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Paying the Price of Following Jesus

Paying the Price of Following Jesus

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Acts 21

Favorite thing to get in mail? Bills??? No. Buy something and each month you pay that cost. School loan- are we ever going to pay that thing off. Get hit each month. 

There is a price to following Jesus. Following him costs us everything we have. Now we get more than we ever pay in, but there is a definite cost, and you will feel it every day, but sometimes more than others. 

We are continuing the book of Acts. This book is a narrative account of what the apostles did to tell the world about Jesus. It chronicles their ups and downs and how the Lord provided for them: provided both provisions but also motivation to keep on going. In the Christian faith we have a Bible that doesn’t just tell us what to believe but also gives us a model of how to live. We have the example of our Lord and his apostles to imitate. 

Today we see Paul leaves the city of Ephesus to make his return to Jerusalem. There are rising tensions between Jews and Christians who believe Jesus is the fulfillment of all God promised to the Jews. 


 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. 7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. 8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” 15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. 27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:1-36 ESV)

Jesus gave his all for us and we want to give our all to him, and here are a couple ways we will pay the cost of following him. 

  1. Cost of Broken Heart Breaks. V1-15

Paul didn’t plant churches with organizational documents and legalese. He built churches through sincere relationships. It wasn’t let me be your friend and so you to come to my church. It wasn’t: come see how awesome the worship and lights. It was sincere connection, so that when he left, he left a part of him there. 

Paul is needing to leave to go to Jerusalem. The people fear what may happen to him and he says they are breaking his heart!

13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart

Breaking my heart: crush, break in pieces; figuratively and idiomatically 

This is a beautiful picture of the church. I care about you and am going to share my life with you. He lived with the people. Knew them. 

V4 they find disciples and stay with them for seven days. They are living together. Visiting. It’s interesting to see statistics on church growth today. Christianity is not growing in western countries. It is growing in the east and in undeveloped countries. I think one of the reasons for that is the breakdown in community. We keep people at a distance. We don’t really allow them to get to know us, we do it in controlled environments. One of our challenges in building a church is having wide open arms. One of the things that will enrich your life is to have friends you know and trust, and who know and trust you. It will take risks of vulnerability to do that. 

  1. Cost of Disagreeing

Paul’s friends don’t want him to go because they fear what may happen to him in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the epicenter of Judaism, and just as Jesus was crucified there Paul will experience great opposition there too. Paul is preaching the coming of the Messiah in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. It seems that everyone is seeing the tension build between the gospel Paul preaches and the way it will confront the power structure of Jewish society. The gospel is a threat when it challenges the power structure of a society that go against it. 

But despite their pleas, Paul continues on v4. It wasn’t wrong for them to want to preserve their friend. It wasn’t wrong for Paul to want to continue on either. 

Next stop is more of the same. Philip has four unmarried daughters who prophesied. We are not told what they said, but they are known in the church as prophets. After a number of days another prophet named Agabus tells Paul he will be bound by the Jews. 

This is nothing new. Paul has already said, the Spirit has told him, “except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:23 ESV)

Paul follow the Lord’s calling on his life. He goes against what others wish for, hope for, desire for him. You have to follow the Lord and you can’t alway please others. 

Own your faith. Churches work hard to create a group of people committed to reaching and caring for each other. And sometimes you have to go against that. 

I have gone against what people in the church told me to do. First of all it was not issues of sin. It was matters that were debatable. Felt God calling me to leave the church that I came to faith in and go to seminary. I loved the church and people there. It was hard. But God was calling me elsewhere. Amanda would work while I was in school. Several people said I needed to get a job. Those weighed on me. But ultimately I had to tell them I appreciate the advice. I need to do this. I’m grateful those people cared enough to share their perspective. It shaped me. Church culture is like a cocoon. It confines people in a certain direction. Every church has a culture. It pulls in a certain direction and that pull is good. God uses it like a cocoon. It protects and strengthens you until you are ready to stand on your own. 

Paul didn’t do this blindly. He knew there would be much adversity. 

Too many people reject the church because they can’t give a good explanation and stand strong in what God is calling them to do. Too many people are so insecure in themselves and what God has called them to do that they give up. They don’t keep going with what God calls them to do. 

Too many grow cold in the church because others don’t show the love/appreciation/devotion they think they deserve. Easily offended. Lack of love. 1 Cor 13.  

There is also a pattern of dealing with differences. 

[“And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Act 21:14 ESV).

When you differ. And you have said your peace. You put it in the hands of the Lord. You don’t need to jab them every time. You don’t need to be bitter and not talk to them. Don’t go all passive aggressive where you say everything is fine but you’re cold, frustrated, perturbed. Don’t need to keep dropping hints and suggestions. You put it in the Lord’s hands. 

They kneel at the beach in prayer and say goodbye. 

Can you rest when tension is unresolved? When people don’t agree with you can you trust that to the Lord or do you turn into an anxious mess. 

  • Just cut them off completely. You are dead to me!
  • Stop talking to them because they didn’t do what you wanted.
  • Semi-polite. Talk to them some. But not happy about it!
  • You’re offended they didn’t do what you wanted and are letting them know it. 
  • Maybe you don’t say anything to them directly, but when you talk to others, you let them know it ain’t a good idea. “Yeah, moving to New York, he’ll be back and homeless in 3 months. 

Because our hope is in God, and we know things happen that we don’t understand, we can kneel in prayer, in unity, in humility, and in love.

Who have you differed with that you need to pray with? That you need to support. Who is your heart linked with?

  1. Cost of Unjust Persecution

Paul meets up with James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He shares what God has been doing. James rejoices that many Jews have come to believe the gospel. He then tells Paul the concerns people have.  

Paul’s greatest opposition comes from his own people! The people of God. The ones that knew the promises of God, that had in the law the embodiment of wisdom and truth. Their hearts are far from it. 

They want the law followed to the letter. But they don’t know what a relationship with God really is. Just want to be right. Want their ways, customs, without a real love for God. All about external behavior rather than a real inward realization of God’s goodness and grace. 

It’s not that Paul is discounting the law altogether, he is saying it doesn’t matter how much you obey, your good works will not save you. 

Do these things and you are acceptable for our community. 

Doing these things cannot make you acceptable before God. 

0 mistakes. This is why you need Jesus. He takes our mistakes away. 

Some of the hardest people in the world to reach are the religious. Been in church. Been there, done that. Let me tell you everything I have done. And gradually they become colder and colder to God. Pride swells. God must be with them, how could he not. Focus isn’t on following God, being shaped. Is your religion drawing you closer to God, are you becoming more gracious and loving more understanding of others, or is your religion taking you farther from God, more self righteous, critical, and mean to others. Jesus’ harshest rebukes were for the religious. Not the prostitutes!! The sexual immoral knew they were wrong, knew they were a mess. 

James acknowledges many Jews have misunderstood and have a wrong perception. He tells Paul how to overcome this:

[23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 

Probably a vow of fasting (all foods), Nazarite vow:

[When a man or woman makes a special vow, a Nazirite vow, to consecrate himself to the Lord, (Num 6:2 CSB) he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. 5 “All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. (Numbers 6:3-5 ESV). 

Fast certain foods. 

They are adhering to external cultural practices detailed in the law to demonstrate their adherence to the God of the bible. 

Point: James is giving him advice on how to handle these people who differ with Paul, and Paul listens!

One of the things that you see with people of faith is their trust in those around them. Not an absolute trust, but a noticeable and marked trust. I think it is an expression of humility, of trust that they don’t know everything and that God uses other people. See it in David. See it in Paul.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you”. (Heb 13:17 CSB)

The verb obey is in the passive and it also means to “be persuaded” to your leaders. I think this is largely lost on most Christians today. Don’t even think about asking others for guidance and advice. Not easily persuaded. Spiritual leaders can’t make you do anything, but they can give advice. Consider it. Weigh it. 

Imagine this today. Go fast these foods because these people don’t like you. Go fast and cut your hair because these people misunderstand what you are doing! Paul does it because he is more interested in winning people that getting his way, than keeping his comforts, than doing what is easy. 

How many would give up beer for a week, give up beef or dessert, in order to make an attempt and unity??? 

Place of spiritual leadership. Paul respects James. Respects his advice. Does what he tells him. Paul obviously agreed with him. 

Paul follows what James says. It is a good plan. It is very reasonable. 

But doing reasonable things don’t always satisfy unreasonable people. 

But it doesn’t pacify evil. Sometimes even all the right decisions do not keep people from doing the wrong thing. 

Unjust Opposition.  When you do everything right

We are trained through so much of our life that you do what is right and you are rewarded. You got an A. You studied. You did your chores here is your allowance. You told the truth you are praised. That is probably the most regular routine of your life. Yes, there are instances of that not happening, but in general, in attempt to raise people beneficial to society this is what you get. It does not always happen like that, and there are times you do everything right and experience wrong. Those can be disorienting times. Where is God? Why did he do that? 

-Prayed for your husband to get through cancer and he doesn’t. 

-Prayed to find a spouse and the Lord didnt provide.

-Prayed those suing you would not do it. 

-Took a stand in the office and were fired.

Let me just say it was the experience of Jesus. It will be the experience of his followers, who sacrifice for his kingdom. 

Paul has done and continues to do everything right, teaching God’s word, and the people of Jerusalem see him, stir up a crowd, cause a riot on false premises, seize him, drag him out of the temple and seek to kill him. 

Paul’s life is spared because the pagan Roman army intervenes. Ironic! These are the only rational people. Commander, tribune, one in charge of 1000. He is a high ranking official. They see this guy and they stop. It got real all of the sudden. All fun and games until the police show up.

God will do what he wants to do. Rest in that. Give it your all. Know his purposes will prevail. 

They say “Away with him.” so similar to the angry crowd that shouted crucify him. 

Paul is following the footsteps of Jesus. He is laying down his life willingly. He who loses his life will find it. 

Ultimately what we see most here is we follow Jesus. Opposition, hardship, persecution, it is all an opportunity to identify with Jesus. Maybe it ends well. Maybe it doesn’t end well. But what matters most is following in his footsteps. 

Don’t know what you are going to go through. But we serve a Savior who suffered died and bled. Who conquered the grave not by avoiding it but going right through it. You are called to the same. Life is hard. That may be the path Jesus has for you. His grace is sufficient. This is not the end of Acts. It’s not the end of Paul. It is not the end of you either. In Jesus we have victory even over death. Covid. Failed marriage. Addiction. It is not the end. 

In Jesus whether you go around the fire or through the fire, you know you will overcome. You can rest knowing pain and hardship await you, but also knowing God will use those in your life. 

Cost of following him. Pay it every day. Sometimes more than others. No guarantee we don’t get dinged. But we didn’t trust Jesus to avoid these. Follow him because he is our Lord and Savior. We trust him to deliver us, to lead us to save us. We don’t need an army We need life. We need Jesus.


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