully compiling a composition to show the Acts of the Apostles as he did in his gospel account. Luke would not write a contradiction into this composition. He uses literary language as we all do. We don’t read everything in a wooden literal sense, even though it is a historical narrative. Luke, at this point, is an actual eyewitness to these events. The point Luke is making, his aspiration to his audience, is that the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, were completely concerned about Paul going to Jerusalem because they had received from the Spirit the same vision that Paul had–bondage and affliction. We benefit greatly from this. It truly helps us see the severity of the situation and the greater discernment of Paul than the other disciples. Through the Spirit, both parties saw the severity of going to Jerusalem but only Paul, having spent some time alone on the way, fully understood the vision of the Holy Spirit. Now check this out, here’s my proof. The Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and it is written in black and white. Yet many well-meaning people distort it until it’s unrecognizable, being short sighted. The disciples saw what would happen to Paul through the Spirit but didn’t take the long view. I love it, two lessons for the price of one.

“And when it came about that our days there were ended, we departed and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. And after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.”

It appears that Paul and his companions took a little time to commune and fellowship with these disciples. Nevertheless, Paul is in haste to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost. He makes it to Caesarea and they find our old friend Philip. This is interesting because he was one of the seven deacons in Jerusalem, who after the stoning of Stephen, another of the seven, brought the gospel to the Samaritans, to the Ethiopian eunuch and up the coast of Israel. But being first scattered, it seems he has settled in at Caesarea. Yet it seems strange that Paul finds Philip. Where is Peter, where is John or any of the remaining twelve? Could it be that John has been banished to the island of Patmos? I am getting way ahead of myself but keep an eye out for the apostles, see if we find them on the way to, or in, Jerusalem.

Notice also that after delaying for a week, Paul and his companions make a beeline for Jerusalem. Continuing in haste, they have reached the edge of Judea; being within the borders of the original kingdom of Israel. Caesarea is a beautiful spot on the Mediterranean Sea. Herodian and early first-century architecture still exist in the area. From amphitheaters to aqueducts, some of the ancient city’s splendor still exists. Ironically enough, we will soon return to the amphitheater in Caesarea, Lord willing. Yet at this time, everyone around Paul is assuming that he won’t make it out of Jerusalem alive. Even Paul is ready to submit to death if need be, so that he can preach in Jerusalem before her destruction.

“And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘ And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

Once again, we see the Spirit’s statement settled–this usually happens when one keeps considering the continuing context. It is confirmed by two or three witnesses, Paul will be bound in Jerusalem. Yet his companions see the severity with short sightedness. No one in the Spirit ever foresees Paul’s death or destruction in Jerusalem, only his bondage and affliction. I love the suspenseful way in which Luke writes. He could have revealed that Paul’s bondage and affliction turned out for the greater good (read Philippians), but he keeps us in suspense as they were in suspense. Even Paul doesn’t know exactly what will happen in Jerusalem but still he insists that he must press on. While Paul did not have a crystal-clear view, he took the long view as everyone else took the short-sighted view. The Spirit was absolutely behind the dramatics of Agubus taking Paul’s belt, but also he was not trying to stop Paul from going, rather he highlights the severity of the scenario. We also notice things that many miss, those in the majority, who do a cursory reading of the text, glossing over important details. Look closely at Agubus’ statement. “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” It will not be the Jewish people who destroy Paul. Nevertheless, he, like Jesus, will be handed over to the gentiles. Perhaps this is why they had a greater concern, they remember exactly what had happened to Jesus some 25 years prior.

But why did they, with inspired words from the Holy Spirit, not understand that Paul had to go to Jerusalem? Why were they all so short-sighted that they tried to keep Paul from going to Jerusalem? Especially considering the context, some of the same men, all too recently, prevented Paul from going into the theater in Ephesus and Artemis won the day. It’s the same problem that we have today–fear. Rather than take the long view, they took the Spirit’s indication and looked out their window and interpreted what they thought it meant. The Spirit is not divided! All parties interested had the same vision from the Spirit but only Paul interpreted it with a long view.

“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!'” Notice that “literally” they didn’t fall and certainly didn’t fall silently. It’s literary language which means Paul was the more persuasive of the parties present. How could they fall silent and at the same time exclaim, “The will of the Lord be done?” I know that only a select few, my former youth group members for one, would ever call Luke out for his choice of words. Yet this is how we read the literary masterpiece that is the Bible. Rather than jive with the genre and understand the author’s aspirations, we read it like the manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla. Yes, Paul shut them up to the point where all that they could say was, “The will of the Lord be done!” Which by the way, is probably the single best thing that anyone can say.

Picture Paul at this moment; strap on your sandals and throw on your tunic, smell the ocean and see the sands of Caesarea, placing yourself in the historical context. Take a long view of Scripture, understand their times as it was prophesied about by Jesus in Matthew 24, seeing Paul’s haste to get to Jerusalem and remember Paul’s calling; “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Now listen to the words of Paul to his first-century audience. “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” We are not there, literally, and we are not there metaphorically either. While I believe that many Christians would be willing to die for Christ, how many of us actually are willing to live for Christ? Paul was willing to endure both. Bondage and affliction, or death, Paul was more than willing to suffer all things for the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul was walking towards the goal, not staying put. Notice also that Paul clarified and emphasized the vision by his words. Not only, was he willing to be bound (that’s the vision), but also to die (that’s beyond the scope of the vision) and Paul succinctly states this in his simple sentence, showing them their short sightedness.

I listened to a sermon yesterday, delivered from my former pastor on Sanctity of Life day. It was a powerful and moving sermon. Yet while gentle and forgiving, he clearly displayed the atrocities of abortion. Gently but forcefully he demonstrated the church’s lack of empathy towards a mother with an unwanted, life-changing pregnancy and put it on the church, as a collective, to be willing to do what it takes to save the life of an unborn child. I admit, I took in my niece, an actual blood relative to my children and it almost drained me. Not everyone is able to go to the abortion clinic, convince the mother to choose life and adopt a baby so that she won’t be slaughtered, but rather loved. But we can all contribute to this cause. Most of us are ready to die for Christ but we truly aren’t ready to live for him. Paul was willing to die for the name of Jesus in Jerusalem, that was his choice. Unfortunately for the unborn, they neither have a choice nor a voice. I am going to send this to my former pastor and ask him if I can add a link to his sermon.

https://www.nlbcma.org/sermons/sermon/2020-01-19/choose-life

We can all come together to adopt or assist in the adoption of unwanted babies because we know that life is sacred. We need to be willing to live for Christ. Dying is easy, life is the hardest part.

We look out our windows and see the cultural decline and short-sightedly say in our hearts that the Lord must be returning soon because like Luke and his companions, we don’t take a long view of Scripture or of redemptive history. Rather than live life and be about our father’s business, we are in haste to enter heaven, which as Paul said, is very much better. But staying here is of more benefit to others. There is no greater distraction than the dubious dogma of a pre-tribulational rapture to rescue a church which is not being about their father’s business, at least in the West. We are not called to choose death, we are called to choose life. We think of all the martyrs of the past and the multitude of modern martyrs that didn’t have the voices and opportunities we have in the West. We blame everyone else but ourselves for the decline of western culture but don’t understand that we created the opportunity by living our lives by our minds like Israel at the end of the book of Judges. We base our culture on our short-sightedness and build a corruptible culture in so doing. We’re appalled by abortion but do nothing about it other than protest. It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America, at least it is as I write. While peaceful protests can change some minds and a few great speeches can also, putting one’s money where their mouth is usually is the best way to change people’s minds. Like I always say to those who want to ban so-called fossil fuels, “you go first.” Violence doesn’t work and is actually forbidden by the Lord. Pragmatically it is also counter intuitive. If you see a fire, do you throw fire on it to stop it? If your driveway is icy, do you fight it with more ice? It reminds me of a Bible study I had in a downtown church. We had a very diverse crowd of young men and women and every study we would begin by opening up the floor and asking them if they had anything to share about that week. One particular time, a young man reported that he had won a local “peace award.” Wanting him to elaborate we asked him, “why did you win a peace award?” His response; “For fighting racism!” While proud of the young man for standing up and doing something, still, I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask; “You received a “peace” award for “fighting?” We are not here to fight but to be salt and light. If we don’t like abortion, we should pray, much, fervently but I think you will find that after fervent prayer and taking a long view of Scripture, the answer is clear. Choose life! Find a family willing to adopt and support them or be a family willing to adopt and peacefully the Lord will change hearts.

Paul, with a breaking heart, had to explain to everyone else that which they had missed, even with divinely inspired words from the Holy Spirit. The same words, same vision, no other interpretation but the one. It’s a historical narrative, meaning that we get the good, the bad and the ugly. It is why we cannot rip verses out of context; sometimes even, almost entire books; Job being foremost. The vast majority of Job is Job’s friends making erroneous assumptions and arguments. I am back to the beginning of this missive and back to the downtown Bible study. I would ask, “how many of you read your Bible daily?” No hands went up. “A couple times a week?” A few hands went up. Then I asked those whose hands went up, “what book are you reading?” “Job” was the most common answer, Psalms and proverbs were the others. 4 or so people in a room of thirty, in a room where I wrote on the whiteboard weekly, “unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught.” 2 were in Job, 1 in Psalms and 1 in Proverbs, and this, only a couple times a week.

Psalms may be the most impressive book of the Bible with all of its messianic meanings but without the context of Matthew and Revelation, misconstrued it’s meanings can be. Proverbs are not promises but precepts and Job has an incredible ending but if one randomly opens Job up in the middle and reads it like a manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla, one is getting bad information. Yet, it is the perfect example of how we need to consider the entire context because at the end, God completely clarifies Job’s corrupted countenance. Don’t get me wrong, I would be sad and angry if I were Job but that’s not the point. God’s overall power, plan, providence and prudence is the point. The same thing happened to Paul and his friends. Paul’s companions had numerous direct revelations from the Spirit but they missed the meaning, like a mega-church pastor reading Psalm 2 and claiming that God has a sense of humor and loves to laugh. In the same way I used to argue that “soon” and “near” in Revelation meant something other than “soon” or “near” even though the book is bookended by the nearness of the coming of Jesus in judgment against Jerusalem. Literally the nearness means at arms length. And in Psalm 2, the Lord doesn’t laugh because he has a sense of humor but because the nations rage and devise their own plans against the Messiah. Yet, it is the nations who will become the possession of the Messiah. Notice; “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.”

Context is king and it begins with a non-cursory reading of the Bible. Starting in Genesis, “in the beginning…” is usually a good idea. We see paradise created on the earth and then paradise lost. While cataclysmic, Adam and Eve didn’t die in an instant but lived many years with God’s grace. But things did get worse and worse. Eventually God flooded the earth and it was catastrophic but we tend to forget the obvious; God preserved life on this planet. But it was not long before he had to confuse the language and scatter the people. Then he found favor in our father, Abraham, who believed God and that was reckoned to him as righteousness–his faith, not his circumcision. Then the Law came in and was broken on the instant that it was installed by the golden calf. The Law came in but sin increased and while we see an obvious ebb and flow, things got worse and worse until the Messiah was sent and slain. The greatest crime in all of human history was Jesus, the only innocent person in history, nailed to the cross and the sky went black as proof. Even our calendars, no matter what you call them, AD or CE, testify to what the Bible says. The curse was reversed on that tree in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. History pivots on this point. In three days Jesus was raised from the dead and newness of life came. He ascended to heaven but sent the Spirit, the exact representation of Jesus who is the exact representation of the father. But just as death and destruction didn’t come overnight to Adam and Eve, the kingdom of God doesn’t come overnight. Ironically, the Babylonian deportation gives us a glimpse into this, notice Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by Daniel.

“You are the head of gold. And after you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. And in that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery. And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

Jesus clarifies this kingdom, not made with human hands, which starts small “but the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened.”

The world was slow to unravel and is slow to wind back up. We certainly see and ebb and flow on the way down and are seeing an ebb and flow on the way back up in the book of Acts, the Artemis incident being fresh in our minds along with Paul’s companions misinterpreting what they should do about the Spirit’s declaration of bondage for Paul in Jerusalem. Nevertheless Paul pressed on. We should as well even if in our current cultural climate we are seeing an ebb. I keep, only God knows why, receiving emails and text messages from foreign countries, two of which I can’t name because they are closed off to missions (“He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them”). Therefore I won’t name any. Ok, one, Bolivia. I am getting unsolicited reports from 5 other countries besides Bolivia that many people, prostitutes, drug addicts, burglars and the like, are coming to Christ in droves. We have seen Christians come out of the woodwork in places where they can be killed for professing faith in Jesus. We can’t even guess the number of underground churches in China. But because the church in America is lazy, taking inspired words out of context, Jesus is coming to rescue us soon? That’s short sighted. There is actually nothing to this if one puts down their prophecy books and considers the continuing context of the Bible where we see paradise lost–curse reversed–paradise restored and Jesus will have the nations as his inheritance. Then he will return in bodily form, nail scars and all, for all eternity with new heavens and a new earth.

You don’t need books to interpret the Bible. Use the CAGED method and take a long view, reading the Bible as it was written, letting the Bible interpret itself. Yes, this requires reading and daily devotion but it is the word of God, nothing else is. But there are books written that can help read the Bible. These are the books we should buy, not the sensational scripts which tell us “what the Bible really says.” Blood moons won’t answer your questions.

 

 

 

 

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