“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.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 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.” (Acts 21:13-16 ESV)
Do you ever find it hard to do what you know is absolutely the right thing to do? It seems that doing the RIGHT thing is usually not the easy thing to do. There always seems to be this ongoing struggle between what we know we should do but what we know we want to do. In other words, the right thing to do in a given situation is usually in conflict with what we want to do from a personal perspective.
Paul puts it this way, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:15, 18-20 NLT)
In today’s focal passage, I want to go back and visit the situation that we reviewed briefly, last week. Paul has been warned several times by several different people about the “chains and afflictions” that await him in Jerusalem. In fact, Paul has even been warned himself by the Holy Spirit about the challenges that await him. The Christians from the various churches Paul has visited on his journey back to Jerusalem have tried to dissuade him from going, but he is resolute. He must go. Their tears and pleading are breaking his heart, but not breaking his will and determination. Last week we discussed how we tend to avoid the difficulties and challenges in our Christian journey, somehow believing that God wouldn’t lead us into these difficulties.
This week, I’d like us to focus in on the response of these brothers who tried to dissuade Paul, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” While I’m not entirely sure that it really was intended this way, it seems to come across as “we can’t dissuade you, so we just hope God’s on our side and that He can dissuade you or, at the very least, protect you from your own stubbornness.” If that’s not how they meant it, I’m pretty sure that’s what we would have meant. We would have seen Paul’s persistence in continuing to Jerusalem, despite the warnings by the Holy Spirit and multiple Christians, as stupidity and just plain stubbornness. Paul, what are you thinking?! Don’t go! Didn’t you hear what they said? Chains and afflictions! We need you! God needs you!
Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost the understanding of what it means to follow Christ and practice obedience towards God. We’re OK with this call to “take up our cross” as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us or cause physical, emotional or spiritual discomfort. In other words, I’m happy to follow Jesus as long as He’s going my direction and doing so on my terms. Many of us recognize these tendencies among our younger generation, especially in regards to sexuality and identity, but we tend to be blind to these same tendencies in our own lives. We demand and cling to our personal rights even when the Holy Spirit calls us to total abandonment and obedience in our pursuit of Christ. This is especially true of American Christians who tenaciously cling to their “rights” while ignoring their commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying that God is opposed to the Bill of Rights, per se, and the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or the right to bear arms along with all the other rights that are identified in this tremendous document of American heritage. But I AM saying that we often misuse these rights and that they can and have become the basis for acts of disobedience in our pursuit of Christ. For example, we often hide behind our right to freedom of speech as we berate and destroy someone else’s beliefs or culture even though we’ve been commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Some will respond and say, “So, do you want our country to be destroyed by these liberal minded folks who want to take away our rights and then destroy our way of life, from the inside out – just like Nazi Germany?” My response would be, “Of course not. But even more, I don’t want our churches and our own spiritual growth and obedience to Christ to be impaired or completely stopped by a misunderstanding of God’s will.” God’s will IS NOT that we live a nice, quiet, comfortable life with our possessions and personal rights intact while the rest of the world suffers and dies without the knowledge of and faith in Christ. God’s will IS that we be willing to…
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 HCSB)
So, how can we know the Lord’s will and faithfully pursue it? How do you know what someone likes, wants and desires? I’ve been married to my wife, Tina, for over 41 years. In addition, I’ve known her for a few more years beyond that. So, by listening to her words, paying attention to her past choices, and listening when asking her about her desires I’ve learned quite a bit about her. Is my knowledge perfect? Of course not, but I’m right most of the time. I know her likes and dislikes, her style and views and it all comes from an intimate relationship and active listening to her words and learning from her actions. Our knowledge of God and His will comes in the same basic way. We must…
Listen to His Word
Pay attention to His past actions
Develop an ongoing intimate knowledge and relationship
Do we occasionally get it wrong? Of course, we do. That happens in every marriage and it happens in our relationship with God. But honestly, we generally know what the other person expects, desires and what would, ultimately, please them but we still often act on our own selfish needs and desires. We do that in our relationship with God, too. Don’t we?
Last week, I mentioned the words of Christ from the night before His crucifixion. He told the disciples, “I have told you these things to keep you from stumbling.” (John 16:1 HCSB) Stumbling over what? The Word of God and the Will of God. We stumble when we misunderstand the Word of God and we stumble when we ignore or deliberately disobey the Will of God.
Listen to His Word
Generally speaking, God’s Word is not really hard to understand. It is hard to do, but it isn’t really hard to understand. In fact, Jesus indicated that the Kingdom of God is simple enough that even a child can understand, “I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17 HCSB) Now, that doesn’t mean that God’s Word and our faith is shallow and inconsequential. On the contrary, once you commit to following the King you will discover just how wide and deep His Word and His Love really are. Once you are wading and splashing in it like a child, you will begin to realize you can’t possibly understand the depth of His love or fathom the breadth of His knowledge and wisdom.
Moses placed the Word of the Lord before the Israelites, and then he called upon them to make a choice: ““This command that I give you today is certainly not too difficult or beyond your reach… I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:11, 19-20 HCSB)
Pay Attention to His Past Actions
God’s Word is not just a list of “do’s and don’ts” as many people think. It is a record of God’s relationship with mankind, in general, and with His people, in particular. As you read His Word, you should pay attention to how God acted and interacted with people in the past because it is a good indicator of how He will act and interact with us. Many folks, today, stumble over the Old Testament because it seems to be in such stark contrast to God’s character and interactions in the New Testament. The problem is that much of the Old Testament is the historical record of how God’s people interacted with Him and how God responded to them. There are two things, in particular, that the New Testament teaches us about the Old Testament. 1) It is an accurate record of God’s word, His character and His will; 2) it is also an accurate record of man’s failure to understand God’s word, model His character and obey His will.
“We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1 HCSB)
“Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 HCSB)
What that means is that the people of the Old Testament were given an accurate record of who God is, what He is like and what He desired of them but they usually failed to understand it properly and follow it faithfully. God didn’t change from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but our knowledge and understanding of Him did, significantly. That’s because He came to us, in human form, as the Son of God – Jesus the Christ. In other words, this invisible God, that the Israelites struggled to understand and obey, was now walking their streets and teaching in their synagogues. What happened? They didn’t like what they saw and they rejected His teaching. Why? Because it contrasted so sharply with what they understood of Him from their past. So, He came to show them who He really is and to redeem them from what they really are. He is loving and just and they are sinful and rebellious.
By the way, so are we… (sinful and rebellious, just to clarify, in case you were inclined to call yourself loving and just)
Develop an Intimate and Ongoing Relationship
And that brings me to the last item, pursue a relationship of intimacy and obedience as we discover and submit to the Lord’s will. That’s where we find Paul in this passage and that’s where Luke wants to place us – in and intimate relationship with Jesus and in humble submission to His will for our lives. For this to properly happen, we must really understand my first two points – know God’s Word and follow the examples given to us by Christ and the faithful – the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Apostles. Notice I didn’t say those who got it perfect, because they didn’t – but they learned from their mistakes and they changed accordingly. That’s what we must be willing to do… recognize our mistakes, learn from our failures and change our lives and loves accordingly.
That’s really what grace is all about…
“For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21 HCSB)
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” (Hebrews 4:15-16 HCSB)
I don’t think we, who truly know Christ, are ignorant of His will and His ways. We just tend to resist them because they are in such stark contrast to our selfish ways and our efforts at self-preservation. We resist them because sin still rears its ugly head in our lives, daily/hourly/minute-by-minute. But we must recognize sin for what it truly is, an effort to kill and destroy the work of grace within us. If we really agree that God’s will for us is what is truly best for us then we will seek to destroy sin and pursue God above all else.
Just like Paul, we would push aside the pleading and resist the tears that try and pull us away from the “will of the Lord.” Notice, Paul continues on to Jerusalem. He doesn’t shy away from “chains and afflictions.” Why? Because he knows he will find God in them.
“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 HCSB)
So, let me close by calling you to dive into the deep waters of His Word. Study them and learn from them so that you can clearly see His character, follow the examples and learn the lessons He gives us through the lives of the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles. Now, walk with Him daily. Develop an intimate and obedient relationship with Him. Be strong and courageous, He won’t leave you or forsake you. He will walk alongside you wherever His will might take you…