Would you die for Jesus? That’s a pretty intense question, isn’t it? What does it mean to be committed to Jesus? Even if in our lifetime we’re never faced with death for the cause of Christ, what does it mean to have the attitude and intention that we would be that committed to him? How can we know if we are truly committed to Christ and his mission? Perhaps Paul is a helpful example for us.
In the previous post, we skimmed through the narrative of Acts 21, and mentioned that there are two themes that we would be studying further. The first theme is Paul’s description of his commitment to Christ. What makes his statement so powerful is that he has clearly backed it up with actions. Look again at what Paul says in verse 13. After the Agabus has prophesied that Paul will be taken into custody in Jerusalem, and the Christians in Caesarea plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem, here is Paul’s response:
Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”Acts 21:13
Before we examine Paul’s statement and practice of commitment to Christ, first we have to ask why is he so bent on going to Jerusalem? Just because of the Spirit’s leading? That is, no doubt, the major reason. And yet, some of the other Christians do not want him to go there. We get the impression that, in their minds, it is basically a done deal as to what is going to occur in Jerusalem, namely that Paul will get in big trouble. The Spirit had led Paul be prepared for that kind of trouble, as we read last week in 20:22-24. So it is wonderful that Paul is committed to face his brutal fate rather than run in the other direction like the Old Testament prophet Jonah.
This caused me to wonder why the Spirit might want Paul to head directly into trouble? At this point, we don’t know. On the surface, it seems like an unwise choice. Would you send your best man to their certain doom? We’ll have to hold that thought for a future week. The wisdom of the Spirit will unfold before us as we keep studying more of the book of Acts.
There is a second reason, and that is the financial gift Paul is bringing from the Gentile churches to the Judean church. It is interesting to me that this gift doesn’t come up in the narrative of Acts 21. We’ve heard about it in previous chapters, and Paul himself will mention it in Acts 24. But here in Acts 21, when he meets with James and the leaders of the church, that is the moment when Paul would likely have given the financial gift to them. It is curious, then, that Luke doesn’t mention it. Still, the gift is a reason that Paul came to Jerusalem in the first place. Because the gift is not mentioned, I suspect it didn’t have the desired effect Paul hoped it might have, that of building unity and bonds of love between the Gentile and Jewish churches.
So how are we to understand and apply Paul’s bold statement in verse 13? When we were on family vacation a couple weeks ago with my extended family, we had family devotions each evening after dinner. Each family took a turn sharing some of their favorite verses. My dad talked about Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21 where he writes, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” There’s a lot of similarity between the statement in Acts 21:13 and the statement in Philippians 1:21. Paul is willing to die for Christ. What is so amazing about Paul’s statement is that it was a very real possibility that Paul could die for Christ. And Paul knew this. He had nearly died for Christ a few other times previously, as we have seen in our study through Acts. In the events of Acts 21, Paul knows that he could certainly die for Jesus in Jerusalem. That harsh reality, though, is not enough to put a halt to Paul’s allegiance to Jesus, or to his participation in the mission of Jesus. It also doesn’t matter that multiple groups of people are desperately trying to get him to change his mind. He stays on mission.
I look at Paul and wonder, what would I do? I hope I would answer the same way he did. But would I? Would you?
It is easy to say, “Yes, of course, I would absolutely die for Christ.” For many, perhaps, that commitment is true. The problem is that it’s altogether different when you’re actually faced with death. It’s fairly easy to say, “I would die for Christ,” when there is no threat to our lives.
For example, many Christians around the world today are not faced with death for being Christians. Actually, living as Christians here in the USA is somewhat easy. In fact, it could be said that our society is structured in such a way that there are advantages to being Christian in America.
As I sat and listened to my dad talk about Paul’s bold words in Philippians 1, I was wrestling internally with how you and I as American Christians can embrace that passage as our own. I feel the same sense of disorientation about Acts 21:13. We could say, “Well, Paul’s words don’t apply to us because we Americans aren’t facing death for being followers of Jesus” That’s true, right? We live in a land of freedom of religion, which I’m thankful for. But does that freedom mean can we just skip Paul’s words, as if they don’t apply to us? I submit to you that Paul’s words still apply to us. In fact, Paul’s words should be the anthem of our lives. But how?
Check back tomorrow as we’ll try to answer that question!