Happy Independence Day! Congratulations on your freedom. . .
Acts chapter 20 begins Paul's movement toward Jerusalem. . .
In verses 1 - 7 We see Paul's ministry team travel from Ephesus to Troas. Once in Troas, the believers gathered to break bread together, and then Paul preached to the people. . . going late into the night. Luke mentions that there were many torches in the room, so no doubt, the upper room was hot and sticky in the oppressive Mediterranean climate. One man sitting in the window sill falls asleep, and falls to his death. Not to worry, though--Paul was on the job--he rushed down the stairs and outside, and reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha, stretched himself out on the young man's body and breathed new life into him. There it was. . . the awesome combination of believers worshipping together, the Word of God being taught, and God doing the miraculous. 'Just love that.
The team moves on, with Paul wanting to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost. En route Paul requests that the elders of the Ephesian church come to meet with him. Note: Paul seems to know something is ahead for him, as he sets up a defense for his ministry to date, telling them what he has done. Then he lets them know where God is leading presently (to Jerusalem), and also warns them about the future--what lies ahead, (after he leaves, people will come and distort the truth in an effort to draw disciples away. . . to lead them astray).
As I have been studying this, I am very moved by the current passage. . . Why? Because I see what Paul had in common with Jesus, and how that relates to us, and our freedom. Do you remember when we were studying about the life of Jesus in the book of Luke, and we saw Jesus turn toward Jerusalem? He intentionally set out to go to Jerusalem, even though He knew what awaited him there--torture and death. From the time Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, I could hear the constant drumbeat in the background of His purposeful journey. The closer He got, the higher the stakes, the greater the intensity. . . But what if He hadn't gone? What if He changed His mind, and decided to go the opposite direction, and head back north to His hometown of Nazareth? 'Fact is, He didn't. He was born to go to Jerusalem that final time. That journey bought our freedom.
Here we see Paul heading to Jerusalem, anxious to get there, (vs. 16), having collected money for the persecuted Christians. . . Yet, Paul seems to know that once he hits Jerusalem, he will face hardship and probably prison. . . he tells the Ephesian elders that he will not see them again. How does he know that? I'm not sure, but he just does, and he pushes on anyway. What kind of man is this? 'Reminds me of our Lord. . . Paul is determined to finish well, and is willing to endure anything for the cause of Christ. "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." v. 24 Such was Paul's understanding of the humility of Jesus Christ who he honored in his letter to the church at Philippi: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing... and became obedient to death..." from Philippians 2.
So what moved me about this passage? Paul's incredible humility, similar to that of Jesus--which allowed them to put the will of God, and obedience to God, above everything else in their lives, no matter what it cost them. Paul wept as he told his ministry partners from Ephesus 'good bye', knowing he would not see them again--for him, the end would come first. Jesus' incredible humility made Him willing to subjugate His will to the Father's. . . even though it meant pain, death, and separation from God--still He went.
What if Jesus hadn't been willing?
You and I would still be subject to the Law. We would always wonder if our righteousness was 'good enough'.
We would not know what it means to have freedom in Christ.
And if Paul hadn't been willing? What would have happen to the spread of Christianity?
Finally, I draw your attention to Paul's culminating statement to the elders: "Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance, among all those who are sanctified." Acts 20.32 That was the charge to those men to continue on in the work of the Lord:
--to teach the world about the grace of God, and share His Word. . .
--that Word gives us an eternal home--our inheritance. . .
--as long as we are 'set apart', sanctified - pursuing holiness
Yes this journey to Jerusalem reminded me of Jesus. . . as did Paul's humility and obedience, and their common desire to finish well. Paul knew that finishing well meant a home in Heaven forever. . . and he toiled solely for an audience of One. Freedom never has been free, has it? The freedom we enjoy in Christ cost him everything. . . and ultimately, Paul's calling would cost him, too. . . So as you Americans thank God for the freedom you enjoy this weekend, don't forget to thank Him for the freedom you have in Jesus Christ. Happy Independence Day, Christine