“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
by Dan Wesol
Acts 19-21 catalogs the amazing detail of Paul’s final work in Asia and his journey to Jerusalem where he would be taken a prisoner. During his final work in Asia and his journey to Jerusalem, he preached the gospel with his words and with the testimony of his tireless work. He taught the truth, confronted enemies of the gospel, healed the sick, raised the dead, exhorted the elders of Ephesus, met with James, the leader of The Way in Jerusalem, and finally, he witnessed to the Jews in Jerusalem who plotted to kill him.
Paul’s focus and determination solidified the gospel in Asia. During his journey home to Jerusalem, he brought brethren together in power and in the joy of Christian fellowship.
Paul in Ephesus (19:1-41)
Paul was direct in his witnessing to large or small groups. On one occasion in Ephesus he found a group of twelve disciples and quickly discerned that they had only learned of John’s baptism to repentance and were unaware of the holy Spirit. Paul baptized them, laid his hands on them, and they received the holy Spirit.
In Ephesus, Paul went into the synagogue and spoke boldly about the Kingdom of God for three months. His words and influence persuaded many regarding the kingdom. But some of them became enemies of the cause of Christ. They were hardened, disobedient, and spoke evil of The Way of Christ to the multitude. This constant opposition did not stop Paul. He and the disciples simply moved from the synagogue to a building next door, the school of Tyrannus, where Paul reasoned on the scriptures every day for two years. Thus “all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (verse 10).
God performed special miracles through Paul that would spread the gospel as effectively as his words. One form was to send his handkerchiefs to the sick and to those with evil spirits and they were all healed (verses 11-12).
The seven sons of Sceva (a former chief priest) sought to exploit these handkerchief miracles. They also wanted the power to cast out evil spirits. But they did not have the simple faith in the authority of Jesus that was required. In one case, a man with an evil spirit leaped on them, saying, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?” Without God’s holy Spirit working in the sons of Sceva, they had no power to cast out the spirit. The man driven by the evil spirit easily prevailed against them all, and they fled from the house naked and wounded. The news of their pummeling spread through Ephesus and both Jews and Greeks were inspired to reverence the name of the Lord Jesus.
The gospel grew and prevailed in the hearts of those watching. A sizable group of believers, who had previously practiced “magical arts,” brought their books and publicly burned them. The value of the books was 50,000 pieces of silver, approximately $4 million dollars today.
Shortly after this, Paul decided in his heart to make his way to Jerusalem, knowing that afterward, he would go to Rome (verse 21).
Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia while he stayed in Asia. After this, Paul’s teachings (Acts 19:8, 10) began to affect the economic gain of a silversmith named Demetrius, who stirred up a huge commotion concerning The Way, the narrow way of following Jesus in worshipping the true and living God.
As Paul taught in Acts 17:29 (ASV), “We ought not to think that the divinity is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man.” This powerful, spiritual, and logical argument began to open the hearts and minds of people to the true nature of God. The true, living God that made the world does not live “in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24 ASV). When Demetrius, the silversmith (who made his living by making silver shrines of the goddess Diana) heard this, he gathered other craftsmen who made their living this way in order to complain about Paul. He warned them that not only would their trade come into disrepute, but the temple of the great goddess Diana would be diminished by Paul’s teaching.
The craftsmen were enraged. They rushed into the city theater in Ephesus, detained Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s travelling companions, and a large crowd took them into the theater. Paul wanted to go in to help, but some friends of Paul, who were public officials, would not let him, for his own safety. Alexander, a disciple, would have made a defense of the two, but the crowd, recognizing him to be a Jew, ranted “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for two hours (Acts 19:33, 34). Then the town clerk reasoned with the crowd that they could be accused of inciting a riot and reminded them that there were courts and proconsuls if Demetrius and the craftsmen had a legal matter against any man. By this warning the crowd dispersed. It appears God used the town clerk to prevent any harm from coming to the disciples.
After the simmering crowd dispersed, Paul sent for the two disciples who were in danger and encouraged them. Afterward they all departed for Macedonia. Once there, Paul comforted them respecting their ordeal (Acts 20:1, 2). Encouragement (comfort, exhortation) is a consistent theme that Luke records about Paul’s ministry.
Paul in Troas (20:2-15)
Later, when Paul was in Troas, he spoke from the Scriptures from dusk until dawn. A listener named Eutychus fell asleep in a third story window and fell to his death. One would think that this accident would have stopped Paul from sharing the Gospel. Not so! Instead, Paul bent over Eutychus, embraced him, and brought him back to life, announcing, “Make ye no ado; for his life is in him” (Acts 20:10, ASV). In an example of true humility, Paul did not take credit for the miracle of raising Eutychus. Rather, Paul rose and helped serve him dinner. Afterward, Paul returned to breaking the bread of truth of the Gospel to a fully engaged audience until the break of dawn. Did he then go to sleep exhausted? No, Paul left town and journeyed by land to Assos, a city about twenty miles away, where he would join other disciples on a ship bound for Miletus.
Paul in Miletus and Tyre (20:16-21:6)
Paul called the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, where he delivered a touching, sober, and encouraging farewell message. He reminded them of how he served Jesus in lowliness of mind, with tears and in trials from the first day he set foot in Asia. Paul said they would not see his face again. He admonished them to serve brethren in Christ in the same manner that he did. By the power of God’s Spirit, they had been made overseers to serve the flock, and not to be served by them.
In a poignant moment, Paul told them that through the holy Spirit he discerned that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem. In our banner scripture, he testified that he did not hold his own life dear to him. He must accomplish the ministry he received from Jesus Christ to testify of the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul admonished these overseers to watch for themselves and to watch over the flock — to feed them with spiritual food. He warned that there would be wolves who would prey upon the church. They would be found even among themselves, those who would distort the truth and draw away disciples after themselves.
Paul encouraged them to remember the basics of their faith. He affirmed that he “shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ASV), and that they would need the whole counsel of God to combat errors to come. Finally, he commended them to God “and to the word of his grace which is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32 ASV).
Paul again reminded them of his way of life with them. He did not covet anyone’s silver, gold, or clothing: “These hands ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me.” Paul did not ask for money, but freely shared the Gospel given to him. “In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 ASV). Paul ended his discourse by kneeling in prayer with them. They all wept and kissed him, sorrowing that they would not see him again.
Paul, Luke, and the other disciples then boarded a ship and made their way to Tyre, where they spent a week with disciples there. They warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. However, Paul knew through the Spirit that returning to Jerusalem was his objective even though it meant bonds and affliction.
Paul in Ptolemais, Caesarea, and Jerusalem (21:7-40)
Continuing their journey, Paul and the disciples met with brethren in Ptolemais for a day, then spent several days in Caesarea with Philip the evangelist, his four daughters, and the prophet Agabus from Judea. Agabus took Paul’s belt and bound his own hands and feet, saying by the holy Spirit that the man that owned this belt would be bound at Jerusalem and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles.
Everyone tried to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul would not be deterred. He answered, “What do ye, weeping and breaking my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13, ASV).
Paul and the disciples, including some from Caesarea, with Mnason of Cyprus, then travelled on land to Jerusalem. The next day they met with James and all the elders. Paul told them all the things God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry, and they glorified God. A few days later, when Paul was in
the temple, he was falsely accused of teaching against the Jewish people, the Law, and for bringing a Greek into the temple.
The crowd dragged Paul out of the temple and beat him with the intent to kill him. However, the chief captain of the Roman band and his soldiers intervened. He had Paul bound with two chains, which fulfilled Agabus’ prophecy from just a few days before. Paul would have recognized this fulfillment of the prophecy and knew that all of the experiences he was about to endure were allowed by the wisdom of God. Surely, this gave Paul peace, confidence, and strengthened his faith.
Jehovah’s holy Spirit burned bright within Paul’s heart for all to see. Everywhere he went, he encouraged those who followed Jesus in the narrow way of sacrifice and in their love for righteousness. Paul was the very definition of a tireless soldier for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Wherever God opened an opportunity to share the Gospel, the Apostle Paul showed us, by his example, that we can and should walk
through it. He proved the truth of this anonymous quote: “The will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not protect you.”