In our study this morning, we are drawn again to the 21st chapter of Acts, to complete our look at the courage of conviction. We almost really finished last time, but we didn’t quite finish. So, this morning we will, Lord willing - we did in the early hour – finish this brief look at verses 1 through 15 of Acts 21.
In our early hour, we went off on a few tangents, too, and we may do that in this hour, and cover some other interesting things that relate to this passage that are not directly in it. But in Acts 21, 1 to 15, we have been considering this passage, though it is a narrative, and a historical passage, and has no exhortation at all in it, and no particular instruction to the believer. It speaks by way of example to a very important subject, and that is the courage of conviction.
We find in this passage the commitment and the dedication and the consecration and the conviction of the apostle Paul demonstrated. And as we have learned here, in our study of the book of Acts, what we learn by example is maybe even more indelible than what we hear by precept. And so, in studying, for example, Galatians in the evening, we’re studying precept. In studying Acts in the morning, we’re studying example. And both teach the same lessons. And so, we’ve been benefited by looking at what is historical narrative and extracting from it characteristics and principles that can be applied to our own lives.
And as we have looked at this particular little chunk of the life of Paul, a simple little trip form Miletus to Caesarea, as he concludes his third missionary journey and goes to Jerusalem, we have seen in this little vignette from his life a great illustration of the tremendous commitment that he had to the call that God had given him.
This whole subject of commitment and dedication is something that is expressed, I think, in all kinds of ways, in all walks of life. Recently I was reading an article by George Allen, who’s formerly the coach of the Rams and now the coach of the Washington Redskins football team. And he’s had an amazing record of success, and he attributes it very simply to this, and I’m quoting him, “If I’ve succeeded, it is because I outwork most people. Work is simply a synonym for effort, and as I tell my players, 100 percent is not enough.
“The average American pictures himself as an extremely hard worker. Sociologists and psychologists have shown, however, that most persons are really operating on less than half power. In terms of effort, they may never get over 50 percent, although they think of themselves as 90 percent producers. Therefore, to get 100 percent, you must aim for 110 percent. The world belongs to those who aim for 110 percent.
“To me, the real test of every man and every woman is how much they give of themselves. What gripes me most is that people think they want something, but when it comes to a little work, a job or doing some extra study, they fall by the wayside.” End quote.
And I think all of us can relate to that. We come home after a day of piddling around at work and say, “Oh, I’m so beat. I’ve had it.” You haven’t had anything. It’s all a matter of application of your mental attitude. Really, dedication is the key to anything. And certainly, in George Allen’s case – you know, I read somewhere where he spends 16 hours a day, every day, working on football. That borders on insanity, in my mind. But nevertheless, you have to say something for the man’s commitment.
And, you know, if you’re in any kind of a business at all that is in any way motivational, you know that there are success seminars and motivational seminars that people pay a lot of money to go to, and basically all of those things and all of all successes in life boil down to the same basic commodity: commitment. The word does belong to the people who give 110 percent effort. That’s very well stated. The devoted people, the dedicated people, the committed people, the people who are willing to pay the price are the ones who make the difference. And face it; most people aren’t. So, most people are spectators.
As someone has aptly said, “There are the people who make things happen, there are the people who watch things happen, and there are the people who don’t know what’s happening.”
In Hebrews chapter 11, I’d like you to meet some more people who made things happen. Some 110 percent effort people. Some people who were committed. And I do this just before we go to Acts 21, so that you can have a bigger backdrop for this particular exhortation than you would have with just the life of the apostle Paul. He was not the only committed individual. He was not the only man who was willing to go to the extremities that he went to; to accomplish the goals that he had to set for himself, or rather that Christ had delivered to him.
But in Hebrews 11, you have that great chapter on the heroes of the faith, and these were really committed people. Beginning verse 24 introduces to us a man named Moses. And verse 24 says, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Now, Moses had risen to the heights of Egyptian society; he was a prince. He had all of the wealth that went along with it, and those of you who have recently been to Egypt, in one of our tour groups, know what kind of wealth existed in the hierarchy of Egyptian society.
And in that particular period in time, Moses had risen to the place of a prince. And he had all that goes with Egyptian wealth and splendor at his grasp. But he refused it, it says in verse 24. Verse 25 says, “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” He was really faced with a decision.
Now, according to Acts 7:23 to 25, and the sermon of Stephen, it says there that Moses knew that he had been called of God to lead Israel out. So, on the one hand, he had his position in Egypt and all of its wealth; on the other hand, he had the call of God to stay in Egypt and hold onto what he had and pay no price. He had everything. There was no cost involved to him at all; he would make no sacrifice. To become the leader of Israel, he would make the sacrifice of everything: all his wealth, all his prestige, and maybe the sacrifice of his own life. It was a tremendous choice. Two opposites. He would exchange wealth for poverty, fame for infamy, being a hero for being a criminal, being loved for being hated. It was all opposites. But he knew the call of God was to be the leader of the people of Israel.
And so, he made his choice, verse 26 says, “esteeming the reproach of the Anointed” – the word “Christ” literally means anointed, and maybe we could just translate it that way. I don’t think it’s talking about Christ Himself directly here, because Christ hadn’t come yet. But Moses was esteeming or thinking that the reproach of being God’s anointed was better riches than the treasures of Egypt. In other words, he’d rather be hated and be God’s anointed, than be loved and be belonging to Egypt. And so, he made his choice.
And the reason he could choose that way, at the end of verse 26, “He had respect unto the recompense of reward. He was willing to sacrifice temporary riches for eternal reward. That’s a good decision, isn’t it? He was willing to sacrifice temporary riches for eternal reward. He knew the pleasures of sin, as verse 25 says, were only for a season; God’s reward was eternal.
So, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king. For he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” He didn’t worry about a visible king; he knew an invisible God.
And so, here was a man who had to make a choice. And it was going to cost him, and cost him everything that he had. And he made it. That’s commitment. He was willing to suffer affliction with the people of God, because that was God’s will, even though the price was everything that he had.
There was another individual, down to verse 31, “By faith the prostitute Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Here was a lady who went against her whole society. Here were a bunch of wandering nomad Israelites that arrived in her city and said, “We’re going to knock the place off.”
Now, she had a tremendous decision to make. She was fairly secure in her profession and secure in her city, but she believed God, and against all of the politics and all that was there in the city of Jericho, she chose to establish her faith in God and believe those spies and believe God and make a sacrifice. And she hid those soldiers at great risk to her life, but she was willing to pay the price for what she believed in. And God honored her; believe me. Do you know that that woman was a prostitute? That’s bad. Very bad. But she was also a Canaanite. That’s bad. Very bad. She was an Amorite. That’s worse. I mean to be an Amorite is bad; to be an Amorite Canaanite prostitute is unbelievably bad, because all the Amorites and Canaanites were devoted to destruction. She was getting it coming and going.
But do you know that God’s grace has always been wider than Israel, and that that prostitute Amorite Canaanite Gentile was induced right into the line of the Messiah, and she was the mother of Boaz, the great, great grandfather of David. That’s grace, people. That’s grace. And God’s grace has always been wider than Israel; and it was predicated on her faith in God against all odds, since she was willing to stick by what she believed at any price. And you remember how she hid those spies, and it was a touch-and-go thing? And she believed. And God honored her faith.
There were others, verse 32, “What shall I say more?” And he did say more. “For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon.” Remember Gideon, a judge who faced the Midianite army with only 300 men, who had no weapons but only pitchers, and trumpets, and torches? But he believed God, and he was willing to stake his life on it.
And Barak. Barak fought the great General Sisera with all of his massive army, so outnumbered, and won the victory. And then there was Samson, who won so many victories over the Philistines. And there was Jephthae who conquered the Ammonites. And David who conquered Goliath. And so forth and so on.
And it says in verse 33, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions” - Daniel. “Quenched the violence of fire” – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – “escaped the edge of the sword” – and that could refer to David – “out of weakness were made strong” – perhaps Hezekiah – “became valiant in fight” – that could be a whole bunch of people – “turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
“Women received their dead raised to life again” – two widows at least in view there; Elijah and Elisha involved in those – “and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” See, they always esteemed that the ultimate eternal reward was greater than any sacrifice.
Isn’t that what Paul meant in Romans 8:18? He said, “The infirmities or the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be ours hereafter.” See? That’s the ultimate choice. You obey God, and there’s an eternal dividend. You hang onto what you’ve got in this world, and that’s it, friend. That’s it. What you see is what you get.
Verse 36, “Other had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings” - you can read Jeremiah 38 for that – “yea, of bonds and imprisonment” – that could be a lot of them. “They were stoned” – Zechariah and Jeremiah perhaps in mine – “sawn asunder” – tradition tells us Isaiah was sawn asunder – “tested; slain with the sword; wandered in sheepskins/goatskins; destitute, afflicted, tormented.” Now look; here were all these people undergoing all of this because they believed in a goal that God had given them, and they were willing to stick their neck out and die for it. That’s commitment. That’s the effort beyond the effort. That’s spending himself or herself for that which God calls.
And I love verse 38; it says in a little parenthesis there, “(Of whom the world was not worthy)” – boy, the world didn’t deserve to have those kind of people hanging around; they were too good for the system; marvelous people – “they wandered in deserts, and mountains, and dens and caves. And these all, having received witness through faith received not the promise” – and they did it all by faith; they never did receive the promise; they never did see the end of all their hopes, of all this dreams – “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
In other words, it had to be in our time, in the time when Christ came, that the fulfillment of all their dreams came in the new covenant, things that they only saw in the future and never received. They actually – and hang onto this, people – they actually gave their lives for a hope that they never saw. And all God is asking of us is that same level of commitment for a hope that is already in history a fact. Christ was here; He did live; He did die; He did rise again. He’s alive at the right hand of the Father, and He will work His will and power through us. Do you believe that? Then the level of our commitment ought to exceed the level of the commitment of those listed in Hebrews 11. Now, that’ll show you how far off we are from the mark. If you try to put yourself beside those people, you’ll come up short.
So, we’re talking about commitment. And as we saw last time, there are different kinds of commitment levels. Now you can turn to Acts 21. There are different kinds of commitment. There is what we call an incomplete commitment; you never give it all to the Lord. There’s insincere commitment; you’re a phony. And there’s intermittent commitment; you’re committed today, and who knows about tomorrow.
But what God wants is a total abandonment to His cause that is constant, never waivers. Now, as we come to Acts 21, we see this kind of commitment in the apostle Paul. And it just sort of blossoms in the verses we’ll look at particularly today.
But we’ve seen four little points that help us to see the totality of the courage of conviction. The courage of conviction or commitment knows its purpose, can’t be diverted, pays any price, and affects others. Those are the four points.
Now, point one, just very quickly, the courage of conviction knows its purpose. You can’t stand for something unless you’ve got something to stand for. You can’t be courageous unless you’ve got a conviction you’re fighting for. So, it all begins with something that you believe in.
Now, Paul had a conviction, verses 1 to 3, which we won’t read. Just remind us that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. His conviction was, “God wants me to get this money to the saints in Jerusalem. They need it, and it’ll help unify the church. I’ve got to get there.” That was his conviction; that was his objective; that was his goal. And so, he pursued it. He had something to which he was committed. That’s basic.
The courage of conviction knows its purpose. You cannot, my friend, defend yourself; you cannot defend your ministry, or defend your intent or your purpose unless you’ve got one. You can’t fight for it unless it’s there. So, the courage of conviction knows its purpose, set goals.
Secondly, and this is review, the courage of conviction can’t be diverted. And this is the real stuff of it. No matter what happens, you can’t divert the person. He’s got his goal; he’s got his conviction; his face is set like a flint; he’s going there. And that was Paul in verses 4 to 6. He arrives in Tyre on his journey, and they all said, “Oh, don’t go to Jerusalem; don’t go to Jerusalem.” And after they all got done, he said goodbye and left for Jerusalem. He couldn’t be diverted. That’s the courage of conviction.
All kinds of people in your lifetime, maybe even your good Christian friends will try to talk you out of things that you believe God is in. Well, you better measure that if it is the will of God, it is to be fulfilled in spite of what they say.
Thirdly, and this is the point that is the major point of the passage, the courage of conviction pays any price. It can’t be diverted at any price. At any price. I thought of Daniel as I thought of this. The rule came down, “You are not allowed to pray to anybody but the king.” So, what did Daniel do? He did what he always did. “And if you do pray to anybody but the king – whack – you’re going to be in the lion’s den.” What did Daniel do? He did what he always did: threw open his windows and prayed to God. Never changed one thing. Why? He knew what His purpose was; he knew what his goal was. Nothing diverted him, and he’d pay any price. He wound up in a lion’s den.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were told to do the same thing, to go the way of the king, and eat of the king’s meat, and do the things the king wanted them to do, and worship the way the way the king wanted them to worship, bow down to the false God’s and all of that. And they would not do that. And they were willing to pay the price. They turned around and walked right into a fiery furnace. That’s paying the price.
You will notice, however, that in each case, God delivered them. God honors those who are willing to stick by their guns; believe me. I’ll tell you, I would rather be in the midst of a fire in the will of God, than be resting on the beach in Hawaii out of His will. Really. You’re always safe in the middle of His will no matter what’s going on. And if you don’t think that’s true; you just read the book of Acts again and watch how those people went from one fire to the next, in the middle of God’s will, and were protected from ever being burnt. It’s exciting.
Well, as we come to verses 7 to 14, we find this little idea of the courage of conviction paying any price presented to us. And I’m just going to read verses 7 to 9, because we covered them last time, just to set the stage.
“And when we had finished our course from Tyre” – they left Tyre after spending a little time there, seven days – “they came to Ptolemais” – they’re now going down the coast toward Caesarea, and from Caesarea they go directly over to Jerusalem. “But “They finished their course form Tyre, came to Ptolemais, and greeted the brethren, and abode with them one day.” So, they stayed with the Christians in Ptolemais for a day. A church had been established there, in the ministry in Samaria years before. “And the next day, we that were of Paul’s company departed and came to Caesarea” – this is the last stop before Jerusalem – “and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and abode with him.”
Remember Philip from Acts 6, chosen to be one of the deacons of the early Church, one of the minister servants in the early Church? One of the seven full of the Holy Spirit, full of faith, men of wisdom.
And so, he had been an evangelist. First a deacon, then an evangelist. Been an evangelist for years, and he had his headquarters in Caesarea. And it’s easy to understand why he’d want to live there, if anybody’s ever been there. A beautiful, beautiful place. It was a Roman city. And the Romans occupied it with their soldiers and their forces. In fact, it was the place where the fortress was in the occupation of Herod.
So, anyway, he arrives in Caesarea, and there he goes to Philip’s house. And you’ll remember that Philip was chased out of town by Saul when Saul was the persecutor, and now they’re meeting together in the same house as fellow ministers of Christ. And it tells us a little note about Philip. He had four daughters. Aside from the sympathy that we might engender at that point toward him for having had four girls, we would have to add the fact that they were virgins, as I said, and they didn’t have to worry about marrying them off, which would have been probably a costly item. And it says they did prophesy.
So, he had four daughters at least who did prophesy. God used them, as we saw last time, to speak words of practical instruction to the church. Now, in verse 10, we’ve got the setting. He is in Caesarea, Paul is, with all of his buddies from the Gentile churches and the money, and they’re on their way to Jerusalem. He’s staying with Philip for a little while because he has some extra time. He’s a little early on his schedule; he’s going to be in Jerusalem, chapter 20, verse 16 says, by Pentecost. So, he’s ahead of schedule.
And so, as he’s waiting there, it says in verse 10, “As we tarried there many days” – and that would probably be about a week – “there came down from Judea a certain prophet named Agabus.” I think it interesting that it says he came down from Judea, since Caesarea was in the middle of Judea. In fact, Caesarea was a city in Judea. Why would it say he came down from Judea to Caesarea? Because the Jews considered that since Caesarea was a Roman city, it was like a foreign land. So, whenever you stepped from the Judean countryside into the city limits of Caesarea, you were coming from Judea to Caesarea. It was sort of like an island of paganism. It gives you a little idea of the feeling that ran between the Jews and the Romans.
Now, the prophet who came was named Agabus. Now, the fact that he was a prophet is interesting. He is a prophet not in the Old Testament sense but in the New Testament sense. In the design of God for the early years of the church, there were two key men, and in some occasions, as in verse 9, women were used for this ministry. They were apostles and prophets according to Ephesians 4:11, and Ephesians 2:20. Ephesians 2:20 says, “The apostles and prophets were the foundation of the Church.” Now, we believe that as foundational men, they were – they had a limited time ministry that they ceased to be. In fact, the epistles of Paul, when he writes for the instruction of the church, he turns the leadership of the church over to pastors and elders. And there’s no mention of apostles. And the term “evangelists” all of sudden comes into use.
And so, we believe that the apostles and prophets were replaced chronologically by teaching pastors and evangelists. But in the foundational years, there were apostles and prophets.
Now, both of those were preachers, and they preached all over the place, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and teaching the Word of God. And they were used of God as His ministers; public speaking was their forte. And involved in that was the area of revelation. There were times when God gave them direct revelation. The apostles’ revelation was, for the most part, doctrinal. They wound up writing the New Testament epistles. And theirs was a doctrinal kind of revelation. And as well the Gospels.
And the prophets had a practical kind of revelation, like the difference between Agabus and Paul. Paul was an apostle. He’s also called a prophet in the sense that he was a preacher. Paul was an apostle, but when he gave revelation, it was concerning doctrine. When Agabus gave revelation, it was revelation concerning the practical life of the Church. For example, in chapter 11, verse 28, Agabus gave a revelation about a coming famine. Remember that? Agabus came down to Jerusalem and said, “There’s going to be a famine,” etcetera, etcetera.
Well, here Agabus shows up again, and he gives another prophecy that has no doctrine in it. It is only related to something very practical for the life of believers or the Church. And so, it seems that the apostles majored in doctrine; the prophets in the practical aspects.
For example, when the early Church met together in the church book of Acts, they studied the apostles’ – what? – chapter 2 – doctrine. The apostles’ doctrine. But in 1 Corinthians 14, there was still a need for the prophets to be there; and they were instrumental in the practical life of the Church, as well as used of God to preach and teach.
So, Agabus came down to give a practical kind of message to the Church. Verse 11 tells us about his message. Really, really an interesting one. I want you to see it. “And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s belt” – this is a dramatic illustration here – and he bound his own hands and feet” – Agabus tied himself up with all this – and a belt wouldn’t be like we think of it, but it was sort of like a girdle; it could be very long; it could wrap around a couple of times if it was a rope. And he had it long enough; so, he tied himself up.
“‘Thus saith the Holy Spirit, “So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘” Now, here’s a pretty direct prophesy. He says, “You’re going to get it, Paul, when you get to Jerusalem. You’re going to get bound and delivered to the Gentiles.” And incidentally, that is precisely what happened.
So, he was speaking revelation from God, not doctrinally, but in terms of the practical life of the Church. Now, he took Paul’s belt and tied himself up.
You say, “Why al that?”
Well, that is a way that God has used to vividly illustrate prophesy. And I think in an interesting sense, this shows that God is very concerned about our reception of His information. When God will go to great lengths to illustrate things, He wants us to get it.
And this is nothing new. I want to take you just on a tangent. Go back to 1 Kings 11, and I’ll show you how God has gone to great extremes to accomplish a very vivid lesson. Some things are unforgettable. And God made some things unforgettable in the way that he vividly illustrated them.
Now, you remember that Solomon was a failure. That under David – Saul, David, and Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was united, all 12 tribes. But after Solomon, it was all split up. Well, I want you to watch how God got this message across in 1 Kings 11:29.
And it came to pass at the time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way” – so, here’s Ahijah the prophet runs into Jeroboam, who’s going to be a king – “and he is clad in a new garment” – old Jeroboam was slicked up or – well, that’s the indication of it, in his new clothes. “And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him and tore it into twelve pieces” – thanks a lot Ahijah, why don’t you tear your own clothes?
Anyway, he tore up his new thing into 12 pieces. And you can imagine old Jeroboam standing there, “Uh-huh, yes, I see. Uh-huh, well, what’s next?”
“And he said, “Jeroboam, take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I’ll tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee’” – now, you see here was a very vivid illustration, wasn’t it? A very picturesque illustration.
Let me show you another prophecy like that, where there was illustration used. Isaiah 20. And we’ll read the whole chapter.
You say, “Oh, no.”
It’s only six verses. Ah, we’ll skip verse 1 and go to verse 2. Isaiah 20, “At the same time spoke the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying” – interesting that the Lord speaks through these men; that’s what a prophet was – “‘Go and loose the sackcloth from off they loins, and put off thy shoe form they foot.’ And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.”
Now you say, “A streaker, huh?”
No. He’s not stark naked. He probably had his undergarments on.
You say, “Well, what’s the prophet of God doing around in his underwear anyway?”
Well, that’s what he was doing; he was in his underwear. “And the Lord said, ‘As my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years’” – can you imagine that prophet walking around for three years in his underwear? I’m glad I’m in the new covenant.
“‘Three years and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia.’” This is a sign. What is it a sign of? It’s a sign of the total defeat and humiliation that’s going to come to Ethiopia and Egypt. And it was a sign to Israel because Israel was always looking to Egypt for support. Instead of trusting God, they were always hanging onto the allies of Egypt and Ethiopia. And so, God is saying, “They’re not going to do you one bit of good,” and it was a three-year message. And do you know he didn’t even have to open his mouth?
“There goes that guy in his underwear again.”
Three years he lived a message in front of those people. Very vivid. And in fact, their nakedness was going to be worse. It says in verse 4, “Their buttocks would be uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.” They would really be stripped naked.”
Well, enough of that. Jeremiah 13. I’ll show you another one. And I told you, this is a footnote. Jeremiah 13. If you understand one little statement you can interpret this whole passage here. The key to this whole Jeremiah 13 passage is that the entire Jewish people are like a good-for-nothing apron. Now, if you understand that, you can write that in the margin of your Bible. The entire people of Israel are nothing but a good-for-nothing apron.
The Lord says unto Jeremiah, “Go and buy a linen apron” – or belt it says here, but it can be an apron, belt, whatever – “and put it on thy loins, and don’t put it in water.” You go buy one without even washing it. In those days, things weren’t prewashed and preshrunk and pre whatever. They were just dirty, you know, and stiff, and coarse. Stick it on like that.
“So, he bought a belt according to the word of the Lord, and put it on his loins” – or an apron. “And the word of the Lord came to me the second time, said, ‘Take the apron that you have brought – bought, which is upon thy loins’” – he had to wear it all the time – “‘arise and go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.’” Go bury it in the Euphrates.
You say, “Now, this is ridiculous. That’s a long trip to go bury a dirty apron.”
He went and did it. And then the Lord – he came back, and the Lord said, “Now, go get it,” after a period of time passed. Verse 7, “Then I went to the Euphrates, and digged, and took the apron from the place where I had it hidden it: and behold, the apron was marred” – rotted – “it was profitable for nothing.” And he dug up this rotten apron.
“The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Thus saith the Lord, after this manner will I rot the pride of Judah, and the pride of Jerusalem.’” That’s pretty strong stuff. But God, again, used a very vivid and dramatic illustration.
Now I’ll show you another one. Ezekiel chapter 4, and this – we’ll look – Ezekiel is the last one. But to show you how God spoke through His prophets in very vivid illustrations, I think it’s a good lesson for us who teach to remember that illustrations are important, and the more graphic they are, the more important they are, or the more retained they are.
Ezekiel 4:1, “Thou also, Son of Man, take thee a clay tile” – a fat piece of clay, a tile you’d use for a roof or something – “and lay it before you, and portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem.” Now, get your tile out, Ezekiel, and draw a little deal of the city of Jerusalem.
“And lay siege against it” – now can’t you see the prophet of God sitting in the middle of town, with his little play fort? And it says in verse 2, “He’s to build a fort against it, cast a mount against it, and set battering rams.” And there’s old Ezekiel, sitting in the middle of town, poking at his little fort. And he’s building a little mound, and he’s going to attack it and all this.
“Take an iron pan” – which is supposed to symbolize Nebuchadnezzar’s army – “and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city, and set your face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it.” There he is, sieging his little toy castle.
“This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.” It’s going to be a sign that what’s going to happen, Nebuchadnezzar is going to come and lay siege to Jerusalem. Pretty vivid, right? “Lie also upon they left side” – this is the – this represents Israel, the northern kingdom – “and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it, according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days” – the Septuagint says 190 days; there may be a scribal discrepancy; I don’t know, but one or the other; that’s a lot of days – “so shalt though bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.”
Well, the old prophet had to lay on his left side around 200 to 400 days. “And when thou shalt accomplish them, lie on your right side and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah” – that’s the south – “forty days: I’ve appointed thee each day for a year. And therefore, thou shalt set they face toward the siege of Jerusalem, and thine arm shall be uncovered, and thou shalt prophesy against it. I will lay cords upon thee, and thou shalt not turn from one side to another till thou hast ended the days of thy siege.”
He tied himself up and laid there for all those days. And again, everybody going by would say, “What’s going on,” initially, and then it would begin to wear on them when they began to see day after day after day the prophesy right before their very faces.
Then an interesting one in chapter 5 of Ezekiel, maybe the most interesting one, just from the standpoint of interest. The sword here is the symbol of the king of Babylon. And he says, “Son of man, take a sharp knife, take a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass on your head” – incidentally, when you cut your hair, it was a sign of humiliation and mourning - “and upon your beard.” And so, he just gave himself a crew cut. And incidentally, such was ordinarily forbidden for a priest.
And he said, “And then burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city” – and he’s got his hair all separated and divided into little sections; and he says – “Bur a third with fire, and when the days of the siege are fulfilled; take a third part, and smite around it with a sword; and a third part scatter it to the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them.” Some will die by fire, some will die by sword, and some will be scattered to the wind.
“Thou also take of them a few in number and bind them in thy skirts” – take a few hairs and stick them in your skirt. You know who that is? That’s the remnant of Israel. So, here is a very, very vivid illustration again.
Now you can go to Acts 21. Now, God has, throughout history, then, used His prophets to communicate strategic messages, and very, very frequently they were messages of impending pain and suffering. And they were vividly illustrated. And here you have the same thing. Agabus arrives, and in a very vivid way, in verse 11, tells Paul that he’s going to be bound and delivered to the Gentiles.
And incidentally, we’ll see in a few weeks how that comes true in most interesting passages. Well, verse 12, When they heard Agabus – now here’s Paul and all of his pals, and all the Philip’s house, and everybody who’s a Christian in Caesarea, and they’re all gathered together – “And when we heard these things, both we” – that’s Luke and all those with Paul – “and they of that place” – that’s all the Caesareans Christians – “besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.” Everybody said, “Oh, Paul, don’t go; don’t go. You’re going to get bound. You’re going to get delivered to the Gentiles. Your ministry is going to be over.” And they begged.
And, you know, all those dear friends, and beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, when they started doing that, they got to him. I mean the man was not rock; he was – he was a sensitive man, and they were getting to him. And, you know, they were crying and carrying on, and it was a big sad, dramatic deal.
You say, “How do you know that?”
Verse 13, “Paul answered, “What mean ye to weep and break my heart? All this crying is getting to me.” And the word there that’s translated to break my heart is really to soften my heart by pounding it like a washer woman pounds clothes. “Why are you beating on me, trying to soften up my will?” He calls them to stop. “My determination is weakening; my will is softening. Cut this stuff out.”
He reaffirms the courage of his convictions at this point, and says, “I am ready not to be bound only, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Cut this stuff out.”
You know, I think that this opens up to us an interesting area of discussion, and we won’t pursue it very long, but I would – I would venture to say that there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands of people who never do accomplish the objective that God gives them because well-meaning family and well-meaning friends and loved ones softened up their determination by talking them out of it. “Oh, it’s too risky.” “Oh, too many sacrifices.” “Why, you’ll never be able to endure in that circumstance.” “Why, such-and-such and such-and-such.” I wonder how many lives finally wiped out without ever accomplishing the will of God, all on the basis of well-meaning loved ones and friends. Something to think about.
You know, I’m sure that the friends of Christians have done perhaps as much as the enemies of Christians to deter them, in some cases, from accomplishing the objectives of God. You know what Jesus said? “Sometimes, friends, sometimes,” Jesus said, “it’s going to be necessary for you to forsake everything. And if you’re not willing to leave father and mother and everybody else that you love and follow Me, you’re not worthy to be” – what – “My disciple.”
And let me say something, moms and dads. Someday you may have to give a kid up to the mission field. Be objective enough to let your own mind settle on the fact that if he’s in the will of God, he’s safe, and he’s as safe as the sovereignty of God is strong. And that’s all you need to know.
And don’t ever be hesitant when you know that somebody feels that this is God’s direction, and that they’ve set their mind to do this, don’t ever soften their will toward that determination. You undergird them. Let’s not talk people out of doing what God wants them to do. If they’re going to be talked out of it, let it be the other one; let it be the enemy that does it, not us. Let it not be the enemy, but if you have your choice, don’t you get in on the enemy’s work. Make him work alone anyway.
And I say this, too. I think we all have to be willing to pay the price. Sometimes we don’t like to see people make sacrifices, but we’ve got to be willing to pay the price. Now, I can illustrate that in my own life, you know? Sometimes people – well-meaning and dear people will say, “John, you shouldn’t do that; you’ll get overtired. John, you shouldn’t go over there and do that. You know? And it all goes into your little computer.
Now, I know that everybody’s going to rush to me and say, “Go do that, John; go do that.” You know? That’s all right. But there are certain things that you believe are God’s will, and in spite of the fact that people say, “Well, you’ll get overtired or such-and-such,” that’s immaterial. And if you know that in your own heart, and you love people, sometimes it becomes a confusing issue when you try to be – when people try to dissuade you. So – well, we won’t say any more about that.
Anyway, what happens here is Paul says, “I am ready” – and, you know, you could preach a whole evening on just that; that man was ready for everything. You know, there’s something about the Christian life, as Paul lived it, that I like. It’s kind of an instant readiness. I like the kind of Christian who doesn’t have to have a running start to get involved in anything. He’s ready any instant for anything. This man was ready to do whatever needed to be done, when it needed to be done.
You know, sometimes – you know, in our situation, we say, “Well, you know, I’ve got to – I’m going to substitute teach. I’ve got to teach a class for two weeks; so, I’m going now to begin to pray and, you know, and get ready for that opportunity.” And we store it up. Or maybe some young person says, “This summer I’m going out on a missionary project. Now, I’m going to have to get ready for that.” You know, you ought to be ready to do it now. That’s why sometimes the Lord really can’t use everybody, because everybody’s not ready. And He hasn’t got time to fiddle around with preparation. The job has to be done. So, He goes back to the people that are always ready. Paul was ready.
In Romans 1:15, he says he’s ready to preach in Rome. In 2 Timothy 4, he said he was ready to die. He’s ready for whatever. Readiness. Well, he says, “I’m ready to be bound” - and that, of course, would be painful and cruel – “and ready to die” – that would be an execution, probably by torture. There was no other execution in Rome than just the most torturous kinds: crucifixion or the merciful kind that Paul got, which was chopping off your head with a sword. But let’s face it, that would be an excruciation torture, just in its anticipation for most people. So, Paul said, “I’m ready to die.”
You say, “Well, that’s easy for him to say, because he knew his life was over. His dreams were finished. He didn’t have any more ambition.”
Oh, no. When he was finished with Jerusalem, where had he already planned to go? Rome. And when he got to Rome, where was he going? Spain. He wasn’t done. But he was saying, “If all those dreams and all those hopes have to die in Jerusalem, and that’s the will of the Lord, in His name I’ll die.” I mean this man set his face to accomplish the will of God at any price. He paid whatever it cost.
You know, I like this kind of determination. There’s a great passage in Ezekiel 3:8 and 9 that expresses it. Just listen as I read it, “Behold” – well, you know, God says to Ezekiel, “You’re my prophet, but nobody’s going to listen to you. They’re going to hassle you and give you a lot of trouble. They’re not going to hearken to you. They’re going to be impudent and hard-hearted.” But he says, “Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces” – you’re going to stand nose to nose with Israel – “and your forehead strong against their forehead.” Can you just see him just gritting his teeth – mmm – like this, see? “Like an adamant harder than flint have I made your forehead” – it’s like a rock – “fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” You just stare them in the eye, nose to nose, and tell them the truth. Set your face like a flint. This is commitment at any price.
And you say, “Well, that’s fine, but when you start hearing you’re going to suffer, that makes is rough.”
You’re right. But you know – and I’m going to digress for a minute, you know that the problem that people have with pain and suffering is not a problem of the suffering, and it’s not a problem of the pain; it’s an inadequate doctrine of God. Did you get that? It is an inadequate doctrine of God. For if you have an adequate doctrine of God, then whatever happens is acceptable.
When I see anybody fall apart or crack up under any kind of anxiety, whether it’s the pain of persecution, which is a little bit rare, whether it’s the pain of broken relationships, whether it’s the pain of death in a life, or whether it’s the pain of illness, when anybody collapses underneath that, it is because they have an inadequate doctrine of God. It is not too much stress for them. God would never have you go under something you couldn’t bear, 1 Corinthians 10. Never. What is happening is your God can’t stand up – your doctrine of God. Like J. B. Phillips says, “Your God is too small.”
You say, “Well, what do you – what kind of a doctrine of God do you need to be able to handle this kind of thing? I mean how can you face suffering?”
Well, let me show you. Go to Hebrews 12 for a minute. And if you have an adequate doctrine of God, you can handle any kind of suffering. And there are several aspects, and we’ll just hit them briefly.
First of all, you have to understand the fatherhood of God. You can write them down; I’ll give you five of them. You have to understand the fatherhood of God. Verse 7, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not?” Listen, if you’re having discipline in your life through suffering, thank God; that’s proof He’s your Father. Did you know that God does not discipline the unsaved?
You know, people have always asked for years, “Why is it the unsaved prosper and the saved seem to go through the worst trials?”
Well, it’s simple. The unsaved do prosper. Read the Psalms. They do; they go along winging it and nothing happen. You know why? That’s because God is not active, in a daily way, disciplining them. No. Romans 2 says, “They treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.” An unsaved guy could go through his whole life without a bad circumstance. But boy, when he dies, that wrath that he’s treasured up against the day of wrath in judgment is going to hit him full force.
On the other hand, in the life of a Christian, God is dealing on a moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day discipline basis; so, He’s active in your life. So, the very fact that you see these things happening in your life, as God is whipping you into shape through thing that happen, indicate that He belongs to you, and you belong to Him as a child.
And so, accept the chastening of the Lord as the unique character of a son of God. Something an unbeliever doesn’t have. All he does is just keep piling up an account of wrath that gets unloaded on him in one fell swoop at the judgment. So, it’s a great indication that you’re a son. And in case you think you’re the only son that gets what you get, you better read 1 Peter 5:9, where is says “Knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.” We’re all there, folks.
Fathers discipline for three reasons: retribution, that is direct chastisement for sin, “You did it, so bend over,” that kind of stuff. And they also discipline for prevention. Sometimes our children say, “But why? Everybody...” “But you’re not going to do it. We know what’s best, trust us.” Prevention. And the other is education. Sometimes discipline educates us. If nothing else, discipline educates you to lean on God all the more as your only resource.
Remember at the end of Job, after all he went through, his – the whole summation of the book of Job is chapter 42, verses 1 to 10, where he says, “Now I understand God. Now I know God.” That’s education, friends. The seminary of suffering is a tough way to go, but when you graduate, you got a great doctrine of God if you’ve allowed God to teach.
So, we view suffering, first of all, seeing the fatherhood of God. He’s a loving Father; He’s chastising His children because He wants us to grow up into the image of Christ. Secondly, we see the love of God. And that we see in verse 6 of Hebrews 12, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” Boy, the very fact that you’re getting chastised indicates He loves you. Why? Because He’s conforming you to the image of Christ.
I can always tell a child that isn’t loved. You know why? He’s not disciplined. When parents love children, they take the time to discipline them. You can respond to this kind of discipline two ways. You can learn from it, or you can worry about it. You can say, “Oh, Lord, I don’t know what you’re teaching me, but boy, it’s exciting lessons, and I want to learn them.” Or you can say, “Oh, oh, what’s happening? Anxiety. Worry. Oh, pain. Oh, I’m going through so much.” You know, you just sort of crack up.
And for those of you who learn from it, there’s Christian service, with great fruitfulness. For those of you crack up under it, there’s the counseling clinic, where you go and somebody tells you, “You shouldn’t have cracked up from it; you should have learned from it.” You know, worry is so dumb. Worry is really stupid. It’s sinful. Stupidly sinful.
You say, “Well, where do you get the idea that it’s stupid?”
Well, Matthew 6, Jesus told – Jesus had the greatest section in the Bible on worry. Matthew 6. Let me show you something there. I told you we’d jump around a little bit. Matthew 6. I’ll just show you how ridiculous it is to worry about suffering or about any anxiety, or about anything in life, just as a footnote here.
First of all, Matthew 6 says that worry is useless, verse 27, “Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your stature?” Can you change your circumstances by worrying? Nope. So, it’s useless. Nice to know.
Secondly, it’s hurtful. It hurts you.
You say, “How do you know that?”
Verse 34, “Be therefore not worrying about tomorrow” – why? – “For tomorrow will bring its own worries. Sufficient unto the day is its own evil.” In other words, if you worry about something, you have to go through it at least twice: once in your imagination, and once in reality. Better that you should just wait till it comes, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil therefore.” Just wait till you get there. So, it’s not only useless; it’s injurious. Once is enough to go through pain without anticipating it.
Not only that, worry is an indication that you think you’re unworthy. Listen to this; verse 28, “And worldly are you worrying about your clothes? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory wasn’t arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, she He not much more clothe ye – clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
You know something? If you worry about what you wear, if you worry about your daily sustenance, you are actually saying to God, “I am less significant than a lily.” Now, lilies are nice, but that’s ridiculous. Worry denies your nobility. Verse 25, “Be not anxious for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than raiment?” And then he goes on to talk about the fowls of the air. Doesn’t God feed them? You’re worth more than birds and lilies.
And you know something else about worry? It isn’t childlike, either. Verse 32 says, “For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things.” He knows what you need and what you can handle. I’ll tell you, worry is also unheavenly; it’s earthly.
Verse 33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” When you worry about what’s going on on earth, you’ve got earthly thoughts, not heavenly. It’s idolatrous, too. Worry is idolatrous, verse 24, “You cannot serve God and materialism” – money, mammon. And worry is heathen, the first part of verse 32, “(After all these things do the heathen seek.)” Worry is ridiculous. It’s sinful. In the midst of suffering, you can trust a loving Father, and you can trust that He’s doing that for your benefit.
Back, then, to Hebrews 12, we find a third characteristic of God that you need to have in suffering. Fatherhood of God, love of God, thirdly, the wisdom of God. Verse 10, “For they verily, for a few days, chastened us after their own pleasure” – our fathers, earthly fathers – “but He for our profit.” Do you know that God is wise enough to know what you need? The heavenly Father never makes a mistake. He never takes a wrong approach with a child of His. He takes the right approach. Some of us take the wrong approach with our children, don’t we? Not God. Always the right approach to bring about the right lesson. Everything is calculated to result in you coming to the image of Christ.
In addition to the wisdom of God, you need to understand the authority of God. He has the right to do what he does, verse 9, “We had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence” – human fathers – “shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?” God is God. He’s acting; He’s not watching. He’s doing it for our benefit. We should bow to His authority without rebellion, willingly submitting to Him. He knows what He’s doing.
Even the pain that comes to you comes directly through God’s allowance. Amos 3:6, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord has not done it.” And it doesn’t mean sin; it means negative things. Shall there be pain? Shall there be suffering? Shall there be problems and God has not done those? God is no spectator, friends. God is not a spectator. Everything that reaches you in your life passes before God.
You know, people talk about the permissive will of God, but you can’t find it in the Bible; it isn’t there. God’s not a spectator. He isn’t beside the events; He isn’t behind the events; He’s in them. And that’s the only way to look at it. God is sovereign.
Fifthly, and lastly, we have to look at suffering through the eyes of the holiness of God. Verse 10 at the end says, “That we might be partakers of His holiness.” Verse 11, “That we might yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
So, in suffering, it’s all a question of how you view God. If you see that God is a Father who is loving, who is wise, who has authority, and who is holy and is bringing about all of these things, that you might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, then you can view suffering with a positive look. That’s the Bible’s meaning in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.” So, everything that happens, happens to that end.
So, Paul – now go back to Acts 21 – so, Paul says, “Look, I’m ready not only to be bound, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Why? “Because I see God in this. A Father who loves me, who is wise, who has all authority, and who is conforming to the image of Christ.” Beloved, that’s the only way to look at suffering.
Well, verse 14, “”And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased.” They ceased crying and begging and said, “The will of the Lord be done.” And that’s the ultimate assignment for everything. Matthew 6:10, the disciples’ prayer, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Jesus in the garden, “Not My will but Thine be done.” The ultimate assignment of everything, the will of the Lord be done.
Here they were saying, “Don’t go; don’t go.”
Paul’s saying, “I’m going; I’m going.”
They’re having a discussion, and they don’t know who’s right. “The will of the Lord be done.” They gave it to God. They acknowledged His sovereignty. And He’s sovereign; believe me. In 1 Samuel 3:18, Samuel says, “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth right to Him.” And so, Paul just gave his life to the will of the Lord.
Courage of conviction knows its purpose, can’t be diverted, pays any price. Lastly, and just simple, courage of conviction affects others. I love this, verse 15. And you wouldn’t even notice it; you’d go right on by it if you weren’t really applying this thought to it. “And after those days, we took up our luggage” – carriages doesn’t mean horse-drawn carriages; it’s luggage, baggage – “we took up our baggage and went to Jerusalem.” They went anyway. But watch this; I just love this, “There went with us certain of the disciples of Caesarea.” Isn’t that fantastic? Here were all these, “Don’t go; don’t go. Oh, you’re going to get persecuted.” And you know what happened? Paul left, and they all went with him.
You see, courage is contagious. Instead of all their moaning and weeping affecting him, his courageous affected them. He was a marked man. He was hated. He was going to be in prison, and they were going to be identified with him, but they became willing to pay the price because he was. That’s leadership by example.
D. L. Moody tells the story of a young man who had 500 soldiers. And he went to war with a king who had 3,000. And the king saw the discrepancy, of course, in the two, and so he sent a messenger to the young man, and he said, “You can surrender, and I’ll treat you mercifully, and we’ll save the lives of both sides.”
And the young man called up two of his soldiers and said to the first soldier, in front of the messenger from the king, he said, “Take this dagger and drive it into your heart.” And the soldier took the dagger and drove it into his heart. He fell on the ground dead. He said to the second one, “Dive off that precipice into that chasm,” and the guy dove off and smashed his body on the rocks below.
The young man looked at the king’s messenger and says, “Now, you go back and tell your king I have 500 other men just like those.”
Courage is contagious. Those men were willing to die for the leader they believed in. And the little band of weepy, mopey Christians at Caesarea all of a sudden became courageous giants.
People, if you have the courage of conviction, let me tell you, God will use you to affect the lives of others. But it all boils down to commitment.
I think of the words of the king of Israel to Benhadad, the king of Syria. He said to him, “My lord and my king, according to thy saying, I am thine and all that I have.” If one man could make that commitment to another man, certainly we should make it to our Lord. Let’s pray.
Father, we do thank You for insights gained again this morning in Your Word to practical areas that apply to our lives. We know that You desire from us a total commitment, a total giving of ourselves for Your usefulness in the accomplishment of the goals and the tasks that the Spirit of God does desire.
God, help us to be committed, to know our purpose, to not be diverted, to pay any price, and to affect others. And even as we close, we pray that You’ll seal to our hearts these truths from Your Word, in Christ’s blessed name, amen.
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