Paul and Luke Sail Onward Toward Jerusalem
[Acts chapter 21, verses 1-11]
by Web Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week when we last last off, the apostle Paul had just finished some quite emotional farewells with his compatriots and fellow disciples from Ephesus, Corinth and several other smaller locales. This week as we move on, Paul and the apostle Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, set sail for Jerusalem, with many stops to be made along the way for cargo and passengers alike. This starts with some stops at some lesser-known ports along the coast of what is western Turkey today. So with that in mind, let’s begin this week’s study at verse one.
“ 1) After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. 2) We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. 3) After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. 4) We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5) When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. 6) After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.” (Acts 21, verses 1-6)
The distance they sailed from the port of Ephesus to Kos, which is an island off the Turkish coast, was roughly 120 miles or so. The distance covered from Kos to Rhodes to Patara is about 175 miles more. From there, they sailed across the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea past Cyprus to the ancient port of Tyre. Tyre, sometimes romanized as “Sour”, is a district capital in the South Governorate of Lebanon. There are approximately 125,000-150,000 inhabitants there today, but exact figures were not made available to me from the Lebanese government.
Tyre juts out from the coast of the Mediterranean and is located about 80 Km (50 miles) south of Beirut. The name of the city means “rock” after the rocky formation on which the town was originally built. Tyre is an ancient Phoenician city and the legendary birthplace of Europa and Dido (Elissa). Today it is the fourth largest city in Lebanon after Beirut, Tripoli, Aley and Sidon, and houses one of the nation’s major ports. Tourism is a major industry. The city has a number of ancient sites, including its Roman Hippodrome, which was added to UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.
But none of that existed in the first century A.D., and so Paul and Luke sought out and found some fellow disciples, as it tells us in verse 6, “and stayed with them seven days.” During this time the disciples became alarmed at Paul’s plans to go to Jerusalem. It must have seemed to them like the apostle Paul was on a suicide mission, and they must have been raising some pretty strong objections to Paul’s plans. Still, the apostle Paul could not be dissuaded. To the others, Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem – where he was a wanted man – was tantamount to walking into a hornet’s nest. But for Paul, who already was filled to the very top with the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord, it was an appointment with Divine destiny.
“All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” Undoubtedly you noticed as you read that the early apostles had wives. Paul was the lone exception, but that was because Paul had an exceptional calling. This completely contradicts the ‘teaching’ of some modern denominations, notably the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, where the priests are required to be single and celibate. I see this as further evidence that some churches – I will decline to condemn entire denominations (see Matt. 7: 1-2 and James 4: 11-12) – are spiraling downward to a state of apostasy. That’s why it says in the Book of Revelation, “Then I heard another voice from heaven say, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in their sins, so that you may not receive any of their plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion of her own cup…..’” (Rev. 18, verses 4-6) And now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study.
“We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesaria and stayed at the house of Philip the Evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, ‘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.‘” (Acts 21, verses 7-11)
Saint Philip the Evangelist appears several times in the Acts of the Apostles. He was one of the Seven chosen to care for the poor of the Christian community in Jerusalem. He preached and reportedly performed miracles in Samaria, and met and baptized an Ethiopian man, a eunuch, in Gaza, traditionally marking the start of the Ethiopian Church. Later, Philip lived in Caesarea Maritima with his four daughters, who declared the Word of God with boldness. It was here that he was visited by Paul the Apostle. I find this particularly remarkable in light of there being so many men in church to this very day who quote the apostle Paul in 1st Timothy when he wrote that women should be silent in church, and that they should never presume to teach a man. Contrast that with Philip – not the apostle Philip but Philip from Jerusalem who was in charge of caring for the poor. He had four daughters who could prophesy people’s futures as it related to God’s will for their lives. This completely contradicts what Paul wrote to Timothy the disciple a few years later in his own life (see 1st Timothy chapter 2, verses 11-15).
But that discussion would take us off track. For now, it’s better to say that Agabus the prophet comes on the scene at this point in Luke’s narrative. We know he’s a man on a mission, because he has come all the way from Judea on foot, a distance of some 150 miles or so. Only by the Holy Spirit could he have known that Paul was in Tyre, since Paul had only just disembarked, meaning Agabus left to meet him over a week before Paul ever arrived. Once he got there, Agabus walked right up to Paul and the others with him, having never seen him before in an age when photography did not yet exist. “Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, ‘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’”.
Immediately, to Paul and all the brethren with him, this brought back the memory of Christ’s crucifixion, who had been arrested by agents of the Temple Council and the Sanhedrin and handed over to the Romans to be put to death. Just like Agabus was stating was in store for Paul in his near future. But how near in Paul’s future would this be? And how did Paul respond to Agabus’ prophecy? Was Paul really doomed, or was that all a bunch of ‘gloom and doom’? To find out the answers to these questions, be sure and return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 21! Until then….